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month march 21, edition 000785 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- UNLOCK THEIR MINDS
- LIMITED TALKTIME
- CPM'S VOLTE-FACE
- 'TELEVISION TODAY INCREASINGLY DOESN'T MEAN WHAT IT USED TO' - MEENAKSHI SINHA
- WICKET WAYS
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- TESTING MYTHS
- FROM BANGLADESH
- HOUSE RADICALISM
- SUNRISE IN THE WEST - YOGINERKALAGH
- COSTS, RISKS AND BENEFITS - HARSH V. PANT
- A SERAIKI STATE OF MIND - RASHED RAHMAN
- THE ZING THING - SARITHA RAI
- ARE THE STAKES TOO HIGH?
- DON'T CALL ME, I WON'T CALL YOU
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- IMPROVIDENT FUND
CAN JAPAN POWER ON? - MEGHNAD DESAI
- GROWING INFLATION - YOGINDER K ALAGH
- LEARNING FROM FUKUSHIMA
- NUCLEAR POWER AFTER FUKUSHIMA - T. JAYARAMAN
- IRRITANTS, DIFFICULTIES IN A STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP - HASAN SUROOR
- U.S. FEARED TERROR HITS IN INDIA ON SAEED'S RELEASE - NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN
- 'MANIPUR MORE A COLONY OF INDIA' - SURESH NAMBATH
- INDIAN LEADERS, THROUGH THE EYES OF OTHERS - HASAN SUROOR
- CONSULATE MIFFED - SURESH NAMBATH
- WEST BENGAL IGP FAILED U.S. VETTING - SARAH HIDDLESTON
- HERITAGE MONUMENTS
- SKIPPING SEPARATISTS
- FORESTS FOR SURVIVAL - BY ONKAR SINGH
- LET THE RIVERS FLOW - BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
- WEST PAK REFUGEES - NEEDLESS CONFUSION! - BY DR. R. L. BHAT
- EXPORTS LOOK UP
- THE CLIMATE FOR FOOD
- MANUFACTURING SUPERPOWER - SANJAYA BARU
- WHAT IF CHINA BECOMES A DEM OCRACY? - NITIN PAI
- THE MIND OF THE SOVEREIGN - VINAYAK CHATTERJEE
- THE EXPORT GROWTH PUZZLE – A V RAJWADE
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- STUNTED BANKING
- BOOSTING EXPORTS
- BEYOND ENGLISH
- TIME FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLES IN INDIA
- PRAGMATIC PRICING ON CONVERTIBLES TO BOOST FDI - SHEFALI GORADIA & KALPESH DESAI
- A PEOPLE'S ECONOMICS - ROBERT J SHILLER
- RBI POINTS TO MULTIPLE DANGERS
- LET EAST MEET WEST
- AMERICA TAUNTING MARKET, MOTHER NATURE
- CELEBRATING HOLI MAYA STYLE
- PRAYERS TO HELP JAPAN
- NO KISS FROM KATE
- SAYS LITTLE, PROMISES LESS
- FISCAL FIASCO
- 'UNFAIR' PRESSURE
- AFTER THE TSUNAMI
- WRONG LIMITS
- VULNERABLE AGE
- BROKEN AND SPOKEN
- RISKY MATTERS - GWYNNE DYER
- CRACKING UP
- QUAGMIRE AHEAD
- TERMINAL PATIENT - M J AKBAR
- THE PROXY BATTLE IN BAHRAIN - MICHAEL SLACKMAN, NYT :
- A NATIVE WHO DID NOT RETURN VATSALA VEDANTAM
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- A CHANCE TO BUILD AGAIN
- FALSE CONFESSIONS
- RECONSIDERING THE ROBIN
- A VERY LIBERAL INTERVENTION - BY ROSS DOUTHAT
- THE WAR ON WARREN - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- UNBREAKABLE BONDS - BY IRIS J. LAV
- EDUCATED, UNEMPLOYED AND FRUSTRATED - BY MATTHEW C. KLEIN
TIMES FREE PRESS
- UNCERTAINTY IN LIBYA
- FOR CONCERN, NOT PANIC
- AT THE ROOT OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
- CHARADE ON FARM SUBSIDY REFORM
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - WHAT IS OUR ENERGY IQ?
- WOMEN RIGHT IN SEEKING THEIR RIGHTS - VUSLAT DOĞAN SABANCI
- LIFE, DEBT AND DEATH - EMRE DELİVELİ
- TURKEY'S NEW 'OLD KEMALISTS' - SONER ÇAĞAPTAY
- THE SERFS OF RUSSIA - C. CEM OĞUZ
- NEO-COLONIALISM - YUSUF KANLI
- SUPERSTITION: NUCLEAR POWER VS. COAL - GWYNNE DYER
- POT BOILS OVER
- WILL THATTA VANISH?
- RAYMOND DAVIS AND AIMAL KANSI - TAJ M KHATTAK
- NO HONOURABLE EXCEPTION - AFIYA SHEHRBANO
- EDUCATION: DATA FIRST - AHSAN IQBAL
- 'YOUR INTERPRETATION IS FALSE' - HUSSAIN H ZAIDI
- AN ABJECT SURRENDER - ASIF EZDI
- CABIN FEVER - CHRIS CORK
- LET PRESIDENT ADDRESS PARLIAMENT UNDISTURBED
- DON'T TURN LIBYA INTO IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN
- US SHOULD GIVE SECOND THOUGHT TO N-DEAL WITH INDIA
- ARE MORE RAYMOND DAVIS CASES IN STORE? - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
- AFGHAN CONFLICT: NO END IN SIGHT! - AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)
- SOVEREIGNTY AND DRONE ATTACKS - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
- ROOTS OF JUDICIAL POPULISM
- MIDDLE EAST UPHEAVALS PRESENT HOPE AND DANGERS
- END VACILLATING ON BOATPEOPLE
- TIME TO REVIVE THE INTERVENTION
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- NSW LABOR'S LAST STAND
- AN END IN LIBYA, OR JUST THE START?
- GAY SLUR CASTS A SHADOW ON US ALL
- LIBYA'S REBELS NOW HAVE A FIGHTING CHANCE
- IN PRAISE OF… NOWRUZ
- LIBYA: SHIFTING SANDS
- MANIFESTO COMMITMENTS: STAYING TRUE TO YOUR WORD
THE JAPAN TIMES
- PROMOTING TOURISM
- POST-QUAKE RISK TO THE ECONOMY
- BUILDING A HAPPY SOCIETY MEANS JUNKING GDP MYTH - BY TAKAMITSU SAWA
- U.S. GESTURE WOULD REDUCE RISKS POSED BY WEAK KAN GOVERNMENT - BY TOM PLATE
- MAHATHIR EXPRESSES CONDOLENCES TO JAPAN - BY MAHATHIR MOHAMAD
THE JAKARTA POST
- LIBYA UNDONE
- THINK ASIA? THINK PACIFIC - MARIO RUSTAN
- FOOD CRISIS AND OVERTHROWN GOVERNMENTS - PUTERA SATRIA SAMBIJANTORO
- HESITANT GOVERNMENT A LOOPHOLE FOR RADICALISM - AL MAKIN |
- GREEN PROGRAM DONORS IGNORE ALL THEY HAVE LEARNED - ALAN OAXLEY
- MIGHT IS RIGHT
- POSITIVE FORWARD MOVEMENT IN GOVT-TNA DIALOGUE
- THE WESTERN ATTEMPTS OF MIS-'GUIDING' DEMOCRACY HOME
- BEYOND THE NUCLEAR AGE
- AUSTRALIA USES TEAR GAS, SYNTHETIC BULLETS TO SUPPRESS REFUGEE PROTESTS - BY GILLARD AND BOWEN
GULF DAILY NEWS
- NUCLEAR POWER VERSUS COAL
THE TIMES OF INDIA
UNLOCK THEIR MINDS
University campuses in the United States are increasingly becoming wireless, enabling students to use their laptops or mobile devices from anywhere. Classrooms are getting "smart" in the sense that teachers can connect to internet sources from their classrooms, besides using other instructional tools. Many professors put up their class notes and other teaching materials online. Online discussions and wikis are becoming common teaching tools.
An institute of higher education with graduate and postgraduate research programmes needs a sophisticated environment of virtual learning that allows its students and faculty to access not only its own databases but also global intellectual resources. Some universities such as MIT, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, University of California at Berkeley, for example, have made available their courses including video lectures online to the public. Through their opencourseware, these universities have established global collaborative relations with other institutions and in the process built up their social capital and enhanced their reputation.
MIT offers more than 2,000 free courses online, including many courses on India, for example, "A Passage to India: Introduction to Modern Indian Culture and Society", and "Music of India". As of today, its opencourseware site has received 70 million visits from 215 countries. Some of its faculty members have become global brands.
India's technology elites are not lagging behind. Taylor Walsh, in a recent book, Unlocking the Gates, has profiled India's "National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning", a collaborative project of seven IITs and IISc, Bangalore, which at present offers 229 courses mostly in science and technology.
Making a classroom "smart" and globally available requires the university to have a professional studio/staff to help faculty members to digitise and upload their lectures and other teaching materials online, apart from having enough server space to accommodate requests for access from the general public. It is an expensive undertaking. Some universities have developed virtual campuses for their graduate programmes, supplemented with periodic on-campus residencies during which students and faculty members make presentations, hold symposia and seminars.
Of the various instructional methods used for teaching by American professors, the use of computer-aided instruction especially at the undergraduate level is limited to PowerPoint or video primarily to break the monotony of a long lecture. PowerPoint gives teachers an illusion of mastery of their subject matters but its excessive use can be a barrier to engaging students in class. Some students resent the technology because it tends to shut them out of live exchange. No one has come up with an equally good alternative to the lecture-discussion method that has been at the heart of the teaching-learning experience since ages.
Lecturing is done primarily to establish an intellectual and personal relationship with students even if the same material may be available in the textbook. Sometimes lecturing becomes a necessity especially when a tough topic and fundamentals have to be explained. When the textbook along with supplementary readings is brought to bear upon a discussion topic in the classroom, you see the beginning of learning, which is further enhanced through projects, term papers, weekly essay assignments, and the stimulus of quizzes, and midterm and final examinations.
Nonetheless, online teaching is raising some interesting possibilities. While in classroom discussions some students, especially girls, hesitate to participate, i have found that most students participate very enthusiastically in online discussions. Many of them express themselves freely whenever free-style discussion is encouraged. Online discussion creates a level playing field between the extrovert and the shy type.
Of course, students and professors miss a lot when there are no face-to-face encounters, dramatic moments which occasionally result in witticism, humour and other delightful confrontations that enhance teaching and learning, and make the dialogue such a joy.
Information technology causes stress on the campus because no one can always keep up at the cutting edge of technology. Even younger faculty members who have grown up with the internet feel stressed; information technology is not always user-friendly.
Teaching online requires a different attitude because communication between students and teachers is asynchronous. Many adult students find working on their own time a great advantage. But how to get one's point across without facial gestures and vocal cues is a challenge. Classroom liveliness and vibrancy, the thrill of being with students, are absent online. Lecturing is performance and some of us become teachers because it gives us a sense of participation in the learning process.
Physical presence and face-to-face meetings can bring out the best in students. The adrenaline rush that one feels in the class when there is something unexpected, the laughter, the body language and voice inflection, and the instant feedback, all are absent in the virtual classroom. How to bring one's personality into the virtual classroom is a serious challenge.
Global exposure can be an incentive for some professors to improve their teaching but the jury is still out on whether a smart online presentation is all that we mean by good teaching. But how can one disagree with the MIT's motto "Unlocking Knowledge, Empowering Minds", whatever it takes, virtual or real?
The writer is professor, communications and diplomacy, Norwich University.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has, in recent days, taken to making highly objectionable statements as opposition forces pose his biggest challenge. He declared on Libyan television that rebels in the coastal town of Benghazi would be shown 'no mercy' by the regime's troops. Stating that revolts were being led by 'a handful of drug addicts and criminals', Gaddafi reportedly said rebels 'needed to be hunted down in every neighbourhood, every street, every house', pronouncing, "It's over. Prepare yourselves. We will find you in your closets."
Expectedly, the world community is not amused at these statements holding out the threat of a state-led pogrom unleashed upon civilian populations. Individual nations disapprove of Gaddafi; at the same time, they grapple with the dilemma of stopping him, a hard call considering that Libya is a sovereign nation. In this environment, the United Nations has broken out of its usual paralysis and gone quite far in acting to prevent a potential massacre. The Security Council, which had earlier passed a resolution permitting sanctions against Libya, has now authorised military intervention should Gaddafi persist with aggression and violate the UN-declared 'no-fly zone', preventing aircraft from targeting populations below. The Arab League too has supported such an intervention, underlining Gaddafi's isolation. The UN and Arab League standing together on the Libyan issue breaks down possible criticism of anti-Gaddafi action being motivated by a western war on the Arab world.
There is another notable development here. Communication technology has emerged as mirror and catalyst of the push towards freedom currently sweeping Arab societies. Developments from Tahrir Square to Tripoli get circulated around the world in minutes via television, the internet and mobile phones. The days of 'closed' societies seem over. We now live in an era of simultaneity; as autocrats target civilians, the world community comes to know immediately.
Communication technology has also been central to changing stereotypes about Arab peoples. Through intensive coverage of the Jasmine Revolution, hazy notions of burqas, Bedouins and bombs have broken down, replaced by factual images of populations yearning for democracy, dignity and development. It is now clear that these universal aspirations are not separated between a 'modern' West and a 'traditional' Rest. That particular divide has been proved artificial and the West has responded well by embracing this truth. The test is now to see if Gaddafi can also embrace a few truths and step down in Libya's best interests. Otherwise, he may well find that the world community, united in its desire to prevent the massacre of civilians, could make him.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The political drama about Kerala chief minister V S Achuthanandan's candidature over the past two days exposes the bitter factional infighting within the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM). On Wednesday, influenced by state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, the state committee opted to deny the 87-year-old Achuthanandan a ticket and instead announced its decision to pick politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. But the decision triggered widespread protests from the party rank and file. Ultimately the politburo had to intervene and reverse the state-level decision. Achuthanandan now has a ticket but the volte-face is reminiscent of the 2006 assembly elections. Then, too, Vijayan sought to keep Achuthanandan out of the fray, but the latter made a dramatic comeback, thwarting the rival faction. Nevertheless, the Left Democratic Front's (LDF) prospects look bleak against the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), which performed impressively in the last Lok Sabha and civic elections. It says something about the LDF that the octogenarian political warhorse is its best asset. He is a maverick who takes populist positions and has no real solutions to the state's problems, but nevertheless enjoys a clean image.
The Left Front is fighting a battle of survival in its two traditional bastions - West Bengal and Kerala. Faced with a high level of anti-incumbency, the last thing that the CPM should allow is factional infighting in their state organisation undermining the party's overall electoral prospects. The party's flip-flop in Kerala only adds to its predicament and leaves the impression that it is undecided. There is a lesson in all this for the politburo and for Prakash Karat, who reportedly fought hard for Achuthanandan's ouster. Both increasingly look out of sync with today's political realities.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'TELEVISION TODAY INCREASINGLY DOESN'T MEAN WHAT IT USED TO'
Bruce L Paisner , president and CEO, International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (IATAS), the largest organisation of broadcasters in the world, visited India recently. As a spokesperson for IATAS which recognises excellence in global television programming with The International Emmy Awards, Paisner aimed to discuss the academy's role in recognising the best of global television. He spoke with Meenakshi Sinha :
What are current global trends in the broadcasting industry?
In almost every country television is becoming more important. You see this in different kinds of things, like actors and actresses now working in both television as well as movies. What i also see in many countries today is the development of very strong, well-founded local production. Television - what that word means - is becoming ever more confusing to people, maybe less so in a country like India than in the US. But that'll change because at every place the technology gets stronger. Television today increasingly doesn't mean what it used to be earlier. If you watch programmes via recommendations through friends on your Facebook page, then i guess that's television today. Also, if you watch bits and pieces of a programme on your cellphone because you have the capacity to do that, then that's television. So my view is that there's a new group of television pioneers who're coming along leading us to a new era in broadcasting.
What are India's prospects of participation in the Emmy Awards?
The reason why i made this trip to India is that i feel it's under-represented at the Emmys in terms of entries, membership and the jury. Another reason to be in India is to possibly set the ball rolling for an academy day for the IATAS as it looks forward to newer avenues to reach out.
What's your opinion of the Indian broadcasting industry considering it's still nascent compared to the US and UK?
I can't give a verified view simply because i haven't watched enough or haven't been here long enough. But i'm struck by the fact that only about a third of the population in India even has a television set. That somewhat changes the dynamics. But what i gather is that on one hand, television professionals are striving to serve their audiences through format type programming, there's also an explosion of wealth and technology that'll produce a more educated middle and upper middle class. From my talks with Indian producers, i figure that television in India becomes extremely important in people's lives because that's the one constant thing they have, where suddenly they're exposed to a world of entertainment. I'm intrigued by the studio channels and their efforts in programming. Then there's a thriving and controversial news channels segment. I'm equally intrigued by Bollywood operations on television. I went to the Yash Raj Studios in Mumbai and i think it's a very interesting time for India given its huge movie business.
Given global broadcasting trends where do you see India fit in?
That's partly up to the Indian television industry. The opportunity is out there for visionary young professionals to grab. What that means is less formats and more original, local programming because if India comes up with an original format then its chances of selling that to the world market becomes greater. Right now they're merely taking from western formats of programming. And just like it is worldwide, as programming innovates and consequently increases, talented people come aboard which in turn raises the quality of production. All these trends are applicable to India as well.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
If arts and sport, to corrupt a cliched Voltaire dictum, did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them. But they do and, ah, we have been spared a daunting task. Wasn't it philosopher Schopenhauer who said that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom? Well then, boredom and distress are what man seeks to ease, through the two human accomplishments. So the ongoing World Cup, one hopes, will cheer up many a bored and distressed mind.
Sports lovers are divided into two groups. While one favours cricket, the other roots for football - arguably the two major sports. What football is to sports buffs in the American continent and continental Europe, cricket is to those in the subcontinent...er, the Commonwealth. It is not that there is no overlap and lovers of cricket don't love football and vice versa. But one is talking of the diehard fans that look down upon cricket or football, according to the group they belong to.
If sport in general is ritualised fighting wherein the weaker aren't killed or mutilated, unlike in wars, as ethologists tell us, and men find a harmless outlet in them for their aggressive drives, then cricket serves that end better than football. For, on the whole, it is a peaceable game. So are its two siblings - the ODI and the most abridged, fast-phased and quick result-oriented edition, T20, in contrast to football.
In cricket, at a given time, two players are armed with bats and the third one with a ball - the bats so handy to club anyone with and the ball so manoeuvrable with one hand as to be thrown at an opponent at the slightest of provocations, with the intent to get even with him. Despite this, you haven't heard of incidents, if you discount negligible ones sporadically. This speaks somewhat well of its being a popular sport, innocent of violence. While saying so, one hasn't overlooked an aggressively gesticulating Sreesanth who even after a long sabbatical didn't undergo any transformation, or a Bhajji who's been charged of mouthing swearwords. But these are exceptions. I tried to imagine the consequences of soccer players being similarly armed and failed. For violence is inherent in this bruising game.
Studying animal behaviour, ethologists tell us that submissive behaviour on the part of the loser in a fight appeases a more dominant opponent, making him suspend or tone down his aggression. In cricket, there is an analogous situation. When an outgoing batsman makes his exit from the field, without demur, taking off his helmet, holding the bat close to his body as he walks towards the pavilion, the ethologist may say he is performing an 'appeasement' ritual unwittingly. Perhaps such appeasement actions, innate in cricket, may be attributed to its being less aggressive than football. Such actions impact the opposing team, which tends to sort of empathise with the batsman, and as a result there is no bad blood to speak of. But in football there is no scope for appeasement. If a player is caught playing foul, what will be his immediate reaction? He defiantly - and unpleasantly - argues his innocence!
So far so good for cricket. But it has a seamy side. Like all sport, it is plagued by match-fixing. They are like Siamese twins - match-fixing and sport. It has been so since classical Greece. Playgrounds are its breeding grounds. Money is so alluring that match-fixers entice susceptible players to underperform. Often it is they, rather than players, who rule the roost in the playground, as though the latter had become inconsequential. The 19th century British author Samuel Butler wrote, "A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg." Are we to infer that a player is only a match-fixer's way of making another match-fixer? Perish that thought! ***************************************
T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".
Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."
No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.
Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
For those outside the state, Tamil Nadu's politics has long appeared among the most predictable in the nation. The two Dravidian parties, heirs — if increasingly dissipated heirs — to Periyar's fiery, politicised, rationalistic sub-nationalism, would push up against each other; the crucial difference between them would be the strength of the alliance they built up; and the most crucial of allies would be the Congress, a distant third — and yet kingmaker.
There was always an element of oversimplification to these ideas. Alliance-building here was always more than just a disembodied mathematical exercise. That was brought into sharper focus last week. The AIADMK announced, unilaterally, a list of 160 candidates and constituencies on Wednesday; those included several seats that were, at the moment, with the party's allies, the CPM and the CPI. And many of those that weren't currently held by the Left were wanted by them too, as well as by the DMDK. The DMDK, led by actor-politician "Captain" Vijayakanth, had been for long the state's putative "third party", but had expected to throw in with the AIADMK this time around. That alliance — never very popular with grassroots cadre who had worked hard to differentiate themselves from the two major Dravidian parties — appeared to have flickered out. Another alliance partner, the MDMK, led by classical Tamil hardliner Vaiko, once jailed by the AIADMK under POTA before friendship reasserted itself, had its quota of seats unilaterally reduced from 35 to single digits. Was this just another whim of the AIADMK's leader, J. Jayalalithaa, who has a reputation for being mercurial? It might be more sensible to look at it as part of the hard bargaining necessary in a particularly heterogenous alliance, an idea reinforced by subsequent developments, as the AIADMK worked overtime to prevent its desertion by its allies.
Jayalalithaa knows, after all, that this is a watershed election. Several of the myths about TN politics will be tested. If the DMK pulls it off again, with Jayalalithaa, Vaiko and Vijayakanth all arrayed against it, will the idea that two big Dravidian poles have equivalent weight
be buried? If the AIADMK wins, what happens to the Congress's salience as that irreplaceable partner? And will the Congress, which not-so-secretly hopes for a revival as the DMK turns into a squabbling, fissiparous, family-run enterprise, be able to make good on its promise? All these and more will soon be answered.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
This World Cup was to have rendered the old cricketing order safe for the organisers' desire that broadcast rights be as commercially sought as possible. In 2007, the shock defeats of India and Pakistan to Bangladesh and Ireland, respectively, had led to their early exit from the Caribbean, taking with them much viewer interest. This time the long league stage was to have secured the big boys from the disastrous fallout of the odd upset, and in 2015 the number of competing teams is to be cut further, relegating most of the minnows to a lower orbit.
Clearly the ICC is hopeless at anticipating the mood and momentum in global cricket. If this long league stage —and no one is likely to want a repeat — had produced one benefit, it is the affection the smaller teams have gained. Ireland truly shook the competition out of its dull predictability by trouncing England. Dutch batsmen have given a good account of themselves. And Bangladesh gave themselves a chance of actually making the quarter-finals at the expense of England.
Clearly something is changing outside of the big teams — and if cricket's administrators want to give direction to their uneven plan to expanding cricket's geographic horizons, they should take a closer look at Bangladesh. It's not just that they have proved to be exuberant hosts, thoughtfully using the occasion to showcase the country's progress. But as a report in this newspaper highlighted, the current success of the team draws from a deepening of athletic aspiration after the team suddenly got Test status a decade ago. Test-playing status is a valuable thing, which may not be easily held out to other teams. But the ICC must come up with innovative ways of binding the minnows to the big competition without reducing them to mis-matches.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
In the wake of the WikiLeaks revelation about an American diplomat's cable claiming to have seen chests of cash meant to purchase MPs' votes on July 22, 2008 during the confidence vote in Parliament, a political storm was on the cards. And it came. The two Houses were thrown into serial adjournments, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a statement in Lok Sabha, but there is still no indication that the fire is being doused.
The opposition BJP has decided to raise its rhetoric targeting the prime minister and move a privilege motion against him in Parliament. While the opposition has every right to choose how to conduct its politics, the BJP should pause and ask itself if routine all-or-nothing political adventurism, focused on a single objective whose cause and consequence have not been sufficiently analysed, does not amount to radicalism. The government too should consider the costs of not reaching out more meaningfully to avert disruptions.
Amidst the political din in New Delhi, a fundamental fact is being overlooked or insufficiently considered. Free societies are witnessing their politics morph with the information that newer sources are putting out. The uncertain nature of such information in volume and content is compounded by its rawness and randomness. Which is not to say that these don't provide valuable leads even as the veracity invites debate, but that the debate itself should be more engaged in determining the nature of the "facts" in currency. For that to happen, political parties have to re-evaluate their politics and how it affects the nation's political discourse. Above all, unverified and incomplete information cannot be acted upon to declare all-or-nothing, absolutist wars — something that the Congress has done earlier in opposition and the BJP is doing now. Parliament must function this budget session, after the recently washed out winter session. The loss of day upon day to adjournments cannot become the new normal. A parliamentary system cannot deliver its full promise without a basic agreement between government and opposition on how to keep the House functioning and responsive to the issues of the day.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
SUNRISE IN THE WEST
I go to Maharashtra a couple of times a year, trips to Mumbai not counted, to a cooperative in the rain shadow region of the Sahyadris.
The cooperative has an old tradition of involving an economist in its work, since it was found by the legendary Professor D.R. Gadgil. Ihave been with them for the last three decades, arguing first for diversification — since cane in a dry region was clearly not sustainable — and then in the early '90s arguing for knowledge as a source of growth. They spend around Rs 90 crore a year on education and health now, and I am happy also to see this feed back into better agriculture.
Maharashtra agriculture has done decently well, given its severe resource constraint: water. In my mind, the star performers are: a million hectares under tree crops and horticulture; a fishing economy doing reasonably well; and of course, Bt cotton. The tree crops go back to Shankar Rao Kolhe's perspective plan for horticulture. Shankar Rao, the sugar baron of Kopargaon, prepared a long-term horticulture plan for Maharashtra when minister, and an excellent support system was developed to implement it. This continues. Today, Maharashtra has a complete package including financial, technological and processingsupport to any one wanting to seriously grow tree crops — a boon in this dry region.
To me, a great pleasure is to watch Gandhi-capped Patils coming on their Hondas and partaking of mutton biryani and Marathi chicken with their Chardonnay in the dry districts' wineries. There are around 60, producing around 97 per cent of the stuff made in India. Globalisation at its benign best. Dairying has done well too, and in recent years the production of value-added products like skimmed milk, white butter and so on has grown at phenomenal annual rates, like 80 per cent.
Fish is an interesting case. My friend Vivekanandan, of the first batch from the Institute of Rural Management in Anand and a great leader of India's fishermen, tells me that as one goes from Gujarat to Kerala, the level of mechanisation goes down, and the Maharashtra Fish Cooperative is the only successful one in India, and still sponsored by the state. Making a point of going to small fishing harbours, I agree with him. The jury is still out as to which is the best system. Fish in Maharashtra is growing with the Bombay Duck leading the pace. Perhaps a hundred flowers should bloom.
Maharashtra has a strong tradition of equity built into its culture, with its saints embedded in its historical memories. This is the land of Mahatma Phule, of Sai Baba, of Tukdudasji and many others. The tradition is grown in its soil, and yet a part of the universal dream of men. Its outcome? An index for primary education at 0.8, higher than that of Kerala (0.67) and Gujarat (0.75). It performs well in national comparisons in higher education and technical education. It has the first rural health university in India. Many of its community and private institutions, some of which are fairly good, have suffered on account of a one-size-fits-all government policy towards them. In actual practice, more differentiated outcomes were achieved by the institutions by using legal mechanisms to protect their interests.
Better policies would achieve better results, because there are substantial reporting requirements made of all institutions — and those not meeting the standards should be penalised, but those that are meeting requirements should be encouraged.
Growing at around 7 per cent annually, the state is doing well. Its FDI is the second-largest in the country — and yet it is not quite the star performer that it was in the earlier decades. The pursuit ofmanufacturing growth is not as single-minded as in some other states. For some reason the city of Mumbai has not been getting the attention it deserves. The promise of making it another Shanghai has to be resurrected — hopefully this year. With some coordination and initiative, a lot can be done, as shown by the Sealink.
In many areas, Maharashtra has best-practice cases. The restructuring of Bhiwandi's electricity distribution is exemplary, in that it includes the use of information technology for tracking reform, and monitoring a decentralised delivery system. Its experience shows that improved delivery and pricing are two sides of the same coin.
More generally, Maharashtra's system of decentralisation of manufacturing activity began with the distribution of activity outside Mumbai and the development of industrial centres in the state's different regions, leading to very fast growth. The fact that it is again a major market for FDI should help in revival; although this year, perhaps, the focus should be on domestic investment. Maharashtra would benefit from implementing the details of the national manufacturing policy commission's report. V. Krishnamurthy's action plan for more than 30 industries could be the base for an aggressive manufacturing policy in what is already a technologically progressive state.
Faster manufacturing growth in Maharashtra, with its large base, could well lead to the revival of the India's entire manufacturing economy. This could well be a breakthrough year for manufacturing, from 7 per cent growth to double-digit growth next year and in the period to come.
The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand, email@example.com
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
COSTS, RISKS AND BENEFITS
HARSH V. PANT
Events at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant have led to the crisis being described as the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster a quarter century ago. The nuclear accident has led to anxious questions about the safety of nuclear reactors and is putting governments in world capitals under intense pressure.
In Germany, the Angela Merkel government has decided to temporarily shut down seven nuclear power plants that began operations before the end of 1980, as a three-month safety review of all 17 plants goes underway. Switzerland, where 40 per cent of energy requirements is met by nuclear energy, has suspended plans to build and replace nuclear plants. The EU has convened a meeting of nuclear safety authorities and operators to examine European preparedness. Some US Senators are warning of "another Chernobyl" and calling for an immediate suspension of licensing procedures for the Generation III reactor presently under review at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Russia and China seem to be bucking the trend. While suggesting that it would be studying Japan's crisis in detail, the Russian government has made it clear that it has no plans to revise its ambitious programme of building reactors. China, which has 11 reactors operating and plans to start construction on 10 new ones a year over the next decade, also declared it will carry on with its plans. The Indian government seems to be following this lead. While it too has ordered a review of safety features, the Indian nuclear establishment has underlined that all of its 20 nuclear plants are earthquake- and tsunami-proof.
After decades of being ostracised by policy-makers, nuclear energy has been coming back to the mainstream recently. Faced with rising oil prices and growing concerns about climate change, states started giving nuclear energy a serious consideration. There is a new enthusiasm for nuclear energy when concerns about global warming and energy security have become paramount.
In contrast to coal-fired power plants, atomic reactors produce little in the way of CO2 emissions. In addition, the technology helps regions without natural gas reserves. Nuclear energy also means a certain degree of independence in determining energy policy. Furthermore, energy produced from nuclear plants tends to be cheap, making it popular with consumers.
Nuclear power continued to have a public relations problem, however, as its mere mention raises the spectre of another Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, not to mention proliferation and dirty bombs. But things have been rapidly changing with previously staunch opponents, such as Patrick Moore (a founder of Greenpeace), joining the bandwagon, convinced by the growing evidence that nuclear power is the most efficient energy source around today. There is a growing list of environmentalists openly advocating nuclear power. The "father" of the contemporary global environmental movement, James Lovelock, has been claiming challenges of global warming can only be tackled through nuclear energy.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasised in its 2007 report that countries could use more nuclear power as part of a shift away from fossil fuels. An unforeseen consequence of the anti-nuclear movement of the 1960s and 1970s in the West was that it impeded the growth of nuclear power, even as it boosted coal and oil-sourced electricity generation which, it now turns out, has damaged the environment probably beyond repair.
Japan's nuclear crisis might be a major setback to this development. It is already being suggested that faith in redundant, coincidence-proof security precautions has been wiped out by Fukushima. High-tech Japan has shown what could happen if an Internet attack on reactors were to happen, like the Stuxnet programme used against the Iranian nuclear programme. Or if a determined, technologically skilled terrorist group were to seize control of a power station.
But a proper perspective is needed if the debate is to proceed rationally. It was an old reactor with a 1960s design that got into trouble in Japan. This technology is outdated. Fukushima's safety level is significantly below that of modern nuclear plants, it wouldn't get construction approval these days. The crisis was triggered by the failure of diesel generators that provided electricity to cool the reactors once they shut down. In the new Generation III reactors, there is a simplified cooling system where the water circulates by natural convection.
The hyper-reaction to the Japan crisis, though understandable, will not lead to sensible policy outcomes because the costs and risks of nuclear energy need to be rigorously compared against those of other energy sources and the long-term costs and risks of global warming.
Nuclear power remains an important means of meeting the energy requirements for emerging powers and a valuable tool in heading off global warming. As of today, India imports three quarters of its oil, natural gas and coal and gets only 3 per cent of its power from nuclear energy. While about one-third of India's new power supplies have come from natural gas and hydro electricity over the last decade, the cost of natural gas and environmental concerns over hydro dams will force India towards greater use of coal in its energy mix. This can be devastating for the environment. So India's embrace of nuclear power should be viewed as a realistic answer to this problem.
The writer teaches at King's College, London, firstname.lastname@example.org
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A SERAIKI STATE OF MIND
The long-standing incipient, sputtering movement for a Seraiki province encompassing the southern areas of Punjab has received a fillip from an unexpected quarter of late. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told a rally in Multan the other day that the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) would include in its manifesto for the next elections, the demand for a separate Seraiki province.
The prime minister's announcement took everyone by surprise, since the ruling PPP had never before paid heed to the agitation for a Seraiki province that had been gathering force in recent years. Analysts saw this unexpected turnaround as the PPP's attempt to kill three birds with one stone. One, it would add something "new" to what the PPP could offer the electorate in its traditional stronghold of southern Punjab (resting on a political base of large landowners), since its basket of "achievements" during its ongoing tenure was pretty empty. Two, it steals the thunder of the Seraiki nationalists when the largest mainstream party adopts the demand. Three, the reduction of Punjab in area and population as a consequence would weaken the "fiefdom" of its on-again-off again "ally", the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N).
Centred on the ancient city of Multan (whose geneology is even older than Lahore), such a province, were it to be carved out of Punjab, would include all the Seraiki-speaking areas, virtually the whole of southern Punjab, including the state of Bahawalpur, which was incorporated into the erstwhile West Pakistan province when One Unit was imposed in 1956. Linguistically, culturally and in terms of political, economic and social deprivation, the proposed Seraiki province would enjoy homogeneity. It would also allow the assertion of these rights, in contrast to the perceived discrimination over long years at the hands of Takht Lahore (rule from Lahore). Historically, this contradiction between Takht Lahore and Multan dates back to pre-Mughal times.
The defunct princely Bahawalpur state has never, until recently, been able to garner enough critical mass for the demand of restoration of the state. Since the February 2008 general elections that ushered in the present democratic dispensation, Mohammad Ali Durrani, the former information minister under General Pervez Musharraf, has spearheaded this restoration demand. Cynics attribute his departure from the King's party of the general, the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid), and his embrace of the Bahawalpur state cause, to thwarted ambition within the folds of his erstwhile party, rather than a sudden "awakening" to the rights of his mother area vis-à-vis restoration of the dissolved state.
Unlike India, which since Independence has seen many new states carved out of larger provinces, this would, if it were to come to pass, be a first for Pakistan. The demand for linguistic, cultural and political redemarcation has come in the past from almost all the provinces of what is now Pakistan, without finding favour with successive rulers, both military and civilian.
For example, the Pashtuns in northern Balochistan (including the provincial capital Quetta) have hankered since independence for merger with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North West Frontier Province) province to their north, or a Pashtun province separated from the Baloch areas of Balochistan. This demand forms the centre-piece of the manifesto of a regional party based in this area called the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party. However, this demand has remained confined to the party's circles and failed to find traction within the power structures of Pakistan.
The Hazara division within Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a Hindko-speaking area, last year saw a major agitation for a separate province when the North West Frontier Province was renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the latter also a name achieved after a long and twisted history of agitation against the colonially-imposed former title. However, the main political party in the Hazara area, the PML-N, after leading the agitation for a separate Hazara province through its local leadership, had second thoughts at the central leadership level (Nawaz Sharif) and did not press the issue to a successful conclusion.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (formerly Muhajir Qaumi Movement) of self-exiled leader Altaf Hussain was accused at one time of seeking to carve out a separate province from the cities/urban areas of Sindh province, including Karachi, a corridor linking Karachi to Hyderabad, and possibly other cities of Sindh where Urdu-speaking migrants from India at the time of partition were in a majority. This new province was dubbed "Jinnahpur". That fancy proposal too sank without a trace.
Lacking democracy throughout most of its existence since independence, Pakistan has been ruled overwhelmingly by military and civilian dictatorial or authoritarian regimes. In such dispensations, the question of autonomy and rights for the provinces subsumed within One Unit since 1956 and only restored in 1970 (not to mention East Pakistan that is today Bangladesh), assumed the position of a central plank in the struggle for democracy. East Pakistan achieved independence as Bangladesh after much bloodshed and military suppression, Balochistan is currently going through the fifth insurgency since independence, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have a history of struggles for their rights. It was not until the 18th constitutional amendment brought in by the current democratic government led by the PPP that the issue of provincial autonomy has been recognised and enshrined in the constitution. The process of devolution of powers to the provinces is ongoing even as these lines are being written.
But in the process of the final success of the provinces on the autonomy issue, the space for further devolution/separation/carving out new provinces does not at present seem promising. Partisan political considerations such as reducing Punjab's size through the creation of a Seraiki province in its southern reaches to weaken the rival PML-N may inform the PPP's sudden conversion to that cause, but there is little doubt such a move would bring immense satisfaction to the Seraiki-speaking people of southern Punjab and also correct the present imbalance in the federal structure of the state, in which Punjab alone has more population than all the other three provinces combined (around 60 per cent). Whether the Seraiki dream will come true is not certain just yet. It would require an extraordinary altruism above and beyond the call of duty on the part of the entire Pakistani political class to converge on the constitutional amendment required to create a new province, an altruism that has remained conspicuous by its absence in Pakistan's chequered history.
The writer is editor, 'Daily Times', Lahore
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE ZING THING
A few months from now, when Kolkata resident Ayan Gupta finishes his engineering studies and starts on a job hunt, his top choices for his first job are the distant Bangalore and Hyderabad, surprisingly. Kolkata does not figure in his selection at all. Neither does New Delhi.
Bangalore has thousands of job openings for fresh engineers like him, says Gupta, 22. The money is better, he explains. It is easy to buy a bike to commute to work, and to find a small flat to live in. Kolkata's job economy is limited, says Gupta. Even his parents are hoping he lands a job in Bangalore or elsewhere.
Bangalore is the overwhelming choice for engineers who are first-time job seekers, says a pan-India survey by Aspiring Minds, a Gurgaon-based employability testing firm run by a duo of engineers, one trained at IIT Delhi and the other at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Aspiring Minds polled 19,000 fresh engineers and soon-to-be-engineers and found that Bangalore scored over every other Indian city, polling 72 per cent of the location votes. Delhi NCR (with Gurgaon and Noida) got 32 per cent votes, Hyderabad bested Chennai and Pune topped Mumbai.
Clearly, India's rookie engineers are dreaming of jobs in younger cities, illustrating a changing dynamic between India, old and new.
"The openness and the youngness of a city — its zing factor — makes a huge difference," says Himanshu Aggarwal, the IIT Delhi-educated founder and director of Aspiring Minds. "These are 21- or 22-year-old Indians, just starting out on their first job, and they are drawn towards the vibrancy and energy of India's new metros," says Aggarwal.
Cities like Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad and the NCR define modernity and appear to be the path out of small-town India for many educated, qualified Indians. Of course, the job profile, company branding and salary hold undoubted sway while choosing the first jobs.
At the same time, India's young cities offer the widest spectrum of jobs and the maximum opportunity for fresh engineering graduates, not just in technology-related fields but in others as well, says Aggarwal.
Attitudinally, India's rising metros like Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad are well matched with India's young demographic, says Harish Bijoor, a brand consultant in Bangalore, explaining the trend. "These cities are full of young people, their culture is very mixed and that is welcoming and comforting to other young people," says Bijoor. Established metropolises like Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi have become increasingly associated with old-economy enterprises, old family, old money, and staid bureaucracy, he says.
Not so long ago, Bangalore had the reputation of a city where little work was done and nobody delivered on time. Swalpa adjust maadi (compromise a little) was the humorous mantra of the old Bangalore resident.
But that has changed. Bangalore and many of the newer Indian metros have a strong entrepreneurial culture and an eco-system supportive of new ideas. They add up to a powerhouse of skills, entrepreneurship and connections to the global economy. They offer young Indians the promise of economic opportunity.
However, India's younger cities magnify not just successes but also its failures. They are crowded, their roads are congested and urban planning has clearly not kept up with young India's ambitions for these cities.
Yet the Aspiring Minds dream city survey further accentuates the "young" city pattern with newer young cities like Mysore, Chandigarh, Mangalore and Coimbatore making the cut, vying with older metros Mumbai and Chennai as choices for young engineers. The divide between cities will only get more pronounced with time, says Bijoor. Every other Indian is 25 or younger, but the people governing cities are usually 70 or older. "The older cities will need to reinvent themselves or the younger cities will race ahead," he says.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
ARE THE STAKES TOO HIGH?
No one thought the Interstate 35W bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis would collapse. No one thought the Gulf of Mexico would be fouled to the horrible extent that it was by the BP oil spill. The awful convergence of disasters in Japan — a 9.0 earthquake followed by a tsunami and a devastating nuclear power emergency — seemed almost unimaginable.
Worst-case scenarios unfold more frequently than we'd like to believe, which leads to two major questions regarding nuclear power that Americans have an obligation to answer.
First, can a disaster comparable to the one in Japan happen here? The answer, of course, is yes —whether caused by an earthquake or some other event or series of events. Nature is unpredictable and human beings are fallible. It could happen. So the second question is whether it makes sense to follow through on plans to increase reliance on nuclear power, thus heightening the risk of a terrible problem. Is that a risk worth taking?
Concern over global warming has increased the appeal of nuclear power, which does not produce the high levels of greenhouse gases that come from fossil fuels. But there has been a persistent tendency to ignore the toughest questions posed by nuclear power: What should be done with the waste? What are the consequences of a catastrophic accident in a populated area? How safe are the plants, really? Why would taxpayers have to shoulder so much of the financial risk of expanding nuclear power capacity, an effort that would be wildly expensive?
A big part of the problem at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power station are the highly radioactive spent fuel rods kept in storage pools at the plant. What to do, ultimately, with such dangerous waste material is the nuclear power question without an answer. Nuclear advocates and public officials don't talk about it much. Denial is the default position when it comes to nuclear waste. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week that the 40-year-old Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County, 35 miles north of New York City, should be closed. Try to imagine the difficulty, in the event of an emergency, of evacuating such an area with its millions of residents. "This plant in this proximity to New York City was never a good risk," said the governor.
There are, blessedly, very few catastrophic accidents at nuclear power plants. And there have not been many deaths associated with them. The rarity of such accidents provides a comfort zone. We can look at the low probabilities and declare, "It can't happen here."
But what if it did happen here? What would the consequences be? If Indian Point blew, how wide an area and how many people would be affected, and what would the cleanup costs be? Rigorously answering such questions is the only way to determine whether the potential risk to life and property is worthwhile. The 104 commercial nuclear plants in the US are getting old, and many have had serious problems over the years. There have been dozens of instances since 1979, the year of the Three Mile Island accident, in which nuclear reactors have had to be shut down for more than a year for safety reasons.
Building new plants can be breathtakingly expensive and requires government loan guarantees. Banks are not lining up to lend money on their own for construction of the newest generation of Indian Points. In addition to the inherent risks with regard to safety and security, the nuclear industry has long been notorious for sky-high construction costs, feverish cost-overruns and projects that eventually are abandoned. The Union of Concerned Scientists, in a 2009 analysis of the costs associated with nuclear plant construction, said that once a plant came online it usually led to significant rate increases for customers:"In the 1990s, legislators and regulators also allowed utilities to recover most 'stranded costs' as states issued billions of dollars in bonds backed by ratepayer charges to pay for utilities' above-market investments." The refrain here is familiar: "The total cost to ratepayers, taxpayers and shareholders stemming from cost overruns, cancelled plants and stranded costs exceeded $300 billion in today's dollars."
Nuclear power is hardly the pristine, economical, unambiguous answer to the nation's energy needs and global warming concerns. It offers benefits and big-time shortcomings. Ultimately, the price may be much too high.Bob Herbert
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
DON'T CALL ME, I WON'T CALL YOU
Nobody calls me anymore — and that's just fine. With the exception of immediate family members, who mostly phone to discuss medical symptoms and arrange child care, and a fund-raising team, which takes a diabolical delight in phoning me every few weeks at precisely the moment I am tucking in my children, people just don't call. It's at the point where when the phone does ring, my first thought is: "What's happened? What's wrong?" My second thought is: "Isn't it weird to just call like that? Out of the blue? With no e-mailed warning?"
I don't think it's just me. Sure, teenagers gave up the phone call aeons ago. But I'm a long way away from my teenage years, back when the key rite of passage was getting a phone in your bedroom or a line of your own. In the last five years, full-fledged adults have seemingly given up the telephone — land line, mobile, voice mail and all. According to Nielsen Media, even on cellphones, voice spending has been trending downward, with text spending expected to surpass it within three years.
Phone calls are rude. Intrusive. Awkward. "Thank you for noticing something that millions of people have failed to notice since the invention of the telephone until just now," Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, said by way of opening our phone conversation. "I've been hammering away at this for decades. The telephone has a very rude propensity to interrupt people."
Even at work, where people once managed to look busy by wearing a headset or constantly parrying calls back and forth via a harried assistant, the offices are silent. The reasons are multifold. Nobody has assistants anymore to handle telecommunications. And in today's nearly door-free workplaces, unless everyone is on the phone, calls are disruptive and, in a tight warren of cubicles, distressingly public. Does anyone want to hear me detail to the dentist the havoc six-year molars have wreaked on my daughter?
The nature of the rare business call has also changed. "Phone calls used to be everything: serious, light, heavy, funny," Burnham said. "But now they tend to be things that are very focused. And almost everyone e-mails first and asks, 'Is it OK if I call?' " Even in fields where workers of various stripes (publicists, agents, salespeople) traditionally conducted much of their business by phone, hoping to catch a coveted decision-maker off-guard or in a down moment, the phone stays on the hook.
Receiving calls on the cellphone can be a particular annoyance. First, there's the assumption that you're carrying the thing at all times. For those in homes with stairs, the cellphone siren can send a person scrambling up and down flights of steps in desperate pursuit. Having the cellphone in hand doesn't necessarily lessen the burden. After all, someone might actually be using the phone: someone who is in the middle of scrolling through a Facebook photo album. Someone who is playing Cut the Rope. Someone who is in the process of painstakingly touch-tapping an important e-mail.
For the most part, assiduous commenting on a friend's Facebook updates and periodically e-mailing promises to "catch up by phone soon" substitute for actual conversation. With friends who merit face time, arrangements are carried out via electronic transmission. "We do everything by text and e-mail," said Laurie David, a Hollywood producer and author. "It would be strange at this point to try figuring all that out by phone."
In our text-heavy world, mothers report yearning for the sound of their teenage and adult children's voices. "I'm sort of missing the phone," said Lisa Birnbach, author of True Prep and mother of three teenagers. "It's warmer and more honest." That said, her landline "has become a kind of vestigial part of my house like the intercom buttons once used in my prewar building to contact the 'servants quarters.'" When the phone rings, 9 times out of 10, it's her mother.
There are holdouts. Radhika Jones, an assistant managing editor at Time magazine, still has a core group of friends she talks to by phone. "I've always been a big phone hound," she said. "My parents can tell you about the days before call waiting." Yet even she has slipped into new habits: Voice mails from her husband may not get listened to until end of day. Phone messages are returned by e-mail. "At least you're responding!"
"When the telephone first appeared, there were all kinds of etiquette issues over whom to call and who should answer and how," Dr. Fischer, a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told me when finally reached by phone. Among the upper classes, for example, it was thought that the butler should answer calls. For a long time, inviting a person to dinner by telephone was beyond the pale; later, the rules softened and it was OK to call to ask someone to lunch.
Telephones were first sold exclusively for business purposes and only later as a kind of practical device for the home. Husbands could phone wives when traveling on business, and wives could order their groceries delivered. Almost immediately, however, people began using the telephone for social interactions. "The phone companies tried to stop that for about 30 years because it was considered improper usage," Dr. Fischer said.
