2016 in Retrospect -the Year of Exceptionalism When the Leaders Trumped Parties & Institutions

When the going is good, the bosses play golf, but when times are bad, they try to play God. 2016 saw many national leaders doing just that. This must signal exceptional times for, ordinarily, in democracies, systems are in place and bosses behind frosted glass.
By this standard several democracies, including those in the USA and UK, must have crashed. Everywhere leaders were stepping out of the heap and making themselves visible. Administrative structures, which hummed peaceably till now, developed gaping chinks revealing rotting machines. The time was now right for exceptional things to happen and in 2016 they did.
As popular resentment grew, so did the wisdom that political speak and protocols were excess baggage. The hour had come for pure charisma to do its work and spread its charms. It was no good any longer trying to make the old rule look good. No matter how often it went in for a wash it always came out forgetting to soap.
In America, Donald Trump took the established Republican Party apart just as in Britain, Brexit hurt the Conservative establishment. In India, Narendra Modi too yanked at the chain. His demonetisation inaugurated a new look BJP that not only left its earlier merchant-trader support structure behind, but actually hurt it. Leaders of democracies everywhere seemed to revel at mocking their establishment roots and branching out pretty much on their own.
Paradoxically, the more seemingly inspirational and uncalculated the moves appeared, the greater the support their promoters received. Nowhere was the script written out in advance; it was a moving bulge, made up en route. Institutional procedures and niceties were now cast aside in favour of personalised connect. East or west, the matter boiled down to leadership and not institutions.
Trump, for example, always spiked his attacks against Muslims and Mexicans with hefty doses of establishment hate. Recall his lampooning of John McCain and Mitt Romney as low nutritional feed. Boris Johnson did something similar when he initiated the Brexit drive. Before long, riding on populist emotions, it sank David Cameron, the two time Prime Minister.
It is tempting to call all of this anti-democracy, but that would be a trifle hasty. In each case, the leaders fought elections, fair and square. What is more, in each case, they subsequently practised what they preached. The great digression was not between what they talked and the route they walked, but the distance they marked between themselves and their erstwhile parties. It was really a struggle between personalities and institutions and, in 2016, it was the leaders who won.
It is as if behind every ideological pronouncement there is a surcharged, passionate sub-text which political correctness muffles. Nevertheless, as they are unrequited thoughts and too blunt to be pronounced, they stay locked up, waiting for a release. White Americans felt threatened by immigrants from Mexico and the Islamic East, but no leader of any party ever dared voice this sentiment. The English in the UK held a similar view and blamed their government for letting Muslim refugees invade their land.
Given the barbaric acts Islamic State continuously indulges in, it was easy to forget the naked power play of western countries in the Middle East. Though the finger pointed unerringly at Muslims, people found it difficult to shake off the image of an incompetent, faltering state. This is where popular perceptions were resting at as well. When a leader then breaks rank and aligns with this view, large numbers rally around in instant approval.
Behind it all there is always an economic pain but, remember, scarce three years ago America was awash with the “we are the 99%” activists and the “Occupy Wall Street” squatters. The same Americans now voted in a member of the 1% that they were railing against a few months earlier. Similar reasons are often proffered to explain the vote for Brexit, but at bottom it was the fear of Muslims that did it.
This threat was exceptional, so the response had to be exceptional too. One could try any number of lengthy alternative explanations, but the power of exceptionalism lies in its simplicity. There are no big words, no ponderous steps, only simple arguments on blithe, happy feet. After years of juggling egg shells, political incorrectness was such a relief.
In India, Narendra Modi promised to tackle black money in his election campaigns and, therefore, when he initiated demonetisation, he was not without support. To link black money with poverty has long been a favourite equation in Indian politics. Of course, the dust Modi raised with this issue had his opponents rubbing their eyes, but it even left those of his erstwhile supporters smarting and itching. The RSS equivocated on demonetisation but Modi pressed on, determined to make his own future.
If democracies continue to follow the leader and not the party, then 2016 will be remembered as the year when it all happened. Notice has now been served and the rest of the establishment could easily punch itself out of office. If they ever returned they might face the slight of being forgotten but not gone!

Portugal-Provider of Global Leaders- Provides UN a New Secretary General

As 2017 starts, UN shall have a new CEO, I mean, a new Secretary General and he is from Portugal. Once a great colonial power, it is presumed to be a has-been country. The reality is that it is a powerhouse that has provided global leaders. What makes this country so, is intriguing. The recent election of António Guterres as United Nations secretary-general not only drew attention to his credentials but also put his own country, Portugal – home to just over 10 million people – under the spotlight.
There’s nothing new in a global leader coming from a small country. But when just one of them gives the world several political leaders with international profiles in a short time frame, one needs to pause and wonder why.
Besides the charismatic Guterres, a former prime minister and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, modern Portuguese political leaders who gained international clout include:
– José Manuel Barroso, formerly president of the European Commission
– Jorge Sampaio, who held high-level positions at the United Nations and was the first recipient of the UN Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize
– Diogo de Freitas do Amaral, who served as president of the UN General Assembly
– Mário Soares, who after his career in national politics continued to serve at the European level, becoming one of the most recognized Socialist leaders in the region
Among all elected Portuguese heads of state and government since the inception of democracy in 1974, only five have not taken off internationally after serving their country – most of them because of factors outside of their control.
There are examples from other European countries of former heads of state or government resuming their careers on an international stage – Carl Bild and Romano Prodi come to mind. But they are the exceptions in their countries and not the rule.
The Portuguese setting is even more intriguing because, as a general rule, few Portuguese over the age of 50 have excelled globally in fields other than politics.
If we discount sports stars (such as soccer player Eusébio or marathonist Carlos Lopes) and the political leaders mentioned above, only two Portuguese have received a Nobel Prize or made it into the TIME list of most influential people or the Foreign Policy list of global thinkers. They are novelist José Saramago and neurologist Egas Moniz.
If we use the same logic to compare Portugal with other European nations of a similar size, Guterres’ country doesn’t fare well. Ahead of Portugal is Sweden (36 people), Austria (20), Belgium (18), Hungary (11), Czech Republic (9) and Greece (7). Portuguese businessmen, scientists or artists of a certain generation have not excelled on the international stage.
Portugal: a political powerhouse
So what it so particular to Portuguese political leaders? At least four reasons may explain the phenomenon.
1. Dictatorship
Portugal lived under the conservative authoritarian rule of António de Oliveira Salazar from 1933 to 1974, which muffled millions of people but triggered defiance from a significant few.
Mário Soares, a long-time opponent of the dictatorship, was deported to Africa and later exiled in Paris. Jorge Sampaio led student demonstrations in Lisbon. And Durão Barroso was a Mao Zedong follower in his rebel youth.
Salazar’s autocratic rule had the unintended consequence of creating a generation of spirited and politically driven leaders, who nourished underground links with mission-aligned players internationally, and who took up political positions after the 1974 Carnation Revolution.
2. System of government
Portugal’s semi-presidential system discourages dormancy. The president, the government, the parliament and political parties are daily immersed in public political contention.
The prime minister is questioned by parliament every other week and visits the president every week. Representative for political parties are always in the media, talking about their policies and sword-fighting over different positions.
The population demands eloquence and forcefulness from its political leaders – arguably even more than in other countries. Slips in language are heavily scrutinized, and that experience probably served Guterres well – he was widely seen as the best of all the secretary-general candidates when it came to debating skills. When asked about his credentials in handling intricate global conflicts, Guterres often drew on episodes from his “intense” time as a party leader in Portugal. He was groomed at home.
3. A consensual and fairly neutral country
On the diplomatic stage, Portugal is a colourless country. Its stance is generally the same as the EU’s, and its faltering voice is often lost in the global cacophony.
Besides pushing towards stronger cooperation between the Portuguese-speaking countries and calling for stronger links between Europe, Africa and Latin America (where its former colonies are located), it has no agenda of its own that could risk stirring global waters.
That has earned the country a reputation for being consensus-based – a Sweden of Southern Europe. And in the eyes of global powers, Portuguese unobtrusiveness and its small size makes it just right for these global roles. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the wealthier European Union member states had very little to pin on Portugal when engaged in backroom horse-trading during the UN and EU selection processes.
4. A former empire
Portugal was a country with an overseas presence from 1415 to 1999, when Macao was handed over to China. Although the Portuguese, unlike other nations, don’t mourn the loss of their past glories, growing up in Portugal still means having a wider sense of the world. Portugal’s understanding of “the other”, of distance and of frontiers does not match its small dimensions. Foreign lands are not treacherous grounds.
Looking to the future
If older Portuguese generations did well globally mostly on the political front, the younger “European generation” seems to be more multifaceted and better equipped.
Major investments were made in education and science (it has seen the largest growth in number of PhDs over the past two decades of any EU country) and Portugal is currently in the spotlight for its cultural sophistication, liberal lifestyle, and its role as a global hub of entrepreneurship and innovation. Portuguese human capital seems to hold the key to an auspicious future.
The country is also gradually renovating its political class. If we look at the formation of the incumbent government, two key ministers – education and economy (planning and infrastructure) – are under the age of 40. One of the most talked about members of parliament, Mariana Mortágua, is 30. The Communist Party spokesperson is 37. The president of the CDS-PP (the second largest right-wing party) is 41 and became minister at the age of 36. Most of them were teenagers when António Guterres first took office as prime minister. But the “intense” political cultural they are growing up in remains the same.

The Year When We Look for Saviours

 

The “new year resolution” is a profoundly subjective act. The year does not promise you change;  you promise change to the year. It is an exhortation to change oneself, find new willpower, and start a new personal regimen or hobby. You might say, it is the type of resolution suited to modernity: Men and women, no longer prisoners of rhythms they cannot control; we have at least the power to order ourselves, no matter what the world portends. The new year resolve, if it exists at all, is about care of the self.
A world in which its leaders vie for attention on Twitter, around nuclear weapons and surgical strikes, is not a reassuring one. We no longer trust politics, language, institutions. We look for saviours and leaders who have the power to act on the world.
Our civil calendar new year, not withstanding the sociability associated with it, marks a profoundly lonely moment. Other forms of “new year” are about the world changing: The seasons changing, the planets turning, or the year itself signifying something new. The new year supposedly tracked some rhythm, of nature, of the cosmic cycle, or even fate. The rhythm may not always be consoling, but it brought the expectation of change. The civil new year marks a change of date. Most people rightly treat it as a matter of indifference. But there are rituals associated with it. Usually these are endowed significance not by the promise that the world will change but by an exhortation that we should, as individuals, change.
But care of the self is often overshadowed by two concerns. On a lighter vein, as the wise Mark Twain knew, a resolution to oneself has about as much sanctity as money printed by oneself. He wrote: “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever.”
There is a reassuring stability in this human frailty. But resolutions of the self also require a degree of certainty in our public world. How much certainty men and women can assume varies considerably. The world, despite a decline in poverty, still has an unconscionably appalling degree of poverty, always the greatest threat to human dignity. But now the normative frameworks that anchored our politics and societies are up for grabs in an almost unprecedented way. Populations, particularly in liberal democracies, are increasingly finding the status quo unbearable; many revolted and in that revolt felt empowered.
The net result of that tumult is a radical reopening of fundamental questions of the kind we have not seen in a generation. First, in the economy, there is not just increasing pessimism whether the promise of endless growth, productivity and jobs can continue in a vein that reconciles the interests of all sections of the globe — capital and labour, the North and the South. Second, in a long time, the basic constitutional structures of a liberal democracy are going to be seriously tested by a challenging combination of populism and growth in executive power. In the contest between plutocratic incrementalism and soft authoritarianism, the latter seems to be winning. Third, the values of liberal societies, the preference for liberty over authority, deliberation over propaganda, dispersal of power rather than its concentration, diversity as an asset rather than a liability, civility rather than aggression, are now a source of contempt. Liberal has become a “sneer” word, without any thought of what will replace it.
Fourth, globalisation, the greater material and human integration of the global economy, is seriously under question. Nationalism is back with a vengeance, not as a harbinger of a new civic commitment, but as a new collective narcissism. Fifth, the balance of global power will also become uncertain. A world in which its leaders vie for attention on Twitter, around nuclear weapons and surgical strikes, is not a reassuring one. Sixth, even in the social space, new forms of communication have transformed our sense of self in ways whose implications are not clear. Social media has been empowering and democratising in some ways; it has been divisive and abusive in many others. But it has altered the boundaries of the public and the private, the sacred and the profane, the serious and the trivial in ways we still do not understand. Finally, it is not clear whether the incremental resolve the world had shown to save the planet from climate change will survive.
Such a moment of crisis can be a moment of regeneration; the opportunity to look beyond settled complacencies. But these challenges will not follow the rhythms of the calendar, or be amenable to individual resolve. If anything, the sense of isolation, the gap between our intentions and the shape of the world as it emerges, is only likely to grow. Gramsci’s ever prescient advice “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” was made in the face of disappointment over the possibility of revolution, of the world taking shape in a way that conforms to our aspirations for it. The return of the “will” is in a sense a sign of disappointment with the world.
We can no longer trust ordinary politics, with its messy compromises, procedures and mediations. We no longer trust language, since common meanings have been eroded under the weight of partisan misunderstandings. We no longer trust the intellect and reason: They are too elitist and compromised. We no longer trust institutions since they are too corrupt. Perhaps this is a reason why we are looking for saviours and redeemers, leaders who by sheer dint of will can change our politics. When the intellect suggests a world of difficulty and complexity, the only way out is acts of assertion that can remind us of our power to act on the world.
So, the convulsions of 2016 were not about recovering a new idealism, a new sociability. It was about looking for exemplars of “optimism of the will,” leaders who promise to amass power in themselves to stamp their authority on the world. Our fates are in the hands of Supreme Leaders; 2017 will be a test for how well-founded or misplaced this faith has been; is this “triumph of the will” a road to paradise or perdition?” And if the latter, what is plan B?
But we still have our new year’s resolutions. Oh wait! It turns out in 2016 we are not even sure whether our new year resolution should involve cutting cholesterol as sharply as we thought we were supposed to. And social scientists are telling us we don’t understand happiness. Happy New Year anyway!

Saturday Special: Feminism in India in Danger of becoming Cute & Coopted

Both Pink and One Indian Girl are examples of how powerful male celebrities seem to be pushing the limits of what society concedes as women’s freedom.
Does feminism need to win a popularity contest? It would help. There are too many intelligent women (and men) out there who believe it is a bad word. But, hey, here we are in 2016: A best-selling author in India has written a book on a “normal feminist” woman; a mainstream Hindi film has hurled an axe at the thicket of lies around women’s consent. Indian cricketers are wearing their mother’s names on their jerseys. The actor Sonam Kapoor has written about the self-loathing that consumed her as an overweight girl and refuses to leave her even as a fashion icon. Are you asking, as I am, if this is feminism’s pop moment?
Since the December 2012 gang rape of a 23-year-old, the toxic gender bias in Indian society has come up in Parliament, been headlined in newspapers and led to far-reaching changes in the law. Discussions have taken forward the scrutiny of how family, language, caste, even the presence or absence of public toilets, restrict female worth. Patriarchy is being challenged in homes, hostels, workplaces, fields, social media, Shani Shingnapur and Haji Ali. It is almost inevitable that popular culture wants in on this fascinating narrative.
Both Pink, a film that proposes a radical stance on sexual consent, and One Indian Girl, Chetan Bhagat’s first book with a female protagonist, are examples of how powerful male celebrities seem to be pushing the limits of what society concedes as women’s freedom. Amitabh Bachchan, who stars in Pink, is the totem of a supremely male-dominated film industry. Bhagat is a phenomenon of Indian publishing. His staggering reach, his newspaper column and a very vocal presence on social media give him a bully pulpit. Well done, both, if they can use that influence to seed disruptive ideas about “good Indian girls” in young minds.
Pink is such a jolt. In a Bollywood which long glorified stalking, its chant of “no means no” is ground-breaking. The film excels in showing how women go through daily life with a willing suspension of disbelief in the probability of patriarchy’s backlash: “I only need to get home before dark and it won’t happen to me.” In a Delhi weighed down by the particulate matter of fear and fog, three single women lead privileged lives. They shrug off stares and gossip, squeezing their independence when needed into pre-fabricated social selves, strategising about which clothes match which dark alley. Before it wanders into the grandstanding of a Sunny Deol courtroom, the film cuts to the bone by showing this fragile “normal” of lives led under patriarchy’s rules.
The commercial logic that makes Bachchan a Pied Piper for a feminist film also takes away a few of its brownie points. His ageing lawyer hogs the screen while saving the day — and the ladies. The quibble is not the character’s gender but that he seems to have all the agency and all the answers, while the three female protagonists steadily lose theirs, even the spunky Meenal who smashes a bottle on her molester’s head.
The world is what it is, perhaps, but it should not blind us to our longing for male intercession. The “good husband” who fasts with his wife on Karwa Chauth, even “allows” his wife to skip the fast, or the angry old man who intercedes with other men on behalf of vulnerable women, all these are ideals that cushion patriarchy from the shock of women asking the tough questions.
Unlike Pink, which ought to have left several people squirming in their seats, One Indian Girl is largely a man speaking to other men. Bhagat once wrote a column trying to convince Indian men of the benefits of a spouse with a job, urging them to choose wise, earning companions over those who only make hot phulkas. So perhaps, this new novel, written in a woman’s voice, is a step up.
Radhika Mehta works at Goldman Sachs, makes heaps of money, has an active sexual life and (spoiler alert) goes on to reject her former jerk-lovers. The novel’s blurb and pre-publicity insist she is an “unlikeable” woman. As with all marketing, the packaging is bulkier than the product. Radhika might be a cool cat, but she is no “nasty woman”, or even an angry one. Other than her big fat bank balance, there is little that is threatening about her. High capitalism’s warm, fuzzy embrace solves many problems of equity in this neat little bubble (that has always been so in Brand Bhagat land).
She is also set up as the lone female achiever in the book, surrounded by annoying, pancaked women. Unlike Pink, which paints a beautiful, detailed backdrop of female friendship, Bhagat appears as uncomfortable with a gang of girls as a first-year male engineering student. Where are your girlfriends, Radhika, you alumni of SRCC and Springdales School, Pusa? Who are the women you compete with, spent nights with dreaming about the future? Are you really Bhagat in Prada?
The idea of the exceptional female is an example of the limits of Bhagat’s “feminism”. In interviews, he’s sought to deflect criticism of his book by casting Radhika — and by extension, the 100 women he interviewed as research for the book— as “normal or real” feminists, as opposed to feminist “Nazis”. The former are “real women”, whose hearts break at being ditched by their boyfriends, as opposed to “elitist feminists” who allegedly hector women about crying over men. (Actually, Chetan, even us termagant feminists do cry when jilted and don’t worry about letting the cause down.)
Bhagat can be an enjoyable writer of friendship and romance but he has arrogantly positioned himself as someone who speaks, without a sense of hesitation or self-effacement, for and to the mainstream, the “average Indian”. His book is a somewhat engaging story of a conflicted, successful girl. Brand Bhagat uses it to turn a spokesman for a “practical” feminism — which suggests that you need equal rights, not feminism. Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had the riposte to that old mansplaining argument: “Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general — but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded… For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem acknowledge that.”
As feminist ideas are multiplied into our mindscape, through organised movements, legal reform and social change, the establishment is eager to contain the narrative. Nothing exemplifies that more than Bhagat, who has used his “feminism-for-the-masses” book to wag his disapproving finger at those who might scoff at his cosmetic revolution of a destination wedding in Goa gone wrong. His is the classic manspreading move — the well-meaning man has hopped on to the ladies’ coach and now is telling the girls where to get down.
As feminism grows, it becomes a standard by which to evaluate language and systems for fairness, as well as a means by which to sell clothes, novels and films. But for any feminism to be meaningful, it has to remain a serious, disruptive force. It is a way of seeing that makes us question the most intimate and the most public of our relations, from the housework that is not shared to the near-absence of women in the national workforce, from the macho obsession with muscle and war to the ideas of propriety that stand in the way of self-discovery.
Does feminism need to win a popularity contest? Yes, but it should not vie for the pink sash of Ms Congeniality.

The 3 New I’s Of Indian Politics – Intention, Initiative and Ideas

We have reached the last few days of the demonetisation period. Every Indian publication and almost all notable publications worldwide have carried their own take on it.
Most of those analyses are about doing a cost-benefit analysis of the demonetisation move. Many intellectuals and leading economists are calling the move questionable, simply on the basis of cold facts.
Most of the old cash has been declared and swapped in banks. This means that either (a) there wasn’t that much black money in cash to begin with; and/or (b) the black money hoarders managed to swap out efficiently the old black cash for new black cash.
Anecdotal reports suggest old cash was being swapped for new cash at rates as low as a mere 10% commission in the past few weeks. Bank officials around the country helped game the system (it really was like a video game, with RBI adding new surprise rules on a daily basis).
While some deposited money could be declared in the latest version of the ‘new’ voluntary disclosure scheme, it is now widely accepted among intellectuals and economists that gains from the black money extinguished will be limited.
At the same time, many enumerate the costs of the demonetisation scheme as the following – a real slowdown in the economy that will reduce tax collections for the government and earnings of many honest taxpayers; chances of a full blown recession along with job losses; millions of lost man hours that were spent in queues; and a loss of credibility for the Reserve Bank of India and the government because of the knee-jerk nature of the exercise as well as the ad hoc directives that continue to come.
Well, they are not wrong. The true economic benefits of this exercise will be limited. Unless followed up by real measures to limit generation of black money (including actually fixing political funding, a hot bed of black money generation), black money in India will continue to flourish as well.
However, none of this really matters in terms of the political impact on BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For politically, the move is a major hit. Sure, benefits are limited and negative effects are many. However, to realise that requires a proper analysis, an understanding of the economy and using your rational brain more than your emotional heart.
All that already sounds tiresome and boring. No, the Indian voter has rarely cared about the economy in exercising his political preferences. What they have loved about the move are the three I’s that seem to result in big political gains for any leader who can display them. These are: Intention, Initiative and Ideas.
Modi’s intention was good. That alone fetches him high marks. In a country where an average politician is expected to be corrupt and loot the nation, to see a leader really have the right intention towards black money was a huge plus.
Nobody in his position of power had tried such a move. The fact that Modi showed initiative and didn’t have to be pushed to do this helped his case further.
Finally it was a new, relatively novel idea. Even though demonetisation has been tried before, nobody ever envisioned it or tried to execute it on this scale.
Indians have long believed that there are ‘lots’ of rich people with ‘lots’ of black money kept under their mattresses, which is the root of India’s problems. The exact amount of ‘lots’ in that sentence is unknown. However, the demonetisation move played to that belief, and earned near unanimous support.
Never mind that the black money in cash isn’t quite as much as people imagined. Or that in India there isn’t a specific set of ‘evil’ people who are corrupt, but rather many good people who also become corrupt when given the chance (as when bankers swapped cash illegally).
What matters emotionally to people is this: The PM tried something good, on his own and had a fresh idea. That’s enough to continue supporting him and the move.
Something similar happened with the odd-even move to curb pollution in Delhi. Many experts argued that pollution from cars is only a small fraction of total pollution, and the exemptions would make the exercise futile.
They were right. Odd-even didn’t help curb pollution. However, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal enjoyed support as he displayed the three I’s.
Another example is Amma’s canteens, and the entire gamut of freebie politics in Tamil Nadu. In rational terms, it is unsustainable as the state is burdened with massive debt due to such moves. However, people like it simply for the intention behind it.
Perhaps one day, cold facts and details of implementation and execution will matter more to the Indian people. For now, battered by a political class that never cared, just good intentions, a bit of initiative and fresh ideas seem enough.
After all, if we look around us in India’s political class, even these qualities are hard to find.

