SOTU Address of POTUS Parallel to Indian Parliament

Confused with the title of this article? This article is about the just concluded “State Of The Union” address of the “President Of The United States” on 30th January 2018, its implications and its similarities with the challenges we face in India.
President Trump struck all the right chords in this address. I had written an article in September 2016 outlining why I believed Trump would win the election and I continue to believe that he is delivering on everything that he had promised in his election manifesto. This was a different Trump than what we have seen in the past. He was less aggressive and more inclusive. It is clear that all that matters to him is his country.
He spoke about major investments in America (singling out companies like Apple, Chrysler and Mazda), reduction of taxes, investing over US$ 1.3 trillion in infrastructure, immigration, and strengthening the defence forces and other services like border guards, police forces and the fire service. He peppered his long speech with very well placed examples of people who had been carefully selected and invited to this address. He took time to discuss the need for protecting the citizens of the country. He spoke about setting up vocational schools to train the next generation of young Americans.
He spoke at length about the cost of medicines and his plans to reduce these costs very soon. He also referred to the need to respect their National Anthem and their National Flag. He was applauded regularly by the Republican benches and several times, albeit reluctantly, by the Democratic benches. He asked for a bi-partisan approach to many challenges being faced by the country.
As he spoke, I tried to draw a parallel with the Indian parliament. Would our Prime Minister be able to make a long speech in parliament without loud challenges from the opposition benches and without people rushing into the well or tagging a walkout? Would the opposition, even reluctantly, applaud the Prime Minister and this Government for so many achievements?
The analysts are busy tearing apart his speech on every channel and I am sure the newspapers in the morning will be full of views and counter views on his speech. Critics are talking about what he did not say instead of talking about what he did say. Here is a President who is refocusing his energies on his own country and is moving away from providing leadership to the World. His “Make America Great Again” slogan appeals to his constituents but shakes up the rest of the World who have got used to looking towards America to provide leadership first and then blaming America when things do not go as per plan.
The challenges we face in India are no different. Our Prime Minister too is faced with a small group of high decibel politicians and journalists whose only aim is to critique every action that is taken and every word that is uttered by him. Mr Modi’s challenges are much greater. Not only does he have an over aggressive group of opposition parties who can never hope to present a bi-partisan face given their wide disparities, he can never think of supporting or naming businesses since he can never be identified with any business group.
India too needs huge investments in infrastructure in our economy. We need more and better roads and better public transportation. We need more airports and river transportation. We need clean energy and clean air. We need improved healthcare and cheaper medicines and improved educational facilities. We need cheap housing for our masses. We need more control of our borders (yes we have a huge problem of illegal immigrants from our neighbouring country on our east). In a country adding 27 million children every year, we need strong and determined policies to create more jobs. We need to support and galvanise the Make in India philosophy because only then will we create value-added jobs for our people.
We need more respect for our defence forces and we must stop these ridiculous FIR’s against the Indian Army. We need a very strong policy to manage our over aggressive neighbour on our western border and therefore we need to improve on the arms and facilities for our armed forces. Our space programme needs to be supported not simply because we want to “reach for Mars” but because this technology helps develop more reliable defence capabilities.
Since Independence, the “roti, kapda, makan” promises have been made by successive politicians and the gap between the rich and the poor has continued to widen. Too much has been done for a few who have amassed huge wealth under the guise of providing employment. We need to ensure that the “have-nots” in our country which comprises of agricultural workers, blue collar workers, people in rural and semi-urban India and those people who have never benefited from the largesse of previous Governments are provided opportunities in a nation that belongs to all of us.
We need to provide opportunities for our millennials and beyond, the people who will power our nation into the next few decades. All this can be delivered only by a strong and committed leadership who will be able to follow through on tough reforms despite criticism.
We need India to take its rightful place in the comity of nations. We need to provide leadership in South Asia and in the World. For this, we need a strong and unwavering foreign policy.
As President Trump ended his speech with “God bless America”, I wondered if a similar statement could be made by Prime Minister Modi. If he did, there would be an uproar of “which God” he was referring to and which audience he was selectively “blessing”!

Intel Community Violated the Trust of US Citizens at Least 10 Times Recently

If you watch or listen to CNN, you would tend to believe that the intelligence agencies are sacred cows. In fact, they are not so. even if CNN and other media are out to prove that US Intelligence community is a sacred cow. Nothing can be farther from the truth. No matter where you stand politically, a growing body of facts raises the question: Is there systemic corruption or misfeasance at work inside America’s intelligence agencies?
By that, I don’t mean people stealing money. I mean officials who are stealing our privacy — using the tools of intelligence-gathering and law-enforcing, which are meant to protect Americans, to instead spy on them, to gather information that isn’t the government’s business (at least not without a court’s approval). And, in some instances, it appears, to punish or silence those with whom they disagree — personal and political foes, in and out of government — rather than to pursue and protect Americans from the country’s real enemies.
Perhaps more alarming is the growing evidence that suggests some officials at all levels in intelligence and justice agencies are operating in a way that is clearly intended to serve their own political beliefs and interests — not the public’s interests.
And sometimes, it appears, they operate not just in direct defiance of their superiors but of the Congress, the courts and the very laws of the land as well.
(Almost as disturbing, Congress, for its part, seems all too willing to allow all of this to take place, when it becomes known, rather than using its authority to stop the misfeasance, punish the miscreants who lie or stonewall, and protect their constituents.)
This is not, in my view, a partisan political question. The evidence leading us to ask such a disturbing question indicates there are forces inside our intelligence agencies that are more persistent and powerful than any single political party or administration. They can usurp the intentions of the many fine intelligence officers serving our country.
The following examples are not a comprehensive list; instead, they are a representative guidepost that demonstrates the cause for concern while showing that this is not a new phenomenon or one confined to a single administration:
Telecom takeover
Joe Nacchio, CEO of telecom giant Qwest, said that after he refused to spy on his customers for the National Security Agency (NSA) without a warrant in February of 2001, the government retaliated by yanking a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars and filing an insider trading case against him. He went to prison. The government denied charges of retaliation.
Olympic spying
In 2002, the NSA reportedly engaged in “blanket surveillance” of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, collecting and storing “virtually all electronic communications going into or out of the Salt Lake City area, including … emails and text messages” to “experiment with and fine tune a new scale of mass surveillance.” NSA officials had denied such a program existed.
Spying on Congress
In 2005 intel officials intercepted and recorded phone conversations between then-Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and pro-Israel lobbyists who were under investigation for espionage. In 2009, someone — exactly who was never revealed — leaked Harman’s “unmasked” name to the press. In 2011, intel officials captured private communications between then-Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and a Libyan official. The wiretapped recordings were later leaked to the press — again, by unknown sources.
Journalist “witch hunts”
Internal emails from a “global intelligence company” executive in 2010 stated: “Brennan is behind the witch hunts of investigative journalists learning information from inside the beltway sources. Note — There is specific tasker from the [White House] to go after anyone printing materials negative to the Obama agenda (oh my.) Even the FBI is shocked.” The name “Brennan” appears to reference then-U.S. homeland security adviser John Brennan, who went on to become CIA director.
Misleading on mass spying
On March 12, 2013, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress that intel officials were not collecting mass data on tens of millions of Americans. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden soon revealed material that proved Clapper’s testimony false: The government had been gathering and storing data from ordinary Americans’ phone records, email and Internet use.
More spying on Congress
CIA officials improperly accessed Senate Intelligence Committee computers, according to an Inspector General report in July 2014, contradicting denials by then-CIA Director Brennan. Meantime, Obama intel officials secretly captured communications of a half-dozen members of Congress and organizations in the U.S. while wiretapping Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
NSA privacy violations
In fall 2016, the government confessed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court “significant non-compliance” of crucial procedures designed to protect privacy rights of U.S. citizens. The judge accused the NSA of “institutional ‘lack of candor’” and declared: “This is a very serious Fourth Amendment issue.”
Intel mutiny?
Government requests to see or “unmask” names of Americans whose communications are “incidentally” captured during national security surveillance are supposed to be rare and justified. Yet Obama administration officials made them on a near-daily basis during the 2016 election year. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice admitted under pressure that she “unmasked” senior Trump transition officials who met with a foreign official under surveillance at Trump Tower. In early 2017, the CIA, NSA and FBI refused congressional requests to provide a list of unmasking requests made by Obama officials. Meantime, the FBI also stonewalled Congress about the opposition research “dossier” against Trump that the FBI obtained during the campaign.
Politically motivated press leak
In May 2017, former FBI Director James Comey secretly orchestrated a “leak” to The New York Times of negative memos he said he wrote contemporaneously about President Trump, with the motive of spurring the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the president’s alleged Russia ties. Special counsel Robert Mueller (who has served under Presidents Reagan, Clinton, Obama and both Bushes) was appointed a short time later.
Conflicted investigators
One purpose of special counsel investigations, such as the Russia investigation being led by former FBI Director Mueller, is to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest. But multiple investigators working on Mueller’s team have been removed after being caught in compromising positions. They include FBI agent Peter Strzok who sent a questionable text message to a fellow agent with whom he was having an affair. The message talks about needing an “insurance policy” in case Donald Trump were elected president.
Think all this really doesn’t matter to you, as a private citizen? You never know.