We may be returning to the phone's original intentions — and impact. "I can tell you exactly the last time someone picked up the phone when I called," Mary Roach said. "It was two months ago and I said: 'Whoa! You answered your phone!' It was a PR person. She said, 'Yeah, I like to answer the phone.' "Both were startled to be voice-to-voice with another unknown, unseen human being.Pamela Paul
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The finance ministry seems to be making a habit of throwing in the towel too easily. It did it with A Raja when he wanted to give out licences on the cheap, and it's done it again with labour minister Mallikarjun Kharge who wants to pay a 9.5% interest on provident fund accounts for 2010-11. When Kharge justified this by saying he'd "found" a R1,731-crore surplus, the finance ministry got the CAG to do an audit of the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO). The CAG, while red-flagging various flawed accounting policies of the EPFO (it is probably the only organisation left in the world using single-entry accounting!), said it was not in a position to verify the surplus since the accounts were a mess. Nor is the CAG the only one to say that. The EPFO's pension arm (EPFO has an Employees Pension Scheme and an Employees Provident Fund) had a shortfall of R22,659 crore in 2005-06, and while estimates put this at around double now, there is no official estimate after 2005-06. The reason? Even the 2005-06 actuarial estimate was based on a small sample, and the actuaries have refused to do the exercise as they say the samples aren't representative! In such a situation, even if the EPFO has a R1,731-crore surplus, it pertains to the EPF part of it. You'd think the organisation would try to save some money to try and reduce the massive deficits in the other part.
The finance ministry has told the EPFO that it will allow a 9.5% payment but on the condition that all its employee accounts will have to be updated within the next six months—the logic is that if there is any shortfall, it will get exposed by this—and if there is any shortfall, it will have to be made up by giving out less interest next year. The finance ministry appears to be wilfully misleading itself. For one, the EPFO has never kept to any deadline in the past, whether it applies to modernising its accounts or to allow online access to subscriber accounts. Also, since the EPFO does not maintain double-entry accounts, where monies are automatically debited and credited under each accounting head, there is no way of knowing where the money comes from. So, even if the EPFO actually does update each subscriber account, this could well be from the fresh money it gets each year and not from the R1,731-crore surplus. If the idea is to protect subscribers, why not allow them to migrate their accounts from the EPFO to the New Pension Scheme, which is run by professional money managers, if they wish to? Even the moderately performing mutual funds give higher returns than the EPFO.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The efforts made by the medical council of India (MCI), which was reconstituted with a new board of governors by the government of India in May last year to improve the medical education in India, have been commendable. MCI, which is the regulatory body for medical education in India, has a tough task ahead, given the deterioration in the quality of medical education in India, even as the number of medical colleges in the country zoomed up to become the largest in the world. But, in a short span of less than a year, the council has been able to prepare two reports on undergraduate and postgraduate medical education to review the current status and trace out a Vision 2015 document. The report of the working group on undergraduate studies not only pointed out that the MBBS graduates are ill-equipped to take care of common problems but also pointed to the need for revising the curriculum and increasing the current intake of medical colleges. The shortfall of doctors is estimated to be 9.54 lakh by 2031. Apart from increasing intake, the report has also called for upgrading the larger district hospitals to community medical colleges through the PPP route.
On curricular changes, the major suggestions included measures for introducing clinical teaching from the first year through clerkship methods and more secondary hospital exposure. The recommendations on postgraduate medical education called for an exhaustive review of current courses, nomenclature and criteria to ensure uniformity. It also called for a doubling of seats by 2020 and a further doubling by 2030. Proposals have also been mooted for special incentives to motivate private institutions to start courses in basic specialities and for increasing the availability of teachers. The MCI has already operationalised the recommendation for a single national selection test for admissions to MBBS and PG courses with uniforms cut-off marks for eligibility. Though the Tamil Nadu government sought to stall the process by securing a stay from the high court, the Supreme Court has allowed the MCI to proceed with the proposal, despite the objections raised by the central ministry of health and family welfare that claimed that the MCI proposal did not have the prior approval of the central government. And now most recent reports say that the MCI would extend its role of improving the quality of medical education from just checking on the availability of faculty and infrastructure in medical colleges to the grading of teaching institutions. One would only wish that other educational bodies would also take such proactive steps to boost the quality of education and scale up the numbers.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
CAN JAPAN POWER ON?
Japan's economy has had a terrible shock. The loss in human terms is still being counted but people were already asking as early as Saturday, March 12, what this meant for the global economy. That may sound heartless, but we have to assess the economic as well as the human damage.
The global markets reacted adversely on the Monday after but the Nikkei bounced back on Tuesday. The yen strengthened against the dollar. The markets are not irrational in this. After the initial shock, investors see opportunities for the Japanese economy. Even if everyone does not, the smart investor knows that the Japanese economy is quite robust, has been underperforming for nearly 10 years and can now get a boost once the dust has settled. The way the stock markets work has been misunderstood by its fans and critics alike. The rational expectations hypothesis does not say that everyone is rational and infallible, but that, on average, the expectations and the actions based on these expectations of thousands of investors get to the correct analysis of events. The bears having fled, the bulls see an opportunity for buying.
The reasons for such a panic-free reaction about Japan's prospects are many. Japan has a surfeit of savings and enough excess capacity to bounce back to high single-digit growth rates by the third quarter of this year. The global economy, at least the G7 countries' group, is still depressed. Interest rates are low and the growth recovery has been tepid. Japan did grow at nearly 4% last year but this is after 10 years of slowdown and a loss of 10% in 2008-09. The destruction of the North Eastern coast towns covers a small part of the economy—around 5%. But the widespread effects of suspension of production in factories across Japan has an immediate adverse effect on activity. There are also the shortages of food and materials and, above all, electricity, which impose a large cost on the people. Yet in the aggregate these costs will be a small proportion of Japan's GDP.
The great unknown (as of the time of writing) is the nuclear situation. It looks very likely that we may have a Chernobyl size breakdown. This will need evacuation of citizens and treatment of relief workers in the area for radiation damage. But once this is past us, there will be a great surge in demand for all types of materials and labour services. Housebuilding plus restocking of automobile inventories plus restoring energy supplies will require a lot of investment, which will need imaginative credit creation by the Central Bank. The forex reserves Japan has can be used for this and, despite the high debt-GDP ratio, Japan will be able to borrow as its credit rating is sound.
The biggest problem will be the future of the energy sector. Those who have a lot invested in the revival of the nuclear industry are urging calm and saying there is no need to overreact. But they would say that, wouldn't they? Japan's reliance on civilian nuclear energy supply was always something of an anomaly, given its fierce opposition to nuclear armament. At the very least, the nuclear revival will be checked. We already see the signs in China's slowdown of its nuclear programme. But beyond that, several issues need to be addressed.
Japan's Fukushima reactors seem in retrospect to be bunched too closely together. They are also old and news emerges that several warnings about their need for repair were ignored by the Tokyo Electricity and Power Company (TEPCO). It will be a tall order to find a short-run replacement for the reactors to restore electricity supplies. At the very least, the reactors will need repairs (if they have not self-destructed) and renewal, perhaps with better technology. If a decision is taken to scrap them completely, then a short-run shortage of electricity supply will be difficult to avoid. Japan will have to fall back on fossil fuels, and the oil markets—with enough difficulty on their plates—will react adversely.
If the Japanese rejection of nuclear supplies is repeated by several more countries (Germany and China are already showing signs), the pressure on oil prices will persist. The medium-run prospect for growth, even in the so-called emerging economies, will then need a downward revision. We may see a dispersal of growth rates, higher in Japan and lower in China. There will be secondary effects on other energy sources—solar, biofuels, wind power, etc. But these effects will be spread out over time. The short-run pressure on energy supplies will continue for a while, say three to four years.
Japan's population has the resilience and the skills and hard working attitude to be able to respond positively. Its political leadership has been corrupt and ineffective for the past few years. But it is the third-largest economy in terms of total GDP and one of the richest nations. It will come through.
The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
YOGINDER K ALAGH
Having endorsed the agricultural strategy of the Union Budget and asked for its implementation to be put on the fast track in my Express column, one can try and guess what an ideal Budget debate should cover. The literature review, with which the Economic Survey has justified some inflation with growth, is enjoyable; for, at heart, I remain a teacher. The Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) brings in a lot of analysis from the world, which is good, but I wish somebody had brought to his attention Indian studies, too, for they may have hinted at out-of-the-box solutions. In the early phases of liberalisation, the late Manohar Rao used control theory to study the trade-offs between growth and inflation in the Bombay School. Of course, his macroeconomics text was popular all over, as I discovered in a visit to Washington. The tradition has continued at RBI and, in the last avatar I saw, in a book edited by BB Bhattacharya, growing beyond 7.5% created many problems. Of course, in standard Klein-Kosobud growth econometrics, an Alagh-Guha paper had worked out the trade-off at around 7.5%. Actually, Kaushik Basu's excellent discussion on trust in a contemporary behavioural economics frame could be pushed for many of the answers. Edmund Phelps got the Nobel for showing that when you reach that frontier, which any economist worth his salt can feel—when prices are in stress—the relationship between sarkar, business and trade unions becomes the main issue. Incidentally, all is not lost, for when the trust deficit was showing up in Delhi, a young collector was being saved by his adivasi customers on the border of Orissa and Andhra. All of a sudden, I felt that a year and a half in designing fresh recruitment and training styles for the higher civil services a decade ago was not all lost. The Budget speech forecast of an expected growth "at 9% with an outside band of +/-0.25%" was delightfully precise, but without an estimate of the significance of the deviation.
Regarding food prices, the Budget speech uses a delightful phrase, "negative rates of inflation". A double-negative is a product of our mindset. Falling prices are less ornamental. This was used by the late C Subramaniam, as finance minister, during the Emergency. He was then taking credit for India being one of the first countries in the world to come out of the energy crisis. To suggest that the macro situation is similar today, is pushing credibility; but the more serious issue is a rather weak macro-policy framework for fighting food inflation. Agricultural growth of 5.4% comes after a low base. The average of the last three years is less than 2%, which means that 0.5% of GDP is weather related. Food and fuel inflation is above 15%. Corporate results in the third quarter show rising cost impacts on falling profits before tax. Manufacturing growth is half of what was in the first half. Interest rates are high, at around 10%. Does this mean growth is slowing down? Not exactly. It's still at around 8%. But, as the PM said, and as we have also said, inflation, if ignored, is a threat to the growth rate.
The current growth-inflation dynamics in the last few weeks suggest that the balance of risk has tilted towards intensification of inflation. The January 2011 figure was 8.23%. Largely led by food and fuel, it is now spreading to more general inflation, with manufacturing prices edging upwards on account of cost-push factors. The current account deficit is a matter of concern in the year ahead. There are mitigating factors, however. The Budget speech correctly says that revenue growth is higher, with the revenue from 3G spectrum sales, for example, providing a boost. But it can be argued that since headline inflation has been higher than projected at the time of Budget formation, growth of revenues in nominal terms is higher than the projected 12.5%, since inflation at 8% and real growth at 8% gives 16% growth. High food and fuel prices can cause macro pressures through food, fertiliser and fuel subsidies and direct government expenditures. Salary bills could be higher with the inflation. These are matters of concern. On the other hand, it is true, and I am the first one to admit it, that India's fiscal managers like the finance minister and his team are experienced men in handling such pressures. The PM, for example, highlighted inflation as a threat to growth even when the CEA underplayed it. Incidentally, fuel prices and a bad monsoon or political profligacy in an election year could make matters worse, just as prudent management of the kind the finance secretary suggested could improve matters.
An interesting aspect of food inflation fighting has been the design of tariffs to control exports. This was tucked away, but is better than export bans. A friend to whom I said this told me that we may in fact have both because the bureaucracy is not above overkill in instruments. But leaving that aside, I do hope we will use tariffs to regulate food imports also. It is clear as daylight that we do not have a policy on stable and reasonable incentives for non-grain crops entering the food basket. It is clear and has been proved again by a chela of the late Manohar Rao that non-foodgrain supplies are price-elastic and this is the only way of ensuring supplies. But, we rejected the advice of many committees that worked out the design and stuck to a completely anti-reform stance. The Economic Survey makes the point but it is lost in the cacophony.
The author is a former Union minister
LEARNING FROM FUKUSHIMA
Events over the last nine days at the crippled six-reactor Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) complex, since the unprecedented earthquake-tsunami combine struck Japan's north-eastern coast, seem to be slowly moving towards a stable situation. Barring the sporadic spikes during March 15-16, radiation levels at distances more than 20 km from the site have not been abnormal. The single event of radioactive iodine release on March 12 seems, however, to have found its way into the food chain. But in the unfolding story of this nuclear disaster, the third worst after Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, there are a lot of unanswered questions. Evading safety requirements seems to be an endemic problem in the nuclear industry, as is a general lack of transparency on safety issues. For India post-Fukushima, the preparedness of the nuclear establishment to ensure the safety of its nuclear power plants, current as well as those planned, when faced with an extremely unlikely accident is a vital concern. While the Fukushima NPP structures withstood the impact of a shock of 9.2 magnitude 130 km from the site, the 10 metre high tsunami waves — 2.5 metres above the safety margin provided — exposed the ill-preparedness of the operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). A former Vice-Chairman of Japan's Nuclear Safety Commission, Kenji Sumita, wrote: "Every step TEPCO has taken is a day late and a dollar short. The release of information from TEPCO is even further behind." If this could happen in Japan, an industrially advanced country with a high level of safety consciousness, one can well imagine the situation in India.
While the three operational boiling water reactors (BWRs) of General Electric's 1970s vintage Mark-1 design shut down automatically, as required, following the earthquake, TEPCO could not maintain the continued cooling necessary to remove the residual decay heat from their reactor vessels. Although this is only 3 per cent of the total power, it can last for over a month. This, it appears, was due to the absence of adequate back-up arrangements, which became clear following the station blackout caused by the tsunami. The emergency diesel generators that came on stopped functioning after an hour; the batteries packed up after eight hours; and the mobile generators that were rolled in failed to activate the pumps even as water levels in the reactors were falling, making a core meltdown distinctly possible. It appears that the flooding by the tsunami had also damaged the switchgears. Inadequate on-site water inventory also seems to have been a problem considering that sea water pumping was resorted to almost immediately. This also suggests that the reactors did not have appropriate passive cooling measures retrofitted for such a loss of coolant accident (LOCA). Indeed, in 1992 the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) highlighted several safety-related issues with the containment features of Mark 1 BWRs, which significantly included alternative water supply for reactor vessel injection and hydrogen control. The NRC specifically called for maintaining an inert nitrogen atmosphere in the containment during shutdown. The hydrogen explosions in two units suggest the absence of nitrogen-inerted containment at Fukushima. Further, one of the serious problems with Mark 1 reactors is the smaller containment volume to power ratio. This results in higher containment pressure, rendering the reactor more vulnerable to breach than later BWR designs or even the earlier Tarapur type pre-Mark 1 design.
In the Indian context, the issue of safety of the Tarapur nuclear power plant, which houses BWRs similar to Fukushima, has been raised. While containment itself is not an issue here, TAPS maintains a large inventory of water in huge reservoirs and has a much bigger suppression pool than those in Fukushima, which exploded in one of its units. Further, improved and redundant back-up power as well as passive cooling have been incorporated at TAPS. As regards the other mainstay reactors of the Pressurised Heavy Water (PHWR) kind, the safety features are much superior to earlier generation BWRs. Unlike Light Water Reactors (LWRs) — boiling or pressurised — PHWRs have separate coolant and (low temperature) moderator circuits and the reactor vessel calandria itself is maintained in a large water vault. The on-site water inventory for cooling in PHWRs is thus inherently very large. In addition, they have other mutually independent parallel means to remove the decay heat in case LOCA occurs. The more recent designs of PHWRs have added passive cooling features as well. The yet-to-be-built Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) has a passive cooling feature that is intrinsic to the design. The new generation LWRs that are being imported are also expected to have passive cooling features. The Russian VVER-1000 of the kind being built at Kudankulam and Areva's EPR1600 have, in addition, a 'core catcher' at the bottom of the reactor vessel to contain the core melt in case of a meltdown and prevent it from leaching into the soil below.
In light of the Fukushima accident, the lesson for India is not necessarily a roll-back on the nuclear energy option. It is that there is an imperative need to allow for the unimagined very low probability event with high impact potential in safety analyses. The current paradigm and methodology of Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PSA) may have to change once the details and the exact timeline of events at Fukushima become available. Notwithstanding the assurances given by the Department of Atomic Energy, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board — which needs to be empowered — must carry out a thorough technical safety review of all the nuclear power plants, including those on the import list. This must be done against new benchmarks, and regular safety audits of each plant must be done and the results made public. Transparency in matters of nuclear safety is needed more than ever, post-Fukushima.
NUCLEAR POWER AFTER FUKUSHIMA
THE DIFFICULTY IN BRINGING JAPAN'S NUCLEAR CRISIS UNDER CONTROL HAS UNDOUBTEDLY PUT A SERIOUS QUESTION MARK OVER THE ENTIRE ISSUE OF NUCLEAR POWER.
Even if it is as yet unclear how the Japanese nuclear emergency will play itself out, it is certain that the town of Fukushima in Japan, familiar hitherto only to a few, will enter the global nuclear lexicon alongside Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. The difficulty in bringing the nuclear crisis under control, a crisis precipitated by a series of accidents and failures while negotiating a safe shutdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power complex in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, has undoubtedly put a serious question mark over the entire issue of nuclear power.
What drives home the gravity of the situation is that this nuclear emergency, we would have been told earlier, is one that would never happen. Japan after all is one of the world's most advanced industrial nations, an acknowledged leader in the technologies of the twentieth century, with several decades of experience in handling nuclear matters in all its varied aspects. Japan is a world leader in the design of earthquake-resistant structures. The reactors themselves had withstood the ravages of earlier earthquakes and despite some incidents, nothing had happened, either at Fukushima or at other nuclear complexes in Japan, to suggest the possibility of a crisis of this magnitude. The word "tsunami" itself is of Japanese origin and it is well-known that the island nation has worked towards an extraordinary level of preparedness to face this kind of onslaught from the seas around it. Japan was, until now, along with countries like France and South Korea, a textbook example of holding nuclear fears at bay in the public sphere, while making nuclear power an integral part of their energy security and overall energy strategy. It could not be that Japanese society would allow radiation dangers to exist unchecked; no other country in the world is as aware of the dangers of radiation and fallout.
Unfortunately, the post-shock scenario has rewritten all these perceptions. Despite the advanced level of Japanese technological capabilities, the reactors at Fukushima, it now emerges, have had a troubled history. From as far back as 1971, warnings have been sounded regarding the specific unsafe features of the General Electric Mark I boiling water reactors as this class of reactors is known, warnings that went unheeded. Despite the technological capabilities of Japanese industry, the Japanese nuclear operator, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) that runs the Fukushima reactors, faltered in its response to the crisis, whose scale was clearly unanticipated. As a former Vice-Chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, Kenji Sumita, put it to the leading Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun, "Every step taken by TEPCO is a day late and a dollar short." He also faulted the utility for its slowness in releasing information. Kenji Sumita's concluding remarks are a comprehensive critique of the Japanese nuclear establishment: "The unfolding nuclear disaster has unveiled weaknesses in TEPCO's crisis-management system and a structural flaw in Japan's administrative policy to ensure the safety of nuclear power."
The nuclear establishments of the major nuclear powers and their governments have reacted to the events in Japan with concern and for the most part have not sought, wisely, to brush aside or dismiss their implications for the continuing use of and possible expansion of nuclear power. But it is possible that in the future there would be a serious temptation to characterise these events as solely a failure of the Japanese nuclear industry.
Undoubtedly, some of the issues arising from this crisis are peculiar to the Japanese situation. Not only did they not set right a faulty design but continued to operate it in an earthquake and tsunami prone region, with critical facilities such as part of the cooling installations located literally on the sea-shore. In hindsight one may question the lack of wisdom of such an extensive dependence on nuclear installations for energy in what is arguably one of the most earthquake-prone nations in the world, though what a nation without fossil fuel reserves that desires energy security should do is not a question that is easily answered.
But the most serious questions raised by the Fukushima crisis go much deeper. The real shock has been the relative ease with which safety systems, procedures and protocols were rendered ineffective by the earthquake and the tsunami. In designing the system to withstand the severe but rare natural calamity, the potential for such an event to overwhelm all safety systems had clearly not been anticipated. When all installed safety systems are down, it is even more difficult to bring into play new measures to prevent the crisis from escalating further. To this we may add that, in the event, at Fukushima there were only two levels of safety precautions for continued cooling in case of an emergency shutdown, these being the generator-based and the battery backup based power systems. One of these, the generator-based system, was at the same level of vulnerability as the main power system itself and the second could hardly make up for the deficit in power after the others failed. Unanticipated sources of danger may arise, such as the danger of a meltdown or explosion with extensive radioactive contamination not from the reactors alone but also from large spent fuel pools.
The point here is obviously not the specifics of earthquakes and tsunamis, but that of allowing for the unthinkable to happen, and then providing further leeway. One of the key issues in nuclear safety has been the correct estimation of the level of risk from nuclear accidents. The critics have always pointed to the enormity of the consequences of a nuclear accident. Those in favour have however pointed out that the probability of such accidents is extremely small. In the present instance it has turned out that even if the probability of a calamity of rare magnitude leading to an accident is very small, it may still occur. At the same time, the costs of containing the effects of such an accident are significant, even when the accident falls well short of the truly catastrophic. Again at Fukushima it will not only be the immediate costs of containment that are relevant but also the long-term costs of entombing the reactors together with the contaminated water and other material that have been used to cool the reactors down.
It is striking that the international community of nuclear experts and nuclear decision-makers have exhibited a curious perplexity, indecision and confusion in their comments on and evaluation of the crisis. For days, it now appears, that no one outside a section of the Japanese nuclear establishment has been adequately briefed, while foreign nuclear agencies have speculated, often intemperately, regarding the situation at Fukushima. Despite several decades of existence of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it appears that the nuclear powers have no special role to play, at least in a manner visible in the public domain, in the event of a serious nuclear accident in a country that is a trusted signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The precise mechanism for transparent and rapid exchange of scientific information and expertise in such a crisis is not clear. If no such adequate mechanism exists or is not functional, it is a sorry comment on the functioning of the IAEA.
India needs to carry out a thorough-going review of the current status of nuclear safety, a review with independent scientific and technical expertise, drawn also from outside the ranks of the atomic energy establishment. Such a safety review clearly must go beyond the mere routine types of safety audit if it is to carry adequate credibility. The government is currently promoting large nuclear reactor complexes that are similar to, if not larger than, the Fukushima complex. There is no question that such complexes cannot move ahead without credible study and assurances flowing from a detailed study of what transpired at Fukushima and its implications for India. But despite such studies, democratic norms require that the population be adequately convinced of its safety in the future. Fukushima underlines the fact that nuclear power cannot be thrust on an unwilling populace.
(T. Jayaraman is Chairperson, Center for Science, Technology and Society, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.)
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
IRRITANTS, DIFFICULTIES IN A STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP
AMERICANS SEE RELATIONSHIP WITH INDIA GOING NOWHERE, BLAME 'BREZHNEV-ERA' BUREAUCRACY
LONDON: Some Indian political parties might think New Delhi has sold out to the Americans, but the view from Washington, as revealed in diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, is that the U.S. is not getting full value for its money in its "strategic partnership" with India.
The cables showed American officials as complaining that the UPA government was "frustratingly cautious'' in its approach to India-U.S. relations. There were references to "irritants'' that needed to be "fixed"; and to "difficulties" in getting full cooperation from India on issues such as intelligence-sharing that Americans regard as being critical to the "strategic partnership."
The Indian bureaucracy came in for a scathing attack. It was accused by one senior American diplomat of suffering from "Brezhnev-era controls'' and of behaving as though it was "still fighting the Cold War."
A cable dated January 14, 2008 ( 137238; secret), from David Mulford, U.S. Ambassador to New Delhi, said: "We note that under the NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee it was easier to meet Indian officials and get business done, even in the paranoid Ministry of Home Affairs, but the Congress government has reverted to type, indulging in the sorts of Brezhnev-era controls on its people of which Indira Gandhi would have approved. The Nehru dynasty needs to become more like the Tata dynasty."
It said problems in India-U.S. relations were "multiplying and festering'' as a result of a lack of effort to resolve them. This had "started to make people question the strategic partnership."
"Since the U.S. and India are partners in building an important strategic relationship, we either should not be having these kinds of petty problems, or, if they do come up, we should work together positively to resolve them immediately. This is not happening. Instead, these problems are multiplying and festering.''
Reporting a meeting between Mr. Mulford and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, the cable said: "The Ambassador told Foreign Secretary Menon January 11 that a range of bilateral problems has started to make people question the strategic partnership that both sides seek, and wonder why the USG has encountered such difficulty when it has done so much to try to bring India into the global nonproliferation mainstream."
A cable dated January 3, 2009 ( 185604: secret) from Ambassador in Islamabad Anne Patterson expressed "concern" at reports that India planned to release information from its investigation into the Mumbai attacks "next week'' to all countries that lost citizens.
"We believe it is premature for the Indians to be considering a broad dissemination of information on the attack until the investigation has been completed. In this regard, we note that the FBI has just presented a long list of information it is still seeking from the Indians to advance its own investigation," the cable said.
The Indian decision, it argued, would "undermine essential law enforcement efforts and forestall further Indo-Pak cooperation."
"Our goal is not only to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, but also to begin a dialogue that will reduce tensions between India and Pakistan,'' it added.
Several communications referred to a "trust deficit'' in India-U.S. relations because of the "perception'' in India that America was not doing enough to prevent Pakistan-inspired terror attacks on India.
According to a cable from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi dated December 15, 2006 ( 89649: secret), S. Jai Shankar, Joint Secretary (Americas) "complained" during a meeting that the U.S. alliance with Pakistan should not make it "ignore Pakistan-origin terrorism in India."
"He argued that working with Pakistan and helping India fight terror are not mutually exclusive and requested that the U.S. 'figure out your relationship' with Pakistan and then determine how you can help India,'' the cable said.
Dr. Jai Shankar is reported as having said that the Indian public scepticism over America's role on security issues was not "entirely unrelated to government perceptions" and that "we need to address this."
"He lamented that the chronic inability to talk frankly about terrorism dragged down other areas of collaboration," the cable said.
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')
U.S. FEARED TERROR HITS IN INDIA ON SAEED'S RELEASE
CHENNAI: On June 2, 2009, the day the Lahore High Court struck down the house arrest of Hafiz Saeed, the United States Charge d'Affaires in New Delhi shared "credible information" with the Indian government of possible terror attacks tied to the Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief's release.
The U.S. Embassy advised American nationals in India to be extra-vigilant, advising them that the Lashkar-e-Taiba was anti-American and considered U.S. citizens, aside from those of Israel and India, to be legitimate targets.
The frantic tone of three U.S. Embassy cables ( 209710: Secret/Noforn, June 2, 2009; 210144: Secret/Noforn, June 4, 2009; and 210051: Secret/Noforn, June 4, 2009), accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, tell of a high degree of anxiety in the U.S. Embassy and its consulates in India on the day of Saeed's release.
The Embassy's Emergency Action Committee (EAC) met to "discuss an increased threat stemming from the release of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed from house arrest," Charge Peter Burleigh cabled on June 2.
The Office of Regional Affairs, a State Department outfit that deals with proliferation issues, had "seen credible intelligence suggesting there are multiple threads of terrorist planning ongoing in India, some of which are possibly tied to Saeed's release."
The information, the cable said, was "serious but non-specific."
The EAC would issue a warden's message and remind U.S. citizens in India of potential attacks and advise increased vigilance, Mr. Peter Burleigh, who was standing in for the U.S. Ambassador, wrote.
The Embassy was leaving nothing to chance. Mr. Burleigh said in the cable that he would also make an "urgent call" to Home Minister P. Chidambaram informing him of the U.S. intelligence information.
From a subsequent cable he sent on June 4, it appears that he called National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan on June 2.
"During the conversation the CDA advised that the U.S. had credible information about possible attacks on India tied to the release of Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which had been passed to the GOI in May 2009," Mr. Burleigh cabled on June 4.
He also requested the NSA for a meeting between India's Intelligence Bureau and a representative of the Office of Regional Affairs.
A meeting took place on June 3 between the ORA official and the "director of the IB" to discuss the threats.
Meanwhile, the Embassy's Regional Security Office sent out a message to all American citizens and its personnel at the Embassy and consulates across India "reiterating the high threat of terrorism in India."
Alert in South India
Mr. Burleigh cabled that the RSO had indicated that security during the mid-June visits of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake "will be increased to address the current security environment."
Possibly as a result of the information that the U.S. shared with the IB, a terror alert was declared in all four south Indian States on June 5, 2009.
Hyderabad was seen as particularly at risk. More than three dozen suspects were detained in Andhra Pradesh. In Delhi, police arrested Mohammed Umer Madani, who they claimed was a "close associate" of Hafiz Saeed and a "commander" of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')
'MANIPUR MORE A COLONY OF INDIA'
OVERWHELMING PRESENCE OF MILITARY, PARAMILITARY AND POLICE FORCES GAVE VISITING AMERICAN DIPLOMAT THE IMPRESSION THAT IMPHAL WAS UNDER OCCUPATION
CHENNAI: In an assessment of the situation in Manipur in 2006, American Consul General in Kolkata Henry Jardine wrote that the overwhelming presence of military, paramilitary and police officers contributed to the impression that Imphal was under military occupation.
"In ConGen's many interactions, even with some government officials, a reoccurring comment was that Manipur was less a state and more a colony of India," he reported in a cable sent on September 1, 2006 ( 76968: confidential).
"The general use of the AFSPA [Armed Forces Special Powers Act] meant that the Manipuris did not have the same rights of other Indian citizens and restrictions on travel to the state added to a sense of isolation and separation from the rest of India proper," he added.
"Several Manipuris," he recalled, "argued that they had greater rights under the British Raj than under the present federation."
The Indian civil servants were also clearly frustrated with their inability to stem the growing violence and anarchy in the State, feeling their efforts to effectively control the insurgencies were hamstrung by local politicians either in league with or at least through corruption, helping to finance the insurgents, he said.
Rampant corruption was complicating the effort to control the rising violence and a lot of money was being taken as kickbacks from contracts and government projects, the cable reported, adding: "The corruption results in a nexus between politicians and the insurgent groups. At a dinner reception, Chief Secretary [Jarnail] Singh noted that many politicians have links with or receive support from the insurgent groups."
According to the leaked Embassy cable, authorities have committed numerous human rights violations under the AFSPA. "Governor [S.S.] Sidhu admitted to ConGen that the Assam Rifles in particular are perpetrators of violations."
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')
INDIAN LEADERS, THROUGH THE EYES OF OTHERS
ASIF ALI ZARDARI'S THUMBS UP FOR MANMOHAN SINGH; AMERICANS BET ON PRANAB MUKHERJEE
LONDON: The WikiLeaks documents provided interesting glimpses into how others saw Indian leaders — who they believed they could do business with; who was the one to watch for; and who could be quietly ignored.
The view from Islamabad was that the only person in the Indian government worthy of "respect" and trust was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The jury was still out on the "rest of the Indian government."
The Americans, taking the long view, were inclined to put their money on Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who they saw as a potential future Prime Minister — and thus the man to be cultivated.
President Asif Ali Zardari shared the Pakistani assessment with U.S. Senator John Kerry during a meeting in Islamabad on February 16, 2010, according to a cable from U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson.
The cable dated February 23, 2010 ( 250192; secret) recorded: "Zardari conceded that Singh deserved respect, but said he was not confident about the rest of the Indian government."
Mr. Zardari made the remark when Mr. Kerry, recalling his meeting with Dr. Manmohan Singh, told him that the Indian Prime Minister was "very open'' to negotiations with Pakistan "starting with the upcoming discussions between Pakistan and India's Foreign Secretaries.''
"Kerry said Zardari should put his concerns on the negotiating table as there was a real opportunity for productive conversation between India and Pakistan now: 'You could arrive at a surprising consensus of mutual understanding,' '' the cable recounted. Upon which Mr. Zardari acknowledged his government's admiration for Dr. Manmohan Singh while expressing scepticism about the rest of the pack in the UPA government.
Meanwhile, the Americans' fondness for Mr. Mukherjee appeared to derive from what they regarded as his usefulness because of his "clout" in the government.
A cable dated June 21, 2005 ( 35111: secret) portrayed Mr. Mukherjee, then the Defence Minister, as "in effect, the deputy prime minister'' with aspirations for "the top job." Highlighting his "close personal ties to the Congress Party's kingmaker Sonia Gandhi" and his "political influence" across the government, it says: "Mukherjee chairs as many as 18 ministerial working groups — far more than any other minister — and participates in several others. These influential groups deliberate on and facilitate government approval of national policies such as the Patents Act and the recently enacted WMD Bill."
The cable, written by Ambassador David Mulford, added that Mr. Mukherjee's "influence over both GOI policy and public opinion is rivalled only by that of the Prime Minister himself."
"He is, in effect, the Deputy Prime Minister, and we believe he aspires to the top job. By demonstrating our understanding of his influence beyond the military realm, it may be easier to advance our defense-related objectives."
On a lighter note, Mr. Mulford noted: "Though articulate, he is soft-spoken and speaks with a heavy Bengali accent which can sometimes be difficult for Americans to understand."
And what about Rahul Gandhi?
In a cable dated March 3, 2005 ( 28056: secret) Mr. Mulford quoted journalist Saeed Naqvi as calling him "lacklustre" and one who suffered from "personality problems'' and who "will never become prime minister.'' However, Mr. Mulford was more cautious in giving his own assessment. He stated: "Despite signs of growing unhappiness from Congress insiders regarding Rahul, however, he continues to be the subject of press reports that rave about his participation in the early January Congress Youth training camp and suggest that he is preparing to take the mantle of the 'leader of young India' and 'blossoming into a leader with mass acceptability.' During the two-day youth training session, Rahul engaged in interactive discussions ranging from pesticides in Cola products — he was against closing the plants — to defending the GOI's globalization policy and economic reforms. Given this publicity machine that Rahul enjoys, we, unlike Naqvi, are not yet prepared to write him off just yet."
TAMIL NADU POLICE DID NOT INFORM IT IN ADVANCE OF TERROR THREAT
CHENNAI: At a time when India and the United States were sharing intelligence on terror following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the Tamil Nadu government and the police failed to inform the American Consulate in Chennai of a specific terrorist threat.
The Consulate described the "lack of communication" about the specific terrorist threat on December 6, 2008 as "disturbing" and decided to take up the issue with the Tamil Nadu government authorities.
After the fact
In a cable sent on December 8, 2008 ( 181773: confidential), Acting Principal Officer Frederick J. Kaplan noted that the Consulate received no advance notification of the threat, but was given information about the threat by two contacts in "informal after-the-fact references."
Mr. Kaplan wrote: "Our police intelligence interlocutors had previously assured us that they would advise us of any specific threats against the Consulate.
"Instead, we find ourselves learning about a specific threat that they deemed credible enough to prompt additional precautionary measures after the fact. Worse yet, despite ample opportunities for the police to tell us in our frequent liaisons with them in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, we only came to know about the threat in the course of small talk and casual banter. We plan to follow-up with the authorities to learn more about the threat and to ensure that future threats to the Consulate are communicated to us promptly."
WEST BENGAL IGP FAILED U.S. VETTING
KOLKATA CONSULATE CITED HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
CHENNAI: One of West Bengal's top |policemen failed a background check for counter-terrorism training in the U.S. owing to perceived human rights violations on his record, a leaked U.S. Embassy cable has revealed.
Inspector General Raj Kanojia, an Indian Police Service officer, was nominated in 2008 for the National Defence University's International Counterterrorism Fellowship, which also involved working alongside U.S. Department of Defence staff and counterparts in the military services.
But a June 16, 2008 cable ( 158305: confidential) from U.S. Ambassador David C. Mulford put the brakes on Mr. Kanojia's departure after the New Delhi Embassy discovered "possible derogatory information" about his role in the 2007 police action in Nandigram. "Kanojia was in charge of the West Bengal state police at the time of the March 2007 shooting, as the usual Director General of the police was away on leave," Mr. Mulford wrote.
"Consulate Kolkata believes that Kanojia's role in Nandigram involved planning the police takeover and advocating this plan to the West Bengal leadership… One of Kolkata's police contacts divulged that Kanojia was strongly in favor of police action at Nandigram, told CPM leadership that the police could take Nandigram, assert control without much resistance, and easily diffuse [defuse?] the situation," he reported.
Although, Mr. Mulford said, Mr. Kanojia was not present and "probably" did not order the police to shoot, "given that Kanojia played some role in the incident — even if Post cannot substantiate the full extent of his involvement — Post believes that Kanojia is not an appropriate candidate."
U.S. law prohibits military assistance to foreign units that violate human rights with impunity. The cable requests further advice from Washington on how to proceed. It is not clear what decision was finally issued.
Background checks on Indian security forces did not appear to have been an uncommon occurrence in India-U.S. relations.
A May 26, 2005 cable ( 33320: confidential) showed that checks were carried out on India's 10th Para (SF) Battalion, 50 Independent Parachute Brigade which participated with the U.S. Army 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) in a Combined Exchange Training programme focussing on small unit tactical and leadership development skills. The U.S. Embassy had no "derogatory" information on this unit at that time.
Legislative Assembly witnessed yet another ruckus last week. Legislators from BJP and Panthers Party alleged that the government was tampering with the Dogra heritage complex of Mubarak Mandi by leasing it out to an NGO, which plans to build a five star hotel at the site. A number of questions need to be answered while examining the case in full. What are the terms of reference for the Mubarak Mandi Conservation Committee constituted by the government? Is it to conserve the complex or transform it? If it is to conserve as is shown by the name of the committee, then by leasing it out the Committee has done the reverse of what it is supposed to do. Has the Committee recommended the leasing out of the complex, and was there consensus of decision among the committee members on the matter of leasing out the complex? Then there arise questions about the identity of the NGO to which the complex has been leased out. What are the aims and objectives for which the NGO has been formed? Does the activity of building a five star hotel fall within the recognized activities of the NGO? Is it a registered or unregistered NGO, and who are its members and what is their background? These questions are important for the Conservation Committee to clarify. It is also pertinent for the Committee to ascertain the assets of the NGO, its sources of income and status to undertake the major project of building and running a five star hotel, the purpose for which the lease has been secured.
This apart, the most important question is that of preserving the heritage site and structure. The State and the Union constitutions clearly lay down that historical monuments and heritage symbols will be preserved. This imposes responsibility on the governments to see that our culture and history are not tampered with but preserved in pristine purity. Great nations take pride in preserving their heritage. It makes a great impression on the mind of an onlooker. Mubarak Mandi complex has enviable history and culture behind it. This was the seat of the Dogra rulers of the State. Needless to remind that it were the Dogra rulers who gave cohesion to the geographical entity now called Jammu and Kashmir State. Many heroic Dogra soldiers have laid down their lives in distant cold and forbidding Himalayan ranges to the north to carve out the state for which now stakeholders are locked in grim fighting. The people of Jammu region have historical association with this complex. Its arches and corridors, alleys and galleries, halls and dormitories, balconies and pillars all tell the story of a particular period of the history of the state. All this needs to be preserved and maintained for the posterity. Leasing it out means allowing the entire complex lose its historicity. That is indeed hurtful to the people of Jammu who have long association with it.
Apart from all this, the idea of constructing a five star hotel at the complex is not too good. The reason is that firstly a five star hotel should not be in the heart of the old city and amidst congested environs. Secondly, there is no good access to the site and those coming to stay in five star hotels will feel choked when passing through the narrow access lane. Logistically, the site is not at all fit for a five-star hotel. The Conservation Committee has not given a proof of its aesthetic taste by allowing the complex to be earmarked for a five-star hotel. We agree that some planning ought to be there to make the heritage complex able to generate some income that would facilitate its maintenance rather than depend entirely on allocation of funds by the government. It is a good idea to look for self generating source of income. But that has not to be at the cost of the heritage of great historical importance. The government will need to clarify the exact function and jurisdiction of the Mubarak Mandi Complex Conservation Committee.
There seems no force in presuming that during his recent visit to Kashmir, the American Ambassador in India skipped a meeting with the separatists. Hence to say that he snubbed them is a imaginary. Those conversant with the norms of diplomatic interaction know that the head of a foreign mission seldom meets the opposition openly and within the gaze of the public. Of course, officers of lesser ranks at a foreign mission might make such adventures, and these are not usually construed as offending or outside the parameters of their interaction. The US has always maintained that there is a problem in Kashmir and all that Washington would like to do is to facilitate bilateral dialogue between the two contesting countries. It never made Kashmiris a third party to the dispute though it knows that there are sections of people crying for freedom of Kashmir and separation from India. Secession from the main homeland is not a phenomenon unknown to the Americans. They have fought a civil war, and at the end of the day, defeated the secessionists. And this war was fought and won when there was the greatest of American presidents, namely Abraham Lincoln, at the helm of affairs. He was the greatest among the democrats, yet he did fight the separatists. In the light of this historical fact the American Ambassador could not go out of his way and fraternize with the separatists in Kashmir as they hoped or expected him to do. He was very clear and outspoken to say that he was meeting with the elected representative of the people meaning the Chief Minister. The separatists and secessionists are free to interpret it in any way they like. If they consider it the US' endorsement of Jammu and Kashmir as integral part of the Indian Union, well, that is precisely the case. But ordinarily we think a normal visit of an ambassador and his meeting with the head of the state should not be over-politicized. Visits by foreign dignitaries to Kashmir valley in summer is nothing unusual. Some of them may care to call on a separatist leader or may not, depends on their choice and availability.
BY ONKAR SINGH
A forest is a complex, living community. Beneath the forest canopy dwell interdependent populations of plants and animals, while the soil that forms the forest floor contains a large variety of invertebrates, bacteria and fungi which play an essential role in cycling nutrients in the soil and forest. Forests provide many valuable things for the whole community. These include fresh water from forested catchments, a safe home for our flora and fauna, timber for our homes, furniture and paper, beautiful scenery and rugged environments for those who enjoy the outdoors, pollen and nectar for honey production, and archaeological and historical sites.
Environmental value of forests is no less significant. The roots of the trees hold the soil together and thus help conserve soil by preventing rapid runoff of water after heavy rain and minimizing flooding. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into air which is needed to breath by the mankind.
Vegetation affects local and global climate. Trees form a protective cover of the earth as well as provide shelter to the wild animals and protect all the living beings from the solar heat and temperature. Trees absorb heat, thus help regulate the temperature of earth. Similarly natural wildlife is important for it is an important part of the lifecycle.
According to World Bank estimates, more than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. The forest products industry is a source of economic growth and employment, with global forest products traded internationally in the order of $270 billion. Biomass energy for example makes up 77 percent of the world's renewable energy - or 10 percent of the world's total energy mix. As a major and increasing component of land use, biomass energy systems therefore have significant impacts on both ecosystem services and poverty.
Over the years, the area under forest cover has however decreased steadily, as they are being cleared for mining, agriculture, industry, housing, townships and other development activities like the construction of roads, railways, and hydroelectric plants. At present, forest cover has been reduced to only 30% of the total land mass of the earth.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its report on Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 estimates that every year 130,000 kms of the world's forests are lost due to deforestation. Conversion to agricultural land, unsustainable harvesting of timber, unsound land management practices, and creation of human settlements are the most common reasons for this loss of forested areas. According to the World Bank, deforestation accounts for up to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. FAO data estimates that the world's forests and forest soil store more than one trillion tons of carbon - twice the amount found in the atmosphere. The World Bank estimates that forests provide habitats to about two-thirds of all species on earth, and that deforestation of closed tropical rainforests could account for biodiversity loss of as many as 100 species a day.
As forests and forest ecosystems form the basis on which sustainable development of global community depends, there is an urgent need to save and conserve the forests for us and the coming generations. With this in mind, the World Forestry Day is celebrated annually on 21st March to raise awareness about the importance and conservation of forests all over the world. On this day various activities related to raising awareness about forests are held. These include campaigns of tree plantations, public rallies by school and college students, poster making competition, essay competition, special programmes on Radio and Television etc.
The concept of having a world Forestry Day originated at the 23rd General Assembly of the European Confederation of Agriculture in 1971. Later that year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization gave support to the idea. March 21, the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere and the vernal equinox in Northern Hemisphere was chosen as the day to be celebrated offering information about the three keys facts of forestry: protection, production and recreation. It is a day to remind communities that in the survival of the forests lies the survival of humanity. The main goal of forestry, which is concerned with managing forests, tree plantations, and related natural resources, is to create and implement systems that allow forests to continue a sustainable provision of environmental supplies and services, including assisting forests to provide timber as raw material for wood products, wildlife habitat, recreation, employment, watershed management, erosion control, and preserving forests as 'sinks' for atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The use and management of many forest resources has a long history in China and the western world. In the contemporary world, initiative at the global level began in 1926 when the first World Forestry Congress was held in Rome. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization has been monitoring the world's forests at 5 to 10 year intervals since 1946. Its Forest Resources Assessment 2010 reports that the world forest biodiversity is threatened by a high global rate of deforestation and forest degradation as well as a decline in primary forest area. The report details initiatives on forest health, model and demonstration forests, assisted natural regeneration of forests, planted forests, sustainable wood energy systems, forest genetic resources, wild life and protected area management, promotion of responsible forest harvesting practices and participatory forestry, among others. Its outlook studies highlight long term trends in the sector and identify emerging opportunities and challenges. Forest policies of the states across the globe are directly and indirectly influenced by the FAO's assessment.
Other initiatives at the global level for preserving and promoting forests and related resources include The Mountain Partnership, Canopy of Friends, Forest Connect and UNEP's Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign. At the national and the local levels various governmental and civil society groups have been campaigning for conserving and enhancing the green cover. In Jammu and Kashmir for instance the Tree Talk, a programmee by the Forest Department, is one such initiative.
While conservation efforts at the global, national and local levels have undoubtedly succeeded to some extent in sensitizing public about the value of green cover, intensification of such initiatives has strangley coincided with the rising onslaught of global capital on environment that is being commoditized in the name of development, thereby expanding the market horizons across realms and regions. That in part explains why area under forests across the globe keeps shrinking and conflicts between forests communities and states intensify. Contemporary India is replete with such examples. Jammu and Kashmir where thousands of hectares of forest land have been converted into private property despite the state laws is no exception.
As the UN has declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests, the World Forestry Day carries added significance in reminding the world community the importance of forests for survival and sustenance of humanity. However, such celebrations will remain symbolic unless backed by a paradigm shift in our perspectives on development and environment. Discourse on conservation of nature requires amends in neoliberal agenda of capitalism
(The writer teaches geography at the GDC Kathua)
BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
The Allahabad High Court has ordered that no more than 50 percent of water may be removed from the Ganga. The Court found that water of Ganga was polluted and not even fit for bathing because most water was being removed for irrigation and cooling boilers of power plants. The intensity of pollution had increased as a result. Adding a kilo of arsenic to the ocean does not pollute it. The same arsenic would kill all life from a village pond. Similarly, increased flow of water would reduce the intensity of pollution in the Ganga.
At present water is being used on the basis of muscle power. Even the specified minimum release of water from the Narora Barrage is not being made. Groups of farmers reach the head works and force officials to increase flow in the canal. The reduced flow is affecting the livelihood of the downstream fishermen as well as pilgrims who take bath at Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna and Ganga Sagar. But the fishermen and pilgrims are not organized. They are unable to reach to the head works and force more water to be released into the river.
Officials believe that water flowing in the river is a waste of precious natural resources. They ignore the immense benefits provided by free flow of rivers. First, free flow recharges the groundwater, especially during the floods. Unfortunately, officials see the floods only as a 'problem.' Spread of water is being prevented by holding it in Tehri dam and making embankments along the river course. This leads to drying of tube wells. The increase in irrigation from canals is canceled by reduction in irrigation from tube wells. Second, fishermen are losing their livelihood. I understand that Hilsa fish has much reduced between Allahabad and Farakka. Fish from downstream are unable to cross the Farakka to their spawning grounds. Third, river carries sediments along with water. These sediments are removed along with water drawn into the canals. These sediments nourish our coasts and combat the natural tendency of the sea to eat away the lands. The Ganga Sagar Island is fast eroding because of this.
Fourth, rivers are worshipped across the world. River Jordan is considered sacred by the Christians. Pilgrims do now get to take bath in free flowing waters of the Ganga. My father used to take us children to Sarsaiya Ghat in Kanpur. We would cross the river on boat and take bath on one of the islands. There was a huge rush then. Such bathing has now come to an end. People living along our rivers have been deprived of the happiness they derived from such activities.
Fifth, free flow of rivers has its own value. Two dams had been built on the Elhwa River in the State of Washington in the United States. These dams provided irrigation and generated electricity. But the tourists were unhappy. They were deprived of fishing, kayaking and other activities. The State Government commissioned a study to resolve the matter. People of Washington were asked how much money they were willing to pay if the dams were removed and the river is allowed to flow freely.
It was found that people were willing to pay much more money for removal of the dams than benefits that were derived from irrigation and electricity. The two dams are now being removed. I have undertaken a similar survey of pilgrims at Dev Prayag, Rishikesh and Haridwar. I have assessed that the pilgrims are losing benefits of Rs 4,666 crores per year due to deterioration in the quality of waters from making of the Tehri dam. People of the country are further losing Rs 7,980 crores per year from obstruction to the free flow of Ganga.
Sixth, water is being drawn to cool the boilers of the nuclear power station at Narora. Hot water is subsequently released directly into the river. This leads to killing of fish, turtles, worms and other aquatic life. The hot water can be easily cooled and reused. But that will entail a cost. The Government is unwilling to incur even this small expenditure because it is unconcerned with the loss to the wildlife, fishermen and pilgrims.
Benefits from drawl of water are overstated. Officials say that water has to be drawn from the river in order to increase agricultural production and ensure food security of the country. This is not correct. I have studied distribution of waters from canals. I have found that farmers located at the head of the feeders overuse water. They irrigate the fields umpteen number of times even though the benefits are nominal. They cultivate water-guzzling crops like menthe and sugar cane. These crops are cultivated mainly for consumption by the rich. These water-guzzling crops have no connection with food security. Farmers on the tail end of the feeders get very little water, if at all. Food security of the country can also be ensured by more scientific cultivation of jowar, bajra and ragi. Officials are pandering to the needs of the rich behind the smokescreen of food security.
