New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

31 March, 2009

No need for "new capitalism", says Amartya Sen

The present economic crises do not call for a "new capitalism," but they do demand a new understanding of older ideas, such as those of Adam Smith and Arthur Pigou - many of which have been sadly neglected, argues Amartya Sen in an article published in the New York Review of Books.

Sen's article is available at Countercurrents.org

Squatter villages arise from the ashes of the booms and busts on US west coast

Everywhere, from Fresno, California, to the struggling casino district of Reno, Nevada, and the upscale suburbs of Washington state, tent cities and shantytowns with names like Taco Flat have sprung up to house the poor and dispossessed, says Scott Bransford in a New America Media news feature, which first appeared in High Country News.

In a note, NAM Editor says: These roving, ramshackle neighborhoods were part of the American cityscape long before the stock market nosedived, and they are unlikely to disappear when prosperity returns.


FRESNO, Calif. -- Marie and Francisco Caro needed a home after they married, but like many people in California's Central Valley, they didn't have enough money to sign a lease or take out a mortgage.

They were tired of sleeping on separate beds in crowded homeless shelters, so they found a slice of land alongside the Union Pacific Railroad tracks in downtown Fresno. The soil was sandy and dry, prone to rising up into clouds when the autumn winds came. All around, farm equipment factories and warehouses loomed out of the dust, their walls coarse and sun-bleached like desert mountainsides.

Even a strong person could wither in a place like this, but if they wanted to build a home, nobody was likely to stop them. So Marie and Francisco gathered scrap wood and took their chances…

Over to NAM for the rest of the story

30 March, 2009

Another left is possible

The protest movements in France and the birth of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) inaugurate a new chapter in the life of the international radical left, especially when viewed in tandem with the developments of recent years in Latin America, says Nathan Rao in an article which was first appeared at the progressive Canadian web site rabble.ca and has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.

The fact that the main figure associated with events in France was born in the mid-1970s also signals the emergence of a new generation of radicals, Rao adds.

Nathan Rao’s article

Thousands protest job loss and corporate bailout as G-20 meets

HARSH DOBHAL
Hardnewsmedia.com


So the Indian prime minister still loves Bush? From Palestine to Iraq to Europe, voices of anger, hope and resistance from across the gigantic wave of protest in London is rising like a tide each passing moment. This marks the first landmark of mass peaceful resistance in the Obama era.

London: From Palestine to Africa to Iraq and Afghanistan, from the global witch-hunt of the poor to the pampering of predator capitalism which has compulsively failed and is being shamefully bailed out by corrupt capitalist regimes, from global warming, climate change and the campaign against war and mindless bloodletting, post-Obama, this is perhaps the first and most gigantic collection of people in the heart of Europe who have taken up the war on the streets as a gigantic wave, albeit peacefully. Feminists, mothers and daughters, workers and trade unionists, peace activists, ecologists, Leftists, anarchists - who have threatened violence - voluntary organisations and resistance groups, and thousands of students, teachers, activists and ordinary citizens, they are all out there celebrating a great resistance and ‘call to arms' against the collapsing machinery of capitalism.

"The growth story is over. The stock market is dead. No free run for the free market. This is the graveyard of capitalism," chanted students, as the leaders of the G-20 countries prepared to meet here next week in the backdrop of the worst international financial crisis in decades. Thousands of people from across the globe have gathered to protest against what they call "their crisis" and to launch a people's charter. Tens of thousands of people, increasing their number each passing moment like waves of humanity, including more than 150 trade unions, gathered at Victoria Embankment and marched past the Parliament and through the centre of London and gathered at the rally site in Hyde Park on April 29 in what is considered as the first push in the West against neo-liberal capitalism away from the universally hated Bush era.

‘Put People First' was the underlying motto as the demonstrators braved chilly cold and rainy weather carrying banners that read, ‘Jobs, Justice and Climate'. Organisers said the first demonstration against the G20 meet is just a trailer, signaling a series of massive protests everyday and on April 1 and April 2 when the G20 leaders and top bankers meet here. The authorities fear, that as always, the radical anarchists might usher in a wave of scattered violence as top leaders, including neo-liberal Indian prime minister and US President Barack Obama, prepare to join the summit. "So the Indian prime minister still loves Bush, does he; so what's he going to tell Obama, that he still loves Bush," sniggered a SOAS student, holding a banner, "Hey Barack, come, join the barricades."

"When the economy grows, banks, corporations and speculators, driven only by greed, gamble other people's money in their global casino. When they lose ‘confidence' in their profit-making schemes and panic, the bubble bursts and we pay the price," said a trade union member of British trade union confederation to Hardnews, reading what he called ‘The People's Charter.'

"This protest is against the G-20 leaders that are trying to protect banking systems, protecting the rich and the corporations. Britain is in deep economic crisis and our government is spending ‘our money', billions of pounds, bailing the big banks and big corporations out of ‘their crisis'," said 25-year-old Lisa who works with a call center in London. "It is unfortunate that nobody is interested in addressing poverty, global warming and wars but at G20 they are going to push for millions of dollars to protect corporations and banks," she said, adding that the protest was not confined to protesting this bail out but had a larger goal, "the climate justice, to end the war in Iraq and Aghanistan, end occupation in Palestine".

"We want peace, dignity and the right to build a prosperous life through our own labour and in our own interest," said a member of the African People's Party. "This is a war on want," read one banner. ‘The Worst is Yet to Come, ‘More Action is Coming', read other banners. Tanghe Xavier, a union leader and a representative of Socialist Group from Belgium who had come with over hundred people from Belgium, said all "sane sections of society want to put the people first in the agenda and not the interests of the businessmen, bankers and speculators. "We want to kill neo-liberal capitalism."

An Israeli woman, Yael, held a pre-1948 map of Palestine, explaining and highlighting the areas where ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians have been taking place ever since and where the territories have repeatedly been annexed by Israel. Yael, who had left the Jewish State in 1991, is part of the ‘Islington Friends of Yibna' group in London which is a small organization of Pro-Palestinian Jews living in London. Yibna is a refugee camp near Rafah, close to the Egyptian border, where Yael grew up.

The organisers said that all the protests in coming days will to be peaceful. Observers said this was the largest ever demonstration in London after the peace rally when Iraq was attacked. Indeed, there is an overarching anger here against the policies of Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his proposed ‘rescue package' has triggered this collective sentiment.

Courtesy: Countercurrents.org

28 March, 2009

NAM concern over journalists' arrest

SAN FRANCISCO -- New America Media [NAM] is deeply concerned about the safety and condition of the journalists recently detained in North Korea and Iran. We urge all sides to take the necessary steps for their fair treatment and immediate release. As the country's first and largest collaboration of ethnic and youth news outlets representing more than 2,500 national associates, NAM supports the extremely vital role of the media in examining human rights conditions in communities across the globe.

On March 17, 2009, two journalists from San Francisco-based cable station Current TV, Chinese-American Laura Ling and Korean-American Euna Lee, were arrested by North Korean guards at the border with China, according to reports. Media reports from the area indicate that the two women have been transferred to Pyongyang and are being interrogated there. Cameraman Mitch Koss and their Chinese guide, who was with the group, were detained by Chinese police, according to various media reports.

On January 31, 2009, freelance journalist Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American, was detained at Iran's Evin prison in Tehran, according to media reports. She was arrested on charges of buying alcohol, which is prohibited in the Islamic republic. Wire reports quote her father, confirming that even though her press credential was previously revoked, Roxana "stayed in Tehran to pursue a master's degree and was doing research for a book about Iranian society." Roxana Saberi has worked for National Public Radio [NPR], the BBC, ABC News and other international media organizations.
We extend our sympathies and prayers to these journalists' families and loved ones and join our media colleagues who have issued their concerns about these detentions and have urged their release from custody. These groups include the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, Reporters Without Borders, and many others.

We also acknowledge and appreciate the diplomatic efforts of the U.S. government in trying to arrange their release. NAM will continue to closely monitor the developments regarding the detention of these journalists.

Signed,
New America Media
Global News Exchange: www.newamericamedia.org

Contact: Odette Keeley, NAM Chief of Staff
okeeley@newamericamedia.org
415-503-4170

27 March, 2009

Global investors ponder implications of dollar collapse

The world bourgeoisie is beginning to consider the consequences of the huge deficit spending and money-printing operations that the Obama administration is using to fund its bailouts of Wall Street and major banks, says Alex Lantier in a World Socialist Web Site article reproduced by Countercurrents.

As these policies increasingly raise questions about the value of the US dollar, commentators are in particular pondering the desirability and implications of a diminished international role for the American currency.

Lantier’s article

Sonali Wickrematunge's letter to Sri Lanka police chief

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, has forwarded copy of a letter written by Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge, wife of Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, who was assassinated on January 8, 2009, to the Inspector-General of Police, Government of Sri Lanka. The letter is reproduced from Ground Views.