The Power of Fake news

Bilawal Bhutto this week made a speech at Davos in which he talked about the dangers of ‘fake news’ in Pakistan, a phenomenon that has been the cause of much media debate since Donald Trump was elected US president in 2016. In the case of the United States, much of the fake news has been manufactured in Russia and disseminated on Facebook and Twitter, and is said to have swayed the election in favour of Trump.
According to Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus in the Guardian, Sergei P. Rastorguev, a Russian military analyst, wrote in 1998 that “one of the most effective weapons in modern conflict was information — or more accurately, disinformation”. It plays into the larger concept of cyberwar, which is meant to psychologically manipulate people to weaken a country from within, and to let down its guard. The strategy goes like this: “First, people’s trust in one another is broken down. Then comes fear, followed by hatred, and finally, at some point, shots are fired.”
In Davos, Bhutto’s angle on fake news was that big businesses in Pakistan have invested in media outlets and are spending huge amounts of money to churn out sensationalist news, distorted, exaggerated, or just false, in order to influence the political scenario. This has resulted in the demonisation of journalists, Bhutto observed, who are instrumental in the fight against dictatorship. But deliberate disinformation is also resulting in the demonisation of political and human rights activists, with rumours spread on news channels of activists committing alleged blasphemy or working on ‘foreign’ agendas.
You just need to swallow it wholesale and pass it on.
Fake news is spread not just on television, but also through social media posts and short, sensationalist texts on WhatsApp that never make it to a reputable newspaper because they are inaccurate and the fact don’t check out. They’re meant to be consumed quickly and sent on to as many people as possible, usually with the added phrase ‘forwarded as received’.
This means that the sender would like the article to be regarded as completely unbiased and fair. You don’t need to think critically about this message because the author of the article and your friend who has sent it to you has already done the critical thinking for you. You just need to swallow it wholesale and pass it on. Meanwhile, forward by forward, byte by byte, rumour becomes accepted fact, fake news becomes truth, and societies inch closer towards chaos instead of order.
Disinformation twists the facts, omitting some, distorting others, in order to affect public opinion. While it purports to appeal to logic, it circumvents logic and manipulates your emotions, evoking anger because of the perceived injustice it claims to uncover. In the case of WhatsApp disinformation, it’s not just the common citizen, but also government officials, politicians, parliamentarians, and anyone else involved with the machinery of authority that receives these messages, discusses them, and carries around these ideas in their minds. This propaganda then influences the decisions these people make, affecting the lives of millions.
There has been a definite upsurge in WhatsApp disinformation over the last year or two. Many of these are fanciful analyses of the political situation; others spread rumours about the wealth of our politicians and leaders. Some talk about the security situation in hot areas , others talk about the economic situation and so on.
Take for example a recent article in the Oriental Review by Russian analyst Andrew Korybko, who wrote about the government’s decision to expel Afghan refugees in 30 days as retaliation against Trump’s hostile New Year’s Day tweet against Pakistan. Hardly anyone would have read this article online, but a truncated, anonymous version was circulated through WhatsApp; it emphasised how Islamabad found a creative way to asymmetrically strike back at Washington. “Pakistan could soon rid itself of actual terrorist sleeper cells and societal malcontents who have long overstayed their welcome in the neighbouring country.” It’s easy to see how is meant to stir up hatred and hostility towards not just America, but also the Afghan refugees in this country. How long before “shots are fired” at someone because of these forwards, in our emotionally volatile country?
Governments can use the ‘fake news’ epithet to malign journalists reporting on conflicts like the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, causing all sorts of human rights atrocities to be swept under the carpet. But fake news, despite its name, does have real-world consequences. Recently an American was arrested when he made death threats against CNN, prodded on by Donald Trump’s hostility towards the news outlet. Fake news is the real weapon of today’s info wars. Read those WhatsApp texts carefully and critically, but forward them as received at your peril.

Canadian pot a bubble ready to burst?

Investors have rushed to pour money into the growing number of Canadian-listed shares in marijuana-related companies. But experts caution that the torrid pace is unlikely to last forever. “Everyone compares this to the dot-com era,” said Chris Damas, editor of investment newsletter The BCMI Cannabis Report. “You could throw a dart and hit a winner in cannabis.”

The legal cannabis market is worth about $10 billion already in North America, and projected to grow in the coming year. A report from Arcview Market Research estimates that figure is set to expand to almost $25 billion in three years — and that’s assuming no other U.S. states move to legalize between now and then.

Ever since the federal government announced last year that it intended to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults starting July 2018, Canada has become a global hotbed of the burgeoning industry, because the regulatory regime elsewhere has handcuffed would-be rivals.

“Canadian licensed producers have a chance to grab first-mover advantage in a worldwide market that U.S. agricultural and pharmaceutical companies could otherwise have been expected to dominate,” wrote Tom Adams, Arcview’s managing director, in the report. “The U.S. northern neighbour may be the world leader in moving toward a well-regulated legal cannabis industry.”

Bloomberg data shows there are 84 public companies trading on Canadian stock exchanges that are somehow connected to the cannabis industry, and collectively they are worth $37 billion US.

Chief among them is Ontario-based Canopy Growth Corp. More than a year ago, Canopy made headlines as Canada’s first billion-dollar pot company. Today, it’s worth more than six times that.

“We’re in full expansion mode,” Canopy Senior Vice-President and Managing Director Rade Kovacevic told CBC News in an interview this week. Canopy has added three million square feet of greenhouse capacity this year, and expanded into a number of other provinces.

“We are gearing up for it and excited about it,” he said. “It’s kind of a massive startup company.”

But they aren’t the only ones. While full of small operators, the industry is dominated by four big names: Canopy Growth, Aurora Cannabis, Aphria and MedReleaf. Canopy was at one point well out ahead in front, but Aurora has grown quickly through acquisitions, most recently a high-profile one that saw it take over Saskatoon-based CanniMed for almost $50 a share.