The amount of water that may be beneficially drawn can be calculated after taking all these factors into account. Say, 100 percent water is drawn and the river is entirely dried out. The famers will benefit but the loss to the fishermen and pilgrims will be huge. Now, say, 10 percent water is released. There will be a small loss to the farmers but gain to the fishermen will be huge. Release of the next 10 percent will lead to a bit higher loss to the farmers and a bit lesser gain to the fishermen. At some point, the loss to farmers will become equal to the gain to fishermen. This is the optimum level of water that must be released.
The method of removal of water from the river must also be reconsidered. Presently a barrage is made across the river bed. A reservoir is made behind the barrage. Water ferments in the reservoir and sediment is trapped. Fish cannot migrate to their spawning grounds as their path is obstructed by the barrage. Water can be removed without causing these harms. A partial obstruction can be made. Say, 40 percent water is to be removed and the river bed is 100 meters wide. A wall can be made at 40 meters and water in this section can be diverted into a canal. This will allow free flow of the river in the remaining 60 percent of the bed. The river will be able to discharge her ecological functions of carrying sediments, supporting aquatic life and providing clean water to the pilgrims. Such drawl will also not be subject to manipulation by lathi-wielding musclemen.
The Court's order is the first bold step in the right direction. The Honourable Judges deserve congratulations for the same. I hope the Court will move further in this direction. There is a need to order a study to be undertaken by an independent agency about the optimum level of water that may be drawn from the river. All barrages made on all rivers of the country should be removed and replaced with partial obstructions that do not allow more than optimum water to be removed.
BY DR. R. L. BHAT
Like the rest of the country, J&K has had the distinction of being a welcome place for fugitives, refuges and other peoples since times immemorial. Since independence, this credit has generally gone to Jammu province. Most of these refugees, of course, came soon after the independence and partition, especially from the areas of the state illegally occupied by Pakistan. And, Kashmiris - both Hindus and Muslims - have been coming Jammu for different reasons and settling down here, the reverse though is not quite true.
The areas which today constitute PoK were included in Jammu as well as Kashmir provinces. The refugees, accordingly, poured into the territories adjacent/contiguous to them. Some of these refugees went to Kashmir, some came to Jammu while others went to the remaining parts of the country mostly Delhi. Those who went outside the state rarely got to return to the state. Most of them have even lost the state subject status. Those opting for Kashmir were slyly sent out to Jammu even though they came under the erstwhile district of Baramulla. Statistics of the time numbered them at about one and a half lakhs. Today they form the mass of PoK refugees living as permanent residents in Jammu.
Around the same time, due to the same reasons, thousands of people also poured into Jammu from contiguous areas which, however, were not parts of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state. Numbered around 50-60,000 they came roughly from the same area of Jhelum whence the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh came. The analogy used by the Panther's Party MLA Harshdev Singh, in the Legislature the other day, is very apt here. Manmohan Singh was fortunate in that his family crossed over to Punjab and became citizens with full rights under the Constitution of India. Else, he too would have been languishing in this state as a right-less, non-citizen. His brethren, the West Pakistan refugees, are not citizens of the state after their sixty-year residence in the state. More significantly, the powers that be appear to be calculatedly firm in refusing to understand their plight and mitigate it. They remain deprived of all rights, cannot apply for jobs and are not given any facilities under the state. But they are citizens of India that is Bharat. While they are not allowed to vote in the Assembly Elections and shall not be allowed to vote in the forthcoming Panchayat elections, they regularly vote in Parliamentary elections.
This is where the issue of the West Pakistan refugees in the state legislature became a brawl of confusion. Instead of searching for a way out to help these hapless people, the honorable legislators showed not only a befuddled state of mind but also an attitude of callousness towards plain suffering. Alongside the legal/constitutional position has also been needlessly confused. Contrary to the assertions and averments made and implied in the Assembly the other day, the relevant parts of the JK Constitution show that the state legislature can easily succor them. Articles 6, 7, 8 and 9 of the part III of the J&K Constitution deal with Citizenship. They lay down qualification for the citizenship, empower the state legislature to grant citizenship and lay down rules therefor.
The basic article 6 says: "(6) (l) Every person who is, or is deemed to be, a citizen of India under the provisions of the Constitution of India shall be a permanent resident of the State, if on the fourteenth day of May, 1954: (a) he was a State subject of class I or of class II: or (b) having lawfully acquired immovable property in the State, he has been ordinarily resident in the State for not less than ten years prior to that date." Here, the contentions of both Dr Mustafa Kamal and Ali Mohd. Sagar, as to the requirement of prior citizenship of India is correct, but the objection implied in their contentions is not valid. The West Pakistan refugees already fulfil the first condition. They are recognised as citizens of India. They stand listed in the voter lists for the Parliamentary elections.
Of course, WP refugees are not citizens of J&K per se. that is why they remain deprived. But they are also not people from China or Bangladesh. It is callous to equate these Indian citizens living in the state for the last more than sixty years with alien intruders. They do not deserve this heartless apathy. Indeed, this is where the law makers of the state must show humanitarian consideration. The people of this state like to believe that their legislators are sensitive beings not fallacious debaters.
They want them to show the will to redress this long standing grievance of a people who are practical fellow citizens. The provisions of the J&K Constitution do not restrain them here. They empower the legislature to do the needful, as detailed in the article 8: "8. Nothing in foregoing provisions of this part shall derogate from the power of the State legislature to make any law defining the classes the persons who are, or shall be permanent residents of the State." Further the procedure for incorporating the WP Refugees as state subjects is given in the article 9 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir itself: "9. A Bill marking provision for any of the following matters, namely: (a) defining or altering the definition of, the classes of persons who are, or shall be, permanent residents of the State; (b) conferring on permanent residents any special rights or privileges; (c) regulating or modifying any special rights or privileges enjoyed by permanent residents; shall be deemed to be passed by either House of the Legislature only if It is passed by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of that House."
With the main hurdle of the citizenship of India having already been crossed, the state legislature can put an end to the misery of these West Pakistan refugees by a simple legislative procedure for which it is fully empowered by the state constitution. This would, in fact, be one of the few cases where the article 370 and the state constitution could be used for good of the people of the state. It may also be stated here that the West Pakistan refugees are neither an amorphous mass not unaccounted people like Bangladeshis.
They stand listed in the voter lists for Parliament elections. Most of them are in the district Kathua, within just a few polling stations. And they do not number much. There need be no fears about their inclusion. They would not upset any poll equations. Nor would their inclusion alter the demography of this state. And, they deserve this inclusion. They are Indian citizens. They have been living in this state for the last sixty years and thus more than two generations of these people have actually been born in this state. That makes them more than qualified to be state subjects in this state. Most of all, they do not deserve to be confounded with needless confusions.
EXPORTS LOOK UP
FOREIGN TRADE IS IMPORTANT EVEN IF GROWTH IS HOMESPUN
After having raised an alarm over what it saw as an unacceptably high current account deficit to gross national product (GDP) ratio of nearly 4.0 per cent, the Reserve Bank of India noted in its recent policy statement that the CAD/GDP ratio was at a more manageable level of closer to 2.5 per cent. A large part of this comfort has come from an impressive performance on the export front. Recent export data have come as a break in the clouds after months of not-so-positive news on the external trade front. Exports grew at 31.4 per cent (year-on-year), during April-February of FY11, to a total of US$208 billion. Exports for the year as a whole are projected to be $235 billion, 9 per cent higher than the earlier estimate of $215 billion. Year-on-Year growth in imports during April-February was of the order of 18 per cent. Annual imports for FY11 are expected to be in the vicinity of $350 billion, which would lead to a lower trade deficit of $115 billion. If the export target is met, the current account deficit would fall to 2.5 per cent of GDP (one percentage point lower than current estimates), assuming no significant drop in remittances. The increase in exports owes in no small measure to the far-sighted strategy of diversifying export geographies to Africa and Latin America, besides several export-promotion schemes launched in recent years. A much awaited pick-up in exports to the US has also helped, though the recovery in exports to the European Union is still tepid.
'Engineering goods' registered an 88 per cent increase (year-on-year) during April-February, totaling $52.7 billion. While India is nowhere close to becoming a manufacturing exports-led economy like East Asia in the 1970s and 1980s and China more recently, the increased share of manufactured goods is a welcome sign and should be accelerated. There is still considerable room for improvement in India, especially in boosting productivity. From a productivity standpoint, India's manufacturing sector lags not only the advanced economies, but much of the deve loping world as well. In particular, the small and medium enterprises (SME) sector, which accounts for 40 per cent of manufactured exports, is in dire need of capitalisation to enable technology upgrading. The 'New Manufacturing Policy' that was supposed to contain a blueprint for revitalising SMEs must be implemented without any further delay. Besides engineering goods, sectors such as electronics, plastics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and gems & jewellery, in which exports have risen sharply and can continue to do so need special focus.
Exports have increased sharply since 2004, despite the rupee having depreciated by barely 4 per cent since 2004-05. The link between currency depreciation and export growth has always been tenuous, something India's recent experience vindicates. India can afford a Chinese style export-led growth 'miracle' only at a very high cost as seen earlier this decade. Between 2004 and 2007, the RBI's policy of buying excess dollars to prevent the rupee from appreciating resulted in huge payouts by way of MSS bonds, not to speak of the inflationary pressures unleashed within the economy. While some trade related intervention may be necessary, the way forward is through across-the-board productivity increases in manufacturing.
India's engagement with the global economy is irreversible and the overall trade numbers (both exports and imports) can only increase from here on, especially as the lagged effect of the numerous free trade agreements signed in recent months comes into play. Increased engagement with dynamic economies especially if it leads to economy wide technology spillovers through foreign direct investment can be a win-win situation all around. A vibrant foreign trade sector can augment domestic consumption and investment as the driver of economic growth that is both robust and inclusive.
THE CLIMATE FOR FOOD
STRATEGY NEEDED FOR CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT ON AGRICULTURE
Given the vulnerability of Indian agriculture to climate change, the country's food security is threatened by global warming. The Union agriculture ministry is right, therefore, to warn of a possible foodgrain deficit, of as much as 20 million tonne by the end of this decade if measures are not taken to combat the impact of global warming on food production. It has also reportedly asked for an additional budgetary support of Rs 1,08,000 crore in the next five years for developing the required infrastructure, technology and crop varieties capable of adapting to the changed climate. This is for the first time that Krishi Bhawan has quantified the adverse impact of global warning on the output of food crops, notably wheat, rice, coarse cereals and pulses, and the resources needed to avert it. With business as usual, the foodgrain output would at best be 261 million tonne by 2020, from the present 234 million tonne, where as food demand is projected to be 281 million tonne. To ensure effective food security, with supply backed by an adequate buffer stock, grain production would have to be at least 301 million tonne by 2020. This target can only be met if Indian agriculture is able to overcome the threat posed by global warming.
Climate change would particularly hit rain-fed agriculture, on which small and marginal farmers, accounting for nearly 60 per cent of the total farm land, are dependent. Sustainability of food production and rural livelihoods in semi-arid tropics is, therefore, vital to food security in India. Semi-arid tropics are also areas that produce nearly 85 per cent of pulses and coarse cereals, over 75 per cent of oilseeds and about 65 per cent of cotton. Most of these commodities have contributed to high food inflation in recent years. Arid and semi-arid tracts will experience even more drought years in future as a result of global warming. A national mission on sustainable agriculture was to be one of the eight national missions mooted under the National Action Plan on Climate Change, 2008. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the research wing of the farm ministry, has already initiated programmes for evolving new technology, new crop varieties and livestock breeds capable of thriving under the emerging climatic patterns. However, they are doing it with a small budget, not commensurate with the criticality and magnitude of the task. It would be a shame if paucity of financial resources comes in the way of addressing this challenge.
After overtaking Japan in GDP, China has overtaken US as world's top manufacturerSomething important happened in the world economy last week that went virtually unreported in India. China has over taken the US as the world's biggest manufacturing nation.
China reported a manufacturing sector output estimated at US$1,995.40 billion in 2010. This was ahead of the US output of US$ 1,951.60 billion for the same year. It was also ahead of the combined manufacturing sector output of the next six countries in rank, namely, Germany ($618 bn), Italy ($315.2 bn), Brazil ($273.7 bn), France ($253.3 bn), South Korea ($239.2 bn) and the UK ($235.2 bn), which added up to $1,993 billion. India shared the tenth rank along with Russia with each country estimated to have manufactured $217.8 bn worth of manufacturing output. The data was put out last week by the economic research firm IHS Global Insight (www.ihsglobalinsight.com).
With total world manufacturing output in 2010 estimated to be US$100,783 billion, China's share was estimated to be 19.8 per cent, compared to US share of 19.4 per cent. Reporting this news, analysts commented that China has overtaken the US as the world's largest manufacturer after the US's uninterrupted reign of 115 years. The last time China enjoyed this status was between 1700 and 1850. In 1850, according to some studies, Britain emerged as the top manufacturing nation of the world, yielding this status to the US in 1895.
The entire 20th century was a century of the US. China's rise as a manufacturing nation was, based to a considerable extent on the help it received from foreign direct investment coming in particularly from the US and the export market provided by it (the reason for the so-called 'global imbalances'). China's rise as an industrial power was also partly at the expense of the European Union and Japan, both of which also invested heavily in Chinese manufacturing.
It is well known that China's rise as a manufacturing nation was based on the growth of labour-intensive industries, which is why while the US manufacturing sector produced 19.4 per cent of world output using only 11.5 million workers, China produced 19.8 per cent of world output employing as many as a 100 million workers.
The report showed that while in 1990 the world's richest nations — western Europe, North America and Japan — accounted for 80 per cent of world manufacturing output, their share was down to 72 per cent by 2000 and further down to just over 50 per cent in 2010. The big gainers were the four BRIC nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China. Brazil's share in world manufacturing output went up from 2.1 per cent in 2000 to 3.1 per cent by 2010, while the shares of Russia and India went up from 0.8 per cent and 1.2 per cent, respectively, to 2.2 per cent each in the first decade of the 21st century. The biggest gainer was China, which improved its share during the decade from 6.9 per cent to 19.8 per cent.
Together, the BRIC economies saw their share rising from 11 per cent to 26.9 per cent during the decade. Interestingly, while China improved its global ranking as an industrial power from 3 to 1 between 2000 and 2010, and Brazil went up from 10 to 6, with India moving up from 14 to 10, Russia saw its dismal rank of 2000, at 21, go up to an impressive 10 in 2010, catching up with India. Clearly, Russia has been able to recover from the catastrophic collapse of its manufacturing capabilities after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but its manufacturing base is still in old industries, with very little competitiveness in consumer durables and electronics industries, where China has stolen a march on the rest of the world.
Few months ago China hit the headlines overtaking Japan as the world's second largest economy. This was splashed all over the western media. Surprisingly, last week's news of China overtaking the US as a manufacturing economy went largely unreported or under-reported. Even the Chinese media seems to have downplayed the event.
China's emergence as a manufacturing superpower has been made possible by the emergence of a new entrepreneurial class within China that is dynamic and globally savvy. Equally, it has been accompanied by new production structures in Asia, with China importing both raw materials from Asian and African less developed countries (LDCs) and exporting finished goods to the developed economies. This has made China at once an exporting and an importing power. Equally, China has now become an exporter of capital and is looking for investment opportunities abroad, including India.
While recognising China's rise and strengths, India need not retreat into inward-orientation. Rather, it is time for Indian manufacturing to explore and widen its relative strengths and its competitive advantage. India needs a manufacturing strategy that will enable it to also recover the space it lost to Europe two centuries ago. After all, in 1700 both China and India had virtually equal shares of world manufacturing output. By 2050 India too should be able to turn the clock back. But for now, dealing with competition from China and, at the same time, taking advantage of new opportunities is the challenge for India.
WHAT IF CHINA BECOMES A DEMOCRACY?
It is extremely unlikely, but let's say the fragrance of Jasmine flowers wafts across the Great Wall and perfumes China's Han heartlands. A post-revolution China could take many forms, but let's say that it turns into a democracy while retaining its existing international boundaries. Let's set aside these two big "if's" for a moment and ask what such a scenario would mean for India.
There are three fundamental questions. Will democratic China change its outlook, positions and policies with respect to India? Will it be any easier to deal with? And therefore, is a democratic China in our interests?
China is a civilisation-state. Despite the tumult and upheaval of foreign domination, civil war and Communist attempts to erase the past, Chinese society retains its particular moorings. In his book on China's relations with the external world, Harry Gelber notes that historically, the Middle Kingdom "saw itself as the centre of the civilised world, to which properly brought-up foreigners should pay tribute." While ancient Indian and European political philosophers saw a world with many sovereign states vying for power, their Chinese counterparts recognised only one sovereign — their own — who ruled with a mandate from heaven. Outsiders were seen as "barbarians", to be contained by Chinese hegemony. While the influence of these ideas on modern day policy must not be exaggerated, it is likely that democratic China, like the People's Republic, will see itself as the successor to the glorious empires of history.
Democratic China is likely to maintain its territorial unity and reunite with Taiwan. While it might not be inclined to use the same strong-arm methods to keep restive Tibetans and Uyghurs under check, it is unlikely to permit secession. Nationalism and Han majoritarianism would constrain how much autonomy these regions can really have. It is unlikely to want to see a united Korea, under Seoul's leadership, across its borders. Geopolitics being a tussle to maximise relative power, democratic China will want to narrow its power differential with the US, and increase it vis-a-vis India. In other words, democratic China's geopolitical interests will not be too different from the People's Republic's.
Will India's hosting of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile have the same moral legitimacy if China were to become a democracy? How would New Delhi respond if the free parliament of China demands that India must end support for all anti-China activities on its soil for Beijing to even resume negotiations over the boundary dispute? Would a democratic government in Beijing even be able to make territorial concessions necessary to solve the boundary dispute? There is no certainty that India will have it any easier on any of the issues that have vexed bilateral relations over the last six decades.
There is also nothing to suggest that China will stop using Pakistan and other countries in India's immediate neighbourhood as proxies and surrogates. Even the methods might not change. After all, if the US and France sell arms to the Pakistani army why can't democratic China do the same? Let's not forget that the US was very much a democracy when it abetted Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme.
Will democracy make it be any easier to deal with the northern neighbour? Again, unlikely. Democracy in the eastern, western and southern neighbours has done little to transform their relations with India. Why should it be any different with China? One way to model government decision-making is to see it as the political resultant of the various forces at play. The more forces there are, the more complicated it gets. Just ask foreign diplomats who have to deal with India.
None of this implies that a democratic China is not in our interest.
From a foreign policy perspective, the main reason to prefer a democratic China is to be able to mutualise the democratic disadvantage.
It is harder for democracies to doggedly pursue the quest for power. As we know too well, there is often a disconnect between what is popular and what is necessary. Democracies are left with the complex, time-consuming task of reconciling this difference, often at the cost of losing opportunities to maximise national power. Authoritarian states, on the other hand, are less inhibited.
Democracies are also more transparent. To the extent that we are familiar with Democratic China's domestic political landscape it will be an improvement over the current situation, where we know little about the way the cards are stacked. Transparency will also make China's politics more manipulable, and thus neutralise an asymmetric advantage that it has over India today.
Preference is one thing, capability another. A democratic, coalition-run India does not have any serious means of promoting democracy across the Himalayas. It does, however, have the power of example. The Communist Party of China contends that prosperity can only be achieved by suspending freedom. We can prove it wrong. The Beijing Consensus can be challenged, in China and outside, by fully dismantling the Delhi straitjacket, and implementing second-generation economic reforms.
The author is founder and fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati — The Indian National Interest Review
THE MIND OF THE SOVEREIGN
More than any other economic sector, sarkar is the mai-baap for the infrastructure sector. It determines priorities for public expenditure, chooses private participation options and structures, and makes changes in operating and enabling environments. Meanwhile, it continues to be the biggest player. It is, therefore, crucial to read the tea leaves of political and bureaucratic thinking to discern trends, shifts and direction.
Three government documents provide insights in this regard. They are the Union Budget, the Economic Survey and, believe it or not, the Report of the 13th Finance Commission (2010-15).
Union Budget 2011-12
The "infrastructure intensity" of the Budget continues to increase, once again reaching the high of 48.5 per cent that was reached in the Plan allocation of 2005-06. Clearly, the political establishment is convinced of the need for – and the vote-gathering impact of – bijli-sadak-pani, distinct from the earlier roti-kapda-makaan. Infrastructure continues to be the nation's number one priority.
The flow of debt funds to the infrastructure sector is finally getting the attention it deserves. The foreign institutional investment limit for investment in corporate bonds issued by companies in the infrastructure sector has been raised by an additional $20 billion, taking the limit to $25 billion. Tax-free bonds of Rs 30,000 crore have been allowed to be raised by Railway Finance Corporation, National Highways Authority of India, Housing and Urban Development Corporation and ports. It has been announced that special vehicles in the form of notified infra debt funds (NIDFs) will be created. Interest payments on the borrowings of these funds will have a reduced withholding tax rate of 5 per cent instead of the current 20 per cent. Also, the income of NIDFs will be exempt from tax.
There is a clear shift from a generic "rural infra" to a more focused "agri-infrastructure". This is clearly a reaction to onion crises and food inflation. Fertiliser investment (wrongly, according to the author!) and cold storages and cold chains have been declared an infrastructure sub-sector. Special allocations have been made towards the creation of warehousing facilities and mega food parks.
The issue of a clear "definition of infrastructure" is also being worked on, with the finance minister clarifying at the post-Budget meetings with industry associations that an output in this area is soon expected. Subsequently, health care and education have also been announced as "infrastructure" by the finance minister.(Click here for table)
The Economic Survey, already lauded for its forthright and crisp style, takes power sectors reforms head-on. It forcefully argues for immediate and essential reforms on three fronts:
(i) Regulation: "Worldwide evidence suggests that electricity reform works only in the presence of strong, independent regulators, insulated from political and commercial pressures. For example, regulators will need to ensure adequate competition and act on uncompetitive behaviour in wholesale trade, including capping wholesale tariffs and investigating competition."
(ii) Bulk open access: "The next step is to introduce competition and open access at [the] bulk level. Most power distribution is still the monopoly of SEBs, with mounting losses and poor services."
(iii) Tariffs: "The previous two steps will not be enough without a strong political economy decision by all States to revise electricity tariffs to economic levels and reduce subsidies and cross-subsidies."
The other bold suggestion made by Chief Economic Advisor Dr Kaushik Basu is the auction of public private partnership (PPP) projects for national highways development. He argues: "The heart of an efficient, cost-effective and transparent system of PPP ... whereby the Government gives out the task of developing new highways to the private sector is the system of auction."
The Economic Survey takes up the cudgels on behalf of the aviation industry and warns of dire consequences if nothing is done about the pricing of aviation turbine fuel (ATF). It notes: "[ATF] accounts for 40 per cent of the operating cost of Indian carriers, as against a figure of only 20 per cent for international carriers. ATF in India is priced, on an average, almost 60 per cent higher than internationally. The widening differential in ATF prices and its huge negative impact on airline balance sheets are eroding its competitiveness. In the backdrop of higher oil-crude prices, there is severe risk of dampening of passenger market growth by quickly making air travel out of reach for a significant portion of the market, which was fuelling its growth. The losses being registered by Indian carriers may result in reduced connectivity thereby affecting growth in this sector."
The Economic Survey asks for better management of land markets. It notes that land prices are climbing across India, which is a reason for the cost-push inflation. This is because the conversion from agricultural to urban use often results in a 20-fold jump in value. The survey wisely argues for a counter-intuitive approach, in which the answer does not lie in tightening land conversion regulations but in: (i) improving land conversion processes; (ii) selling publicly acquired lands in auctions; and (iii) leaning with markets and improving the supply of accessible land through better transport. It wryly notes that land is actually abundant with urban land area being only 2 per cent of total arable land and that it is "accessible" land that is scarce. This is a polite way of saying that vested interests over time have completely distorted this market. It has a stark message: "If we do not do anything about it, failure will lead to chaotic cities, unfulfilled aspirations and slower growth."
Report of the 13th Finance
It is quite revealing that it is this report, under the chairmanship of the redoubtable Dr Vijay L Kelkar, that does a deep dive on infrastructure, with specific reference (as expected) to Centre-state linkages. Dr Kelkar's surgical knife cuts deep into the twin cancers of state power finances and the governance of urban local bodies, and suggests clear remedial action.
So what have we learnt about the mind of the sovereign? Faced with a multiplicity of issues to be resolved and addressed in the infrastructure sector, the priority agenda seems to be:
- defining the infrastructure space;
- developing agricultural infrastructure;
- channelling long-term debts;
- focusing on electricity reform;
- improving urban governance, including land-market management
It is not a selection that anybody can argue with just now.
The author is the Chairman of Feedback Ventures
The views expressed are email@example.com
THE EXPORT GROWTH PUZZLE
ARE INDIA'S EXPORT NUMBERS OVERESTIMATED?
A V RAJWADE
The last three months' increases in exports have come as a pleasant surprise. According to preliminary data, February exports have gone up as much as 50 per cent compared to a year ago. This has led the commerce ministry to forecast a much lower trade deficit in the current year than what was apprehended earlier. In a way, the data are puzzling. The world economy is hardly in great shape, and the exchange rate has appreciated very sharply, particularly in real terms, over the last two years. Economic research from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) some time ago had identified global demand and the exchange rate level as the two most important drivers of export growth. And this stands to reason: most of India's exports consist of non-differentiated goods which are principally traded on comparative prices in the invoicing currency, which, in turn, are a function of the exchange rate.
On March 11, Mint reported that the government has admitted that recent merchandise import data were underestimated owing to a technical glitch. Could a similar error, but in the opposite direction, have occurred in the exports data? One needs to keep one's fingers crossed.
I am also puzzled by the recent strengthening of the rupee, even as the foreign institutional investment (FII) money has kept flowing out. One wonders whether remittances have gone up sharply after the unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and so on. Some recent visitors to Dubai have reported that many Indians working there are transferring their savings back. This can give a one-time boost to the supply of dollars even as the longer-term prospects for inward remittances would worsen, should the unrest and social/political instability in that part of the world continue. This, as also the price of oil, would have an important bearing on the prospects for the current account deficit in the fiscal year 2011-12.
Another relevant issue is the sharply reduced rate of taxation on dividends earned from foreign companies, proposed in the Finance Bill. Under the existing provisions, such dividend income is taxable at the marginal rate of tax (30 per cent). The rate is now proposed to be reduced to 15 per cent. It is understood that a number of large business houses with significant investments abroad had lobbied for the change. However, one cannot help but wonder whether there is more to it than meets the eye. In other words, is it an effort to bring the much publicised unaccounted money supposed to be held by Indians abroad? An amnesty scheme in disguise? It would not be very difficult for such money to be used to inflate the profits of foreign companies and remitted to India as dividend income taxable at the lower rate of 15 per cent.
On the current account, I recently read the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Staff Discussion Note, March 1, 2011, by Olivier Blanchard and Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, titled "(Why) Should Current Account Balances Be Reduced?" This is obviously in response to the G20 decision to entrust the development of "indicators" to be monitored in the context of the global imbalances. The paper claims that deficits can arise because of "financial regulation failures fuelling credit booms" and the "mis-behaviour of fiscal authorities". It argues that "correcting these distortions" is generally desirable. There is no acknowledgement of the role an overvalued exchange rate plays in creating deficits. Again, while discussing surpluses, it claims that "these distortions will typically be reflected in a more depreciated real exchange rate". Surely, the cause and effect is the other way round: undervalued currencies lead to surpluses for exporters of undifferentiated goods, and hence the pressure on China to appreciate its currency. But the IMF obfuscates the point cleverly. The reason is simple: acknowledging the factual position would lead to the corollary of managed exchanged rates and controls on capital flows, which are ideologically unacceptable. There is an oblique reference to the so-called "Dutch disease", the phenomenon in which large exports of oil or other natural resources lead to the appreciation of a currency. The "Dutch disease" has nothing to do with excess capital flows appreciating a currency, which has happened in case after case in the developing world over the last couple of decades.
The IMF seems to argue that it is domestic savings and investment alone that determine the current account surplus or deficit. Though arithmetically the two are equal, it needs to be emphasised once again that these variables are not independent of the exchange rate. Economics 101 teaches that net exports are a component of GDP and, to the extent this is negative, the resultant deficit represents a loss of output, jobs and savings. The IMF does not refer to this implication while discussing current account deficits and surpluses. Sadly, our policy makers seem to subscribe to the IMF view, preferring to look at the deficit principally from the angle of its financeability, rather than as a reflection of lost output and jobs. But, surely, the objective of macroeconomic policy is precisely growth and job creation?
******************************************************************************************THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIA DESERVES BETTER THAN BANKS THAT LEND RATIONED AMOUNTS TO A FEW
A recent BCG-CII study shows that over half the population in the country lacks access to banking. Regulated non-banking finance companies and informal lenders service the bulk of the economy's credit needs. And, under the pressure of political correctness related to protecting the poor, the government threatens to jack up the cost of credit for the poor even further. Over-regulation of microfinance institutions such as a cap on the interest rate charged by them, as recommended by the Malegam committee, will only squeeze credit supply and force the poor to turn to money lenders, unregulated and even more expensive sources of credit. The government's focus should be on reforming regulation to allow technology to be deployed to the fullest extent possible to lower the cost of banking and make it accessible for the poor. Regulation and culture inhibit banks in building a low-cost and efficient distribution network. The RBI has taken baby steps to ease rules such as allowing 'for profit' companies to act as retail agents and deregulating interest rate on small value loans. However, the study is spot on when it says that incremental changes in business models are not enough. It has prescribed use of efficient technology by banks and building a lowcost distribution network through partnerships. Banks should be allowed to deploy new technologies to build a robust and viable system of inclusive banking. Mobile phones can be linked to a bank account for settling financial transactions, including money transfers. Each bank account, in turn, can be linked to a unique identity number. Payments in government-sponsored schemes and cash transfers can then be made directly to the bank account of the beneficiary. Mobile phones and the unique identity number project will make it possible to extend the reach of formal finance to every citizen.
A more radical alternative is to provide a banking licence to telecom service providers or their joint ventures with banks, one thwarted by regulatory reticence. Tapping that possibility would mean leveraging the country's 750 million plus mobile connections, growing at over 15 million a month, for faster financial inclusion.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REDUCING TRANSACTION COSTS AND SECTORAL INITIATIVES IN TEXTILES ARE EASY OPTIONS
There is a welcome surge in India's exports, with the figure for April-February crossing $200 billion. It is possible to boost them further, cutting transaction costs and with some sectoral initiatives. Trade-related transaction costs include compliance requirements, long-winded procedures, infrastructural bottlenecks, delays at ports, et al. A recent commerce ministry task force pegs the magnitude of transaction costs in exports at over $13 billion. Reducing such costs would boost export competitiveness and enhance trade. Actually, reducing transaction costs and the costs of doing business would not just aid exports and FDI but also boost domestic business and entrepreneurship. But the biggest driver of cost and time overruns involves the preparation and vetting of documents. The way ahead is to streamline the paperwork, with an eTrade initiative that involves unified interface of exporters, industry groups and various government departments and agencies. The government's electronic data interchange in this regard has to become more expansive and inclusive.
The latest data suggests that exports of textile and apparel, fibre and yarn add up to almost a fifth of the overall total. The figures show that the Indian textile industry contributes about 14% to industrial output and accounts for nearly 17% of export earnings. But the upside can be huge, with proactive policy. The projection is that India has the potential to increase its textile and apparel share in world trade from the current level of 4.5% to 8% by 2020. However, there's an urgent need to broaden the product mix and explore new markets, while maintaining and increasing share in core markets — 70% goes to the US and the EU — through product innovation and diversification. The Centre also needs to restart and sustain the Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme, which incentivises modernisation in textile units. The availability of trained manpower, textile parks and the setting up of more design and research centres need focus. In parallel, we need to have export-related IT systems up and running across sectors and industries.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NOW THAT THE LANGUAGE HAS OUTGROWN ITS BORDERS, IT MAY BE TIME FOR A NEW NAME
It would not be fanciful to state that the language the British bequeathed to us has become so d e s i f i e dthat the originators are hard-pressed to decipher what is being said anymore. In fact, there is a strong case for English not to be given a geographical genesis at all considering that according to Henry Hitchings' book T h e L a n g u a g e W a r s: A H i s t o r y o f P r o p e r E n gli s h, the language does not even have official status in the UK. In the battle between the prescriptivists who go by the (grammar)book, and the descriptivists who want to take the language at face value – Hitchings' central theme – there can be no doubt which would triumph in India, where the language has the widest potential to spread. Ask anyone grooving to S h e ila k i J a w a n iabout the grammatical integrity of "I know you want it but you never gonna get it" and the answer is likely to be, "What goes of your father? We are like that only!" Stellar Bollywood constructs such as J a b W e M e t(which, contrary to what the first word's English pronunciation implied, did not prod the conscience) and I, P r o u d t o b e I n d i - a n(whose key use of the comma must have pleased Lynne Truss, the author of E a t s, S h o o t s a n d L e a v e s) are indicative of our insouciant adaptation of a language that could have remained a colonial imposition.
Further afield, imaginative adoption of words and phrases such as 'politics', 'corruption' and even 'my dear' (with appropriately accented enunciation) in probably every Indian language belies the alarming thought that those who seek to keep English rooted to its past may win. Now that English has grown beyond the shrunken borders and still shrinking influence of the Mother Country, there is a strong case for a new name for the language that liberates it from its original geography. Any suggestions?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TIME FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLES IN INDIA
INDIA NEEDS A MULTI-PRONGED PROGRAMME TO POPULARISE ELECTRIC CARS AS A LOW-COST MODE OF TRANSPORT
AJAY SHANKAR FORMER SECRETARY, DIPP
The electric vehicle has zero emissions and is pollution free. As such, it has traditionally had a strong appeal to environmentalists looking for cleaner air in cities. Since concerns for climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have grown, the electric vehicle has become even more attractive. While it is true that it needs electricity to run and electricity generation may require the use of fossil fuels with consequent carbon emissions, it is also true that it is possible to get electricity from zero emission sources such as hydropower, nuclear, solar and wind. In theory, this makes it a transformational technology as the auto sector which in developed countries accounts for 15-20% of all GHG emissions can move to a state of zero emissions.
Has the time, therefore, come for the electric vehicle? Going by the way global auto majors have been developing and displaying electric vehicles in auto shows, the answer seems to be in the affirmative. The electric car had the handicap of not achieving speeds and travelling distances on highways comparable to the cars consumers had got used to in developed countries. The problem of speed seems to have been overcome. Electric cars are now being aggressively marketed for the first time in the US. The R&D effort is now on the costly battery, which makes the electric car still quite expensive in comparison to a similar conventional car. China has invested heavily in this sector and on lithium ion batteries used in electric cars and positioning itself as a leading global player in electric cars. It is time for India to take a call whether it would like to leave matters to normal market forces or whether it would like to get in the forefront as it already is in wind energy.
On the clean energy front, India was fortunate in having visionary leadership in Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Not many may recall that electric buses made by Bhel were run in the Games Village at Siri Fort where no other vehicles were permitted to enter during the IXth Asian Games in 1982. These and other electric buses ran on selected routes in Delhi till the early 1990s when government support dried up. As neither speed nor driving range is an issue for city driving, the buses ran well as far as passengers and drivers were concerned. But these buses were not replaced and Bhel abandoned its electric vehicle programme.
India was again fortunate in having a start-up company make the electric car Reva in India. Reva claims that it has probably the longest operating road driving experience in the world for electric cars. Recognising the potential and importance of the electric vehicle, the government has recently announced a subsidy for the sale of electric cars. It is, however, necessary to recognise that what matters is the size of the market. The scale effect of large volumes is the key to movement down the cost curve. Large volumes also lead to vendor development and local sourcing, paving the way for further cost reduction.
The creation of a critical mass of electric vehicles in a concentrated geography would be essential for the viability of investment in battery recharging facilities. With a fully developed recharging infrastructure, an electric vehicle could drive into a recharging station and drive off with a fully recharged battery. The station could source sufficient offpeak cheap power to recharge all the batteries it collects in the day. In other countries, green settlements are being promoted with the battery charging infrastructure, with smart grids being an intrinsic feature. A reliable infrastructure for recharging of batteries would be essential in India both for assuring the adequate supply of electricity during the night for recharging and sourcing this electricity at cheaper rates. Differential time of day tariffs envisaged in the tariff policy are overdue.
Once the recharging infrastructure is in place, it would be possible to have a business model for financing/leasing of vehicles as taxis and buses. Lower operating costs due to cheaper offpeak power and optimal recharging infrastructure could reduce the cost differential between these and conventional vehicles on a per kilometer basis over a vehicle's lifecycle cost. The subsidy requirement may turn out to be much lower as a result. The subsidy in a per km financing/leasing model would keep going down as crude oil prices rise. In addition, costs should come down as the domestic industry gains experience and grows in size. Some locations in India immediately come to mind for the mandatory replacement of conventional buses, taxis and three-wheelers by electric vehicles and where this would be welcomed by all just as CNG buses were welcomed in Delhi. These are areas around popular congested tourist sites, pilgrimage centers and hill stations. The existing operators would need to be supported for the transition in a way that it does not impose an additional financial burden on them. This would involve putting in place arrangements for trade in of an existing vehicle for an electric vehicle where the monthly loan repayment or leasing cost along with battery charging cost works out to be slightly less than the present operating cost.
What is needed for the promotion of the manufacture of electric vehicles in India is a well-designedprogramme
that goes beyond an individual vehicle subsidy. It would need to be implemented in phases as is the case with the solar mission where the first phase is large enough for the scale effect to be experienced and there is opportunity for learning through experience. The subsidy for the first phase of a programme at a scale critical enough for cost reductions to be reasonably expected may also be affordable.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PRAGMATIC PRICING ON CONVERTIBLES TO BOOST FDI
SHEFALI GORADIA & KALPESH DESAI
The existing foreign direct investment (FDI) policy mandates foreign investors to determine the conversion price of convertible instruments upfront at the time of issue. However, the norm does not factor in commercial considerations of foreign investors using the FDI route to enter India. This adversely impacts various private equity players because a significant number of deals in the private equity space are through convertible preference shares. It has also impacted the real estate sector where investments are through compulsorily convertible debentures.
In cases where there was no consensus on valuation, foreign investors often invested in convertible instruments issued by Indian companies. This option worked better since the price of conversion into equity of the investee company was then linked to the performance of the company.
Convertibles provide immediate funding to the company and flexibility to the investor to convert or not to convert depending on the future performance of the company. In June 2007, the investments in optionally convertible instruments were taken off the FDI window and treated as external commercial borrowings. Despite the strengthening of FDI norms, foreign investors continued to invest in compulsorily convertible instruments as they could have the benefit of performancelinked pricing formula.
As with any foreign investment, investment in convertibles was also to be made at least at the floor price prescribed by Sebi/RBI. Till April 2010, different views prevailed on the cutoff date for the floor price — i.e., the date of issue or date of conversion or both. Since pricing was performance-based, the floor price on the date of conversion was most logical.
However, the FDI policy unveiled by the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) in 2010 made it clear that the conversion ratio should be specified upfront. This means that the terms of issue of a convertible instrument should specify the number of equity shares the holder of the convertible instrument will get upon conversion. Simply put, foreign investors can no longer have the benefit of determining the price at which the instrument should be converted into equity based on the milestones achieved by the investee company.
Perhaps, the rationale behind the policy was that if the pricing is open-ended at the stage of issue, the investor need not take the risks of any upside or downside till the conversion. This means if the investee does not perform well once the convertible instrument is acquired by the foreign investor, the investor will get shares at a discounted rate and hence, would be protected from any downside risk. While this could swing the other way too, the RBI did not consider this as the amendment was intended to bring the risk borne by the foreign investor on par with the risk borne by an ordinary shareholder. Such a move has, however, made convertible instruments far less attractive than equity shares.
Further, the RBI was of the view that in case such formulabased pricing mechanism was preferred, then the investment should comply with the ECB policy as the instrument is akin to a debt instrument. However, such aview is incorrect as the instrument issued is fully and mandatorily convertible into equity shares and no redemption is permissible unlike in case of ECB where the borrower, on maturity, has to repay the loan.
The conversion price ideally ought to reflect the value of the investee company. When companies are at a nascent stage, it is often not possible to predict their true growth potential. The value hinges on the dynamics of the economy and the sector in which the company operates. Given the current policy, many private equity investors are reluctant to commit to a higher valuation sought by promoters. Imposing the requirement to fix the conversion ratio upfront works as a double-edged sword. While in some cases, foreign investors may stand to loose and in some other, the promoters may also stand to loose as they may have to agree to a lower valuation upfront. In most such cases, the investee companies are at nascent stage and hence, have lower current value. So, the chances of the Indian promoters losing out are far more. The government should, therefore, review the pricing of such convertible instruments as it has deterred many foreign investors from investing in India. Official estimates for 2011 show that FDI in India has dipped by approximately 23% from the previous year. At $16 billion (till December 2010), India definitely needs more foreign investment. A pragmatic approach towards pricing of convertible instruments could benefit the investee companies as well as the foreign investors and reignite the flow of FDI into the country.
(S Goradia is partner and K Desai is director at BMR Advisors)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A PEOPLE'S ECONOMICS
ROBERT J SHILLER
We are in the midst of a boom in popular economics: books, articles, blogs, public lectures, all followed closely by the general public. I recently participated in a panel discussion of this phenomenon at the American Economic Association annual meeting in Denver. An apparent paradox emerged from the discussion: the boom in popular economics comes at a time when the general public seems to have lost faith in professional economists, because almost all of us failed to predict, or even warn of, the current economic crisis, the biggest since the Great Depression.
So, why is the public buying more books by professional economists? The most interesting explanation I heard was that economics has become more interesting, because it no longer seems to be a finished and closed discipline. It is no fun to read a book or article that says that economic forecasting is best left to computer models that you, the general reader, would need a PhD to understand. And, in truth, the public is right: while there is a somewhat scientific basis for these models, they can go spectacularly wrong. Sometimes, we need to turn off autopilot and think for ourselves, and when a crisis occurs, use our best human intellect.
The panelists all said, in one way or another, that popular economics facilitates an exchange between specialised economists and the broader public — a dialogue that has never been more important. After all, most economists did not see this crisis coming in part because they had removed themselves from what real-world people were doing and thinking.
Successful popular economics involves the reader or listener, in some sense, as a collaborator. That, of course, means that economists must be willing to include new and original theories that are not yet received doctrine among professional specialists.
Until recently, many professional economists would be reluctant to write a popular book. Certainly, it would not be viewed favourably in considering a candidate for tenure or a promotion. Since it does not include equations or statistical tables, they would argue, it is not serious work that is worthy of scholarly attention. Worse than that, at least until recently, a committee evaluating an economist would likely think that writing a popular economics book that does not repeat the received wisdom of the discipline might even be professionally unethical.
In the decades prior to the current financial crisis, economists gradually came to view themselves and their profession in the same way, encouraged by research trends. For example, after 1960, when the University of Chicago started creating a Univac computer tape that contained systematic information about millions of stock prices, a great deal of scientific research on the properties of stock prices was taken as confirming the "efficient markets hypothesis". The competitive forces that underlie stock exchanges were seen to force all securities prices to their true fundamental values. All trading schemes not based on this hypothesis were labelled as either misguided or outright frauds. Science had triumphed over stock-market punditry — or so it seemed.
The financial crisis delivered a fatal blow to that overconfidence in scientific economics. It is not just that the profession didn't forecast the crisis. Their models, taken literally, sometimes suggested that a crisis of this magnitude couldn't happen. One way to interpret this is that the economics profession was not fully accounting for the economy's human element, an element that can't be reduced to mathematical analysis.
The relatively few professional economists who warned of the crisis were people, it seems, who not only read the scholarly economics literature, but also brought into play more personal judgment: intuitive comparisons with past historical episodes; conclusions about speculative trading, price bubbles, and the stability of confidence; evaluations of the moral purposes of economic actors; and impressions that complacency had set in, lulling watchdogs to sleep. These were judgments made by economists who were familiar with our business leadership — their inspirations, beliefs, subterfuges, and rationalisations. Their views could never be submitted to a scholarly journal and evaluated the way a new medical procedure is. There is no established scientific procedure that could prove their validity.
Of course, economics is in many ways a science, and the work of our scholars and their computer models really does matter. But, as the economist Edwin R A Seligman put it in 1889, "Economics is a social science, i.e., it is an ethical and therefore an historical science….It is not a natural science, and therefore not an exact or purely abstract science."
To me, and no doubt to the other panelists, part of the process of pursuing the inexact aspects of economics is speaking honestly to the broader public and then searching one's soul to decide whether one's favoured theory is really close to the truth.
(The author is professor of economics at Yale University) ©Project Syndicate, 2011
RBI POINTS TO MULTIPLE DANGERS
The Reserve Bank of India's mid-quarter review of the monetary policy sounds the clearest alert to the government about the challenges it faces on the economic and socio-political front. All the economic indicators raise a red flag, whether on inflation and inflationary expectations, investment, slowdown in industrial growth and in capital expenditure and most of all the global uncertainty. There are so many crosscurrents that the developments at times seem surreal. There has been one financial catastrophe after another: the political uprising in the Middle East and oil-rich North Africa, then the unfolding tragedy in Japan and now the aerial attacks on Libya by an international coalition with Libya's leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, promising a long drawn war. Given that the Dr Manmohan Singh government is under siege from corruption and other scandals, it is only to be hoped that it would find the time to focus on what needs to be done to keep the economy in good health. Besides there are general elections to the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, West Bengal and the Union Territory of Puducherry over the next two months, during which there time there cannot be any policy announcements. There are already a series of struggles against rising prices, corruption and land acquisition. In this scenario the Reserve Bank of India is caught in a Catch 22 situation while trying to balance the demand for controlling inflation with that of not stifling growth. The RBI sees inflation as the greater threat and has announced a hike in policy rates yet again. It has also revised the inflation rate for the year ending March 31, 2011, to 8 per cent from the earlier 7 per cent. The prices of fruits and vegetables have come down but that is due to seasonal factors. The prices of crucial protein items like meat, fish and eggs are still very much on the high side and the government certainly needs to do something about the supply side. For instance of eggs prices are high because of the high cost of feed. These are the common man's sources of proteins like fish. With India surrounded by the oceans it befuddles the imagination as to why there is not enough fish available that could keep prices at reasonable levels while giving the actual fishermen fair returns. The cost of manufactured goods is very much on the high side due to the high price of raw materials. There are of course situations on the price front that are beyond the control of the government, like the rise in prices of commodities and crude. Rising crude prices could impact the government's efforts to keep the fiscal deficit within the Lakshman Rekha it has targeted in the Union Budget. Economists and others in the forecasting business, who have not been able to foresee the events that have developed since 2008, are yet to fully fathom the implications of the Japanese tragedy and the Middle East and North Africa political crisis. In this scenario growth remains an important component and cannot be ignored. Industry has expressed its concerns and though complaining is the hallmark of the industry bodies, perhaps the government does need to look into what is hampering investment. It has been said that repeated rate hikes have cramped investment. It is necessary to examine to what extent it has, and what are the other constraints, like corruption for instance.