Weekend Special: Busted Sexist Myths About the Brain

Along with just about every other aspect of real or imagined differences between the sexes, the idea that your biological sex will determine the sex of your brain – and so your behaviour, aptitudes and personality – has a long and controversial history. The idea that a man’s brain is “male” and a woman’s brain “female” is rarely challenged.
The latest neuroscientific techniques employed to measure and map those brain structures and functions which might distinguish the two sexes are discussed in a recent special issue of the Royal Society examining the differences between male and female brains. But among the papers is one that directly questions the very concept upon which the others are broadly based, boldly stating that there is no such thing as a male or a female brain.
One of the authors, Daphna Joel, had previously published a study of structures and connections in over 1,400 brains from men and women aged between 13 and 85, in which no evidence was found of two distinct groups of brains that could be described as either typically male or typically female. Brains were more typically unique “mosaics” of different features – something more correctly characterised as a single heterogeneous population.
Such a mosaic of features cannot be explained in purely biological terms; it is a measure of the effect of external factors. This is true even at the most fundamental level. For example, it can be shown that a “characteristically male” density of dendritic spines or branches of a nerve cell can be changed to the “female” form simply by the application of a mild external stress. Biological sex alone cannot explain brain differences; to do so requires an understanding of how, when and to what extent external events affect the structure of the brain.
Neuroplasticity
The notion that our brains are plastic or malleable and, crucially, remain so throughout our lives is one of the key breakthroughs of the last 40 years in our understanding of the brain. Different short- and long-term experiences will change the brain’s structure. It has also been shown that social attitudes and expectations such as stereotypes can change how your brain processes information. Supposedly brain-based differences in behavioural characteristics and cognitive skills change across time, place and culture due to the different external factors experienced, such as access to education, financial independence, even diet.
The importance of this to the male/female brain debate is that, when comparing brains, it’s necessary to know more than just the sex of their owners. What kind of brain-altering experiences have their owners been through? Even a path as mundane as school, university and a nine-to-five career will meld the brain in different ways to those with different experiences.
Clearly this is important when any kind of brain differences are being measured and discussed, particularly when it is the influence of a biological variable (sex) on a social variable (gender) that is being studied. But it’s surprising how infrequently this is incorporated into the design of studies, or acknowledged in how results are interpreted. Understanding how much the brains being examined are entangled with the worlds in which they exist must be part of any attempt to try and answer the question of what, if anything, separates male and female brains.
A new approach
Perhaps the mounting evidence that brains can’t be neatly divided into sex-based groups will prompt a game-changing alteration in how we approach this issue.. What is really meant by a “sex difference”? Taken straightforwardly, one would assume a “difference” implies the two groups measured are distinct. That the characteristics true of one are almost always not true of the other, that it’s possible to predict characteristics based on sex or vice versa, or that knowing to which group an individual belonged would allow you to reliably predict their performance, responses, abilities and potential. But we now know that this simply doesn’t reflect reality.
On a wide range of psychological measures, it’s clear that the two sexes are actually more similar than different, despite oft-repeated stereotypes or anecdotal assertions. In parallel with the findings that brains are a mosaic of features, repeat analyses of more than 100 different behavioural and personality traits believed to be characteristic of one sex or the other have demonstrated that they don’t fall into two distinct groups, but are best allocated to a single group. The researcher’s conclusion, delivered with a wry smile, can only be that men are not from Mars nor are women from Venus: we are all from Earth.
The whole issue of male/female differences in the brain and the implications for male/female differences in any sphere – normal or abnormal behaviour, ability, aptitude or achievement – is really important to clarify. In the US, the National Institutes of Health recently mandated that, where appropriate, sex of the test subjects should be a variable in any research it funds. It’s time to move on from the simplistic dichotomy of looking for what makes male and female brains different, and instead approach the issue through the probably more meaningful and potentially revelatory question: what makes brains different?
Neuroscience helps us to shine a light on sexist attitudes. Women are now occupying or vying for some of the most important positions across the world – President of South Korea and Taiwan, Prime Minister of the UK, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Namibia, Chair of the US Federal Reserve, State Bank of India, and Head of the IMF to name a few.
From succeeding in a man’s world, perhaps it is now women who are wired for success? As technology disrupts and levels the playing field, leaders need to be emotionally intelligent, able to handle competing demands and intuitive – traits more traditionally associated with women.
But is there any neuroscientific grounding behind these gender stereotypes? What is clear from extensive research from institutes such as McMaster University, the University of Pennsylvania and Cambridge University is that there are physical differences between a man and a woman’s brain – in structure and chemicals, as well as function. For example, men and women’s brains respond differently to stress and process emotional memories in a different way.
However, these differences are easy to overstate and can distract from the bigger messages that brain science has for all of us. We take a closer look at some:
1) Women are better at multi-tasking. This theory is based on the fact that the left and right sides of the cerebral cortex (“the higher brain”) are more densely connected in a woman’s brain than a man’s, meaning that information can bridge the two hemispheres more effectively. In contrast, men tend to have more front to back connections within a hemisphere.
We all struggle when we juggle multiple tasks
But in reality, no human brain performs very well when multi-tasking – we end up doing each task less well than we would if we tackled it individually. In one study of 120 men and 120 women, multitasking reduced performance by 77% in men versus 66% in women. Constant interruptions can also lead to increased stress and in some settings, such as driving or flying or surgery, to serious safety risks. It is better for us to shift away from multitasking altogether and focus on tasks fully and sequentially.
2) Women are less competitive and therefore better at teamwork. One of the underlying theories is that women are less competitive due to greater effects of oestrogen and oxytocin (the bonding chemical) and less testosterone than the male brain. However, chemicals in the brain vary from individual to individual, as do levels of competitiveness. An experiment carried out by the Stockholm School of Economics, for example, sought to replicate prior claims that men tend to perform better than women in a competitive set-up. The team wanted to examine whether gender differences were “hard-wired” or biased by cultural norms.
The tests were carried out in Sweden, ranked as the 4th most gender equal country in the world, and with seven to 10-year-olds competing in traditionally feminine or masculine activities. The results showed that across all the different activities, girls and boys were equally competitive.
The lesson, as Professor Gina Rippon, a cognitive neuroscientist at Ashton University recently wrote, is that “the brains of a newborn boy and girl are very similar. Any small differences in brain circuitry come about through the “drip, drip” of gender stereotyping; the result of environment, not biology”. To expect that humans have a brain hard-wired at birth to be good at one thing and bad another also fails to take into account epigenetics (environmental factors that can switch genes on or off) as well as the plasticity of our brains to flex and mould over time. Even characteristics such as confidence that may appear to be ‘natural’ need the appropriate pathways to be laid down in our brains, which then need to be topped up and maintained over time.
3) Women are more emotionally intelligent and better at using their intuition. One of the major differences between the male and female brain is in the orbitofrontal cortex and deep limbic system. This system is involved in processing and expressing emotion, and has been noted in some studies to be larger in the adult female brain, leading to the belief that women are better at articulating their own emotions and intuitively understanding others.
Again we should guard against stereotypes. Traits like empathy and compassion can vary widely with situation and under some circumstances, gender differences can disappear altogether. Rather, components of emotional intelligence – like interpersonal skills and empathy – are abilities that can be learned over time as shown by recent emotional plasticity studies at the University of Liege in Belgium. In fact, improving emotional intelligence has become one of the more sought after among those senior executives who work with brain scientists to gain a competitive edge in the workplace

The Blueprint for Auschwitz was laid in Namibia: A New Look at History

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” When Sir Isaac Newton said this back in 1676, he meant it as an acknowledgment of the body of previous scientific and philosophical works that provided the foundations for his own discoveries.
The observation stands true for a great many disciplines, a nod to the ideas and inventions of the past that we then build upon to create new wonders. But while we tend to view progress as something inherently good and for the benefit of humanity, we ignore that evil too stands on the shoulders of its own giants.
Take the Holocaust; there is a tendency to see this as a horrific diversion in the otherwise linear progression of Western civilisation. But viewed from another angle, one can argue that the Nazis’ industrial-scale genocide was not a historical accident but in fact the logical consequence of established trends in Western history.
The idea of concentration camps did not suddenly spring up in the minds of Nazi planners. During the American civil war, prisoner of war camps in both the Union and the Confederacy quickly ballooned into large-scale internment camps such as Andersonville which “produced scenes of wretched, disease-ridden and emaciated prisoners as repulsive as any to come out of the Second World War”.
A few decades later, the concept inspired Spanish general Valeriano ‘the butcher’ Weyler, during the Cuban rebellion of the late 1800s, to use similar camps to intern the civilian population in order to separate them from the rebels and deprive the latter of much-needed logistical support. As with the Civil War camps, the purpose was not to eliminate the inmates but again, conditions in the camps led to hundreds of deaths.
The blueprint for Auschwitz was laid in Namibia. Around the same time, the British were fighting the Boer war in South Africa, and faced with an unorthodox enemy decided to create camps of their own where the civilian Boer population (mostly women and children) was interned. Again, “callous lack of care” in these camps caused the deaths of 28,000 Boer women and children, along with some 20,000 black people.
However, it was in Namibia that the real blueprints for what eventually became Auschwitz and Dachau were laid. Latecomers to the colonial game, the Germans ended up with the parts of the world the other colonial powers didn’t want, such as Namibia. But in a departure from the colonial norm, the Germans decided they had no need for the local population.
This is partly because they were inspired by the views of political philosopher Friedrich Ratzel who advocated migration as being crucial to the survival of human ‘races’ and who first used the term Lebensraum, which later gained such terrible currency. Emptied of its native population, Namibia was to be a new Germany, populated by the racially pure. To achieve this, German general Lothar von Trotha declared:
“Any Herero found within the German borders…will be shot… The Herero people must leave.” What resulted was the first genocide of the 20th century; the Herero were forced to “march into death” into the desert, with German soldiers sealing the perimeter and bayoneting those who attempted to escape.
Survivors were herded into concentration camps like Shark Island and Luderitz where food was so scarce that “prisoners fought like wild animals and killed each other to secure a share.” Some 80 per cent of this population died in the genocide perpetrated on African soil by Europeans. But even in death there was indignity; according to historian Dennis Lauman, Herero women prisoners “boiled and scraped the skin off the heads of Herero who had been killed. Those skulls were then shipped off to Germany for museum displays and eugenics research”.
That very research led to the development of the racial studies that provided the pseudo-scientific basis for later genocides.
So when the Nazis came to power, the concentration camp model was very much in place, as were the philosophical underpinnings of genocide. What they brought to the mix was the industrialisation of murder; Thanks to the wonders of technology, bayonets and bullets were replaced by far more efficient gas chambers and crematoriums.
That in turn would not have been possible without the presence of a large industrial base and companies willing to aid in this endeavour. IG Farben, the predecessor of pharmaceutical firm Bayer, was instrumental in developing Zyklon-B, the poison gas used in the chambers. Manufacturing giant Siemens built the furnaces, and IBM provided the information systems that allowed the Nazis to track all this.
But even then, the scale of the killings would not have been possible if the Nazis hadn’t inherited a large and efficient bureaucratic system — the product of centuries of evolution in how government works.
So the Holocaust was not an aberration of history, it was as author Enzo Traverso concludes, “an authentic product of Western civilisation”.

South Asia in US Vision

President -Elect Trump says that India is a great country and is opposed to outsourcing jobs that sustain India, and also against HB-1 visas that bring employemt to thousands. He calls Pakistan a fantastic country and also condemns it as the fountainhead of terrorism. There is a lot of speculation how the new administration under Donald Trump hall deal with Pakistan and act in the broader South Asian region. But there is too much uncertainty still for political analysis to produce anything truly meaningful in response. More useful would be to explain the various nodes of uncertainty and narrow down the focus of the discussion to developments that would matter most in terms of shaping the US’s South Asia policy.
The most obvious unknown is Trump’s approach to policy issues. If one is to believe the greats who have held this or equivalent offices around the globe, being in such positions compels one to adapt and change. Each individual tends to respond to the demands of the job differently but few manage to march on exactly as they want to. The uncertainty is bound to be greater when dealing with a candidate who has never held public office before.
Policy management styles can provide early indication of how important issues may be tackled. But we don’t know enough. One is unsure of the nature of the interaction between the Trump White House and agencies like the State Department, Pentagon, CIA and USAID. Will the president’s national security council take a hands-on approach to key national security and foreign policy issues? If so, it may make the other agencies somewhat less important. Or will the vice president’s office be more empowered? The idea has made the rounds and would be fairly novel. But it would leave us with even less to predict comfortably.
Next, the top cabinet picks that everyone seems to be focused on may matter less to South Asia than some other parts of the world. The region is unlikely to be a key priority unless something major — probably something bad — puts South Asia back in the headlines. For tier two and three priorities, the working levels of government agencies tend to be far more relevant. So we’d have to know more about who’s in the running for slots slightly lower down the pecking order at the State Department and Pentagon to determine where this may leave Pakistan and its neighbours.
South Asia has become less important for US think tanks. There are added bureaucratic complexities when it comes to the US government’s handling of South Asia. Ever since 9/11, the US has sought to de-hyphenate its ties with India and Pakistan while hyphenating Afghanistan and Pakistan. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton carved out a bureaucracy to reflect this by appointing a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs and drawing a fairly solid line between this office and the rest of the South and Central Asia (SCA) bureau that dealt with India and the other Saarc countries.
Pakistan has never fully warmed to the idea of being de-hyphenated from India and some in the Foreign Office felt it fitting for Pakistan to be folded back into SCA. These are two very different bureaucratic arrangements, with their own peculiarities. Being in SCA would perhaps imply reduced attention on Pakistan, but this may not be the worst thing at a time when there are little prospects for convergence of US and Pakistani policies in theatres like Afghanistan and India. It is unclear if there are any plans to move in this direction.
The Pentagon is less uncertain in terms of India-Pakistan issues. The two countries fall under different military commands, and this forestalls a hyphenated approach. On the other hand, Af-Pak remains hyphenated and both countries fall under Centcom. The Pentagon’s dependence on supply routes into Afghanistan was Pakistan’s trump card in the military-to-military relationship for years. That dependence is all but gone, and could lead to a less patient approach to­­wards the Pakis­tani security establishment going forward.
Congress is perhaps the most predictable of the spaces to watch. There is ample reason for Pakistan to worry here. While its importance is recognised on Capitol Hill, the narrative is largely shaped by US interests in Afghanistan and the belief that Pakistan hasn’t done enough to quell cross-border movement of Afghan insurgents. A harsher take has been threatened for long and could become reality. India’s assertiveness vis-à-vis Pakistan also finds resonance on the Hill. This isn’t likely to change.
Finally, South Asia has become progressively less important for Washington’s think tanks. There has been a shift in focus towards the Middle East and issues related to the militant Islamic State group, and Russia and China have picked up momentum more recently. Lack of attention in this arena usually implies less policy debate in the public space. Pushed too far, it could result in indifference and policy paralysis. But it has also been known to create opportunities for quieter diplomacy and to lower political costs for out-of-the-box options to improve ties. This may be an opportunity for US-Pakistan relations.

They also serve…

It’s a commonly held belief amongst the theists that above the skies, the longest lines are before the gates of heaven. But there is stagnation before the entry to hell, because you have no credentials to prove, no certifications from holy men, or proof of miracles to apply for sainthood, or even biometrics. Come as you are, sit around the fire, and drink from your favourite mug.
They say that all you carry to the next destination after your life is your deeds. The wise and honest leave the paper part of the “deeds” to their children so that there may not be further litigation in the family after departure. You can convert to genuine holy currency many times over in your heavenly retirement.
The deeds that welcome you to hell are different in principle. Pending confirmation, you carry your “deed” papers, and because godly abodes don’t accept, black money is your corpus for existence. I can’t give you absolute proof, because no receipts are issued, no accounts are for scrutiny!
The demonetization drive just crossed a month. People line up dawn onwards before banks and ATMs. The lines shorten and lengthen, and then suddenly shift a few yards away to the newly loaded ATM. The usual gossip goes on. Not much anger, but to curse is part of Indian psyche. They have stood the same way for submitting railway bookings, gates of test matches, temples and Rajnikant movies. Why, there was a 16 km line from Dum Dum to Howrah to watch “black pearl Pele”.
The amount of thinking and strategy that went in the change of the economic system of transaction, by no means was ordinary. For 1.2 billion people in the largest democracy, was never going to be easy. Criticisms are accepted, hardships are not being denied. That it proceeds entirely to perfection, would be utopian thinking.
Anyway, half-way through any game, race, mission, often gets more tiresome than the end. One is as far from the take-off point, as one is from the finish line. What guides you is a modified determination, a bit drop in speed, just for the little while to pick up more oxygen, and preserve calories. One may change lanes but stick to the direction. It is also advisable as a tactic to listen gracefully to criticism, but be firm in intentions.
Going digital is something the new generation shall thank us a few years from now. Systems shall be clear and transparent. A trend towards honest declaration of incomes, shall increase revenues. Exploitation of the daily wage earner shall end, and supposedly social security, health, education, and infrastructure shall improve.
The more important aspect is that concealed wealth is a threat to national security. That indeed was one of the reasons why such an action had to be taken overnight, if you may like to align the circumstances, visits and alliances that took place since. These are still speculative and subject to analysis, but the bottom line is still national security.
Accepting the emergent arguments of drop in GDP, manufacturing index, loss in incomes in all sectors, particularly small traders, drop in sensex. This was a natural outcome of less money in circulation, and there are issues that work entirely on sentiments. The extrapolated cut in rates, shall come about as more money turns digital, or is pumped back in circulation.
An important viewpoint is that digitalization is our preparation to compete with global economies, even as we liquefy junked billions in gold, land, and political take homes. The faster you can spin money (and that is digital), the more productive it becomes. Digitalization is also the groundwork that shall attract foreign investment. There is a theme here, and there is no option but to take it to the anticipated positive conclusion. Part of the problem, as it now turns out, are leaks in the banking system (the same mistakes that lead to overdraft crisis). Add to that the reluctance of the rich man to part with what he has piled in a system that he habitually used to influence and control government policies. Not his fault, if that be the system!
This is the chance for young Indian entrepreneurs and start-ups to innovate, and add to the world economy.
India is the world’s largest democracy. Also a country outside the western fold. Circumstances would perhaps never have changed, had successive PMs not made reformist changes. The present powers have taken up an ambitious plan. Along with the implementation of GST, the system is likely to shape up into a modern economy.
The cake is in the oven. It would be prudent to let it bake. Then would be the time to take it and have it too, and for the sake of the country, I hope we get the desired results.
Criticisms, have an important place, and let them go on in the right spirit.
Finally, it was so designed, that not the Cardinal, not the Mullah or Brahmin shall rule the world. That job was long back reserved for the politician.
The only Bill they ever agreed upon was the one on increase in salaries, and that too, quietly passed on the last day of a particular winter session.
Let the salaries even if increased, be given in notes of 500 and 1000 denomination on the 30th, to be deposited in the accounts in a day.
That would be a fair compensation for the poor man who shall be hopefully hanging around the banks till that day!
Woh bedardi sey sar kaatein Amir, /Aur mein kahoon unse./Huzoor ahista janaab, ahista
(They were remorselessly beheading me, and all I said, your grace, do it gently, do it patiently)

Trudeau New Arctic Strategy Neccessitates A Look at Who’s Responsible for the Arctic

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama announced a ban on offshore oil and gas activity in the Arctic in a joint statement issued. “Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping, science-based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity,” the statement read.
Obama has permanently banned oil and gas development in U.S. waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Canada declared a five-year ban on new licensing in all Arctic waters, with a review based on climate and marine science at the end of that period.
The Canadian government is also revising its policy for the North. The Liberals said they are replacing the previous government’s northern strategy with an “Arctic policy framework.”
Former prime minister Stephen Harper’s northern strategy put an emphasis on asserting Canadian sovereignty through the Canadian Rangers and addressing economic concerns through natural resource development. Canada and the U.S. also announced they will start a process to identify low-impact shipping corridors. The process will include determining where vessels will not be allowed to sail and gauging what kind of infrastructure and emergency response systems will be needed for northern shipping routes.
Thisd action reminds me of August 2016 when the 13-deck, 1,000-passenger Crystal Serenityset sail from Alaska to become the first cruise liner to attempt the Arctic’s fabled “north-west passage” that runs across the top of North America from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Until recently the passage was too clogged with ice for all but the sturdiest of ships.
This voyage, only possible thanks to climate change, highlights just one impact of melting Arctic sea ice. As the ice melts further new opportunities will arise to fish, to drill for oil and gas, or to sail through the once-frozen ocean. Inevitably, this activity will create competition with traditional Arctic communities, and risks severe damage to the environment.
This is a vast, fragile region that plays a huge role in everything from climate cycles to marine food webs and reflecting sunlight back into space. So who is supposed to protect the Arctic? The 4m or so people who live north of the Arctic Circle can’t regulate the whole area themselves. There are important questions here about whether coastal Arctic states alone should be able to permit or refuse fishing, or oil and gas extraction. Is there an international regime in place to regulate such activities in the interests of everyone?
The short answer is that there is an international treaty that governs all activities in the Arctic Ocean. The treaty gives much (but not all) of the formal decision making power to coastal states such as Iceland, Russia and Canada. These nations may choose to cooperate (and sometimes are required to cooperate) through regional organisations such as the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for Arctic governments and peoples, or treaties.
The treaty in question is the UN Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS). Signed in 1982, UNCLOS came into force in 1994. However the treaty only applies to the states that have agreed to be bound by it and that doesn’t include the US. UNCLOS is supported by a network of other treaties though, and by the rules of customary international law, which are binding on all states.
These treaties and laws provide a set of consistent, but quite general rules about using the oceans. For example, they set out the basic principles to be taken into account in fishing regulation, or when trying to stop pollution from shipping. It is, however, left largely to individual countries to decide how to interpret these principles and apply the rules, and this in turn is influenced by domestic politics.
This means the industrial fishing lobby, indigenous people, environmental NGOs and other interest groups are all very important. International law, after all, does not have the same checks as national law and its domestic application is generally only scrutinised where the interests of another state have been harmed.
The system is not quite the free for all that this description might suggest. There are also other international treaties that apply in the Arctic. These provide more detail and guidance on the action states can take, but do not cover every possible activity. The problem is that some of these rules are designed to apply globally and so do not provide detailed measures specific to Arctic conditions. For example, the International convention for Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) doesn’t take account of the specific needs of shipping in areas subject to heavy ice. Its global provisions have, however, been supplemented by the Polar Code to help protect fragile polar environments.
More specific regional agreements also exist such as one on cooperative search & rescue. And some agreements, focus on specific needs of certain parts of the Arctic, like the Barents Sea Fisheries Agreement.
Governments, NGOs, industry bodies and others can all influence the development of these laws. For instance, every member state in MARPOL, the shipping pollution treaty, can influence the development of new measures. Guatemala has as great a right to influence marine pollution law as Russia. In theory it makes little difference if those measures are, like the Polar Code, focused on the Arctic or Antarctic, or designed to be global measures.
The Arctic Council gives certain indigenous peoples the opportunity to influence the development of the law quite directly through their position as permanent participants. These permanent participants are in a strong position then to influence any agreements, such as the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement, which was developed under the Council.
Besides these direct routes to influencing the law, industry and other interest groups will lobby their governments to adopt particular measures at home and in international meetings. There are also indirect opportunities for bodies, seemingly unconnected with the Arctic to regulate activities there. For example, the EU is one of the largest importers of fish caught in or near Arctic waters. It could then shape fishing efforts in the Arctic by restricting imports of particular fish, or of fish caught using particular methods. Its market share may be large enough to have a regulating effect on Arctic fisheries.
Although there is a coherent legal regime in place, it is quite patchy and much needs to be done to strengthen the law. New laws could be developed by Arctic states acting alone or collectively, but there is also scope for new laws to be adopted at the global level. At the same time, there is a multitude of opportunities for states, industry, NGOs and individuals to influence the law in the Arctic, particularly through political channels.
In September, Obama became the first sitting president to travel north of the Arctic Circle. The joint Canada-U.S. statement covers oil and gas, community development and fisheries.
Both countries said they would regulate the development of fisheries in the Arctic. The U.S. said it will support existing commercial fishing closures in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Canada will work with northern and Indigenous communities to build Arctic fisheries based on scientific regulation.
Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod said the federal government did not consult with his people ahead of today’s announcement. “We are concerned by the announcement and firmly believe northerners should be involved in making decisions that affect them and their economic future, and in this instance, they weren’t,” McLeod said.
“The North is an expensive place to live and there aren’t a lot of options for people who need good jobs so they can provide for themselves and their families.” McLeod said his government is committed to environmentally sound growth, but that limiting fossil fuel development could be harmful to the sustainability of the northern way of life.
Political positioning
Michael Byers, a University of British Columbia professor who recently published a book called Who Owns the Arctic?, told The Canadian Press that the only surprise in the announcement is that it provides for a five-year review of the ban.
Byers said the move seems designed to show that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is protecting the environment, despite a recent decision to sanction two oil pipelines — the Trans Mountain expansion and Line 3 replacement project. “Closing the door to Arctic oil and gas helps to position himself on the climate change file by saying that there are limits in terms of the development of new oil and gas fields, therefore drawing a line in the sand from a climate change perspective,” he said. “There’s no activity taking place in the Canadian Arctic right now, so saying no doesn’t require anyone to stop.”