Sonali Samarasinghe Wickramatunge
(picture on left) is herself a distinguished journalist. She was a lawyer by profession and practised law for several years before taking to journalism.

Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge
Attorney-at Law & Journalist

15 March2009

Mr. Jayantha Wickremaratna
Inspector General of Police
Police Head Quarters
Colombo 1

Dear Mr. Wickremaratna,

RE: MURDER OF LASANTHA WICKREMATUNGE

As you are aware, my husband, Mr Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered on 8 January, 2009. Up to now, no details of the progress of the police inquiry into this murder have been released to the public or been made known to me.

On 28 January 2009, the Hon Keheliya Rambukwella, Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare stated at a media briefing that the government was aware of the identity of the murderers and that the president would make the facts known on 15 February 2009. Mr. Rambukwella’s exact wods, as quoted in the Daily Mirror newspaper of 29 January 2009 were as follows:

"Currently all we can say is that investigations are still ongoing. There is no update and we will not divulge anything now as this could hamper the inquiries. The President has made his decision to reveal to the media on February 15 some very important details behind both the attacks so we will have to wait till then."

This statement has not been contradicted by Mr. Rambukwella or anyone else.

The statements made by senior ministers of the government show unequivocally that he and the president of Sri Lanka are aware of the identity of the killers. However, despite over six weeks having passed since Mr Rambukwella’s statement, no announcement has been made; neither have suspects been named or apprehended.

At the inquest into my husband’s murder on January 15, I requested court to direct and facilitate an independent investigation into the killing with an international team of inquirers and forensic experts. I also requested that the present investigation be handed over to the Criminal Investigations Department.

It has been over two months since my husband was killed and there has still been no credible breakthrough in the investigation. No murder weapon, no suspect, no post mortem report has still been made public.

It is in this context that on the next day of hearing on February 18 my lawyers Mr. M.L.M Ameen PC appearing with Mr. Mizbah Attorney At Law, again requested the Court to hand over the case to the Criminal Investigations Department.

This request was however refused.

As both the present police investigation and any possible CID investigation will in any event come under your purview I request you therefore without delay to record the statement in this regard of the Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella, ascertain the identity of the murderers, 'very important details' of which are admittedly known to both Minister Rambukwella and President Mahinda Rajapakse and take immediate action to apprehend the murderers and bring them to justice.

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,

Sonali Samarasinghe Wickramatunge
Formerly
Editor in Chief- The Morning Leader
Consultant Editor - The Sunday Leader
Masters in International Affairs (Australia)
LLB (Hons)(Lon)
Dip in Journalism (Aus) Dip in Journalism ($ri Lanka)
Attorney-at-Law, Commissioner for Oaths

CC: Mr M.L.M, Ameen, President’s Counsel
Mr. Lal Wickrematunge, Chairman Leader Publications Pvt Ltd

An earlier post on the murder of Lasantha Wickramathune

25 March, 2009

Influence of pressure groups on the media

At the invitation of the Department of Communication and Journalism of the University of Kerala I delivered the Swadesabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai Lecture honouring the memory of an ‘all-time great’ of journalism.

The topic of the lecture was Influence of Pressure Groups on the Media.

The text of the lecture is available at the Babu Bhaskar Google Group site.

Oakland massacre casts ugly glare on ex-felon desperation

Lovelle Mixon, an unemployed ex-felon, shot and killed four police officers in Oakland, near San Francisco. He was trying to avoid going back to jail and he was unable to find employment that might have given him a second chance. It’s a story repeated all over America, even if it does not always end in a killing spree as it did in Oakland, says New America Media contributing editor Earl Ofari Hutchinson.

Though Mixon’s killing spree is a horrible aberration, his plight as an unemployed ex-felon isn’t. There are tens of thousands like him on America’s streets, says Hutchinson.

Full report here

Satyagraha for Binayak Sen’s release: Send free fax to support demand



Would you like to send a FREE FAX to the Chhattisgarh government to demand? If the answer is Yes, please visit http://petitions.aidindia.org/binayaksen09/

A timeline of Binayak Sen’s case is available at
http://www.binayaksen.net/2009/01/timeline-of-events-in-the-strange-case-of-dr-binayak-sen/

The following is a message received from the Rights Support Centre
(humanrights.movement@gmail.com):

The Raipur Satyagraha, a mass
civil disobedience movement, was launched on Monday, March 16, to press the demand for immediate release of Dr. Binayak Sen.

Every Monday, batches of 50 to 100 people are courting arrest in front of the Raipur jail where Dr. Sen in incarcerated.

It is now 22 months since Dr Binayak Sen, the well-known public health and human rights activist, was imprisoned by the Chhattisgarh government on false charges of abetting activities of an
outlawed organization.

In the days and months following his incarceration, Dr. Binayak Sen has received tremendous support from within India and outside. More than 20 Nobel Laureates signed a letter in support of Dr Binayak Sen.

International and national media, through news stories and editorials, have consistently pointed to the unjustified nature of Dr. Binayak Sen's imprisonment.

Even though the state has been unable to produce any evidence against him, Dr. Binayak Sen’s pleas for bail have been repeatedly refused by courts at all levels.
We oppose the use of bail as a punitive measure to intimidate human rights defenders and demand the immediate release of Dr. Binayak Sen.

The *Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 (CSPSA), under which Dr.Binayak Sen has been arrested, allows the state to bypass many routine forms of due process through the law's unreasonably broad definition of unlawful activity, and acceptance of vague and unreliable evidence, all in the name of national security. The unclear provisions of this law have been used unfairly by the state to silence government critics such as Dr. Binayak Sen, Ajay TG , a film maker and PUCL activist, and Sai Reddy, a journalist. We demand that draconian laws which have been used unfairly to harass human rights activists be immediately repealed.

Salwa Judum, the State-sponsored militia set up in 2005, has been responsible for killing, looting and rapes and forced transfer of more than 100,000 indigenous people from their homes to camps with inhuman conditions. Common concern for many is that the arrest and detention of Dr. Sen was directly related to his activities in defending the rights of the indigenous communities in Chhattisgarh state, and to his open criticism of the Salwa Judum. We condemn the state government for arming Salwa Judum and abetting terror against innocent civilians and tribals, and demand that it be immediately disbanded.

You can add your support to these demands by sending a free fax.

23 March, 2009

Academic untouchability?

If passed, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation in Posts and Services) Bill 2008 will bar reservations at the faculty level for SCs, STs and OBCs in 47 premier institutions, including the IITs and IIMs . Why is there no opposition to this proposal to close the doors of our premier institutions to the historically oppressed, asks Subhash Gatade in the article below, distributed by InfoChange News and Features.

SUBHASH GATADE

InfoChange News and Features

The historic Jantar Mantar in the capital city of New Delhi, which has become a sanctioned abode of protest, was witness to a dharna or sit-in protest in the first week of February which, at first glance, was indistinguishable from the many such protests held at this venue on the same day. However, the protest was of great importance because it pertained to the entitlements of dalits, tribals and Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in higher education and the manner in which the government is pushing legislation that will do away with reservation at faculty level in institutions of “national importance”. Not surprisingly, the protest was a non-event for the media. And that raises the question of why the articulate sections of our society who yearn for justice, peace and progress, have joined the conspiracy of silence about this particular issue.

The return of “academic untouchability” with the due sanction of parliament and the further legitimacy it would provide to the ‘merit’ versus ‘quota’ debate needs to be questioned and challenged uncompromisingly.

Nature of the Bill

What do Professor Sukhdeo Thorat, the present chairperson of the University Grants Commission (UGC), Dr Mungekar who is a member of the Planning Commission, and Professor Ramdayal Munda, the ex-vice chancellor of Ranchi University, have in common? The obvious answer is that all of them happen to be masters in their respective fields of work. Less well known is the fact that if newly independent India had not instituted affirmative action programmes in the form of reservation for the socially oppressed sections at various levels, it would have been very difficult for this triumvirate to prove its mettle.

If the proposed Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation in Posts and Services) Bill 2008, which was tabled and passed in the upper house, the Rajya Sabha, becomes law, then many such meritorious students coming from similar backgrounds would not be able to even think of occupying any important position on the faculties of eminent educational institutions. For the Bill talks of doing away with reservation at the faculty level for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs in institutions of “national importance”.

Close watchers of the reservation debate in our country will say that the proposal was very much in the air and there is nothing surprising about it. In fact the directors of the various Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have been campaigning hard for the human resource development ministry to drop its proposal to reserve posts for SCs, STs and OBCs in faculty recruitment. Directors of the Indian Institutes of Managements (IIMs) have also expressed their resistance in no uncertain terms. The sole argument peddled by the directors of these prestigious institutions revolved around the supposed negative impact reservation would have on the quality of the faculty. The prime minister, during a visit to the IIT in Guwahati a few months ago, had dropped enough hints that the “concern” expressed by the various directors would be given sympathetic consideration.