LET EAST MEET WEST
In his classic ballad, poet laureate Rudyard Kipling famously declared, "Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet". A century after his pronouncement, three of the four largest economies of the world are now in the East thanks to the modern technology developed in the West. History shows us that human civilisation actually began in the East with the domestication of plants and animals that ended the nomadic lifestyle of our prehistoric ancestors. This early civilisation flourished about 5,000 years ago in India, Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and China. During this period, although quite a few advances took place, such as in elementary metallurgy, the innovative contribution of India to science and technology left an enduring legacy. It was here in India that the zero was invented as well as the binary and decimal numeral systems. Can you imagine life today without your cellphone, computer, Internet, CDs and DVDs? None of these, or higher mathematics, so essential for modern science and technology, would have been possible without the zero. Unfortunately, after the glorious days, the early civilisations started to decline. India, along with the rest of the world, for one reason or another, fell into a deep slumber during the medieval ages. Then, about 400 years ago, modern science started in Europe. Science spawned technology, which ushered in the Industrial Revolution 200 years later. It started in England, subsequently spreading throughout Europe, North America and eventually to the East. So, you see, the first revolution began in the East and the second one in the West and together they fostered what is now the splendour of human civilisation. Yes, there is still a lot of poverty, hunger and disease, in fact, in our own backyard. But there is proven technology as well as enough capital today to wipe out poverty forever. Once we get rid of poverty, then what? Can we live happily ever after? From my personal experience I can affirm that material abundance alone does not provide all the ingredients for happiness. The richest country in the world, the United States, is a good example. Studies consistently show that as the gross domestic product of the US has gone up, the quotient of happiness has gone down. Why? Because with material abundance comes anxiety and stress, the biggest killers in modern society. Interestingly, as part of coping with stress, the West is embracing yoga, a practice developed in ancient India. I believe India can provide much more than yoga. It is capable of leading the way in a more profound manner to improve the quality of people's lives through spiritual realisation. A truer nature of reality was first glimpsed by some gifted individuals in ancient India through contemplation and meditation. The essence of their realisation can be summarised in two succinct sentences: Aham Brahmasmi. Tat twam asi. (I am part of Brahma, the creator. And you are, too.) As magnificent as the revelations were, the gifted sages did not have the means for the truth to be vetted as we have today through the dazzling evidence and logical discourse of modern science, developed primarily in the West. With science at our disposal today, we can separate the wheat from the chaff. The truth gleaned this way provides substantial validation to the nature of reality first envisioned in ancient India. For the first time in human history we have a credible model to trace how the universe developed from a tiny nugget of space to what it is today. Quantum Field Theory, a particular branch of quantum physics developed by marrying the two pillars of modern physics, special relativity and quantum physics, uncovers for us something truly astounding. You will be surprised to know that each stitch of the fabric of space, each space-time element of this universe, contains exactly the same source from which everything else comes. The source is not physical. In the parlance of quantum physics, the source consists of abstract quantum fields. Like fish swimming in water without recognising it, we are immersed in the abstract reality of the source that governs the fundamental aspects of this universe. This is a rather difficult concept to perceive. But we can get some idea from the analogy of the earth's gravity field around us. We cannot see it, we cannot touch it. Similar is the source of everything that fills all elements of space-time of this incredibly vast universe. But unlike earth's gravity, which we can experience if we jump, evolution has conditioned us not to feel the existence of the quantum fields. But quantum fields are always alive with quantum activity with very special characteristics that they fluctuate absolutely spontaneously and unpredictably. How do we know? The most graphic demonstration of this was observed in the ripples of minute temperature variations detected in the Microwave Background Radiation recorded by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe satellite. And there is something else of momentous significance. These ripples, resulting from the sudden expansion of microscopic quantum fluctuations, also turn out to be what would be needed as seeds for the formation of the largest structures in the universe — the galaxies as well as the clusters and super clusters of galaxies. Thus, time and again we see that the smallest of the small is inextricably connected to the largest of the large in our universe. Why is this profound knowledge of science not in the public consciousness yet? To begin with, it is fairly new. The knowledge also involves some esoteric math, which is the only language in which the essential counter-intuitive ideas can be expressed. I feel that modern cosmology and quantum physics remarkably support what our gifted sages realised about the creation and the creator through contemplation. Both science and spirituality are essential, as has been famously pointed out by Einstein: Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. Another synthesis of the best of the East and the West has been proclaimed by our own Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. The West has shown us the way to material abundance, but they have been ensnared by its attachment. The East can possibly show them how to enjoy abundance with detachment. For excellence, we need the best of both the East and the West, Kipling notwithstanding. * Manilal Bhaumik, a physist and author, is the inventor of the excimer laser used for lasik surgery.
AMERICA TAUNTING MARKET, MOTHER NATURE
It is hard to read the news from Japan to the Persian Gulf and then reflect on American politics and not conclude, as scientists would say, that we're running an uncontrolled experiment on the only country and planet we have. And what is that experiment? We're basically taunting — there is no other word for it — the two most merciless forces on earth: the market and Mother Nature. At a time when Japan is suffering a nuclear catastrophe that is likely to make the world even more dependent on oil and gas, at a time when the world's top oil and gas producers are entering what will be, at best, an unstable, and, at worst, a viciously violent transition from autocracy to, one hopes, democracy, and at a time when the combination of the two could slow down global growth while we're still trying to climb out of recession, America has no energy policy, no climate policy and no long-term plan to deal with its unsustainable deficit. We're basically saying to the market and Mother Nature: "Bring it on. We're going to be dumb as we wanna be and put off all these big decisions, possibly until 2013, after the next presidential election, because our two political parties would rather focus on winning the next election and blaming the other guy than making hard choices." Maybe the market and Mother Nature will accommodate us and wait until 2013. If so, we will get to deal with these problems in our time, in our way, with minimum collateral damage. It will be like having a rotten tooth removed by a dentist using lots of Novocain. It will hurt a little, but we'll easily recover. If, on the other hand, the market suddenly loses confidence in our ability to maintain the value of our currency, or Mother Nature hits some internal climate tipping point, or Saudi Arabia is destabilised — any one of which could happen without warning — we will not have the luxury of a painless extraction from this situation. When the market and Mother Nature force adjustments, they never provide painkillers and, well, they're not very precise. When they act, it's like having a rotten tooth removed by a caveman using stone tools. He'll smash a lot of other teeth at the same time, and there will be blood all over the floor. That's what we're courting right now. President Obama has the right convictions on all these issues, but he has not shown the courage of his convictions. The Republicans have just gone nuts. If you listen to Obama, he eloquently describes our energy, climate and fiscal predicaments: how we have to end our addiction to oil and cut spending and raise revenues in an intelligent way that also invests in the future and doesn't just slash and burn. But then the president won't lead. When pressed on energy, he will say that he just doesn't have the Republican votes for a serious clean energy policy. But the President has never gotten in the GOP's face on this issue. He has not put his own energy plan on the table and then gone out to the country and tried to sell it. It is what a lot of Obama supporters find frustrating about him: They voted for Mr Obama to change the polls not read the polls. On fiscal policy, the President has put forth a decent opening budget bid and has opted for the same inside game of letting Congress take the lead in forging a compromise with the GOP that would bring spending under control and raise revenues. That inside game worked for the President in producing health care reform and the stimulus, but in those cases he had a Democratic majority to push through decent legislation. I fear this time he will not have the votes for the kind of serious, sensible, Simpson-Bowles-like budget cuts and tax increases we need — without his leading and enlisting the public in a much more aggressive way. Republicans, by contrast, are insisting that we can somehow drill our way out of our energy problems, and House Republicans just reported out of committee a bill that would block the EPA from taking any action to reduce greenhouse gases, while also slashing government funds to keep air and water clean. So far, the GOP is calling for cuts in the things we need to invest more in — like education and infrastructure — while leaving largely untouched things we need to reduce, like entitlements and defense spending. A country that invests more in its elderly than its youth, more in nursing homes than schools, will neither invent the future nor own it. The world is caught in a dangerous feedback loop — higher oil prices and climate disruptions lead to higher food prices, higher food prices lead to more instability, more instability leads to higher oil prices. That loop is shaking the foundations of politics everywhere.
CELEBRATING HOLI MAYA STYLE
Maya's colourless Holi Holi is certainly not what it used to be in Uttar Pradesh for former chief ministers, like N.D. Tiwari, Veer Bahadur Singh and even V.P. Singh, who used to keep an open house on Holi. They would welcome members of the Legislative Assembly, party workers and even common people into their sprawling bungalows, play with gulal and offer traditional sweets. As chief minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav would play Holi in his native village in Etawah but would return to the state capital in the evening to meet and greet fellow politicians, his officers, party workers and journalists. But Mayawati, who is at the helm of affairs, hates colours and because of her security phobia won't allow anyone to come even within hearing distance of her. The Chief Minister remains indoors and does not play with colours due to a skin allergy. She also makes sure that her top officers don't indulge in any revelry on that day. "We lead a colourless life throughout the year and now we cannot even play Holi," grumbled a senior police officer and added, "Hope things improve by next year." Prophetic words? A room of his own Majestic Jaisalmer stands in the heart of Thar desert and attracts a lot of tourists all year round. And the very, very important persons (VVIPs) visiting the city, especially politicians, have a favourite haunt — the Circuit House. But the Circuit House is usually full and it is difficult for those who do not belong to the elite among the VVIPs (yes, there is hierarchy there too) to get rooms. Recently, a VVIP from Haryana reached Jaisalmer with his family and asked the Circuit House manager for a room. The manager expressed his inability to do so as all rooms were booked. But the VVIP kept insisting and finally he requested for a room for a short while — just to freshen up and change. But once he got into the room, the VVIP called his family in and stayed put. Though the staff urged him to vacate the room as it was reserved for some other bigwig, the VVIP refused to budge. "Tere me himmat ho to khali karvale (If you have the guts, make me vacate the room)," was his Duryodhan-style retort. The Circuit Home staff withdrew. They should have known that once a VVIP gets a perch, it is difficult to make them leave. Alphons turns saintly Alphons Kannanthanam, former "demolition man" of Delhi (he was the chairman of the Delhi Development Authority), had turned member of the Legislative Assembly with the support of the Left. This bureaucrat-turned-independent represented Kanjirappally, the latex capital of Kerala, in the last Assembly. Though he spoke a different lingo, he had an instant connect with the constituency and its rural voters; playing, at times, a godfather who advises bikers to ride only with helmets on and never hesitating to give a rap to drive home his point. Mr Kannanthanam was a given space in the Left Democratic Front list this time, too. And his wish to contest from Poonjaar was also granted. But all of a sudden, he withdrew from the contest. "I want to serve the poor and deserve a larger canvas," he said. "I no longer want to remain in Kerala." Of course, this bikini of a statement revealed more than what it concealed. Pat came reply from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary, Pinarayi Vijayan: "He wants to serve the poor. Since there aren't any poor in Kerala, he wants to expand the search beyond the state's borders. We fully agree that it best suits him.'' Last heard, the "politocrat" is being approached by the Bharatiya Janata Party to be their brand ambassador to promote secular values. Dividing the saints In kalyug, politicians apply the "divide and rule" policy even to saints if it can give them a temporary salvation. Chhattisgarh's tourism and culture minister Brij Mohan Agarwal proved himself to be an astute politician when he successfully tackled a brewing rebellion among thousands of ascetics present at an annual Hindu pilgrimage at Rajim, Raipur district, recently. Nearly one lakh sadhus had gathered at the famous Rajim Kumbha Mela to take holy dips at the confluence of Mahanandi, Sandur and Pairi rivers. But the messy arrangements by the local administration coupled with unhealthy environment irked the sadhus and they threatened to boycott the mela en masse. Alarmed by the development, the minister rushed to the area and camped there for a night. During his stay, he engaged some sadhus in negotiations to resolve the issue. The next morning, the minister was seen in saffron clothes taking a holy dip at the triveny sangam along with a large number of saints. Soon devotees too jumped in for a holy dip, marking the beginning of the two-week-long mela. Upset with their boycott plan going haywire, a section of sadhus squarely blamed the minister for "dividing" the saints. "They (politicians) can even create factionalism in heaven," said a sadhu. EC spoils Gogoi's show Assam chief Minister Tarun Gogoi's plan to take his election campaign to the silver screen was spoiled when the Election Commission of India decided to stop the release of Assamese film Pole Pole Ure Mon (Wings of Ecstasy), directed by Timothy Das Hanse. Apparently, the film presents Mr Gogoi's "human face" to the viewers, but his political opponents brought this to the notice of the Election Commission (EC). The EC has issued notice to the director and producer of the film to delay its release till the election process is over. Mr Gogoi himself has acted in the film that was shot at his official residence. But with the EC putting its foot down, voters will now have to wait to savour his histrionics on screen.
PRAYERS TO HELP JAPAN
The extent of damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 15 is still unfolding. Whatever be the final outcome, it is going to take a long time for the country to come to terms with it. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the survivors of World War II have described this catastrophe second to the destruction caused by American atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Right now the whole world stands in solidarity with the people of Japan who have lost their near and dear ones and with those half-a-million suffering men, women and children who have become homeless. While sitting thousands of miles away, we express our solidarity with the victims and a question arises in our minds is: "Can our prayers help the victims at all?" Some pragmatic activists might hasten to remind us that rather than sitting and praying for the victims, we should take some concrete actions, such as fund raising, collecting blankets, clothes and food stuff which will stand the victims in good stead. This would undoubtedly be the most tangible as well as visible help for the affected people. However, for the spiritually inclined people, prayer could certainly be as concrete and perceptible a help as any. It is the experience of many ordinary but devout people who have been involved in bringing succor to the suffering that praying for people does bear immense fruit and even brings miracles. Mother Teresa is one such impressive example who blended prayer and action most beautifully. In fact, her early morning and late night hours spent in prayer became the powerhouse from which she drew energy to carry out her work for those whose condition was not very different to the ones now suffering in Japan. I have often found myself asking people to pray for me. I come across numerous people almost on a daily basis who ask for my prayers for their loved ones. Sometimes, when they don't want to reveal details, the request is, simply, "Father, please pray for my special intention". Not surprisingly, many of them return after a while to thank me for my prayers. In the Bible we find Jesus himself praying to God, the Father, "I pray for them... Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one… My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one". Similarly, when Jesus was teaching his disciples about the power of faith, he told them, "And all things, whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive". St Paul too writes to a group of people, "For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding". Adds St. James, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much". — 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
NO KISS FROM KATE
When Chris Dodd accepted the job as head of the Motion Picture Association of America, he did not know the address of his new office, located just down the street from the White House. "I discovered the address was 1600 I Street, and there was a time in my life when I had ambitions to have a 1600 address," he says wryly. "But I missed by a block." Dodd, a 66-year-old former presidential candidate, throws back his head of gleaming white hair and laughs with gleaming white teeth. He started his job on St. Patrick's Day, for luck, and on Friday, he's still wearing a green tie. "It's like the first day of school," he says as he admires the old movie posters on the wall — Alfred Hitchcock, James Dean and Bette Davis. At first Dodd was unsure about becoming the Washington promoter for six major Hollywood studios because, as he told the McClatchy papers, "I'm not into the glitz." His life now revolves around his wife, Jackie, and his two lovely young daughters, Grace and Christina. He has already warned his daughters not to expect perks (like an early copy of the final Harry Potter movie). He told them, "Your friendships should be based on people liking you and not what you can bring along." Of course, as a Connecticut senator who was the son of a Connecticut senator, Dodd has had plenty of brushes with celebrity. He campaigned with Paul Simon and hung out with Paul Newman in Westport. He had a cameo in the political movie Dave. As a merry bachelor in the '80s, he was linked to Bianca Jagger and Carrie Fisher. He even ran into one of his most famous constituents, Katharine Hepburn, who lived out her life at her family home in Fenwick, on the mouth of the Connecticut River. He had stopped by the Fenwick house of a friend, Ellsworth Grant, Hepburn's brother-in-law. "I walk up the back step of his house and the door opens up, and Ellsworth and Katharine Hepburn are standing three feet away," Dodd recalls. "And Ellsworth says to me in a very loud voice, 'Would you like to meet Katharine Hepburn?' and she's not even glanced in my direction. So I say, 'I'd be honored, delighted.' And he says to her really loudly, 'Katharine, do you want to meet Senator Dodd?' And without ever looking at me, she goes, 'Why?' " He laughs. If he seems happy, it's understandable. After 36 years in Congress, his final stretch in the Senate was not easy. As chairman of the Banking Committee, he was dealing with the financial crisis while shepherding Teddy Kennedy's health care bill as his good friend was dying. In trouble with Connecticut voters for taking a VIP home mortgage from Countrywide Financial, he didn't seek re-election. Dodd is legally not allowed to lobby Congress for 22 more months. "Aside from that," he says, "I don't think it necessarily involves a principal all the time." He has lobbyists on his staff. "Whatever else the world may think of us, they think we do a pretty good job at telling a story," he says. "There's probably someone around the world burning an American flag as we're talking, and it wouldn't be a shocking circumstance that once they're finished demonstrating, they'll go home tonight and they'll probably watch an American movie." It's a tough job in an era of digital looting — Dodd disdains the word piracy as too "romantic" — and studios enmeshed in the webs of multinational corporations predicted by Paddy Chayefsky in Network. "The impression of the industry is sort of a gilded, tuxedo-wearing, red-carpet walking, movie-star, People magazine kind of thing," Dodd says. "And the irony is, the automobile industry competes with each other once a year. These guys compete with each other every Friday night. The business model is nuts in many ways." Like his vibrant predecessor Jack Valenti, Dodd thinks movies can have "a profound influence." When he was a teenager, he and his siblings went to see Birdman of Alcatraz with Burt Lancaster and began furiously debating the flaws in the justice system. "To have this lovely man who loved birds in jail," he says. "And we got my father, who was in the Senate, so upset, he calls the attorney general of the United States. And apparently the Birdman was a serial killer, but they forgot to tell you in the movie." He laughs. Dodd loves an array of films, from Raging Bull to Bulworth. He diplomatically notes that he enjoyed both The King's Speech and The Social Network. He talks about ways to persuade China to show more than 20 non-Chinese films a year; an idea to hold conferences here debating social and political issues raised in movies; and, of course, about the possibility of an Irish film festival next St. Patrick's Day. Asked how he likes Hollywood, Dodd replies, "It's fine, you know, it's more appealing in January and February." By arrangement with the New York Times
SAYS LITTLE, PROMISES LESS
MANIFESTO OF THE LEFT FRONT
THE Left Front's election manifesto is marked by the political atrophy of a party that has seemingly thrown in the towel. After 34 years in power, the world's longest-running Communist government says little and promises less to the electorate. The fineprint of the document ~ released without the minimum of customary fanfare ~ must make one wonder whether it is a signal of intent or electoral rhetoric. There was no call to labour the obvious that the "difficult and tough challenge" is an individual (ekjon) one. This is essentially pre-election banter, far removed from a statement on "what is to be done", to summon Communist terminology. Even the Trinamul Congress will concede that the party is a one-person show. Considerable space has been devoted to ranting at the Opposition, in particular its links with the Maoists and its tendency to bring about "anarchy''. This might have been suitable for an election-eve booklet, certainly not for an election charter. The manifesto is in the main a political statement. In terms of content, the CPI-M will have to acknowledge that the crafting of the document has been hopelessly below par. Could this be an index of the general disinterest?
The contrived focus on industry chimes oddly with the pursuit of a fantasy and the fiascoes and foibles that had marked the effort in Singur and Nandigram. The plan to provide rice at Rs 2 a kg to those below the poverty line sounds reassuring on the face of it not least because of the Centre's continued failure to introduce the food security legislation. Equally, the manifesto should at least have spelt out how the PDS can be freed of irregularities and worse. In an attempt to emulate the Nitish Kumar experiment, bicycles are to be provided to girl students. And given the fiscal straits and the pace of implementation, the manifesto could have stopped short of such airy-fairy promises as four-lane national highways, a deep sea port and welfare handouts for the backward classes. The rehabilitation package for Maoists and tribals is yet to materialise. And land acquisition has all too often impeded the construction of roads and flyovers. The pre-requisites are not in place and the next government may yet be at a loose end. The manifesto is aware of the inherent shortcomings. Hence the feeble attempt at tinkering, let alone assertion that had marked every Left Front manifesto in the preceding seven elections.
ROB PETER TO PAY PAUL
THE economy is stuttering. Bengal's fiscal management verges on fiasco. Altogether a recipe for a depleted inheritance for the next dispensation. The paradox is stark, if not bizarre. While the state has lost out on Central assistance owing to near-zero utilisation, it has deprived the Centre of revenue as one government entity has failed to pay income-tax and almost as a matter of policy since 1980. The income-tax authorities have suspended the operation of bank accounts of the Asansol-Durgapur Development Authority, a certified defaulter. The message of the punitive measure is addressed no less to the finance department, up to its depth in trying to grapple with the overwhelming mess. And under a minister who is himself under a cloud for having signed files on the day the election dates were announced. Under the provisions of the Constitution, the Centre is perfectly entitled to claim its share of a state government entity's income. That ADDA simply got away without paying tax for the past 30 years is a puzzle that may not be easy for the next government to work out. The present never had the inclination ~ and now doesn't have the time ~ to get to the root of the default. ADDA's explanation that it is engaged in development and not to earn profit sounds contrived and feeble; rightly has it cut no ice with the Union ministry of finance.
At another remove, the dismal utilisation of Central funds is rooted as much in the parlous state of the economy as in administrative ineptitude. The amount received is reported to have been diverted to the ways-and-means ledger to clear essential expenditure, presumably salaries and pension. This transfer of accounts might have seemed mildly ridiculous were it not for the straitened state of affairs. The state is set to lose a few crores in the next fiscal on account of its failure to furnish utilisation certificates to the Centre. Notably, the backyard poultry scheme, a major Centre-state initiative towards rural development, has collapsed owing to under-utilisation. Clearly, the embargo on district treasuries suggests that earmarked funds from the Centre have been diverted to other compelling heads of expenditure. In the net, this hasn't ensured a balance of payments. Several segments of public policy, which could have been revamped with Central funds, continue to languish. But salaries have been paid to a behemoth and largely under-worked staff. And that is enough.
WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE EXERTED?
AJAY Maken has admitted he was never much good when it came to playing games: but on reflection the minister of state for sport would realise his lament that "unfair" diplomatic pressure was being exerted by eight countries to have the CWG dues of their companies cleared expeditiously was way off target. Maybe even an own goal. For the delayed payments, and non-return of some of equipment hired for the event only adds to the international shame that mismanagement of the event brought upon the country. At a time when foreign investment is being sought to bolster the economy, the non-payments send out a message that India is not a good place with which to "do business". That senior diplomats of countries as important as Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands should sign a joint letter must cause some concern and embarrassment to the external affairs ministry; and the economic ministries cannot be dismissive of their warning that the delays would deter their businessmen from ventures here. Indian diplomats may wash their hands off an Indian's business activities abroad, that is not the international norm. Certainly nothing to laugh about is the holding up of a whopping $74 million. And the contention that the payments must await completion of probes into corruption in so many deals cuts no ice unless some evidence is tendered of those firms, or their officials, getting part of the kickbacks. As far as "evidence" goes it must be noted that the investigating agencies are struggling to frame charge-sheets in court against Indian suspects. Surely the minister does not expect foreign entities to back off as Indian judicial processes move through a labyrinth at a snail's pace; or see their equipment rot like "recovered" vehicles at a local police station.
Is it not high time that the payments issue is addressed at the highest level of the government? That will help remove the lingering disgrace that was CWG-2010. A slur that will not dissipate even if Kalmadi & Co are eventually booked. Yet it cannot be forgotten that had the central government been as vigilant as desired half the scams would have been prevented, and there would have been no occasion for eight countries to bring to bear the pressure Maken deems unfair. Were the affairs of the CWG conducted in a manner that was "fair"?
AFTER THE TSUNAMI
THE ILLUSION OF RECOVERY HAS BEEN SHATTERED
I WAS at an IMF Conference on capital flows in Bali when the Japanese earthquake and tsunami occurred. As the tragedy unfolded over the weekend, it became clear that the crisis was complicated by nuclear considerations. All of our sympathies and condolences go with our Japanese friends as they go through this terrible natural disaster, possibly larger than the Kobe earthquake.
When the Year of the Rabbit ushered away the Year of the Tiger, there was a false spring in February when financial markets were buoyant as everyone thought recovery was in the air. Even the Nikkei stock market index reached a recent peak. The US economy seemed to be on the upswing as unemployment numbers declined one percentage point. The earthquake shattered that illusion of recovery.
Chaos theory is always introduced by the idea that the flutter of a butterfly's wings can cause a hurricane in the other side of the world. We now see Chaos theory in real life. A tsunami in Japan can hit the West coast of the United States, but financial markets immediately reacted around the world, as everyone tried to assess what the largest net foreign asset holder in the world would do. Will the Japanese sell off their foreign assets to finance their own post-earthquake reconstruction? If they do so, will they sell off foreign currencies and buy back yen, which will make the yen stronger?
On the other side of the world, there was another earth-shattering pronouncement, not immediately comprehensible by ordinary investors, but very significant in terms of financial markets. On 15 October 2010, PIMCO, the world's largest bond fund manager, with probably $1 trillion under management, announced that their Total Return Bond fund was cutting their holdings in US Treasuries as a result of quantitative easing. Most retail investors probably did not notice that announcement. But on 9 March this year, the head of PIMCO, Bill Gross, announced that at the end of February 2011, that Fund had sold off all their US Treasuries and agency debt. To me, that is as significant as a tsunami in financial markets.
I did not fully digest the significance of that event because I was travelling from Washington DC to Bali. But after I downloaded Bill Gross's comments, available at www.pimco.com, I began to understand his thinking. He showed a fascinating chart on who was and will be holding US Treasuries. In the past, the Federal Reserve Board only held 10 per cent, foreigners 50 per cent and US institutions and individuals held 40 per cent. Since the beginning of QE2, the Fed has been buying 70 per cent and the foreigners are buying 30 per cent, whilst US institutions are staying on the sidelines.
So why are US funds like PIMCO not buying? Part of the reason is that "Treasury yields are perhaps 150 basis points or 11 per cent too low when viewed in a historical context and when compared with expected nominal GDP growth of 5 per cent."
In other words, the US dollar is violating the second of the three pillars which give it the most-favoured-currency status, according to Barry Eichengreen, Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He has a great understanding of the special role of the US dollar from the span of economic history. On 2 March 2011, Professor Eichengreen wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal arguing "Why the Dollar's Reign is Near an End". The three pillars are (i) the depth of US dollar-denominated debt securities; (ii) the dollar is the world's safe haven; and (iii) the dollar benefits from a dearth of alternatives.
Currently, 42.5 per cent of global foreign exchange transactions are conducted in US dollars, compared with 19.5 per cent for the Euro, 8.5 per cent for the Yen and 6.4 per cent for sterling. This is because commodities like oil and gold are priced in dollars. Moreover, a large chunk of foreign exchange reserves are held in US dollars, the largest being Asian and OPEC central banks and sovereign wealth funds.
The preliminary report on foreign holdings of US securities as at the end of June 2010 was published at the end of February 2011 by the US Treasury. Foreign holdings increased $1 trillion from a year ago to $10.7 trillion, of which $2.8 trillion was in equities and the balance in debt securities. Out of the $10.7 trillion, China held $1.6 trillion (15%), Japan $1.393 trillion (13 per cent) and Middle East oil producers $350 billion. So, the real fear of Bill Gross is the question: "Who will buy Treasuries when the Fed doesn't?".
More important, what happens if the foreigners decide like PIMCO not to buy any more Treasuries, especially when they decide to bring their money home for their own domestic purposes?
Consequently, we are even closer to the edge of higher currency volatility than what the market is telling us.
One of the big lessons of the recent past is that the price of money and risk-spreads (and credit rating agencies) have not warned investors of the inherent risks in financial securities. With QE 2 and near zero interest rates in the major reserve currencies, the spreads simply do not reflect the inherent risks that I have outlined above.
This means that sooner or later there will be a spike in the price, or a sharp fall in value, if history is any lesson to go by Indeed, I have argued that even though the Dow Jones industrial average has doubled since the beginning of QE2 in 2008, if you deflate the index by the price of gold, the equity market has crashed already.
I would be the first one to hope that the current economic recovery in the US and Europe will be sustainable. I strongly hope that Japan will recover quickly from this sudden shock and tragedy. But I would not be responsible if I did not think that the financial markets are once again not reflecting the risks out there. Just like Bill Gross, it is legitimate to ask "whether Quantitative Easing policies actually heal, as opposed to cover up, symptoms of an unhealthy economy."
Watch this space.
Asia News Network
There are signs that the Reserve Bank of India has decided to ignore the criticism of its Malegam report and enforce its recommendations. It is expected to introduce price control on interest that microfinance institutions may charge rural borrowers. Price control gives those subjected to it an incentive to increase costs. To prevent it, the RBI will also introduce a cap on their profit margins. That will also control what they can pay for the funds they borrow. Here, the RBI is principally thinking of banks, of which it is the prime regulator. In essence, it is going to tell the banks that they cannot earn more than a certain limit on small loans to villagers.
The rate being bandied about is 12 per cent. Since the average interest earned by public sector banks on their bills and advances in 2009-10 was only 8.3 per cent, the RBI must feel that it is doing banks a favour if it lets them earn 12 per cent on rural loans. But a high proportion of government banks' loans goes to politically favoured borrowers such as farmers, small industrialists and government enterprises; if they are excluded, the interest rate earned is considerably higher. So the RBI is likely to make banks' rural credit no more paying than their urban commercial loans. It will thus deprive banks of all incentive to lend to villagers, who are dispersed and more expensive to service. That will perpetuate the malaise that has pervaded till now: villagers will continue to be under-served by banks. Those banks that still try out the rural market will have their costs further increased by maximum limits on the size of loans. They will also be forbidden to lend to villagers whose income exceeds a minimum; in other words, they will not be allowed to reduce their average risk by lending to more substantial farmers and traders.
The net effect of these well-intentioned and ill-thought-out measures would be to leave the rural credit market to moneylenders at whose mercy villagers have been all these centuries. The RBI prides itself on being a conservative institution, but this is surely taking conservatism too far. More importantly, the RBI is a nervous regulator which puts protection of its reputation above development; it therefore prefers oligopolistic markets in which a few banks make comfortable profits. That is the market structure it has created in cities; it is determined to replicate it in villages. Viewed in this fashion, it is not just its approach to rural credit that is inimical to development; it is its stranglehold on the banks that is harmful. The country would benefit, whether in towns or in villages, from vigorous competition among a larger number of banks. If that makes the bank regulator's job more difficult, that is an argument for redesigning the regulator.
Fear can strip away layers of civilization and years of training. It can force an entire medical staff to abandon their helpless charges if they are situated only six miles from an endangered nuclear plant. One painful discovery in Japan so far has been of 128 old people abandoned in a hospital not far from the Fukushima plant, most of whom were comatose, and 14 of whom died after the rescue. But even without such abandonment, authorities are often helpless. With heating fuel and medicines running out — some of the sick and elderly could not save their essential drugs even if they could save themselves — many have died in hospitals and old-age homes in the aftermath of the disaster. The earthquake and tsunami have struck the aged a particularly hard blow. Japan has always taken pride in its elderly citizens as an indicator of the care it takes of the aged. A quarter of the country's population is elderly, the average age being 83 years. Not all of them are in institutions. But advanced infrastructure in private homes cannot help in times of disaster if they are on their own. Children leave home, for jobs and for different lives. And many old people were unable to move out of their homes fast enough when sudden devastation struck.
A prosperous economy may involuntarily let down its elderly in extreme crisis. But in India, for example, poverty is an ongoing crisis that keeps killing quietly. Need drives young people from villages and hamlets to find work far away. It is seldom that they earn enough to support their parents at home. Old people left behind are forced to fend for themselves, wasting away with untreated diseases, malnutrition, even dehydration and starvation. In India, the lack of education and exposure may further darken the lives of the elderly. The tragedy in Japan has dramatically exposed a universal vulnerability. But it has also underlined India's failure to provide anything close to adequate support for this far from insignificant percentage of its population.
BROKEN AND SPOKEN
ON THE VARIETIES OF ENGLISH SPEECH IN SOUTH ASIA THE THIN EDGE: RUCHIR JOSHI
I recently watched The King's Speech at a south Calcutta multiplex. Having watched a Hindi movie in the same hall a week earlier, it was odd to be surrounded by an attentive audience with nary a mobile ring or bright BlackBerry screen to disturb my viewing. Well, people do say Calcutta is the last bastion of the King's (or Queen's) English of the kind Helena Bonham Carter's future Queen-mum or the soon-to-stand-down Edward speak in the film. While England drowns in an Estuary whirlpool of dropped glottals (in private, apparently even Bill and Harry Wales speak 'nawmull, like' but there's no proper proof yet, on YouTube or WikiLeaks) there are some people here, not even particularly old, who speak as though they have a complicated arrangement of similarly sized marbles and plums in their mouths and are deciding which orb to bite while discharging their English. But, while Calcutta may have more than it's fair share of young fogeys channelling that old cricket commentator, Henry Blofeld ('A jolly splendid cover-drive that, by young Ten-dyool-kaah from Moombaah!'), there are quite a few pompous gits scattered about all over India and the subcontinent. However, studying contemporary English speech develop in these parts, I have come to a different set of observations, if not quite a theory.
A friend has perceptively said that Calcutta/Bengal has proved to be the graveyard of every kind of capitalism, from Feudal-Exploitation to Early Colonial to Industrial Revolution to Peak Colonial to Post-Independence, adding the projection that soon the great jaws of this still-thriving, beautiful dinosaur will put paid to the 'new', 'techno' and 'web' capitalism too, masticating all profiteering-parasites and swallowing them into the deep, one-way stomach of history. While this may or may not come true, I certainly sense that Calcutta, (through its frontman 'India'), is becoming the great game-shifter of the English language, just as the United States of America was in the last century. The city led the way in putting paid to the delusional bombast of the Thackerays, the oratory of the Disraelis, the Baldwins and the Churchills, and, more recently, the cadences, beautiful as they were, of the Oliviers, Gielguds and Scofields. We did this the way isabgol reportedly scrapes off bad cholesterol from arteries: by the simple dint of attracting, attaching, mimicking, mutating and then, finally ejecting all these alien Ingrajis; first we got them to engage with us and teach us, then we mimicked them, then our mimicking became so patently, grotesquely absurd that it, and everything linked to it, had to go the way of the gas-lamp and the fax-machine. We may not have been able to clean out our municipal sewage system but, from time to time, we have certainly given the clotted pipes of English speech in South Asia a good seeing to, therefore setting an example and presenting a working model to the rest of the non-Anglo world.
While people get busy telling me this is far-fetched nonsense or that today is not this year's April 1, let me try a couple of alternative tacks.
When someone tells me I have a slight "Bengali" accent to my spoken English, my first reaction is to cringe. The second is to ask — "which Bengali-English accent exactly? There are many!" The third is to insist that I have what I call a 'neutral Indian' accent, that is an English accent from which you can't tell where in India I'm from, at the same time being in no doubt that someone speaking like me can only be from India or, at most, the subcontinent.
Actually, there is nothing 'neutral' about this neutral Indian accent and it is actually now becoming quite rare. Aided by recordings, historians of speech may one day be able to say that this is an English speech that developed in late-raj India and lasted across 80 to 100 years. They would note that the N-I accent was usually the preserve of children of the new elite of academics, scientists, bureaucrats and intellectuals, and developed with slight regional variations in no more than say 50 schools and about 15 colleges across the newly independent republic. In the bunch of historians studying this, there will possibly be a small but articulate group arguing that the N-I is actually a non-South Indian accent, developed in the triangle formed by Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta, whereas similar Southy elites had a 'South-Indian-Neutral' accent (you could tell they were from the 'Soudh' but not where in the south). They will also note that the Neut-In and South-In-Neut accents had decreasing purchase among generations born after the TV and then the computer and net revolutions in India, from which time the Amerinternational twang, acronym-heavy and complete with different spores of up-speak, held much more sway.
To give you one example of the Neut-In accent: if you listen to two very different people, Vir Sanghvi and Aamir Khan, speaking English you can actually tell they are both from Bombay but not Maharashtrian — neither puts four syllables in "Ved-uh-nuss-day" like Sanjay Manjrekar does and neither do they work to consciously erase those syllables like Rajdeep Sardesai. But there is an audible difference in class, albeit horizontal: Sanghvi was clearly born culturally privileged, surrounded by educated English-speakers while Khan was possibly born reasonably wealthy and went to the best schools. Khan would say 'V/Wedn'sday' while Sanghvi would say it closest to the 'correct' English — 'Wenzday' (unless he was slumming it and interviewing politicians from Uttar Pradesh and suchlike). That difference apart, both Sanghvi and Khan roll their 'r's and dismember syllables in a way that is almost pure Delhi. They arrive at this from different routes: Khan unconsciously mimicking Delhi-educated Ketan Mehta, who he worked with at an early stage, and Sanghvi because he went to Mayo College where, all else being equal, the spoken English was very heavily Dillified. The point is, unlike with Manjrekar, you can pinpoint Bombay/Delhi in Khan and Sanghvi but not their ethnicity. Again, a plummier version, what you might call a 'cut-glass' Indian accent, can be found when you hear Karan Thapar speaking and it registers exactly and precisely over the accent of the Brit-Pakistani leftist intellectual, Tariq Ali. Their accent is, by default, upper-class English-nasal crossed with northern-subcontinent, with the metronome of an army funeral band, with every sibilant carved out by a tongue chiselling across the palate. Very different politics but clearly the same sharp canings during the same cold morning showers in similar public schools.
Across the next few decades, even as the Queen's English, not to mention Queens and Kings themselves, disappear from the planet except in historical recordings, a mangled fission of Englishes, the rogue fuel-rods melted and bent by societal pressures, will take over as the world's lingua firanga. It's a good bet that by then our own elite N-I and S-I-N accents will also be fading out. What we, as a "world power", have to then make sure of is that this spoken currency does not have the stamp of Amerinternational or, god forbid, even worse, the Germano-Dutch version of Amerint. Let the Chinese have some of the commanding heights of the economy for a few years but we must make sure we spread our language, whatever we have forged as Indenglish, as the main world-bhasha. It has to be like that only, otherwise we would be seriously suffering very badly.
In The King's Speech, there is a scene where Colin Firth's soon-to-be-monarch, Bertie, is watching Hitler deliver a screaming speech on a newsreel. "What is he saying?" asks one of his daughters and Bertie replies, "I'm not sure, darling, but whatever he's saying he's saying it rather well!" In Bertie's eyes is the telling admiration of a chronic stutterer for someone to whom spoken words come in a torrent, no matter how poisonous their import. It is an instructive moment for all those of us who were taught to value erudition, eloquence, enunciation, articulation and cadence in public speaking. As West Bengal seems on the verge of acquiring its first chief minister not burdened with a college education or fluent English, we would do well to remember that no accent is neutral and no public speech is apolitical. Whatever accent we are blessed or burdened with, we should also never forget that he or she who communicates will always win over she or he who is merely "well-spoken" and in that sense, Bengal, the last bastion of many things, may yet see off yet another batch of obsolete languages, thus preparing us for the future.
Suppose that a giant hydro dam had crumbled under the impact of the biggest earthquake in a century and sent a wave of water racing down some valley in northern Japan. Imagine that whole villages and towns had been swept away, and that 10,000 people were killed — a worse death toll than that caused by the recent tsunami. Would there be a great outcry worldwide, demanding that reservoirs be drained and hydro dams shut down? Of course not. Do you think we are superstitious savages? We are educated, civilized people, and we understand the way that risk works.
Okay, another thought experiment. Suppose three big nuclear reactors were damaged in that same monster earthquake, leading to concerns about a meltdown and a massive release of radiation — a new Chernobyl. Everybody within a 20-kilometre radius of the plant was evacuated, but in the end there were only minor leakages, and nobody was killed.
Well, that was a pretty convincing demonstration of the safety of nuclear power. Wasn't it? Well, wasn't it? You there in the loincloth, with the bone through your nose. Why are you looking so frightened? Is something wrong?
In Germany, thousands of protesters recently demonstrated against nuclear power, and Chancellor Angela Merkel suspended her policy of extending the life of Germany's nuclear power stations until 2036. She conceded that, following events in Japan, it was not possible to "go back to business as usual", meaning that she may return to the original plan to close down all 17 of Germany's nuclear power plants by 2020.
And in the United States of America, Congressmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey (Democratic), who co-sponsored the 2009 climate bill, called for hearings into the safety of US nuclear plants, 23 of which have designs similar to those of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.
The objections to a wider use of nuclear power in the US are mostly rational. Safety worries are a much smaller obstacle than concerns about cost and time. The cost of wind and solar power is steadily dropping, and the price of natural gas, the least noxious fossil-fuel alternative to nuclear power, has been in free fall. There is no need for a public debate in the US on the desirability of more nuclear power: just let the market decide. In Europe, however, there is a real debate, and the wrong side is winning it.
The European debate has focused on shutting down existing nuclear generating capacity, not installing more of it. The Germans and the Swedish may be forced by public opinion to revive the former policy of phasing out all their nuclear plants in the near future, even though that means postponing the shut-down of highly polluting coal-fired power plants. Other European governments face similar pressures.
It's a bad bargain. Hundreds of miners die every year digging coal, and thousands of others die from respiratory diseases caused by the pollution created by burning it. In the long run, millions may die from the global warming that is driven in large part by greenhouse emissions from coal-fired plants. Yet people worry more about nuclear power.
It's the same sort of mistaken assessment of risk that caused millions of Americans to drive long distances instead of flying in the months just after 9/11. There were several thousand excess road deaths, while nobody died in the airplanes. Risks should be assessed rationally, not emotionally.
Here's the funny thing. So long as the problems at Fukushima Daiichi do not kill large numbers, the Japanese will not turn against nuclear power, which provides over 30 per cent of their electricity and is scheduled to expand to 40 per cent. Their islands get hit by more big earthquakes than anywhere in the world, and typhoons roar in regularly off the Pacific. They understand risk.
''THE UPA GOVT SHOULD PONDER OVER ITS SLIDING CREDIBILITY.''
As the United Progressive Alliance government headed by Manmohan Singh is being besieged by a welter of charges of rampant corruption and skulduggery, the prime minister, for whom the country had a high regard, is emerging as a wolf in sheep's clothing. If his weak and unconvincing defence of the 2G spectrum scandal showed him up as a leader without backbone and as someone who would tolerate mind-boggling corruption in order to remain in power, Singh has gone a step further in stoutly denying any wrong-doing during the no-confidence vote against the UPA government in 2008, an allegation which has resurfaced thanks to the expose from WikiLeaks.
The whole country was witness to the unprecedented level of bribery which culminated in opposition MPs displaying crores of rupees of cash offered to secure their support on the floor of the Lok Sabha. At least 19 other MPs who took money voted in favour of the government to enable it to sail through the confidence vote. That pyrrhic victory was a cynical blow to the fair name of Indian democracy. Now that the sordid saga of 2008 is revisiting the UPA government through the publication of the Wikileaks' cables, 'Mr Clean' is running for cover.
It has been most embarrassing for the American government that the 'secret' cables sent from its embassies around the world are being exposed, but even it has been unable to question their existence or authenticity. But our prime minister took the unusual step of first trying to distance himself from the scam by saying, "I have not authorised any one to purchase any votes… I am not at all, I think, involved in any of these transactions." Later, speaking in parliament, he tried to dismiss the reports as 'speculative and unverified' and cited the 2009 election results as 'proof' that people had rejected the allegations.
Singh, clearly, has been economical with truth both on 2G spectrum and cash-for-vote charges and neither he nor his government can any longer stay away from the heat. The UPA government would do well to ponder over its sliding credibility with the people and take urgent steps to punish the guilty and tackle the root of corruption. Special courts should be set up to deal with the corruption charges in an expeditious manner. The establishment of the long delayed watchdogs against political and bureaucratic corruption, including the institution of the Lok Pal, should receive utmost priority
''INDIA IS RIGHT IN NOT ENDORSING THE RESOLUTION.''
This is indeed a strange way to protect civilians. French jets have pounded Libya to enforce a 'no fly zone' that was authorised by United Nations Security Council Resolution No 1973 to ostensibly protect Libyan civilians from aerial bombing by President Muammar Gadhafi. The purpose of a 'no-fly zone' is to halt bombing of civilians and to reduce the intensity of a war.
However, 1973 does not do that. Besides providing for a 'no-fly zone' it authorises 'all necessary measures' to protect civilians. Although it does not clarify what these measures are — perhaps to ensure its passage in the UNSC — it is well known that in diplomatic parlance 'all necessary measures' is code for military action. It was to get a green signal for military intervention in Libya that the western powers led by Britain and France pushed for a resolution that allowed them to use 'all necessary measures'. This has been amply borne out by the fact that within hours of the passage of the resolution, French jets began bombing Libya alleging that Gadhafi was not honouring the ceasefire.
In the weeks ahead, NATO forces are likely to be sucked into a larger war. The aerial attacks will in all probability be followed by induction of ground troops. Even if NATO is successful in ousting Gadhafi, it will find, as it did in Afghanistan and Iraq, that local sentiment against the invasion will mount once civilian casualties rise. Already scores have been killed in the first wave of aerial bombings. It is possible that the military intervention will enhance support for Gadhafi as he will seem a hero fighting western neo-imperialism. Clearly the West has learnt no lessons from its past blunders.
India did well to refrain from endorsing the UNSC resolution. There was some concern that Delhi would go along with the US in voting in the UNSC. Along with Russia, China, Brazil and Germany, India abstained in the vote. Among the concerns India raised in the run-up to the vote was the undue haste with which the resolution was pushed through.
After all, the report by the UN Secretary General's envoy on the ground situation is still awaited. A diplomatic solution to persuade Gadhafi to stop the attacks on his people should have been pursued first. The reluctance to do so will cost the West dearly.
M J AKBAR
''Another crossroads will come for the Cong after the TN Assembly elections, which the DMK is almost certain to lose.''
The habitat of a government may have relocated from a palace to a hospital, but don't start the funeral prayers too soon. The fate of Manmohan Singh's coalition will not be determined by the number of wounds on its body, or indeed on the body politic, nor by the toxicity of the environment, but by the circumstances of a moment which has not yet arrived.
The medical report of UPA-2 would, in normal circumstances, demand emergency health bulletins. One of its legs, DMK, has gangrene. The only solution to gangrene is amputation, but the Congress has chosen to put band aid instead. The suicide of Sadiq Batcha, the pauper-to-prince bagman who became the conduit and beneficiary of A Raja's stolen goods, has added a sinister and fatal dimension to the sores oozing out of the DMK's bone marrow. Gangrene will spread as the system works its way through the suicide.
The Congress, bathing in antiseptic to prevent that contagion, has been diagnosed with tuberculosis in its lungs by Dr Wikileaks. All the familiar ingredients of this historic malady have been found in the reports sent by the American embassy in Delhi to the State Department in Washington, and revealed to the world through the internet. Names become almost irrelevant when the pattern is so set: a central figure whose principal contribution to the party has been as a cash reservoir for political transactions, an all-purpose middleman who could not resist flaunting his treasure chests to US intelligence officials, and then lazy denials without even the strength of a whimper.
As if all this were not hopeless enough, an obstinate sister from Bengal has chosen just this time to do her little bit: instead of bringing fruit and flowers to the patient, Mamata Banerjee has inserted a little knife into a vulnerable tendon. She has decided that the Grand Old Party is worth just 64 candidates out of 292 in the Bengal Assembly elections, take it or leave it. In order to swallow your pride, you must have some pride left, and Mamata has drained the pride out of the Bengal Congress. Her calculation is self-serving, which is the only logic that works in politics. She does not want to be dependent on the Congress to form a future government. The Congress will win between 30 to 40 seats in any case; in an alliance it might get a bit more in such an equation.
There is not much going for it. An alliance only benefits Mamata, for it places her victory beyond doubt.
I have no idea whether the prime minister believes in astrology or not, but no conjugation of planets and demons could have inflicted more misery upon him. For some months now, news has become a four-letter word for the Congress. But such is the paradoxical behaviour of the planets that the very stars which are destroying the Congress image are preserving the life of this government. Manmohan Singh's government will survive this and even worse because there is no alternative alliance possible in this parliament, and no MP wants a general election so soon.
Precisely because the crisis is premature, Singh has an opportunity to fight his way out of it. When you have nothing more to lose, the only serious option left is going for the gain. It is too late now to reverse the alliance with the DMK, but another crossroads will come after the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, which the DMK is almost certain to lose.
This gives the Congress a reasonable opt-out: rejection by the voter will confirm the immorality of the alliance. Any threat by the DMK to take revenge by bringing down the government is meaningless, since it cannot do so until a widely disparate opposition finds a common reason for doing so. Narasimha Rao, aided by a similar House, survived for three years with a minority without a jitter.
But survival must mean something more than bobbing about on a raft in the middle of a clueless sea. Singh has to use this year, and there may not be much more time than that, to fill the gap in governance that has developed, and convince India that he is not paying mere lip service to probity in public life. The first is easier than the second, since elements within his own party and alliance are corrupt. But if he does not act against them, whatever be the price, his injured credibility will suffer beyond repair.
Governance needs a resurgence of ideas, and the will to reform that has been strangely absent from his agenda after his re-election. Why this has happened is a mystery beyond the comprehension of this columnist.
Manmohan Singh has a doctorate in economics rather than politics, but this is precisely what he needs. Politics has brought the government to hospital. Only economics can get it out of there.
THE PROXY BATTLE IN BAHRAIN
MICHAEL SLACKMAN, NYT :
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has demonstrated one lesson learned from the course of pro-democracy uprisings across West Asia: The world may cheer when autocrats resign, but it picks carefully which autocrats to punish for opening fire on their citizens.
That cynical bit of realpolitik seems to have led the king to send troops last week over the causeway from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, where they backed up a violent crackdown on unarmed protesters by Bahrain's own security forces.
The move had immediate consequences for West Asian politics, and for American policy: It transformed Bahrain into the latest proxy battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for regional dominance. And it called into question which model of stability and governance will prevail in West Asia, and which Washington will help build: one based on consensus and hopes for democracy, or continued reliance on strongmen who intimidate opponents, sow fear and co-opt reformist forces while protecting American interests like ensuring access to oil and opposing Iran.
For Saudi Arabia, the issue in Bahrain is less whether Bahrain will attain popular rule than whether Iranian and Shiite influence will grow.
Struggle for supremacy
Iran and Saudi Arabia have sparred on many fronts since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 in a struggle for supremacy in the world's most oil-rich region. The animosity was evident in Saudi Arabia's support for Iraq during its war with Iran, and it still shows in Iran's backing for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Now, after a decade that seemed to tilt the regional balance toward Iran, Saudi Arabia decided that Bahrain was the place to put its thumb more heavily on the scale. It sent troops under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council to help crush pro-democracy demonstrations because most of the protesters were Shiites challenging a Sunni king.
The problem for the US, however, is that Bahrain, at Saudi urging, chose to resolve its fears with force, rather than by addressing the protesters' demands for democratic reform, as American officials had publicly encouraged.
And for that reason, the military deployment may now have a profound impact on the US and its primary strategic interest in Bahrain, the navy base it maintains there.
Because Washington did not ultimately support the protesters' demands many protesters believe that the Saudi troops were sent in with American complicity, or at least with an expectation of American acquiescence. So, among the protesters, who turned out by the tens of thousands, the crackdown may well yield animosity toward America and its navy when events finally settle down.