Investors have ridden the wave of pot companies, pushing valuations sky-high in the process. Canopy posted less than $40 million in revenue last year, but the company is worth more than Air Canada, who booked more than 350 times that amount of revenue over the same period.

“Value on the stock market and sustainable business franchises are different,” Damas said, adding that the current flurry of consolidation activity is being driven by artificially high stock prices, which itself is being driven by almost insatiable investor demand for anything pot-related.

“If you give me enough Monopoly money,” Damas said, “I can buy Park Place and Boardwalk, too.”

While Damas suspects the current bull run is likely to last at least through the soft legalization deadline of July 1, he does acknowledge that the big four pot companies are all legitimate businesses, with real growth plans that have them poised to outperform other rivals.

“Commodity bud is going to go to $1 or $2 a gram,” he said, “so shelf space and distribution will be key.”

“The top four will do the best and the smaller players are just riding the wave of investor enthusiasm.”

There is indeed real money to be made. When a number of U.S. states legalized the drug in 2016, the windfall was almost immediate. According to Arcview, the 420 licensed dispensaries in Colorado took in $834 million US in revenue last year. That’s almost $2 million per location.

Better still, the state’s illegal market shrank by half to about $500 million — a figure that’s eclipsed by the amount that states where it’s legal earned in pot taxes last year, Arcview calculates.

With the prospect of an incoming bonanza, it’s perhaps small wonder why investors are piling in. But analysts are cautioning expectations even as they hike their target prices for companies in the space.

As PI Financial analysts Jason Zandberg and Devin Schilling put it in a recent research note on Canopy, “We caution investors that all cannabis stocks have risen quickly and the downside risk has also increased.”

Damas put it a little more bluntly: “When you see stocks going up 10 per cent in a day, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” he said. “But the main thing is to know when to get out

Factors Critical for the Success of Cities

Although technology is important to the development of connected cities, there are other “softer” drivers at play.
The United Nations (UN) estimates that by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in cities. This creates an unprecedented pressure on cities around the world to optimize the standard of living for citizens, organisations and institutions.
Cities such as Dubai, Singapore, Yinchuan and Copenhagen are experimenting with new technology and digital services to target specific problems that affect their citizens. Copenhagen, for example, has set the target of becoming the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. The city reduced CO2 emissions by 38% between 2005 and 2015.
As part of a wider research project, we conducted research with the team at Copenhagen Solutions Lab (CSL), Copenhagen’s innovative incubator for driving smart city initiatives.
Our research reveals that, although technology is important to the development of connected cities, there are other “softer” drivers at play, too – and we identified three that are critical to the success of future connected cities.
1. Citizen empowerment
The role of citizens in cities is changing. Many citizens no longer wish to be passive consumers directed by the city, but instead want to be empowered and active participants in the exchange of services between the city, suppliers and communities. Technology is already assisting citizens to get involved with the provision of key services, such as gas and electricity, transport and waste collection. However, we believe that increasingly, city-based services will need to adapt to become transparent, empowering and citizen-driven to meet the needs of communities and individuals.
A recent initiative launched by the Danish Technical & Environment Department, one of CSL’s partners, encouraged citizens to provide feedback on how to improve cycling paths in the city. Citizen feedback was given via the interactive online map of Copenhagen. In the first 12 days, 10,000 recommendations were submitted. This information is now being used to develop the 2017-2025 strategy for cycle path infrastructure. This is a good example of how empowering citizens with the ability to engage can help the city to better plan its infrastructure.
In future, citizens will want to drive new ways of interacting with and consuming city services by being actively involved. Therefore, providers of these services need to enable the public to contribute and create more individualised solutions in a citizen-friendly way.
2. Open and experimental collaboration
Truly open collaboration between incubator units and various organisational and citizen partners will be the hallmark of successful connected cities. However, in reality, creating effective collaborations is incredibly hard to do. We need a new and different type of collaborative ethos.
Marius Sylvestersen, the smart city programme manager at CSL, explains that collaborations must be built on transparency, the willingness to share data and must be driven by the same set of values. This requires a particularly open mindset from the organisations that wish to get involved.
To facilitate open collaboration and knowledge-sharing, CSL launched Copenhagen Street Lab in 2016. Here, organisations such as TDC, Hitachi, Citelum and Cisco work in collaboration with CSL to identify new solutions to city and citizen problems.
The lab tests solutions that can personalise citizens’ experiences and provide real-time data to facilitate responsive governance. Real-time and personalised parking information is one solution that is currently being explored. CSL and partners, such as the Technical & Environment Department, are keen to find a way to use vacant parking spaces on an on-demand platform, where residential permit holders can release their spaces for others when not in use. This would reduce the amount of traffic searching for parking and optimise overall traffic flow.
Perhaps the most important role of the lab is to test the viability of systems for implementation within existing city infrastructure. Hence, it provides proof-of-concept prior to scaling to other parts of the city. The organisations that use the Street Lab to experiment and test new ideas benefit from interacting with other innovators within and outside their own industry. This provides ongoing learning and insight into new solutions.
There is innovation and knowledge-sharing taking place at Bloxhub, a new non-profit member association, which brings together individuals and organisations at the intersection of architecture, design, construction and digitalisation. Located in the historic part of Copenhagen, organisations based on these cobbled streets are now leading the way to rethink city life.
New streams of knowledge flow into CSL via the industrial PhD programme. Here PhD students spend half their time with CSL and the other half at university, researching an area related to connected cities. These initiatives create avenues for many new collaborative partnerships.
3. Rewarding the intangible
We believe that the success of connected cities will also rely on organisations adopting a new mindset whereby suppliers, service providers, partners and other contributors break free from a profit-driven way of operating to embrace a model of collective equity. For example, connected city partners, such as Hitachi, TDC, Cisco and Citelum, work in collaboration to gain rewards that extend beyond simple financial profit.
CSL encourages partners to value expertise, knowledge, relationships and joint innovation as equally rewarding as profit for their organisations. This includes rewarding employees for their ability to collaborate, adopt demand-led innovation and create new long-term, value-based partnerships.
In cities, these new innovations and collaborations will increasingly be enabled by the presence of large-scale data sets. In Copenhagen, for example, the world’s first city data marketplace for the purchase and sale of data was established as a Public-Private Innovation Partnership with Hitachi, the City of Copenhagen and Capital Region in 2016. The City Data Exchange (CDE), as it is called, was initially populated with existing data held by the city’s open data platforms. Now, organisations are also encouraged to sell their data via the platform.
With this data, organisations can drive innovation, establish new partnerships and capitalise on new opportunities. But a different remuneration and rewards strategy is needed that will encourage employees to dedicate time and effort to pursue these more intangible and embryonic opportunities. This in return can help organisations to attract new talent and contribute to expanding its networks and collaborative initiatives.
Great innovation is taking place in Copenhagen and other cities around the world to create more connected and optimised citizen experiences. Although technology is often seen as the main engine for these city overhauls, it is equally important to look after the “softer” drivers of connected cities – empower citizens, create open and experimental collaborations and identify new strategies for rewarding less profit-driven achievements.