India Needs to Communicate to Pakistani Citizenry

Pakistan’s citizenry are trapped in a delusional self-perception and view of India, which prevents them from making rational analyses of relations between the two countries. In meetings with the Pakistani elite, an Indian will just have to smile his way through because debating and arguing rationally isn’t something the other side likes to engage in.
Munir Akram’s recent rant in Pakistani newspaper Dawn, against the treatment supposedly meted out to Pakistan foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz at the Heart of Asia Conference, is a case in point. When meeting people from Pakistan at neutral venues, a couple of things strike one immediately. First, Pakistan’s superiority complex vis-à-vis India remains undimmed despite the evidence of the last 70 years.
The Pakistan army makes the public live in a make-believe world, forcing the belief that in 1971 it never lost the war and was only deceived by the Bangladeshis; on the western borders India was, apparently, squarely defeated. The army’s expertise in public information and propaganda is outstanding; the message to the public is that the proxy war in support of J&K separatists is succeeding.
The slickly communicated message speaks of the alienation of the Kashmiri people, the huge problems of integration of different faiths and ethnicities all over India and that Pakistan’s stamina will see it through to eventual victory, meaning the integration of J&K into Pakistan.
The coming of Prime Minister Narendra Modi rattled Pakistan as much as his stance of returning to the peace process. The invitation to the NDA inauguration on May 26, 2014, created a dilemma and the common belief persists that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was given a cold shoulder, despite the courage he displayed in travelling to New Delhi against all advice within Pakistan.
Modi decided to break the impasse with Pakistan by sending then newly appointed foreign secretary S Jaishankar on a round robin of visits within South Asia, including Pakistan. The pace of things picked up with the Ufa talks in mid-2015 and continued through to the Heart of Asia Conference 2015, preceded by the NSA talks in Bangkok. The icing came with the visit of Modi to Lahore on Christmas 2015.
The visit took the Pakistani establishment by complete surprise. Usually one to surprise India with varieties of initiatives, Pakistan could not absorb the Modi visit. When Pathankot occurred seven days later, many in Pakistan blamed Modi for hastening non-existent processes.
Fast paced initiatives by the NDA government weren’t to the comfort level of Pakistan’s deep state. The ‘peace chain’ which Modi had initiated could have hijacked Pakistan’s entire strategy in which it had invested for years. Pathankot put a halt to the events which could spell peace. Modi’s olive branch found no takers and the deep state slunk back to its original strategy of bleeding India with a thousand cuts.
The return was made even simpler once Sharif came under pressure following the Panama Papers leaks. An element of hesitation was yet evident when the Indian government permitted a Pakistan investigation team, with ISI officers included, to visit Pathankot. But Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8 was the final nail in the coffin. Thus subterfuge by the Pakistan army-led deep state, combined with the quirk of fate of Wani’s killing, put paid to sincere efforts.
Pakistani citizens continue to believe that India has not accepted the creation of Pakistan and is working towards dismembering it. That belief is often reinforced by strong Indian statements during strategic debates on the viability of weakening Pakistan. It is unfortunate that Pakistanis hardly read or believe in the writings of some of their own columnists, who profess that Pakistan’s obsession with attempting to weaken India and playing strategic games is weakening its own edifice.
Perhaps the Indian state has failed to effectively and convincingly communicate its true intent. That intent is to strengthen India internally and secure it externally using the twin strategy of promoting harmony and economic growth. India remains unwavering in ensuring the good of its people. The trust deficit doesn’t allow this message to carry across the borders to Pakistan.
The coloured Pakistani thinking also arises from a strange belief that Pakistan is succeeding in its strategy of weakening India and wresting J&K away from it. Pakistan’s strategic community and even the public are aware of the great significance of Pakistan’s physical strategic space; as a confluence of many civilisations, interests and cross currents. This makes Pakistan extremely sure of its place in international strategic affairs.
At the end of the day the blame perhaps lies in the inability of reasonable communication of intent. Political rhetoric and social media are just one side of this. The real measure of serious intent has to be judged from the strategic literature emanating from a nation.
As in any functional democracy, there will always be different shades of opinion. However, governments shape this through cogent policies of strategic communication management. It is time we debated in India whether strategic communication emanating from the nation is in sync with our strategic aims and what we need to do to reduce Pakistan’s delusions. Cut through the fog: Indian strategic communication must aim to overcome Pakistan’s state of delusion

Indo-Pak Proposed No-War Pact: A historical Survey

Since Pakistan and India agreed on a need to address each other’s concern for territorial integrity and protection against covert operations, it shouldn’t be hard for them to define a framework in which a process for resolution of all pending disputes, in particular Kashmir, will be agreed on. This can be accomplished by efforts to conclude a no-war pact. A long history reveals why those efforts failed but can well succeed now.
On Dec 22, 1949, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru handed over to Pakistan’s high commissioner to India the draft of a joint declaration renouncing “resort to war for the settlement of any existing or future disputes between them”. Prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan countered on Sept 26, 1950, by accepting it almost verbatim but providing for “arbitration of all points of difference” in their disputes. Nehru sought to freeze the status quo on Kashmir. It is, however, a political dispute which is not susceptible to arbitration or adjudication.
In 1981, Pakistan offered a no-war pact in a statement announcing acceptance of US military aid. A formal note followed proposing talks on the pact. India responded in December that year, proposing that the Shimla Agreement be “the basis” for relations between them.
‘The key lies in stopping violence’. Pakistan’s aide-memoire of Jan 12, 1982, spelt out elements of the pact giving primacy to the UN Charter over the Shimla pact. One of Pakistan’s ablest diplomats, Agha Shahi, arrived in New Delhi with a draft non-aggression deal. K. Natwar Singh went to Islamabad as special envoy, in May 1982 to resume talks. He was presented with a draft of a non-war treaty. M.K. Rasgotra, India’s foreign secretary, arrived in Islamabad in June to present India’s draft treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation.
It introduced two contentious elements — no alliances and no bases on their soil “to any Great Power”. It also went beyond the Shimla pact by qualifying bilateral talks with the word “exclusively” which had been dropped at Shimla.
In Murree in May 1984, however, foreign secretaries M.K. Rasgotra and Niaz A. Naik achieved a near breakthrough. Differences were narrowed to two points — bilateralism and bases and alliances.
These two issues have become irrelevant after the Cold War. Interestingly, the minutes of consultation agreed in the talks between Abdul Sattar and Alfred Gonsalves in February 1987 simply said “Both sides agree not to attack each other”. It resolved the impasse following India’s Operation Brasstacks which nearly brought the two countries to war.
There matters remained in deep freeze. Rasgotra’s recent memoir A Life in Diplomacy contains a record of his talks with “the Chief Executive (CE) General Pervez Musharraf” in Islamabad on Aug 7, 2000. He says: “I asked CE whether his most recent offer, through the Pak press, a no-war pact, as in the case of past such offers, was conditional upon a prior solution of Kashmir. (Foreign Minister Sattar had told me on the 1st of August that the matter had not been thought through). I mentioned for his information that as foreign secretary I had myself negotiated a no-war pact/ friendship treaty with Pakistan between 1982 and 1984, which Pakistan for some reason chose not to sign at the end. The CE might, I said, have the matter looked into, and if he so felt fresh negotiations could be undertaken on the subject separately from other issues.”
Even more relevant to our times is this exchange: “I added: ‘You sure have some problems in your part of Kashmir, we are not adding to your difficulties. (He did not cavil at or contest this). We have problems on our side, which Pakistan-sponsored violence has aggravated. Political wisdom demands that you handle your problems peacefully and leave us alone to handle ours peacefully. When the situation is calmed, India and Pakistan, as sovereign entities, should sit together and address the issue and amicably resolve it to mutual satisfaction or mutual dissatisfaction. The key lies in stopping violence and creating a proper environment for the dialogue.’
“CE: ‘Rasgotra Sahib, as for violence I know what we are doing; and I also know what you are doing. I’ll say no more’. I tried to draw him out a bit, but he simply repeated the sentence and asked me not to press him, for elaboration.
“This was the most enigmatic (and pregnant) sentence of this conversion. We should carefully consider its implications. Are we doing anything in Pakistan similar to what Pak is doing in the Valley?”
This is the heart of the matter in 2016. Preparatory work, as diplomats call it, can help — accept the territorial integrity of each side; abjure covert or overt operations against each other; and recognise that the future of Jammu and Kashmir is yet to be settled as Para 6 of the Shimla Pact mandates.

What Pak-Russia-China Hug Means For India

Just when it seemed new, possible alignments were emerging on the international stage towards the end of 2016, possibly to distract from India’s renewed obsession with domestic matters such as demonetisation, US president-elect Donald Trump has spun the wheel in a different direction, calling up old enemies to possibly assist with challenging new ones.
25 years since the US actively promoted the break-up of the Soviet Union, Trump has taken a much softer line towards Russian president Vladimir Putin. The Indian foreign policy establishment is watching carefully, wondering whether this means that it will no longer need to choose between its historic strategic partner, Moscow, and its alliance of recent vintage with the Americans.
Fact is, as India spends ten times more money on buying US weapons than Russian equipment, while bilateral trade between Delhi and Washington reaches 15 times trade levels between Delhi and Moscow, the gaps in understanding between India and Russia have only grown wider.
In the last week of September, 70 Russian and 130 Pakistani troops took part in first-ever joint exercises which were inaugurated at the Pakistani special forces academy in Cherat, 34 km south-east of Peshawar, at 4,500 feet in the Khattak mountain range.
This is how “Russia Today” described the event: “Carrying equipment weighing around 15kg, representatives from (Russia’s Southern Military District’s mountain infantry brigade based in Karachay-Cherkessiya demonstrated how to make a safety mechanism using a station knot.
Their Pakistani colleagues returned the favor, showing them another safety mechanism using a special rope with three knots.”
Delhi wasn’t amused. Still, it isn’t clear why the Indian Foreign Office wasn’t able to see such a move coming. It’s not as if Russia and Pakistan, Cold War rivals since the late 1980s when Pakistan did everything in its ability to help the US defeat the mighty Red army in Afghanistan, woke up one summer morning and decided they would climb the mountains at Khattak together.
The Russians have since downplayed the incident, just as the Pakistanis have played it up. In fact, Russian officials, off-the-record, even deny that Putin’s special envoy on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov told reporters at the recent “Heart of Asia” conference in Amritsar that India should not be “jealous” of the incipient Russia-Pakistani friendship in the making.
But Moscow hasn’t stopped wooing Pakistan – some say, under Chinese pressure. It has offered to refurbish a 1960s vintage steel plant, as well as build a pipeline from Karachi to Lahore. A few helicopters have been offered for sale, even as unconfirmed reports suggest that the two sides have begun their first intelligence-sharing exchanges on the region.
Meanwhile, the wheel was spinning differently elsewhere. As the outgoing Obama administration targeted Putin for interfering in the US election and sought to paint him as an international monster for opposing the US intervention against Syria’s Bashar-al-Assad, Russia began to scout around for friends and supporters. It found China, ever-willing to do both business and strategy.
Interestingly, as Putin looked towards India, he found both former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be far more interested in engaging with the Americans. In fact, it was rumoured that Modi didn’t even want to go to Moscow for his first summit meeting with Putin in late 2014 and wants to send a senior official instead. Better sense prevailed.
China’s strategic embrace of Pakistan has been in the offing for several years. But it was the US which paid Pakistan $18 billion in the 15 years since the September 11 incidents as its contribution to the war against terror – only to find Pakistan double-crossing it on a variety of fronts in Afghanistan. As China waited in the wings, Rawalpindi seemed only too happy to dump the US in favour of a closer cinch with China.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has now become the linchpin of that friendship, with Beijing’s alleged promise to spend $46 billion on the creation of new infrastructure from the Karakoram highway in Gilgit-Baltistan to the port of Gwadar in Balochistan.
Russia’s interest in Pakistan is not new. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto almost went to Moscow in the 1990s but it seems that Indian diplomats like Ronen Senand Sati Lambah persuaded Moscow to postpone a friendship with Rawalpindi. Until June 2015, when Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif became the first army chief in decades to visit Moscow. His spokesman, Gen. Asim Bajwa, tweeted: “Wreath laying at tomb of unknown soldier. Heart-warming to see Russian band play Pakistan anthem perfectly.”
Meanwhile, Zamir Kabulov, who had recently completed a posting in Kabul as Russia’s ambassador – where he saw the enormous power that Pakistan’s intelligence agency and army wielded in Afghanistan – was beginning to exercise power in the Russian establishment.
“Kabulov believed that while Pakistan was part of the problem in the ongoing conflict that prevented the stabilization of Afghanistan, it was also part of the solution because of its over-sized influence in that country,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.
As the Central Asia states which abut Afghanistan began to weaken as a result of their ageing but increasingly dictatorial leaderships, Kabulov was able to sell the line that Afghan militancy and drugs could become a big threat not only to Central Asia but to Russia’s own soft underbelly.
An Indian official who has been closely associated with Afghanistan policy over several decades, said on the condition of anonymity, “Soon after the September 11 incidents and the expulsion of the Taliban from Afghanistan, the Western world believed that Pakistan had the key to the region. So much so that the US forbade India from entering into any security-related partnerships with Afghanistan, as it believed that was the prerogative of Pakistan.
Today, 15 years later, many things have changed. India is in a much stronger place in Afghanistan. The US is now the disillusioned party and hopes India will lift its game to help out in that country. And Pakistan has replaced the US, its key mentor and funder, with China as its main strategic partner in the region.
The chips are falling in entirely unforeseen ways. Russia, China and Pakistan could be coming together in a loose association of sorts, while India and the US hang together on the other side.
Except, with Donald Trump as the new US president, things could change again. Reading the tea-leaves in these interesting times, as the Chinese would say, is fraught with risk. Nevertheless, if Trump reaches out to Putin as he has promised to do – and as his presumptive Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to do, with his own decades of experience of drilling for oil in Russia, he could succeed in extracting him from Xi Jinping’s jaws.
For India, that would be the best news – Modi riding off into the sunset with Trump and Putin together – even if it is still in the realm of fiction. The way 2016 has turned out, however, nothing is implausible. Perhaps real life will have a shot at imitating fiction next year.

Redrawing Maps: India & China Have a Model in Belgium & Netherlands Relations

Belgium and the Netherlands just did what many countries with territorial disputes can’t even imagine. Belgium agreed to cede 35 acres of land by the Meuse River in exchange for about seven acres from the Netherlands, thus ending a long-festering territorial problem without any conflict. True, the magnitude of the land exchanged was small. Nonetheless, it exemplifies that territorial disputes/issues between countries can be resolved amicably, even in these times of heightened nationalistic sentiments across the world.
This is particularly relevant for India which has territorial disputes with a few of its neighbours. Of course, India’s situation with Pakistan is unique given the history of relations between the two countries. The Pakistani establishment’s anti-India mindset stems from a combination of fear, a desire for revenge for 1971, and an obsession with Kashmir. For these reasons, resolving territorial disputes with Pakistan, especially in the current hostile atmosphere between the two countries, is extremely difficult.
That said, there’s one country with which India can resolve its territorial disputes amicably – China. Of course, several rounds of border talks have already taken place between the two sides and much work still remains to be done to arrive at an amicable solution. But the latter isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. As things stand, resolving the middle section of the India-China border isn’t much of a problem. Broadly speaking, the tricky part lies in resolving the eastern (Arunachal Pradesh) and western (Aksai Chin) sections.
While Aksai Chin is under Chinese control, it’s claimed by India as part of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Meanwhile, even though Arunachal Pradesh today is a full-fledged state in India, it’s claimed by China as South Tibet. The easiest solution to these disputed territories would be to freeze the current positions of the two sides and effect an east-west swap. After all, the reality is that India is never going to get back Aksai Chin, while China can never hope to get Arunachal Pradesh. By accepting current positions, the two sides would only be formalising the reality on the ground.
But to effect such a solution two things are required – political trust and preparing the respective citizens of each country. Political trust can only be gained through continued bilateral cooperation. India and China already have a significant economic relationship. True, there are some disagreements in the strategic arena. But the two sides have been able to successfully compartmentalise these issues to a significant degree and that is how they should remain. With continued engagement better trust can be built, creating the right atmosphere for a solution to the territorial disputes.
At the same time, however, India needs to prepare its citizens for redrawing the country’s map. I am not saying this will happen or needs to happen in the near future. But the fact remains that the map the Indian people have grown accustomed to doesn’t reflect ground reality. And if India is going to settle its border with China, that map will have to be readjusted a bit – Aksai Chin, in case of an east-west swap, will go to China. This is easier said than done in a democracy like India. It will be recalled that in the run up to India’s settlement of its border with Bangladesh which entailed the exchange of 162 enclaves that each country had in the other’s territory, there were vociferous protests from some political quarters.
At one point, the BJP – then opposition in Parliament – had argued that the enclaves could not be exchanged because it would entail impinging upon the basic features of the Constitution that defined the sovereign territorial contours of the country. However, when it came to power in 2014 it did well to revise its position, clearing the way for the exchange of Indo-Bangla enclaves and permanently settling the border with Bangladesh. It’s noteworthy that even though the enclaves were small, landlocked parcels of land that neither side could access, some quarters were upset that sovereign Indian territories were being bartered away.
Such an attitude is obviously a hindrance in resolving territorial disputes. But these sentiments do exist, especially in a democratic set up. Hence, if India is to ever settle its border with China, it must prepare its people for territorial swaps, even though in this case it would be recognising the ground reality. Belgium and the Netherlands have shown it isn’t impossible.

The Jihad factories of Europe

The month of December in Europe is like November in India, when children are all excited about Diwali and lots of candles are lit in the windows. In most European cities millions of candles are lit and it has almost become a festival of light in a period when winter surges in with dark clouds and shorter days. In India people go for Diwali shopping and people here go to Christmas markets.
In Berlin this week, such a Christmas market was in full swing, light and life being celebrated until someone decided to plough a truck towards innocent civilians, killing at least 12 people and injuring even more. The German police immediately caught a person of Pakistani origin, who was later identified as the wrong suspect and later released.
This image made from video recorded from a passing car shows an explosion ripping through the San Pablito fireworks’ market in Tultepec, Mexico.
German prosecutors are now working on a more realistic theory, pointing at someone whose fingerprints and identity papers have been found in the truck. It is now confirmed that Anis Amri, a Tunisian national, who had sought asylum in Germany last year and had his asylum application rejected, is now the prime and legitimate suspect of a terrorist attack, which has once again shocked European capitals.
The European media are now reporting that the suspect was probably radicalized in a jail in Italy, where he was held for other crimes. It is astonishing that Brussels, which has long been regarded as the political capital of Europe, has also become the center of jihadist activities. The jails of European cities like Brussels, Palermo, where the present suspect was held, Paris, and suburbs like Molenbeek have become nests where young jihadists are taught and trained and fed with ideas that are totally opposed to the democratic norms of the societies into which they immigrate.
Today the Danish newspaper Extrabladet has revealed that 36 men, who left Denmark for Syria, have been officially receiving paychecks from the Danish state while they were fighting in Syria. This is in opposition to the law, which demands that those receiving such payments have to be present in the country, ready to take work at any hour. 135 foreign fighters have left from Denmark alone, according to the Institute for Terrorism Analysis based in Denmark. Even higher numbers of foreign fighters with European passports, consisting of a conglomeration of individuals, asylum-seekers, new converts and youngsters in general, have left for Syria from other European countries, such as Sweden, France, Belgium and UK. They get radicalized and are sent off with the help of welfare money meant for people who are unemployed and have no other means of supporting themselves.
Once upon a time, what bothered European politicians was why some of their young men were going to Syria and other Islamic hot spots to fight jihadist wars. Today, most politicians are worried that those foreign fighters and jihadists are smuggling themselves back into Europe after having received military training. The recent migration crisis, which resulted in over a million asylum seekers entering Germany alone in the last two years, has become a hot topic of political contest. Terrorist attacks like the one we saw the other day in Berlin at a Christmas market will probably change the outcome of several elections, including the one in Germany.
It was Sushant Sareen who wrote a book in 2004 with the title, The Jihad Factory, Pakistan´s Islamic Revolution in the Making. Sareen primarily used Pakistani sources to explain why the country had become the base for jihadist activities. The times are changing. Europeans are wary of the Islamic terrorism that is primarily carried out by persons of North African origin, from countries like Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, etc., who first get involved in petty crimes for survival and then later get groomed into jihadists in the jails of European capitals. The case of the present suspect in the Berlin terrorist attack is in no way unique.
Apart from jails there are several culture and youth centers, which are funded by State and Counties, whose leaders are also once in a while caught using clandestine methods to radicalize young vulnerable boys, who are later sent to Syria and other war zones.
Last month in Denmark, five women journalists discovered that two boys, who attended a youth club called Kilden in the small town of Farum, had died in Syria, and another two club members are still in Syria. The family members interviewed in the documentary called The Jihadist Club of Farum were heard saying in the documentary that they see no chance of their siblings returning alive, and family members of these boys were heard giving a testimony of desperation, asking their brothers and sons to return home. The shocking thing is that such a club, which is supposed to be a hobby center for young boys, where they come to play billiard, table-tennis and football, was used for brainwashing them. I have personal experience of having worked in such centers and sometimes it is shocking to hear young girls, who are not Muslim by origin, claim to have converted to Islam at a very young age. These young girls are the children of broken marriages, with single parents or foster parents, who at a very young age enjoy the liberty of being able to go into town.
Youngsters who do not fit well into the academic world of the present education system, who come from broken families, whose parents are either not economically or mentally strong enough to give proper guidance, and psychologically vulnerable young kids, who simply hang around at train and bus stations, get comradeship, food and other needs met by preying jihadists, eventually facilitating a process of radicalization.
It is more than well known, the story of two teenage girls, Samra Kesinovic and Sabina Selimovic from Austria, who were lured into going to Syria and who ended up getting killed because they tried to escape the sexual exploitation at the hands of Syria fighters, who used especially Samra for sexual pleasure, defying the Islamic principles they were preaching to her before she left for Syria from Austria.
We often hear about the young boys getting radicalized, but as the above story from Austria illustrates, there are girls who get radicalized too, but they end up as wives, whose stories often do not create headlines unless they are killed, too. It would be appropriate to use a term such as Jihad factories of Europe, to explain what is happening on a large scale, plaguing the entire continent. It bears a resemblance to what happened on an even larger scale in Jihad factories of Pakistan. The only difference is that Pakistan as a state facilitated those Jihad factories and still does, while European states are trying their very best to shut down these Jihad factories, which are now converting malfunctioning youths into easy targets for Salafist preachers, who are all but ready to prey on their vulnerability.
European politicians should take a read of Sushant Sareen´s book, which was written more than a decade ago. They have to understand that describing every terrorist attack as a lone wolf attack does not work any longer with the angry voters, who want a strict clampdown on such activities.
These terrorist attacks produce a backlash, which hits innocent immigrants who fit the profile of the terrorism suspects. More so, young innocent boys and girls are made gullible and susceptible to plain manipulation, and this is pure exploitation of the generosity that is offered in the name of the welfare state.
They could start with a simple measure in Europe. Stop radicalization in prisons, and register everyone that travels to the countries which figure among the top five countries of terrorist activities listed under The Global Terrorism Index. The Global Terrorism Index gives a comprehensive overview of what comprises the real threat to us and has registered systematically the terror attacks occurred since the year 2000. It is based on data from the Global Terrorism Database, considered to be an authentic and comprehensive collection of terrorist activity throughout the globe, resulting in 150,000 terrorist incidents.
Here are the five countries with the highest toll of terrorism impact: Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria. These five countries were affected most and were regarded as the main targets of terrorist activities in both 2015 and 2016.The number of persons dying due to terrorist attacks has been proportionally higher in these five countries than the other 163 countries subject to investigation. The Middle East and Africa were targeted. Now that seems to be changing. The attack in Berlin illustrates that Europe cannot go scot-free.
Would 2017 be different? Yes, if European countries start imposing sanctions and strict scrutiny on those who go for extended periods to those countries which are very high on the Global Terrorism Index, and monitor with greater care persons who are entering Europe from these countries. This may not annihilate the radicalization of youths in Europe, but it might reduce it a bit.