It is difficult to comprehend the silence even among the self-professed champions of dalits, tribals and OBCs over this disturbing development. Is it a sign of an emergent consensus among all political parties? In the absence of any national uproar over this legislation, there is a strong possibility that the Bill, moved by the Department of Personnel and Training in the Rajya Sabha in December 2008, will be passed by the Lok Sabha. And the long cherished demand of the “institutes of national importance” that they be exempted from reservation in teaching posts will be fulfilled.

The 47 institutes that will be exempt from faculty reservation once the legislation gets parliamentary approval include the seven older IITs, the seven IIMs, Aligarh Muslim University, Allahabad University, and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Also excluded from reservations are 19 National Institutes of Technology (NITs), the Jawaharlal Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research in Pondicherry, Banaras Hindu University, Delhi University, the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, the Indian War Memorial in New Delhi and in West Bengal, Visva Bharati, the Victoria Memorial, National Library, and the Indian Museum.

Issues around reservation


Apart from closing the doors of these 47 institutions to the historically oppressed, this legislation will drive under the carpet many issues around reservation.

The non-filling of reserved seats and the rampant use of false caste certificates by non-dalits and non-tribals to snatch posts reserved for dalits and tribals, have emerged as key issues of the social movement. We have been witness to actions at the individual and collective level which have not only questioned the non-implementation of reservations but have also brought forth innumerable cases of phony dalits and fake tribals enjoying the fruits of reservation at various levels.

Vacancies in reserved posts is a serious issue. One has been witness to the strange phenomenon of reserved posts for class four jobs getting filled with “eligible candidates” but as one moves up the hierarchy one notices a reduction in filling reserved posts.

A case in point is Delhi University. In 2001, out of a total strength of 6,500 teachers, a minimum of 1,500 teachers should have been from this section of society. However, merely 100 teachers were from the reserved category at the time of the survey (which later shot up to 400). The Delhi School of Economics, which once had Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen on its faculty, fared no better; it had only one dalit teacher out of a sanctioned strength of four (1999).

The 1999-2000 report of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes provided details of the total number of posts and the number of people working in the reserved posts, which provides for 15% reservation for scheduled castes and 7.5% for scheduled tribes:

Professor: BHU 1/360 (one post filled of 360), Aligarh 0/233, JNU, 2/183, Delhi University 3/332, Jamia 0/80, Visva Bharati 1/148, Hyderabad Central University 1/72

Reader: BHU 1/396, Aligarh 0/385, JNU 3/100, Delhi University 2/197, Jamia 1/128, Visva Bharati 1/70, Hyderabad Central University 2/87

Lecturer: BHU 1/329, Aligarh 0/521, JNU, 11/70, Delhi University 9/140, Jamia 1/216,
Visva Bharati 16/188, Hyderabad Central University 13/44

Even a cursory glance at the figures makes it clear that despite 50 years of the University Grants Commission, the more than 250 universities and innumerable colleges under it have not bothered to fill the 75,000 posts meant for scheduled castes. Moreover, it has turned a blind eye to the fact that people belonging to the upper castes, or other non-dalits, have occupied these positions.

There is general disapproval in varna society (that is a society based on hierarchy whose essence is purity and pollution and which has divine sanction as well. Dr Ambedkar rightly described it as a multi-storeyed structure where you are condemned to live and die in the same ‘storey’) about providing reservation to historically oppressed peoples. While in formal discussions they will praise the virtue of tolerance practised in their age-old civilisation, in practice they stick ruthlessly to the graded hierarchy preached by the lawgiver Manu.

Affirmative action in the US

Considering the fact that these practitioners of varnadharma often look to the United Sates of America as their model, it would be opportune to know how US society views its own affirmative action programme.

The affirmative action programme was launched in the US in the 1960s to provide equal opportunities to minorities, especially blacks. Its aim was to maximise the benefits of diversity in all levels of society, and to redress the disadvantages due to overt, institutional, and involuntary discrimination. It was not a gift by the US ruling classes to the blacks and other minorities, but was a fall-out of the civil rights movement led by the legendary Martin Luther King.

The year 2002 witnessed the biggest challenge in recent times to this policy when two white students who did not get admission to Michigan University went to the US Supreme Court to challenge the policy itself. They contended that they were refused admission because of the ‘discriminatory’ policy of affirmative action and therefore asked that it be scrapped. The case divided American society. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favour of continuing the policy. Interestingly, many corporate leaders, ranging from the mighty Microsoft to smaller ones, had clearly taken pro-affirmative action positions. For instance, 65 of these companies (boasting a collective revenue of well over a trillion dollars) jointly filed an amicus curiae (friends of the court) brief in the Supreme Court in 2003 in which they maintained that a racially and ethnically diverse student body is “vital” to maximising the potential of “this country's corporate and community leaders of the next half-century”.

What is “national importance”?

The debate around denial of entitlements to dalits, tribals and OBCs in higher education would be incomplete if two issues remain unaddressed.

First, one needs to expose the various mythologies around merit, which the varna society keeps peddling to buttress its case.

Second, it is important to take a hard look at the whole definition of institutions of “national importance” and show how people’s hard-earned money made available to these institutes by the public exchequer (at the cost of basic educational needs of the deprived sections) ends up creating doctors, engineers and other learned professionals, a majority (more than 50%) of whom have no qualms in immediately moving to greener pastures, especially the USA, for good. The Economist (September 26, 2002) cited an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey that found that over 80% of Indian students in the US planned to stay on after completing their studies. The survey also revealed that Indian students were more likely to remain in the US after higher studies than students from any other country.
The Media Studies Group, a Delhi-based group of media professionals and social activists studied 42 batches of students who had passed out of AIIMS since its inception in 1956. It looked at where these students worked or had worked. The findings, carried in The Telegraph (December 26, 2006), revealed that more than half the graduates worked abroad, mostly in the US. Of the 2,129 students who passed out in the first 42 batches of the MBBS programme at AIIMS from its inception in 1956 to 1997, the researchers could trace 1,477. Of them, 780, or 52.81% were working abroad.

A similar picture emerged in an article in Frontline (‘The IIT Story’ by Kanta Murali, February 1-14, 2003) pertaining to IITs. The article pointed out that a glaring failure of the IIT system is that it has been unable to attract scheduled caste/tribe and women students in a progressive way. Close to half the seats reserved for SCs and STs remain vacant and of those admitted, a significant proportion, perhaps up to 25%, is obliged to drop out. Moreover, close to half the annual undergraduate output of the seven IITs, that is anything between 1,500 and 2,000 young men and women, go abroad every year — overwhelmingly to the US. It is estimated that there are some 25,000 IIT alumni in the US.

Unfulfilled promises


When the Congress-led UPA government came to power five years ago, it made all sorts of pro-social justice noises to distinguish it from the earlier dispensation. It raised the question of providing reservation in the private sector and also talked about making the atrocity laws more stringent and even announced that it would make reservation a statutory right.

The proposed Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation in Posts and Services) Bill 2008 is being projected as elevating the provisions of reservations to a statutory right and supposedly instilling a greater sense of confidence in members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. However, as discussed earlier, the Bill is based on the unreasonable presumption that those belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes are incapable of handling higher posts. It thus bars them from making any claims for adequate representation in appointments to such posts.

One can see that the Bill lacks the constitutional spirit of providing equal opportunities to all citizens. It has the potential of undoing in one stroke what has been done so far for improving the representation of SCs and STs in service by successive governments and is certainly a retrograde and regressive piece of legislation.

Subhash Gatade is a social activist, translator and writer whose writings appear regularly in Hindi and English publications and occasionally in Urdu publications. He edits a Hindi journal 'Sandhan'

22 March, 2009

Do GM crops increase yield? The answer is NO

DEVINDER SHARMA
Stwr.org

Lies, damn lies, and the Monsanto website. Tell a lie a hundred times, and the chances are that it will eventually appear to be true. When it comes to genetically modified crops, Monsanto makes such an effort – and it could be that you too are duped into accepting their distortions as truth.

My attention has been drawn to an article titled "Do GM crops increase yield?" on Monsanto's web page, although I must confess that this is the first time I have visited their site.

This is how it begins: “Recently, there have been a number of claims from anti-biotechnology activists that genetically-modified (GM) crops don’t increase yields. Some have claimed that GM crops actually have lower yields than non-GM crops. Both claims are simply false.”

It then goes on to explain the terms germplasm, breeding, biotechnology, and then finally explains yield.

Here is what it says: “The introduction of GM traits through biotechnology has led to increased yields independent of breeding. Take for example statistics cited by PG Economics, which annually tallies the benefits of GM crops, taking data from numerous studies around the world:

Mexico - yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybean of 9 percent.

Romania – yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybeans have averaged 31 percent.

Philippines – average yield increase of 15 percent with herbicide tolerant corn.
– average yield increase of 24 percent with insect resistant corn.

Hawaii – virus resistant papaya has increased yields by an average of 40 percent.