Faith & Philanthropy

After Thanksgiving, Americans turn their attention to shopping with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday as well as holidays such as Hanukkah and Christmas. However, this is also the time for giving.
In recent years, nonprofits have sought to capitalize on this attention both on shopping and giving with Giving Tuesday. Last year, this global day of giving raised over US$177 million online. The bulk of all giving – about 31 percent – comes at the end of the year, and individuals are likely to receive scores of requests on Giving Tuesday and through the end of the year.
How do donors make decisions about their giving?
For the majority of Americans, it turns out that faith plays a leading role in their desire to give and serve.
Philanthropy and religion
Let’s first look at available data to understand how much giving is tied to one’s faith.
According to Giving USA, the leading annual report of philanthropy in America, religious contributions, narrowly defined as giving to houses of worship, denominations, missionary societies and religious media, made up 32 percent of all giving in America in 2016.
Another study found that 73 percent of all American giving went to a house of worship or a religiously identified organization.
Many of these organizations make up the world’s largest NGOs. For example, three of the top 10 biggest charities by total revenue last year, the Catholic Charities, Salvation Army and National Christian Foundation, are explicitly religious. Religious agencies make up 13 of the top 50 charities in the U.S.
It is true that factors such as wealth, income, education and marital status are all predictors of giving. But religious belief and practice are one of the best predictors.
Overall, religious Americans volunteer more, give more and give more often, not only to religious but secular causes as well. Among Americans who give to any cause, 55 percentclaim religious values as an important motivator for giving.
What religions tell us
These values of giving are deeply rooted in the texts, traditions and practices of many faiths. Take, for example, the messages within the three Abrahamic faiths.
In Judaism, the Hebrew Scriptures refer to “tzedakah,” literally meaning justice. Tzedakah is considered a commandment and a moral obligation that all Jews should follow. The commitment to justice places a priority on their giving to help the poor. Beyond giving just time and money, rabbis even spoke of “gemilut chasadim,” literally meaning loving-kindness, or focusing on right relationship with one another as the prerogative of religious giving.
Even more broadly, an ancient Jewish phrase, “tikkun olam,” meaning to repair or heal the world, has been adopted by many religious and secular causes. Barack Obama, when he was president, would often refer to the phrase. So did past President Bill Clinton and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. President George W. Bush hinted at a vision of tikkun olam in his second inaugural address.
Similarly, the Christian tradition has considered giving a key religious practice. Many Christians still look to the Hebrew Bible and the tithe, which involves giving one-tenth of an individual’s income, as God’s commandment.
In the New Testament, Jesus not only spoke of giving a tithe but challenged followers to give far beyond it. For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions. Pursuing those values, a long monastic tradition has seen men and women taking vows of poverty to give themselves to the work of their faith. Today, while the tithe might not be practiced by a majority of Christians, most understand the practice of giving as a central part of their faith.
For Muslims, giving is one of the five pillars of Islam. “Zakat” (meaning to grow in purity) is an annual payment of 2.5 percent of one’s assets, considered by many as the minimum obligation of their religious giving. A majority of Muslims worldwide make their annual zakat payments as a central faith practice.
Above and beyond the required zakat, many Muslims make additional gifts (referred to broadly as “sadaqa”). Interestingly, the word shares the same root as the Jewish “tzedakah,” meaning justice. Muslim giving also focuses primarily on the poor.
Of course, charitable giving is not just for the rich. For those with no money to give, the Prophet Muhammad considered even the simple act of smiling to be charity, a gift to another.
In Sikhism, each person is supposed to donate 10% of the income for charity. It is called Daswandh
Building a community
Religious traditions are clear that the value of giving does not simply rest with those receiving the gift. Givers themselves benefit. As sociologist Christian Smith makes clear, there is a paradox to generosity – in giving we receive and in grasping we lose.
At the same time, the goal of religious giving is not just about what it brings to individuals. Rather, it is more a focus on human interaction and a vision of community.
Perhaps most famously, the 12th-century Rabbi Maimonides outlined eight levels of giving– the lowest being giving grudgingly and the highest to sustain, but also to empower a person to no longer need charity.
Maimonides made clear it is not so much the amount of giving but how one gives that is important in establishing a relationship between the giver and the recipient. Giving should avoid humiliation, superiority and dependence.
When it comes to much of humanitarian work and social services, religion is often the greatest asset. Whether fighting AIDS, malaria or poverty, the development and nonprofit community has realized that the success of local programs so often turns on the support of the local faith community. The engagement of the local religious leader and a willingness to interact with his or her religious vernacular is essential.
Just a few years ago, the humanitarian industry was convinced of the truth of this view when it found that a majority of the health care workers left on the ground in the midst of the Ebola crises were missionaries. Faith is the chief motivator for those both funding and serving at home and in some of the most difficult parts of the world.
Connecting with values
In working through the mandate of various religious traditions toward the healing of the world and individual motivations to give, people might understand that they have more in common than perhaps they realize.
This could also help them reflect more intentionally on their contributions at the end of this year. Instead of simply giving as part of their routine this December, perhaps people should take account how their faith and values motivate their giving and the work of the nonprofits that they support.
In doing so, many might find their giving and connection to their faith, the faith of others and the work to which they have given acquire more meaning for them – at this time of the year and in the years to come.

Is Putin Right in saying Communist Ideas Come From the Bible?

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a documentary broadcast on state-funded channel Rossiya 1 on January 14 that the Communist ideas of the Soviet Union come from the Bible.
He said: Maybe I am about to say something that some people will not like, but I will say what I think. Firstly, faith has always accompanied us. It strengthened when things were hard for our people’s country. There have been harsh, God-fighting years when clerics were destroyed and churches were ruined. But at the same time, [the Soviets] created a new religion. Communist ideology is very akin to Christianity, actually.
Mr. Putin is not the first to make such a claim. Advocates of socialism and communism have often argued that certain passages of Scripture prove that the Bible supports state-enforced redistribution of wealth.
The most commonly cited passage is in the book of Acts. Acts 2:44-46 say of early Christians: And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.
Acts 4:32-35 paint a similar picture of the Church, saying again that members had “all things common.”
But a look at the context shows that these passages do not advocate government-mandated redistribution of wealth like the model that Putin’s Soviet predecessors strove toward.
The preceding verses in Acts 1 and 2 show that many people had traveled to Jerusalem from various far-flung locations in the region. They had journeyed there to keep the annual Pentecost convocation. As Christ’s disciples assembled in the temple for the observance, the Holy Spirit came and filled them. Peter then delivered a Pentecost message, and some 3,000 people—including many of those visiting from outside of the city—were converted and baptized into the Christian faith. This marked the beginning of the New Testament Church.
These new converts were overjoyed to learn the truth of God, and many decided to stay in Jerusalem longer than originally planned to learn more from the apostles and other members. As a result, they ran out of funds and food, and were in need of help.
What did the Church did to meet those needs? Consequently, of necessity, they formed a sort of community for the time being only. And whenever some in poorer circumstances had need because of these unexpected conditions, others in better circumstances would from time to time sell part of their goods or land and share with the less fortunate.
It is clear that these early Christians were not practicing communism. They were responding to the needs of a temporary and extraordinary situation. And they were responding to those needs with voluntary generosity and compassion.
The Bible also shows that not all of the Church members sold their private property for this emergency. Only some of them chose to—and only on a voluntary basis. This is clear from a conversation Peter had with a member named Ananias who had sold some of his property. “The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished,” Peter said to him. “And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away” (Acts 5:4; New Living Translation).
It is clear that Ananias—like all of these individuals—privately owned his property and could do with it as he chose. Here was private enterprise, and private initiative, and private ownership—not regimented communism.
After the new converts left Jerusalem to return to their homes, this temporary “all things common” situation ended. It is true that generosity, compassion and giving remained a central Church practice (e.g. Acts 11:27-30; 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7; Galatians 2:10; 1 Timothy 5). But such instances of giving were carried out by Church members only on a voluntary basis, and not at all in line with the Communist model of state-mandated redistribution of wealth.
A study into these and the rest of the scriptures shows that the Bible’s teachings are as far from Communist ideology as east is from west.
But it is easy enough to understand why Vladimir Putin would try to equate communism with Christianity. He is not particularly enthusiastic for either ideology, but he wants the Russian people to feel proud of their past. Above all, Putin is a nationalist. And he wants Russians to look back fondly on all facets of their national history, while holding the eagles and crosses of the czarist era in one hand and the Soviet hammers and sickles in the other.
As he continues on his quest to restore Russia’s superpower status, Putin relies on support from both Russia’s Orthodox Christians and its Soviet nostalgics. Where he can make the two comingle, a new kind of religion emerges: Putinism.
The Bible shows that the increasing power of the Putin “personality cult” is one of several trends leading to a great global conflict.