One American expert in the Persian Gulf who advises policymakers in Washington said the Saudi king's action was taken without regard for what might happen if it fails.
Saudi Arabia's supporters acknowledge that this confrontation can escalate, but they tend to place the responsibility on Iran. There has been no evidence that Iran played a part in Bahrain's uprising, which was led by young Bahrainis from the Shiite majority. Still, many protesters have said, it is reasonable to expect Shiites to be more receptive to Iran if they do gain power. There is little doubt, they also say, that a Shiite-led government would be less receptive to the Saudis.
Even some of the Iranian regime's harshest critics are saying the Saudi military venture in Bahrain will change the narrative of the region in Iran's favour. Abbas Milani, an Iranian who went into exile after the 1979 revolution and is now director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, put it this way: "Iran, as the most brutal authoritarian regime in the region, will now have the chance to seem to stand with the democratic aspirations of the people, and against authoritarians clinging to power."
The Saudi king's decision to back King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa's crackdown in Bahrain also underscored the challenge the US often faces with its closest allies in West Asia, where some interests align and others do not, like financing global terrorism. Saudi Arabia has moved aggressively to cut off radical Islamic terrorism within its own borders, but it has addressed the global phenomenon with far less conviction, many American experts have said.
One effect of the crackdown was to underscore President Obama's failure to close the gap in expectations between his talk of democracy during his historic speech in Cairo in 2009 and his actions on the ground. The contortions needed to preserve the old model of stability while supporting aspirations for democracy were strikingly evident.
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
A NATIVE WHO DID NOT RETURN VATSALA VEDANTAM
THE BRITISH SEEM PROUD OF THEIR GORY HISTORY AND WANT TO SELL IT TOO!
Upham is a small village in the south of England. The church of Blessed Mary is on a hilltop. We set out one late afternoon to visit the church. Our hostess, Gaye, pointed out distinct landmarks like Fishers Pond, Alma Inn and the post office before she pulled up in front of the church.
"Let me show you the churchyard before it turns dark," she said. Gray's famous elegy came alive as we entered that still place with its tall trees and white tombstones. I walked around, reading the names of unknown people, until I saw the inscription,
"Seetharam Sarma, Kunchavaram, India" 1923–2000
Here was one native who never returned to the land of his birth. What had lured him from his village in Andhra to live and die in an alien ambience? Did the land of his forefathers never beckon to him to come back? We will never know.
I met Ram for the first time in 1993. At the office of 'The Times' in London. "Newspapers are good to wrap fish and chips!" he laughed. I knew I would like him. We went to see the Tower of London. Ram settled down on a bench and told me: "You go and see that house of horrors where kings beheaded their wives and murdered their children. I will wait here."
He added for good measure: The British not only have a gory history. They seem proud of it and want to sell it too!" "The crown jewels?" I asked. "Stolen from India, no doubt," came the swift answer. Ram was a fierce nationalist. As a student of Loyola College in Madras, he distributed incendiary pamphlets against British rule. Fr Jerome D'Souza warned him.
When he joined the Quit India movement, he was expelled. Packed off to his village, he distributed pamplets on the great freedom struggle to his fellow passengers on the train, which finally landed him in jail. Srangely, it was an Englishman who invited him to apprentice in his factory in England. Ram accepted the offer and never returned to the country for which he was ready to die.
I met him again in 1996 in a retirement home, fighting a deadly form of cancer. He remembered how his grandfather, a Sanskrit pundit, sang 'harikathas' on the banks of the river. He reminisced about the agraharam of his ancestors, where men toiled in the rice fields while the women gathered to pickle mangoes every summer. The idyllic life of an Indian village unfolded itself as he described his ancestral home, his extended family and their simple lives in such poignant detail.
I realised then that Ram had never left India. His body may be lying in some remote country churchyard in England. But, until the end, his heart was in that far off agraharam in Kunchavaram where the Krishna river flows quietly among green paddy fields.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
A CHANCE TO BUILD AGAIN
Many of the 85,000 dams in the United States are so old — an average of half a century — that every time one is repaired, two more become dangerously weak. Cities across the country discharge billions of gallons of untreated wastewater into rivers and lakes, and more than a quarter of all bridges are either deficient or obsolete.
The statistics are both frightening and familiar, though they tend to come up only in the "crumbling infrastructure" articles that appear after major disasters. In practice, government — with its lack of cash and consensus — keeps most of these projects on distant back burners until people actually lose their lives.
And then a disaster occurs — like the one in Japan, which was a reminder that even a well-prepared small country can suffer terribly from a natural disaster. The hazards are even greater for a sprawling one with a long history of indolent maintenance and planning.
Last week, though, a bipartisan group of senators came up with a promising idea to get some of these projects started, and very possibly put thousands of people back to work by doing so. The proposal, to create an infrastructure bank that would lend out seed money, represents a refreshing break from the extremist culture of cutting for the sake of cutting that grips Washington and so many state capitals. That culture blocks vital investment just to avoid sensible tax increases.
The proposal was presented by John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts; Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas; and Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia. The bank would lend money to build big-ticket transportation, water and energy projects that have a clear public benefit. The loans, or loan guarantees, would be designed to attract private capital as well. In fact, at least half a project's financing would have to come from the private sector. As much as $640 billion could be leveraged this way over the next decade, proponents say.
The bank would initially be funded with $10 billion from the treasury, which would be given out as loans, not grants. To make that possible, the bank would invest largely in projects that generate money, like toll bridges and tunnels, water systems backed by ratepayers, and energy projects built by utilities, governments or corporations. An independent, bipartisan board appointed by the president and Congress would choose the investments and oversee construction, audited by an inspector general and the Government Accountability Office.
By providing low-cost capital to states, cities and authorities, the bank would help these strapped governments kick-start projects that are now unaffordable, while attracting investments from pension and private-equity funds that are looking for stable money-generating ventures in which to invest. "We can either build, and compete, and create jobs for our people," said Mr. Kerry, "or we can fold up, and let everybody else win. I don't think that's America." The bank was backed by unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The idea builds on one that President Obama has proposed, a $30 billion bank limited to transportation projects that would also make grants. It is designed to be more palatable to lawmakers who are politically averse to spending, but already conservatives are railing against what some have called a "boondoggle," a phrase used to demonize virtually any public investment.
What will these opponents tell voters when the dams break and the bridges fall? Before more lives are lost, lawmakers should ask themselves whether they used their public office only to slash spending (and taxes for the wealthy), or to spend money wisely.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Douglas Warney, a person of limited mental capabilities who has been diagnosed with AIDS and AIDS dementia, served nine years in New York State prisons for a murder he did not commit. Now the state is seeking to compound the injustice by denying Mr. Warney compensation, even though there is a state law to provide redress for people who are wrongly convicted. New York's highest court, which is considering his case, should not permit it.
Mr. Warney was convicted in 1997 based on a false confession that contained incriminating details the police said only the real killer could know. Mr. Warney's wrongful conviction rested on that signed confession. There was no physical, eyewitness or forensic evidence tying him to the crime, and he was exonerated in 2006 by DNA evidence that showed the murder was actually committed by a man Mr. Warney had never met.
New York State has primarily argued, and lower state courts have rashly agreed, that Mr. Warney's false confession makes him ineligible for compensation because the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act bars recovery for those whose own misconduct caused their conviction.
That limit was meant to weed out deliberate misconduct to gain some tactical advantage, say a confession intended to conceal a loved one's guilt. Mr. Warney's false confession was not the product of misconduct. It was the reaction of a particularly susceptible individual to common police interrogation techniques that sometimes cause innocent people to confess. That phenomenon was illuminated in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the American Psychological Association.
Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project, who represents Mr. Warney, says roughly a quarter of DNA exonerations in New York have involved false confessions.
If there was misconduct in Mr. Warney's case, it was on the part of police officers, who fed him "held back" facts about the murder and then claimed those facts in his typed confession originated with him, providing reliable proof of his guilt. When the case was argued before the Court of Appeals in February, several judges seemed troubled by these circumstances.
A ruling making clear that a false confession does not per se bar recovery under New York's law would honor its language and intent and provide a measure of justice for Mr. Warney. It would set a worthy example as states with similar statutes confront the same issue.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RECONSIDERING THE ROBIN
Emily Dickinson may have "dreaded that first robin so," but she speaks for herself alone. To the rest of us, robins bring a mixture of joy and relief, the sign of a natural cycle still intact. The snow withdraws, and returning robins follow it across newly open ground like shorebirds tracing a falling tide. Their movement is almost as distinctive as their call: hasten and pause, hasten and pause. Once the ground is thoroughly thawed, there they are, tugging on earthworms as though they were the hawsers of the S.S. Earth.
And yet it's only the first few robins in spring that really stand out. Soon we overlook them — because they're so common and so open in manner, always in plain sight, flying low, nesting just out of reach above us. We see the familiarity as much as the bird itself, which wears, as always, a morning coat of gray and a waistcoat of the most understated red.
Give it a breast as vivid as the shoulder patches on a red-winged blackbird and the robin would never seem to recede the way it does as spring rushes onward, out-colored and out-sung by the birds of summer.
Somehow the robin stands for all the birds migrating now, the great V's of geese heading north, the catbirds that will show up surreptitiously in a month. It also stands for the surprise of spring itself, which we had begun to fear would not arrive. We have all been keeping watch, as though one morning it might come sailing over the horizon. And now it's here — the air a bit softer, snowdrops and winter aconites blooming, the bees doing their cleaning and the robins building their nests again.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A VERY LIBERAL INTERVENTION
BY ROSS DOUTHAT
In its month-long crab walk toward a military confrontation with Libya's Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Obama administration has delivered a clinic in the liberal way of war.
Just a week ago, as the tide began to turn against the anti-Qaddafi rebellion, President Obama seemed determined to keep the United States out of Libya's civil strife. But it turns out the president was willing to commit America to intervention all along. He just wanted to make sure we were doing it in the most multilateral, least cowboyish fashion imaginable.
That much his administration has achieved. In its opening phase, at least, our war in Libya looks like the beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention. It was blessed by the United Nations Security Council. It was endorsed by the Arab League. It was pushed by the diplomats at Hillary Clinton's State Department, rather than the military men at Robert Gates's Pentagon. Its humanitarian purpose is much clearer than its connection to American national security. And it was initiated not by the U.S. Marines or the Air Force, but by the fighter jets of the French Republic.
This is an intervention straight from Bill Clinton's 1990s playbook, in other words, and a stark departure from the Bush administration's more unilateralist methods. There are no "coalitions of the willing" here, no dismissive references to "Old Europe," no "you are with us or you are with the terrorists." Instead, the Obama White House has shown exquisite deference to the very international institutions and foreign governments that the Bush administration either steamrolled or ignored.
This way of war has obvious advantages. It spreads the burden of military action, sustains rather than weakens our alliances, and takes the edge off the world's instinctive anti-Americanism. Best of all, it encourages the European powers to shoulder their share of responsibility for maintaining global order, instead of just carping at the United States from the sidelines.
But there are major problems with this approach to war as well. Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they're often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require.
These problems dogged American foreign policy throughout the 1990s, the previous high tide of liberal interventionism. In Somalia, the public soured on our humanitarian mission as soon as it became clear that we would be taking casualties as well as dispensing relief supplies. In the former Yugoslavia, NATO imposed a no-flight zone in 1993, but it took two years of hapless peacekeeping and diplomatic wrangling, during which the war proceeded unabated, before American air strikes finally paved the way for a negotiated peace.
Our 1999 intervention in Kosovo offers an even starker cautionary tale. The NATO bombing campaign helped topple Slobodan Milosevic and midwifed an independent Kosovo. But by raising the stakes for both Milosevic and his Kosovo Liberation Army foes, the West's intervention probably inspired more bloodletting and ethnic cleansing in the short term, exacerbating the very humanitarian crisis it was intended to forestall.
The same kind of difficulties are already bedeviling our Libyan war. Our coalition's aims are uncertain: President Obama is rhetorically committed to the idea that Qaddafi needs to go, but Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, allowed on Sunday that the dictator might ultimately remain in power. Our means are constrained: the U.N. resolution we're enforcing explicitly rules out ground forces, and President Obama has repeatedly done so as well. And some of our supposed partners don't seem to have the stomach for a fight: It took about 24 hours for Amr Moussa, recent leader of the Arab League, to suggest that the organization's endorsement of a no-flight zone didn't cover bombing missions.
And the time it took to build a multilateral coalition enabled Qaddafi to consolidate his position on the ground, to the point where any cease-fire would leave him in control of most of the country. Hence Admiral Mullen's admission that our efforts could end in a stalemate, leaving the Libyan dictator entrenched.
The ultimate hope of liberal warfare is to fight as virtuously as possible, and with the minimum of risk. But war and moralism are uneasy bedfellows, and "low risk" conflicts often turn out to be anything but. By committing America to the perils of yet another military intervention, Barack Obama has staked an awful lot on the hope that our Libyan adventure will prove an exception to this rule.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE WAR ON WARREN
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
Last week, at a House hearing on financial institutions and consumer credit, Republicans lined up to grill and attack Elizabeth Warren, the law professor and bankruptcy expert who is in charge of setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Ostensibly, they believed that Ms. Warren had overstepped her legal authority by helping state attorneys general put together a proposed settlement with mortgage servicers, which are charged with a number of abuses.
But the accusations made no sense. Since when is it illegal for a federal official to talk with state officials, giving them the benefit of her expertise? Anyway, everyone knew that the real purpose of the attack on Ms. Warren was to ensure that neither she nor anyone with similar views ends up actually protecting consumers.
And Republicans were clearly also hoping that if they threw enough mud, some of it would stick. For people like Ms. Warren — people who warned that we were heading for a debt crisis before it happened — threaten, by their very existence, attempts by conservatives to sustain their antiregulation dogma. Such people must therefore be demonized, using whatever tools are at hand.
Let me expand on that for a moment. When the 2008 financial crisis struck, many observers — myself included — thought that it would force opponents of financial regulation to rethink their position. After all, conservatives hailed the debt boom of the Bush years as a triumph of free-market finance right up to the moment it turned into a disastrous bust.
But we underestimated the speed and determination with which opponents of regulation would rewrite history. Almost instantly, that free-market boom was retroactively reinterpreted; it became a disaster brought on by, you guessed it, excessive government intervention.
There remained, however, the inconvenient fact that some of those calling for stronger regulation have a track record that gives them a lot of credibility. And few have as much credibility as Ms. Warren.
Household debt doubled as a share of personal income over the 30 years preceding the crisis, and these days high levels of debt are widely seen as a major barrier to recovery. But only a handful of people appreciated the dangers posed by rising debt as the rise was happening. And Ms. Warren was among the foresighted few. More than a decade ago, when politicians of both parties were celebrating the wonders of modern banking and widening access to consumer credit, she was already warning that high debt levels could bring widespread financial disaster in the face of an economic downturn.
Later, she took the lead in pushing for consumer protection as an integral part of financial reform, arguing that many debt problems were created when lenders pushed borrowers into taking on obligations they didn't understand. And she was right. As the late Edward Gramlich of the Federal Reserve — another unheeded expert, who tried in vain to get Alan Greenspan to rein in predatory lending — asked in 2007, "Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers?" And he continued, "The question answers itself — the least sophisticated borrowers are probably duped into taking these products."
Given Ms. Warren's prescience and her role in shaping financial reform legislation — not to mention her effective performance running the Congressional panel exercising oversight over federal financial bailouts — it was only natural that she be appointed to get the new consumer protection agency up and running. And it's hard to think of anyone better qualified to head the agency once it goes into action.
The fact that she's so well qualified is, of course, the reason she's being attacked so fiercely. Nothing could be worse, from the point of view of bankers and the politicians who serve them, than to have consumers protected by someone who knows what she's doing and has the personal credibility to stand up to pressure.
The interesting question now is whether the Obama administration will see the war on Elizabeth Warren for what it is: a second chance to change public perceptions.
In retrospect, the financial crisis of 2008 was a missed opportunity. Yes, the White House succeeded in passing significant new financial regulation. But for whatever reason, it failed to change the terms of debate: bankers and the disaster they wrought have faded from view, and Republicans are back to denouncing the evils of regulation as if the crisis never happened.
By the sheer craziness of their attacks on Ms. Warren, however, Republicans are offering the administration a perfect opportunity to revive the debate over financial reform, not to mention highlighting exactly who's really in Wall Street's pocket these days. And that's an opportunity the White House should welcome.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY IRIS J. LAV
LATE last year a well-known financial analyst, Meredith Whitney, predicted that "50 to 100 sizable defaults" by state and local governments, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars, were just around the corner. Since then that fear has produced a near-panic, with municipal bond markets down significantly and some even calling for a law to let states declare bankruptcy.
But this fear of an imminent bond crisis reflects a profound misunderstanding of the differences between the short- and long-term challenges facing state and local governments, and what these governments can do to address them. Indeed, such talk hurts those governments in the long run by undermining investor confidence and raising their borrowing costs.
Municipal bond default is actually quite rare: no state has defaulted on a bond since the Depression, and only four cities or counties have defaulted on a guaranteed bond in the last 40 years. A few minor bond defaults do occur each year, usually on debt issued by quasi-governmental entities for projects that didn't pan out, like sewers for housing developments that never were occupied.
Indeed, last year's total defaults amounted to just $2.8 billion — a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $3 trillion in outstanding municipal bonds. The leading rating agencies estimate the default rate on rated municipal bonds of any kind at less than one-third of 1 percent; in contrast, the default rate on corporate bonds reached nearly 14 percent during the recession and hovers around 3 percent in good times.
So why are so many people afraid of a looming wave of bond defaults? The confusion is rooted in a failure to distinguish between cyclical budget problems and the longer-term soundness of state and local borrowing.
State and local budget deficits need to be understood in context. These governments always have trouble balancing their budgets during economic downturns, and this downturn has been worse than most. The 2007-2009 recession and the slow recovery, along with housing foreclosures, caused a big drop in state and local revenues; state revenues remain an estimated 11 percent below what they were before the recession.
Meanwhile, state spending on public services has risen, driven in part by increases in the numbers of unemployed and newly poor residents. The result has been huge and continuing, but understandable, deficits.
Such deficits make for frightening headlines because these days, most governments are legally required to balance their budgets each year, and they have been closing those gaps by cutting programs and raising taxes, neither of which sits well with voters.
But these operating deficits are cyclical: as the economy picks up, demand for social services will decline and tax revenues will increase, just as they have after previous recessions.
To be sure, states also suffer from longer-term "structural deficits" because their revenues are not growing as quickly as their costs of providing services even during good economic times. These structural deficits, which states must address, make it harder for them to meet their responsibilities each year.
However, that doesn't mean their bonds are in trouble. Bonds are a long-term obligation. They finance projects like bridges, highways and school buildings — not, with very few exceptions, annual operating costs. And by law most state and local governments must pay bond interest before financing any public services.
True, state and local governments do have to make annual interest payments on their bonds, but these payments represent a modest 4 percent to 5 percent on the whole of current spending — no more than in the late 1970s. And, while total state and local bond debt has risen slightly over the last decade as a share of the economy, it is no higher today than it was at times in the 1980s and 1990s.
On the rare occasion when a local government faces the risk of default, the state typically steps in and creates a control board or other mechanism to straighten out its finances and assure that bondholders get paid; New York did so when Nassau County's finances deteriorated in 2000 and again this year. Pennsylvania gave the same assistance last year to Harrisburg, which had issued bonds for an overly ambitious trash-to-energy project.
Some doomsayers liken today's municipal bond market to the mortgage bond market before it burst. But that's a false comparison: state and local governments haven't changed the frequency or quality of bonds issued, as occurred with subprime mortgage bonds.
Nevertheless, the fear of imminent defaults has led some politicians to call for a federal law allowing states to declare bankruptcy. That's a solution in search of a problem that doesn't exist — and a dangerous solution at that, since it likely would undermine investor confidence and thereby increase state borrowing costs for necessary capital improvements.
None of this is to say that the country's finances, whether at the federal, state or local level, aren't without serious problems. But it's one thing to talk reasonably about long-term difficulties, and another to spread fear about a bond-default apocalypse. Doing so might win political points, but it makes finding real solutions much harder.
Iris J. Lav is a senior adviser at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
EDUCATED, UNEMPLOYED AND FRUSTRATED
BY MATTHEW C. KLEIN
WE all enjoy speculating about which Arab regime will be toppled next, but maybe we should be looking closer to home. High unemployment? Check. Out-of-touch elites? Check. Frustrated young people? As a 24-year-old American, I can testify that this rich democracy has plenty of those too.
About one-fourth of Egyptian workers under 25 are unemployed, a statistic that is often cited as a reason for the revolution there. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January an official unemployment rate of 21 percent for workers ages 16 to 24.
My generation was taught that all we needed to succeed was an education and hard work. Tell that to my friend from high school who studied Chinese and international relations at a top-tier college. He had the misfortune to graduate in the class of 2009, and could find paid work only as a lifeguard and a personal trainer. Unpaid internships at research institutes led to nothing. After more than a year he moved back in with his parents.
Millions of college graduates in rich nations could tell similar stories. In Italy, Portugal and Spain, about one-fourth of college graduates under the age of 25 are unemployed. In the United States, the official unemployment rate for this group is 11.2 percent, but for college graduates 25 and over it is only 4.5 percent.
The true unemployment rate for young graduates is most likely even higher because it fails to account for those who went to graduate school in an attempt to ride out the economic storm or fled the country to teach English overseas. It would be higher still if it accounted for all of those young graduates who have given up looking for full-time work, and are working part time for lack of any alternative.
The cost of youth unemployment is not only financial, but also emotional. Having a job is supposed to be the reward for hours of SAT prep, evenings spent on homework instead of with friends and countless all-nighters writing papers. The millions of young people who cannot get jobs or who take work that does not require a college education are in danger of losing their faith in the future. They are indefinitely postponing the life they wanted and prepared for; all that matters is finding rent money. Even if the job market becomes as robust as it was in 2007 — something economists say could take more than a decade — my generation will have lost years of career-building experience.
It was simple to blame Hosni Mubarak for the frustrations of Egypt's young people — he had been in power longer than they had been alive. Barack Obama is not such an easy target; besides his democratic legitimacy, he is far from the only one responsible for the weakness of the recovery. In the absence of someone specific to blame, the frustration simply builds.
As governments across the developed world balance their budgets, I fear that the young will bear the brunt of the pain: taxes on workers will be raised and spending on education will be cut while mortgage subsidies and entitlements for the elderly are untouchable. At least the Saudis and Kuwaitis are trying to bribe their younger subjects.
The uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa are a warning for the developed world. Even if an Egyptian-style revolution breaking out in a rich democracy is unthinkable, it is easy to recognize the frustration of a generation that lacks opportunity. Indeed, the "desperate generation" in Portugal got tens of thousands of people to participate in nationwide protests on March 12. How much longer until the rest of the rich world follows their lead?
Matthew C. Klein is a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.
TIMES FREE PRESS
UNCERTAINTY IN LIBYA
With the use of U.S. military might in an assault on the forces of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, questions arise as to what the United States and other nations taking part in that attack can realistically achieve.
Our nation has no affection for Gadhafi. Libya was behind the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed almost 200 Americans.
What's more, he has been engaged in recent weeks in the brutal suppression of an uprising by Libyans who are weary of his despotic rule.
Those considerations led President Barack Obama to have the United States join with several other nations in attacking Gadhafi's forces. U.S. bombers and fighters hit Libyan air defenses and ground forces, according to news accounts. At this writing, U.S. military officials were still assessing how much damage had been done to Gadhafi's military capabilities.
By including Libyan ground forces among the targets, the international coalition went further than the originally discussed goal of establishing a "no-fly zone" so that Gadhafi could not attack Libyan rebels and civilians from the air. It was thought that a no-fly zone would provide the rebels some "breathing room" to regroup and continue their attempt to depose Gadhafi.
But it is not certain how much Gadhafi's forces have been weakened by the international attack. That raises the question of whether the United States and other nations will — or should — boost their military intervention.
We understand the desire to remove Gadhafi from power for the sake of Libya's oppressed citizens. But we do not believe Gadhafi today poses such a threat to the United States or U.S. interests that any consideration should be given to sending U.S. ground forces into Libya.
The decision to aid Libya's rebels with U.S. air power "from afar" was perhaps a "close call." But keeping our soldiers off Libyan soil is not a close call. A ground invasion of Libya would be unwise, however much we may wish to see Gadhafi gone.
TIMES FREE PRESS
FOR CONCERN, NOT PANIC
As the world mourns the loss of life from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, there is understandable alarm about damage to nuclear reactors caused by the natural disasters.
Workers have struggled to prevent a lethal release of radiation from affected reactors — an effort that continues at this writing.
It goes without saying that every reasonable measure should be taken to prevent radiation-related illness or death. And thorough consideration should be given to what further measures may be necessary to fortify nuclear reactors in quake- and tsunami-prone areas.
But it would be a mistake for U.S. politicians to use the Japanese disaster as a pretext to harshly restrict our own safe, successful nuclear power generation.
Unfortunately, we are already seeing signs that panic in the United States about the situation in Japan may derail or seriously delay necessary nuclear power projects here.
To cite just one example, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., declared on "Face the Nation" that the United States should "quietly, quickly put the brakes" on the building of nuclear power plants to "see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming online."
As Tribune Newspapers reported, "[T]he crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear complex is likely to cast another cloud over the hoped-for [nuclear power] renaissance" in America. The scenes in Japan "have already conjured images of the panic surrounding the disasters of Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986."
But think about that for a moment. The Chernobyl disaster in Soviet-controlled Ukraine was indeed lethal. It directly caused dozens of deaths of plant workers and is believed to have caused thousands of cases of thyroid cancer, according to the U.N. But the U.N. adds, "Apart from this increase, there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure two decades after the accident."
As for Three Mile Island, do you know how many people actually died from the partial meltdown at that facility in Pennsylvania? Zero. Not one. In fact, nobody was even injured. Nevertheless, Three Mile Island long led to irrational fears about nuclear energy production in the United States.
That is exactly the kind of panicked response that should be avoided in the wake of the disaster in Japan. Nuclear energy has proved to be a safe, reliable source of power in this country. While there are no absolute guarantees, the history of nuclear energy in the United States gives ample reason for confidence that it can be produced securely here as one component of meeting our energy needs.
Unduly clamping down on nuclear power, however, would increase our reliance on foreign oil. That would mean higher energy prices at a time when we can scarcely afford them. (Have you seen the prices at the gas pump lately?)
Taking stock of the causes of Japan's ongoing crisis is wise, but an emotional response that disregards the good track record of nuclear power in America is not.
TIMES FREE PRESS
AT THE ROOT OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
What is behind the fact that the United States has somewhere between 10 million and 20 million illegal aliens?
Well, generally speaking, most illegal aliens probably come to this country to enjoy economic advantages. But more specifically, they come here — and keep coming here — because they can find jobs. However much they may otherwise enjoy the United States, most would not come, or stay, if the job supply simply dried up.
That is why the Georgia Senate has passed a bill to cut off the availability of jobs to illegal aliens. The bill would require many employers to verify the immigration status of newly hired workers. As fewer illegal aliens get jobs, fewer will come here.
That is significant, because Georgia has a painfully high unemployment rate of more than 10 percent. While some of the jobless would be unemployed even if there were no illegal aliens in Georgia, it is wrong that some jobs which could be filled by U.S. citizens or legal immigrants are instead given to people who are in this nation unlawfully.
A bill similar to the Senate version has passed in the Georgia House. Differences between the two will have to be resolved in a joint committee. But absent adequate federal efforts to combat illegal immigration, Georgia is reasonably attempting to confront this troubling issue itself.
TIMES FREE PRESS
CHARADE ON FARM SUBSIDY REFORM
The Obama administration's proposed budget would cut $2.5 billion from farm subsidies. That sounds good, but it would cut subsidies far too slowly — over an entire decade.
And as if that needless delay were not bad enough, the president would let taxpayer-funded subsidies continue flowing to farmers earning up to $750,000 per year.
Do you earn $750,000 a year? If not, do you think your tax dollars should be transferred to people who do?
The fact is, all farm subsidies are unconstitutional — and would be so even if they went only to low-income farmers. But it is especially appalling that wealthy farmers receive such a benefit.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - WHAT IS OUR ENERGY IQ?
People seeking to show that they are very clever (a common flaw of those who debate this daily column) will often refer to power turbines not as units of energy generation, but as units of energy conversion. This illustrates they paid attention in high school, learning that energy cannot be created. It can only converted from one form to another.
This is relatively easy to grasp when one thinks of wind or hydroelectric power: the breeze or flowing water turns the turbine, converting kinetic energy to juice powering a PC. It gets slightly more complicated when we think about fossil fuels. What we are converting in this case is really solar energy, captured in organic matter a billion or so years ago and slowly converted by processes of geology to crude oil or the various forms of coal.
This gets more mind-bending when the topic becomes nuclear energy, powered by uranium. In this case, we are talking about the moment (or moments) when the earth was created about 4.5 billion years ago out of a piece of the sun. Not only did we get our planet and solar system out of this collision of supernova, we also got the residues we have today of the mineral uranium. Uranium, needless to say, is to nuclear power generation (or conversion) as a river is to hydro-electric power.
Which brings us to the point that in the cashing out process for all of our power needs, which are growing rapidly, we really have just one energy bank. It all comes from the sun; we just draw on different accounts that reflect different dates of deposit.
Turkey is unusual if not unique in that it is a country with access to virtually all slices of this sun-derived energy inheritance. Our solar power potential is the highest in Europe. Our wind energy potential, principally along the Aegean, is among the world's top 10. Hydroelectricity now provides us about one third of our power, and in fact could provide all of it. We don't have much oil or gas, which is why we are so import dependent, but companies exploring for fossil fuels are hopeful. We also tap less than 1 percent of identified geo-thermal potential. And while we don't actually produce any uranium at the moment, we do have more than 9,000 tons under the ground around the provinces of Kırşehir, Nevşehir and Ankara.
In terms of talented and qualified people who can advise us on the best, most environmentally sensible and, in the wake of the unfolding nightmare of Japan's Fukushima, least dangerous options, we are again rich. We have the 34-year-old faculty of nuclear engineering at Ankara's Hacettepe University, the two-year-old program in energy systems engineering at Istanbul's Bahçeşehir University and all manner of technical expertise in between.
So why are we not having an intelligent national discussion on energy? Sorry. We're not clever enough to know that answer.
The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
WOMEN RIGHT IN SEEKING THEIR RIGHTS
VUSLAT DOĞAN SABANCI
We are women. We have rights. And we have every right to claim our rights.
We are the "Women Who Are Right Platform."
I do not want at all to have you drown in figures, but these numbers are very striking.
If we put them together, a dreadful picture emerges.
As we face the total, it will be easier to understand why we gather here and why we give substance to this meaningful crowd under the roof of the Women Who Are Right Platform.
On the world gender equality list, we are ranked 134th, ninth from the bottom.
In terms of female parliamentarians, we are ranked 105th among 181 countries.
We only have two female ministers in the 25-member Cabinet.
Only 45 of 477 parliamentary deputies working in 17 parliamentary commissions are females.
The number of female members in Turkey's Parliamentary Budget Planning Commission is zero, none, zilch, nada!
There is not a single woman among the 16 metropolitan city mayors.
Only 26 of total 2,903 mayors are women.
Only 115 of a total of 3,281 Provincial Council members are women.
The number of female district heads stands at 2 percent.
We have not had any female governor since May 2008.
We have only five female deputy governors and 16 female district governors.
Let's not forget ambassadors, consul generals and diplomats. How about females in political party decision-making bodies?
Women's participation in the economy, wage and social security of working women, number of female employers (6 percent), property ownership by women (9 percent), and the percentages of women exposed to violence; the list goes on and on, and the numbers are all against women.
Are such serious discrimination, violence, injustice toward women and murders of women not also because of these figures, which is the "absence" of women?
We are here to stop all these and say, "Enough is enough."
The Women Who Are Right Platform is a supra-political structure. Our objective is to have women's equal presentation in all walks of social life, primarily in legislative and executive bodies. Our call is for all political parties to run in the upcoming general elections. We want women's equal presentation in all aspects of social life, beginning with Parliament. And we demand this to materialize as of now, as of today. We want to see an equal number of women in Parliament. Not only in Parliament but also in any government we want to see an equal number of female ministers. We want more women in Parliamentary commissions.
If we total up the members of the Women Who Are Right Platform with those who claim our cause and every single person and institution that joins us to speak up strongly, the number adds up to 90,000!
Here and now, I am speaking on behalf of all. And our call is to all individuals and institutions standing against gender discrimination and supporting women's equal presentation in every aspect of social life, but primarily in Parliament. I am confident that we will multiply more everyday with new participations.
The general elections will be held on June 12. Therefore, our priorities are:
- To work for women's equal presentation in Parliament in order to claim women's issues and to transform male-dominant values;
- To pressure politicians for the nomination of women in the highest possible order on electoral lists; and
- To make male politicians mull over women's equal presentation and urge them to take steps in this direction.
The percentage of female deputies currently stands at 9 percent. The figure has increased by 100 percent since the previous Parliament. But it is far away from the figure of equal presentation. Women of this country, we do not and cannot accept this.
This is why the Women Who Are Right Platform has been established. This is why we are here. And we are determined to change this picture.
I thank all individuals and institutions attending the platform. I thank you all.
* Vuslat Doğan Sabancı, chairman of the Hürriyet Group, is the publisher of the Daily News. This piece is part of her speech made recently during the meeting of the Women Who Are Right Platform at Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
LIFE, DEBT AND DEATH
The Turkish Statistical Institute's grave-faced bureaucrats count everything, know everything.
And not only macro data that regularly find their way into your friendly neighborhood economist's columns. For example, how many eggs were produced last month? 1.09 billion. How many books were published last year? 34,857. And how many telegraphs were sent abroad in 2008? Just one - and one telegraph was received from abroad.
But there is one statistic that probably causes even these paper-pushers pain: The suicide rate. On paper, this is one area where Turkey looks pretty good: Out of 100 countries or so that report this information, Turkey is 79th in terms of suicides per 100,000 people. But once you know someone who has committed suicide, this statistic takes on a whole new meaning.
At least, that was the case for me when my close friend's father decided to take his own life after the bank from which he had taken a business loan unilaterally decided to charge him a higher interest rate following the 2006 crisis. At the time, I had found it hard to believe that banks could do that.
I guess one has to live it to believe it. I recently entered into negotiations to refinance a loan for my family business, which ended in an unconstructive deadlock, despite the word construction in the bank's name. The lender pulled a huge fee out of its hat without giving any explanation as to how it was calculated.
Urged by my journalistic instincts, I began to inquire among my banker friends. It turns out that such fees are purely discretionary: They can be as high as 10 percent of the remaining amount of the loan, but could go down to as low as 2 percent after negotiations not much different from those in the covered bazaar.
Now, you don't need to be Shakespeare to figure out that something is rotten in the state of Turkish corporate banking. And that is lack of regulation by the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency, or BRSA. My friends in retail banking are absolutely terrified of the BRSA, but it seems the watchdog does not keep the corporate side on a tight leash.
On a macro level, this means that businesses asking for loans are faced with huge uncertainties: They have signed agreements strongly favoring the bank, which can, at will, change any part of the agreement and demand exorbitant fees. It also means that access to credit may not be as improved as the recent World Bank surveys claim.
Simply put, if you see your neighbor being squeezed by the bank, you'll try to rely on your own funds or forego profitable investment opportunities if you don't have the cash. This is especially important since the government is intent on capping credit growth at 25 percent, with dirigisme rivaling China's if necessary. Then, the new loans would not necessarily be channeled to the most efficient uses.
It also means that the recent emphasis by the Central Bank and my esteemed colleagues on financial literacy is misplaced. It may be important for the retail consumer, but for corporates, financial literacy is not the answer. Look at me: I am as financially literate as anyone can get, but I still ended up with a huge refinancing fee despite sharing my "findings" with the bank.
If all this sounds like someone crossing over from capitalism to the Che-model, that is not the case at all. Regulation is not costless; it ends up making the regulated good more costly. But if the producer can exercise excessive power over the consumer, regulation is a must. As Mustafa Kemal Atatürk put it, "unless absolutely necessary, markets should not be interfered with. However, no market should be left entirely unattended."
It seems that the corporate banking sector is running completely amok in Turkey.
Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hürriyet 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
TURKEY'S NEW 'OLD KEMALISTS'
The Arab revolts of 2011 awakened interest in the Turkish model, exemplifying an Islamist-rooted party building a liberal democracy. Turkey's experience with the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government since 2002 shows quite the opposite.
When the AKP came to power, some saw it as an opportunity to end Kemalism and liberalize the country. They suggested that the AKP, rooted in Turkey's Islamist opposition, would move beyond rigid Kemalism, creating a truly liberal democracy. Some added that the AKP would also shed illiberal Kemalist traditions, such as its nationalist foreign policy line on European Union accession, as well as its taboos surrounding the Armenian issue.
The AKP did not move Turkey beyond Kemalism. Instead, the party destroyed Kemalists, while at the same time; it perpetuated old Kemalism's taboos and attitudes and abandoned its liberal ideals, such as gender equality. Hence, a decade after the AKP assumed power, Turkey has become more illiberal. The old Kemalists are out and the "new" old Kemalists are in. The AKP's "new" old Kemalists do not share any of Kemalism's pro-Western tendencies and have plenty of illiberalism to spare.
Take, for instance, the Armenian issue: When the AKP came to power; some maintained that the AKP could normalize Turkey's ties with Armenia and open a liberal debate on the fateful events of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire. The AKP initially toyed with the idea of rapprochement – to the extent of involving U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to broker a deal in 2009 – only to break its promise later.
Another illustrative lesson in AKP intentions can be drawn from a recent visit by AKP leader and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Kars, a town on the Turkish-Armenian border. Erdoğan commented on a statue, a symbol of Turkish-Armenian friendship depicting two abstract characters in shared agony, calling the statue "a freak show" and requesting that it be destroyed. So much for casting out old Kemalism's taboos: the AKP perpetuates these taboos, even if it eliminated Kemalists.
Nor has the AKP abandoned old Kemalism's nationalist stance in its foreign policy. Rather, the party has maintained this posture, and even moved beyond it to the point of undermining Turkey's historic goal of joining the EU.
Initially, the AKP pursued EU accession, though it now appears this was a tactical choice intended to allay fears about the AKP's political identity as an Islamist party. When Turkey entered membership talks in 2005 and the idea of a liberal society appeared within reach, the AKP backpedaled.
What is worse, the party is now fanning anti-European sentiments. Recently, the AKP's chief negotiator for EU accession warned that Europe risks "emulate[ing] the fascist methods of the 1930s." The power of such rhetoric should not be underestimated: according to a recent German Marshall Fund poll, 74 percent of Turks supported EU accession in 2004 while only 38 percent supported membership in 2010.
The AKP's "new" old Kemalism is painfully un-European. Take, for instance, gender equality: In 1994, 15 percent of executive civil service positions were held by women, according to IRIS, an Ankara-based women's rights group. This number has since decreased to 11 percent. While 33 percent of all lawyers in Turkey are women, not a single woman exists among the nine top bureaucrats in Turkey's Justice Ministry. Contrast this with the large number of female jurists in the country's high courts where, until recently, judges were appointed by their peers rather than the government. Nearly half of the members of the Council of State, Turkey's top administrative court, are women. A recent amendment to the constitution gives the AKP the right to singlehandedly appoint judges to the high court, which will effectively end judicial independence and further erode women's rights.
Lastly, consider the AKP's record on freedom of expression. Recently, it started an investigation into comments by Süheyl Batum, deputy chair of main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Speaking on the Turkish military's diminishing role in politics, Batum said that the "military is like a paper tiger." The AKP reacted with efforts to press criminal charges against Batum for "insulting the military." Here is the ultimate proof that the AKP enshrines "new" old Kemalism: the party is investigating a Kemalist for criticizing a Kemalist institution!
After nearly a decade in power, the AKP has not eliminated Turkey's taboos, embraced Europe, or increased freedoms. Instead, using its unbridled control over the executive, legislative and now judicial branches and the media, the party has eliminated Kemalists, and now aims to shape Turkish society in its own narrowly conservative and authoritarian image. In other words, the old Kemalists are gone and the "new" old Kemalists are in charge of Ankara.
Turkey and the Arab countries are different in many ways, and it is difficult to draw direct analogies. However, if Turkey's experience under the AKP proves anything, one should not expect Islamist parties to build liberal societies after the great Arab revolt is over.
*Soner Çağaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE SERFS OF RUSSIA
C. CEM OĞUZ
Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev are waking up in the Kremlin in 2023 with a vicious hangover. Putin asks Medvedev: "Which of us is president and which of us is prime minister today?" "I don't remember," Medvedev replies, "I could be prime minister today." "Then go fetch some beer," Putin says.
That joke came to mind when I read last week the remarks Medvedev made in a conference in St. Petersburg on "great reforms and the modernization of Russia," in which he reportedly portrayed himself as a successor to Czar Alexander II.
"In essence, [the Russians] are continuing a political course that was set 150 years ago," Medvedev said, while praising the reforms of Alexander II, because "freedom cannot be put off for another day." According to the Russian president, history has proven Alexander II was right, but "not Nicholas I, not Stalin."
Alexander II was indeed one of the most reform-minded tsars of imperial Russia. He came to the throne after martinet Nicholas I, who set up one of the most despotic regimes world history has ever seen (Yet we, the Turks, remember him as the czar who first called the Ottoman Empire "the sick man of Europe").
By the 19th century, the appalling conditions of the masses, the serfs in particular, was indeed a kind of Gordion knot in Tsarist Russia and it was Alexander II who in February 1861 signed a decree that liberated the serfs, giving them land and providing them with mortgages with which to compensate their one-time lords. Additionally, censorship was eased, the organs of self-government were introduced, economic reforms were implemented and universities received autonomy. It was precisely for this reason that the famous Russian intelligentsia made its appearance in the 1860s in direct connection with the great reforms of Alexander II.
Among the reforms Alexander II initiated, nevertheless, the most important was undoubtedly those in the judiciary. In 1864, he gave Czarist Russia its first independent judiciary system, with juries and irremovable judges, thus creating a formal enclave of decision-making independent of the monarch and his bureaucracy.
The emergence of the Russian intelligentsia, on the other hand, was not only the direct cause of the Bolshevik coup of 1917, but also the murder of Alexander II. In a political milieu of relative liberalism and having received economic independence from the regime, a new group of young radicals emerged in the universities, a phenomenon to be brilliantly described later in Maxim Gorky's "My Universities." Yet their face-to-face contact with the Russian people turned out to be a bewildering experience for this youth: They found them entirely unreceptive.
Consequently, they soon came to be influenced by ideas like a complete revolutionary overthrow and aimed at the radical reconstruction of society from top to bottom. This disillusionment pushed the most determined radicals to terrorism. In 1879, the People's Will (Narodnaya Volya) was created, which is the first political terror organization in history. On March 1, 1881, Alexander II fell victim to a terrorist bomb set by one of the members of this organization. His son, Alexander III, came to the throne after he was murdered and he was one of those czars who personified autocracy.
Having said this, I humbly welcome the remarks Medvedev made on Alexander II and Russian history. But as Yury Shuvalov, a top official from the ruling United Russia party, reportedly said recently, "After 150 years, …, the feeling of serfdom remains in much of [Russians'] consciousness." The current serfs of Russia also resolutely believe in the czar.
And guess who is the czar in Russia today? Those who go fetch some beer?
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
Now it can be said in full confidence that the brothers and sisters in Libya are all in a deep, deep problem. While until Saturday they might have had the hope of one day getting rid of Moammar Gadhafi – feted by Western leaders in all extravagance until very recently – now they have the Americans, French, the Italians and the rest of the "coalition of the willing" neo-colonialists readying themselves for the rich natural resources of the north African country.
Sorry to say, but Libyan people are more troubled than yesterday if the footsteps of the retreating colonialism of the previous century and examples of the neo-colonialism of our time, that is, the situation of "liberated" Iraq and Afghanistan and the tender and affectionate help extended to Pakistan to get rid of its nasty, trouble-making elements, are taken into consideration.
The key parameter of getting or not getting "affectionate treatment" from the United States and its coalition of the willing neo-colonialists of this new age, of course, is the amount of natural wealth in a country. In Bahrain the amount of natural wealth might not be sufficient enough to merit a "humanitarian" operation to save the lives of civilians attacked by their "ruthless" government. On the contrary, some local contractors hired by the United States might help the government to suppress an uprising instigated by some "heinous sectarian elements."
Or, if a country does not have sufficient natural resources to pay back such a humanitarian effort, the butchering of hundreds of thousands of people by their government might be totally ignored. Though such terrible developments might be deplored as totally unacceptable and genocidal attitudes by the global judicial mechanism of the neo-colonialist, pardon, globalized international order, since no one would pay, nothing could be done. Perpetrators of such crimes against humanity might be condemned in all clarity, yet, as no one would pay back and the countries in question had no natural resources to be siphoned off, the affectionate patron of the global order and its coalition of the willing neo-colonialists just turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to Rwanda, Yemen and other such atrocities.
No one of course can come up with a claim that Col. Moammar Gadhafi is and was in a more criminal league than most of other dictators of the Middle East and Africa – or the Asian continent. There are of course several degrees of tyrannical governance. In some countries tyrants just imprison all the opponents or critics who dare to speak or write against the "advanced democracy" in that country, in some others, tyrants act with more liberty and decide themselves who might pose a threat to their benevolent and affectionate governance and find suitable ways of getting rid of such potential threats. While in some countries parking a troubled car in front of residence of the absolute ruler or one of his ministers might be considered sufficient evidence of a subversive activity that must be punished, in some others, intending to write a book might be criminalized.
Yet, most of those countries claim that they are "people's republics" or "democratic republics" though their democratic understanding cannot go further than the democratic understanding of what used to be the "German Democratic Republic," the main feature of which was to fence in its own population.
Gadhafi was definitely a lunatic when he was feted in Paris or in Rome – and he remains one today. There is no difference at all with the Moammar Gadhafi that ridiculed the Turkish premier in his desert tent more than a decade ago and the one sending emissaries to the current Turkish premier requesting help to stop the neo-colonialists attacking his country to stop his ruthless attacks on the rebel Libyan cities.
Seeing Gadhafi's tyranny in Libya come to an end will of course be great. But, do not the Libya bombardments demonstrate at the same time the hypocrisy of neo-colonialists and its regional collaborators in view of the absence of similar actions elsewhere? Can anyone clam that without American tacit approval the Saudi and Bahrain despots could have used force against unarmed civilians in Bahrain?
A new era of neo-colonialism is shaping up. Now the principles of non-interference in internal affairs, respect for sovereignty and respect for borders are valid as long as and as much as the global hegemonic state, the U.S., wishes it to be so.
Welcome to the age of neo-colonialism.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
SUPERSTITION: NUCLEAR POWER VS. COAL
Suppose that a giant hydro dam had crumbled under the impact of the biggest earthquake in a century and sent a wave of water racing down some valley in northern Japan. Imagine that whole villages and towns had been swept away, and that 10,000 people were killed – an even worse death toll than that caused by the tsunami that hit the coastal towns.
Would there be a great outcry worldwide, demanding that reservoirs be drained and hydro dams shut down? Of course not. Do you think we are superstitious savages? We are educated, civilized people, and we understand the way that risk works.
Okay, another thought experiment. Suppose that three big nuclear power reactors were damaged in that same monster earthquake, leading to concerns about a meltdown and a massive release of radiation – a new Chernobyl. Everybody within a 20-km radius of the plant was evacuated, but in the end there were only minor leakages of radiation, and nobody was killed.
Well, that was a pretty convincing demonstration of the safety of nuclear power, wasn't it? Well, wasn't it? You there in the loincloth, with the bone through your nose. Why are you looking so frightened? Is something wrong?
In Germany, tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated against nuclear power last Saturday, and Chancellor Angela Merkel suspended her policy of extending the life of the country's nuclear power stations until 2036. She conceded that, following events in Japan, it was not possible to "go back to business as usual," meaning that she may return to the original plan to close down all 17 of Germany's nuclear power plants by 2020.
In Britain, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne took a more measured approach: "As Europe seeks to remove carbon-based fuels from its economy, there is a long-term debate about finding the right mix between nuclear energy and energy generated from renewable sources.... The events of the last few days haven't done the nuclear industry any favors." I wouldn't invest in the promised new generation of nuclear power plants in Britain either.
And in the United States, Henry Waxman and Ed Markey two congressmen from the Democrats, who co-sponsored the 2009 climate bill, called for hearings into the safety and preparedness of America's nuclear plants, 23 of which have similar designs to the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.
The alleged "nuclear renaissance" of the past few years was always a bit of a mirage so far as the West was concerned. China and India have big plans for nuclear energy, with dozens of reactors under construction and many more planned. In the United States, by contrast, there was no realistic expectation that more than four to six new reactors would be built in the next decade even before the current excitements.
The objections to a wider use of nuclear power in the United States are mostly rational. Safety worries are a much smaller obstacle than concerns about cost and time: nuclear plants are enormously expensive, and they take the better part of a decade to license and build. Huge cost overruns are normal, and government aid, in the form of loan guarantees and insurance coverage for catastrophic accidents, is almost always necessary.
The cost of wind and solar power is steadily dropping, and the price of natural gas, the least noxious fossil-fuel alternative to nuclear power, has been in free fall. There is no need for a public debate in the United States on the desirability of more nuclear power: just let the market decide. In Europe, however, there is a real debate, and the wrong side is winning it.