India – insect resistant cotton has led to yield increases on average more than 50 percent.”

These assertions are not amusing, and can no longer be taken lightly. I am not only shocked but also disgusted at the way corporations try to fabricate and distort the scientific facts, and dress them up in such a manner that the so-called 'educated' of today will accept them without asking any questions.

Distorted science

At the outset, Monsanto's claims are simply fraudulent. I have seen similar conclusions, at least about Bt cotton yields in India, in a study by The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) – although I have always said that IFPRI is an organisation that needs to be shut down. It has done more damage to developing country agriculture and food security than any other academic institution.

Nevertheless, let us look at Monsanto's claims.

The increases in crop yields that Monsanto has shown in Mexico, Romania, the Philippines, Hawaii and India are actually not yield increases at all. In scientific terms these are called crop losses, which have been very cleverly masqueraded as yield increases. By indulging in a jugglery of scientific terminologies that take advantage of the layman’s ignorance, Monsanto has made claims based on evidence that does not exist.

As written in Monsanto's article: “The most common traits in GM crops are herbicide tolerance (HT) and insect resistance (IR). HT plants contain genetic material from common soil bacteria. IR crops contain genetic material from a bacterium that attacks certain insects.”

This is true. Herbicide tolerant plants and insect resistant plants do perform broadly the same function as chemical pesticides. Both the GM plants and the chemical pesticides reduce crop losses. In fact, GM plants work more or less like a bio-pesticide - the insect feeds on the plant carrying the toxin, and dies. Spraying the chemical pesticide also does the same.

In the case of herbicide tolerant plants, the outcome is much worse. Biotech companies have successfully dove-tailed the trait for herbicide tolerance in the plant. As a result, those who buy the GM seeds have no other option but to also buy the companies own brand of herbicide. Killing two birds with one stone, you might say.

GM companies have only used the transgenic technology to remove competition from the herbicide market. Instead of allowing the farmer to choose from different brands of herbicides available in the market, they have now ensured that you are only left with a Hobson’s choice. As several studies have conclusively shown in the US, the use of herbicide does not go down over time, but rather increases.

Here is the question that must now be asked: if the chemical herbicide used by Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant soybeans (so-called 'Roundup Ready') truly increases yields, then why don’t all the other herbicides available in the market also increase yields?

Surely, if all herbicides do the same job of killing herbs, then all herbicides should increase crop yields. Am I not correct? So why are we led to believe that only Roundup Ready soybeans (a GM crop) increase yields, whereas others do not?

When was the last time you were told that herbicides increase crop yields? Chemical herbicides are only known to merely reduce crop losses. This is what I was taught when studying plant breeding – a fact that is still being taught to agricultural science students everywhere in the world.

Cotton lies

A similar story holds true for cotton. We all know that cotton consumes about 50 percent of total pesticides sprayed, and these chemical pesticides are known to reduce crop losses. I am sure that Monsanto would also agree without question that pesticides do not increase crop yields, and I repeat DO NOT increase cotton yields.

Monsanto's Bt cotton, which uses a gene from a soil bacteria to produce a toxin within the plant that kills certain pests, also does the same. It only kills the insect, which means it does the same job that a chemical pesticide is supposed to perform. The crop losses that a farmer minimises after applying chemical pesticide is never (and has never) been measured in terms of yield increases. It has always been computed as savings from crop losses.

If GM crops increase yields, shouldn't we therefore say that chemical pesticides (including herbicides) also increase yields? Will the agricultural scientific community accept that pesticides increases crop yields?

This brings me to another relevant question: Why don't agricultural scientists say that chemical pesticides increase crop yields?

While you ponder over this question (and there are no prizes for getting it right), let me tell you that the last time the world witnessed increases in crop yields was when the high-yielding crop varieties were evolved. That was the time when scientists were able to break through the genetic yield barrier. The double-gene and triple-gene dwarf wheat (a trait that was subsequently inducted in rice) brought in quantum jumps in yield potential. That was way back in the late 1960s. Since then, there has been no further genetic breakthrough in crop yields. Let there be no mistake about it.

Monsanto is therefore making faulty claims. None of its GM crop varieties increases yields. At best, they only reduce crop losses. If Monsanto does not know the difference between crop losses and crop yields, it needs to take some elementary lessons again in plant breeding.

But please, Monsanto, don't try and fool the world by distorting scientific facts.
For the record, let me also state that when Bt cotton was being introduced in India in 2001 (its entry was delayed by another year when I challenged the scientific claims made by Mahyco-Monsanto), the Indian Council for Agricultural Research had also objected to the company's claim of increasing yield. It is however another matter that ICAR's objections were simply brushed aside by the Department of Biotechnology, and we all know why.

Interestingly, ISAAA and several consultancy firms (and how can we believe them anyway after their role in the economic collapse now facing the world) have been claiming that cotton yields in India increased after Bt cotton was introduced. Such claims are made about other crops too. I have seen this happening again and again over the past two decades; whenever the crop yields increase, the scientists and agribusinesses take the credit. But when the crop yields go down, the blame invariably shifts to weather conditions.

hich may make you wonder why agricultural scientists and companies never thank the weather at times of bumper harvest. As a former Indian Agriculture Minister, Mr Chaturanand Mishra, always used to say, the only real Agriculture Minister is the monsoon.

This year, cotton production estimates in India have been scaled down by 14 per cent. Using the same yardstick, does it not mean that the productivity of Bt cotton is also falling? But of course the blame cannot lie with Bt cotton. You guessed right – it must be the fault of inclement weather.

Devinder Sharma is a New Delhi-based food and trade policy analyst. He is a regular contributor to STWR and can be reached at hunger55@gmail.com
Courtesy: Countercurrents.org

21 March, 2009

Mother Jones reveals kidnapping of Indian children for adoption in US

The following report has been received from SAJAforum:

ARUN VENUGOPAL, SAJAforum editor (<arunvenu@gmail.com>) writes:

Chennai-based investigative reporter Scott Carney has written about the illegal trade of organs as well as bones. Now he has a long and immensely compelling piece in Mother Jones about how the wealth of Americans and others hoping to adopt children abroad fosters kidnapping rackets in countries such as India.

Here he tracks the long, agonizing tale of one Tamilian couple whose son was kidnapped and sold by an orphanage to an unwitting couple in the American Midwest. From "Meet the Parents: The Dark Side of Overseas Adoption":

It was every parent's worst nightmare. Sivagama and her husband, Nageshwar
Rao, a construction painter, spent the next five years scouring southern
India for Subash. They employed friends and family as private detectives and
followed up on rumors and false reports from as far north as Hyderabad, some
325 miles away. To finance the search, Nageshwar Rao sold two small huts
he'd inherited from his parents and moved the family into a one-room
concrete house with a thatched roof in the shadow of a mosque. The couple
also pulled their daughter out of school to save money; the ordeal plunged
the family from the cusp of lower-middle-class mobility into solid poverty.
And none of it brought them any closer to Subash.

In 2005, though, there was a lucky break.


Scott tracked down court documents, connecting Subash's disappearance to an
orphanage known as Malaysian Social Services:

From 1991 through 2003, according to documents filed by Chennai police, MSS arranged
at least 165 international adoptions, mostly to the United States, the
Netherlands, and Australia, earning some $250,000 in "fees."

Assuming the Indian police have their facts straight, the boy they seek has
a new name and a new life. He has no memory of his Indian mother or his
native tongue. Most international adoptions are "closed," meaning the birth
parents have no guaranteed right to contact their child, and the
confidentiality of the process makes it difficult to track kids who may have
been adopted under false pretenses.


The article is 4,083 words long, and highly illuminating in terms of
revealing how the international adoption system works. But it's also
gripping, including the scenes when Scott confronts the American family who
has unknowingly adopted a kidnapped child.

The dog-eared beige folder on the passenger seat contains the evidence—a
packet of photos, police reports, hair samples, and legal documents
detailing a case that has languished in the Indian courts for a decade.
There's a good chance that nobody in this suburban household has a clue. I
wait until the boy ambles around to the back of the house, then jog over and
ring the bell.

An adolescent Indian girl with a curious smile answers the door. "Is your
mother home?" I stammer. Moments later, a blond woman comes to the door in
jeans and a sweatshirt. She eyes me suspiciously.



The article also teases out the moral dilemma of whether or not to name the
American adoption agency, given that it knew it may have been involved with
an Indian kidnapping racket:

The American family didn't go through MSS directly. Like most, they used an
agency. I visited that agency, and my editors and I wrestled with the
question of whether to name it here; there are serious questions about the
conduct of US adoption agencies in child-stealing cases that should be
addressed openly. Yet we decided to withhold this and other details that
could have identified the family, because the child's privacy overrides the
journalistic imperative to provide all the facts.


The story is still unfolding, with Interpol having entered the picture.