India-Israel reach a milestone

The UPA government’s PM for a decade, Dr Manmohan Singh, could have visited Israel and entered the history books as the first Indian PM to step on to Israeli soil, He chose not to, even after the opportunity presented by the first ever visit of an Israeli PM, Ariel Sharon, in 2003. Manmohan Singh was, probably, held back by the fealty that the Congress Party and its left-wing allies owed to Nehruvian legacy. Though India had extended her recognition to Israel as an independent nation in 1950 when Jawaharlal Nehru was PM, he did not agree to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel. Ironically, it was a Congress Party PM, Narasimha Rao who gave the green signal to establish diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992.
It took PM Narendra Modi three years to break out of the straitjacket of this legacy, when he undertook the first ever visit by an Indian PM to Israel in July 2017. PM Modi, however, carefully balanced, his visit with earlier visits to Gulf countries and Iran, where India’s interests in its diaspora, energy supply, remittance, trade and investment are considerable. Modi also de-hyphenated the Israeli and Palestine by hosting the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Delhi and later visiting Israel thereafter. He is expected to visit Palestine next month, perhaps via Jordan, avoiding Israel. The BJP has always been a strong proponent of closer relations with Israel, while the Congress party has been hobbled by the hesitation of history.
Israel has doggedly pursued its courting of India over the years, particularly at times when India needed critical defence supplies during conflicts with Pakistan. Over the last 25 years the interface of bilateral ties has broadened into sensitive areas like high technology products, defence equipment, security, intelligence, agriculture, water management, pharmaceuticals, information technology etc. Joint production and development of key defence items has emerged as an important domain of cooperation. Israel is today the 3rd largest source of key defence equipment for India.
Under previous governments, India tried to keep these growing ties off the radar screen. Ties with Arab and Islamic countries were compelling reasons. Today, however, bilateral ties are no longer hostage to these ties. Ties with Israel have broad bipartisan support in Indian politics. Indian Muslims are more concerned about their own welfare and aspirations, rather than lose sleep over the Palestinian cause. Yet India maintained its consistent position by going with the majority in the UN vote on Jerusalem and will continue to reiterate its public support for the State of Palestine and exhorting both sides to negotiate a peaceful settlement, based on a two-State solution and secure borders.
Israeli PM Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu has returned the Modi visit in under 7 months. The Israeli media has speculated furiously that though Netanyahu’s position as Israel’s PM is not under immediate threat, he and his family members have been dogged by corruption scandals that might end his political career.
The Israeli media has speculated that his India visit was amuch-needed respite from mounting political trouble back home. This is perhaps, partially true but the fact remains that India’s public embrace of Israel has been made inevitable, as Gulf countries gravitate towards Israel is search of support against Iran. A West Asia, divided by regional rivalry, sectarian cleavage and civil wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen facilitates India’s independent relations with different countries of West Asia. PM Modi and PM Netanyahu have the added advantage of having developed the personal chemistry to take bilateral ties forward.
Netanyahu’s visit pressed all the right buttons with the Israeli PM indulging in some selective rhetoric and hyperbole. He talked of an “India-Israel Alliance” which does not exist in India’s diplomatic vocabulary. The strong business contingent accompanying Netanyahu left no one in any doubt that the bedrock of this relationship is and will remain trade, investment, technology transfer, intelligence exchange, defence cooperation and co-production. Israel is a world leader in surveillance and sensor technologies and in this domain India has lot to gain by inducting such technologies into our security structures, particularly to fight Pakistani-sponsored terrorism.
Further expansion in bilateral ties is likely to take place in tourism, skill upgradation, water management technology with focus on productivity and reduction of water consumption in agriculture. Another crucial area is recycling of waste water. India rapid urbanization is creating huge challenges in our urban spaces for waste management. Cyber security and R&D cooperation has been included among MOU’s signed during the visit. There is, however, an absence of any heavy ticket agreement indicating that this visit was weighted towards optics. The also helps Netanyahu in signalling his own achievement as PM of Israel and buttresses his country’s “Look East” policy, at the core of which is the re-emergence of Asia as the economic powerhouse of the world.

Danger Lurks in Good Economic News

The rise of inequality has been evident almost everywhere, with income increasingly concentrated at the very top. As 2018 begins, things are looking up for the global economy. Over the last six months, growth projections by official institutions like the International Monetary Fund, matched or even exceeded by private forecasts, have been adjusted upward. But not all of the news is good.
To be sure, there are plenty of positive indicators to inspire optimism. The eurozone Purchasing Managers’ Index for manufacturing hit an all-time high last month, and even Greece’s economy is finally growing. In the United States, growth now appears likely to exceed the IMF’s October prediction of 2.3% for 2018.
In the emerging world, China seems to have staved off the risk of a sharp slowdown: while its economy is no longer achieving double-digit growth, its increased size implies that, in absolute terms, today’s 7% annual rate exceeds the 10% rates of the past. Turkey, for its part, posted 11% growth in the third quarter of 2017. Even Brazil, which experienced negative growth in 2016, is likely to exceed the IMF’s forecast of 1.5% growth in 2018.
As the real economy strengthens, equity values – which, for a time, seemed disconnected from fundamentals – are increasingly being validated. The Financial Times Stock Exchange All-World Index rose by nearly 22% in 2017 – its best performance since the post-crisis rebound of 2009.
As the growth pessimism of recent years fades, some of the warnings that have been made in recent years seem to have become outdated. Northwestern University’s Robert Gordon, for example, argued that the US economy was bound to slow down, because today’s technological innovations would not boost growth to the extent they had in the past. Harvard’s Lawrence H. Summers got a lot of attention for his argument that the world risked sliding toward “secular stagnation,” because the interest rate needed to bring desired investment in line with desired savings was below zero.
Yet, while the zero lower bound no longer seems to be a binding constraint, there are potential causes for concern, one of which relates to debt levels. With the advanced economies no longer needing to maintain extraordinary monetary policies, nominal interest rates are set to climb from their current historic lows. As that happens, high debt levels could become problematic, impeding growth by triggering disorderly deleveraging. That said, given low inflation, there is little reason to expect interest rates to rise sharply, and gradual monetary-policy normalization would not necessarily have negative effects on growth or inflation.
But there is another potential obstacle in the path of sustained recovery: the long-term decline in productivity growth has not yet been reversed. Instead, the current boom seems to be demand-led, with private consumption being the biggest driver, though private investment, too, is finally starting to rise. These trends have been accompanied by solid employment growth, which is welcome news, but cannot last forever.
In the longer run, economic performance and potential growth will depend on the supply side and, in particular, on a revival of productivity growth. Techno-optimists claim that technology will fuel the needed gains, as the lag between digital capabilities and their applications in the economy shortens. But it is too early to say, with any evidence-backed certainty, whether they or techno-pessimists like Gordon are right. There are convincing arguments on both sides, though we count ourselves as cautious techno-optimists.
What is not really up for debate is that inequality within countries is rising fast. While individual countries show different levels of inequality, its rise has been evident almost everywhere, with income and wealth increasingly concentrated at the very top. This trend will accelerate as new technologies, regardless of how much productivity growth they generate, continue to increase the skill premium, shift income to frontier firms, and allow new types of near-monopoly, “winner-take-all” positions to develop on a global scale.
Herein lies the biggest danger in today’s exuberant headlines about growth. Many believe that rapid growth can act as a virtual panacea for countries’ political and social woes, including the rise of populism and nationalism. But if the benefits of rapid growth accrue to the top 5% or 1%, social tensions are bound to rise. And the fact is that it will be difficult to develop policies that can reverse damaging political trends and promote more widely shared growth.
This is not to say that nothing can be done. On the contrary, devising solutions should be a high priority, with the policy debate centering on measures that would help to create truly inclusive economies.
One such measure would be broad-based access to affordable and quality education, including skills upgrading and retraining. The development of regulatory frameworks that encourage competition would also help, as would limiting tax-base erosion. Public research should be funded in a way that gives taxpayers a stake in profitable outcomes. Likewise, infrastructure investments should have explicit equity-related objectives. The goal should be to attack inequality on two fronts: ensuring that pre-tax incomes rise in a more inclusive fashion and strengthening the equalizing role of taxes and transfers.
Given the global nature of markets, many policies will require international cooperation to be effective. With issues concerning international trade, investment, competition, and intellectual property rights increasingly linked, global approaches that can address them in a holistic way have become vital.
Failure to achieve greater inclusiveness – a difficult but attainable goal – would stoke social tensions and fuel already-resurgent nationalism, producing disruptions that would ultimately lead to losses for everyone. Yet today’s good growth news risks obscuring that risk, as it threatens to weaken the will to make the needed changes, leaving economies to rely on trickle-down effects.