The European debate has focused on shutting down existing nuclear generating capacity, not installing more of it. The German and Swedish governments may be forced by public opinion to revive the former policy of phasing out all their nuclear power plants in the near future, even though that means postponing the shut-down of highly polluting coal-fired power plants. Other European governments face similar pressures.
It's a bad bargain. Hundreds of miners die every year digging the coal out of the ground, and hundreds of thousands of other people die annually from respiratory diseases caused by the pollution created by burning it. In the long run, hundreds of millions may die from the global warming that is driven in large part by greenhouse emissions from coal-fired power plants. Yet people worry more about nuclear power.
It's the same sort of mistaken assessment of risk that caused millions of Americans to drive long distances instead of flying in the months just after 9/11. There were several thousand excess road deaths, while nobody died in the airplanes that the late lamented had avoided as too dangerous. Risks should be assessed rationally, not emotionally.
And here's the funny thing. So long as the problems at Fukushima Daiichi do not kill large numbers of people, the Japanese will not turn against nuclear power, which currently provides over 30 percent of their electricity and is scheduled to expand to 40 percent. Their islands get hit by more big earthquakes than anywhere else on Earth, and the typhoons roar in regularly off the Pacific. They understand about risk.
I. THE NEWS
POT BOILS OVER
Cruise missiles launched from surface ships and submarines hit radar and fire control systems. Fighter-bombers knocked out tanks and the Libyan War, 2011, got under way in what has become traditional manner late on Saturday. There is a pattern to modern warfare – first the air attacks to degrade enemy defences, then a pause to see if the enemy feels like offering terms and if he does then diplomacy steps in. If not, more aerial bombardment and eventually ground forces follow. The relatively recent tool of an air exclusion zone such as that now in place over large parts of Libya, has proved to be of mixed utility. It was last used by NATO in Serbia in an attempt to dislodge Slobodan Milosevic – and it took 78 days of almost continual bombardment before he caved in. Colonel Qaddafi is a man no less convinced of the rightness of all he says and does than was Milosevic, and some might consider him as, if not more, deluded than the Serbian leader. The difference this time is that the Americans, and everybody else involved in this difficult enterprise, have said a firm 'no' to boots on the ground. Whatever comes next is going to have to be Libyan in its origin and direction. There will be support from the coalition but none of the partners want to find themselves with another Iraq or Afghanistan hanging around their annual defence budgets.
No commentator or analyst is yet projecting how long this initial phase may last. If Qaddafi loyalists decide that they are not on the winning side they may switch, desert their leader and lay down their arms if they are a fighting force. Conversely, they may decide that a last-ditch stand is the way to go and fight to the bitter end. Perhaps the option that lies between these two is the one that is least desirable – a divided Libya with Qaddafi still ruling most of the west and the opposition nurturing some sort of infant democracy supported by the coalition of the willing nations, in the east. Whatever the outcome there is in the forces ranged against Libya a quite remarkable uniformity and agreement. Organisations not normally noted for either unity or swift decision-making have stepped up to the plate. By late on Sunday afternoon the Organisation of Islamic conferences (OIC) had moved off the fence and said that it supported the Arab League and the UN Resolution 1973. Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar amongst others were present at the mission planning conference in Paris last Saturday. The Arabs may not be providing much beyond moral support and logistics, but that they are on board for this operation, and so strongly supportive of it, is significant. The Arab states are themselves in ferment, and there is little that is certain any more. Libya had few if any friends who were key Arab players, which may make it easier for Arab states to openly support the air strikes, but for many of those supporting the coalition forces today instability is gnawing away at their own vitals. There is growing unrest in Syria, Bahrain has boiled over and a massacre in Yemen after Friday prayers leaves that country teetering on the brink. This is a time of unprecedented change, with history set to 'fast forwards'. Qaddafi could yet survive, but even if he does the Libya of last week is not the Libya of tomorrow.
I. THE NEWS
WILL THATTA VANISH?
By the year 2025, the historic city of Thatta may have vanished right off the map of Sindh. According to MPA Humaira Alwani, sea erosion is taking away 80 acres of land a day, and at this rate, in just over a decade, the city will have disappeared. The inundation of salt water has already meant the loss of millions of acres of fertile land, causing huge damages to farmers. It has been reported in the past that some have lost their lands altogether and have been forced to become tenants on others' lands or take up different professions.
The issue is linked also to the declining volume of water in the River Indus, allowing the sea to move further in. According to the MPA, all seven ports of the city are already gone. The solutions evidently lie in sorting out water disputes between the provinces and ensuring each of them receives a fair deal. The issue of sea erosion is an extremely grave one in river delta areas. It cannot and must not be ignored. There are also other land loss issues to look into. In Punjab and elsewhere salinity and water-logging take away fertility from lands at a massive scale. All this has an impact on food security and the people's welfare. It is a matter that needs urgent attention so that places like Thatta can be saved and further suffering of their people be avoided.
RAYMOND DAVIS AND AIMAL KANSI
TAJ M KHATTAK
On a cold January morning nearly forty years ago, when I was a PoW, I found myself pushed into an Indian interrogation cell for some softening up. Forced to strip and subjected to incessant baton blows, I soon ended up in a corner and on the ground, shivering with cold. When my humiliation was complete, I experienced a feeling which can be best expressed by what Mao Zedong once said: Strongest is the man who has nothing more to lose.
I got straight up and shouted some full-throated invectives at my tormentor. Soon the burly man backed off, noticing that his baton wasn't inflicting the same physical pain any longer. My shouting at least got me back my clothes, even though my dignity wasn't restored; not in terms of my mistreatment, that is.
The relatives of the two men shot dead by Raymond Davis in Lahore may have received some compensation for the loss of their loved ones. But for the rest of us Pakistanis, getting their self-esteem and dignity back will take much longer, if we get it at all. The fact that the government, the opposition, the military establishment and the judiciary, all have contributed to the release of Raymond Davis is the biggest disappointment.
Davis's release was in sharp contrast to what happened to Mir Aimal Kasi, who was accused of shooting down two CIA men outside their Langley Headquarters in Virginia in 1993. Davis and Kasi were accused of the same crime: murder. In the American's case sham legalities and fake diplomatic immunity came into play to win him freedom. If there were such a thing as justice in the world, Davis would have met the same fate which Kasi did. Either both would have been executed, or both freed. But Davis went scot-free, by paying for his release and flown out of the country in which he had committed the crime. Kasi – betrayed by the rulers, some even receiving head money-was abducted from his own country back to the United States to be executed.
While Davis may still have been in neighbouring Afghanistan, our "strategic partners" in their endless "war on terror" killed another 41 Pakistanis in a jirga in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in a drone attack on Thursday. Such gatherings have been subjected to suicide bombings in the past, but now lives are in constant danger from drone attacks as well. These people are not safe at any given time and anywhere in their own country today, and that is a sobering thought. How are they expected to react, or what they should logically be doing in such a situation, is a question the think tanks in Washington need to address with some urgency.
The routine, non-serious messages of sympathy from the Presidency and the Prime Minister's Secretariat in Islamabad should cease, especially since the attitudes of the occupants of these two high offices towards drone attack victims are now well known, attitudes which can only make Pakistanis hang their heads in shame. The real message from ordinary Pakistanis to the occupants of these exalted offices should be that if you cannot protect your own citizens as your first duty, at least please refrain from rubbing salt into their wounds.
The drone attack was criticised in strong words by the chief of the army staff, but this should have been done when the first drone attack took place under his watch. Those who died in the latest raids were as innocent as most of those 1,700 Pakistanis who have perished in these attacks so far. The ISPR release was therefore too little, too late. Coming in the wake of the release of Raymond Davis, in which the military establishment reportedly played an important role, this condemnation rang with the same hollowness as the words from the Presidency and the Prime Minister's Secretariat.
In April 2010, the chief of the PAF visited the Combined Air and Space Centre of the US Air Force in Southwest Asia. His host, Lt Gen Mike Hostage, later called it an opportunity for the chief of the air staff to meet the "terrific" US airmen, some of whom obviously used their childhood skills in video games to good effect on Predators and Reapers now raining hell on defenceless Pakistanis.
These "terrific" airmen have the blood of innocent Pakistanis on their hands, and shaking their hands can only mean condoning their crimes. If the guardians of our airspace cannot protect their fellow Pakistanis from drone attacks, the least they can do in dignified protest is to keep away from visiting such Command Centres.
One's heart goes out to the people of Khyber-Pakhtukhwa, who are routinely battered by suicide bombers on the ground and by drones from the air. They cannot even assemble to resolve their disputes in accordance with their age-old customs and traditions, as were the unfortunate participants of Thursday's jirga. The legality of these attacks has been questioned by UN human rights investigators. But beyond questioning the legality, the United Nations has done little to stop this carnage.
It is said that during World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill were looking for a name for the newly formed world body to replace the League of Nations. After hitting upon the present name for the world body early one morning, FDR, paralysed by polio from the waist down, excitedly wheeled to Churchill's room and knocked. He pushed the door open when there was no response.
There he found Britain's prime minister drying himself after a shower, without a stitch on. Roosevelt announced the words "United Nations" and Churchill reportedly responded, "That is it." The United Nations was born that moment, but ever since then it remains a paralysed organisation helpless in the face of naked injustices.
Karim Khan, the Islamabad-based journalist from Machikhel village in North Waziristan, has started the initiative of filing a class action suit in a US court against Defence Secretary Robert Gates, CIA director Leon Panetta and the CIA's former Islamabad station chief, Jonathan Banks. The action has already forced Mr Banks to leave Pakistan. It is believed that more families want to follow Mr Karim's example, not so much in the hope of winning lawsuits but to gain international publicity for this illegal employment of the CIA by the US administration to kill innocents in other countries.
Karim Khan and others need to be helped to appeal to the sensitivities of the American people whose conscience hopefully is not as dead as their government's. Our rulers have disappointed us completely and there is hopelessness all around. Organisers of civil society protests on Constitutional Avenue in Islamabad should seriously consider collaboration with Karim Khan and others for action in US courts.
As for my grilling four decades ago, after I was back from the interrogation centre that evening I entered in my small diary a sentence which I had read in Leonid Brezhnev's biography. Then a colonel in the Soviet Red Army and holed up in his bunker which was pounded relentlessly by German artillery, he vowed that if ever he got a chance to plan the defences of his fatherland, he would never let this happen again. Brezhnev went on to become president of the USSR and the Soviet Union's defences were at their peak during his rule. Of course, I cannot follow through on what was said in those borrowed lines.
But others can. From now on, we Pakistanis should seriously start thinking in terms of exercising our options – through actions, not merely through protests.
The writer is a retired vice admiral. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
NO HONOURABLE EXCEPTION
It is quite understandable that the Jamaat-e-Islami, Imran Khan and the likes consider the acquittal of Raymond Davis to be a symbol of the nation's loss of honour. Their stand is reflective of the Pakistani Muslim male's general obsession with lost honour. In fact, hundreds of criminal cases demonstrate just how strongly Pakistani Muslim men feel compelled to restore their stolen 'honour'. The way to do so is to eliminate the enemy or woman that they think is responsible for the imagined but reparable loss. In both situations, the loss of lives denotes lesser significance than the loss of an abstraction, honour.
Just like in the Davis case, historically in Pakistan, the compoundability of Qisas and Diyat in its applied form, has allowed hundreds of men to get away, quite literally, with murder. Unlike the Davis case, most often it has even permitted these murderers to accrue the material profit that motivated their crime in the first place.
There should be no need to remind the saviours of Pakistan's honour of the multiplying cases since 1990, when Qisas and Diyat was instituted into the PPC, of men who killed sisters for their properties, for not ironing their clothes, for marrying of their free will or, murdered wives, aunts, in-laws whom they suspected of illicit relations. But the courts are sympathetic to men whose fragile honour can only be vindicated through blood or blood money, or both, if the judge is suitably pious and patriarchal. Case studies of routine brutal murders, where upright Muslim men are forgiven their 'grave and sudden(ly)' provoked killings, can fill volumes. Reportedly, even in cases deemed fasaad fil arz where diyat has been inapplicable, murderous men have struck deals under qisas at the appellate levels.
Yet, not once over the past 20 years did these righteous guardians of Pakistan's honour lead protest demonstrations, hold media conferences, offer a decent diyat amount to the surviving relatives of the ordinary citizen whose daughters/sisters/wives were murdered. Never have they offered protection to those who are routinely coerced into accepting pittance blood money, if at all, in order to relinquish qisas to the murderer.
Where are these saviours of honour when women are regularly demeaned and trafficked for the sex industry to friendly gulf countries? They're busy campaigning for the only kind of recipient who qualifies for their political attention – those who fall into their anti-American political agenda. They have, however, poured many resources for the cause of a single Pakistani woman who has suffered punishment and injustice from despotic authority – no, not Mukhtara Mai but Afia Siddiqui is the nation's deserving daughter.
This notion that men's honour is vested in something outside of themselves (the nation or women), allows them to preserve their abstract honour by punishing, even killing any perceived threat to their self-constructed honour.
Maybe conservative men in Pakistan should shake off their outrage and join those hopefuls who see moral victory in the Raymond Davis case, rather than abstract loss. This optimistic view suggests that the US, that Great Satan and immoral munafiq suffering from Islamophobia, has been reduced to abiding by Shariah law. The trouble is, Davis has not just abided by Islamic law but like many Muslim male criminals, benefitted from it and in his case, has not even had to pay the price. How can we allow a man to get away with murder? Simple, read all the PLC cases adjudicated under Qisas that refer to Pakistani women's murders and feel better about how lucrative this particular injustice was – at least for the legal heirs.
The irresponsible members of the legal fraternity, who know the lacunas in the law very well, refuse to raise the possibilities of improving the content and application of any religious laws. It's far simpler, safer and intellectually dishonest to flippantly say any man-drafted shariah law is divine and immutable and far superior to western laws and stop there.
The equally irresponsible religious lobbies have effectively threatened and silenced progressive, thoughtful, knowledgeable debate and discussion about irreconcilables between religion and legislation when and if there is evidence of this in the Pakistani context. So the fate is sealed. By reducing all things to political benefit, such conservative quarters have done more to discredit religion and the nation than improve its spirit and academic possibilities. Academic exercises give credibility to subjects but there must be debate and discussion to get to that irrefutable point where many ambiguities are ironed-out. Religious chauvinists tend to be intellectually lazy and reduce all thinking into ritual because everyone can be good at the simple stuff. This morass and chauvinism has given Davis his freedom.
Those who say that the Raymond Davis case will increase extremism are wrong. It may motivate more extremist attacks, which are political not religious, but if anything, the way the right wing responded to this case, their politics has been exposed for the damage and limitations that their regressive approach offers the place of religion and religious laws in society. So on the contrary, more of the younger generation may just become more secularised in their views after witnessing the blatant hypocrisy, blood-thirsty politics, moral double standards and hollow knowledge demonstrated by the guardians of Pakistan's honour and religious identity, over the last few months. That would be true poetic justice.
The writer is a researcher based in Karachi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
EDUCATION: DATA FIRST
The wording of Article 25a of the Constitution of Pakistan is clear as day. Education is a fundamental right – "The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law."
The ground realities in Pakistan are also clear, stark and frightening. Pakistan is in the throes of an education crisis that threatens the future of the country in the wake of the new "Knowledge Revolution" paradigm for development, under which the quality of human resource of any nation will define its destiny.
More than 25 million children are denied the right to be in school. The children that are in schools, study in broken buildings, often with no teachers, or poorly skilled ones. The system fails not only those children who are not in school. It also fails those children who are in school as they study a curriculum that is outdated and irrelevant to the demands of a new knowledge-based economy. Rich and poor parents alike are choosing to pay for education, with one-third of all enrolled children now being educated in private schools.
We have a moral obligation to fix this problem. Globalisation is bringing down national boundaries. Nations today need to compete on global benchmarks which means we owe to our people an education system that is world class. The devolution process, triggered by the 18th Amendment, is changing the way public policy is formulated in Pakistan. We need to ask ourselves if we are prepared to fulfill the moral obligation to fix education, and to do so in a manner consistent with the 18th Amendment.
I fear that at the present time, we are unprepared. The truth is that Pakistani policy makers have little handle on what is currently being spent on education. The picture is becoming even more fragmented in light of the 18th Amendment as now we are left with no mechanism at the national level to set, monitor, and evaluate national standards.
We urgently need to gain greater clarity over the current situation and also to analyse what needs to be spent if governments are to meet their constitutional obligations on education. This cannot be done by the provinces acting on their own. Both federal and provincial governments need to work together, assisted if necessary by Pakistan's top economists, to discover what we know about financing, and – just as importantly – what we don't know.
According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2009-10, Pakistan spends 2.1 percent of GDP on education, which is less than Bangladesh (2.6 percent) and India (3.3 percent), and much below levels of expenditure seen in countries such as Malaysia (4.7 percent) and Vietnam (5.2 percent).
Figures for how much of this money is spent on schools (as opposed to universities and colleges) are not readily available. However, a rough estimate suggests that school-level expenditure accounts for around 65 percent of total expenditure, or somewhere in the region of 1.4 percent of GDP.
Of course, the problem is not just that allocations are low. It is that they are based on the wrong things. Budget allocations are not determined by any clear analysis of need. If they were, the lion's share of the budget may be spent on development, for fixing existing schools and possibly upgrading, or even building new ones.
Yet more than 80 percent of education budgets at the district level are routinely spent on recurring costs, especially salaries. The number of teachers on payroll and their place on the pay scale are largely responsible for determining how much is spent on school-level education. This irrational way of allocating money is actively hurting Pakistan's future.
One of the only sources for reasonable quality data on education expenditure is available from PIFRA, the government's computerised accounting system. However, no one sees it as their job to submit it to the robust financial analysis that would enable proper planning for the future.
What is spent on the school system as a whole? We can make a reasonable estimate, but this figure is rarely cited and, seemingly, never used. What is spent per pupil in primary, middle, and secondary schools? How does expenditure vary from province to province, and between rural and urban areas? How does value for money compare with that provided in the private sector? What is the marginal cost for each new student added to the existing system? To these questions, and many others, at the moment we can provide little better than a guess.
One striking problem is the lack of data on the school-age population. In the absence of a population census since 1998, we simply do not know how many children there are between the ages of five and 16, much less how this number, and its distribution between age groups, will change over time. The estimates that are available project forward from the census and are therefore only valid at a population level (even then they will be inaccurate if birth rates have fallen at a different rate than expected).
Disaggregated estimates at district level are not possible as internal migration cannot be calculated with the given information sets. This seriously impedes decentralised decision making. As a result, we are over-reliant on household surveys, such as the Pakistan Social and Living Measurement Survey or the Annual Status of Education Report for rural areas. These provide some alternative to an up-to-date census, but are not a replacement for one.
We are also faced with the problem that there is extremely poor information about the functioning of the private sector, which has grown explosively and probably educates around a third of Pakistan's children. Only one province includes private schools in its Education Management Information System (EMIS). The Ministry of Education figures for private schools are therefore estimates and may underestimate the growth of the sector.
We certainly lack any figures regarding how much parents are spending on private education, although the amounts are substantial and growing. It is an extraordinary situation. An alternative school system has emerged that caters to as many as 12 million children and it has barely been factored into our education planning.
With this kind of a baseline of data and information about schooling in general, one has to ask: If we can't measure the problem, how will we possibly fix it? The March for Education campaign has brought to light several big picture challenges to education reformers. It has helped underscore the obvious education emergency in Pakistan.
If we are to be successful in addressing this paramount challenge, we will need to do so with a vastly improved baseline of data. This is not an impossible task. The amount of talent at Pakistan's disposal is enormous. With the right set of instructions and a broad ownership, a small group could fix the data problem rather quickly. That would be a bold and important first step in the long march toward an educated Pakistan, a better Pakistan, and a Pakistan that can live up to the aspirations of its founders.
The writer is PML-N MNA, a former federal minister for education and a former deputy chairman, planning commission. A detailed paper by Mr Iqbal on the state of education financing and the problem of data is available at http://www.educationemergency.com.pk
I. THE NEWS
'YOUR INTERPRETATION IS FALSE'
HUSSAIN H ZAIDI
"What's your take on the allegation that the Pakistan People's Party is playing the Sindh card?"
"Such allegations are levelled by anti-people and anti-democratic forces and must be dismissed as totally baseless. In point of fact, the PPP, being the only political party with nationwide appeal and an across-the-country base, has always looked down upon the politics of ethnicism."
"True, but the PPP's powerbase remains the Sindh province, particularly its rural part. Its top leadership has also come from that region. Even in the last elections, the PPP emerged as the single-largest party only from rural Sindh. In urban Sindh and all other provinces, it finished second or third in the electoral race."
"The party would have made a clean sweep in the regions you indicated had the electoral exercise been totally free and fair. But the cards were stacked against the party from the word go to prevent it from bagging a comfortable majority so that it would have a weak and instable government. On top of that, the PPP lost its great leader just before the polls. The intense trauma that its workers and supporters underwent also bore upon the party's performance."
"You're putting the cart before the horse. The common view is that Ms Bhutto's assassination contributed to the party's victory by arousing public sympathies. You'll agree that our voters are easily swept off their feet by emotional considerations."
"Tut, tut! That's absurd, to say the least. The PPP without a Bhutto at the helm was like Shakespeare's play Hamlet without its protagonist Prince Hamlet. Therefore, the death of Ms Bhutto was nothing short of a catastrophe for the party. The fact that the PPP won the electoral race in spite of that only testifies to the tremendous popularity that it commands."
"I'm not calling into question the PPP's populist credentials or its all-Pakistan character. My point is that, notwithstanding such characteristics, the party conveniently takes to ethnic politics when it finds this to its advantage. On other occasions it beats the drum of nationalism. It's like running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Take, for instance, the argument that whereas a Sindhi prime minister (Z A Bhutto) was sentenced to death, a Punjabi prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) received only life imprisonment, and that too was suspended.
"The argument rests on the ridiculous proposition that the only notable difference between Mr Bhutto and Mr Sharif was their domicile, and that if the former were a Punjabi the establishment would have let him off the hook. I believe, and you'll second me, that the two former prime ministers were poles apart in their calibre and stature. So even if Mr Bhutto were a Punjabi, Baloch or Pakhtun, his fate would hardly have been different. Not only that, international politics had also a lot to do with the dismissal and execution of Mr Bhutto, as one of the superpowers of the time wanted his head. Such factors didn't exist in the case of Mr Sharif. Therefore, even if Mr Sharif were a Sindhi, Gen Musharraf wouldn't have treated him differently. And may I remind you that the PPP leaders often claim with a lot of pride that Mr Bhutto was also offered a bargain by Gen Ziaul Haq, similar to the one struck between Mr Sharif and Gen Musharraf, but he preferred to die with honour to living in disgrace? If such an account is based on facts, then I'm afraid the whole argument that a Sindhi prime minister was put to death while a Punjabi prime minister was spared turns out to be a hoax. And, mind you, comparing Mr Bhutto with Mr Sharif in that fashion may make the former turn in his grave."
"Accepted, for the sake of argument. But how would you account for the fact that while on both occasions the dismissal of Ms Bhutto's government was upheld by the courts, that of Mr Nawaz Sharif's was set aside by the judiciary?"
"I'm glad you put this question. First, the very fact that Mr Sharif got the sack explodes the notion that a Punjabi premier will never get his cards. Take it from me that there's no love lost between popular politicians and the powers that be. So it's not the establishment versus Sindhis, or any others ethnic nationality, but the establishment versus popular mandate. Secondly, though Mr Sharif was reinstated by the courts and Ms Bhutto was not, the result in either case was the same – fresh elections leading to a change of guards. Thirdly, do you remember who the chief justice of Pakistan was when the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the second Benazir Bhutto government? Justice Sajjad Ali Shah. What was his domicile? Rural Sindh. Who had appointed him to the highest judicial office of the land? President Leghari, at that time a staunch Bhutto loyalist, on the advice of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The fact that, say, a Punjabi prime minister is shown the door to bring in a Sindhi premier, and vice versa, means that the establishment has its own agenda, which doesn't lend itself to a simple ethnic interpretation."
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad.
I. THE NEWS
AN ABJECT SURRENDER
The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.
At a public meeting on March 13, Gilani announced that there would do "no compromise over national dignity and honour" in the Raymond Davis case. Six days later, the whole nation was stunned to learn that the CIA agent facing trial for having killed two Pakistanis on a crowded public street in Lahore had been released and quickly flown out of the country under a plan worked out secretly between Pakistani and US officials. Gilani's concept of national honour is obviously skewed. But he is not alone.
It was not only the federal government under PPP leadership but the PML-N government of Punjab and the leadership of the Pakistan army and the ISI were also fully involved in the shady deal that bought freedom for the American killer whom Obama last month called "our diplomat".
There is no other country in the world whose leaders speak in public more often and more loudly of safeguarding national dignity and sovereignty and then dishonour the country through their own deeds. It was the same under Musharraf. It happens every time our leaders protest at attacks by American drones, some of which have taken off from bases in Pakistan, to hit targets in the country on which intelligence has often been provided by our own agencies. Now, by setting Davis free without bringing him to justice, we have added another episode to this shameful record.
Both the federal government and the Punjab government have been trying to obfuscate their own role in this deal. They have suggested that this was essentially worked out by the courts, the accused and the families of the slain Pakistanis. But the facts tell a different story. Davis' release was the last act of a scheme worked out between the two countries with the full participation of their intelligence agencies, the ISI and CIA.
There are strong indications that the agreement of the families of the two victims of the shooting to settle the matter through payment of blood money was obtained by abusing the Diyat law.
There are two reasons for this:
First, the two families were heavily pressured to accept diyat. Until a few days before, they had been insisting on Davis's trial. Then, on the day of the last hearing, there was a six-hour long meeting between them and Pakistani officials at which the lawyer who had been representing them was kept out. He was also excluded from the court proceedings conducted behind closed doors after which Davis was released.
Second, the families were told that there was little possibility of bringing Davis to justice. This is what drove Shumaila, wife of one of the victims, to suicide. This message appears to have been reinforced through the seemingly bizarre attempt to poison Shumaila's uncle a couple of weeks later. Clearly, the families were made to believe that Davis would not face trial and the only option before them was to accept blood money.
It seems that even the judiciary was not spared in this heavy-handed approach. The New York Times reported on March 17 that Pakistani officials exerted "quiet political pressure" on the courts to get Davis' release. According to the newspaper, the Pakistan government requested influential politicians in Lahore, including the family of Nawaz Sharif (read Shahbaz Sharif), to press the Lahore High Court to delay a ruling on the Davis case. These reports have not been rebutted.
To soothe Pakistani public opinion, Hillary Clinton has said that the US Justice Department has begun an investigation of the shooting. On his visit to Pakistan last month, Kerry had said the same thing. But as an unnamed US official told the Washington Post, an investigation does not mean that Davis would be charged and tried, even if there was evidence of his guilt. Any CIA inquiry that might be held is more likely to focus on why he failed to make good his escape after the shooting and on what additional equipment and training US spies should receive so that they do not get caught in similar circumstances.
In any case, whether the Americans hang Davis or give him the congressional medal of honour is now their own business and of little interest to us.
The ISI claims that under the deal for Davis' release, it has received assurances that the CIA would declare all its operatives in Pakistan and would curtail its activities in the country. But US officials deny this. They insist that there was "absolutely no quid pro quo" by the CIA; and that the agency made no pledges to scale back covert operations in Pakistan or give a list of their spies in Pakistan. Between these two contradicting assertions, we do not know where the truth lies.
But the ISI should know better than anyone else that in the business of intelligence, any such pledges are worthless. It would therefore be illusory to imagine that US spies working under diplomatic cover would now stop tracking the activities of militant organisations inside Pakistan or trying to unearth their alleged links with the agencies or gathering intelligence on Pakistan's nuclear programme.
Zardari will be happy that he can now have his one-on-one meeting with Obama in the White House that he craves. But nothing can hide the fact that by employing the full might of the state to enable Davis to escape justice, the Pakistani leadership has brought humiliation upon the whole country.
Our handling of the case shows also how little our rulers value the life of the ordinary Pakistani. This is not of course the first time. In 2010, a US diplomat who was drunk while driving hit a young man in Islamabad and killed him. Our authorities, instead of holding the culprit to account, helped him leave the country.
Again, in the Davis case, our officials helped the two US officials whose car killed the third Pakistani to leave Pakistan surreptitiously. An example of how the US deals with such matters is the 1997 case of a Georgian diplomat who killed an American because of drunk driving, a far less serious offence than murder. The US government compelled Georgia to waive his immunity. He was then sentenced by American courts to seven years of imprisonment.
The CIA greeted the release of their "contractor" by carrying out one of their deadliest drone attacks on Pakistani soil the very next day. Pakistani intelligence officials said at first that those killed were militants. Later in the day, the army chief issued a strong condemnation of the attack, saying the drones had targeted a meeting of peaceful citizens and was in "complete violation of human rights". Do we really expect to be taken seriously, especially after the "amicable" end to the Davis case?
An American official gave a good indication of the contempt with which they treat such protests. Those killed, he said, were "not gathering for a bake sale". They belonged to a group of terrorists, "not the local men's glee club". The message was unmistakable: You Pakistanis can scream as much as you like; we know that you have to do it to pacify public opinion; but we will continue our drone attacks for the safety of our homeland; and if any Pakistani civilians get killed, too bad for them.
After the drone attack, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement demanding that Pakistan should not be treated as a client state. The Foreign Ministry is right. But it should know that Pakistan is treated as a client state because our government itself acts as one, as it did in the Davis case.
The fault is that of our own leaders, of our corrupt ruling class and of their allies in the country's "liberal elite". Granted, we need external assistance to keep our economy from collapsing. But we could easily overcome this dependence if our ruling class stops looting the country and starts paying its fair share of taxes, starting from the top.
I. THE NEWS
Life got decidedly odd last week. Those who live closest to me might say, if asked, that I was perhaps not at my most robust mental-health wise. If pressed for a more specific answer they might even go so far as to say that myself and the marbles were in an ongoing separation situation. A bit crazy.
It was a week of very long days spent in front of the bank of monitors and computers that these days comprise my workstation. I am usually powering it all up before seven in the morning and shutting down around midnight. It would not be true to say that I am working for all of that time, but my head is in 'work mode' for most of it. I watched a couple of very good films –'Moon' and 'The adjustment bureau' – and read about half of an excellent book on the evolution of the American language and the second half of a book about the eccentricities of English cycling. And I saw an awful lot of awful things.
Just for a change most of the awfulness was being inflicted on those other than who live in the Land of the Pure, and it was unrelenting. A week of death and mayhem culminated in a dreadful drone strike in Waziristan and by Saturday morning when this was written I was running on the smell in the tanks. " 'Two turnin' an' two burnin' " as the pilots used to say in WW2 as they brought their crippled four-engined bombers back to a heavy landing.
On top of all this there was the cunningly-devised game called 'Chase the bijli' which is designed to reduce large sections of the population to gibbering psychopathy. Yes Dear Reader the gloves are off once again and the summer-long slugging match between the consumer and the electricity suppliers has kicked off at least three weeks early this year. Naturally the capacitor on the air-conditioner had managed to break itself since it was last used in October and when eventually coaxed back into life by the man who seems able to do the Lazarus trick with anything electrical it disgorged a winters-worth of dust, a couple of small dessicated lizards and the parrots private stash of nibbled matches. All over the computers and monitors beneath to where they had been relocated in the hope of having a more congenial working environment in the hotter months. The screw was further tightened by there being an outage of internet connection for half a day. No explanation by the ISP of course.
Those whose job it is to keep me functional by providing regular injections of tea and food were by this time approaching my chair with much the same caution as those who were battling nuclear reactor fires in Japan. The slightest irregularity on the path I trod (not that I trod any path in actuality – I didn't leave the house for three days) was likely to produce a response that you could have lit an entire city with. Sharp objects were removed from within my reach.
It's twenty-six inches. I just measured it. The distance between my spectacle lens and the nearest of the three screens in front of me. Cabin fever is a condition which afflicts people who live for long periods in isolation in difficult or primitive conditions. Surrounded by fear and uncertainty. Gripped by delusional belief and not infrequently paranoid. Twenty-six inches is just far too close to the cabin wall for comfort and there's a werewolf sitting in the corner. Just kidding - it's a rhinoceros. Werewolves don't exist, do they?
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail. Com
LET PRESIDENT ADDRESS PARLIAMENT UNDISTURBED
PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani telephoned Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Saturday urging him not to boycott President Zardari's address to the joint sitting of Parliament. A delegation of senior leaders of the ruling party also met the Leader of the Opposition the same day in his Chamber to get assurances from the PML-N for orderly proceedings of the Parliament.
In the last three years the address to Parliament by the President had been smooth as there were no shouting and sloganeering from any side and that set the healthy tradition. Since Pakistan is now on the way to maturity and good traditions are being set to nurture democratic institutions, we believe that the PML-N and other opposition parties would pay heed to the requests made by the Prime Minister and other leaders of PPP. The President's address should not be disturbed and like civilised and democratic societies it should be listened to with calm. Naturally there are some grievances of the opposition against the Government which could be later raised and even strongly criticized and blasted in line with democratic culture and traditions during debate in the two houses on the address of the President. The opposition parties had hinted to either boycott or protest during the Presidential address and the PPP rightly decided to contact them and persuade them not to go to the extreme and follow the democratic traditions. We would warn that there should be no rerun of the scenes of 1990s when the two parties had reached the height of confrontation that resulted in derailing of the democratic process. It would not pay to the opposition if it creates ugly scenes in the Parliament. Though the media would naturally highlight and show the shouting and sloganeering but it would serve no purpose rather create more ill will between two major political parties in the country. Already the political temperature is high after the sacking of PPP Ministers from Punjab Government and we would caution that if there were rowdy scenes during the address of the President, that would aggravate the situation and the Parliament and the Provincial Assembly would witness acrimonious scenes daily. Therefore we would impress upon all the parties to show patience and tolerance during the address of the President and set healthy traditions as today's opposition could be the ruling party of tomorrow and could be paid in the same coin.
DON'T TURN LIBYA INTO IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN
US and European military forces have bombarded Libya with cruise missiles and air attacks as part of effort to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone more than a month after the outbreak of an uprising against longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi.
French jets fired the first shots on Saturday in Operation 'Odyssey Dawn' the biggest international military intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles in eastern Libya. Hours later, US and British warships and submarines launched more than 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles at more than 20 coastal targets to clear the way for air patrols to ground Libya's air force. According to reports by the Libyan media 48 people were killed and over 150 injured in the western bombing and Col Kadhafi announced to retaliate by opening the stores of arms to the masses to defend the independence of the country. Since UN Security Council imposed a no fly zone on Libya, the guns of western media too have opened their fire at Libya and its leadership. Though it is true the Government in Libya is not exemplary but in any case the uprising by the people is an internal issue and western intervention under the pretext of stopping massacre of the people is uncalled far. Even western media which is in the forefront to highlight the uprising in the Middle East has been unable to report massive killings at the hands of Colonel Kadhafi as caused by the western missile attacks. The attacks by the US and its European allies in Libya are repetition of aggressions in Iraq and Afghanistan and the escalation of the highest level is feared in the days to come. That would also provide an excuse to the western countries to land their forces in Libya. If that happens, there would be more bloodshed and the devastation would be of unimaginable scale. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan are still suffering and majority of them are openly saying that they were enjoying more peace and security before than after the US invasion of their countries. We fear that a dirty game is being played to destabilize Afro-Arab countries and the attack on Libya is part of the conspiracy to divide the country as had been done in Sudan to occupy the vital sources of energy.
US SHOULD GIVE SECOND THOUGHT TO N-DEAL WITH INDIA
THE nuclear disaster in Japan in the aftermath of Tsunami has led to radiation in food items, milk and water. The Japanese science ministry said Saturday that radioactive substances had seeped into food chain and were detected in tap water in Tokyo, as well as in some other cities. We believe that Japan has all the will, capacity and technology to handle the serious situation but it would be difficult for countries like India to deal with the catastrophe of this nature if it happens.
After the Japanese nuclear crisis, nuclear industry worldwide would need to assess its impact and some of the countries which were going for establishment of nuclear power plants are having a rethinking about those plans. In this perspective one expected that the US would give a second thought to the supply of nuclear technology to India but it was shocking that Washington the other day said it remains very much committed to its nuclear deal with India. The US is well aware that India is way behind Japan in technology and expertise to deal with nuclear disaster yet it surprised nuclear experts as to why Washington is adamant to go ahead with its agreement for providing advance nuclear technology to New Delhi. US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robert Blake at a briefing Saturday said the US remain very much committed to pursuing civil nuclear cooperation with India. We expect that think tanks in the United States and the IAEA would analyze the situation in Japan thoroughly, look at the Indian deal and advise the Obama administration to at least delay its implementation till appropriate technology is developed to deal with disasters as is being witnessed in Japan.
ARE MORE RAYMOND DAVIS CASES IN STORE?
DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
Let us begin with the question whether under the Islamic law of Diyat a crusader against the Islamic republic of Pakistan, whose official duty was to kill Pakistani Muslims as part of his mission can benefit from the Islamic law of Diyat. Raymond Davis was such a key operative in American crusade against Islam and Muslims states that the American President pleaded for his release on the incorrect basis that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity, Joe Biden came to Pakistan on this mission also wrongly claiming diplomatic immunity for him. Clinton put her weight behind this mission. Such a person could not be an operative nor US lacks expertise to know that the plea for diplomatic status was without any substance. He was clearly the top killer and subversion planner that such high and mighty manufactured arguments for his release.
Let us begin with the most controversial and unacceptable points in the release of this crusader against the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the indecent mysterious haste with which Raymond Davis was released. Apparently while the trial of this criminal was going on in the Court and Police was diligently carrying on its duties in this respect a drama was being played behind the scenes to obey American demand to release Raymond Davis- that is while the public was being fed with the impression that Pakistan would firmly implement the law of the land on this murderer, in reality it was just a shadow drama and the reality was that we were marking time to surrender to America's illegal demands after a shadow boxing. I suspected that something like this was about to happen when the top person of the Government said that " no one should claim that they are more patriotic than us" or words to that effect. Of course the top person in the regime is supposed to be the custodian of patriotism. The point on which the custodians of Sahriat Law have to deliberate is whether the benefits of Diyat law can be available to the person other than the accused of murdering on personal enmity or not? If the murderer is a crusader against the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and his mission is to indulge in blasts at public places and mosques and commits murders in the line of his hostile mission against Islamic state can he get Scot free under the Diyat Law ? Does Diyat cover such anti-Muslim murders of crusading nature or does it cover only cases of murder out of personal enmity between individuals and not those murders committed to destabilize a Muslim state out of hatred for Islam. Let Ulema determine the applicability of Diyat Law to a crusader against Islam in pursuit of this mission..
In his letter to the Editor published in the Observer's issue of 18th March , Shabbir Sarwar has also made somewhat the same point saying" Was it a case of murder between two parties only. Were not two states involved in it, was it not an act of terrorism in the heart of one of the provincial capitals (I may add that in the view of all present on the spot). The point remains terrorism is different from murder .The writer also adds " The families have been telling tales of life threats from certain quarters" . One may add the US denied that they made the payment of the dyat amount. Then who did? Pakistan!! Any thing done in indecent haste is shrouded in mystery. It need be emphasized first that it was not a case of murder pure and simple but of state terrorism by an agent of US C I A, there is no supporting evidence that it was a genuine case of settlement of diyat but papers produced to make the matter look like a settlement under diyat – even when it was an act of terrorism, and so on. Many loop holes exist in the story that diyat was agreed to. The matter is not transparent.
The manner in which the Punjab leadership and the leadership in the center has lost standing is extraordinary. It is very unlikely that their standing will be rehabilitated in the public. Today Imran Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi have emerged as respectable national figure for standing uncompromised in national honour. This new standing is likely to be reflected in future "elections" if fair elections are ever held. The present leadership has been abandoning the vision of Pakistan the Quid laid for Pakistan : When Pakistan was coming into existence the guidelines for the new state were given by the Quaid. His view of Pakistan was that of a totally independent country under no one, neither the British nor India . It may be recalled that when he made this statement the British were the Great Power in the world like US is now. He was uncompromisingly for an independent Pakistan and categorically rejected subordination to India or the British . In his Address to the Planning Committee of All India Muslim League on 5 Nov 1944 at Delhi the Quaid said " Freedom from the British must mean freedom from the British exploitation and Hindu domination. Hundred million Muslims will never agree to change of masters" The Quid died on 11 September 1948, or one year after independence . He had time only to lay down the general principles of foreign policy. But his speeches and statements laid down the general principles of foreign policy. The guidelines were scrupulously followed by Liaquat Ali Khan who on the end of his State visit to US on 30th May 1950 at M I T said " as I have been reiterating for international cooperation some might have thought I am asking for charity. I do not ask for charity" and when in Washington he was told that if he would recognize Israel they will give Pakistan all kinds of aid and provide military equipment which the newly independent state was in need of " Liaquat in his even leveled voice replied " Gentlemen my soul is not for sale" There had been glimpses of such national assertion by Pakistani rulers whom the so-called democratic rulers mythology calls military dictators ( some were some were not , Ayub certainly was not), and once even Nawaz Sharif refused to accept any pressure on Nuclear capability- the same Nawaz who now changed his colours)
The new rulers who claim to have come to power through People's mandate in fact came to power with Washington's backing So they believe that without the so-called US backing they cannot survive. Is it really so? Have they ever thought some of the following points made below that US aid is not a charity but a price paid to Pakistan for its support Without this support US cannot have a foot hold in this region. I would like to recall here what President Ghulam Ishaq Khan told me at a dinner at my house on the occasion of the Valima of my son which he attended while he was President of Pakistan. I had been three times deputy leader in Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan's delegations and once as the ranking member of his UN Economic Delegation He accepted my invitation to this small provate dinner. In those days the press had reported hot exchange of words between him and one of the usual roaming US envoys to Pakistan. I asked the President whether the news in the press of exchange of hot words was correct. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan confirmed that it was so. He said that the US Special Envoy complained of Pakistan's lack of gratitude for the Aid . President Ghulam Ishaq Khan repled to him " Sit down with a paper and pen and draw the balance sheet of what Us gave to Pakistan as aid, and against it write down what US got in return from Pakistan. It is not just one sided story of American generosity but also what America got in return.
It is unfortunate that we have got hooked to living on Aid. Poorer nations, smaller nations of Asia in much worst conditions stated their development on Aid and they became Asian economic Tigers, like South Korea, Formosa, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and today they are economic giants, but we remain hooked to American aid and are going down and down.
The point is not whose aid we are hooked to but our refusal to stand on our own feet. Aid is poison for national independence. Every Pakistani cries for self reliance but these remain hollow wishes. There would be many more such humiliating experiences as Raymond Davis if we continue to be subservient to foreign powers.. We may draw lessons from the modern history of Egypt, China, Ottoman Turkey when they were literarily obeying the foreign Envoys in Cairo, Istanbul, Peking respectively. What were the outcomes of those submissions.? Not healthy examples to copy.
AFGHAN CONFLICT: NO END IN SIGHT!
AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)
During his recent visit to Kabul, Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that the United States is in 'well position' to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July this year. He cautioned that any reductions in U.S. forces would likely be small and that a significant U.S force will remain in combat for the rest of 2011. Fresh proclamations by a number of US officials indicating American stay beyond 2014 have raised many eyebrows. Articulation of a plan for establishing permanent bases in Afghanistan has also not gone down well with those who wish an early and happy ending of this sordid conflict.
Though saner voices are screaming that the American Government is broke, Pentagon's budget request for 2012 seeks additional funding of over $100 billion for Afghan war. Besides prohibitive financial tag, Afghanistan war is a cause of colossal loss of lives. Unwillingness of American officials to seize reality is having its telling effects; it took 2,520 days of the war to take 500 American lives and just 627 days for the next 500. Suffering by ordinary Afghans is even greater. Around 2500 non-combatants were killed and 4000 wounded during first 10 months of the last year. The rate of Afghan civilian deaths is up by 20 percent compared to the year before. A United Nations finding has revealed that targeted killings of civilians in Afghanistan have doubled last year. Civilian deaths have been the highest amongst all the killings, steadily rising by the year.
According to International Council on Security and Development, 90% of Afghan territory is now under the control of or in the grip of insurgents. Questions are being asked about why US soldiers are dying at such a fast pace and if there is any rationale for spending about US $ 200 billion a year on an un-winnable war.
General David Petraeus is working overtime to convince the Americans that his American and NATO troops in Afghanistan have made more progress than has been reported. Speaking to The New York Times in an interview, he said in addition to progress in Afghanistan's southern regions, the forces have stopped or reversed Taliban advances in Kabul as well as in the country's northern and western parts. "The momentum of the Taliban has been halted in much of the country and reversed in some important areas…"The Taliban have never been under the pressure that they were put under over the course of the last 8 to 10 months." he told the Times. Petraeus said US Special Operations forces and coalition commandos were involved in more than 1,600 operations in the three months prior to March, resulting in the capture or killing of about 3,000 insurgents. In fact there is an unending chain of killing innocent children, women and non-combatant men through application of disproportionate force by ISAF/NATO and then apologising for it. The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, which provides security advice for organizations operating on the ground in Afghanistan, said in its quarterly report, "No matter how authoritative the source of any such claim [of progress], messages of this nature are solely intended to influence American and European public opinion." While addressing Asia Society, Hillary Clinton emphasised the "three surges"; military, civil sector capacity building and intensified diplomatic push to bring the Afghan conflict to an end. These three surges are a part of Obama's vision for transition that would see troop reductions beginning in July this year and concluding by 2014. Hillary side stepped the daunting reality of proliferation of insurgency to new areas, and its pattern of cutting across ethnic lines. Nevertheless, she repeated the rote line that "the tribal areas along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan remain the epicentre of violent extremism".
United States has little hope of an outright victory in the long war. India is struggling to fit in the American shoes and extend its strategic outreach to Afghanistan. Iran is jockeying between Pakistan and China on one side and India and Russia on the other hand to balance the ethnic and sectarian fallout form post-America Afghanistan. Pakistan aims for a friendly government in Kabul. Russia wants to fixate America on long term basis; it has begun to enjoy the American agony.
Effective COIN is waged alongside a credible local partner, a government that commands the respect and authority of its citizens. As regards legitimacy of the government in Afghanistan, Dexter Filkins recently reported for the 'The New Yorker': "Graft infests nearly every interaction between the Afghan state and its citizens….The Afghan government does not so much serve the people as prey upon them." Filkins categorises the Afghan government as "a vertically integrated criminal enterprise…Politics and business in Kabul are increasingly dominated by criminal networks and their patrons in the Afghan government."
A November 2010 survey by the Afghan Centre for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research found that favourable opinion about America has dipped to an all-time low of 43% among Afghans. A CNN Opinion Research poll last December found that 63% Americans now oppose the war and share the Afghan opinion that the troops should leave. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as Defence Secretary Robert Gates have called for dialogue with "moderate" Taliban. Whether the Taliban are willing to talk to them is a different matter. They have made it clear that there cannot be any talks unless all foreign troops leave Afghanistan.
Reports indicate that while the Americans have lost the war, they still want to stay in Afghanistan; hence there are desperate attempts to strike a deal with the Taliban. They have even hinted that they would be prepared to accept a power sharing agreement with the Taliban. A report published by Steve Coll, in the New Yorker, indicates that the Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders. The discussions are believed to be of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation.
Since mid-2010, the situation has tilted in favour of Taliban. There is likelihood of heightened military operations as soon as spring sets in. Taliban have already stepped up attacks against usual targets in Afghanistan.
American arguments on war are rudderless and circular, reaching no conclusion: 'We cannot win Afghanistan without turning Pakistan, but we cannot turn the Pakistanis without winning in Afghanistan'. Fundamental challenge for American policymakers is to reconcile the rhetoric and reality. They need to seize the opportunity and leave by 2014. Their intent and actions should conjointly focus at withdrawal. Sending a positive signal one day, and contradicting it the next day would further erode American rating amongst Afghans. Time for an honourable exit is running out.
—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.
SOVEREIGNTY AND DRONE ATTACKS
DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
On March 17, 2011, a CIA driven US drone attack has killed forty-six innocent tribal of the Madakhel tribe on the open fields of Nevi Adda Shega in Dattakhel, North Waziristan Agency. Notable of the tribe had convened a jirga for reaching on to some consensus on the issue of chromites mine located in the area. Among dead there were personnel of the Khasadar force and other local officials of this Tribal agency. This drone attack was one of the deadliest, ever since 2007. In so far over 250 drone attacks since 2004, thousands of innocent tribal have either lost their lives, wounded or disabled.
North Waziristan Agency has been the main target of these attacks since 2009. Perhaps, this is because that, US has been pressurizing Pakistan to launch a military operation in this agency. US believes that Haqqani network is operative in the area which also supports the Afghan Taliban, embattling the US and NATO forces, occupying Afghanistan. In a recent statement on March 18, 2011, General David Petraeus, ISAF commander, has once again stressed Islamabad to launch a military operation in North Waziristan. He said that, "The fact is that it's hugely important that there's a campaign in Northern Waziristan that is putting enormous pressure on the Al-Qaeda sanctuaries there." Pakistan, however, had a different point of view and believes that, any military actions on its territory has to be undertaken, keeping ground realities in view. After all Pakistan cannot kill its masses on the desires of a foreign power. Why cannot ISAF seal the Afghan side of the Pak-Afghan border, thus ceasing the chances of any infiltration from the Pakistani side?