The Reality of President Barack Obama’s Wage Growth

At a rally on June 1 in Elkhart, Indiana, President Barack Obama proclaimed that, finally, the economy was helping ordinary Americans.
“Wages are actually growing at a rate of about 3% so far this year,” he declared. “That’s the good news. Working Americans are finally getting a little bigger piece of the pie. But we’ve got to accelerate that.”
The POTUS’ 3% average wage growth has likewise been touted by several economically oriented outlets in recent months (The Financial Times and Forbes on May 5, Jared Bernstein’s blog On the Economy on May 26, etc.). Among these outlets, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta has emerged as the new go-to source for accurate wage growth data because it focuses on the continuously fully employed, who are likely to do a better job of gauging labor market strength.
And indeed, the Atlanta bank’s wage growth numbers this year fit the president’s claim:
⦁ 1% in January
⦁ 2% in February
⦁ 2% in March
⦁ 4% in April
⦁ 6% in June
Don’t Miss: Your retirement investment advisor is about to become your fiduciary – whether you like it or not. Thanks, Obama…
But there’s one big problem with the Atlanta Fed being the new favored source for wage growth:
It’s unreliable.
Don’t Trust Uncle Sam’s Info on Wage Growth Numbers
You see, the Atlanta Fed still gets its numbers from the old wage growth source, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). (The more widely known monthly “jobs report” from the BLS contains the labor report, by the way.)
The problem with the BLS’ labor report is it’s constantly being revised, sometimes with massive changes (as is the jobs report).
In fact, every time a labor report is released, a benchmark revision date is given as well to alert the public that the numbers are subject to change.
For example, on June 7, the BLS released Q1 (January through March 2016) compensation numbers that came out to an astounding 4.2% increase. The institution had previously reported a 0.5% increase in the fourth quarter of 2015.
You may be thinking, “Well, that’s great! Wage growth was much higher than anyone expected!”
That’s exactly what economists thought, too. According to CFO.com on May 4, economists were expecting a somewhat-hawkish 3.3% average rise for Q1 at best, which would make more sense given the Atlanta Fed’s findings.
However, the BLS revealed on Tuesday (Aug. 9) that its 4.2% wage growth figure was way off.
We’ll have to just wait and see if the Atlanta Fed’s wage growth tracker updates with that latest bit of information.
Because it wasn’t just a small calculation error on the Bureau’s part this time; it was massive — and the BLS tried to bury its revised findings as quickly and quietly as it could…
The BLS Hides Wage Growth Revisions Deep in an Updated Report
Deep in the trenches of the BLS’ updated report, the Bureau admitted that Q1 wage growth figure had not been 4.2%, as it had previously claimed.
Q1’s wage growth was actually -0.4%.
“Nonfarm business sector productivity decreased 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2016 — the same as the preliminary estimate — as a small downward revision to output was offset by a small downward revision to hours. Due to a 4.7-percentage point downward revision to first-quarter hourly compensation, unit labor costs decreased 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2016, rather than increasing 4.5 percent as reported June 7. Real hourly compensation decreased 0.4 percent after revision, rather than the previously-published increase of 4.2 percent.” – Bureau of Labor Statistics, Aug. 9, 2016
The BLS also stated that this downward trend seems to be continuing…
Compensation also fell another 1.4% in the second quarter of 2016, from April to June, the report read.
That’s a near 2% drop in wages since December 2015 — making the term “wage growth” oxymoronic.
When the Atlanta Fed does update its tracker, it might want to fill President Obama in on these massive miscalculations as well.
Besides, even if wages were growing, the numbers would just provide further evidence that the United States is still stuck in a roller coaster of paltry percentage gains and falls anyway.
Of course, that’s not what the mainstream media wants you to know…
How to Read the Government’s Wage Growth Data
Always with a grain of salt…
Money Morning’s own Global Credit Strategist Michael Lewitt has long been skeptic of the optimistic sunglasses the mainstream media tries to put over the public’s eyes with the jobs and labor reports.
“[The media] continue to downplay negative economic news and tout the least sign of economic growth as a boom,” Lewitt recently told readers on Aug. 7.
“Ignoring seasonal adjustments, which apparently strain the intellects of so-called financial journalists who demonstrate an ignorance of both finance and journalism, CNBC treated the [July 2016] jobs report as a blockbuster, which it certainly was not,” Lewitt explained. “Two hundred thousand jobs a month in an economy with over 300 million people is pathetic, particularly when only 150,000 of those jobs are coming from the private sector.”
And not only does the mainstream media issue the jobs report with happy glasses on, but it does so with an irresponsibly narrow gaze as well.
For example, if you look at U.S. wage growth numbers from about 1985 onward, you’ll notice that the numbers have been bobbing between 2% to 4%.
We’re still in the era of wage stagnation.
So no matter what the politicians and the mainstream media might tout, until wage growth breaks that 4% annual threshold and keeps rising, their optimism is just wishful thinking.

Which Country Hasn’t Faced Recession in last Quarter of Century? Australia

When the whole world was facing frightening recession, there was one country that was thriving. It is Australia. It has escaped all cyclical recessions for the last quarter of century. Possibly, the last time Australia had a recession, the Clintons had never run for president, Donald Trump had never had a business go bankrupt, and the Soviet Union was still a country.
In other words, it’s been awhile. Twenty-five years, to be exact. That’s not quite a record — the Netherlands didn’t have one between 1981 and 2008 — but it’s close. That doesn’t mean, though, that Australia’s unemployment rate hasn’t had its ups and downs during this time. It has. It’s just that when it has risen, as it did in 1996, 2001, 2009, and most recently 2013, it hasn’t risen that much because its economy has gotten back to growing almost immediately.
How has Australia been able to turn recessions into the economic equivalent of Beanie Babies — i.e., something we’re happy to have left behind in the 1990s? Well, a big part of the story is China. More than anyone else, Australia has benefited from the innovative new model of digging things out of the ground and selling them to the country undergoing the greatest economic miracle in human history. Indeed, 32 percent of Australia’s exports go to feeding what at one point seemed to be China’s insatiable appetite for raw materials. That’s a pretty good safety net for when things are looking shaky everywhere else.
But only pretty good. Australia’s exports actually fell quite a bit in 2009. So that can’t be the reason it avoided a recession that was the worst since the 1930s for every other rich country. And for another, China has started to slow down itself the past few years. That, after all, is why Australia has shed mining jobs and seen its unemployment rate edge up since 2012. That its economy has kept growing, then, has been in spite of, and not because of, China.
So what is it that has kept Australia’s economy from shrinking?
Well, the answer is as boring as it gets. It’s that Australia has been able to cut interest rates when it has needed to. Other countries haven’t, you see, because their interest rates are already as low as they can go at zero or even slightly negative territory. What’s more interesting, though, is why Australia has been able to do this. And that’s that it has a smarter central bank.
Let’s back up a minute. Twenty-five years ago, central banks began to take the actually revolutionary step of not only telling people what they were doing, but also what they were trying to do — that is, how much inflation they wanted in the economy. New Zealand was the first to do this, and, they basically pulled the number 2 percent out of thin air. At which point, economists quickly convinced themselves that this was wise. Two percent was a small enough number that it was pretty consistent with price stability, but it was large enough that interest rates shouldn’t get stuck at zero. That, at least, is what they thought. Federal Reserve economists estimated that rates would only be that low 5 percent of the time under a 2 percent inflation target. The reason that matters is that central banks can’t do their jobs as well when interest rates are zero. Sure, the Fed can promise not to raise rates or even print money, but those things don’t seem to be as effective as a good, old-fashioned rate cut. Which is to say that zero rates make it harder to fight a recession and harder to help a recovery.
The problem, as we’ve found out after 8 years of near-zero interest rates, is that a 2 percent inflation target was not, in fact, sufficient to keep us out of this trap. That’s because lower inflation means lower interest rates, and if interest rates are low enough when a big enough shock hits, then you’ll find yourself at zero before you know it. That’s what happened to Japan in the 1990s and to the United States and Europe in 2008 — but not, as we mentioned, to Australia. Why not? Because it doesn’t have a 2 percent inflation target. It has a 2 to 3 percent inflation target averaged over the business cycle.
Here’s why those last five words matter so much. It’s a question, as Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has put it, of whether central banks will allow bygones to be bygones. What do I mean by that? Well, imagine that inflation was just 1 percent this year. What would the Fed do the next? The same thing it does every year: try to keep inflation around 2 percent. If it under or overshoots that, it doesn’t try to make up for it in the future — but Australia does. It’s trying to get its high and low inflation to average out to 2 to 3 percent. That means mistakes aren’t something it forgets but rather tries to fix. The result is that interest rates have been much higher in Australia than in almost any other rich country.
This, of course, isn’t a panacea. Those don’t exist. Not even for Australia. After 8 years of the rest of the world dragging it down, its inflation and interest rates have finally fallen far enough that another shock might send them to zero. There’s only so much better policy can do. The point, though, is that it is better. Fed officials have started to seriously talk about whether they need to increase their own inflation target, which wouldn’t be that different from what Australia has now.
There are worse things you could do than copy the country that hasn’t had a recession since the time flannel was cool.

Sunday Special: Want to Meet God? To begin with be a bit more precise…

In ancient Egypt, God could be a beetle painted gold. During the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo painted God as the proverbial “guy with a long white beard.” But when kabbalists refer to God, they often speak not of a human form or an entity of any kind. Instead, they refer to the Light that emanates from the Creator. Kabbalah teaches that this Light has always existed, even before the universe itself came into being. As it is written in the Book of Proverbs,
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet He had not made the earth, nor the fields,
Nor the beginning of the dust of the world.
When He established the heavens,
I was there.
That’s a long time! The Light was already there on Day One! But since it’s not so easy to think in such cosmic terms, let’s turn for a moment to a more down-to-earth example of unchanging, written-in-stone, absolute permanence.
Many times we face a situation that seems a miracle or a coincidence. Should one devote the life to the service of the Lord, who had just answered the smart aleck challenge? Or does it mean nothing, which seem much easier to deal with, even if one does not really believe it.
That’s the way it looks to a kid who thinks he’s just met God. People have always asked God to prove his existence. Humanity has always tried to find ways of dealing with a perplexing absence of the Creator from our lives. If He’s so big and important, where is He? There’s the table, there’s the chair, but where’s the One Who Made The Furniture?
In its collective childhood, the human race was not unlike my young self in the ballpark. People longed for a tangible image—something they could touch with their hands, look up to with their eyes, and occasionally even destroy, when a particular god no longer seemed to serve their needs.
This, of course, is the idol worship that is so strongly condemned in the Bible. But, condemned or not, it’s clear that worshipping “graven images” served a very real human need for simple answers to life’s complex problems: Wars, famines, and droughts could be dealt with by direct appeals to the wooden, stone or metal statues.
Yet life’s complexities inevitably reasserted themselves. What happened when two warring nations both worshipped the same idols? Or when even the most heartfelt prayers and sacrifices failed to bring rain or the end of an epidemic? In a number of the most closely studied ancient societies, including Greece, Rome, and the Viking people of Northern Europe, worship of the traditional gods eventually became only a formal exercise in which genuine belief was replaced by skepticism or even cynicism.
“Well, then,” thought our distant ancestors, “let’s try something completely different, shall we?” Perhaps the drawbacks of idol worship could be dealt with by belief in a single all-powerful God whose ways were deliberately mysterious and unknowable, and whose physical appearance was simply not available for viewing. Belief in a determinedly inscrutable Supreme Being opened up some important new interpretations of the human condition: If wars and plagues continued to break out despite prayers and sacrifices, it was not because God didn’t care or couldn’t help. Instead, it was simply not in our power to know His intentions or grasp His wisdom. Just as God could not be depicted in a painting or a sculpture, His plan could not be understood by humanity. As Job said, “Though He slay me, yet I will honor Him.” (Job 13:15)
This view of God had advantages in spiritual terms but it lost the accessibility that idol worship seemed to provide. The notion of one deity or spirit, whose presence permeates the universe is, itself, very old, and competed with idol worship in a number of areas of the ancient world. The Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton, for example, brought about a virtual mutiny among the priestly caste when he abruptly declared numerous divinities “null and void” in favor of a single god of the sun. Among Native American people, a unifying spiritual power was venerated throughout nature. The Sioux tribes called this power wakan. It was wakan that made knives sharp, fires hot, and sunsets beautiful. A single positive energy was everywhere at work, though it could manifest in an infinite number of forms at the same time. The ancient Talmudic rabbis must have had this idea in mind when they wrote, “With an earthly king, when he is in the bedchamber, he cannot be in the reception hall. But the Holy One, blessed be He, at once fills the Upper Regions and the Lower.” And further: “The Holy One, blessed be He, is the place of the universe, but the universe is not His place.”
While it’s clear that Kabbalah is not alone in it’s recognition of One God, what is unique in Kabbalah is it’s understanding of a dynamic relationship in which the Light of the Creator is—or should be—endlessly desired, received, shared, and circulated. From a kabbalistic viewpoint, understanding and participating in this relationship is really the key, not only to meeting God but literally to becoming one with His essential nature, not just during prayers or rituals but in every moment of our lives.
Kabbalah teaches that, long before Creation, the Light of the Creator filled the entire cosmos, filled it beyond our conception of time and space—for it is the essential nature of the Light: to expand in every direction, and to endlessly share of itself. To express its giving essence, the Light created a Vessel whose nature was to receive. The Vessel was created not only for the Light but of the Light, in the same way that a pitcher made of ice is formed from the same water that pours into it. Yet there was also something entirely “new” about the Vessel, which was its nature to receive rather than to give and share. Kabbalah teaches that the fabrication of this new energy was the only true, ex-nihilo creation that has ever taken place. The entire physical universe, from the most distant stars to the smallest subatomic particles, is vestiges of that original Creation.
Once the primordial Vessel came into being, there existed a pure circularity—a condition of complete mutual fulfillment between the giving, sharing principle of the Light and the receiving, accepting principle of the Vessel. The Light found completion by giving endlessly of its beneficence, and the Vessel experienced total satisfaction at receiving endlessly of the Light’s infinite goodness.
But then something changed. The Vessel was no longer satisfied “just” to receive. Kabbalah refers to this new negative intention, this resistance, as Bread of Shame. Bread of Shame meant that the Vessel would no longer simply receive the unearned beneficence of the Light. Rather, the Vessel had taken on the giving intention of the Light. The Vessel’s desire to actively give rather than passively receive caused the Light to withdraw so as to create a space in which the Vessel’s new intention could express itself. The Light, whose only desire was to share, saw fit to withdraw its illumination so that the Vessel’s desire could manifest.
It is at this point that the metaphysics of Kabbalah intersects with the conclusions of modern science. Today, physicists refer to the creation of the universe as the Big Bang. But thousands of years ago, the ancient kabbalists were already describing that same creation as the Shattering of the Vessel. Into the void created by the withdrawal of the Light, the Vessel fragmented into an infinite number of entities and energies, all of which are endowed at their deepest level with desire—and not just Desire to Receive but Desire to Receive for the Sake of Sharing. In other words, not just to meet God but to become one with God. To be as God is.
Kabbalah has much more to say about the Light and the Vessel, and kabbalists over the centuries have delved deeply into the permutations of this very elegant formulation. Today, few people who encounter this beautiful metaphor fail to be moved by it. The interesting thing is, however, that it’s not just a metaphor. According to Kabbalah, the Light and the Vessel are the literal form and substance of the world we live in—and not just the world but even the physical bodies in which our souls now reside.
The primordial sequence—Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, followed by Bread of Shame and Resistance, followed by shattering and reconstituting as Desire to Receive for the Sake of Sharing, is played out not only over the whole course of our lives but in every action and every encounter. Once we understand this, we become aware that we are not distant from God in the sense that the Greeks were distant from Zeus and Athena in their palace on Mount Olympus. Instead, we are enacting what the Creator enacts. We are experiencing what the Creator experiences. We are our finite selves, and we are also the infinite Light of the Creator.
A phrase that occurs many times in both Hebrew prayers and the Bible expresses this great truth: He and His Name are One. He is the Light, and we are His Name—extensions and expressions of Him. But at the most fundamental level there is no distinction between He and His Name. As the great 20th century Kabbalist Rav Yehuda Ashlag taught, a stone is only a stone when it is separated from a mountain. Once it’s returned to the mountainside, it regains it’s identity with the mountain itself.
Understanding this means not just “believing in” the Creator but identifying with Him in a way that magnifies and humbles us at the same time. To assert that each of us can become like God might seem the utmost vanity—but not when the very essence of becoming like God is to receive with the intention to share.
Taking this to heart is not about becoming a holy person or a saint in any form. It’s really about growing up. It’s about being free of the temptation that a kid felt at a baseball game: The need to ask God for signs or to look for proofs, or to feel doubt. We meet God when we really meet ourselves. We become as God when we recognize our own true nature

Sunday Special: Art & Tolerance

Sometimes in the late 1500s, after he had been king for many years, Emperor Akbar asked one of the Jesuit priests then in the Mughal Empire for a copy of the Holy Bible. It was this act that led to the commissioning of a manuscript known as the Mirat-ul-Quds, or the ‘mirror of holiness’, that tells of the life of Jesus.
Historical records suggest that the illustrations in Mirat-ul-Quds were painted by Basavan, one of the 17 renowned artists residing at Akbar’s court. The text of the Mirat was written by a priest named Father Jerome Xavier, a descendant of the Catholic saint Francis Xavier, the founder of the Jesuit order.
Emperor Akbar, it is rumoured, was dyslexic. At that time this meant that despite his best efforts he could not learn to read and write. This, however, did not cause his curiosity or love of beauty to abate. The Mirat was only one of the many books he commissioned and its illustrations are a testament to an empire that was not afraid of religious difference but, rather, one that embraced it.
The remarkable illustrations in the book show an indigenised Jesus figure, dark-skinned and often seated on a Mughal throne. Mary, while not dressed in Mughal clothing, wears a bindi and her hands are stained with henna. Both are emblems of a pre-colonial age when an eastern empire, the Mughal Empire, was curious about things Western and sated its intellectual hunger in its own particular way.
Beyond its importance in the Mughal age, Mirat-ul-Quds poses questions for the current era. If intellectual and spiritual curiosity was the trademark of those days, suspicion, scepticism and destruction are what define the present age.
It takes forever to make something beautiful, only moments to tear it apart. The burden of the notion of a clash of civilisations is such that all corners of the world have divested from engagement; misguided ideas of purification justify the extermination of hundreds, even thousands. When they do not kill, these quests for purity, whetted as they are by robust greed and indefatigable hatred, sustain suspicion and exclusion.
For their part, the Mughal painters of Akbar’s court, when creating illustrations for Mirat-ul-Quds, often painted Christian figures with books in their hands. They wished to remind their audience that these alien others, the people that followed Hazrat Isa, and who came to court in odd costumes speaking in alien tongues, were nevertheless People of the Book.
Intolerance, of course, did not have to wait hundreds of years to rear its ugly head and end the age of dialogue and interchange. Mughal emperors following Akbar, although it is difficult to tell which one, did the job themselves.
The artists that create are known by the beauty of their handiwork, by small signatures at the ends of painting; those that destroy leave only the marks of vengeance and rage, vestiges of the beauty that once was.
Some surviving versions of Mirat-ul-Quds bore the brunt of this, successors of emperors rubbing out the faces of carefully drawn figures, the painstaking handiwork of artists long gone. It takes forever to make something beautiful, and only moments to tear it apart.
Only 19 manuscripts of the text were commissioned by Emperor Akbar, prepared in the last decade of the 16th century and completed and presented in 1602. In the Mughal era, books were not easily available and were the provenance of the elite and of royalty, removed and perused carefully in select gatherings to entertain and inform.
It would have been the royals and descendants of royals, existing leaders or leaders to be, who would be educated in the knowledge of other lands, the beauty of art, the detail and symbolism inherent in every figure, its gaze and gesture telling the many stories that come together to make up the human story.
Only one of the surviving manuscripts of the Mirat-ul-Quds is in Pakistan, housed at the Lahore Museum. It is not known whether this version is the completed manuscript, which portions are currently on display and how the remaining manuscript is being stored. As many Pakistani art historians have pointed out, Mughal art used many natural pigments, and improper storage or even display under bright lights can wreak its own destruction.
One of the most complete manuscripts was recently acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio. There, it became part of the ‘Mughal Paintings: Art and Stories’ exhibit for the institution’s centenary. Scores of Americans are said to have visited the exhibit, looked at the carefully displayed pages of Mirat-ul-Quds — its pages underscoring the message that the opposition between faiths and cultures is neither inherent nor long-standing.
The capacity of art to imbue tolerance among the enraged and suspicious, the belligerent and martial, is often untapped in Pakistan. If the history of the Mughal Empire is pointed out as a template for all history, then Pakistan remains stuck in the moment of destruction, when faces and figures are rudely rubbed out, their existence a threat, their beauty an assault.
Against this reality, it is perhaps best that the most complete version of the Mirat-ul-Quds manuscript is now in the archives of the Cleveland Museum of Art and that its cousin in Lahore is not being exhibited, celebrated, presented and touted with too much fanfare.
In this present age of rubbing out, such attentions are risks, a provocation to the determined lot devoted to destruction. Hope in this regard can only be located in the postulate that history is cyclical, and that all the rest of us who cannot avail ourselves of the legacy of what was left to us will one day see a resurgence of past tolerance captured in art.