Read the full story, listen to a Mother Jones interview with Scott on international adoption and its perils, connect to his blog and POST YOUR COMMENTS at SAJAforum.

20 March, 2009

Global crisis an opportunity for change, says Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus, founder of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank and the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, says the global recession presents a historical opportunity for change.

IPS Correspondent Catherine Makino caught up with Yunus, considered the guru of microfinance, while he was on a visit to Japan this week.

The report of the interview is available at the Countercurrents.org site

19 March, 2009

Making a mockery of the Constitution

GLADSON DUNGDUNG
Countercurrents.org

The hate speech by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Varun Feroze Gandhi (picture on left) has triggered a political controversy. Obviously it was not an unexpected remark from the BJP family members. What disturbs the nation most is that an heir of the Nehru-Gandhi family, who claims he is a Gandhian, attacked secularism, slammed Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence and made a mockery of the Indian Constitution by abusing, provoking and attacking a particular community while addressing an election rally at Pilibhit in Utter Pradesh on March 5.

Varun Gandhi is a great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, who was a champion of secularism and secular politics. Thanks to Nehru, right from the beginning India committed itself to secularism and the Constitution was drafted on secular lines.

Theoretically, secularism is all about the equal respect for all religions, cultures and languages, and non-interference of religion in state affairs and vice versa. The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, had a very clear idea of secularism. Once he said, "I am a Sanatani Hindu. I will give my life for my religion. But it is my personal matter. About India whose fashioning I am struggling for, that will be totally secular. Neither my religion will dictate the state nor will the state dictate my religion".

According to the Constitution of India, no one shall be discriminated against on the basis of caste, class, creed, gender and region. Similarly, all citizens of India, irrespective of their religion, caste or gender, have the right to vote and Articles 14 to 32 guarantee every citizen the same rights without any discrimination.

Communal forces have repeatedly made a mockery of the Constitution. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP, also known as the Sangh Parivar, not only reject secularism but provoke violence against the minorities. The Sangh Parivar proclaims the theory of one people, one nation, one religion, one language and one culture. It means there is no place for other religions, cultures and languages in India, which is completely against the secular fabric of the Constitution.

The BJP has been campaigning against the minorities for decades with the sole intention of capturing political power. L K Advani, when he was President of BJP, spearheaded the hate campaign against the Babri mosque, leading to its demolition in his presence. Consequently, the BJP came into the power and he became the Home Minister in the NDA government.

The youth brigades of the BJP understand it and have started enjoying communal politics. Unfortunately they are being caught with their immature political speeches. The question is why the young Gandhi wants to make his political debut with a huge controversy? Is he really against his great-grandfather’s secular ethos? Or has he learnt the BJP’s manipulated secularism? What does he want to achieve with it at the end of the day? One must recall that how Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was made a hero after his hate campaign against Muslims in Gujarat and how Atal Bihari Bajpayee, the then Prime Minister, backed him.

How can one forget that after the Kandhamal violence, BJP had threatened to withdraw its support to the Naveen Patnaik government if action is taken against activists of the RSS and the Bajrang Dal? Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa became the Sangh’s hero when he supported the inhuman activities of Bajrang Dal and Ram Sena in Karnataka. Arjun Munda, former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, gets regular promotions in the BJP for his anti-Christian campaign. The list goes on. Varun Gandhi made hate speeches only to become a hero in the BJP and emerge as candidature for prime ministership of the next generation in the BJP.

The BJP accommodated Varun Gandhi to counter the Congress’s youth icon Rahul Gandhi. When Varun Gandhi joined the BJP he was always beating the media headlines. After the general election 2004, he was completely forgotten by the party and he also failed to become the poster boy of the party. On the other side, the status of Rahul Gandhi is growing day by day. When he visits to Dalit villages, stays in Dalits’ houses and even carries a basket of mud in the NREGA scheme, he makes media headlines. Finally, he is the poster boy of the Congress and the prime ministerial candidate of the next generation. This disturbs Varun Gandhi the most and his party has left nothing for him except a Lok Sabha seat. Therefore the young Gandhi initiated a hate campaign, which the BJP was not aware of. He knows that giving hate speeches and polarizing the community in the name of religion makes one a hero in the BJP.

Varun Gandhi is not alone in provoking the people on communal lines. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani, declared a few weeks ago that he will not say “Jai Shree Ram” unless the Ram temple is constructed at Ayodhya. Is it not communal provocation? Narendra Modi campaigned against Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh in 2002, soon after Lyngdoh denied the BJP a chance to exploit the situation in Gujarat for electoral gains. While addressing a Swaabhiman rally at Bodeli near Vadodara, he said, ‘‘Someone asked me, has Lyngdoh come from Italy? Is he a relation of Sonia Gandhi?’’’ He added, “I replied that they sometimes met in church, so there must be ties between them”. The BJP had declined to take action against Modi. The party does the same with Varun Gandhi, except that it asked him to apologize and he refused. It is clearly a hypocritical act of the BJP.

The BJP always ask for vote in the name of religion. Why does the Election Commission not derecognize the party and seize its symbol? Varun Gandhi has not beenarrested yet though a non-bailable criminal case has been registered against him. Why do constitutional bodies remain mute spectators when communal forces carry out communal campaigns? Since Independence several major communal riots have taken pace in India, including the anti-Sikh riot, Bhagalpur riots, Babri Mosque riot, Gujarat riots and the Kandhamal riot. The sad part is that the country is unable to make a law to protect its secular ethos. From all sides there are efforts to make a mockery of the Constitution has been made mockery from all corners. How long will we tolerate this kind of foolish politics?

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights activist and writer based at Ranchi, Jharkhand. He can be contacted at gladsonhrights@gmail.com

18 March, 2009

Recession speeds up American migration to Mexico

Louis E.V. Nevaer
News feature
New America Media

MERIDA, Mex. – At some point last fall, the one millionth American established residency here in Mexico. That makes Mexico the host nation for the largest American expatriate community in the world. There are now more Americans living in Mexico than there are in the U.K. or Canada.

This trend is accelerating as the U.S. recession deepens and job losses across the United States accelerate. “We’ve seen an increase of almost 40 percent in the number of American citizens making inquiries about the requirements for moving to Mexico,” said an official at the Mexican Consulate in New York. “There are definitely more Americans emigrating to Mexico than this time last year.”

READ ON...

16 March, 2009

China Premier warns of potential $ collapse

PATRICK MARTIN
WSWS.org

In a public statement raising questions about the solvency of the US government, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Friday that China, the largest holder of US treasury debt, was "concerned about the security of our assets."

Wen's remarks came at a news conference following the annual session of China's parliament, where he commented on the economic policies of the new US administration.

"President Obama and his new government have adopted a series of measures to deal with the financial crisis," Wen said. "We have expectations as to the effects of these measures. We have lent a huge amount of money to the US. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried."

He called on the United States to "maintain its good credit, to honor its promises and to guarantee the safety of China's assets."

Chinese officials fear that the huge borrowing in world credit markets required to finance the US government's budget deficits—a projected $5 trillion over the next four years according to an estimate released by the Obama administration last month—will lead to a decline in the value of the dollar.

Since Beijing now holds about $1 trillion in dollar-denominated assets, including nearly $700 billion in US Treasury debt, a decline in the value of the US currency would hit China hard.

Wen added that while concerned about the safety of its dollar holdings, Beijing would "at the same time also take international financial stability into consideration, because the two are inter-related." This underscores the conservative role of the Chinese regime, which places the defense of world capitalism at the center of its policy.

US officials reacted with repeated reassurances about the value of the dollar and the safety of the dollar-denominated assets held by Chinese and other overseas investors.

White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers defended the record of US Treasury borrowing, saying Friday that dollar holders would suffer much more if full-scale deflation sets in and US gross domestic product collapses.

A Treasury spokeswoman declared, "The US Treasury market remains the deepest and most liquid market in the world." White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs added, "There's no safer investment in the world than in the United States."

President Obama followed up Saturday, during a joint media appearance with visiting Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at the White House, declaring that, "Not just the Chinese government, but every investor can have absolute confidence in the soundness of investments in the United States."

Obama depicted the influx of dollars into the United States as an endorsement of the future prospects of American capitalism. "There is a reason why even in the midst of this economic crisis you have seen actual increases in investment flows here in the US," he said. "I think it is a recognition that the stability not only of our economic system but also our political system is extraordinary."

The driving force of this influx of capital is fear rather than confidence, however. Investors are pulling out of weaker regions like eastern Europe and southeast Asia, as well as Africa and Latin America. They are also shifting from the purchase of stocks and bonds issued by American banks and corporations, now regarded with great distrust, in favor of government-issued debt instruments.

The US fiscal deficit has mushroomed. During the first five months of fiscal 2009 (October 2008 through February 2009), the federal budget deficit tripled compared to the same period the previous fiscal year, growing from $265 billion to $764.5 billion, the largest ever. The five-month deficit is already nearly 70 percent larger than the full-year deficit of $459 billion for fiscal 2008.