Sunday Special: A short History of the Indian Mujahideen: India’s First Homegrown Terrorist Group

Abdul Subhan Qureshi alias Touqeer, whose arrest police announced Monday, figured in every major blast starting 2007. Touqeer was for a time suspected to be the author of the signature email claims that the Indian Mujahideen (IM) made. He was subsequently found to be more identifiable with the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) than with the IM, but the lines between the organisations were always blurred. IM was alleged to be recruiting from SIMI — Haider Ali, named in the 2013 Patna and Bodh Gaya terror attacks was one such recruit — and several bomb blasts have been attributed to the “IM/SIMI”.

The Beginnings

When it was born in Karnataka’s Bhatkal in 2000, the IM was Usaba — Arabic for congregation. Its members came from Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra; its main objective was allegedly to bring together people who were committed to waging holy war against non-Muslims and the Indian state.

As Usaba was growing in South India, a programme engineer from Azamgarh called Mohammed Sadiq Sheikh recruited Arif Badaruddin Sheikh and Dr Shahnawaz, and sent them to Pakistan via Dubai for terror training. Sadiq was arrested by Mumbai Police in 2008. The two groups were joined by Riyaz Bhatkal and his brother Iqbal.

The IM’s first strike was against the American Center in Kolkata in 2002, even though it was not yet known by that name. The attack was allegedly masterminded by Amir Reza Khan and Aftab Ansari to avenge Amir’s brother Asif Reza Khan, who had been killed by police in Gujarat the previous year. Also in 2002, Amir Reza and Riyaz recruited Sadiq Sheikh and sent him for training to Pakistan.

Investigators say the IM grew out of the Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF), a shadowy offshoot of the Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI) of Bangladesh. Amir Reza Khan, Iqbal Bhatkal and Riyaz Bhatkal are said to be the founder members of the IM. Indian intelligence agencies believe they were backed and guided by the HuJI-B and Lashkar-e-Taiba, who helped them build a small but highly effective cadre of home grown jihadists. The IM’s initial recruits were prosperous but socially conservative, urban middle-class Muslims from Bhatkal and Azamgarh.

Between 2003 and 2005, IM operatives used milks cans as IEDs. These bombs were first planted at Varanasi’s Dashashwamedh Ghat on February 23, 2005, allegedly by Dr Shahnawaz and Arif. Only one of the two bombs exploded. Subsequently, Atif Ameen, who was to be killed in the 2008 Batla House encounter, allegedly planted a suitcase bomb on the Shramjeevi Express in July 2005. The blast at Jaunpur killed 13 and injured 50.

The IM’s Emails

The IM announced itself through an email to the media, sent immediately after the November 2007 blasts in courts at Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi. “A suitable name had still not been fully decided for the outfit. When the email was sent claiming the Uttar Pradesh court blasts, the term Indian Mujahideen mentioned in the email… was picked up instantly by the media. The new nomenclature of IM was liked by the operatives and thus used in the subsequent emails along with a designed logo,” the National Investigation Agency (NIA) said in a supplementary chargesheet filed in February 2014.

In subsequent emails, the IM claimed responsibility for the 2005 Diwali blasts in Delhi, the 2006 Mumbai train blasts, and the 2007 Varanasi and Hyderabad blasts. Until then, investigators had said these blasts had been carried out by Pakistan-based terror groups.

The emails cited the Babri demolition of 1992, the Gujarat riots of 2002, and the “perceived injustice” to Muslims at large as the reason for their action. Investigators were initially dismissive — but gave credence to an email that came on May 13, 2008, owning responsibility for the Jaipur blasts. This email, too, referred to Babri and Gujarat, but it was better drafted, described the IM as an organisation with three wings, and contained pictures showing the number of the bicycle on which one of the IEDs had been planted.

An email came just before the Ahmedabad blasts of July 26, 2008. It was well drafted, had a logo attached, and was captioned “THE RISE OF JIHAD, REVENGE OF GUJARAT

The IED Signatures

The IM’s improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used ammonium nitrate and “SAMAY/LOTUS” branded clocks as timers. The gelatin rods used in Patna and Ranchi were of “Rajpower 90”. The detonators came from Andhra Pradesh Explosives Ltd and Rajasthan Explosives and Chemicals Ltd. From milk cans, the group began to pack explosives in suitcases, tiffin boxes and pressure cookers. From “boat-shaped” to “elbow pipe”, the bombs became more sophisticated, and contained more ammunition. In Patna and Ranchi, not much damage was caused, but the IEDs demonstrated the ability to carry out multiple strikes with relative ease. In the 2012 Pune blasts, the bombs were equipped with three detonators instead of the standard two — an indication, investigators say, that they were built by newer bombmakers.

Faces Revealed

The identities of IM operatives were unknown until September 19, 2008, when the Batla House encounter took place. Atif Ameen and Mohammed (Chhota) Sajid were killed. The breakthrough led to a large number of arrests in Delhi, Mumbai and elsewhere, and the involvement of the IM was revealed in blasts going back to February 2005. The Batla House encounter is thought to have broken the back of IM operations in India, sending most of its top leadership, including Riyaz and Iqbal, underground.

A year after the arrests, Mohammed Ahmed Siddibapa alias Yasin Bhatkal was put in charge of the IM by Riyaz. Yasin allegedly established the IM’s so-called Darbhanga, Delhi and Ranchi modules, and was responsible for a series of attacks, including the German Bakery blast, the Delhi Jama Masjid shooting, and the Varanasi blast (all in 2010), the 2011 Mumbai bombings, and the 2013 Hyderabad blasts. Yasin was arrested from Nepal in 2013 along with another IM operative Asadulla Akhtar. His interrogation led to the identification of several top IM operatives.