The current drone attack has lot of connotations. Just a day earlier, Pakistan released a US national, Raymond Davis, a CIA operative, involved in the murder of two Pakistani citizens. Besides, he was involved in spying activities in various parts of the country. His linkages with the militants in Pakistan were no more a secret. Furthermore, he remained non-cooperative during the investigation process. There must have been many more reasons of his significance for the US, as a man not less than President Obama himself stressed Pakistan for his release.
Generally, it was expected that his release would obliged US and pave the way for the restoration of the Pak-US bi-lateral relationship, to which there came a chill, sequel to his arrest. But, U.S has behaved otherwise. On March 17, 2011, just a day after the release of Raymond Davis, US drone fired twelve missiles on the innocent Pakistanis, killing 46. This inhuman act of United States otherwise had no logics was a clear indication that, it does not care Pakistan and would take its own course, while dealing with Pakistan and Pakistanis. As per Brigadier (retired) Mahmood Shah, former Secretary FATA, "This is an arrogant US response. Twelve missiles in one day is not routine. The message was clear and categorical: we will do what we want." As per Mr Khalid Aziz, a former Chief Secretary of the FATA and the current analyst believes that this drone attack is an indication of the America's continuous "unhappiness with the Pak command structure."
What has been transpired from the US response that, it is not obliged, if Pakistan has released Mr. Raymond Davis? US would continue following its policy of dictating its own terms and conditions. It can target any one; militant or otherwise, at anytime and anywhere, without taking Pakistan into confidence. Under such a situation, "Relations are bad and will get worse and will take away from the war on terror." As a sovereign and independent state, for how long Pakistan would afford the US drone attacks is indeed a big question mark. After all; "We are not Djibouti or Algeria, we are a nuclear state, and we are Pakistani. The Americans need to respect us." There have been 19 drone attacks in North Waziristan, since January 1, 2011, killing about 95 people. Should American have such a killing license for Pakistanis?
Prime Minister and Army Chief, General Kayani has condemned the attack and sent strong messages to US for stoppage of such acts in the Pakistani territory. US ambassador in Pakistan, Cameron Munter was summoned in the Foreign Office and handed over a demarche on the drone attack in Dattakhel area of North Waziristan by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir. In retaliation to the US drone attacks Pakistan has also decided to pull out from the tri-lateral ministerial meeting (between Pakistan, US and Afghanistan), scheduled to be held on March 26, 2011. Earlier, it was planned from February 23-25 in Washington. Pakistan is also of the opinion that, "fundamentals of our relations need to be revisited." After all United States should not treat Pakistan as a client state. US should, "hold back those who have been trying to veer the Pakistan-US relationship away from the track." US ambassador has apparently acknowledged the Pakistani concern and promised to visit United States for a consultation with the Obama administration.
As per defence analyst, General Talat Masood (Retd), "the relationship between Pakistan and US is becoming very awkward and unsustainable in the way it is preceding in every aspect." The former Foreign Minister, Makhdom Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said in a conference that, "US drone attack in North Waziristan was a gift to the Pakistani nation," especially after the release of the Raymond Davis. On their part the people of Pakistan have strongly reacted against the drone attack as well as the release of the Raymond Davis. The head of the NWA Peace Committee, Malik Jalal Sarhadi Wazir has said that, US is indulging in to the "worst form of human rights violation." He said that US atrocities have compelled us to wage Jihad against it and also to take revenge for the atrocities on our tribesmen. They totally reject the presence of al Qaeda and Taliban in Fata.
According to Rahimullah Yusufzai, an analyst on the Pak-Afghan affairs, "Both sides need each other and both sides know it, so there won't be a break. But, there is no sincerity in the relationship, it is purely opportunistic. So things are bad and will be bad every step of the way." Pakistan feels that US should be equally responsive if a success is to be attained in the global war on terror. So far there has been one sided affair. Pakistan has done for the US what all it could do, even at the cost of its national interest. Now US must respect the independence and sovereignty of Pakistan. Its spying agency should not play the double game with Pakistan. However, authorities in Pakistan should safeguard the national interest of Pakistan, and secure the people's lives at least in our own country.
If every American (from President to man in street) was worried for the release of a murderer (Raymond), why we have forgiven him on so many accounts and allowed him an honourable exit. In the history of nations, sovereignty and independence are snatched if not respected by others. After all, could US invade or even interfere in the tiny Communist state of Cuba, situated next door to it?
—The writer is an International Relations analyst.
ROOTS OF JUDICIAL POPULISM
"Judges rule on the basis of law, not public opinion, and they should be totally indifferent to pressures of the times." Warren E. Burger (1907-1995), Chief Justice, US Supreme Court.
A good many number of suo moto actions and some of the judgments of the present Supreme Court seem to have undertones of judicial populism. Though the enthusiasm for such actions has somehow subsided but the memory of Supreme Court fixing the sugar price and playing to the tune of popular issues will remain fresh for too long. The roots of this judicial populism lie deep in the Restoration Movement itself. The July 20 judgment was termed, among other things, 'a people's verdict.' However, what made the judgment unusual are some of the objections still prevalent among those who support it and those who do not it. The most fatal objection is that all those processions, rallies and addresses were aimed at influencing the honorable court. The Chief Justice and his counsels should not have gone out to win the support of the people.
The rebuttal of this objection termed judiciary as B team of Pakistan Army, and by harnessing the popular support wanted to put pressure on it to act instead as A team of the people. Also it was argued that had lawyers and people at large not come out to the rescue of the Chief Justice he would not have survived civil and military manipulations. Fair enough, the popular pressure was not meant to influence the Court but the government which in Pakistan is notorious to intrigue its plans as it wishes. The movement did this job quite effectively. But in the heat of time, it was mis-understood and mis-interpretd as putting pressure on the Supreme Courts.
This took strength from late Justice Dorab Patel. At that time, he was quoted as justifying his role in the bench that validated the military takeover of General Zia-ul-Haque on the plea that 'how could a few judges stop the coup leader when a nation of 140 million remained silent.' This lends no support to justifying the lawyers' movement and the participation of civil society organizations, political and religious parties in it.
Does this prove that it was this movement that midwifed the birth of the July 20 judgment? It did, but in the eyes of only those who hold such a view. It is for those who are Dorabians and believe that without such a movement no such judgment could have issued forth from the full bench of the highest court of the country. This requires that they should not believe in the Constitution which clearly dismisses such military takeovers and prescribes the strictest punishment for its violators. It amounts to saying that the custodian of the Constitution, the judiciary, needs people's support to protect, defend and interpret the Constitution in accordance with the spirit and provisions of the Constitution. Without this support, the July 20 verdict could not be delivered. If it is so, and as it is projected it is so, it is most unfortunate for the supremacy of the constitution in Pakistan. In view of the above, the nature and meaning of the July 20 judgment justify the thinking that for all such cases of importance to be decided accordingly popular support will be needed. No popular support, no popular judgment. Or, if it could be worded like this: popular support ensures constitutional judgments. No popular support, no constitutional judgments. Thus, the ethos created by the judgment and mis-interpreted by all and sundry may appropriately be termed as Judicial Populism. Isn't it that what Justice Dorab Patel talked about?
This view is corroborated by the sheer absence of the view that judgments are made in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Whoever talks about the July 20 judgment, be he a common man or a journalist or a political or judicial analyst or for that matter an expert of law or a retired judge, in his populist enthusiasm bonds the judgment together with the lawyers' movement: that such a judgment was not possible without such a movement. Strangely, they admit that judges are human beings and are influenced by the circumstances prevailing outside the court; but in the same breath, they declare that they judge according to the relevant laws.
They are, in fact, in a vicious circle. They have no way out. Why? Because they do not want to acknowledge that their movement was a spontaneous outrage against an outrageous act of a dictator that was transformed into an organized movement later. The focus of their movement was the restoration of the Chief Justice, (and that too against the machinations of a formidable military government) and nothing else. It's evident that it exhausted itself the moment its goal was achieved. No doubt, their movement gave rise to slogans of utmost importance such as: independent judiciary; rule of law; supremacy of the constitution; and civilian democratic rule. However, along with it has emerged judicial populism also.
Coming back to the contention, it may be asked why the lawyers were afraid of losing the fight. Why did they resort to agitation? Why did they take to the popular support? Moreover, even now why do they and the representatives of civil society and intelligentsia justify the popular support for the court to deliver a constitutional judgment?
The truth in fact is that they did not trust the court, and they were justified in their mistrust of the court. The history of court's judgments in such matters has been disappointing. It appeared there was no Constitution; stage a coup and take a judgment of your choice. The courts were there to cook whatever was needed to be offered to the uniformed guests. With such a background, how can one trust the courts!
But, that's not all. The story needs to be retold. The man who inhabits the land of Pakistan has no moral values. He has no integrity of character. He is a man of flesh only. He is not a man of principle. He has no regard for the means; his ends justify his means. He has no conscience. In sum, the quality of man in Pakistan is at its lowest. How can then judges go beyond this state of affairs? Justice Dorab Patel admitted that. It is admitted even today by everyone. Judges whether retired or not argue like this: after all judges are human beings. This justifies every act of theirs. Does it? If 140 million people remain silent, how a handful of judges should stop the coup? Let me be a bit disobedient here: did 140 or 170 million people take oath of protecting the Constitution? No, lords, it were you who took the oath. So, it were you who defied their oath. It were you lords who did not protect the Constitution. It were you lords who lost their integrity. Not the people. You misled the people, and then blamed them.
My Lords, as is said, a judge does not need to be learned in the science of jurisprudence and the laws of the land; it is two lawyers, plaintiff's and defendant's, who teach him that; what is required of a judge is integrity of character.
MIDDLE EAST UPHEAVALS PRESENT HOPE AND DANGERS
THE WEST MUST STAY THE COURSE UNTIL GADDAFI IS GONE
AFTER weeks of policy paralysis over Libya, allied attacks on Gaddafi's air defences are a welcome development, and the hope must be that they will not cease until the murderous despot is driven from power. He has no legitimacy. He must go. And the allies must demonstrate their determination to act decisively in Libya as elsewhere.
Having finally bitten the bullet over Libya, far greater fortitude and resolution must be shown in dealing with the whirlwind of crises erupting across the Arab world. From the horrifying weekend bloodbath in the Yemen capital Sanaa to the brutal crackdown in Bahrain, base of the US Fifth Fleet so critical to the confrontation with Iran, the challenges to long-standing policies and presumptions are grave.
The once omnipotent King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has had to respond to rising protests among Shi'ites that are rocking the oil-rich eastern province close to Bahrain by offering tens of billions of dollars in handouts. Jordan's King Abdullah, another key Western ally, is trying to appease extremists including the Muslim Brotherhood by including stridently anti-Israeli elements in his new cabinet. Alarmingly, after years of refusing to do so, he may accept overtures from Iran.
The West cannot afford to vacillate, but it must be alert to the forces who would seize any opportunity to hijack legitimate demands for democratic reform. There can be no one-size-fits-all response to these evolving crises, though political repression, corruption and poverty is at their heart. The reality of Iranian subversion looms large, especially among Shi'ite communities, as it seeks to traduce the demonstrations and further its hegemonistic ambitions. Bahrain has long been coveted by Teheran as a 14th province. In Yemen, things are more complex than ousting dictatorial President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power for 32 years. Saleh is a bulwark against al-Qa'ida, led locally by the notorious Anwar al-Awlaki. Osama Bin Laden's former spiritual guide Abdul Majid al-Zindani is among the anti-Saleh protesters. How to support the legitimate demands of the demonstrators without opening new opportunities for extremism is the great diplomatic conundrum.
Egyptians, in a promising start after the Jasmine Revolution, went to the polls in a celebration of their new-won freedoms. But the ruling junta's new amity with Tehran has allowed Iranian warships through the Suez for the first time since 1979 to establish a base in Syria. And what does the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, now that the Mabahith security agency has been disbanded, and the free rein given smugglers and jihadists in the Sinai, portend? There should be no retreat from support for those clamouring for freedom and democracy. The same resolution and adaptability that governed the West's response to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe must be shown. The challenge is to offer that support while ensuring it doesn't open new opportunities for Iran and al-Qa'ida. Libya has shown that doing nothing is no answer. Staying the course and dealing decisively with Gaddafi is a test the allies must not fail. To do so would be a disaster for freedom and democracy across the Arab world.
END VACILLATING ON BOATPEOPLE
THE GOVERNMENT MUST SHOW LEADERSHIP OVER DETAINEES
DESTRUCTIVE violence by detainees on Christmas Island and inertia in processing asylum-seekers' applications are the end-products of more than three years of vacillating by the Rudd and Gillard governments over what to do about the unauthorised arrivals of boatpeople. In condemning the violence yesterday, Julia Gillard sounded unconvincing, again failing to show any real resolve about addressing either the immediate problems on Christmas Island or the underlying issue of stopping the boats. Nor does the prospect of scaling back the operation on Christmas Island offer much promise of being a circuit-breaker.
Since November 2007, Labor has been torn between competing imperatives of border security, the arguments of the human rights lobby, which would put out the welcome mat to boatpeople, and broader public opinion, which favours a much firmer approach. In trying to be all things to all people -- tough but fair, firm but compassionate -- the government has found itself in no-man's land.
From a humanitarian point of view, it is hardly compassionate to stick with policies that have failed to discourage thousands of people from risking their lives and those of their children on a treacherous sea voyage. For those who make it to Australia, the average time spent in detention has almost tripled to 214 days since the government temporarily suspended visa-processing for Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum-seekers last year. That move, not renewed, proved an abject failure at stopping the boats, with more than 3200 new boatpeople arriving during the second half of last year.
The damage to the Christmas Island centre, built by taxpayers at a cost of $400 million, is extensive. In addition to moving an extra 70 Australian Federal Police to the island at great expense, the government needs to deal effectively with those rioting. Criminal violence should never be tolerated, and if such acts were committed by other immigration applicants, they would be refused entry. Rather than promising to take the violence into account in processing asylum-seekers' applications, the government should make it clear that those who have rampaged through the centre hurling rocks and missiles, burned down facilities and crashed through fences are barred. As well as repatriating those who engaged in criminal acts and deterring others from doing so, such a move would free up waiting times by striking several hundred people out of the queues.
Australia has shown a generous forbearance towards boatpeople, allowing most of the 10,000 arrivals in recent years to remain. It now emerges that the government has agreed to pay more than$500,000 to repatriate the bodies of 22 victims of the shipwreck off Christmas Island in December to their own countries for traditional burials, at the wishes of their next of kin. We note that when Australians die overseas, normal practice is for the families of the deceased to arrange and pay for the repatriation of remains.
Compassion would be better spent by doubling or trebling the nation's refugee intake. Refugees have made a positive contribution to Australia's economic and civic life and they are welcome. But an orderly program must be restored, and quickly, before public confidence is further eroded . The government must stop acting like a hapless bystander and assert some leadership.
TIME TO REVIVE THE INTERVENTION
BIPARTISAN AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT IS ESSENTIAL TO PROGRESS
TONY Abbott's offer of bipartisan support for a reinvigorated Northern Territory intervention is a constructive proposal that the Gillard government should take seriously. The fraught process initiated in the last months of the Howard government and backed by Labor has made some progress in reducing infant mortality and improving education and nutrition through income management, but much more remains to be done. Violent crime, sexual attacks, substance abuse, homelessness, truancy and lack of services have worsened considerably in some areas. Fresh thinking and fresh resolve is urgently required.
The Opposition Leader, Julia Gillard and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin agree that Aboriginal communities, families and individuals must take greater responsibility for helping themselves attain equality. Mr Abbott believes the movement of people from remote settlements into larger towns has exacerbated conditions that would not be acceptable in any coastal city or town in Australia.
There are no short cuts or easy options. Law and order must be restored. Violence must be punished and liquor licensing laws must be enforced as a first step. Beyond that lies the enormous task of rebuilding communities and lives. Bipartisan support will pave the way.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
NSW LABOR'S LAST STAND
LABOR'S final ''campaign launch'' of the state election has hit a desultory note, with the Premier, Kristina Keneally, bravely talking to an audience of old faithfuls at the Wests Leagues Club at Leumeah in south-western Sydney, as party unity disintegrates around them and the public seems to have largely switched off.
Not even the energy and charm of the Premier can disguise the paucity of ideas now coming out of Labor. If, as she says, next Saturday's vote is a ''choice between two views of what NSW will be in the future'' she has painted only a vague picture of what the state might be if by some miracle her government is returned.
Her strongest policy pitch is in education, offering more opportunity class and selective high school places, an exercise that comes against the background of a study, revealed in the Herald on Saturday, about how resources in the $13.6 billion state education budget might be rejigged. The struggling families that Labor seeks to champion might wonder how this further investment in educational elitism is going to be financed, and at what cost elsewhere in the school system.
The promise of more ''highly accomplished teachers'' to be inserted into schools in disadvantaged areas extends a program still essentially in the trial stage, with no guarantee it is the right approach to achieve a lift in the standards and status of the teaching profession.
But the main message at this point of the campaign is a negative one. Barry O'Farrell's small target is the target. Keneally warns of the danger of giving the Opposition Leader a ''big blank cheque'' to do what he likes after a sweeping win. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who turned up to do her duty by the party, echoed the blank cheque theme. ''This great state deserves a government that cares, that cares about services and cares about families, that cares about fairness,'' Gillard declared.
She is right, of course, which is why NSW Labor is so on the nose. The party is widely perceived to have sold out to big developers where it is not in thrall to public sector unions, while neglecting the services and infrastructure needed by ordinary families. Keneally has not shown that she gets this. Indeed, right down to the closing weeks of Labor's term, her government deepened that perception, first with the shabby prorogation of Parliament after the electricity sell-off, then with the last-minute planning rule switches to get Barangaroo out of a legal challenge.
As Keneally stands resolutely on the bridge, it has been a desperate rush to the lifeboats behind her.
AN END IN LIBYA, OR JUST THE START?
ONCE again, Western powers have embarked on a military intervention in the Arab world. The swift response to the United Nations resolution on Friday, authorising a no-fly zone over Libya, is to be applauded. This time, the US and Britain are also backed by France, whose refusal to join their invasion of Iraq eight years ago, without UN sanctions, triggered their contempt. More crucially the Arab League, nettled by Muammar Gaddafi's pitiless rampage against his own people, has endorsed the flight exclusion zone. So the main worry now is where this ''very difficult and complex military operation'', as the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, calls it, goes from here.
By launching some of the first strikes with British and American cruise missiles against Libya's air defence systems along its Mediterranean coast, the allies can police the no-fly zone more assuredly. But the mission now gets more complicated. Most of Libya's 6 million people live in towns and cities adjacent to the coast. UN resolution 1973 allows considerable scope, including ''all necessary measures'', to defend civilians, short of a foreign occupation force. The most pressing challenge is now to stop Gaddafi's ground forces from overwhelming Benghazi, the rebels' main stronghold in eastern Libya.
To achieve this without inflicting further harm on the civilians the allies have set out to save may be asking the impossible. A stray American, British or French bomb landing on a school would play vigorously to Gaddafi's propaganda machine. It took just hours from the operation's launch for Libyan state television to show pictures yesterday of people allegedly injured in the first air strikes near Tripoli, the capital.
Based on experience from Iraq and Bosnia, critics of no-fly zones as military strategy point to both their limitations and risks. They limit the West's capacity for putting an end to horrors being perpetrated on the ground; and they can then become the first stage of a more extensive military involvement.
But another Middle East war, after the Iraq imbroglio, would find little support in America for now. The cautious response by the President, Barack Obama, to the Libya operation, compared with the more gung-ho one from David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, suggests America this time may be happy to take more of a supporting role to an essentially European-led mission.
Despite their lengthy strategic involvements in the Middle East, Western governments have been caught short by the rapid changes rocking the region. Even if their response to the Libya crisis sparks Gaddafi's downfall, as we must hope, many uncertainties still lie ahead.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
GAY SLUR CASTS A SHADOW ON US ALL
AUSTRALIANS like to think that they live in a broadly tolerant society, and broadly it is true. The various statutes that once restricted immigration on the basis of race, or entrenched discrimination on the basis of gender, or criminalised the private lives of those whose orientation was not heterosexual, have long ago been repealed. And in many, perhaps most, parts of the country, the attitudes that permitted such legal discrimination are long dead, too. But it is evidently not so everywhere.
Earlier this month the gay American novelist Armistead Maupin and his partner Chris Turner were in Alice Springs, where they visited one of the town's better-known restaurants, Bojangles Saloon. When Turner asked if he could use the men's room, he was directed to a public toilet across the street. The barman told him that Bojangle's facilities were ''reserved for real men''.
The consequences were unsurprising, except perhaps to the barman. Maupin and Turner reported his comments to Tourism Central Australia, and in an interview with local ABC radio. They received a flood of messages from sympathisers outraged by the barman's behaviour and, via Tourism Central Australia, an apology from Bojangles' management. Maupin was magnanimous: ''The reaction was quite extraordinary and took the bad taste out of our mouths … As a gay man I look on this as progress.''
Yes, it is progress. Many Australians over 50 can remember a time when apologies for such remarks would either have been refused or made with extreme reluctance, even to internationally celebrated writers; it was a time when such incidents were as likely to happen in Melbourne or Sydney as in Alice Springs. That they can still happen at all, however, is reason to ask whether Australia is in fact as tolerant as we perhaps too complacently imagine it to be.
How many people who are not international celebrities, and thus much less likely to come to the attention of tourist authorities or the media, are able to tell similar stories? And are they as likely to happen in the capital cities as in places like Alice Springs? After all, Alice Springs, despite its robust self-image as a tough frontier settlement, is no small town. It has a diverse population, many of whom came from larger towns or cities, and is not entirely unrepresentative of the wider Australia. The story of what happened there to Armistead Maupin and Chris Turner is a reminder that prejudice sometimes dies slowly, and that it takes more than changes in the law to overcome it.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
LIBYA'S REBELS NOW HAVE A FIGHTING CHANCE
MUAMMAR GADDAFI'S DOWNFALL, HOWEVER, IS NOT YET ASSURED.
LIBYAN dictator Muammar Gaddafi's reaction to the beginning of international military action against his regime has been utterly predictable. On Friday, after the UN Security Council authorised the action, he called off his onslaught on Benghazi and other rebel strongholds, announcing a ceasefire. Within 24 hours his forces had violated that ceasefire, while accusing the rebels of shooting first. And, shortly after, when French aircraft attacked tanks near Benghazi and US and British ships launched cruise missiles against the regime's command and control centres, Gaddafi's spokesmen condemned these attacks as barbarous, claiming that there had been civilian casualties. No details were given, but if civilians have died or been injured it is very likely because ''volunteers'' have been moved into the vicinity of military bases and Colonel Gaddafi's own presidential compound, and because the regime's armoured columns have been ordered into built-up areas where they are close to schools and hospitals as well as being more elusive targets.
Gaddafi's willingness to use his own people as human shields is further evidence of his ruthlessness, just as his increasingly wild and contradictory rhetoric testifies to his fragile grip on reality. He has both labelled the US and European forces arrayed against him as crusaders, in the hope of garnering Islamist sympathies, while also portraying himself, in an appeal to US President Barack Obama, as the West's stalwart Muslim ally in Africa against al-Qaeda. That message was sent within 24 hours of a speech in which he vowed retribution against Western nations that attacked Libya, including the destruction of airliners.
It may be tempting to compare these increasingly bizarre utterances with the final ravings of another notorious dictator who died in his bunker. But though Colonel Gaddafi is now beleaguered it is far from clear that the end of his regime is imminent. The military operation that the international coalition has begun is necessary if the Libyan people are to be spared the worst that he can unleash against them, and if the rebels are to have any hope of avoiding defeat in the civil war. But more than that it cannot do. As Mr Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have all recognised, Colonel Gaddafi's regime must be removed if Libya is to enjoy the freedoms that its Arab neighbours Egypt and Tunisia have recently won. But all three leaders are equally, and rightly, adamant that they will abide by the constraints placed on the intervention by the terms of the UN Security Council resolution and the rebels' plea for help, both of which exclude the use of foreign ground troops. Libya's people must free themselves.
The most the international coalition can offer them is the kind of protection that NATO's air forces gave the Kosovars in their struggle against Serbian troops in 1999. That intervention was ultimately successful, but its goals were not achieved quickly and at times seemed unlikely to be attained at all. The exercise spawned debates about the limitations of air power, and anguish when the difficulties of identifying targets from aircraft travelling at high speeds and altitudes resulted in Kosovars being bombed by mistake. Colonel Gaddafi, even in his least lucid moments, is no doubt aware of that history, as the regime's resort to the use of human shields has shown.
The weekend's attacks are therefore merely the beginning of the coalition's task, which may be a long one and is not assured of success, even though the aircraft, missiles and surveillance technology available to it are improvements on those used by NATO in 1999, and vastly superior to the Soviet-era weaponry of Colonel Gaddafi's forces. The difficulties and risks of the intervention are considerable; they do not, however, outweigh the need for it.
IN PRAISE OF… NOWRUZ
As western nations celebrate the coming of spring, other cultures are observing an ancient festival of renewal
In western cultures, today is the spring equinox – the long-awaited moment that marks the end of winter, when the days begin to stretch out noticeably and the nights to shrink. But in countries and cultures across the Middle East and central Asia, notably Iran, 21 March is Nowruz (or Nawroz, in Kurdish, or Norouz or Nauroz or several other variant spellings that shift from city to city across Asia), the ancient festival of the new year. Like Easter in countries with a Christian tradition, the religious and the pagan have merged into a single anniversary marked with symbols of new life, such as decorated eggs and spring flowers. In Iran, where it is associated with Zoroastrianism, celebrants jump over bonfires to mark the victory of light over darkness, and the ash of the fires is buried in the fields in a marriage of fire and earth. Tables are set with symbols of wealth, health and happiness, and also goldfish in a bowl to signify life within life. In pre-Islamic days, according to the great Persian poet Omar Khayyam, the first greeting of the day to the king was for "wisdom, insight and sagacity". Festivals only endure when they are capable of reinvention. So in Kurdish culture, where Nawroz is a reminder of victory over the murderous tyrant Zuhak, it is celebrated from Istanbul to the beaches of California as both national independence day and an emblem of resistance. It is a promise that release from the burden of winter will one day be accompanied by freedom from political oppression too.
LIBYA: SHIFTING SANDS
The tension between the responsibility to protect civilians and helping rebels to oust a tyrant will only grow in the coming days
Air Vice-Marshal Osborn said yesterday his commanders were "entirely comfortable" with the missile strikes on Libya. Amr Moussa, the outgoing secretary general of the Arab League, for one, was not. Calling an emergency meeting one day after attending the first gathering of the coalition in Paris, Mr Moussa said that he agreed to the protection of civilians, not the bombardment of more civilians. The support of the Arab League is central to the claim by David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama that the operation has regional support. This supposedly makes it different from Iraq in 2003. Dr Liam Fox, the defence secretary, went further. He said active Arab participation in the no-fly zone made it clear to the Arab street that the attack on Libya was an attack on a tyrant, not the Arab world. Mr Moussa's statement throws that ambition into doubt. A strong Arab League statement pushed the UN security council to act with speed, so the criticism could be levelled: what did it expect?
Not a full-scale assault on Gaddafi's army, which is what it got. Mr Moussa's reaction is a reminder of the political limits of a resolution designed to save civilian lives. This is an inherently defensive concept. The tension between the responsibility to protect civilians and helping rebels to oust a tyrant will only grow in the coming days. The first blows in the campaign were a purely western affair. French Mirage jets shot up an armoured column south of Benghazi and the assault on the city was routed. Cruise missiles fired from US and British ships, submarines and aircraft destroyed radar, communications and air defence sites. Weeks of bloody urban fighting in Benghazi may have been prevented by the French action, although it could equally be argued that a speedy UN resolution may have precipitated a push into built-up areas, which provided Gaddafi's columns cover from the air.
As the military pendulum swings back into the favour of the rebels, calculations will change. Gaddafi's forces will be thrown back into defending Tripoli. Civilians could rise up against the tyrant and all would then be over. It would be good if that happened. But if they stand and fight, what then? Will French Mirages and British Typhoons be used like Nato air cover in Afghanistan, to knock out loyalist positions attempting to hold off a rebel advance? How does a responsibility to protect civilian life work in the circumstances where Gaddafi loyalists are defending their patch and the rebels are standing outside at the gates? The rationale of the resolution would then be to enforce a ceasefire, but that would mean keeping Gaddafi in power.
Before the UN vote, a key part was played by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state. The hand-wringing in the White House stopped when she changed sides in the debate, abandoning Robert Gates, the defence secretary, and joining Samantha Power, a senior aide at the national security council, and Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations. Ms Rice was an African specialist and adviser to Bill Clinton when the US failed to intervene to stop the genocide in Rwanda. The genocide occurred within a week of the US withdrawal from Somalia, and no one at the time in Washington advocated a US military intervention. What then happened in Rwanda strengthened her determination to be more active in conflict prevention and resolution: "I would rather be alone and a loud voice for action than be silent," she later told National Public Radio.
Libya is no Rwanda. It soon morphed from a rebellion into a civil war and the outcome is far from certain. One thing is clear. No partner in this coalition wants to assume the leadership of fighting this campaign. The Americans are hiding behind the Europeans, and both are using the Arab League as cover. But whether they like it or not, each country involved will bear responsibility for how this ends. It may not be pretty.
MANIFESTO COMMITMENTS: STAYING TRUE TO YOUR WORD
Coalition may require compromise - but manifestos are the better defence for electors than the issuing of blank cheques
It's a charge that echoes in the ears of Dominic Carman, the defeated Liberal Democrat candidate in the Barnsley Central byelection: "How can you say one thing, then do another? You're absolute liars." The change of heart on tuition fees was one of the main offences complained of, but Lib Dem endorsement of what they had earlier denounced as "economic masochism" rankled too. It's a challenge whose reverberations go well beyond Barnsley, especially when the nation is contemplating a change in the voting system that could make coalition the norm.
Where does coalition, which necessitates compromise between parties, leave the doctrine of manifesto and mandate, a staple ingredient of British elections? The process implies a bargain. Vote for us, politicians promise, and here's what we will do. It also helps politicians who, when in trouble over some policy, can reply: it was in our manifesto; the country voted us in; therefore we have a mandate. Mr Carman's assailants seemed to assume that these rules still applied, ignoring the classic Lib Dem defence – as defined by Vince Cable during the clamour over tuition fees – that a coalition agreement trumps commitments made in the manifesto. The Conservatives are having to say the same thing to their disgruntled supporters.
The issue is all the more pertinent because coalition often produces unexpected alliances. Academic analysis shows how true this was of the 2010 election. The programme the Liberal Democrats put to the country was closer to Labour's than to the Conservatives'. Nor will the question go away if first past the post is maintained. The fracturing of the two-party dominance makes indecisive electoral outcomes more likely. An electoral system that 60 years ago entrusted the two biggest parties with 89% of the votes and 99% of the seats gave them in 2010 a mere 65% of the votes and produced the kind of hung parliament against which majoritarian electoral systems are a defence.
The coalition agreement incorporated four of the Liberal Democrats' most cherished commitments (on taxation, pupil premiums, localism and political reform) and four Conservative "red lines" (on immediate cuts in the deficit, defence, immigration and Europe). Maybe manifestos in Coalitionland will need to make explicit distinctions between general aspirations and commitments the parties refuse to surrender. Manifestos may be long and tedious, and those assumed to endorse them will, more often than not, never have read them. But for all its flaws, the tradition of manifesto and mandate is a better defence for electors than the issuing of virtual blank cheques.
THE JAPAN TIMES
Can tourism become a force for economic growth? The Japanese government hopes so, making tourism, including medical tourism, one pillar of its new growth strategy adopted last summer.
On March 8, plans were announced for raising the share of tourism-related revenues in Japan's GDP from 2 percent in 2009 to between 3 and 3.9 percent by 2016. By comparison, Austria had a "tourism GDP" of 5.4 percent in 2007; New Zealand, 4.1 percent (2008); France, 3.7 percent (2007); and Britain, 3.4 percent (2007).
On Jan. 26, the Japan Tourism Agency set a target of 11 million inbound visitors in 2011, after missing its goal of 10 million for 2010. According to the Japan National Tourist Organization, a record 8.61 million foreign tourists came to Japan last year, largely from other Asian countries. The largest number came from South Korea — 2.43 million (an increase of 53.8 percent over the previous year) — followed by China at 1.41 million (up 40.5 percent) and Taiwan at 1.26 million (up 23.8 percent). The number of U.S. tourists rose 3.9 percent to 720,000; 180,000 tourists came from Britain, and 150,000 from France.
Beyond traditional tourist spending, the aim is to increase Japan's soft power to heighten the Japanese "brand" in areas like sports, fashion and medicine. In medical tourism particularly, Japan lags far behind other Asian countries such as Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. In January a new visa allowing foreigners to enter Japan for medical stays was established, and in fiscal 2012, the health ministry plans to introduce a system for certifying hospitals as qualified to treat foreign patients.
The Development Bank of Japan sees a potential for 430,000 medical tourists by 2020, a market worth ¥550 billion. Already, according to the Yomiuri newspaper, the Raffles Medical Group of Singapore plans to build a large facility near JR Osaka station to provide medical services to wealthy individuals from China, Russia and other countries.
Such efforts constitute a promising avenue for moving beyond manufacturing in a new borderless world. However, "Man proposes, God disposes," and it remains to be seen how serious a blow the Tohoku-Kanto earthquake, tsunami and unfolding nuclear plant crisis have dealt to the new efforts.
THE JAPAN TIMES
POST-QUAKE RISK TO THE ECONOMY
The value of the yen steeply rose against the U.S. dollar last week when the stock market was in the doldrums — the Nikkei Average Index fell below 9,000. On Thursday, the yen shot past the record ¥79.75 to the dollar set in April 1995, peaking near ¥76. Joint market intervention on Friday by Japan, the United States and Europe somewhat helped to alleviate pressure on the yen.
It is believed that speculative investors bought the yen thinking that Japanese insurers and exporters would dispose of overseas assets and convert them into yen to pay costs of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Given the damage caused by the natural disaster and the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s No. 1 Fukushima nuclear power plant, the yen was expected to fall against the dollar; instead, the reverse happened.
A steep rise in the value of the yen will inevitably weaken the competitiveness of Japanese exporters, contribute to the hollowing out of Japanese industries and cost employment opportunities in Japan. The government and the Bank of Japan should take necessary additional actions promptly to prevent speculative investors from ruining the Japanese economy.
Up until the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese economy had been on a path of recovery. The disaster not only affected production activities in the affected region but also hampered product distribution.
Carmakers were forced to temporarily stop factory operations nationwide because of the difficulty in getting parts. Other manufacturers face a similar situation. Rolling electric power outages by TEPCO, to cope with the power generation crisis, has further complicated the situation for manufacturers.
Facing competition from manufacturers of emerging economies, Japanese carmakers and electronics makers are trying to move their production bases overseas. A strong yen will accelerate this move. Midsize and small enterprises that do not have overseas factories will be forced to cut back on production, which will lead to higher unemployment. The government should further deepen cooperation and coordination with developed and emerging economies so that the Japan's economy does not stall.
THE JAPAN TIMES
BUILDING A HAPPY SOCIETY MEANS JUNKING GDP MYTH
The mass media in Japan have played up the news of China's gross domestic product exceeding, in U.S. dollar terms, Japan's to become the second largest economy in the world after the United States.
The Chinese figure would be twice as large, far exceeding Japan and coming close to the the U.S. if converted by purchasing power parity instead of by the current exchange rate, which largely undervalues the renminbi.
As there are roughly 10 times more people in China than in Japan, China's per capita GDP is 10 percent of Japan's if figured by the exchange rate and a mere 20 percent by purchasing power parity.
In 1968, Japan's GDP surpassed that of West Germany to become the second largest economy after the U.S. This was the culmination of endeavors made by corporations and citizens of Japan in the years immediately after World War II (1945) with the slogan "catching up with and surpassing" the advanced nations of North America and Western Europe in economic activity.
Yet, the per capita GDP of Japan was only about a half of West Germany's because Japan's population outnumbered West Germany's by almost 2 to 1. In real terms, though, what Japan accomplished at that time was worthy of note in view of the fact that the exchange rate at the time was fixed at ¥360 to the U.S. dollar.
Japanese citizens worked hard indeed during each of the four periods into which Japan's postwar economic history is divided: reconstruction from 1945 to 1956, rapid expansion from 1958 to 1973, the oil crisis from 1975 to 1990, and the economic slowdown after 1990. They worked hard to expand the nation's GDP, whether they were aware of it or not.
In December 1960, Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda announced his "income doubling plan" aimed at doubling national income, which is nearly equivalent to GDP, in the coming 10 years. The plan was like putting the cart before the horse in a sense that it is aimed not at making individual citizens affluent but at enriching the nation.
Those living in urban areas in Japan have long been forced to live in much smaller spaces than in other countries because of high land prices, travel time to and from work of more than two hours a day, and long hours of overtime. They have thus put up with what many Westerners would consider to be "poor living conditions."
The Japanese took it for granted that individuals would become affluent if the nation was enriched by growing GDP. This is in stark contrast with the widely accepted axiom in the West — that the nation becomes affluent only when its individual citizens become so.
Every time the government announces a preliminary report on quarterly GDP, it makes top news on TV news programs and in evening newspapers. I know of no country where GDP is so revered as in Japan. Some people in Japan oppose the introduction of the environment tax, arguing that it would impede GDP growth. Aside from the question of whether such an argument is right or wrong, most Japanese tacitly share the notion that a decline in the GDP growth rate would bring misfortune to individual citizens.
The Chinese government undoubtedly is very proud of the nation's achievement of surpassing Japan and becoming the No. 2 economy after the U.S. in the GDP race. As with Japan, individualism, one of the basic social traits in modern nations of the West, has not permeated China. Becoming the second largest economy in the world does not by any means mean that individual Chinese citizens have become affluent.
On the contrary, rapid economic expansion has exacerbated income disparity to an enormous extent as common people suffer from high inflation. Most of the increase in total income has gone into the pockets of people in the upper 20 percent of the income brackets and has not trickled down to the poorest. What happened in the U.S. since the 1990s has been repeated in China.
GDP is nothing more than a simple yardstick to measure economic performance. In North America and Europe, greater emphasis is placed on reducing unemployment than on achieving GDP growth. Efforts should be directed toward building a society free of inflation with minimal unemployment and without income disparity — where each individual feels "happy" and the environment is protected.
GDP is the total sum of household, corporate and governmental expenditures plus net exports (exports minus imports). Or, it can be described as the combined total of personal and corporate incomes or the total of values added in corporate production activities. It is obvious, therefore, that GDP does not take into account such factors as environmental protection, the happiness of citizens, income disparity and the unemployment rate.
Affluence and happiness don't mean the same. A happy society is where:
• Nobody feels rejected. Most unemployed people are willing to work but have been rejected from work. Therefore, a society with a low employment rate is desirable.
• Nobody is excluded from medical, educational and other public services.
• Every citizen truly feels that he or she "participates" in national politics.
• Society is sustainable.
• Members of society are able to enjoy a beautiful environment. Let us all work toward building such a society.
Takamitsu Sawa is president of Shiga University, Hikone.
THE JAPAN TIMES
U.S. GESTURE WOULD REDUCE RISKS POSED BY WEAK KAN GOVERNMENT
BY TOM PLATE
LOS ANGELES — It was a perfect (if quiet) storm in the tense triangular relationship among Beijing, Tokyo and Washington, but with all the noise coming from North Africa and the Middle East, hardly anyone noticed three developments.
The first one involved China. President Barack Obama pulled Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, a quiet Chinese-American, out of his Cabinet and re-assigned him to Beijing to replace former Republican Utah Gov. John Huntsman, who is considering a run for the White House.
Huntsman's resignation as America's ambassador to Beijing is effective April 30. Locke, with his West Coast perspective on international issues, was a good quick substitute pick. It might even prove a net plus.
So far, so good, but then Japan had an announcement to make, too. America's closest ally across the Pacific offered up a new foreign minister: the ultra-cautious Takeaki Matsumoto.
Seiji Maehara, though intellectually refined, was forced to step down in the muck of yet another only-in-Tokyo campaign financing mess. It's hard to see how this one is a net plus.
Matsumoto's first headache will be to cope with increasing Japanese public apprehension over China's military buildup. Lately Beijing and Tokyo have been circling each other in the East China Sea as warily as Siamese fighting fish in a tiny fishbowl. If they keep poking their noses at one another's circling ships, planes and helicopters, something is going to have to give.
Then, as if this weren't enough, Washington offered up a third shock. The U.S. State Department had to publicly sack Kevin Maher as head of its Japanese affairs office for some bizarre and exceptionally politically incorrect observations about the alleged character deficiencies of Japanese citizens in Okinawa.
Okinawa is the big festering toothache in the Japanese-U.S. alliance. This southernmost island of Japan has been virtually an American military colony for six decades. It's where U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, with no less than 17,000 marines of the 3rd Marine Division, sits controversially against the will of local public opinion.
It would be a sign of respect if the Obama administration would move them elsewhere, unconditionally. Maher's unauthorized but hurtful comments offer us that opportunity anew.
The three changes surfaced independently, of course, but underneath that surface is an unnerving swirl of worry about China's rise and Japan's decline. In different ways, both trends could combine into a security threat to the United States, which remains the leading military power in the Asia-Pacific region — and wishes to remain so for the foreseeable future.
Japan is already alarmed about China and has issued yet another warning that it is not to be trifled with in the seas around the long-disputed islands of Senkaku, which has suddenly become one of the globe's top hot spots. Beijing, which also claims the island (as Diaoyu), has been brushing ships and helicopters up against the Japanese to test their resolve.
Once that of a marshmallow, the Japanese resolve has suddenly become dangerously firm. The reason is domestic political weakness in the Kan government. Any unanswered provocation would almost certainly cause the Democratic Party of Japan government to fall. It is usually the case that governments are most dangerous when they are weakest. That is the the case in Tokyo right now.
Amid these uncertainties, the one move Washington could make to help would be to bow to Okinawan sentiment and accept the Japanese wish for the marines to be moved elsewhere. That is the real lesson of the Maher incident. It is sad that so few in Washington understand what it means to be a true friend and ally.
Weak as the Kan government is, it would become immeasurably stronger domestically overnight if Obama were to extend the largess of a withdrawal of some of our forces as a gesture of respect to our most important ally in Asia. Even relocated on a U.S. base on the West Coast, our marines would be available as a strike force in plenty of time.
No matter what Obama decides about Japan and Okinawa, the Chinese military buildup will proceed apace. It is its national right to have the armaments it believes necessary for its security. Centuries of pushy exploitation by European powers, not to mention by Japan, have not eased its buildup mentality.
This is why withdrawing our marines from Okinawa would not only cement our friendship with Japan but also send a positive signal to those in Beijing who argue (against their military) that America may be a hegemon but that it is not an aggressive one.
And it would be one heckuva opening message for new Ambassador Locke to bring with him when he presents his credentials as the new U.S. ambassador to Beijing.
American journalist Tom Plate is the Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University, the largest Catholic University on the U.S. West Coast. His most recent book "Conversations With Mahathir Mohamad" is the second best-seller in the "Giants of Asia" series. © 2011 Pacific Perspectives Media Center
THE JAPAN TIMES
MAHATHIR EXPRESSES CONDOLENCES TO JAPAN
BY MAHATHIR MOHAMAD
Condolences and sympathies seem inadequate to express one's sorrow over what has happened to the tsunami-struck people in the town and cities of northeastern Japan.
The pictures in the newspapers and the video-clips cannot depict the terror and the fears of those who perished in the worst tsunami to strike Japan or any other country in the world, the agony of those who survive only to learn of the loss of families, friends and neighbors, and the horror at the massive destruction wrought on cities, towns and villages that only moments before sheltered innocent people, untroubled by fears of such a catastrophe.
We do not know yet the number of people killed or missing, but certainly it must be very large and we grieve for them. May they rest in peace. I extend my condolences to the surviving members of the families of those lost.
And I pray that those who are missing will be found, hopefully alive. In this I am certain that all Malaysians join with me in expressing their sorrow and sadness over this unprecedented catastrophe.
The Japanese people are known for their capacity to endure tragedies from the natural disasters that often befall their country. Although this catastrophe might seem too much for them to bear, I feel sure in time that they will be able to overcome their sorrows and rebuild the devastated towns and countryside. They have the sympathy and support of the whole world. Certainly Malaysians share their sorrows in this moment of their trial.
As if the earthquake and the tsunami are not enough, there is now the threat posed by the explosions at the nuclear power plants. At a time when many are planning to build such power plants, this tragedy has befallen the pioneers in the peaceful exploitation of nuclear power.
We cannot but be reminded of the sufferings of the Japanese people from the only deployment of nuclear weapons in anger. Now a nuclear tragedy has struck the Japanese again.
It is sad that it is again the Japanese people who must show the world the dangers of using fissile material about which our knowledge is inadequate, especially with regard to the necessary safety measures in the event of damage and leakages that can unleash harmful radiation into the environment.
No doubt we will learn more about the management of nuclear power. But it is sad that it takes such a terrible tragedy for us to learn about the dangers that nuclear power plants still pose and to realize the importance of correct locations.
I pray and hope that the radiation will not cause more tragedies to the Japanese people and indeed to people far from the site of the disaster.
The people of Malaysia owe a lot to Japan and the Japanese. At the time of this tragedy and trial, our hearts go out to the unfortunate victims in Sendai and the coastal areas around it. I am glad that the Malaysian government has offered to send rescue teams to work with those in Japan.
I feel sure that the people who have lost family and friends and property will be helped to rebuild their lives, and I hope and pray that they will be spared such horrors in the future.
May I express my condolences to the bereaved families and may you overcome your trials and tribulations to rise again as the great people of a great country.
Mahathir Mohamad is a former prime minister of Malaysia.
THE JAKARTA POST
The military air strikes targeting forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi on Saturday may have been inevitable, but the international community is left with the uneasy question of how far it should interfere in an internal conflict in a United Nations member country.
The UN Security Council, which sanctioned the air strikes, must also ask itself what is the end game of this action? Would it accept a defeat on the part of the rebels, with all the inevitable horrible consequences for civilians, or would it go all the way to support the rebels' cause to end Qaddafi's rein of terror?
These are questions for which there are no easy answers.
Any decent nation would support the Security Council resolution on Friday authorizing "all measures necessary" to stop the killing of Libyan civilians. The resolution went much further than the original modest plan to impose a no fly-zone over Libya; the idea then being to stop Qadaffi from using his air force to bomb towns that had been taken over by rebels and help level the playing field of this conflict.
In spite of declaring a cease-fire in the wake of the resolution, Qaddafi deployed the full might of his ground forces to try to drive the rebels out, particularly in the eastern city of Benghazi, the most important rebel stronghold. Armed with the resolution, France, Britain and the United States launched missile air strikes from the Mediterranean Sea.
It was imperative that the weekend military action has the support of Arab countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, in order to defuse Qaddafi's inevitable claim that he was waging a holy Islamic war against the West.
The United Nations reluctantly, but firmly, became engaged in the Libyan conflict due to Qaddafi's own actions. The resolution was passed with 10 members of the Security Council voting for it. The other five, including China, Russia and Germany, abstained.
Military intervention, even on the pretext of humanitarian reasons, is easy, but it raises complications and it certainly created a precedent. Would the Security Council, for example, issue a similar resolution to deal with equally brutal oppression, admittedly on smaller scales, committed by other Arab regimes such as Bahrain or Iran? What about Myanmar?
How the conflict evolves in the next few days or weeks will tell us whether the United Nations had been right in taking on the responsibility to protect civilians in Libya.
THE JAKARTA POST
Amid the horror and empathy Indonesians evinced for Japanese people this week, the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant proved to be an education for many here.
Perhaps for the first time since they discarded their textbooks, Indonesians had to face uncommon words such as "radiation", "meltdown" and "fallout".
Suddenly, the word Chernobyl rekindled memories of nuclear nightmares in the minds of many people as they tried to understand the human impact of our most powerful — and perilous — scientific advance.
This episode should rightly renew the debate on the use of nuclear power in Indonesia.
We must not forget that nuclear energy is inevitable for Indonesia — a country that seven years ago was struck by the worst tsunami in recent history and has since been afflicted by several natural disasters.
The government's outlook requires Indonesia to triple its electricity output over the next 15 years, 5 percent of which should come from nuclear and renewable energy sources.
Though we are somewhat sceptical of the target given ineffective government administration and policy implementation, Indonesia's first nuclear power plant — an 18,000-megawatt station in Bangka Belitung — is due to be completed by 2022.
While Thailand and the Philippines have hastily suspended their nuclear reactor projects in the wake of the Fukushima crisis, officials in Jakarta have maintained that Indonesia will continue in its nuclear ambitions. And rightly so!
With the project still in its feasibility phase, informed public deliberation is needed to assess the suitability of nuclear energy for Indonesia. We should not succumb to naive paranoia that holds that all nuclear energy is bad. Yes, the perils are dear — but all options should be evaluated.
Our demands for energy have multiplied due to our individual needs to progress and develop. If we as citizens cannot attenuate our thirst for energy, then we cannot simply brush aside potential alternatives based on fear.
Fukushima should alert, educate and raise awareness on the potential hazards of nuclear energy — a fact that most here are either wholly ignorant of, or simply cannot be bothered with.