Crack and Doom

In the midst of the First World War, an English poet in uniform imagined encountering a German equivalent. They are both dead, and Wilfred Owen imagines the adversary he had slain saying to him: “Whatever hope is yours,/ Was my life also; I went hunting wild/ After the wildest beauty in the world,/Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,/ But mocks the steady running of the hour,/ And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.”
These verses could perhaps serve as an appropriate epitaph for another poet, a Canadian based in the United States who passed away on the eve of the American presidential election, leaving behind a final will and testament prophetically titled You Want It Darker.
Cohen’s life was a quest for the Truth, with a capital T. There is no question mark at the end. It’s a statement of fact. It’s more than likely that the poet in question, Leonard Cohen, did not quite have a Donald Trump presidency in mind when he came up with that phrase. But the association is hard to disregard.
Cohen was not ostensibly a political poet, but his eloquent commentaries on the human condition frequently addressed ‘Popular Problems’ (as the title of his penultimate album, released two years ago on his 80th birthday, indicated), and although he didn’t consider himself capable of providing definitive answers, he excelled in asking the right questions.
In more than one sense, Cohen’s entire life was a quest for the Truth, with a capital T, and if it eluded him, perhaps it’s because in fact there is no such thing — the meaning of life, ultimately, is not written in the stars. It’s what you make of it. Whether he ever clearly realised that is uncertain, but Cohen deserves our gratitude for leaving behind a body of work that encourages us to ponder philosophical conundrums.
Born in Quebec in 1934, to immigrants from Eastern Europe, Cohen never resiled from his Jewish faith, yet his spiritual quest led him to investigate Zen Buddhism (he spent several years as a monk), Hinduism (he kept a low profile in Mumbai for many a month during the 1990s), and Sufi Islam. Whether or not it was all futile, he appears to have shed his depression somewhere along the way.
Cohen was a published poet and novelist for at least a decade before he recorded his first album, having signed on to Columbia at the behest of John Hammond, the talent scout who had ‘discovered’ the likes of Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan, and went on to embrace Bruce Springsteen. A year or so before Songs of Leonard Cohen (a subdued album on which the shy singer, accompanying himself on the guitar, included indelible songs such as ‘Suzanne’; ‘So Long’, ‘Marianne’; ‘Sisters of Mercy’; and ‘Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye’) was released in 1967, the poet-songwriter had been put in touch with Judy Collins.
Collins became the first of innumerable artists to cover his songs, a tradition that arguably reached its apogee with the recording of ‘Hallelujah’ by the inimitable and tragically short-lived Jeff Buckley (who, incidentally, proclaimed Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as his biggest hero). It is ironic, in retrospect, that Various Positions, the 1984 album that contained ‘Hallelujah’, was initially considered worthy of a Canada-only release by Columbia.
Cohen’s comeback in 1988, I’m Your Man, kicked off with ‘First We Take Manhattan’ — which he described later as “a terrorist song”. It begins unforgettably with the declaration:
“They sentence me to twenty years of boredom/ For trying to change the system from within/ I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them/ First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.”
Apart from the title track, it also contained ‘Take This Waltz’, co-credited to the gay Spanish poet and victim of fascism Federico Garcia Lorca (after whom Cohen named his daughter) and ‘Tower of Song’, which features the self-deprecatory verse, “I was born like this, I had no choice/I was born with the gift of a golden voice.”
Four years later, he gave us The Future: “Give me back the Berlin Wall,” he declares in the title track, “Give me Stalin and St Paul/ I’ve seen the future, brother/ It is murder”. There’s more hope in ‘Democracy’:
“It’s coming through a hole in the air/ Through those nights in Tiananmen Square…/ From the wars against disorder/ From the sirens night and day/ From the fires of the homeless/ From the ashes of the gay/ Democracy is coming to the USA.”
To which one could only add, amen.
Cohen was forced back on to the concert stage in the 21st century after being robbed by his manager, and thousands of people across the world are grateful, because his extended concerts were remarkable in every way. He left us on Nov 7 going gently into the good night, yet raging against the dying of the light. What he described as his credo should serve us well as the Trump times loom: “There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.”

Saturday Special: Pakistan’s love-hate relationship with Indian films

In 1964, Pakistan’s embassy in Beirut objected to the screening of the Hindi film Kashmir ki Kali (flower bud of Kashmir) at the 4th International Lebanese Film Festival. The objection was overruled and the film was screened as planned.
What is it with Pakistan and Indian/Hindi films? For most of its 70 years India’s western neighbour has not allowed Hindi — and other Indian — films to be shown on its soil. Right now, even Indian TV and radio broadcasts are banned. But was it always so?
Decade of Dependence
Actually, no. In the first few years after Partition, Pakistan lapped up Indian films. By July 1, 1954, it had imported 618 Indian films— mostly in Bangla for East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and Urdu/Hindi for its western territory. It used to buy films at the time, paying in Indian rupees, and India did not have anything to complain about. When it was rumoured in 1953 that Pakistan had banned Indian films, Government of India said it was “not aware of any such ban.”
Yet, a change occurred that year. For the first time Pakistan did not invite applications for import licences to source “exposed cinema film”. But it did not single out India either. “This restriction applies uniformly to all countries,” Government of India clarified.
A year later, the first signs of hostility appeared. Pakistan did not allow “outright importation of exposed cinema films from anywhere” any longer. Its distributors could only rent foreign films, and even then they ran a business risk because the government could reject an imported film.
Of the 85 Indian films imported by Pakistani distributors in 1954, only 42 were allowed to be shown. And by May 11, just 10 films had been actually cleared on payment of penalty and other charges.
Pakistan’s policies became tougher after that, although it still did not impose a blanket ban on Indian films. In 1959, for instance, import licences of six Indian films that had been cleared and were running successfully were cancelled.
Why was Pakistan taking such a hard line towards Indian films? Was it a question of religious belief, or nationalism, or something else?
Boosting Local Films
In 1959, Pakistan suddenly banned the exhibition of all 618 Indian films imported before July 1, 1954, yet it did not ban movies rented thereafter, nor did it ban future imports. Under the Indo-Pakistan Trade Agreement it agreed to buy up to 10 Bangla films and seven Hindi or Urdu films every year. It bought 13 Indian films under this agreement in 1958, and two in January, 1959.
About the 618 old films banned by Pakistan, India’s then deputy minister of commerce and industry Satish Chandra told Parliament on April 29, 1959: “They were imported by Pakistan because she had no film industry. As they are anxious to develop their own film industry, the exhibition of these old films has been banned in order to encourage the exhibition of local films.”
Open Hostility
Pakistan’s initial (official) rejection of Indian films might have been based on economic considerations but there was an undercurrent of hostility as well. In 1961, it sent a verbal invitation to the Indian camp office in Murree to enter an “officially sponsored film” in the Murree festival, but then withdrew it without an official explanation. Later, the Indian high commission was told the festival had been postponed.
The hostility came out in the open in January 1962 when Pakistan banned the import of Indian films and confiscated 26 “illegally imported” films. India protested. The Indian high commissioner handed over a protest note to the government of Pakistan on March 17, 1962. India also moved GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the precursor of World Trade Organization) as the ban was discriminatory — Indian films had been singled out. But Pakistan did not budge for a long time.
Longest Ban
Then came the war of 1965 and on September 7, 1965, Pakistan imposed a ban on Indian films that lasted more than 40 years with just a couple of relaxations.
On April 20, 1981, India’s then minister for information and broadcasting Vasant Sathe told Parliament: “Only one exception was made to the ban in May 1980 when Sheikh Mukhtar’s film Noor Jehan (1967) was allowed to be released as a special case throughout Pakistan. This film was taken by Sheikh Mukhtar (the producer) at the time he migrated to Pakistan… As far as new movies are concerned, there have been no reports of any public screening… However, video cassettes smuggled from third countries are reportedly in circulation for private showings.”
In spite of efforts made by India’s National Film Development Corporation to start exchange of films, full 25 years passed before another “one-time” exception was made for the classic Indian films Taj Mahal (1963) and Mughal-e-Azam (1960) to raise funds for relief work after the 7.6-magnitude earthquake of October 8, 2005 centred in Balakot, Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

Essential Traits for Being Successful & Happy

Who does not want to be successful and not be happy? And yet. majority are not successful; and even if successful, they are not happy. It is a select few who are both successful and also are happy. One can be successful and happy, but one needs to develop an attitude, a state of mind and adopt a new vision. People who were both successful and happy over the long term intentionally structured their activities around four major needs.
Achievement rarely produces the sense of lasting happiness that you think it will. Once you finally accomplish the goal you’ve been chasing, two new goals tend to pop up unexpectedly.
We long for new achievements because we quickly habituate to what we’ve already accomplished. This habituation to success is as inevitable as it is frustrating, and it’s more powerful than you realize.
The key to beating habituation is to pursue, what researchers call, enduring accomplishments. Unlike run-of-the-mill accomplishments that produce fleeting happiness, the pleasure from enduring accomplishments lasts long after that initial buzz. Enduring accomplishments are so critical that they separate those who are successful and happy from those who are always left wanting more.
Researchers from the Harvard Business School studied this phenomenon by interviewing and assessing professionals who had attained great success. The aim was to break down what these exceptional professionals did differently to achieve both long-lasting and fulfilling success.
The researchers found that people who were both successful and happy over the long term intentionally structured their activities around four major needs:
Happiness: They pursued activities that produced pleasure and satisfaction.
Achievement: They pursued activities that got tangible results.
Significance: They pursued activities that made a positive impact on the people who matter most.
Legacy: They pursued activities through which they could pass their values and knowledge on to others.
Lasting fulfillment comes when you pursue activities that address all four of these needs. When any one of them is missing, you get a nagging sense that you should be doing more (or something different).
The behaviors that follow are the hallmarks of people who are successful and happy because they address these four needs. Try them out and see what they do for you.
They are passionate. Jane Goodall left her home in England and moved to Tanzania at age 26 to begin studying chimpanzees. It became her life’s work, and Goodall has devoted herself fully to her cause while inspiring many others to do the same. Successful, happy people don’t just have interests; they have passions, and they devote themselves completely to them.
They swim against the current. There’s a reason that successful and happy people tend to be a little, well, different. To be truly successful and happy, you have to follow your passions and values no matter the costs. Just think what the world would have missed out on if Bill Gates or Richard Branson had played it safe and stayed in school or if Stephen King hadn’t spent every free second he had as teacher writing novels. To swim against the current, you have to be willing to take risks.
“To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful” ~ Carl Jung
They finish what they start. Coming up with a great idea means absolutely nothing if you don’t execute that idea. The most successful and happy people bring their ideas to fruition, deriving just as much satisfaction from working through the complications and daily grind as they do from coming up with the initial idea. They know that a vision remains a meaningless thought until it is acted upon. Only then does it begin to grow.
They are resilient. To be successful and happy in the long term, you have to learn to make mistakes, look like an idiot, and try again, all without flinching. In a recent study at the College of William and Mary, researchers interviewed over 800 entrepreneurs and found that the most successful among them tended to have two critical things in common: they were terrible at imagining failure, and they tended not to care what other people thought of them. In other words, the most successful entrepreneurs put no time or energy into stressing about their failures as they see failure as a small and necessary step in the process of reaching their goals.
They make their health a priority. There are an absurd number of links between your health, happiness, and success. I’ve beaten them to death over the years, but the absolute essential health habits that successful and happy people practice consistently are good sleep hygiene (fights stress, improves focus, and is great for your mood), eating healthy food (helps you to focus), and exercise (great for energy levels and confidence).
They don’t dwell on problems. Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. By fixating on your problems, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress, which hinder performance. However, by focusing on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you can create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and improves performance. Successful, happy people don’t dwell on problems because they know that they’re most effective when they focus on solutions.
They celebrate other people’s successes. Insecure people constantly doubt their relevance, and because of this, they try to steal the spotlight and criticize others in order to prove their worth. Confident people, on the other hand, aren’t worried about their relevance because they draw their self-worth from within. Instead of insecurely focusing inward, confident people focus outward, which allows them to see all the wonderful things that other people bring to the table. Praising people for their contributions is a natural result of this.
They live outside the box. Successful and happy people haven’t arrived at where they are by thinking in the same way as everyone else. While others stay in their comfort-zone prisons and invest all their energy in reinforcing their existing beliefs, successful people are out challenging the status quo and exposing themselves to new ideas.
They keep an open mind. Exposing yourself to a variety of people is useless if you spend that time disagreeing with them and comforting yourself with your own opinions. Successful, happy people recognize that every perspective provides an opportunity for growth. You need to practice empathy by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes so that you can understand how their perspective makes sense (at least, to them). A great way to keep an open mind is to try to glean at least one interesting or useful thing from every conversation you have.
They don’t let anyone limit their joy. When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from comparing yourself to others, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When successful, happy people feel good about something that they’ve done, they don’t let anyone’s opinions or accomplishments take that away from them. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think of you, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within. Regardless of what people think of you at any particular moment, one thing is certain—you’re never as good or bad as they say you are.
People who are successful and happy focus on activities that address a variety of needs, not just immediate achievements.

Get Real About Pakistan

Strategists must know its India policy stems from false religious antagonism. No previous Prime Minister has focussed on the Indus Waters Treaty, MFN, Balochistan or coordinated a boycott of the Saarc summit, leave alone order a surgical strike. These steps taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the Kashmir agitation’s present round, and especially after the Uri attack, seem to indicate a re-examination of the foundations of India’s Pakistan’s policy. It would be a pity if they constitute only unrelated tactical measures to deal with the current situation.
As Modi proceeds, it is useful to examine if the underlying principles of the traditional approach towards Pakistan have served India well. Pakistan was created on the basis of faith and on the assumption that Muslim interests would never be secure in a Hindu majority state. It was a logical corollary that India would be considered through the prism of faith; a Hindu country. It was equally inevitable that if a Hindu majority within India was projected to be perpetually antagonistic to a Muslim majority, a Hindu India would be looked on as a permanent threat — and a constant enemy.
Some Pakistani scholars claim Jinnah wanted both countries to cooperate but that proposition ignores the path he chose. Leaked official Pakistan documents such as the Abbottabad Commission Report conclusively show that what should have been anticipated by Indian policy makers came to pass. The Kashmir issue provides the clearest example of Pakistan’s faith-based India policy. Pakistan holds that it is the “unfinished agenda of Partition” and wants the state’s Muslim majority areas. However, even if Kashmir is resolved, it’s unlikely Pakistan will give up its basically hostile approach towards India for it is rooted in the fundamental principle of its state’s creation — a perception, though false, of two antagonistic faiths.
The Kashmir issue provides the clearest example of Pakistan’s faith-based India policy. Pakistan holds that it is the “unfinished agenda of Partition” and wants the state’s Muslim majority areas. However, even if Kashmir is resolved, it’s unlikely Pakistan will give up its basically hostile approach towards India for it is rooted in the fundamental principle of its state’s creation — a perception, though false, of two antagonistic faiths.The founding fathers of the Republic correctly rejected a theocratic state to mirror Pakistan. However, should this have led those who fashioned Indian foreign policy thereafter to approach Pakistan by overlooking its theological moorings? Was this done partly because of the fear that such an acknowledgement itself would weaken the national enterprise? That a secular India could not premise its policies towards Pakistan on the basis of its inherent hostility? That such an approach would weaken India’s secular fabric? If this is so, it did the greatest disservice to our Muslim co-citizens — for it assumed they had a special interest in Pakistan. This was not warranted. And it led India to positions that ironically pandered to Pakistani prejudices.
The founding fathers of the Republic correctly rejected a theocratic state to mirror Pakistan. However, should this have led those who fashioned Indian foreign policy thereafter to approach Pakistan by overlooking its theological moorings? Was this done partly because of the fear that such an acknowledgement itself would weaken the national enterprise? That a secular India could not premise its policies towards Pakistan on the basis of its inherent hostility? That such an approach would weaken India’s secular fabric? If this is so, it did the greatest disservice to our Muslim co-citizens — for it assumed they had a special interest in Pakistan. This was not warranted. And it led India to positions that ironically pandered to Pakistani prejudices.
This is best seen in India’s acceptance of the Indus Waters Treaty, extraordinarily generous to Pakistan, providing it 80 per cent of the waters, harshest to Jammu and Kashmir. India agreed to it to assuage Pakistani fears of being starved of water. It failed to do so. Indian policy makers never probed the reasons for this failure. Is it because it would throw up inconvenient conclusions about India’s refusal to accept Pakistan for what it is?Foreign policy must never overlook the fundamental moorings of a state, especially an antagonistic one. This doesn’t imply doors for negotiations should be shut. However, generous concessions must be evaluated to assess if they lead to a dilution of hostility. Often, they reinforce prejudices, as seen in India-Pakistan trade relations. Pakistani studies demonstrate Pakistan would gain far more with a MFN-based trade regime. However, the army disallowed it because of fears that it may not be able to control it — but also because of its prejudicial association of trade and Hindus, it has felt trade is a pressure point against India.
Foreign policy must never overlook the fundamental moorings of a state, especially an antagonistic one. This doesn’t imply doors for negotiations should be shut. However, generous concessions must be evaluated to assess if they lead to a dilution of hostility. Often, they reinforce prejudices, as seen in India-Pakistan trade relations. Pakistani studies demonstrate Pakistan would gain far more with a MFN-based trade regime. However, the army disallowed it because of fears that it may not be able to control it — but also because of its prejudicial association of trade and Hindus, it has felt trade is a pressure point against India.
The Indian political and strategic class does not think in religious terms in public policy, including foreign policy. It finds such thinking retrogressive. It offends its sensibilities. But Pakistan does and the refusal to acknowledge that has served India ill. Realism demands Indian policy makers accept Pakistani decision-makers’ thinking arises from fundamentally different motivations from their own.

The Predictions That Proved to be Wrong

For centuries predictions have driven humanity’s progress. A hundred years from now, Elon Musk could be lauded as a visionary genius – or labelled a fantasist. The Space X CEO is predicting his company will take a million people to Mars by the end of the century, where they’ll live in a self-sustaining city. As bold predictions go, that’s a big one.
For centuries predictions like this have driven humanity’s progress. They have also left some of their authors stranded on the wrong side of history.
As we think about where today’s innovations are taking us, here are 10 predictions that didn’t stand up to the future’s steely gaze.
1903
“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.”
That’s how the President of the Michigan Savings Bank tried to discourage Henry Ford’s lawyer from investing in the newly formed motor company. Horace Rackham ignored the advice and quickly turned his $5,000 investment into $12.5 million, as cars replaced horses.
1911
“It will be an easy matter to convert a truckload of iron bars into virgin gold.”
Thomas Edison predicted alchemy would soon be perfected, proving the great American inventor had at least one lightbulb moment that didn’t burn so brightly.
1912
“The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible, because it will make war ridiculous.”
Guglielmo Marconi hoped his wireless telegraph would end war because it enabled more open communication between nations.
1920
“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”
The New York Times dismisses the possibility of space travel. The paper issued a light-hearted retraction of its original article as Apollo 11 headed to the moon in 1969.
1949
“Computers in the future may have only 1000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh only 1.5 tons.”
Popular Mechanics magazine looked at a 30-ton calculator and dreamed of miniaturization.
1955
“Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years.”
Alex Lewyt, President of the Lewyt vacuum company, predicts the invention of a device that few people would want to have under the stairs.
1966
The Reader’s Digest looks ahead to 1999 and sees rocket packs on our belts, flying cars and climate-controlled cities under glass domes.
1977
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
Ken Olsen, founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation, appears to have missed an opportunity. Though to be fair, his computers were bigger than many people’s homes at the time.
1995
“I predict the internet will go spectacularly supernova and in 1996, catastrophically collapse.”
Robert Metcalfe invented the Ethernet cable and worried that his clever piece of wire would not be able to handle all that data.
1997
“Admit it, you’re out of the hardware game.”
Wired Magazine challenges Apple to face up to the ‘fact’ that it can’t compete with other gadget makers.
Four years later the iPod put 1000 songs in our pockets and started Apple’s path to world domination.

Accepted Evils Devastate Humanity

We are told that Islam is a religion of peace, and I have no fight since Islam literally means peace. But is nomenclature enough. Human beings have a habit of ignoring tiny specks of danger and these dangers become devastating. Our initial acceptance becomes our undoing, and history of mankind is a testimony to that. We do not have to go back eons to find the truth of this statement. Those born after WWII may wish to take even closer note and better understand how an evil few can hijack a country – it is happening today right under our noses. !
A man, whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War II, owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism.
‘Very few people were true Nazis,’ he said, ‘but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, like the majority, I just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world as we knew it had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.’
We are told again and again by ‘experts’ and ‘talking heads’ that Islam is the religion of peace and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the spectre of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam.
The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honour-kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. It is the fanatics who teach their young to kill and to become suicide bombers.
The hard, quantifiable fact is that the peaceful majority, the ‘silent majority,’ is cowed and extraneous. Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant..
China ‘s huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people.
The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a warmongering sadist. Yet Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet.
And who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were ‘peace loving’?
History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason, we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points: peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence.
Peace-loving Muslims will become our, and  more improtantly, their own, enemy if they don’t speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world, as they know it, will have begun.
Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late. As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts–the fanatics who threaten our way of life.
Lastly, anyone who doubts that the issue is serious,  it is complicit in the passiveness that allows the problems to expand. Let us hope that thousands, world-wide, read this and think about it, before it’s too late.

Trudeau New Arctic Strategy Necessitates a Look at Who’s Responsible for the Arctic

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama announced a ban on offshore oil and gas activity in the Arctic in a joint statement issued. “Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping, science-based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity,” the statement read.
Obama has permanently banned oil and gas development in U.S. waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Canada declared a five-year ban on new licensing in all Arctic waters, with a review based on climate and marine science at the end of that period.
The Canadian government is also revising its policy for the North. The Liberals said they are replacing the previous government’s northern strategy with an “Arctic policy framework.”
Former prime minister Stephen Harper’s northern strategy put an emphasis on asserting Canadian sovereignty through the Canadian Rangers and addressing economic concerns through natural resource development. Canada and the U.S. also announced they will start a process to identify low-impact shipping corridors. The process will include determining where vessels will not be allowed to sail and gauging what kind of infrastructure and emergency response systems will be needed for northern shipping routes.
Thisd action reminds me of August 2016 when the 13-deck, 1,000-passenger Crystal Serenityset sail from Alaska to become the first cruise liner to attempt the Arctic’s fabled “north-west passage” that runs across the top of North America from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Until recently the passage was too clogged with ice for all but the sturdiest of ships.
This voyage, only possible thanks to climate change, highlights just one impact of melting Arctic sea ice. As the ice melts further new opportunities will arise to fish, to drill for oil and gas, or to sail through the once-frozen ocean. Inevitably, this activity will create competition with traditional Arctic communities, and risks severe damage to the environment.
This is a vast, fragile region that plays a huge role in everything from climate cycles to marine food webs and reflecting sunlight back into space. So who is supposed to protect the Arctic? The 4m or so people who live north of the Arctic Circle can’t regulate the whole area themselves. There are important questions here about whether coastal Arctic states alone should be able to permit or refuse fishing, or oil and gas extraction. Is there an international regime in place to regulate such activities in the interests of everyone?
The short answer is that there is an international treaty that governs all activities in the Arctic Ocean. The treaty gives much (but not all) of the formal decision making power to coastal states such as Iceland, Russia and Canada. These nations may choose to cooperate (and sometimes are required to cooperate) through regional organisations such as the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for Arctic governments and peoples, or treaties.
The treaty in question is the UN Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS). Signed in 1982, UNCLOS came into force in 1994. However the treaty only applies to the states that have agreed to be bound by it and that doesn’t include the US. UNCLOS is supported by a network of other treaties though, and by the rules of customary international law, which are binding on all states.
These treaties and laws provide a set of consistent, but quite general rules about using the oceans. For example, they set out the basic principles to be taken into account in fishing regulation, or when trying to stop pollution from shipping. It is, however, left largely to individual countries to decide how to interpret these principles and apply the rules, and this in turn is influenced by domestic politics.
This means the industrial fishing lobby, indigenous people, environmental NGOs and other interest groups are all very important. International law, after all, does not have the same checks as national law and its domestic application is generally only scrutinised where the interests of another state have been harmed.
The system is not quite the free for all that this description might suggest. There are also other international treaties that apply in the Arctic. These provide more detail and guidance on the action states can take, but do not cover every possible activity. The problem is that some of these rules are designed to apply globally and so do not provide detailed measures specific to Arctic conditions. For example, the International convention for Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) doesn’t take account of the specific needs of shipping in areas subject to heavy ice. Its global provisions have, however, been supplemented by the Polar Code to help protect fragile polar environments.
More specific regional agreements also exist such as one on cooperative search & rescue. And some agreements, focus on specific needs of certain parts of the Arctic, like the Barents Sea Fisheries Agreement.
Governments, NGOs, industry bodies and others can all influence the development of these laws. For instance, every member state in MARPOL, the shipping pollution treaty, can influence the development of new measures. Guatemala has as great a right to influence marine pollution law as Russia. In theory it makes little difference if those measures are, like the Polar Code, focused on the Arctic or Antarctic, or designed to be global measures.
The Arctic Council gives certain indigenous peoples the opportunity to influence the development of the law quite directly through their position as permanent participants. These permanent participants are in a strong position then to influence any agreements, such as the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement, which was developed under the Council.
Besides these direct routes to influencing the law, industry and other interest groups will lobby their governments to adopt particular measures at home and in international meetings. There are also indirect opportunities for bodies, seemingly unconnected with the Arctic to regulate activities there. For example, the EU is one of the largest importers of fish caught in or near Arctic waters. It could then shape fishing efforts in the Arctic by restricting imports of particular fish, or of fish caught using particular methods. Its market share may be large enough to have a regulating effect on Arctic fisheries.
Although there is a coherent legal regime in place, it is quite patchy and much needs to be done to strengthen the law. New laws could be developed by Arctic states acting alone or collectively, but there is also scope for new laws to be adopted at the global level. At the same time, there is a multitude of opportunities for states, industry, NGOs and individuals to influence the law in the Arctic, particularly through political channels.
In September, Obama became the first sitting president to travel north of the Arctic Circle. The joint Canada-U.S. statement covers oil and gas, community development and fisheries. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)
Both countries said they would regulate the development of fisheries in the Arctic. The U.S. said it will support existing commercial fishing closures in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Canada will work with northern and Indigenous communities to build Arctic fisheries based on scientific regulation.
Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod said the federal government did not consult with his people ahead of today’s announcement. “We are concerned by the announcement and firmly believe northerners should be involved in making decisions that affect them and their economic future, and in this instance, they weren’t,” McLeod said.
“The North is an expensive place to live and there aren’t a lot of options for people who need good jobs so they can provide for themselves and their families.” McLeod said his government is committed to environmentally sound growth, but that limiting fossil fuel development could be harmful to the sustainability of the northern way of life.
Political positioning
Michael Byers, a University of British Columbia professor who recently published a book called Who Owns the Arctic?, told The Canadian Press that the only surprise in the announcement is that it provides for a five-year review of the ban.
Byers said the move seems designed to show that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is protecting the environment, despite a recent decision to sanction two oil pipelines — the Trans Mountain expansion and Line 3 replacement project. “Closing the door to Arctic oil and gas helps to position himself on the climate change file by saying that there are limits in terms of the development of new oil and gas fields, therefore drawing a line in the sand from a climate change perspective,” he said. “There’s no activity taking place in the Canadian Arctic right now, so saying no doesn’t require anyone to stop.”