Al-Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS

According to the NIA, after leaving India, Riyaz made efforts to collaborate with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. “Al-Qaida tasked Riyaz to work towards the given tasks of kidnapping of Jews and for making network in Burma for commission of terrorist activities there… During his stay at Pakistan, the accused also formed association with a group of Rohingya Muslims engaged in terrorist activities,” the chargesheet states.

Also, the NIA said, “The ISI wants to fully control the activities of the IM operatives, and wants to ensure that their work is totally on its directions…”

An IM group headed by Maulana Abdul Khalid Sultan Armar and his younger brother Shafi Armar launched the Ansar-ul-Tawhid (AuT) in Afghanistan, which owed allegiance to the Islamic State. AuT propaganda videos “Lions of the Hind” and “Kandahar se Dilli ki taraf” were posted on YouTube in 2013. While Sultan Armar is believed to have been killed in a drone attack, Shafi Armar migrated to Syria as an ISIS recruiter, and has been listed as a globally designated terrorist by the United States. Shafi Armar is the main suspect in the 2014 Church Street blast in Bengaluru, for which a former SIMI ideologue Alamjeb Afridi was arrested in 2016.

Alleged Operatives

Riyaz Bhatkal : Co-founder of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and currently the leader of the group; Riyaz Ahmad Shahbandri alias Riyaz Bhatkal is said to be dividing his time between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. An Interpol Red Corner Notice has been issued against him. NIA has announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh for him.

Status: Absconding

Amir Reza Khan: On the run for more than a decade, Amir Reza Khan is described as a key founder of the IM. He is the younger brother of Asif Reza Khan, the man after whom the Asif Reza Commando Force, a shadowy collaboration between terrorism and organised crime, was named. The ARCF was behind the 2002 American Center attack in Kolkata. Amir Reza Khan is believed to be living in Pakistan under the ISI’s protection.

Status: Absconding

Iqbal Bhatkal: The brother of Riyaz, Iqbal, too is believed to be in Pakistan. He has reportedly married a Pakistani woman, and has now largely distanced himself from the IM’s activities.

Status: Absconding

Mohsin Ismail Chaudhary: Chaudhary is now considered to be the key operative of the IM after Riyaz. He is reported to be in Pakistan; his family lives in Pune.

Status: Absconding

Dr Shahnawaz: Shahnawaz, a unani doctor, belongs to Azamgarh in UP. His younger brother Saif was arrested during the 2008 Batla House encounter. Dr Shahnawaz is believed to be in Afghanistan now.

Status: Absconding

Yasin Bhatkal: One of the top commanders of the IM, Yasin is thought to have been radicalised around the time he was 17. He was arrested by security agencies from Nepal in 2013.

Status: In judicial custody

Abdul Subhan Qureshi: Touqeer is described as a hardcore SIMI ideologue. He had escaped to Nepal, and was said to have travelled to Saudi Arabia to meet Riyaz Bhatkal, who alleged motivated him to revive the Indian Mujahideen.

Status: Arrested

Alleged attacks

Sankat Mochan Temple, Varanasi March 7, 2006


CASE STATUS: Trial ongoing

Serial train blasts, Mumbai July 11, 2006


CASE STATUS: 12 convicted

Gokul Chat and Lumbini Park blasts, HyderabadAugust 25, 2007


CASE STATUS: Trial ongoing

Serial blasts, 10 places in Jaipur May 13, 2008


CASE STATUS: Trial ongoing

Serial blasts, 23 places in Ahmedabad July 26, 2008


CASE STATUS: Trial ongoing

Bombs found, 27 places in Surat July 28-29, 2008


CASE STATUS: Trial ongoing

Serial blasts, 5 places in Delhi September 13, 2008


CASE STATUS: Trial ongoing

German Bakery attack, Pune February 13, 2010


CASE STATUS: 1 convicted

Serial blasts, Bodh Gaya July 7, 2013


CASE STATUS: 1 convicted

Serial blasts, Patna October 27, 2013


CASE STATUS: 1 convicted

*Initial investigations concluded these groups were responsible, but arrests in subsequent years appeared to suggest the hand of the Indian Mujahideen