We must not be modest in our assessment of potential human errors and nor can we rely too much on technological to ensure safety. Since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the International Atomic Energy Agency has recorded over 800 significant leaks in nuclear power plants. It must be noted that almost all these incidents occurred in countries far more superior technologically and more experienced and disciplined in handling nuclear technology than Indonesia.
Nevertheless, we should also ask the question "If not nuclear, then what? What sort of investments are we truly making towards alternative sources?"
Our present task is not to suspend the continuing progress towards nuclear energy, but to accelerate open discussion about its feasibility and our own responsibility in adopting nuclear technology.
THE JAKARTA POST
THINK ASIA? THINK PACIFIC
You might have seen it on cable early this year, but now the same advertisement is featured on local channels, usually during news breaks — an overseas bank celebrates the dynamics of Asian economics, from Shanghai to Mumbai.
The ad, unfortunately, ends in slightly bad taste — a Singaporean boy snaps his fingers, which causes a small earthquake in Europe and worry among several innocent looking Europeans in a café. The boy laughs.
The message is that now we, Asians, are powerful and you, Westerners — at least the European sort — should worry. Really worry.
Since the late 2000s, recession and the steady growth of Asian economies, especially in China and India, have encouraged the Asian Century theme to be explored more often, with the mixture of pride and probably a little hubris in Asia, and with the admiration and probably a little loathing in the West.
American President Barack Obama hoped that a new "Sputnik moment" has arrived, the moment where American children and eggheads realized that they have played too much and it may be time to get back to the labs and the desks to catch up with the more diligent and disciplined Asians. Europeans count the payments made for not only for the purchases of their handbags, but also their football clubs and car industries.
On the other hand, that aforementioned commercial, countless seminars and government statements say that the time has arrived for Asia to be taken seriously, to be respected, and for the West to stop lecturing Asia on how to run a country.
Contrary to the West, Asian economic leaders never persuade other countries to follow their economic and politics models.
It is those countries that academics and politicians praise, such as China, while criticizing their governments for outdated American-centered mindsets.
Unfortunately, while Asia is strong, it is still lacking an allure possessed by America — political inspiration. It is hard to think about a contemporary Asian political leader who is admirable and inspiring. Certainly there are none of in Southeast Asia.
The Indian prime minister is still not receiving enough kudos in his own country, despite modernizing the Indian economy and steering it clear from the Gandhi dynasty and the Hindu conservatism.
The South Korean and Taiwanese presidents are waking up every day with the sword of nuclear war hanging above them, threatening to undo their nations' achievements in creating world-renowned information technology and entertainment industries.
Two of them, however, can be found in Australia and the United States. Within her speech before
the United States congress, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that the American landing on the Moon inspired her and convinced her that America can always progress. It is more than political flattery.
Despite shortcomings, dissents, and at worst, the collapse of American and Australian moral integrity after the invasion of Iraq, both nations always say yes to progress, change and democracy; things that are openly shunned in China, the majority of Southeast Asia, and are forbidden in North Korea and Myanmar.
Both the United States and Australia have envisioned a Pacific community since the 1990s, aligning countries with European heritage in the Pacific region with their Asian neighbors.
The loudest opponents to this proposal are not white Americans or Australians, but some Asian governments. The origin of their bitterness is the history of European colonization in Asia and its arrogant treatment of Asians.
Indonesia has been a constant supporter of the inclusion of non-Asian nations to the forums, but not out of progressive ideas. Indonesia never truly sees itself as an Asian society and always prefers the West as a counterbalance to China and other Confucian states. Malaysia, the biggest naysayer, always prefers Confucian Japan or China to lead the way, rather than having the whites taking charge again.
And thus, the idea went on with APEC. After some fad before the 1997 economic crisis, now it has become another talking shop where the highlights are group pictures of world leaders posing in casual, usually traditional clothes.
But what a highlight it is, especially when the Asian leaders can appear more relaxed and look more stylish. More importantly, they could see how the Western leaders talk, listen and balancing fun and work. They could still hear different perspectives, whether they like it or not.
It is impossible to ask for an integrated Pacific community, just as it is impossible to ask for an integrated Southeast Asian or East Asian community, let alone an Asian one. On the contrary to what we in Asia like to think, India, China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and other Asian nations cannot cooperate like the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand do.
This article does not propose for greater cooperation among Pacific nations. It asks for an alternative perspective — to see a wide oceanic region where Southeast Asia and North America need each other.
The tsunami menace gives a picture of how interconnected the Pacific region is. The tsunami did not only threaten livelihoods in Japan, but also in Indonesia and the United States. Among evacuees in Hawaii would be ethnic Japanese from various nationalities — American, Japanese, and Taiwanese.
Among Pacific Islanders in Guam and the American west coast bracing for impacts are ethnic Filipinos, Indians, and Chinese, not to mention Irish and Hispanics. Japanese and Singaporean medics were dispatched to Christchurch; Now American and probably New Zealand rescuers are helping Sendai.
Like people elsewhere, we, the people of the Pacific, are made of sojourners and migrants, of mixed ethnic and foreign residents.
We still dislike each other due to differences in racial features, in religions and in ways of life, but we are more linked to each other than we like to be.
The writer is a graduate of La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
THE JAKARTA POST
FOOD CRISIS AND OVERTHROWN GOVERNMENTS
PUTERA SATRIA SAMBIJANTORO
There's one good piece of advice that all world leaders or dictators could heed in regards to how to deal with middle- and working-class people: Give them sufficient food and they will give you less trouble because food, after all, is the most important basic necessity.
It was in 1998 when working- and middle-class Indonesians took to the streets to bring to an end
the 32-year autocratic reign of Soeharto. But before the people were longing for a taste of democracy and liberty, it was actually their hunger and bitter economic condition that brought about the transition in
the first place.
Following the monetary crisis in 1997, the Indonesian economy was at its nadir and the ASEAN region was hit by a currency crisis that originated in Thailand, and eventually led to massive currency depreciation in neighborhood countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
In Indonesia, the crisis caused the price of basic commodities to rise beyond the reach of common people, and eventually increased the number of Indonesians living below the poverty line.
As people were aimless at that time and had no one to blame for their suffering, they challenged the autocracy and looked to democracy as the solution.
Would Soeharto have lost power if the 1997 economic crisis had not occurred? Of course, there were several other factors that contributed to his downfall.
But if working-class mothers had not been struggling to buy rice and basic necessities at that time, surely their husbands would not have had a reason to loot stores and their children would have had no interest in joining the street protests.
In November last year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published the Food Outlook report that forecast a bleak outlook for 2011, with soaring prices of basic commodities and a looming food crisis.
Less than four months after the report was published, the accuracy of its prediction is already evident, as surging global prices of food and basic commodities triggered public uproars that were responsible for the ousting of dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and put other governments in the balance.
Widespread corruption, unfair elections and undemocratic governments have long been a cause for concern among citizens in the Middle East, but it was not until the symptoms of a food crisis in 2011 materialized that the people of both Tunisian and Egyptian truly became fed up with their governments and decided to take matters into their own hands.
In Tunisia, inflated food prices and soaring unemployment were the initial motives behind the
public unrest that led to the resignation of president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
The domino effect then went to Egypt, where people ultimately realized that they were also experiencing the same problem as their neighbors to the West.
Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat, the price of which has skyrocketed by more than 50 percent since last year.
Food security has always been a major issue in the country as Egyptians spend about 40 percent of their monthly income on food, compared to 28 percent by the Chinese and 6.1 percent by Americans, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
When the largest portion of your income is spent on food, surely you will suffer greatly when there is a hike in food prices. Hence, it is no wonder that the Egyptians were the first to take the bull by the horns.
It is true that other causes also contribute to the Mideast revolution, such as greedy tyrants who had been clinging to power for too long, or ingrained corruption within the government that the tyrants
Or perhaps the influence of social media, which also deserves recognition as seemingly regimes in China, Iran and North Korea so far have been able to evade the public uproar because their leaders have been notorious for isolating their own people from the Internet.
But food crises irrefutably played a part on the uprisings that lead to the 2011 Mideast revolution. Just recently, Rabah Arezki from the IMF and Markus Brückner from the University of Adelaide publish a research paper that confirms the relation between international food prices and government stability.
Interestingly, their research concludes that there is a positive correlation between food price increases in low-income countries and the likelihood of civil conflict and anti-government demonstrations.
The research is proven true and commonsensical in many ways. For instance, if you were to join an anti-government demonstration, which issue would you be more likely to rally against, corruption or rising food prices?
For some people the answer may differ, but if surging prices of basic commodities start to affect your earnings and your family, you would have a tendency to choose the latter rather than the former. Without a doubt, people are more likely to react strongly to matters that directly affect them, such as rising food prices, compared to other matters like corruption.
FAO recently reported that food prices had reached a new record high in February, and the world is seemingly welcoming a resurgence of a food crisis in 2011.
The case of overthrown governments in Egypt and Tunisia is tangible proof that governments are indeed more susceptible during these times.
This is a serious warning for all seemingly "immortal" dictators from North Korea to Myanmar whose hungry citizens are perhaps next in line to revolt.
The writer is University of Indonesia's representative for Harvard World Model of United Nations 2011 on the food price crisis committee.
THE JAKARTA POST
HESITANT GOVERNMENT A LOOPHOLE FOR RADICALISM
AL MAKIN |
The recent bombs delivered in packages disguised as books sent to Ulil Abshar Abdalla, an activist of liberal Islamic network (JIL), and other prominent figures last week cannot be explained in plain and simple language.
Nor can it be pinpointed what caused someone to intimidate the public with the acts of terror. Although the perpetrators may be arrested, the root cause of the problem remains unaddressed.
The answer to this issue is complex. After a series of assaults on minority groups, Ahmadiyah, in many parts of Indonesia, the Christian minority in Temangung, Central Java, and the Shi'ite group in Pasuruan, East Java, and apparently now the liberal news network is being harassed. Who is next?
Just get ready, in case your group becomes the next target. In fact, with their blind dogmatic jihad, the radical perpetrators will never rest in their pursuit of finding new enemies.
Indeed, the series of these atrocities unfolded systematically, even though the perpetrators are most likely not the same group or people. But why did the radicals boldly intimidate the Indonesian public?
Do not look only at their conservative and radical theological dogma, according to which the last Prophet Muhammad is uncompromised in truth and liberalism is poisonous. The victims were blamed. After all, the alibis are just unfounded.
Attention should be given to the background against which their actions are executed. The weak central government is perhaps the first chief factor.
True, since the reform period, Indonesia has never seen a strong ruling government from the era of BJ Habibie to the current period of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Indonesians appear to learn well from the traumatic experiences under two authoritarian presidents —Sukarno and Soeharto.
They will not tolerate strong figures exercising excessive power, as in the case of Indonesian Soccer Association chairman Nurdin Halid. The nation is sensitive to any signs of dictatorship.
The wavering government, however, cannot effectively control both political and social development.
In response to many serious issues, the current SBY government has often been in limbo between many opposing views. It seemed that the government would like to please everyone. Satisfaction for all parties, unfortunately, is hard to achieve.
Ideally speaking, SBY, who was reelected with a landslide victory, should have high self-confidence to assume the presidency. In fact, SBY's steps were compromised by many interests.
Look at the issue of the cabinet reshuffle, a hesitant consideration—back and forth and from side to side—based on political interests rather than the performance and achievement of the ministers.
Government's hesitation is also visible in dealing with Ahmadiyah. The joint ministerial decree and
Attorney General shows how the government opted for a compromise rather than taking decisive steps.
The decree is unable to fulfill the demands of both common reason and radical logic. Ahmadiyah religious practices are banned, whereas those who attack the "deviant" groups will be punished. The ambiguity lies in the fact that the decree can be interpreted as either banning or protecting the minority. However, both interpretations rest in weak ground.
The cautious government can also be interpreted as cowardly. The judicial review of the outdated 1965 blasphemy law also failed. Common sense and reason were easily defeated.
Recently, the taunt by the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leaders to topple SBY remains unanswered. The group grossly manipulated the democratic euphoria in the Middle East as an Islamist movement. Of course, the Indonesian public does not want to buy this falsehood.
As the government is indecisive, the law is not enforced firmly. Corruption scandals involving some important figures in the government cannot be brought to justice. Worse still, some graft cases have become political commodities and bargaining chips.
To illustrate, we are not sure the degree to which accusing someone of corruption, as in the case of Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) deputy chiefs Bibit Samad Riyanto and Chandra Hamzah, is serious. It also appears that in certain high-profile crimes, such as the murder of human rights activist Munir, the masterminds remain at large and will be forgotten as a result of political compromises.
The hesitant government has left loopholes not only for radicals to be more outspoken, but also for the locals to run wild. Amid the euphoria of reform, Amien Rais proposed formation of federal states as an alternative of the unitary Republic of Indonesia. In fact, greater autonomy given to locals was a compromise that satisfied those demanding a federal system of government and those who were concerned about national unity.
However, local political elites have gone wild. They misused the broadened mandate at will, giving rise to corruption cases.
To win votes, the local politicians have also passed 90 local ordinances which clearly contradict the spirit of the Constitution.
The intellectual opposition is also weak at the local level, as intellectuals have mostly migrated to Jakarta for various reasons. Some of the bylaws impose forcefully sharia upon the people and discriminate against women.
The gubernatorial decrees on Ahmadiyah ban in East Java, West Java and Banten are the latest examples of the "small king" phenomenon.
We heard recently that President Yudhoyono and Constitutional Court chief Mahfud MD promise to investigate to what extent these local elites ran counter the Constitution. However, their words have so far not materialized into actions.
In the absence of firm government, the local renegades and radicals will always find room to show off and the police will receive no political support to uphold the law.
The writer is a lecturer at the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University.
THE JAKARTA POST
GREEN PROGRAM DONORS IGNORE ALL THEY HAVE LEARNED
There is a tussle among government agencies in Jakarta over how Indonesia's move to a climate-friendly, low carbon economy is to be achieved.
Environmentalists will tell you the best plan will be the one that greens Indonesia.
Farmers, miners, oil palm workers and businesspeople will tell you it will be the plan that keeps Indonesia growing.
It appears the government is considering a strategy which is likely to put reduction of emissions ahead of economic growth.
This would be the consequence of the plan to restructure the economy of Central Kalimantan to a low carbon model.
It was released by the government's climate change office (DNPI) last year and is meant to be a pilot for reducing emissions from other provinces.
The Central Kalimantan economy has been doing quite well, with growth closely tracking the national economy.
It has the sixth-lowest poverty rate of the 33 provinces. So will the low carbon plan increase economic growth in Central Kalimantan?
It would be a brave person who says so. One of the leading growth industries in the province is palm oil. The plan freezes further growth of that industry.
One of the aims is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from activity in Central Kalimantan. The biggest generator of emissions is said to be clearance of forest. That will cease: Any expansion of palm oil will have to await land reform. Then palm oil will only expand if suitable degraded land is made available.
The government's own analysis concludes that, in the short term at least, the economy will slump
unless there is a major injection of finance.
That is what aid donors have promised. That will not work. Foreign aid or government money never replaces the economic benefits of private enterprise.
The amount of growth lost is likely to be much greater than that forecast in the Plan. Palm oil prices, already at near record highs, are forecast to go through the roof.
World food prices have surged again recently — one of the drivers being a 22 percent hike in soy bean prices.
Demand for palm oil will remain strong because food production has to expand to meet the world's rapidly growing population. These benefits will be lost to the people of Central Kalimantan.
When these plans to move to low carbon economies were hatched, the expectation was that money would flow to developing countries that halted deforestation because they would have large quantities of forest carbon credits to sell into global markets.
No such market is in prospect. It is clear from the UN climate change negotiations that it will not be part of any final deal. The US, China and India will not support it.
Foreign donors, the World Bank included, have instead promised to stump up over US$1 billion if the Indonesian government sticks with the plan to convert Indonesia into a low carbon economy. Thirty million is the initial contribution to get the program underway.
To generate new economic activity in Central Kalimantan, three new industries are proposed. First is tourism. The plan is that tourism will generate for Central Kalimantan the same contribution to the provincial economy as tourism in Bali within the next 20 years. That is incredulous. Bali is an internationally renowned destination that has built its international standing and tourism infrastructure over many decades.
The other two are to foster farming of tropical fruit and prawns.
It is assumed the average annual rate of output from those industries in Central Kalimantan can equal the average for Southeast Asia.
That is very unlikely in the short term. Especially since government corporations, funded by foreign aid donor money, are to be established to implement these plans.
The end of the Soeharto era demonstrated that it is private enterprise operating in a competitive environment which produces robust growth, not government or donor sponsored corporations.
The Central Kalimantan Plan looks like a tropical version of an old fashioned Soviet five or 10-year plan. With the hundred years of accrued experience in trying to promote economic growth, it appears the donors who are funding this Plan are ignoring all they have learnt.
The major donor, Norway, does not even feature economic growth in its aid program for Indonesia — its priorities are those of Norway's NGOs — environment and climate change, gender, governance and transparency and a tiny private sector program. It does not even mirror the UN's Millennium Development Goals. Yet it is offering up to $1 billion if Indonesia follows its priorities.
The amazing thing about this is that the assumptions used to calculate deforestation emissions from Indonesia — on which the Central Kalimantan Plan is based — are wrong.
At the UN climate change meeting in Mexico last December, new research commissioned by the Norwegian Government and the World Bank was made available.
It indicated that deforestation was responsible for between 5 and 12 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions at best — not the 17 to 20 percent assumed by the Central Kalimantan Plan — and was likely to be between 2 and 7 percent even lower.
It appears the government is considering a strategy which is likely to put reduction of emissions ahead of economic growth.
The writer is chairman of World Growth, based in Washington.
Gaddafi calls it Colonial, Crusader Aggression, the bombers call it Odyssey Dawn. So far 48 people had been killed and 150 wounded in the Western air strikes by early on Sunday in Libya. Three US B-2 stealth bombers dropped 40 bombs on a major Libyan airfield (Remember the precision/surgical bombing?) that was not further identified. Hours later, U.S. and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles on Tripoli. 150 Weapons of Mass Destruction at Tripoli and for that count 48 deaths is really a conservative estimate-if one knew what Tomahawk and B2 bombs mean.
The military intervention in Libya has nothing to do with the humanitarian pretexts offered by the conniving Western powers. Innocent civilians are going to die in numbers in the coming days and UN Gen. Sec. Ban- ki moon and his cohorts should be pulled up in the War Tribunal to go by the common logic.
After Iraq, this could be the beginning of the war for the resources, may be the third World War by extension.
Military intervention in Libya, whose energy resources have made it the object of imperialist ogling for decades, is used both to secure access to oil and to bring a strong military presence in the region. A military presence in Libya would help the West to intimidate the Arab world -not the rulers of the Arab world whose faith and cultural conscience are more Western than Muslim.
The bombing would not protect human lives, but would transform the country into a battlefield with thousands of innocent victims just like in Iraq, where finally and shamelessly the perpetrators blamed it on the intelligence reports that there were no WMDs. None of the countries which killed the 200,000 still face any accountability charges! 300,000-330,000 civilians killed in Darfur but the so called humanitarians didn't do anything about it. 800,000 were killed in Rwanda in 1994 and still nothing happened.
Why are the great powers not applying the same criteria in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the regimes they back employ brutal violence against any opposition? And what of Bahrain, headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, where Sheikh al Khalifa has shot down unarmed protesters with Saudi support? What about Gaza, where these same powers stand by as the Israelis massacre Palestinians? What about Yemen, where the Western-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Friday shot dead some 50 protesters? asked a news editorial on the web.
Funnily French President Sarkozy, received Gaddafi just a few years ago with great pomp in Paris to negotiate trade deals worth billions, recognized the Transitional Council as the official representative of Libya. The truth is the 'Council,' has guaranteed international oil companies unhindered exploitation of the country's mineral wealth.
China and Russia, which abstained in the U.N. Security Council vote last week endorsing intervention, expressed regret at the military action. Funnily enough, neither vetoed the move.
Which endorses the unsavoury fact how much the emerging markets (BRIC) depend on the West for their economy and growth.
Meanwhile, more than 100 anti-war protesters were arrested outside the White House in demonstrations marking the eighth anniversary of the US-led war in Iraq.
The on –going political dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has registered some positive forward movement at the third round of talks held on Friday March 18th in Colombo.
The essence of the dialogue was succinctly revealed in the following excerpt from the joint communiqué released to the press after the talks -
"The two sides proceeded to discuss appropriate constitutional arrangements to meet the aspirations of all the people of Sri Lanka. They agreed to continue their dialogue with a view to arriving at a structure to fulfil these aspirations."
It was indeed heartening to know that the third round of Govt-TNA talks had concluded on a positive note. Despite two earlier rounds the past few weeks had seen an escalation of political tension threatening to disrupt this dialogue.
The assassination attempt on TNA Jaffna district MP Sivagnanam Sritharan was a disturbing event. This column which reconstructed the attack in the "Daily Mirror" of March 12th made a specific appeal to the TNA that in the interests of the long suffering Tamil people the party should not let the incident affect the talks with the Govt.
Apart from the Sritharan incident there were other acts of omission and commission affecting the course of the dialogue. There seemed to be a hiatus between pledge and performance on matters agreed upon.
An ill-informed Tamil media spurred on by anti-govt elements both local and abroad was extremely critical of the TNA for participating in the talks.On the other hand there seemed to be some lethargy on the part of the Govt also in pursuing the dialogue constructively.
It was against this backdrop that the long awaited third round of Govt-TNA talks took place on the 18th.Fears about the talks collapsing proved to be liars. The engagement seems to have been positive and firm groundwork seems to have been laid for future positive progress.
Before delving into the happenings of March 18th this column would like to trace briefly the sequence of events that led to the current situation in the dialogue between the Govt and TNA.
The Govt – TNA political dialogue is the best thing that happened in the sphere of ethnic relations in this country after President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected to office for a second term last year.
It was initiated by President Rajapaksa in a quiet yet firm bid to explore ways and means of resolving the Tamil National Question by talking to the single largest Tamil political party in Parliament. The TNA which contested the 2010 polls under the house symbol of the Illankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) won 13 seats from all five electoral districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. It also got a national list seat.
This column in the "Daily Mirror" of December 11th 2010 revealed exclusive details about how President Rajapaksa initiated the political dialogue with the TNA.
President Rajapaksa broke the ice by meeting the TNA Parliamentary Group leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan on a one to one basis without aides. This was followed by a second meeting with Sampanthan.
As a result of these meetings a decision was taken to set up two joint mechanisms comprising Govt and TNA representatives. One was to concern itself with immediate issues facing Tamils affected by the war. The other was for commencing a structured dialogue aimed at achieving a political settlement.
TNA leader Sampanthan also submitted two lists of seven and five names to be included as party representatives on each of the joint mechanisms.
The seven names proposed to be on the joint mechanism concerning matters such as relief,resettlement, rehabilitation, reconstruction and livelihood were TNA Parliamentarians R.Sampanthan,S. Senathirajah, K.Premachandran,S. Sritharan, A. Adaikkalanathan, P.Selvarajah and MA Sumanthiran.
The five names proposed to be on the joint mechanism regarding talks for a political settlement were TNA Parliamentarians R.Sampanthan, S. Senathirajah,K.Premachandran, MA Sumanthiran and the reputed lawyer K.Kanagiswaran who is not an MP.
In addition to these moves there was another positive development also. Two trusted representatives nominated by President Rajapaksa and R.Sampanthan held a series of discussions among themselves in Colombo.
These talks were focused on the contours of a potential political settlement based on maximum devolution to provincial units while ensuring the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
Both representatives reported back regularly to Rajapaksa and Sampanthan after each round of talks. With the encouragement and support of their principals both representatives succeeded to a very great extent in their mission.
Various aspects of Devolution -substance and unit – were discussed and agreement was reached in many areas. Agreement was not possible in some areas and a few were somewhat grey areas.
These talks provided to a great extent the spadework in evolving a basic outline for future talks between official high –powered delegations.
In writing about these talks in the "Daily Mirror" of December 11th this column did not disclose the names of both representatives as it did not want to hinder the dialogue in any way.
Since events have progressed to another plane the names can be revealed now. Central Bank Governor Ajit Nivard Cabraal was the President's representative in these talks.TNA national list MP and Lawyer MA.Sumanthiran was Sampanthan's nominee.
The stage was set therefore for further forward movement on these lines after 2011 dawned. President Rajapaksa set up a joint mechanism called the Committee on long –term reconciliation through a political settlement.
Three cabinet ministers were nominated by the President to be on the committee. They were Ratnasiri Wickramanayake,Nimal Siripala de Silva and Prof.GL Peiris. Galle district MP Sajin de Vass Gunawardena was appointed secretary to the committee.
The five TNA representatives proposed by party leader Sampanthan were on the committee. But Sampanthan himself was indisposed and in India due to health reasons.
The preliminary meeting between the Govt and TNA took place on January 10th 2011. It was decided then that meetings should occur on a fortnightly basis and the next one was fixed for January 24th.
That however did not happen and the second round of talks took place only on February 3rd. There was a further delay in scheduling and the third round was fixed for March 1st.
This too was put off at very short notice.It was said that the ministers could not be available in Colombo due to their ministerial duties and because of their involvement in local authority electioneering.
The TNA requested that the meeting be scheduled for March 7th as the ministers would have to be present in Colombo at that time due to Parliament convening . There was no immediate response to the request.It was as if the Govt had lost interest.
This seeming lack of interest contrasted sharply with the Government's public attitude about the talks. Government ministers and diplomatic envoys had referred to the talks with the TNA positively at International conferences.
The Rajapaksa regime has been under tremendous international pressure on a number of issues in recent times. One among these was the perceived unwillingness or inability to commence measures for resolving the long festering ethnic problem.
Now the Govt was able to showcase the talks with the TNA and tell the world that it was addressing the issue by negotiating with the premier representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamil people.
It was suspected that the Govt was using the talks with the TNA as a device to deflect or contain international criticism without any sincere commitment towards the dialogue. The Tamil media both local and overseas began accusing the TNA of colluding with the government wittingly on this or being taken for a ride unwittingly.
The TNA itself was in a troubled state of mind on the issue. Sections within the party began doubting the government's bona fides on this. They felt that the govt was on the verge of abandoning or aborting the talks because it was unable or unwilling to deliver on some of the immediate issues raised on earlier occasions.
Some of these issues raised by the TNA in the first round of talks were the removal or reduction of high security zones, disarmament of persons and groups bearing arms illegally in the North and East and the fate of 600 -800 Tamils being detained from pre-May 2009 times at various places in the Island under the Prevention of Terrorism Act(PTA) and Emergency regulations.
The Govt side promised to return with a positive response at the second round of talks.When the second round began the TNA was rather disappointed with the Govt response.
The govt minsters said that there were no high security zones anywhere in the North and East. The TNA then provided the Govt representatives with particulars about the high security zones in Palaly in the North and Sampoor in the East. These included documents filed by the govt in courts regarding the fundamental rights case SC FR 646/2003 SC FR 646/2003.
On the question of disarming those bearing illegal arms in the North and East the govt response was that an amnesty period would be announced for surrender of illegal arms and thereafter the criminal procedure code would be amended to make such possession of illegal arms a non –bailable offence. Again the TNA was disappointed as the party's focus was on Tamil para-military organizations carrying arms illegally.
There was also a disconnect on the issue of detenues.The TNA was referring to those being detained for many ,many years under the PTA and emergency regulations as LTTE suspects without being brought to trial. But the Govt response did not deal with this category and only dealt with that of LTTE "surrendees" being held after May 2009.
The TNA therefore had to explain in detail about these unfortunate people being held for many years and present more documentation. Among the documents presented were an interview given to "The Nation" of January 30th 2011 by the former Minister of Prisons Reforms DEW Gunasekara. In that the minister stated 600 -800 persons were under detention for 10 to 15 years.
The Govt representatives then assured the TNA that they would get back to the third round of talks with more information on the three issues raised. There was however another related issue arising out of the Govt response to the detenues issue that was discussed during the second round of talks. Subsequently this matter became a serious cause for friction between the Govt and TNA.
What happened was this. At the second round of talks The Govt delegation informed the TNA that there was a computer data base about Detainees, IDP's and next of kin being maintained at the Terrorism Investigations Department (TID) office in Vavuniya.
The TNA was told that these data bases were active and that family members could avail themselves of this facility to know more about affected kith and kin. The TNA then inquired whether they could publicise this and ask people to go to Vavuniya and get information. The reply was in the affirmative.
The issue of detenues and IDP's is a very important one to Tamil people. There are thousands of families languishing without information on the whereabouts of their loved ones. Many do not know whether they are in the realm of the living or not. Some know they are alive but do not know where they are being held. The dimensions of this humanitarian tragedy are not realised by the world at large and the government has been accused of being callously insensitive .
It was quite understandable therefore that the TNA seized the opportunity and gave much publicity through the Tamil print and electronic media to the availability of a data base facility. The TNA was under pressure for talking to the govt and utilised this chance to demonstrate that there were tangible, practical gains from its dialogue with the govt.
Thanks to the publicity generated by the TNA hundreds of people went to Vavuniya to utilise this data base facility and locate their loved ones if possible. But they were in for a rude shock. The Police in Vavuniya reportedly turned the people away saying there was no such facility and that it was only an election gimmick by the TNA.
Thoroughly disappointed relatives who had travelled long distances complained bitterly to the TNA as a result. The credibility of the party was eroded. Moreover the TNA was in an unenviable position as the party could not come out publicly with the truth as it may have undermined the talks with the Govt.
Adding insult to injury was the perceived lukewarm attitude of the Govt on this matter. When the party complained orally and in writing to the Govt about this there was no effective response.
Compounding the situation further was the perceived lethargy of the Govt in scheduling a definite date for the third round of talks. Some members of the TNA began to suspect that the Govt was insincere on the matter. Given the inadequate response to the issues raised earlier and the data base fiasco these sections felt the Govt was simply procrastinating on the one hand while using the dialogue for international propaganda on the other.
Those in the TNA who wanted the dialogue to continue found themselves assailed by the extremely unhelpful, negative attitude maintained by influential sections of the mainstream Tamil media. These elements who seemed grossly ignorant or thoroughly ill-informed about the actualities of the Govt-TNA dialogue poured scorn on the talks.
While pro –tiger media organs abroad launched a vicious campaign that the TNA had sold out to the Govt and was collaborating with it to de-value the so called war crimes issue , sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil media charged that the TNA was being manipulated by the Government.
Sadly , many of the media reports about the talks were inaccurate but the TNA was being criticised on the basis of these reports. To cite one example the Editor of a Tamil weekly wrote a news story under his name that the TNA had agreed to local authorities being the unit of devolution and then called out "Et Tu Brute" to the TNA in a signed article. The news was incorrect and charges baseless
In such a situation the TNA was also forced to counter media criticism by resorting to tough talk. Some frontliners like Suresh Premachandran the accredited spokesperson of the party began to give media interviews expressing pessimistic sentiments about the talks with the Govt. He described the talks as being a "sham".
Despite this posturing to the media the TNA was not critical about the talks with the Govt in their election campaign. There, the TNA asked Tamils of the North and East to vote for the party in order to strengthen their position at the talks with the Government. There were reasons for that.
The reality was that despite the misgivings and disappointment in tackling some immediate issues through the dialogue there had been commendable progress in the larger issue of devolution. While some areas were still under dispute considerable forward movement had been achieved on many matters.
Both sides were engaged in a joint exercise to determine the extent of devolution by apportioning specific functions and responsibilities to the provincial unit through the devolved list and to the central govt through the reserved list. Under the 13th amendment there was a third "concurrent" list. Now both sides were trying to do away with the concurrent list altogether or reduce its scope to a great extent.
The TNA fully realised the importance of evolving a satisfactory scheme of devolution acceptable to all sections of the Sri Lankan nation. Since President Rajapaksa has gone on record that the devolution he had in mind was 13th Amendment plus there was every chance that the substance of devolution could be greater than what is available now.
Under these circumstances it was imperative that the TNA should stay the course in continuing the dialogue with the govt in spite of pressure.Resentment over immediate issues however prickly should not lead to a situation where the talks collapse. President Rajapaksa has the power and capacity to deliver on maximum devolution provided a consensus can be arrived at. That opportunity should not be missed
Thus the TNA adopted a double-track policy. While its accredited spokesperson Kandiah Premachandran alias Suresh blew hot in media interviews and was harshly critical of the Goverrnment's stance in talks , the TNA speakers at political meetings spoke differently. They asked the Tamils to vote for the party so that the hands of the TNA would be empowered at the talks. TNA leader Sampanthan issued a statement on these lines soliciting Tamil support at the local authority hustings.
Meanwhile there was growing interest within the international community about the Govt – TNA talks. The Govt had contributed to this situation greatly by referring to the dialogue in glowing terms at various international fora including the UN. Several countries were interested in what was going on.
The US ambassador Patricia Butenis met with the TNA and was briefed on the status of the dialogue by that party. Subsequently she met President Rajapaksa and sought to clarify the position about the talks. The president informed the US envoy in unambiguous terms that the talks would be on until positive results were achieved.
Another complicating factor was the local authority elections. The TNA and the Govt were at loggerheads with each other as rivals wooing the hearts and minds of voters in the North and East. The election rhetoric was harsh and vicious. There were also charges of electoral malpractices and violations. The stresses and strains of electioneering also cast a shadow over Govt-TNA relations.
The double track approach adopted by the TNA towards the talks upset sections of the Govt too. Premachandran's harsh critique of the dialogue in media interviews made some feel that the TNA had changed its position. The TNA explained to the govt that the sentiments expressed by Premachandran were due to frustration at the progress of the talks. The Govt was assured that the TNA was ready, able and willing to resume the talks.
With doubts about the TNA position being removed efforts were on to hold the long awaited third round. The date fixed was March 24th but with the TNA informing the Govt that two of their members would be unavailable on that day the date was re-scheduled for March 18th.
The long –delayed third round of talks commenced at 4 pm on March 18th. Both sides were in a buoyant mood as the results had been announced . The ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) had won 205 of the 234 local authorities to which polls were held. If the Govt had won resoundingly in the Sinhala majority areas the TNA had also scored creditably in the Tamil majority areas.
The TNA had won all twelve Tamil majority local authority polls it contested in the Mannar,Vavuniya,Mullaitheevu, Amparai and Trincomalee districts. It also won the most number of Tamil votes in the Muslim majority areas it contested. The solitary exception was the Oddamavaddy PS where the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) got more Tamil votes than the TNA.
Since the TNA had sought a mandate from the Tamil people to continue the talks with the Govt the party regarded the election results as an endorsement. The TNA was elated that the Tamil people had overwhelmingly supported the party despite media criticism about talks.The results had strengthened the party in the dialogue with the Government.
The Govt – TNA talks got off on a positive note with both sides beaming with satisfaction at their respective polls victories. The "hurt" feelings of the TNA over the Database fiasco was soothed to a great extent when the Government delegation apologised profusely for the "misunderstanding". The TNA was assured that the matter would be resolved satisfactorily in the near future and that both Sajin de Vass Gunawardena and Suresh Premachandran would be in Vavuniya together to flag off the data base facilty when open to the public.
The Government delegation also required more time and more information on the issues of detenues,disarming groups carrying illegal arms in the North and East and high security zones. This was agreed to.
The TNA also referred to the issue of photographing northern residents by the armed forces. The party had resorted to legal action earlier and courts had been informed by the Attorney-General's dept that the practice would cease. But it had been resumed again and the TNA was once again seeking legal recourse.
It was felt that this issue as well as the earlier unresolved ones were all directly related to the Defence ministry. Realising their constraints on these defence related matters both sides agreed that an effective communication channel with the Defence establishment was necessary . It was resolved that greater liaison with the defence ministry be established on a permanent basis.
It was also realised that other ministers should also be approached if and when matters pertaining to their ministries are discussed. It was accepted that some form of linkage be evolved with relevant ministers whenever required.
It was also accepted in principle that an arrangement for meetings on successive days be made when the talks reach a critical stage. Effective decision making would be made easier under such an arrangement
Both sides made significant progress on the discussions on devolution. Although no decision has been finalised the lists of powers and functions allocated as Devolved and Reserved have been further enlarged. The committee is continuing with its task of identifying each area in a specific and detailed manner.
A better ,utilitarian approach towards scheduling talks was also adopted. It was decided to demarcate future meetings as being for immediate issues and for the devolution issue. There would be a meeting on April 7th to discuss everyday problems and immediate issues. There would be another meeting on April 29th to discuss matters related to Devolution.
It appears therefore that the teething troubles of the Govt-TNA talks are over. Both sides seem to have clarified misgivings and doubts about each other but it cannot be denied that a vast amount of mutual trust needs to be further established.
While the Govt needs to be more aware of the pressure exerted on the TNA by extremist Tamil elements the TNA also must be sensitive to the Government's situation in talking to them. Although the party is distancing itself from its pro-LTTE past and has the support of moderate Tamils there does exist a negative image of the TNA in the minds of many Sinhala people.
The TNA must be appreciate the difficulties faced by the Govt in adhering to each and every request made by the party. The TNA must strive to re-furbish its tarnished image in the eyes of the Sinhala majority. That would make the Government's task easier and facilitate true reconciliation and unity.
The parameters for future talks seem to have been set and the basis for further negotiations outlined. It would also be necessary to include Muslim representatives after further progress.
Given the climate of mistrust and hostility that prevailed the third round of Govt –TNA talks seemed a non – starter. Fortunately it did take place and considerable forward movement has been achieved.
To adapt the words of Neil Armstrong the progress made at the Govt –TNA talks may amount only to a "small step"in quantitative terms but it is certainly a "giant leap" in qualitative terms. (ENDS)
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com
Independent of their intentions and justification, the recent temptation for prominent and/or vocal sections of the political Opposition to liken post-war Sri Lanka to even more contemporary Egypt or Tunisia, Bahrain or Libya is fraught with consequences that they might not be able to dictate or control. Such loose talk, if at all, can only facilitate a process that would instead take their current initiative, if any, out of the hand of the nation's polity, majority and minority, majoritarian and minority-centric.
Unlike the other nations that they often cite in regard to local demands for the advent of democracy, Sri Lanka is already one. If anything, Sri Lanka was the first Asian nation where universal adult franchise lent greater depth and width to democratic participation by and at the grassroots-level. It was also the first nation, to have had a Left-leaning Government, democratically-elected, with participation by the communist parties of the day.
That was in 1956, when the slain S W R D Bandaranaike became the elected Prime Minister, that too heading a coalition dispensation, unlike any other Third World democracy had seen earlier. The multi-party, 'Interim Government' in India (1946-47) in preparation for Independence and transfer of power was not a product of any pre-poll arrangement of the kind. The 'Kerala experiment', which elected the first Communist Head of Government, in the form of Chief Minister in the late E M S Namboodiripad under universal democracy and adult franchise, in neighbouring India, had to wait for another year.
It is not as if the emergence of Bandaranaike's widow, the late Sirimavo, as his political heir and successor, was an accident, caused by his assassination, at the hands of a young, Sinhala-nationalist, Buddhist monk. In countries as large as South Asian democracies, marketing faces and political philosophies identifiable with such faces would not have been an easy task, anyway.
The numbers, literacy-rate and distances would have made the ushering in of electoral democracy a difficult process, anyway. 'Political families' and 'dynasties', like those of the Nehru-Gandhis' in India, the Senanayakes and Bandaranaikes' in Sri Lanka, and the Bhuttos' in Pakistan have helped market what was essentially a western concept to an eastern population, packaged indigenously, as was with 'democratic socialism' in India. The Rajapaksa's are only the latest addition to the list – with the Premadasa's competing for a future place at the high table.
Today, democracy with its liberal views and expression unites countries that are otherwise diverse, as in the case of multi-lingual India and multi-ethnic Sri Lanka. But for the intervention of, and facilitation by the 'political dynasties', western democracy might have failed in these nations – and failed these nations, as well.
To confuse the dynasties with the political ambitions and administrative attitudes of individuals would thus imply that there are unclear ideas over the very concept of democracy. By the thumb-rule, democracy should let the people decide who should rule them, when and how – or, how not and why not. If they favoured a 'brand name' with which they can relate, then that is part of 'market democracy', which is a product of 'market economy'. The reverse is also true.
Where Sri Lanka differs from Tunisia and Libya, Egypt and Bahrain, is not only in the non-emergence of political dynasties that are outright un-democratic and autocratic – and hence cannot be overthrown through the power of the ballot. They have thus denied the local population the right to reject those dynasties, as and when they felt that there was such a need. The examples of all South Asian democracies also show that the very same people who elected them have also rejected them, maybe to re-elect them on the people's terms another day.
It is this revolving-door democracy that has made South Asian democracies a lesser victim of 'guided democracy' that most western democracies have become, anyway. In the absence of a powerful group that could not be neutralised, seduced or completely put out, 'political dynasties' even undertake the unenviable task of providing the eternal alternatives to the powers-that-be. It is this fixated positions that they carry within the body politic that has neutralised possible temptations on the part of the democratically-elected leaders in power in these countries to turn despotic and dictatorial -- not by design, but by sheer habit.
There is more to it in Sri Lanka, and it is about the dangers that such loose talk may unintentionally encourage. None of the nations mentioned in the list of States where people cry for democracy has had a vibrant, strong and talented non-democratic alternative in place. Sri Lanka has had, and more than one. The militant avtar of the JVP and the destroyed LTTE were products of their times, their ideological remnants still hovering round.
Frustrations of the failed sections of the polity, rejected by the electorate for times in a row, if not unchecked, would only tempt those failed-from-the-past, to try their chances, one more time. Again, the moderate polity that is talking about Libya and Tunisia, and not about a democratic alternative nearer home, would stand to lose. So would the Sri Lankan nation!
German chancellor Angela Merkel has once again led from the front. Her categorical concern over reliance on nuclear power plants, in the wake of Honshu tragedy, and the call for diversifying energy needs should not merely be a debating point.
The need of the hour is to dwell into the needs and necessities of energy requirements worldwide and ensure that the world pacifically moves into a threshold of power generation that is humanly safe and ecology-friendly. This is why the chancellor's desire to see a 'measured exit' from nuclear power is not just rhetoric, as such a strategy could lead the six billion people on Earth into the age of renewable energy as soon as possible.Yet, this is not going to be an easy shift. Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, believes that in the next two decades 10 to 25 new countries will join the club by either building or buying nuclear power plants to overcome their energy constraints. The forecast is that nuclear power could soon deliver about a fifth of the world's energy requirements. Thus the territory between the Utopians and the realists is where the interaction has to come and that is already evident from the concerns that the world governments have shown by suspending the approval process for new nuclear power plants. A review of safety standards, and that too, in the light of Chernobyl and Fukushima experiences has become inevitable. Though disasters by virtue of natural calamities and terrorism could take place in any part of the world, what is feared is that the nuclear possessive countries could split in the categories of those on the seismically active zones or not. This is a perfect flimsy pretext and should not be adhered to.
As Tokyo decides to bury one of its severely impacted nuclear plants, countries across the globe have upped the ante on isotopes security. This tsunami tragedy has literally sunk the obsession to enrich plutonium and uranium, and has buoyed the non-nuclear constituency. The developed states should rise to the occasion and come up with renewed safeguards for their industrial and military centric power projects, and ensure that the world is saved from the menace of radioactivity. Modern reactors that rely on passive safety features such as gravity, circulation or evaporation should instantly replace ageing apparatus, and that too on a war-footing basis. This new phenomenon of beefing up nuclear security has come at a time when environmental experts and governments were bogged down on climatic change concerns. This new thought process could go a long way in chalking out a new development and growth strategy, and one that is relevant and achievable for all. It's time for a break from fusions and fissions.
BY GILLARD AND BOWEN
Recently Australia fired tear gas at the protestors in the Christmas Island detention centre. An article by Kennett, SEP candidate for Auburn, Australia last week outlines the details of the event. Excerpts from an article:
The government's actions are in flagrant violation of international refugee law, which upholds the right to flee persecution. And the entire political establishment—Labor, Liberals and the Greens—is responsible for maintaining a system that uses the military to block refugees from exercising their right to seek asylum, then incarcerates those who make it to land by boat indefinitely without trial. The violence unleashed this week is the inevitable outcome of that policy.
Initially, peaceful protests broke out last week inside Christmas Island's severely over-crowded North West Point facility, where many of the 1,850 detainees have been held for more than a year, in a centre originally built for 400. In numerous cases, the prisoners have already been classified as refugees, but kept in detention awaiting security clearances from the government's political spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). Two weeks ago, it was revealed that some 900 of the more than 6,500 asylum seekers held in Australia's immigration detention centres were waiting for ASIO security checks, and that 481 of them had been detained for more than a year.
On March 11 and 12, between 150 and 200 asylum seekers broke out of the North West Point facility to stage demonstrations on roadways in an attempt to draw public attention to their plight and demand the urgent processing of their visa applications. Some marched to the Christmas Island airport, where they staged a sit-in protest before returning to the detention centre.In the early hours of Monday March 14, what the government described as a riot broke out after the AFP and immigration officials moved in to seize 11 asylum seekers accused of being the ringleaders of the weekend protest, and lock them in separate cells. According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, a number of other inmates approached those cells to release the detainees. The AFP arrived and opened fire, using gas and bean bag bullets against the protestors, wounding one in the leg.
Further protests erupted throughout the week, provoked by the punitive response of the government and the authorities. Refugee advocate Pamela Curr said Serco, the private contractor operating the facility, fuelled the discontent by locking down roller doors between different parts of the centre to prevent movement by inmates. Tensions reached a new height last Thursday when detainees received a letter from the government promising to speed up ASIO processing, but announcing that officials due to arrive this week to assess visa applications could not come because of the riots.
That evening, about 250 protesting detainees battled against police for some four hours, reportedly throwing rocks at the AFP contingent sent to take over the facility. During the course of the confrontation, detainees burnt down seven of the tents and two of the portable huts used as accommodation. AFP deputy commissioner for national security, Steve Lancaster, said police had used a "higher volume" of bean bag bullets in order to "restore order".
Indignation and frustration is not confined to the refugees incarcerated on Christmas Island. In the northern city of Darwin, nine inmates occupied the roof of the Berrimah immigration facility for 24 hours from Tuesday night after an asylum seeker was chased and assaulted by two guards.
Many more asylum seekers are being incarcerated under the Labor government than were held by the conservative Howard Liberal government. About 3,000—almost half the total—have been in detention for between 6 and 12 months and around 700 unaccompanied children are also being detained.
Not just in Australia but around the world, governments are taking increasingly draconian measures to crack down on asylum seekers. On every continent, these measures are accompanied by xenophobic campaigns blaming immigrants and refugees for declining living standards and unemployment. The purpose is to distract attention from the real source of the social crisis—government austerity programs and the capitalist profit system itself.
GULF DAILY NEWS
NUCLEAR POWER VERSUS COAL
Suppose that a giant hydro dam had crumbled under the impact of the biggest earthquake in a century and sent a wave of water racing down some valley in northern Japan. Imagine that whole villages and towns had been swept away, and that 10,000 people were killed - an even worse death toll than that caused by the tsunami that hit the coastal towns.
Would there be a great outcry worldwide, demanding that reservoirs be drained and hydro dams shut down? Of course not. Do you think we are superstitious savages? We are educated, civilised people, and we understand the way that risk works.
Okay, another thought experiment. Suppose that three big nuclear power reactors were damaged in that same monster earthquake, leading to concerns about a meltdown and a massive release of radiation - a new Chernobyl. Everybody within a 20km radius of the plant was evacuated, but in the end there were only minor leakages of radiation, and nobody was killed.
In Germany, tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated against nuclear power last Saturday, and Chancellor Angela Merkel suspended her policy of extending the life of the country's nuclear power stations until 2036. She conceded that, following events in Japan, it was not possible to "go back to business as usual", meaning that she may return to the original plan to close down all 17 of Germany's nuclear power plants by 2020.
And in the US, Congressmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey (Democratic), who co-sponsored the 2009 climate bill, called for hearings into the safety and preparedness of America's nuclear plants, 23 of which have similar designs to the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.
The objections to a wider use of nuclear power in the US are mostly rational. Safety worries are a much smaller obstacle than concerns about cost and time: nuclear plants are enormously expensive, and they take the better part of a decade to licence and build. Huge cost overruns are normal, and government aid, in the form of loan guarantees and insurance coverage for catastrophic accidents, is almost always necessary.
The cost of wind and solar power is steadily dropping, and the price of natural gas, the least noxious fossil-fuel alternative to nuclear power, has been in free fall. There is no need for a public debate in the US on the desirability of more nuclear power: just let the market decide. In Europe, however, there is a real debate, and the wrong side is winning it.
The European debate has focused on shutting down existing nuclear generating capacity, not installing more of it. The German and Swedish governments may be forced by public opinion to revive the former policy of phasing out all their nuclear power plants in the near future, even though that means postponing the shut-down of highly polluting coal-fired power plants. Other European governments face similar pressures.
It's a bad bargain. Hundreds of miners die every year digging the coal out of the ground, and hundreds of thousands of other people die annually from respiratory diseases caused by the pollution created by burning it. In the long run, hundreds of millions may die from the global warming that is driven in large part by greenhouse emissions from coal-fired power plants. Yet people worry more about nuclear power. Risks should be assessed rationally, not emotionally.
And here's the funny thing. So long as the problems at Fukushima Daiichi do not kill large numbers of people, the Japanese will not turn against nuclear power, which currently provides over 30 per cent of their electricity and is scheduled to expand to 40pc. Their islands get hit by more big earthquakes than anywhere else on Earth, and the typhoons roar in regularly off the Pacific. They understand about risk.
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