USSR is no More: This Day History Changed

This was the day when the history changed, This is the day Putin shall like to be pushed back in memory and in reality. The main news bulletin in the world’s largest country began on an extraordinary note 25 years ago today. “Good evening,” the anchor said. “This is the news. The USSR is no more.”
The shock was palpable, both within the Soviet Union and right around the world. Sure, vastly consequential change had been afoot ever since the abortive coup attempt in August, when elements within the Com­munist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) had attempted to stall Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms by placing their architect under house arrest and declaring an emergency.
By and large though, Soviet troops refused to shoot at fellow citizens who flooded the streets of Moscow and other cities to resist the reversal. Within days, Gorbachev returned to the Kremlin, if not quite to power. Thanks to the coup-makers, Boris Yeltsin had the upper hand.
The failure of the USSR experiment continues to loom. The president of Russia, buoyed by the accolades that had come his way from the West for standing up to the retrograde communist orthodoxy, began to throw his weight about with increased fervour. Gorbachev had been sidelined on the eve of concluding a union treaty intended to preserve the union on a new footing, whereby the constituent republics would be able to exercise the autonomy that had hitherto been restricted to paper.
The first executive president of the Soviet Union expected he would be able to resume his pursuit of the agreement. But Yeltsin had other ideas. On a hunting trip to Belarus in early December 1991 with the republic’s Supreme Soviet chairman Stanislav Shush­kevich and Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk, he persuaded them to sign an agreement that effectively dissolved the Soviet Union. He got Shushkevich to transmit the news to Gorbachev after Yeltsin had personally broken it to US president George H.W. Bush.
In a recent interview, Shushkevich recalls that Gorbachev slammed down the phone on him after realising Bush had already been informed. He also insists that whereas he and his co-conspirators had indeed retired to a banya — a Russian steam bath — they were not drunk. Yeltsin’s weakness for vodka was well known, though. It would not be surprising to discover that the national drink played a key role in undermining the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev had been aware of its capacity to do mischief, and had made it harder to obtain. He was subsequently amused by the joke wherein a citizen, fed up with waiting in a line for vodka, declares that he intends to go and shoot Gorbachev instead. A couple of hours later he returns to the queue, which has barely moved in the interim. “What happened?” his fellow would-be imbibers want to know. “Did you succeed?” He responds in the negative. “The queue over there is even longer,” he complains.
Not long after he had assumed effective power as the general secretary of the CPSU, Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost reforms, aimed at simultaneously reviving a moribund economy and sanctifying free expression, won him accolades both at home and abroad. Even virulently anti-communist ideologues such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher saw plenty of virtue in Gorbachev, not least in his decision to liberate Eastern Europe from the shackles of Soviet remote control.
Gorbachev, who resigned his post on Christmas Day 25 years ago, still sees the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a treacherous act, as he makes clear in a recent interview with the BBC’s Steven Rosenberg, as well as in The New Russia, a tome published earlier this year, in which he laments the failure to follow through with perestroika.
It’s not hard to empathise with his despair at the squandering of a democratic impulse. It’s always much easier, though, to demolish demonstrably absurd structures than to constructively replace them. Gorbachev’s relatively noble failures, however, hardly compare with those of Yeltsin, who presided over a monetarist-inspired ‘shock therapy’ that effectively obliterated the Soviet Union’s redeeming features.
Yeltsin’s 1996 re-election owed a great deal more to US interference than this year’s American election does to Russian influence. His second term was no better than his first, and it paved the way for the former KGB to re-establish control in the Kremlin via Vladimir Putin, whose nostalgia for the Soviet Union is restricted to the most reprehensible aspects of the erstwhile entity.
He is not alone. All too many of the former Soviet republics fall into a similar category, whereas right-wing nationalism, often with a nod to Vladimir Putin, is the ideology du jour across much of Eastern Europe.
Whichever way you look at it, the (thankfully largely peaceful) failure of the Soviet experiment still looms tragically large a quarter century on, amid an unresolved crisis of capitalism, on both a global and a domestic scale. The year ahead, meanwhile, will offer plenty of opportunities to mull over the consequences of 1917.

Liberalism Dying? Is Canada Next

Right-wing populism is sweeping half the planet. Why not here? Canada is now politically out of step with all its cousins in the North Atlantic cultural basin.
Well, all but one. Portugal is still marching in step with Canada. But the rest — from Hungary to Hawaii, Spitzbergen to Heraklion — are all setting off on another path through the eternal maze of human hope and aspiration.
Only in Canada (and Portugal) does the seemingly archaic and decidedly retro 20th-century notion of small-L liberalism — or, if you prefer, social democratic centralism — survive unchallenged.
Everywhere else among Canada’s cultural kith and kin, what has become known as ‘populism’ has taken power, or is poised to take power, or is busy fermenting in the streets and on the opposition benches.
It was populism that propelled to victory the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union in June’s referendum. Donald Trump applauded the Brexit victory as a trailblazer for his own populist route to the White House.
It is populism that got Viktor Orban elected Hungary’s prime minister in 2010 and has kept him in power since. Populist parties have the most parliamentary seats in Greece, Slovakia, Poland, Switzerland and Italy. In Norway, Finland and Lithuania, populist parties are in governing coalitions. Populist parties are represented in the parliaments of all other European countries — including Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel remains an increasingly lonely champion of social democracy.
In France, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, sees the Trump and Brexit victories as beacons lighting the way for her own push for the Élysée Palace in the presidential elections in April and May. The selection at the weekend by France’s centre-right Republicans of former prime minister (and conservative Catholic) Francois Fillon as their candidate ensures the election will be fought on Le Pen’s ground. The socialists — whose current leader Francois Hollande is the most unpopular president since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958 — are not in the game.
In Austria on Sunday, Norbert Hofer of the populist Freedom Party is odds-on to win the presidency. In Holland, current polls indicate that Geert Wilders and his radical anti-Islamist Party for Freedom will win power in the elections scheduled for March. In next September’s elections for the Bundestag, odds are good that the populist party Alternative for Germany, whose support has grown with the influx of about one million Syrian refugees, will win seats in the federal parliament for the first time.
A few months ago it would have been possible to say with confidence that when voters in France, Germany and the Netherlands come face-to-face with their ballots, they’ll swallow hard and plump for traditional social democrat parties. Not now.
What stands out immediately in this hubbub of rage from voters throughout the North Atlantic basin is that the old political spectrum of left and right has become redundant.
Trump’s campaign was a mirror-image of the avowedly socialist campaign of Bernie Sanders. This message has not been lost on Marine Le Pen.
Nigel Farage and his United Kingdom Independence Party, which propelled the Brexit win, and Trump’s Republican Party acolytes are seen as right-wing movements. Le Pen and most of the variations of National Front parties across Europe are slotted even further to the right, at the neo-Nazi end of the spectrum.
But these populist movements are not so easily characterized. Brexit won because of support from people who traditionally vote for the Labour Party. Trump’s campaign was a mirror-image of the avowedly socialist campaign of Bernie Sanders. It can be argued that Trump won because the people aroused by Sanders’ populism had nowhere to go once he lost the Democratic Party nomination to the terminally unappealing Hillary Clinton, and stayed home.
This message has not been lost on Marine Le Pen. In an interview in October with the journal Foreign Affairs, she made it clear she intends to side-step the French Republicans and Fillon, who will veer to the right to try to foil her. Instead, she will go after France’s disaffected socialists and blue collar workers who, like their British and American cousins, believe they are victims of a system that has made them the serfs of corrupt elites.
This is an age where words quickly change their meanings, allusions and inferences. Populism is such a word. In the early days of the U.S. election campaign, President Barack Obama said — quite rightly — that he thought it was wrong to call Trump a populist. Obama, however, was working on the traditional meaning of a populist — a politician who works for the well-being of ordinary people. Trump is more accurately described as an elitist demagogue only interested in his own gratification.
But populism these days has very specific contexts. Its roots are in the de-industrialization of the North Atlantic basin, which began in the late 1960s but which has accelerated in the last 20 years or so with the spread of globalization and free trade agreements. These have seen not only the hollowing-out of blue collar industries and the lifestyle aspirations that they made accessible, they have created blatant economic disparity.
The new elites not only have vast fortunes — some of them amassed through such obscenities as receiving massive bonuses for failure, or by stripping the assets of functioning companies — they also have a grip on political power.
Unaccountable and sometimes dictatorial institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and countless other global and regional institutions are, for very many people, no longer seen as agents of stability and security. They are seen as oppressors.
In her Foreign Affairs interview, Le Pen made some telling comments about her view of the European Union. She said the common verdict is that the EU was created to keep the peace in Europe, but her view is that it is the European peace of the last six decades that has allowed the creation of the EU. More than that, she said, “the EU has progressively transformed itself into a sort of European Soviet Union that decides everything, that imposes its views, that shuts down the democratic process.”
That is the view of Brussels that propelled the Brexit vote in Britain and energized Trump’s supporters’ anger against the establishment and the Washington “swamp”.
This all begs a question: Why does Canada appear to be immune from the political revolution that is churning this country’s friends, allies and blood kin?
Well, an essential element in modern populism is the rise of demagogues — and Canada has never been fertile ground for them. This country is also profoundly anti-revolutionary. Indeed, opposition to revolutionary political solutions is in Canada’s founding DNA.
So for the time being, there will be many who see Canada as a blissful sanctuary from the raging tide of change boiling all around. But the populist revolution will eventually settle into a new normal — and then it will be evident that Canada has been left far behind.

K-nation Theory as Applicable to South Asia

I don’t believe in the two-nation theory! But I don’t oppose Pakistan’s creation, to disappoint Indian hawks too. I just think contingent rationales justify Pakistan better than this rigid theory.
Given the theory’s holy status in Pakistani ideology, opposing it even partially is risky and I thought long before doing so openly. But then I consulted the one thing which trumps Pakistani ideology even for hawks — Islamic ideology. According to Islam, pursuing the truth comes before other loyalties. My views may not represent absolute truths but my pursuit of the truth is sanctioned by Islam.
My gripe with the theory is that natural nations refer to groups i) sharing race, religion and/or ethnicity, ii) having few internal divisions, and iii) enjoying concentration and exclusivity in a region for long. Nation-states like Japan come nearest this ideal. Pre-1947 Muslims, Hindus, or obviously Indians together were not strong natural nations, given internal divisions and physical spread. Tamils, Pakhtuns, etc., were more natural nations. Thus, not the one- or two-nation but the k-nation theory best describes 1947 India (k in algebra is a variable with fluid value) since it housed so many natural nations.
So what justifies Pakistan’s creation then? Globally, natural nationhood is not a must for statehood. Few states are built around a natural nation. But since they have strong cultivated nationhood, most don’t fail. Cultivated nationhood exists when diverse groups live in one state despite their divisions since the state is unbiased and their combined size gives benefits.
Two-nation theories are passé. Since cultivated nationhood is based on psychic bonds, not more objective identities, it is more imagined but not imaginary. Did pre-1947 Muslims possess a budding cultivated nationhood? Not in 1937 but yes by 1946, the results of two elections show. So, ironically, no ancient natural nation wanted separation but a budding cultivated one did.
Was its desire justified? We are now leaving the realms of rational scholarly analysis for the domains of subjective emotionality. Still, cultivated nationhood better justifies Pakistan than the two-nation theory about a rock-solid natural Muslim nation. But it gives contingent support that does not fully reject other views.
The earlier Muslim rule’s anti-Hindu bias, Muslim fears of higher Hindu literacy and latent religious but not ethnic biases in Congress made religion more salient than ethnicity then. Indian Muslims received two invitations of cultivated nationhood — the Congress one to Indian nationhood and the All India Muslim League one to Muslim nationhood.
Both had merits and demerits. India was an existing state (but united by invaders). Breaking it required some rationale. But the sanctity of state integrity then was not as strong as today given recent UN resolutions. Muslim nationalism was cultivated and also pre-emptive — based on fears of future Hindu excesses given past Muslim excesses. It was lucky to succeed since many natural nations remain unfree despite long actual bias.
Neither side gave strong evidence but largely political rhetoric to convince them. Nor was it easy to show conclusively then where Muslims would do better. But actual experience shows that certainly Muslim elites (generals, bureaucrats, clerics etc.) but maybe even common Muslims have done better economically in Pakistan, given faster initial economic growth, lower population density and easier initial access to the Gulf via the Muslim nexus Bhutto cultivated.
However, politically, India is more stable with less ethnic tensions and extremism and is now growing faster too. Muslims face bias in India today, as even Indian reports show. But many groups face bias in Pakistan too. So, predictably, scholarship supports neither partisan position but something in between.
Cultivated nationhood is more fluid and needs more constant care than natural nationhood. So, Muslim Bengalis had cultivated more Pakistani nationhood than many others in 1947 but lost it fully by 1971 given state bias. They had more natural nationhood than 1947 Muslims or Hindus — common identity with few divisions plus regional concentration and exclusivity. State excesses gave them the rationale for converting natural nationhood into statehood.
So, today, the one and two-nation theories are passé, but not the k-nation theory. Both states rest on cultivated nationhood and house many aggrieved natural and cultivated nations, many of which rebel when pushed too far.
In India, they are religious minorities in the northwest and northeast. In Pakistan, they are the southern Sindhis, Mohajirs, Baloch and Hazaras as its real power bases (military/bureaucracy) are hogged by northern (Punjabis, Pakhtuns and Hazarwals) elites. So, to the largely north-based honour brigade, my submission is that Pakistani cultivated nationhood is strong enough today for us to frankly and confidently discuss the gaps in our natural nationhood and the need to fill them with more cultivated nationhood through equitable policies.

What Hinders Free Trade

At one time, free trade was being deemed a cure-all for all economic troubles, a concept that when implemented would make even the economically weak national self-sufficient. Then why it is still not a reality? Trade has a serious image problem, one that was painfully obvious even before the UK’s Brexit vote and surprise outcome of the US presidential elections.
“Free trade and globalization have protected hundreds of millions of people from poverty and hunger. The problem is that few people believe this,” said Donald Tusk, European Council president, to The New York Times.
That’s why big trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are enormously unpopular even before their contents become public, or indeed before the terms are fully negotiated. It’s also why, in the words of the Economist, trade pacts are “the walking dead of diplomacy”.
From both a practical and political standpoint, the focus on grand trade bargains is misplaced. It ignores the fact that we already have the tools we need to revive trade-led growth by cutting the cost of moving goods across borders.
“The real untapped potential for further trade growth lies in regulation,” says Joakim Reiter, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
Yet, as outlined by the Global Enabling Trade Report 2016, published this week by the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation and the World Economic Forum, improvements in border administration over the past two years have been on average extremely small – practically non-existent.
Most of the regulations that add to the cost of trade are non-tariff measures (NTMs), which run the gamut from labelling, inspections, licensing and certifications to measures squarely aimed at protecting domestic producers, such as quotas, local-content rules and government procurement regulations.
Rough trade
UNCTAD estimates that costly NTMs now affect 96% of world trade. In fact, the world’s 48 poorest countries spend about $23 billion a year on compliance with G20-country NTM costs, according to UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.
Kituyi recalls the damaging impact of European Union traceability requirements on Kenyan exports of fresh flowers and vegetables when he was Kenya’s trade minister. The EU regulations were “a nightmare” for the small, mainly women-owned producers exporting to Europe, he said.
Tariffs, historically the biggest obstacle to the flow of goods, are at an all-time low, so there is little to be gained in negotiations aimed at lowering them further. But regulations continue to proliferate. And costs? They are not so low.
For proof, just look at the World Bank’s Doing Business website. The site shows, by country, how long it takes and how much it costs to fill out documentation, undergo inspections and move goods across the border to a warehouse.
In too many countries, the costs and wait times are unacceptably high. If you want to send a shipment to the Democratic Republic of Congo, you will spend 804 hours (33 ½ days) on paperwork, inspections and waits for approvals. Your cost will be $3,900 – not including tariffs and transportation.
That same process takes a day or less in Austria, where your cost to comply with documentation and inspections will be about $1.
Two years ago, the member countries of the World Trade Organization agreed to streamline trade bureaucracy in order to lower costs. Common-sense changes – automating manual processes, creating “single window” documentation and making regulations transparent and consistent from country to country – could cut trade costs by 13-15% and boost global GDP by $1 trillion a year, the WTO estimated. Sadly, adoption of these changes has been glacial at best.
Today, our view of the supply chain is clearer than it has ever been, allowing us to run leaner and be more efficient. We have dramatically shortened the time from order to production and shipment. That, in turn, has freed up working capital, saved on storage, increased productivity and improved customer satisfaction.
Where we are not lean or efficient is at the border. And it’s getting worse.
Breaking the bottleneck
Twenty-four of the 50 countries in the upcoming Agility Emerging Markets Logistics Index experienced a year-over-year erosion in their overall competitiveness, a measure that includes their trade infrastructure and business climate. The index, to be published in January 2017, shows conditions worsening in seven of the world’s top 10 emerging markets: China, Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, Malaysia, Russia and Chile.
And businesses are feeling it. “Heightened security, eroding infrastructure and red tape have forced businesses to shift to just-in-case production,” says Laura Dawson of the Canada Institute. “They too often stockpile expensive inventory to hedge against border bottlenecks.”
Yes, trade could benefit from an image makeover. In a single generation, the integration of markets and free flow of goods, investment and people have lifted half of the world’s extreme poor from abject poverty. At a time when the world is desperate for growth, stagnation and retreat on trade are not options.
And yes, efforts at new global or regional pacts require a re-think. Any new deal will have to strengthen environmental safeguards and provide skills training that will help dislocated workers move into new jobs. Any new pact will also have to be adapted for the age of e-commerce and the wave of innovation we confront with the arrival of artificial intelligence, automation, additive manufacturing and big data.
Finally, when it comes to selling a sceptical public on trade, we should remember that there is a pervasive view that trade agreements are the “dark” work of big business and the WTO.
The first step in correcting this misconception would be to refer to trade agreements as “trade-simplification and opportunity-creation agreements”. Step two would be to designate the world’s small and medium-size businesses as the torch bearers for these deals. SMEs have the most to gain from trade pacts, and if there is a chorus of support from them, public support will follow.
In the meantime, let’s not lose sight of what we can do right now to cut the cost of trade. If we really want to jump-start growth and give developing countries a fair shot, we’ve got to look at the oceans of fine print that are drowning businesses around the world. This includes the overnight, no-notice rule changes in Niger, a nation that lacks a customs website; the number of document copies and approvals required in India; the clearance times and fees in Brazil; and the lack of input from business when rules change in Belarus.
If we want to spark growth now – risking none of the political backlash that comes with a big new trade deal – we need to address the back-up at the border.

India’s New Pakistan Strategy: Expensive but Ineffective

In the period following September 29, India has embarked on a two-pronged Pakistan strategy. First, it has indicated it is willing to use hard force when faced with terrorism and cross old lines, literally or figuratively. Second, it has intensified its campaign to diplomatically “isolate” Pakistan in the neighbourhood. Together these have been called the “new normal”. It is important to examine the contours of this new normal.
For a start, the new normal is not limitless. The use of force in retaliation or anticipation of terrorism is not suggestive of an Indian inclination for a full-scale war; not at all. The Narendra Modi government is conscious of that and has repeatedly said the cross-LoC strikes were targeting terrorism and not the Pakistani military. Diplomatically too the absolute isolation of Pakistan is not feasible. The Brics summit in Goa was a case in point.
What is possible, however, is to raise the costs for Pakistan for its nurturing of terror, and for those supporting it on various diplomatic and multilateral platforms. Whether it is the Chinese in Goa or the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, those who support Pakistan or at least not ostracise it will need to go to ridiculous lengths in making arguments or expending diplomatic capital. This by itself may seem meaningless, but does mean Pakistan’s backers – like apartheid-era South Africa’s backers – will be reduced to contortions of logic. In the long term, they would push Pakistan towards behaviour change.
That the Chinese have had to articulate their support for Pakistan and use their veto to protect it places Beijing in new territory and changes its assumptions of a workable relationship with India. That it had to do this even as Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) identified Pakistan as the roughneck of the region would have been doubly troublesome.
Not everybody is happy at this turn of events. Two groups have reacted to the Indian government’s new posture – and it is a new posture, irrespective of supposed precedents that are trotted out – with some hostility. Domestic critics of Modi would rather believe ISI and its propaganda than the Indian PM. Frankly, this is a feature of most robust democracies. Domestic disaffection with a ruling party influences international postures as well. Take Donald Trump reaching out to Vladimir Putin to spite his Democrat rivals.
Next there are the nuclear ayatollahs and South Asia specialists in the Washington Beltway. India has done something their playbooks did not conceive as possible. The anger is exaggerated because an emerging power has had the gumption to intervene in a geography (Pakistan-controlled) that was underwritten, fattened and perversely tolerated by the feckless academic and security analysts’ lobby in Western capitals.
Ironically, political leaderships and governments in those very capitals have been more understanding of India’s cross-LoC strikes. Realist political leaders recognise conventional space exists and no amount of nuclear sabre-rattling is going to stop a sovereign power from responding to asymmetric warfare.
Four facts stand out then. One, irrespective of level of damage or intensity of operations, India did act – and told the tale. India has decided to make cross-border response, at a place and time of its choosing, a new possibility in the Pakistan-terror dynamic. What should not be lost is that this time it was Pakistan that was in denial.
Pretending it did not happen allowed Pakistan a face saver and gave its establishment space not to respond or escalate. In doing so, it tore apart the escalation theory it had fed its friends in the West in the first place. That bluff was called and reams of briefing papers and opeds were made to look foolish. The world has to live with this. That space for significant conventional action, under a nuclear umbrella, exists and may be expanded in future has been established.
Two, India didn’t inform any big power before the event and neither did any big power intervene, ask India to back off and advocate (pointless) talks. This was the second bluff that was called: that the world would instantly intervene. It did not. Actually, if and when it does, it could well be to Islamabad’s disadvantage.
Three, contrary to editorial imagination, Pakistan’s army and its civilian arm are managing the implications of the Indian strike in tandem and in a spirit of cooperation. They are both in trouble. The Military Terror Complex allowed the generals immeasurable sway over people and territory. The civilian government benefited from the political advantages of cossetting extremism and the rent-seeking advantages offered by Pakistan being part of terrorism’s global supply chain.
Manipulative use of a journalist to push the idea that Pakistan was rethinking support to terror proxies only points to the desperation with which Pakistan wants to reclaim the international narrative. It is telling that this new tack comes after Nawaz Sharif’s truculent UN speech found absolutely no takers.
Finally, despite the heightened emotions, it is obvious the surgical strikes were not an antidote to terror itself. They were a symbolic strike at a smug sense of immunity that Pakistan had developed, an early warning to Islamabad’s cussed all-weather friends and the beginning of a new diplomacy with Beijing. The Chinese can continue to differ, defy and deny. Even so, the perpetual free pass afforded to them by a reluctant South Block has expired.