Writing in the Financial Times on March 12, Paul Kennedy, Yale University professor and author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, argued that the Obama stimulus program would have a destabilizing effect on world financial markets: "no one is asking who will purchase the $1,750bn of US Treasuries to be offered to the market this year - will it be the east Asian quartet, China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea (all with their own catastrophic collapses in production), the uneasy Arab states (yes, but to perhaps one-tenth of what is needed), or the near-bankrupt European and South American states? Good luck! If that colossal amount of paper is bought this year, who will have ready funds to purchase the Treasury flotations of 2010, then 2011, as the US plunges into levels of indebtedness that could make Philip II of Spain's record seem austere by comparison?"

According to an estimate by Merrill Lynch, US Treasury notes have produced Chinese investors a 2.7 percent loss this year in terms of the Chinese currency, the yuan. Beijing is in a bind, however, since any effort to unload a significant part of its massive dollar holdings could flood the market and trigger a financial panic, with devastating effects on the value of all dollar-denominated securities, including its own investments.

Objective processes are undermining the longstanding symbiotic relationship between Beijing and Washington, however. The US slump has produced a massive drop in purchases of Chinese goods. Chinese exports plunged 25.7 percent in February, slashing the country's trade surplus from $39.1 billion to $4.8 billion. Continuation of this trend means China will earn correspondingly fewer dollars to invest in US government bonds.

The mounting conflicts between the two major powers find expression not only on the financial plane, but in diplomatic and security issues. Wen's statement of concern over the dollar was issued only days after the highly publicized clash between US and Chinese naval vessels off the coast of Hainan Island. Chinese vessels sought to force the USNS Impeccable out of an area, about 75 miles offshore, where it was conducting surveillance of traffic in and out of China's biggest submarine base.

President Obama dispatched a guided-missile destroyer to the South China Sea on Thursday, armed with torpedoes and missiles, to escort the Impeccable as it continues its surveillance mission. Obama later met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at the White House.

The next day came Wen's declaration about the dollar, and then a day later a Chinese consortium signed a $3.2 billion natural gas deal with Iran. Beijing effectively thumbed its nose at the US policy —escalated by Bush and continued by Obama— of seeking to undermine the Iranian regime economically. The three-year deal involves extensive Chinese engineering assistance to the development of the South Pars gas field under the Persian Gulf seabed, in return for gas deliveries to Chinese customers.

Copyright © 1998-2009 World Socialist Web Site
Courtesy: Countercurrents.org

14 March, 2009

Does high sea drama portend economic doom for the US?

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This is the 500th post of this blog
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GEORGE KOO
Commentary
New America Media

The U.S. and Chinese military appear to be engaged in another round of brinksmanship. Eight years ago, it was over a collision of planes over Hainan Island. This time, it is the near collision of ships on the high seas near Hainan.

In both cases, the American side was engaged in “routine” surveillance while the Chinese side strenuously objected to being spied on. In the latest case involving the USNS Impeccable, the Pentagon admitted that the ship was trolling for data on the new nuclear-powered attack submarine.

The Pentagon said that the crew was made of civilians, as if that would render the mission benign—no doubt on the same logic as hiring mercenaries in Iraq to lessen the appearance of American involvement.

The question is why would the Pentagon provoke an incident at a sensitive time when the Obama Administration is cultivating closer cooperation with Beijing for a host of reasons from international stability to economic recovery?
In late 2006, a Chinese submarine surfaced amidst of a flotilla surrounding the aircraft carrier, Kitty Hawk, to the surprise and embarrassment of the U.S. Navy. Perhaps the Pentagon wished to have no more such surprises by having close surveillance of China. Or another reason may be to reinforce the justification needed for the amount Obama has set aside for defense, which at $663.7 billion is nearly half of the total national budget. Take away $130 billion for the two-front wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the budget still leaves over $530 billion for “advanced weapon systems development.”

The only other budgeted spending that seems remotely comparable to defense is the $633.8 billion Obama has set aside for national health care—but to be spent over 10 years, not one.

As we face a mounting deficit, how can we justify spending such vast sums of money for weapon development, especially now that the former evil empire, USSR, has imploded? Perhaps the Pentagon sees a pumped up China as a potential threat that will convince Congress to continue on military spending.

China in its own ways has been trying to tell the Pentagon that it is not a participant in an arms race, but is merely satisfied to maintain and display a credible second-strike capability to deter any other powers from entertaining funny ideas. Surprising the Kitty Hawk flotilla was one way to tell the U.S. that China has silent running subs. Shooting down one of their old satellites was another way to provide benchmark for the Pentagon.

In the mid 1990’s, Chinese nuclear scientists were delighted to discover Danny Stillman of Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was in charge of gathering intelligence on China’s nuclear weapon development. They invited Stillman to make numerous visits to China’s nuclear test and development centers so that he can accurately report on China’s nuclear capability —a sort of reverse espionage to make sure the other party gets it right.

Unfortunately, the Pentagon failed or did not want to comprehend China’s message. Instead it chooses to consider each of China’s military developments as justification to work on even more deadly offensive weapons—as if Pentagon needs to absolutely overwhelm China’s capability. However, it seems intuitive that the expenditure required to develop a second strike capability is far less expensive than it is to develop the offensive capability necessary to snuff out second strikes.

President Ronald Reagan has been largely credited with introducing the star wars strategy and convincing the USSR that they need to keep up with their American spending for arms until it went bankrupt.

Now there is no one around to drive the Americans to bankruptcy. But we seemed nevertheless determined to spend into bankruptcy. Perhaps the Pentagon believes that they can borrow from the Chinese to cover the over-the-top defense budget?


Dr. George Koo is a retired business consultant and a board member of the New America Media.

13 March, 2009

Focus on deteriorating global environment

Countercurrents circulated today three pieces, published by leading newspapers, which draw attention to the deteriorating global environment.

Brief write-ups on the stories and links to them are provided below:

Global Warming Even Worse Than Previously Thought

By Michael McCarthy

http://www.countercurrents.org/mccarthy130309.htm


Lord Stern, the economist who produced the single most influential political document on climate change, says he underestimated the risks of global warming and the damage that could result from it. The situation was worse than he had thought when he completed his review two-and-a-half years ago, he told a conference yesterday, but politicians do not yet grasp the scale of the dangers now becoming apparent

Severe Global warming Will Render Half Of
World's Inhabited Areas Unlivable

By David Adam

http://www.countercurrents.org/adam130309.htm


Severe global warming could make half the world's inhabited areas literally too hot to live in, a US scientist warned today. Parts of China, India and the eastern US could all become too warm in summer for people to lose heat by sweating - rendering such areas effectively uninhabitable

UN Warns Of Widespread Water Shortages

By Martin Mittelstaedt

http://www.countercurrents.org/mittelstaedt130309.htm


The world faces a bleak future over its dwindling water supplies, with pollution, climate change and rapidly growing populations raising the possibility of widespread shortages, a new report compiled by 24 agencies of the United Nations says

12 March, 2009

On minority media in the US

Tim Giago, a Native American publisher, is launching a new newspaper. Writing in his Riznet blog, he says, “I think what is needed in Indian country is a good Indian newspaper.”

You won't find us on the Internet, says Giago. The reason: So many of my Indian readers do not have computers or do not even have access to them.

Reznet is a Native American news, information and entertainment website that also trains and mentors American Indian college students around the country as they prepare for journalism careers.

A project of The University of Montana School of Journalism, Reznet, now in its seventh year, is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the McCormick Foundation and the Gannett Foundation.

The training and mentoring program is aimed at producing more Native American professional journalists.

Tim Giago’s blog post can be read here.

Cristina Fernandez-Pereda, in a report distributed by New America Media, says the Obama administration has been maintaining an ‘open door’ policy with a few ethnic media outlets, and raises the question whether enough is being done.

Over to Cristina Fernandez-Pereda’s report “White House Welcomes Ethnic Press: Is it enough?

11 March, 2009

A travesty of parliamentary democracy

The manner in which Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik won a vote of confidence in the State Assembly today is a disgrace to democracy.

Governor M.C.Bhandare had asked Patnaik to seek a confidence vote in view of the collapse of the Biju Janata Dal’s alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the latter’s withdrawal of support to the government.

Patnaik was expected to win the confidence vote as small parties like the Communist Party of India and the CPI (Marxist) had extended support to him and some BJP members had quit the party to vote with the government.

Moving the motion of confidence in the 147-member house, Patnaik said he had the support of more than 74 members.

Congress members questioned the propriety of the Assembly meeting after the announcement of the election schedule.

Speaker Kishore Mohanty put the motion to vote without a debate. He declared the motion carried on a voice vote. There was no division.

It is preposterous to settle the crucial issue of majority support on a voice vote. How on earth could the presiding officer could the presiding officer determine that the number of people who shouted “Aye” was 74, and not 73?

The Congress party must share the blame for the absurd Assembly proceedings. By raising a specious constitutional issue it had provided the Speaker and the government the opportunity to evade a debate on the motion as well as a proper vote.

Fresh Assembly elections are due in Orissa along with the Lok Sabha elections. The dubious voice vote has given Patnaik the opportunity to remain in office through the election period.

AHRC raises issue of use of mobile phones by judicial officers

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, says in a statement:

A core element in any judicial function is impartiality. The common saying is that judges need not only to be impartial but need to be seen to be impartial. Over the centuries codes of conduct have been developed which places limits on the judicial officers contacts so as to ensure that parties to cases before them will not approach the judges directly or indirectly when the cases are before a judge. However, with the changes in communication there are now many complaints of judges having been contacted by various means although there may not be direct physical contact between a judge and a party to a case or the agents of such a party. The widespread use of mobile telephones is being perceived often as breaking the ground rules relating to the impartiality of judges.

The following types of contact have often been complained of, more so privately than in public, because public complaints can carry sanctions on the basis of contempt of court and other kinds of punishments:
• Contacts by politicians at high government levels or local politicians regarding parties that they have an interest in, either wanting favours or punishment depending on the nature of their interest.
• Contacts of lower ranking judges by judges from above who may directly interfere or make such inquiries as to indicate their interest.
• Contacts by various other government officers, particularly police officers who may have some interest in a case either due to bribery or other reasons.
• Contacts by civilians interested in a particular party for reasons of their own.
• Sometimes even the parties to the conflict themselves through some form of direct access or through attorneys who may claim special relationships with the judges.
Under normal circumstances there used to be restrictions which are practiced almost universally by the judges themselves or anyway, imposed on judges in order to maintain their impartiality as well as ensuring respect for the judiciary. For example, if a politician were to contact any judge for whatever reason it would be done through the proper hierarchy and records of such contacts would be maintained. Proper protocol would require anything other than formal meetings, for example at public gatherings where judges are expected to attend, would exclude any form of discussion on the cases before them. The keeping of records of any other form of meeting safeguards the judges from being approached by politicians for improper reasons. Where the names of persons who request a meeting with a judges is recorded in proper registers, which are, in fact, public documents this acts as a deterrent for any unscrupulous politician from approaching judges for improper reasons. It is of course presumed that there will not be anything other than an official meeting. Judges will not hold private meetings with politicians. Even in the case of using official telephones normally, judges are expected to make a proper record of any contacts with a politician or an agent of a politician. Through such practices a record is kept of whatever transactions that might occur and this also protects the judges themselves from baseless allegations. However, with the use of personal mobile phones such public records are not maintained and therefore it is more open for unscrupulous politicians to contact judges without making a physical appearance and therefore without making some kind of physical impression of an improper contact with a judge.

The above considerations also apply to the cases of contact between any member of the higher judiciary and the lower ranking judiciary. All contacts other than those which are entirely personal would be done through proper channels with proper records at all levels. However, with easy access to communications when physical contact is no longer needed there is always the possibility of abuse. In some countries some judges of the lower courts who have resented contact by officers of the higher judiciary for improper reasons have kept notes in their diaries, even making journal entries about such contacts. This has been done in order to ensure some form of evidence in case judges are subjected to some kind of harassment if they have failed to comply with direct or indirect requests communicated to them by a member of the higher judiciary. Members of the higher judiciary often hold positions also in disciplinary bodies regarding the judges of lower courts and therefore there is always the fear of being manipulated into some kind of fabricated allegations if they do not comply with the requests of those who hold higher positions. The same difficulties exist in making records regarding calls made to private mobile telephones. On other occasions when a judge may himself be open to such improper approach, private mobile telephones provide an easy avenue for such discourse without this being noticed by others. (Of course it is possible to argue that even calls to private mobile telephones can be traced through telephone records. This can happen only if there are serious inquiries which takes place, if at all, only when an allegation is established already to a higher degree). With the earlier forms of recording of physical contacts it is possible to prove at an early stage that a contact has been made which would create the need for some form of an explanation on the part of the judicial officer as for what purpose such a contact was made.

Even more problems are created through contacts between the police and the judges, particularly in many countries where the police hold a predominant role in criminal justice administration and they are also very frequently accused of trying to subvert justice for their own purposes. Normal contacts between the police and the judges are maintained by way of official records. Criminal procedures codes and the police departmental codes often lay down the type of contacts and the type of records that need to be maintained on all such occasions. However, such record keeping applies only where physical contact is needed or where contacts are made officially. When the contact is made through mobile phones and other means such records are not maintained.

The meeting of a party to a case with a judge would be considered a scandal under normal circumstances. The judges maintain protocol in a way to avoid parties to a case contacting them. Even where a lawyer is to contact a judge relating to a case this would normally be done only in the presence of the lawyer for the other party. Besides this the exact content of what is discussed would be made in proper records, often in the case file itself. However, with the capacity to make contact without having a direct physical presence far more avenues have been opened for unscrupulous litigants, their lawyers and the judges who are open to such approach in order to exploit new avenues for personal benefit.

As a result of the perception of contacts being made by one or the other party to a judge by any of the means mentioned above or by any other means, there are often instances where there are allegations or at least suspicions of prearrangements about the outcome of cases. The fear of such prearrangements has increased widely in recent years in many countries. With that there is also the temptation not only for one party but also for the other to try to exploit the situation for their benefit or at least to get even. Thus, a psychological atmosphere of approaching courts has begun to change in many places. Lawyers from several countries cite examples of their clients wanting to find out what links the lawyers have with a particular judge hearing a case. Admonitions of lawyers to such clients and assertions of professional conduct on their part sometimes lead clients to look elsewhere.

The most important consequence of all this is the loss of belief in the trial at open court. The concept of trial before a court has been developed over centuries in order to ensure that trials are decided by evidence lead before court which is open to the public. Judges arrived at decisions only on the basis of evidence which is given openly and which is known to anyone who has attended the court during the trial. The perception of prearranged outcomes of disputes thus, fundamentally challenges the very notion of fair trial.

In many countries in the Asian region trial by jury is not a normal practice. Trials are normally heard by a single judge. Therefore there is more the possibility for a judge to be contacted improperly by parties or their agents. This has created a serious crisis in the confidence of the judicial process. Among those who complain most are also many lawyers who feel that their unwavering commitment to proper professional conduct has disadvantaged them in the present circumstances.

Therefore there is a need for public debate and discussion on bringing about codes of conduct relating to the prevention of improper contacts particularly through mobile telephones and other forms of modern communication.

10 March, 2009

Pink Vigilantes strike back at abusive men in India

A group of women in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh, calling themselves the Gulabi Gang, is known for both their pink saris and their mission: to protect other women from abuse.

They take no prisoners, but collectively they chase after -- and strike -- abusive men.

Photographer Sanjit Das has produced a film about the pink vigilantes. Das and Laura Plotkin, director of the film, spoke about the film in an interview with New America Now host Sandip Roy.

You can isten to the AUDIO at New America Media website

09 March, 2009

US neurosurgeon awarded $1.6 million in gender bias suit

SUNITA SOHRABJI
News Report
India West

A female neurosurgeon was awarded $1.6 million by a Massachusetts jury Feb. 24 in her gender bias and national origin discrimination suit against Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

A U.S. District Court jury found that Dr. Sagun Tuli (photo below left), Harvard’s only female spinal neurosurgeon and one of a handful in the U.S., had been subjected to numerous instances of harassment, ridicule, intimidation and abusive conduct, largely by Brigham and Women’s neurosurgery department chairman Dr. Arthur Day (photo below right).

The jury, however, rejected Tuli’s claims that she had been paid less than her male colleagues and denied a promotion, but did find that the hospital had retaliated against her for complaining about Day’s behavior.

Tuli told India-West she had complained to superiors about Day’s behavior for several years before filing suit. John Ryan, Day’s attorney, told India-West that the neurosurgery chief denies all allegations of inappropriate conduct.

In her suit, Tuli alleged that Day had made sexist comments, including questioning her ability to perform her duties because she was “just a girl.” Day allegedly also repeatedly referred to Tuli as “his lover,” and in 2004, at a graduation dinner for medical residents in training, allegedly said, “Sagun, can you get up on the table and dance to show the other female residents how to behave?”

In 2007, during a routine credentialing review process, Day questioned Tuli’s mental health and decided that her credentials would be renewed only if she began to see a psychiatrist. Tuli got an injunction intervention and filed suit shortly after, alleging slander — among her complaints — for Day’s statements during the credentialing process.

Drs. Malini Narayanan and Deepa Soni – both neurosurgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital — had also filed complaints against Day. Narayanan settled her suit in 2008 for an undisclosed amount and has since left the hospital, while Soni’s suit is still pending, Margaret Pinkham, Tuli’s attorney, told India-West.