Rethinking Indian Liberalism: Liberal Complacency & Politically Correct Clichés lead to a Backlash

Liberalism is visibly under retreat as a global phenomenon. Donald Trump’s surprise victory, based on a shrill attack on such cherished liberal ideas like a human face to immigration, multi-culturalism and pluralism, and his counter espousal of a more insular white-centric political and economic ideology, shocked liberal ideologues. Following Brexit, a swing to the illiberal right is simmering in Europe too. Are we seeing a similar trend in India, and if so why?
Undoubtedly, a definitive shift in India to the right is being raised to a new crescendo after the BJP came to power in 2014. This may not be a permanent trend, but the new rightist upsurge should prompt liberals to seriously introspect about what has gone wrong. Could it be that, cocooned in the self-righteous certitudes of what should be, liberal opinion has overstated certain assumptions, and understated others, leading to a cumulative backlash against a more inclusive, tolerant and broad-minded society?
In response to this question, three aspects come to mind. Firstly, while it is true that we have evolved to become a ganga-jamuni, multi-cultural and plural tehzeeb – and that is the only way we can survive as a nation – certain liberal assumptions of how this has happened are an intellectual gloss and a distortion of historical facts.
Jawaharlal Nehru, in his well intentioned magnum opus The Discovery of India, writes that it is “wrong and misleading to talk of a Muslim invasion of India … Islam did not invade India; it had come to India some centuries earlier”. While it is, indeed, true that Muslim traders from the Arab countries practised their faith undisturbed in Kerala more than a thousand years ago, it is wrong to believe that the Turkish, Afghani or Mughal invaders who came later did not come as Islamic invaders and proselytisers.
Thousands of temples were destroyed and mosques built in their place by them, often with the debris of the demolished temples. Where temples survived, mosques were built in deliberately close proximity. The destruction was devastating, obliterating or mutilating a huge chunk of ancient India’s architectural heritage. The loss was irreparable. It is said that when in 1200 CE Bakhtiar Khilji destroyed Nalanda, the Harvard of Asia, the library continued to burn for months.
The gradual and enriching synthesis that occurred between Hinduism and Islam happened in spite of this wanton destruction, and not because it did not happen. The purpose here is not to revive history to ignite acrimony, but merely to state that historical misrepresentation often serves to provoke dormant memories, thereby creating avoidable backlash.
Secondly, liberal India has continued to believe that any reference to the achievements of Hindu India is almost tantamount to communalising the historical narrative. Frankly, this is political correctness taken to a ridiculous extent. Ancient India saw a remarkable level of refinement and excellence in philosophy, science, literature, culture and the arts. To equate an acknowledgement of this contribution to non-secular obscurantism is a travesty of history.
Somehow, there is a reticence in ‘progressive’ historical writing to give space to the Hindu imagination. For instance, the great kingdom of Vijayanagar with beautiful Hampi as its capital, flourished for two and a half centuries from 1336 to 1565 CE as the last Hindu bastion against Muslim invasion, but has hardly received its due in our historical memory. At its apogee Vijayanagar comprised a vast territory from the river Krishna to the Indian Ocean. But it merits but one paragraph in The Discovery of India, and no one has thought it worthy to name at least one road in New Delhi after the Vijayanagar king Krishnadevaraya, perhaps one of the greatest rulers in Indian history.
Thirdly, there is a need to revisit the ‘s’ word: secularism. Religious faith is a dynamic conditioning factor for the vast majority of Indians. To understand this, and to cull from this the need to respect all religions, is one thing. To repeat the mantra of secularism without even a knowledge of such basics as the meaning of important religious festivals, is quite another.
Gandhiji was a convincing spokesman for communal harmony because he was thoroughly familiar with his own religion, the essential tenets of other religions, and the substance of his own culture. However, for much of the anglicised elite, secularism has often become a stance to be invoked, almost as a reflex, every time there is the slightest whiff of religion. For some of its members, faith is tantamount to medievalism, and all religious practice the equivalent of ritual and superstition.
Such an attitude of disdainful dismissal would still be valid if it was not rooted in a nondescript cosmopolitanism, mistaken for too long as modernity. The crisis of liberalism is that the entirely valid concept of secularism is tending to maroon itself in a ‘progressive’ island of its own, cut off from the religio-cultural impulses that continue to animate the vast majority of Indians.
Ultimately, the biggest challenge before the liberal project in India is how to reiterate its valid beliefs while being rooted in the cultural ethos of the country. It is unlikely that those who see modernity only in Western categories, and know more about Shakespeare than Kalidasa, can become authentic spokesmen for this cause.

Obama’s Russian Phobia Afflicts US: Is McCarthyism Round the Corner

Many Americans are spooked that Moscow may have subverted their elections to engineer the victory of an alleged Russian stooge. President-elect Donald Trump, the purported frontman, has ridiculed the idea, but US intelligence agencies, based on their own assessment, seem convinced the Russians manipulated the elections. President Obama, who for eight years has suffered from the slur – propagated by right wing nutters – that he is a foreigner working against US interests, has also weighed in to confirm that the Russians did indeed meddle in the US elections, and that he warned them ”we can do stuff to you too”.
Well, he didn’t, at least not to the extent that the Russians were affected and the world saw and felt US retribution. For now at least, it seems Moscow — if it did subvert American popular will – may have gotten away with it. Instead of shock (and perhaps awe) at what the Russians may have pulled off, many commentators are displaying a sense of schadenfreude at American discomfiture, the embarrassment aggravated by the schism within the US intelligence and political community. ”The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” went the famous Cold War cry (after a 1966 Hollywood comedy), but when Moscow did hack its way in, much of the world, and indeed many Americans, remained indifferent to the Russian violation of American democracy.
Much of the lack of sympathy or support for Washington in its scrap with Moscow is rooted in the CIA’s own reputation as a trouble maker across the world, a rap that does to seem to have stuck so firmly to its Soviet/Russian counterpart, the KGB, which was no baa-lamb itself. Whether by dint of its own record of fumbling and bumbling or because of sklled Soviet/Russian propaganda, it was the CIA that acquired a reputation of nefarious interference in left-leaning countries and societies across the world – from the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba to the overthrow of governments in Iran and Chile.
India was not immune to CIA’s capers, not that the Russians stood by and watched idly. New Delhi has long been the stomping ground for spooks of all varieties, including Americans and Soviets/ Russians, and a Current joke back in the 1970s pertained how both sides Blitzed their way in using the Indian media.
As far back 1957, the Eisenhower administration was horrified when the newly formed state of Kerala elected a communist government in what was widely seen as a free and fair election (with a Nehru government at the center). Anticipating that this could become the beachhead for the Red spread across India (the Communists would not win in West Bengal till much later), the CIA, according to revelations by U.S envoys much later, bankrolled the Congress Party to create disturbances and prepare ground for the dismissal of the legitimately elected Communist government.
This disclosure was fiercely contested by Indira Gandhi, who was the Congress party satrap who led the effort to overthrow the Communist government at that time, and who later acquired the reputation of being standing up to the Americans, eventually becoming at Soviet ally after the Nixon administration side with Pakistan in the war for the liberation of Bangladesh. But in later interviews, U.S interlocutors, mainly Ellsworth Bunker, the American ambassador at that time, not only confirmed that Washington had funded the undermining of the Communist government in Kerala, but defended it, saying the U.S had hard evidence that the Soviets were funding the Communists.
None of this is hard to believe. Both the CIA and KGB have fought ideological turf wars across the world and many countries have suffered on account of that, which is why not many tears will be shed for Russian subverting of the US elections, and any American retribution on the score. In an op-ed headlined ”Now, America, You Know How Chileans Felt,” the Chilean academic Ariel Dorfman recalled in the New York Times how Salvador Allende, a democratic Socialist, had won the presidency in a free and fair election, in spite of the United States’ spending millions of dollars on psychological warfare and misinformation to prevent his victory (we’d call it ”fake news” today, he said). ”Allende had campaigned on a program of social and economic justice, and we knew that the government of President Richard Nixon, allied with Chile’s oligarchs, would do everything it could to stop Allende’s nonviolent revolution from gaining power,” Dorfman writes, pointing out that similar coups took place in Guatemala and Iran, and in Indonesia and Brazil, where leaders opposed to United States interests had been ousted.
Of course, some of the feats and events ascribed to CIA were unmerited. For all the slick and fearsome representation in pulp fiction and Hollywood thrillers, its agents were often clods who mucked up missions, and many times, were credited with plots that were in the realm of fiction.
In one famous story, a CIA hand was suspected in the bombing of the Kashmir Princess, an Air India plane that was carrying a delegation to the 1955 Bandung Conference in Jakarta. The target of the assassination attempt was said to be then Chinese premier Zhou-en-Lai who was expect to board the plane in Hong Kong but who changed his travel plans due to a last-minute appendectomy. Sixteen people died in the mid-air bombing.
Years later, asked bluntly by Zhou about the alleged attempt, Henry Kissinger is said to have laughed it off, saying he (Zhou) vastly overestimates the competence of the CIA. In the years to come, CIA’s reputation would go further South, including its inability to anticipate events in the sub-continent and in the middle-east. The joke now is that Facebook has achieved in seven years what CIA and KGB could not accomplish seventy: To know what a billion people eat, drink, read, and listen. Except, it is no joke. Social media is spookdom’s new stomping ground.

Sunday Special: Islamophobia and Hinduphobia

Islamophobia as a word that has gained currency now and is attracting global attention. Rightly, so. But what about other phobias about other religions. The Judeophobia and Hinduphobia have been evident since long, while Judeophobia did come in for some criticism, Hinduphobia has escaped all attention. The comparison has been made recently between Islamophobia and Hinduphobia. It’s an interesting one, After the election of Donald Trump, there is a certain fear in the United States of an increased Islamophobia. Certainly, this fear is justified – and certainly the majority of American Muslims are peaceful. This is why, no doubt, the American media particularly CNN and the New York Times, have been going all guns blazing out against Islamophobia and more generally, against ethnic intolerance.
We need however to look at the broader question, which is whether there is some justification in Islamophobia. From a statistical point of view, it is an undeniable fact that 90% of terrorist acts in the world from the seventies onwards, have been performed by Muslims. It is also a fact that the silent Muslim majority of the world, on the one hand never protests collectively the horrifying murders that are done in the name of the Koran; and on the other, often secretly justifies them in their minds, in the name of Palestine, Chechnya or Kashmir.
Quite a few lone Muslim voices have already said it: the Koran was written for the people of the Middle Ages and was alright for these times, but in the 21st century, it needs to be reformed, as some of these passages which deal with ‘Infidels’, with physical jihad, with women, with conversion to Islam, are used to the letter today by Islamic terrorists to kill innocent people. Christianity has shown the path: today Christians acknowledge the fact that there are other religions and that it is necessary for a peaceful world to accept them. A western Christian today is able to come to India and enter a Hindu temple without feeling that he or she is committing a sin. However, we can safely say that at the moment, no Muslim authority is ready to touch the Koran. Thus the ongoing war between Islam and the Western, world, along with India – and eventually with China, as it is facing also a problem with its Muslim minority – will go on for quite some time.
This will trigger a phenomenon that we can already witnessing, though still in a small trickle: Muslims quietly leaving Islam, changing their locations, their names even, as they find it difficult to hire a flat, find schools for their children, apply for a job or simply because of facing discrimination in their lives. Other Muslims will cry of even more of Islamophobia – but they should look within themselves and understand that communally, each Muslim is accountable for the crimes committed in the name of the Koran. It’s a collective ‘black karma’, the way the Dalai Lama acknowledges that Tibetans are suffering today, because of the feudalism they lived in for too long. The Chinese too, he says, will together pay one day for the ‘black karma’ they incurred in killing a million Tibetans. Intellectuals and much of the media, who continue to defend Muslims, should realize that it would be much more helpful if they would report the truth as it is: that Islam cannot win a war against the entire civilised world.
In India we have witnessed, since the British times, something called Hinduphobia. It is there today in press, it’s there amongst intellectuals. While you find in the Indian Media a strong defence of Muslims human rights – the life of a Hindu does not seem to count for much. I personally witnessed this in Kashmir, specially in the 90s, when the entire foreign media was in Srinagar, including famous journalists, such as Mark Tully. We all reported human rights abuses by the Army against Kashmiri Muslims, but when Hindu leaders started being murdered by what was then the KLF, and 350,000 Kashmiri Hindus later fled their ancestral land and houses without firing a shot in self-defence, becoming refugees in their own country, none of them gave a damn (except this writer, who mounted an exhibition on the Kashmiri Pandits) – and that is still true today. Hinduphobia resides also in the facts that when a Christian is killed, for instance quite a few years ago the horrible murder of the Australian missionary Graham Staines, who was burnt alive along his two young sons, or more recently, the lynching of the innocent Muslim, suspected of having killed a cow in Dadri, you will notice an immediate uproar in the media. Whereas the killing of Hindu, particularly if he is of the RSS of the BJP, as it happens frequently nowadays in Kerala, hardly finds any mention in newspapers and televisions. And this generates an important question – is the life of a Muslim or a Christian, infinitely more important to the Media than that of a Hindu?
Another form of Hinduphobia is the intense dislike that the Leftists and the Press have for Hindu political leaders and Hindu political or social parties. This is particularly true of the RSS, an organisation that has been demonised, first by the British and then today by the journalists and the politicians. When I started working as a correspondent in India, I had heard about the ‘evil’ RSS, and thus I was quite surprised when I went to interview their chief in their Delhi quarters, to find that they all looked like old harmless fuddy-duddies in their oversize brown shorts. It was never really proved that Nathuram Ghose killed the Mahatma Gandhi on the orders of the RSS, yet this accusation is still being used on and on again, especially by the Indian National Congress party, to paint them as evil and even ban them. Nearer to us, we witnessed how Narendra Modi was also demonised by the leftist Indian intellectuals as well as the media. Yet, it is not PM Modi who went down in the streets and massacred Muslims, but thousands of Gujaratis, from every caste and social strata. Hinduphobia against Narendra Modi goes to such an extent that today, whereas all polls show that more than 90% of the people of Indian are for demonization and PM Modi’s drive against corruption and black money, the Media gives so much space to the Opposition who, is stalling the democratic system in Delhi and costing crores of rupees every day to the people that elected them.
In conclusion, if there is some justification to Islamophobia, there is none to Hinduphobia. Hindus have been the most tolerant people in the world, accepting the fact that the Divine manifested Himself or Herself at different times of the history of humanity using different names and different scriptures. This is why Hindus have welcomed in their midst all the persecuted religious minorities of the world – from the Syrian Christians, the Jews (India is the only country in the world where Jews were never persecuted), from the Parsis to the Tibetans today. Yet this has been a one-way traffic: Hindus have been the most persecuted people in the world, they have been invaded, raped, enslaved, converted by force, killed, their temples razed and colonised by many nations, from Alexander the Great to the Moghols and every European nation took its pound of gold and flesh. It has been calculated that 100 million Hindus died at the hands of Muslim invaders, from the Hindu Kush to Mumbai 2008, without a doubt, the greatest holocaust of humanity.
The sad thing is that today Western and Indian intellectuals, as well as Western and Indian media still, stand up for Islam, however many crimes are committed in its name – and invariably go after Hindus, though Hinduism is the only religion in the world that never tried to impose its faith upon others, whether by peaceful missionary conversions, as Buddhism did – or by violent coercion, as Islam and Christianity strove to, thus creating great holocausts, from South America to the Indian sub-continent.

A Page from Indian Economic History: How Hyderabad Currency was Demonetised in the 1950s

India’s demonetisation has been a talking point ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi sprung it upon an unsuspecting nation late on November 8, 2016. Some have argued that it’s not a true demonetisation but a note swap. Take new notes for old ones. There is a lot of suffering due to currency shortages, but imagine how much more painful this exercise would have been had India transitioned to a new currency, say the dollar.
Instead of rupees we would be using a currency worth 70 times more. How would that affect prices? How would the lives of the poor be impacted?
It happened in Hyderabad
Something of that kind happened in Hyderabad state, not the city, shortly after Independence. The princely state of Hyderabad had its own currency, the Hali sicca, during British rule but it was allowed to continue using it for some time even after Independence.
Switching to the Indian rupee at the earliest was in Hyderabad’s interest as it would have aided commerce, so just before its integration into the Indian union the state made Indian currency legal tender in its territory. The exchange value was fixed at six Indian rupees for seven Hali sicca rupees, and it was decided to phase out the old currency by 1951.
Fears of the poor
The decision to demonetise the Hali sicca spooked the state’s poor. Although Hyderabad’s rulers were famous for their opulence, the state had many very poor people.
The poorest people living in villages earned only 3-4 annas a day in the Hyderabad currency, and they made most of their purchases using coins of 1 paisa (Hyderabad) denomination.
Why were the poor afraid? Because the Hali and Indian currencies differed in two significant ways:
First, the Indian rupee was worth roughly 17% more than the Hyderabad rupee, so the people expected their nominal earnings to reduce in proportion. A clerk who earned 35 Hyderabad rupees in a month would get only 30 Indian rupees after demonetisation.
Second, unlike the Indian rupee that had 64 paise in those days, the Hyderabad rupee had 96 paise. Consequently, each Hyderabad paisa was worth only two-thirds (67%) of an Indian paisa nominally. Factor in the exchange value (6/7), and the real value of a Hyderabad paisa reduced to 57% of an Indian paisa.
Next, imagine that a kilogram of potatoes cost 1 Hyderabad paisa back in 1951. If the state’s coins were demonetised overnight, and the merchants did not reduce prices accordingly, the real price of a kilogram of potatoes would shoot up by 75% because it would now be sold for 1 Indian paisa rather than a Hyderabad paisa.
There were demands to reintroduce the discontinued (Indian) half-paisa coin and also delay demonetisation.
What did Government of India do?
Realising how hard demonetisation would hit Hyderabad’s poor, Government of India deferred it by two years. Although the state could not issue any new currency, the Hyderabad subsidiary coin, rupee coin and one rupee notes were allowed to remain legal tender till March 31, 1953.
When the next date arrived, a substantial amount of the old currency was still in circulation in Hyderabad, so the deadline was extended by another two years.
“The holders of the state currency are being protected by continuing its legal tender character so that the currency may continue to circulate freely and the holders may have ample time to arrange for the exchange of their holdings,” then deputy finance minister of India, M C Shah, said on March 28, 1953.
The deadline for demonetisation was again extended by two years, but on the last day of March in 1953, all banks in Hyderabad converted all their Hali sicca accounts to Indian rupee accounts at the exchange rate of 116–10–8 (rupee-anna-paisa) Hali sicca for 100 Indian rupees. They also stopped paying cheques in Hali sicca on withdrawals by the public.
You could continue using the Hali sicca in Hyderabad’s markets, but if you went to a bank you would have got only Indian rupees.
Further measures
India had put Rs 718.7 million into circulation in Hyderabad between January 1950 and December 1953 but even in February 1954, small Hali coins of the value of Rs 15 million were in circulation.
What Hyderabad needed was plenty of small coin for households and the street-level economy to function. So the Centre helped the state acquire more coins, especially of eight annas or less value, for a period of one year.
Reserve Bank of India also opened currency chests at the branches of Hyderabad State Bank for the exchange of Hali currency into Indian currency.
Finally, when the deadline of March 31, 1955 arrived, the public still held the equivalent of Rs 64.9 million in the old currency. It was no longer legal tender but people were allowed time till March 31, 1956 to exchange it for Indian rupees.

Beyond dreams Liberalism that is Fundamentally Dishonest

An op-ed article, advising President Barack Obama to accord recognition to Pales­­tine before he left office, appeared out of the blue some days ago in the New York Times. Authored by Jimmy Carter, the piece was curiously ill-timed. Obama is due to retire in the third week of January and is already something of a ceremonial — rather than executive — figure.
One wonders why the former US president should have offered this piece of advice at the eleventh hour. It smacked of panic, of the well-meaning hysteria of a venerable Democrat in the face of the advent of the permanently ‘tweeting’ president-elect.
There have been other concerns. In fact, there is currently a storm in the United States over a CIA report relating to an alleged hacking by the Russians during the presidential elections. An investigation has been launched in Congress. It is as though a segment of the American political elite, including senior Republicans, had suddenly realised that it was confronting an abyss. The certainties of democracy were suddenly under threat.
With Trump playing ducks and drakes with time-honoured policies, footholds such as those of continuity — and stability — could be seen slipping away. There was a kind of crisis of faith. In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky expressed concern about the “organised destruction of human life” by certain Republicans through their defiance of global efforts at climate control.
However, what is worrying to the rest of the world is the overall slippage in evidence in the context of democracy and the perceived abortion of the ‘system’ in the US. America seems to have lost out on account of its neo-liberalism when this can so easily slide into fascism. Nationalism, such as that of Trump is a dated — and risky — phenomenon. It appeared to go out in the US with George Bush but has reared its head again. The dream of making America ‘great again’ has a menacing ring.
Obama’s, on the other hand, was a dream of a gun-free and peaceful domestic environment in the United States and of a realistically possible peace abroad. However belated, we must also commend Jimmy Carter’s concern about Palestine. The two-state solution is not one that should be jettisoned because of Israel’s intransigence. A sovereign Palestinian state is a moral imperative.
The mayhem in the Middle East too must end. It is the responsibility of the West to see to it that it does — since it was the West that initially brought it about. If wisdom is to prevail, then nationalisms and fundamentalisms alike must be contained. Also, granted that we live in a world crushed by demographic constraints and poverty, economic advancement alone is not enough.
Not just environmental but intellectual degradation and the question of the survival of ‘homo sapiens’ — of a thinking humanity — must be addressed. There is a space beyond that of political and economic power. A discourse of the human spirit and value is called for.
Liberalism has, on the whole, failed to provide this. It is a philosophy that is fundamentally dishonest. Its humanist postures fail to convince. On the contrary, they often barely hide a hegemonistic — and predatory — mindset.
Both Britain and France, for instance, jump eagerly into the fray when required. David Cameron and François Hollande both endorsed and spearheaded intervention in Libya when this could have been avoided. Anarchy is all that that led to.
There was likewise concern in the West about the rise to power in Egypt of The Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi. Alarm bells started to ring when, in the course of a year, an Islamist order began to take shape. Israel grew jittery. A dilemma came about in the relevant corridors of power and an expedient conclusion was reached. Democracy had to be kicked in the shins and military rule ushered in.
Realpolitik, yet another facet of liberalism, fascinates but also disturbs. Despite his part in the undoing of the ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt, Obama was perhaps not entirely to blame where it is the US establishment that ultimately calls the shots.
In our own neck of the woods, the nationalism of Narendra Modi is inevitably a source of concern. Kashmir continues to be a flashpoint. But we must not overreact to acts of provocation along the Line of Control by India. An equivalent response seems the best option.
It is, however, too easy to heed promptings in the direction of counter-aggression. That is surely not the way. In a war-torn world — and given a long history of failed peace initiatives — it makes more sense to pursue the cause of peace. Above all, the will to resolve the issue of Kashmir must be there. That is a vital ingredient. It is a prerequisite of meaningful and productive dialogue.