Tuli continues to report to Day, said Pinkham, adding that she has filed a request for an injunction to have Tuli, 39, report to someone else. Brigham may also change its reporting structure independently of the injunction, said Pinkham.

Day’s attorney Ryan told India-West that he was planning to appeal the jury’s verdict. “On behalf of Dr. Day, we are intent on pursuing all appropriate legal process to have the verdict reversed.”

“Dr. Day is an outstanding neurosurgeon whose character is best exemplified in the thousands of patients whom he has cared for during his career. He has continuously denied any inappropriate conduct, and we will pursue all of his legal options to establish that fact,” said Ryan in an e-mail. “While we are disappointed in several of the jury's findings, we are extremely pleased that they found no discriminatory conduct, that Dr. Tuli was paid fairly and that a number of the findings regarding Dr. Day were accompanied by nominal awards of only $1, including the claim of slander,” said Ryan.

Day — who came to Brigham in 2002 and is considered one of the country’s best brain surgeons — was ordered by the jury to pay $20,001 for intentionally interfering with Tuli’s business relationship with the hospital. Brigham is responsible for paying the balance of the award.

Tuli told India-West that the hospital, by continuing to have her report to Day, was sending a signal to all its female employees: “We never cared about you and we still don’t. Every woman there should be outraged.”

The 39-year-old, who trained at the University of Toronto and has worked at Brigham since 2001, said she went to several people over a period of four years before filing suit in December 2007. “I had gone to just about everyone in authority and nobody listened or did anything,” she said.

Day was never placed on administrative leave, despite the three pending suits against him, said Tuli.

The daughter of Toronto residents Lakhbir and Parveen Tuli said that she was offered a much larger settlement earlier, but wanted to take the case to trial. “I didn’t want to just shut up and take their money. The only way anything is ever going to change is if women stand up and say what they’ve experienced,” she said.

There are only 194 board-certified female neurosurgeons in the U.S., roughly six percent of the neurosurgical workforce. The organization Women in Neurosurgery conducted a survey of its members last year; more than half of those surveyed contended there was a glass ceiling for women in neurosurgery, while 87 percent felt there was gender discrimination in the field.

In a 2008 paper for the Journal of Neurosurgery, 12 female neurosurgeons concluded that an “old boy’s network” still prevails in the field. (Courtesy: New America Media)

Readers may also see Boston Globe report of April 1, 2008 which says: “Sworn statements from four employees who worked with the chief of neurosurgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital paint a picture of “an old boys’ network that remains alive and well” in one of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals, the lawyer for a surgeon contends in a sex discrimination lawsuit.”

The full report can be seen at the Nursing Link website.

08 March, 2009

Civilian casualties mounting in Sri Lanka

K. RATNAYAKE
WSWS.org

The UN and international aid agencies have issued renewed warnings that the Sri Lankan army's offensive against the last pocket of territory held by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the island's northern Wanni area is producing heavy civilian casualties and a humanitarian catastrophe.

Army shelling killed scores of civilians on Wednesday and Thursday and hunger is growing in the war zone because the government has virtually halted food supplies. The threat of disease epidemics is also growing, and medical facilities have been destroyed by artillery fire.

Thurairajah Varatharajah, a government medical doctor working at the makeshift hospital at Putumattalan, told the Associated Press that the area was being shelled "day and night," both outside and inside the "no fire zone" that the government had promised not to attack. He said the shelling killed 60 civilians on Wednesday and injured 159 others. On Thursday, five bodies were taken to hospital along with 94 injured.

Varatharajah said the civilian population had no clean water supply or sanitation facilities and is facing outbreaks of diarrhea, chicken pox and hepatitis. A shortage of food meant that some have begun eating inedible leaves from trees and that 13 people—most of them elderly—died from starvation in the past week, he said.

Civilians inside the war zone said they were forced to scrounge for food after the relentless shelling on Wednesday and Thursday. "It's been four days since my family has eaten," Mary Jacinta Balachandran, 46, told the Associated Press by telephone as she waited at a makeshift clinic. She said her brother-in-law needed an urgent operation on a stomach wound inflicted by shelling early Thursday. "But the doctors can't take him for surgery because they don't have the right drugs," she said.

Jacques de Maio, South Asian chief of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told the UN's IRIN news service this week: "Concerning the civilian population trapped by the continuing fighting in the Wanni region, it is definitely one of the most disastrous situations I have come across. They are exposed to shelling and exchanges of gunfire. People are dying. There is no functioning hospital or other medical facility in the area."

A local ICRC staff member, Vadivel Vijayakumar, died in a makeshift hospital on Wednesday after being hit by artillery shrapnel. His nine-year-old son sustained injuries as well. Vijayakumar had been helping to evacuate sick and wounded civilians and their dependents by ICRC-escorted ships to Trincomalee Hospital in the country's east.

On Wednesday, the ICRC organised its eighth evacuation to Trincomalee. Many of the civilians were suffering from shrapnel wounds, confirming that they were victims of shell attacks. Since its first evacuation on February 6, the ICRC has rescued more than 2,700 sick and wounded people, ICRC spokeswoman Wijeratne told the media.

Gordon Wiess, the spokesman for the UN's operations in Sri Lanka, warned on Wednesday of "civilians trapped in a tiny enclave between a lagoon and the eastern sea front, desperate for food, shelter and drinking water." He said it was "unacceptable" that civilians were cut off from aid. Wiess noted: "We have not had any consistent food deliveries since December last year". Instead, "only sporadic deliveries of food supplies" had arrived.

Morven Murchison, an ICRC health coordinator, described the situation in the war zone in an IRIN interview on February 26. Because there was not enough drinking water in the military-demarcated "no fire zone" in the coastal Putumattalan area, displaced people were moving back inland in search of water where fighting was taking place.

Murchison said the risk of disease was very high because there were no latrines or pits or other forms of sanitation for the war refugees. "There are reports of an increase in the number of cases of communicable diseases, including diarrhoea and respiratory infections. We are very concerned about the possibility of a serious outbreak of disease."

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied that the army was responsible for any artillery attacks in the "no fire zone", claiming: "We don't even use shells now. It's all house-to-house fighting, street-to-street. Hardly any artillery is being used."

But the military spokesman could not, as previously, blame the LTTE for the shelling casualties. The army claimed early this week that it had effectively silenced all the "conventional confrontational capability" of the LTTE. The defence ministry announced on Monday that army divisions had captured Puthukkudiyiruppu town and that the LTTE had been confined to a 47-square kilometre area.

There is no independent reporting on the ground, only defence ministry statements or occasional show trips for selected journalists. Military-linked death squads have silenced even mild critics of the war in the media through assassinations, abductions, death threats and attacks on media organisations.

In an attempt to deflect international criticism, the Sri Lankan government announced on Friday that it would open two "escape routes" for trapped civilians. The decision was reportedly taken at a national security council meeting chaired by President Mahinda Rajapakse. Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona emphasised that opening the routes did not mean any ceasefire with the LTTE.

In a breathtaking display of hypocrisy, Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe is currently in Geneva attending the UN Human Rights Council. He claimed that the government was not violating human rights, but trying to "liberate Tamils" from the clutches of the LTTE.

The government is claiming that only 70,000 civilians remain trapped in the shrinking area under LTTE control. However, the ICRC estimates the numbers at 150,000-200,000. About 37,000 civilians who have fled the area are being forcibly detained in huge camps set up by the military in Vavuniya.

For its part, the LTTE has refused to assist ICRC-led evacuations of civilians. An LTTE spokesman, identified as Thileepan, told Australia's Special Broadcasting Service radio that civilians wanted to stay, despite the appalling conditions. "These people belong to this land, so why would they need to leave these areas?" he said. "Mass evacuation is not required at all."

There is no doubt that the Rajapakse regime bears the primary responsibility for the humanitarian disaster. The Sri Lankan military is intent on driving all civilians out of the area, and into prison camps, in order to create a free-fire zone to annihilate the remaining LTTE forces. Tamil refugees legitimately fear reprisals, persecution and incarceration by government forces.

But according to on-the-spot reports, including from international aid agencies, the LTTE is trying to stop civilians fleeing the war zone. Its perspective is to use the trapped civilians as pawns as it appeals to the international powers to place pressure on the Sri Lankan government for a ceasefire. The LTTE still hopes to secure a settlement brokered by the Western powers that will allow for an LTTE-run autonomous zone, and is quite prepared to sacrifice civilian lives to achieve its objectives.

However, the LTTE's perspective of relying on the major powers, such as India, the US, EU and Japan, to intervene is also in tatters. All these governments have backed Rajapkse's war in the hope of ending a destabilising conflict that affects their interests across South Asia.

Last week, the Obama administration lined up openly behind the Sri Lankan regime, blaming the LTTE for the "increasing sufferings" of civilians in the war area. US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher echoed the Sri Lankan military's propaganda, calling on the LTTE to allow civilians to flee, and to stop lobbying shells and shooting guns out of the safe zone declared by the government.

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