Parliamentary Procedures in India Require a Thorough Revamp

The President of India has made repeated pleas for the proper functioning of Parliament. In 2012, at the platinum jubilee celebrations of the Tamil Nadu Vidhan Sabha, he highlighted the need for collective thinking to avoid disruption. On multiple occasions, he has referred to debate, dissent, and the decision being the three Ds of democracy and called the disruption of parliamentary proceedings unacceptable. His comments, over the years, critique the decline in debate in Parliament.
Washout of parliament sessions has resulted in the weakening of government accountability and ineffective legislative scrutiny. The situation has reached a stage where, on a few occasions, presiding officers have used the word anarchy to describe proceedings in their house of parliament.
In 2009, a committee was set up to suggest structural reforms to the House of Commons in England. The first paragraph of the report of this committee reads, “We have been set up at a time when the House of Commons is going through a crisis of confidence not experienced in our lifetimes… Public confidence in the House and in Members as a whole has been low for some time, but not as low as now.” The situation is no different in India. There is an urgent need to overhaul parliamentary functioning. It will require changes to the Constitution and the rules of procedures of Parliament.
Disruptions in Parliament are symptoms of a fractured political environment where bipartisanship is hard to come. Individual MPs have a greater role to play in such situations. But in our constitutional framework, individual lawmakers have limited involvement in Parliament’s functioning. They neither control the convening of Parliament nor have the freedom to vote on issues. It means that government has no incentive to engage with individual MPs.
The first constitutional change that we need is to empower our legislators to call for a session of Parliament. In many democracies (the US and UK) legislatures meet for an entire year with prefixed calendars. Our Parliament meets for a limited number of days decided by the government. Empowering MPs to call for a session of Parliament will ensure that they can summon Parliament and hold government accountable on their terms. In some countries, the president can convene a session of parliament on a request of a specified number of MPs.
Another change that is needed urgently is the repeal of the anti-defection provisions specified in the Constitution. Over the last three decades, these provisions have gagged the individual voting voices of our parliamentarians. Leaders of political parties do not have to convince MPs either from their party or other parties about the merits of a discussion on a policy issue or legislation. They only negotiate with leaders of other parties who have the power to regulate the vote and voices of their MPs. It defeats the purpose of ideas and debate in a legislature. The events in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh this year have highlighted that anti-defection law will not guarantee political stability. Its removal will bring the vibrancy of debate back to our legislatures.
Over the years, we have only undertaken minor tweaking of the rules of procedure of Parliament. We have now reached a stage where these rules require significant structural changes to keep up with the changing political environment. The government exploits the discretion available in these rules to complete its legislative business at the cost of debate and parliamentary scrutiny. They need to be changed to ring fence the legislative process so that passing of bills without parliamentary scrutiny becomes impossible. The rules are also designed to focus on government business and do not give opposition parties the opportunity to set the agenda for discussion in Parliament. The rules require changes to prevent Parliament from becoming a forum for debating issues agreeable to, and on terms of, the government.
At the beginning of this century, a commission was appointed to review the working of our Constitution. Now is the time to examine our parliamentary system. If we fail to do so, the world’s largest democracy will be left with a hollow institution.

Are Cities Ready for Electric & Driverless Cars

Technological change rarely advances smoothly. It advances in pulses. In revolutions.
Telecommunications progressed from telegraph to telephone, from copper wires to fiber-optics, from analog to digital, from wireless to satellite. Photography changed from daguerreotypes to glass plates to film to digital, as well as from black and white to color.
This pattern holds true in virtually every field, and each pulse opens the door to new innovations that revolutionize industries and, sometimes, society itself.
Today, we are at the start of just such a revolution in the auto industry. It is part of the larger “fourth industrial revolution” that is the theme and focus of this year’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. In the auto industry, the revolution is being driven by the convergence of connectivity, electrification and changing customer needs. It is allowing automakers like GM to develop dramatically cleaner, safer, smarter and more energy-efficient vehicles for customers in every market around the world.
Your petrol-fueled car will become a thing of the past
We are moving from an industry that, for 100 years, has relied on vehicles that are stand-alone, mechanically controlled and petroleum-fueled to ones that will soon be interconnected, electronically controlled and fueled by a range of energy sources. I believe the auto industry will change more in the next five to 10 years than it has in the last 50, and this gives us the opportunity to make cars more capable, more sustainable and more exciting than ever before.
The electrification of the automobile is being enabled in part by breakthrough battery technologies that are helping us develop cars like the new Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, which gets a combined city-highway fuel economy of 47 miles-per-gallon; the second-generation Chevrolet Volt, which offers a pure EV range of 53 miles and a gasoline equivalent of 106 MPG; and the recently introduced Chevrolet Bolt EV, a pure electric vehicle that gets more than 200 miles per charge.
Electrification is also at the root of many advances in vehicle safety. By integrating cameras, radars and sophisticated sensors, today’s cars offer an array of intelligent technologies like blind-spot detection, collision warning systems, adaptive cruise control and crash-imminent braking, which can stop your car automatically even when you don’t.
One of the most exciting advances in vehicle development is connectivity, thanks to technology like GM’s OnStar system. Since being introduced in 1996, OnStar has responded to more than 1 billion customer requests, from automatic crash response and stolen-vehicle recovery, to remote door unlock, vehicle diagnostics and more. By the end of this year, GM will have 12 million OnStar-connected vehicles on four continents.
When your car “talks to” other cars to avoid a crash
We have also pioneered 4G wireless connectivity. This allows cars to act as Wi-Fi hotspots that can connect up to seven devices at a time. They are, literally, their own rolling mobile devices. We have already put more than 2 million 4G-equipped vehicles on the road in Europe, Asia and North America. By 2020, we expect more than 75 percent of our global volume to be actively connected.
Connectivity gets more exciting when vehicles are connected with other vehicles and even the highways they travel. V2V, or vehicle-to-vehicle communication, allows cars to communicate with each other over a dedicated Wi-Fi band and share information about vehicle speed, direction of travel, traffic flow, and road and weather conditions.
If a car makes a sudden stop or is in danger of colliding with another vehicle, every car around it will know this within a fraction of a second. V2V can detect vehicles that are around corners, over hills or otherwise hidden from a driver’s view. Some systems will even take partial control of the brakes or steering to help a driver avoid a collision.
Saving 33,000 lives a year in the U.S. alone
The United Nations and World Health Organization report that auto accidents cost countries as much as 3 percent of gross national product every year. V2V will significantly reduce these costs. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that V2V could eliminate up to 80 percent of traffic accidents that now occur on U.S. roads – accidents that claimed nearly 33,000 lives in 2014.
The next step in connectivity is V2I, or vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. Urban traffic congestion already costs society billions of dollars in wasted fuel and productivity, and the problem is growing rapidly. The UN predicts that, by 2050, the world’s urban population will be 6.3 billion, up from 3.9 billion in 2014. V2I can help. When vehicles are connected to smart highways and traffic lights, then linked to highly accurate, real-time traffic updates and navigation systems, we can significantly reduce congestion and urban commute times, in addition to further improving vehicle safety.
The rapid advancement of intelligent and connected technologies is also providing the foundation for automated vehicles that make driving safer and easier. Cadillac, for example, is actively developing “Super Cruise,” a highly automated driving technology that enables hands-free driving on the highway, even in stop-and-go traffic.
In time, GM and others will introduce partially autonomous and, eventually, fully autonomous vehicles – cars that can drive themselves. At GM, we will begin testing a fleet of autonomous cars later this year on the campus of our Technology Center in Warren, Michigan.
The future of car-sharing
In addition to the many technological advances shaping today’s auto industry, there are also many social changes like urbanization, sustainability and the sharing economy that are changing the way customers interact with cars. At GM, we have launched ridesharing programs in Frankfurt, Shanghai and New York. Earlier this month, we announced a strategic alliance with Lyft, the fastest growing rideshare company in the U.S., to create an integrated network of on-demand autonomous vehicles. We believe the convergence of ridesharing and autonomous vehicles offers great opportunities to improve safety, reduce congestion and enhance transportation freedom for everyone, including the elderly and disabled.
The auto industry is changing faster today than it has in 100 years. Many facets of the traditional industry are being disrupted, and we at GM believe this creates exciting new opportunities. Rather than fear disruption, we plan to be lead it by developing cars that don’t crash or pollute, that reduce congestion and that keep us connected to the people, places and activities that are most important in our lives.
The auto industry will play an important part in the fourth industrial revolution. At GM, we look forward to working with others to lead and define the future of personal mobility.
Our research on megatrends has shown that more and more people are living in cities. For instance, roughly 50% of China’s population lives in cities and the government plans to push that to 70% by 2025. This is not only happening in emerging countries; cities in developed economies are also growing. London is a case in point. Urbanization brings certain benefits, such as private and public investment, and increased job opportunities, that raise economic prosperity. At the same time, however, urbanization is producing new challenges. One of these is no doubt air pollution. And this is a tough one: London, which is not the worst major city for air pollution, breached the EU’s annual pollution limits in just one week into 2016. Alongside their lower carbon footprint, this is why electric vehicles have been hailed as an important way to improve our environment. By one estimate, London will have some 20,000 electric cars by 2020. And this would possibly grow by five times to 100,000 in the five years that follow, according to Transport for London.
This all sounds good except that there could be one slight problem: London’s power grid may not be able to support such large numbers of electric cars charging without significant reinforcement. The need for electricity as a result of more electric vehicles could see peak demand rise by 30% by2035. Even now, the city’s infrastructure of cables and substations that channel electricity from power stations to homes and offices is already burdened by rapid urbanization.
Therefore, a careful strategic response to how people would be charging their electric cars is needed. Ideally, incentives could be introduced to get electric car owners to charge at night, when the demand for electricity is lower. Yet the possibility of selling back electricity at peak times could make it more complicated. Indeed, Nissan recently announced plans to roll out special “vehicle to grid” points to enable its electric car owners to sell electricity stored in the batteries of their cars back to the grid.
Cars that do more than just drive
What happens if we own an electric vehicle and take advantage of the difference in tariff? Let’s say we only charge our cars at night to benefit from cheaper off-peak electricity tariffs. During the day, we could use up the electricity by using the car. Or we could draw electricity from the car to feed the electrical needs of our house during the more expensive daytime peak hours. What Nissan’s scheme is offering is the opportunity for us to make money by selling back energy to the suppliers. In this case, we could buy electricity at low price, store it in the giant battery sitting outside our house and then make a profit from the up to 45% price difference between unit price of off-peak and peak time electricity.
If one household is doing it, this might not seem like a big deal. But with tens of thousands of electric cars likely to be in the system very soon, this source of flexible electricity storage could rapidly become a meaningful contribution to matching supply and demand. If poorly coordinated, this could create problems in the whole electricity supply chain. Properly done, this kind of electricity storage could help overcome the challenges of intermittency of solar and wind generation. It could also make a disproportionate contribution to the environment, because cheaper night time electricity is likely to be drawn more from low-carbon nuclear generation. We can rely less on the least efficient electricity generation plants that are currently used to meet high-peak demand.
However, making this happen requires the right level of investment in the electricity networks, setting up smart two-way flows of electricity and the right regulatory framework to encourage and incentivize car owners to use their vehicles like this. It might also lead to new entrants into the electricity markets from battery makers, car producers or other technology-based firms,with all the innovation they bring. Major incumbent energy suppliers would not necessarily welcome this: consumers’ power may grow stronger. On the other hand, the grid operator, whose role in procuring power and balancing the system with many more points of production and sources of storage, is likely to become increasingly complex.
If electric vehicles were to fulfil their promise, both businesses and governments would need to think deeply not just about their business or political implications, but the social ones, too.

Emerging Market Multinationals can Become Global Leaders

Emerging economies have gained ground in wealth and influence over the past two decades, bringing about radical changes in the global economic landscape. The rise of their multinationals, the so-called emerging market multinationals (eMNCs), are an illustration of this phenomenon.
The overseas expansion of eMNCs has indeed been remarkable: for instance, about 20% of global outward investment flows today are accounted for by a group of 20 top emerging economies, the E20; who’s share was 2% at the turn of the century. Not only have emerging market multinationals significantly increased their investment abroad; but they have also made significant inroads in the global corporate world.
For instance, today, about 30% of the firms in the Fortune Global 500 list (based on revenues) are enterprises from emerging markets; less than 10% of their value, ten years ago. True, China leads the trend: with 98 companies, it ranked in 2015 second in term of number of Fortune 500 firms – not that far from the US (128), and much more than the number 3, Japan (54). However, a wide array of emerging economies are represented: 14 countries of the above are mentioned in the E20 grouping, although sometimes with only one entry in the list. The new players come mainly from China, Korea, India, Brazil, Russia, Mexico and Indonesia.
Beyond the fact that emerging market multinationals significantly increased their presence among the largest corporations in the world, perhaps as remarkable is the fact that several have made it to the very top, becoming world leaders in their own sector. Let’s take eight key industries: banking, logistics, automobile, telecom, engineering and construction, petroleum refining, mining, crude oil production and mining. In 2004, based on the Fortune Global 500 ranking, there was no emerging market multinational among the top 5 world leaders in these industries while, in 2015, 40 % of such leaders came from emerging economies, largely dominated by China.
The shift has been particularly marked in banking (where all but one of the 5 leaders are Chinese), engineering and construction (where all top five are Chinese), and Mining and Crude Oil Production as well as metals. In less traditional industries, such as IT consulting for instance, three Indian corporations are among the world largest (TCS, Infosys and Wipro). In e-commerce, or platform industries, a similar trend is developing; witness Alibaba, and Wechat (Tencent) for instance.
While they have made remarkable inroads as global corporations, emerging market multinationals however still have some way to go compared to the more established western multinationals as regards to profits. Indeed, the average profit margins of emerging market multinationals lag behind those of their US and Japanese counterparts. This difference can be quite important: about 27% of the Fortune Global 500 firms from emerging countries in the above mentioned E20 group achieve a profit margin above 5%, versus an average of 39% for the totality of Fortune Global 500. This suggests that, in their present expansion phase, emerging market multinationals have a stronger focus on revenues and market growth than on profit margins.
The overseas expansion of emerging market multinationals has disrupted the global competition landscape. These firms have been deploying themselves not only in their natural markets – mostly other emerging economies– but also more recently and quite effectively in developed markets, conquering in the process industry leadership positions.
The competition from these new leaders has become more acute both in developed and emerging markets. Is the trend going to continue? Is the balance tilting now in favor of these new comers, as some observers would argue, given the increasing weight and influence of emerging markets in the world economy and the importance of the consumer demand in those markets? It is an open question, even more today than before, and this is for several reasons:
1) Because growth has slowed down worldwide, including in many of the emerging market multinationals’ home markets. This is not really to the advantage of those firms that have surfed on this growth wave, many of them focusing as mentioned above on the search for revenues rather than profit.
2) Because the established players – the large corporations from developed economies – should not be underestimated in their capacity to react to this new competition, building on their long experience of operating in very competitive markets, and their capacity to overcome serious challenges and learn.
3) Because the past few months have brought about a significant degree of uncertainty, as protectionist measures are being seriously considered in a number of key economies. On the other hand, the past ten years have shown that many of the newcomers are fast learners, able to expand globally and reach the top at an impressive speed. We are in for interesting times.

The Best Country to be an Entrepreneur

Since its very birth, United States has been a magnet for all to come and prosper and the success stories have become legends. Americans tend to think of themselves as very entrepreneurial. After all, there’s Silicon Valley — home of Google, Facebook and Apple – and the rise of legendary entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Many more want to join their ranks: Sixty-six percent of American millennials want to start their own businesses, according to a recent Bentley University study. And deeper in the collective American consciousness lives the ingenuity and business acumen of the likes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, inventors who changed the world.
To those who study nation branding, this entrepreneurial bent is a strong part of America’s brand, or the image it projects to the world. Peter Hirshberg, CEO of The Re:Imagine Group and a former Apple executive, notes that the U.S. offers an “opportunity promise” to people around the globe, a promise that includes “a deep streak of individual liberty.”
But does the rest of the world put America at the top for innovation, startup activity, and all things entrepreneurial? A report this year from Wharton marketing professor David Reibstein reveals how 60 countries, including the U.S., are viewed by citizens around the globe on several issues, such as their perceived readiness for entrepreneurs. The report and interactive website, “Best Countries,” was compiled in collaboration with the Wharton School, BAV Consulting, and U.S. News & World Report.
Nation Branding: It Matters to the Bottom Line
Reibstein and his colleagues surveyed some 16,500 global citizens — a mix of the general population, the business world, and academia — on 65 different national attributes. The attributes were then grouped into nine sub-rankings: Entrepreneurship as well as Adventure, Citizenship, Cultural Influence, Heritage, Movers, Open for Business, Power, and Quality of Life. Statistical weighting was then applied based on the correlation between the sub-rankings and the countries’ per capita GDP (based on purchasing power parity, or PPP) to arrive at the final rankings.
Why should countries pay attention to what individuals think of them? Because their national economy, in part, depends on it. ” Countries absolutely experience an economic impact resulting from their brand twitter”, says Reibstein. How people worldwide perceive a nation can have a significant effect — either positive or negative — on its foreign trade, foreign direct investment, and tourism.
“Countries absolutely experience an economic impact resulting from their brand.”–David Reibstein
If a country wants to improve its brand overseas, a public relations campaign is not enough. It must work to achieve real changes at home. Reibstein compares this to the way a company builds its brand “by making sure the experiences people have with their products are good ones.” Hirshberg agrees, “You want your brand to be consistent with reality.”
Nowhere did the connection between a nation’s brand and economic return show up more clearly than in the Entrepreneurship sub-ranking, according to Reibstein. Of the nine sub-rankings, it correlated the most closely with GDP PPP, at 17.4%. By contrast, some sub-rankings had a much lower correlation: Heritage, for example, only scored 3.2%. “Lots of people have perceptions about nations and their heritage,” observes Reibstein. “Heritage is important and it contributes a little bit to a country’s economy, but entrepreneurship contributes a lot.” He notes that the study found that entrepreneurship “has a very strong relationship with foreign direct investment and with exports.”
Drilling down into the study’s Entrepreneurship sub-ranking reveals that 10 types of questions fed into measuring perceptions of a country’s readiness for entrepreneurs. The survey probed the extent to which people felt a country was connected to the rest of the world, had an educated population, was entrepreneurial in nature and was innovative. Additionally, did the country appear to possess easy access to capital, a skilled labor force, technological expertise, transparent business practices, a well-developed infrastructure and a well-developed legal framework?
Country Perceived As the Most Ready for Entrepreneurs
When all is said and done, the top nation for entrepreneurs isn’t the United States. It’s Germany.
Germany grabbed the top spot for perceived readiness for entrepreneurs (and also took the overall title of Best Country). Japan came in second, and the U.S. came next. In fourth and fifth place were the U. K. and Canada. The Best Countries report characterizes these five as “well-established economies that have the resources to support new endeavors, both legally and financially.” Furthermore, Reibstein says that the top 10 (which included Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, and Denmark) taken together account for a large portion (31%) of the world’s GDP.
Germany scored well on perceptions of all 10 entrepreneur-related attributes measured, notably earning a perfect 10 for “well-developed infrastructure” and a near-perfect 9.8 for “educated population.” The Best Countries e-book, a companion to the report, notes that Germany has long been friendly to small- and medium-sized enterprises, the so-called ‘Mittelstand.’ While these businesses continue to be recognized worldwide for precision manufacturing, since Chancellor Angela Merkel’s election in 2005 “both the public and private sectors have focused more on innovative technologies and web-based enterprises.” For example, Berlin is now home to “Silicon Allee” with hundreds of new startups. (Notably, it would not have been dubbed “Silicon Allee” had America’s Silicon Valley not become world-famous first.)
Additionally, Germany’s nation-branding influences perception, according to Reibstein. “When you think about Germany, you think of great engineering. And for technology and innovation, you think ‘well, you’ve got to have great engineers.’”
Volkswagen has long traded on the public perception that Germany equals great engineering. For example, its 2014 Super Bowl ad, viewed by millions of Americans and others around the world, featured the idea that “every time a VW vehicle hits 100,000 miles, a German engineer gets his wings.” Of course, the 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal put a dent in the “brand promise” both of that company and German engineering in general. The full effects are yet to be seen.
Berlin is now home to “Silicon Allee” with hundreds of new startups.
Tom Lincoln, director of the Wharton Nation Brand Conference to be held in Philadelphia in October 2016, cites the American high-end razor-subscription startup Harry’s as a company that associates itself with Germany to suggest its products are top-of-the-line. “Harry’s advertises that their razor blades are German-engineered, and they promote the fact that they have a German factory,” he says. “Whether or not the Germans actually make better razor blades than other countries is not the point. The company counts on customer expectations that German engineering may lead to a better shave.”
The Rising Sun Rises to Second Place
Both Hirshberg and Lincoln were somewhat surprised that Japan was perceived as entrepreneurial enough to earn second place. Lincoln says that to him, Japanese business means “large conglomerates like Sony and Toyota … a corporate culture, not an entrepreneurial culture.” Hirshberg agrees and adds that a big component of entrepreneurship is diversity, which Japan is notorious for not fostering. In contrast, “if you look at the U.S., you go to an incubator here, a startup there, you find as many people from India or China as you do from the United States,” he says. “When you get talent from around the world, you tend to get the best people.”
Lincoln notes, however, that Japan is renowned for its innovative robotics industry, which likely contributes to the perception of entrepreneurship. (Japan ranked a perfect 10 for “innovative,” and 9.8 for “entrepreneurial.”) Some of Japan’s astonishingly human-like robots have made headlines in recent years, and the country possesses the second-largest number of industrial robots used in manufacturing, according to a recent Huffington Post article. (Korea had the most.)
Personal experience of a nation can affect perceptions too. Reibstein recalls taking his children along on a business trip to Japan a number of years ago, and he saw how his American kids’ experience with the transportation alone altered how they viewed their home country. “We would get on the Tokyo subway, and the subway was so cool. It showed you where you were, and didn’t have graffiti all over it, and was totally on time,” Reibstein says. Upon arriving back in the U.S., they were greeted by the news that the shuttle bus that was supposed to take them to their luggage wasn’t working. “It was pretty amazing, the stark difference of how everything ran so precisely [in Japan] … And the same thing is really true of Germany. So I think that helps lead to some of these global perceptions.”
But for Reibstein, looking back a little further in history really explains the widespread perception of Japan as highly entrepreneurial. “Think about cars — the innovation in cars — where that came from. And technology, and basically, electronics. It was all coming at that time, from [firms like] Sony and Mitsubishi, in the 1990s.” Moreover, these revolutionary products were known to come from Japan and were associated in people’s minds with that country. Hirshberg notes, “Your entrepreneurs and your products are really good ambassadors for what you’re doing [as a nation].”
Reibstein also sees the whole thing as quite circular. “The products coming out of countries — that are known to come out of those countries — help contribute to the perception of that country as innovative. And the more we tend to think of these countries as innovative based on their products, the more we want to invest in their businesses and buy products from them.”
“I think the United States is often viewed as a consuming nation rather than a creating nation.”–David Reibstein
He points to the case of Israel as a reverse example. Israel was tagged the “Startup Nation” in the 2009 internationally bestselling book of the same name, and it is home to a “huge tech industry,” Reibstein says. Yet the country only ranked 21st in global perceptions of entrepreneurship. Reibstein speculates that this is because many innovative products coming out of Israel are deliberately not identified as such due to political controversies. “I think it’s because of the nation’s brand, that [some companies say] ‘I don’t want my product identified with being Israeli, because that will hurt my sales’… I think it’s some of their own doing.”
America: The Land of Big Ideas … or Big Macs?
Initially, Reibstein did not expect the U.S. to receive only a third-place ranking. But he found that while America scored at or near the top in many entrepreneurial attributes (it was a 10 in “provides easy access to capital” and “connected to the rest of the world), it fell down on the job when it came to perceptions of transparent business practices.
Another area where the U.S. got a mediocre score — and it’s an important category — was having a skilled labor force. Reibstein believes this perception stems from the widely reported lackluster performance of American students in math and science. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which sponsors the Program for International Student Assessment, the U.S. most recently placed only 35th in math and 27th in science out of 64 countries.
What about America’s most well-known products? Are they viewed as innovative? On the high-tech side, we have the iPhone, Google search engine, and other Silicon Valley brainchildren such as Tesla’s electric cars. “As Tesla grows, I think it will be a huge contributor to the perception of entrepreneurship within the United States,” says Reibstein.
He asserts, though, that when many people think of America’s contributions to the world, what may be more likely to pop into their minds is McDonald’s, Starbucks or Coca-Cola. Or perhaps Hollywood movies. None of these are closely associated with entrepreneurship internationally. “I think the United States is often viewed as a consuming nation rather than a creating nation.”
“Now while I say that we are number three on this list, there are 57 countries ranked below us,” Reinbstein adds. “Clearly the United States is right up there.”