Weekend Special: China’s Fishing Fleets Fighting a Shadowy Expansionist War

“When our country needs us, we will go without a second thought to defend China’s rights,” said Chen Yuguo in a recent interview with the Washington Post. If Chen were a sailor in China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, or perhaps an officer of the Chinese Coast Guard, his pledge to use force for his country would not be particularly noteworthy. But Mr. Chen is a fisherman.
As captain of a trawler based in the port of Tanmen, Chen is one of China’s 6 million plus fishermen. He pilots one of the country’s 2,600 distant-water fishing ships.
And much of this massive fleet is charged with more than ordinary fishing. China indeed “needs” them, as Chen said, but not to “defend China’s rights.” Instead, the Chinese government uses its huge fishing fleet to take control of territory that does not rightfully belong to Beijing.
‘Fish, Protect, Occupy and Control’
China analysts commonly discuss the fact that Beijing has both the largest navy in the world and also the largest coast guard. But far less frequently acknowledged is that these two official maritime forces are reinforced by the world’s largest fishing fleet. And the reinforcement the fishing fleet provides is not as haphazard as it may look at first glance.
“This is in no way a collection of innocent, random, patriotic fishermen,” said Andrew Erickson, a professor of strategy in the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. “China likes to have that camouflage and likes to misportray it in that way,” he said, “but it is not the case at all.”
Erickson said much of China’s fishing fleet functions as a “maritime militia.” They are “trained, equipped and organized directly by the pla’s local military commands,” Erickson said, referring to the People’s Liberation Army. “[I]t answers to the very top of China’s centralized bureaucracy: Commander in Chief Xi Jinping himself.”
Christopher Rawley, a United States Navy Reserve captain and a member of the board of directors of the Center for International Maritime Security, agrees with Erickson’s assessment: “When you look at the thousands and thousands of fishing boats operating out of China, you really should consider them a third arm of Beijing’s naval presence,” he said.
Beijing uses this “third arm” as the advance guard to fight its expansionist battles in the South China Sea and beyond. And the fishing fleet’s involvement in China’s battles is not a rare occurrence. “Local fishermen have assisted more than 250 law enforcement operations at sea over the past three years,” the state-run China Daily reported in 2016. Since then, such instances have only become more routine.
First, fishing boats blaze a trail in disputed waters and confront the vessels of other nations, then the Chinese Coast Guard steps in, next come land reclamation projects, and it ends with militarization and domination.
The fishermen are happy to play their role despite the inherent dangers: Besides catching more fish in the contested waters than they would in the depleted areas off China’s coast, the fishermen also feel they are accomplishing their patriotic obligation: “It is our water,” Chen said, referring to almost the entire South China Sea. “But if we don’t fish there, how can we claim it is our territory?”
The basic strategy, according to international security expert Alan Dupont, happens in this sequence: First, fishing boats blaze a trail in disputed waters and confront the vessels of other nations, then the Chinese Coast Guard steps in, next come land reclamation projects, and it ends with militarization and domination. “I call the strategy ‘fish, protect, occupy and control,’” Dupont said.
And the strategy is working.
Securing the Scarborough Shoal
If a Filipino fisherman today wants to visit the Scarborough Shoal, he can only do so with the permission of Chinese authorities. But this has not always been the situation.
After all, Scarborough is only 120 nautical miles from the Philippines, which means it lies well within the area that international law calls Manila’s “Exclusive Economic Zone,” or eez. The United Nations Law of Seas says a country’s territorial borders extend 200 nautical miles from its coast, and this maritime region constitutes that country’s eez. Any natural resources found within a given nation’s eez belong exclusively to that country.
But in 2012, the Philippine Navy caught a group of Chinese fishing ships anchored at the Scarborough Shoal—some 550 miles from the closest Chinese land. Philippine authorities boarded the vessels and found considerable amounts of endangered marine species in the hands of the fishermen. But before they could make any arrests, two Chinese Coast Guard ships arrived and worked with the fishing vessels to cordon off the mouth of the lagoon.
A 10-week-long standoff ensued. Throughout it, vessels from the pla Navy floated on the horizon, sending the Philippines a silent signal of the force Beijing was willing to use. Finally, the U.S. brokered what it believed was a deal for both sides to withdraw and return to the status quo ante.
As stipulated by the agreement, the Philippines pulled out. But China did not honor its end of the bargain. Instead, Beijing kept its maritime vessels at Scarborough Shoal, and they remain there to this day on vigilant patrol.
“[T]here was no question that Beijing had scored a tactical victory at Manila’s expense by successfully seizing and occupying the disputed area,” said Ely Ratner, deputy director of the Center for a New American Security’s Asia-Pacific Security Program.
Thanks largely to the fishing fleet, Beijing won this gray-zone conflict. The Scarborough Shoal now effectively belongs to China.Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe
Ratner and other analysts agree that if China had captured Scarborough with overt military or coast guard vessels, it would have likely prompted a weightier response from the U.S. and considerable backlash from the international community. But since Beijing used nonmilitary vessels as the front line, the skirmish remained in a gray zone.
And the gray zone—meaning a place between war and peace in which conflict occurs but stays beneath the threshold of conventional warfare—is precisely where China wants these types of territorial clashes to take place.
Thanks largely to the fishing fleet, Beijing won this gray-zone conflict. The Scarborough Shoal now effectively belongs to China.
After China’s victory was clear, state media lauded the fishermen as an “advanced militia unit.” President Xi personally praised the fishermen who took part, and advised the fleet to more actively back China’s “island and reef” development projects.
The HYSY 981 Standoff
On May 2, 2014, China placed its hysy 981 offshore oil rig in waters near the Paracel Islands, about 120 miles from Vietnam’s coast. Vietnam decried the move as a clear infringement of its sovereignty and sent 29 ships to the area to challenge it.
But China used all three of its maritime forces—the pla Navy, the Coast Guard and the fishing fleet—to form a 10-nautical-mile cordon around the oil rig. Altogether the Chinese had some 80 vessels surrounding hysy 981, and were able to forcibly repulse the Vietnamese. “All three of China’s sea forces were there,” Erickson said, adding that “they were all communicating and coordinating and they were acting together in a relatively effective manner.”
Over the next few weeks, a standoff took place and each side reported being rammed and water-cannoned by the other nation’s vessels. On May 26, a large, steel-hulled Chinese fishing boat was caught on video ramming and sinking a smaller Vietnamese fishing boat. The Vietnamese boat capsized, throwing eight of its crewmen into the sea. Two others remained in the cabin, but were able to swim out through a window that had broken during the attack.
“The attack is an intentional act that was aimed at killing Vietnamese fishermen,” said Nguyen Van Sy, an official with the company that salvaged the sunken ship.
The incident marked a dramatic escalation in the standoff. And if China had sunk the Vietnamese vessel with a pla Navy or Coast Guard ship, the matter would almost certainly have provoked a meaningful response from the U.S. or other nations. But since Beijing was able to claim that the fishermen who sunk the ship were acting independently and only in self-defense, there was little kickback. China was able to leave the rig in the region, harvesting Vietnam’s oil, as long as it chose to.
The Diplomat said the hysy 981 standoff allowed China to achieve its “primary goals of broadcasting to its neighbors that a rising Vietnam alone could not stop it and the U.S. would not intervene.”
Once again, the victory for Beijing was thanks in large part to its fishing fleet.
A Page from Putin’s Playbook
Two months before the hysy 981 standoff, Russian President Vladimir Putin pried the Crimean Peninsula away from Ukraine and grafted it into Russia. Putin did not accomplish this illegal land grab with an overt military invasion. Instead, he sent Russian soldiers into Ukraine with the insignia removed from their uniforms and the signage taken off their vehicles.
By deploying these “little green men” instead of unconcealed troops, the Russian government had a degree of deniability, which hindered potential challenges. “Were they mercenaries? Could it be Crimean vigilantes? Or was this some unsanctioned adventure by a local commander?” asked Russian security affairs specialist Mark Galeotti. “[T]he lack of insignia on these ‘little green men’ and Moscow’s flat denial that they were Russian troops was enough to inject a moment’s uncertainty into the calculations in both Kiev and nato. [A]nd Russia was able to seize Crimea without a single fatal casualty.”
By the time of the Crimean annexation, China had already been using the “little blue men” of its fishing fleet as the advance guard to assert its expansionist territorial claims. But Putin’s success in Crimea may well have spurred the Chinese leadership to increase such hybrid warfare tactics.
Using “little blue men” not only gives Beijing a degree of deniability, but the quasi-civilian status of the fishermen complicates the rules of engagement for U.S. naval vessels; for coast guard personnel from the Philippines, Vietnam and South Korea; and for any other official government entity trying to combat the illegal behavior.
Since these shadowy, hybrid war tactics have helped both China and Russia to successfully expand their nations, it is likely that Beijing and Moscow will continue relying on them.
Using “little blue men” not only gives Beijing a degree of deniability, but the quasi-civilian status of the fishermen complicates the rules of engagement for U.S. naval vessels; for coast guard personnel from the Philippines, Vietnam and South Korea; and for any other official government entity trying to combat the illegal behavior.
‘Steering the World Toward War’
Many analysts are not particularly alarmed by China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea and elsewhere. As Ratner said, “From their vantage point, accommodation is preferable to risking war over ‘a bunch of rocks.’”
Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam are the main location where Chen Yuguo and numerous other fishermen currently focus on asserting Chinese dominance. China is ignoring these nations’ territorial claims. China is being aggressive and provocative and thereby challenging seven decades of American naval dominance in the Pacific Rim. This aggressive behavior should alarm the world.
Since Japan’s defeat in World War ii, America has protected this vital trade route and brought peace to this part of the world. But since the U.S. military is now retreating from the region, other great powers are coming in to fill the vacuum. China is intimidating the nations of Southeast Asia into submission to its will. It is forcing these countries to do what it wants. Everything is headed in the direction of war.
China’s push against the status quo in the South China Sea and other parts of its periphery is moving toward the possibility of war.

So You Want to Run for Office?: A Guide to Winning Municipal Elections

The Municipal elections in Ontario are fast approaching and I explore why so many municipal candidates lose.
Congratulations! It takes a lot of courage to put your name on a ballot and your reputation up for scrutiny as a potential public official. It takes a lot of care, confidence and concern for your local community, and for that you should be commended. A word of warning though – campaigns are tough, and as a function of pure mathematics, most candidates fail (sometimes repeatedly).
So how do you beat the odds? How do you make sure you’re the one drinking from the keg of glory while your opponents are forgotten by history? The first step is understanding why so many candidates fall flat, only then can you learn how to avoid those same mistakes.
Now, where do we start?
Like the old adage says, begin by following the money. Campaigns are expensive, literature needs printing and mailing, signs need creating, websites need hosting, voters need to be contacted and volunteers need to be fed and well caffeinated. Given the sheer size of most municipal wards, candidates will never be able to speak with most voters personally.
Candidates have to be able to contact as many voters as possible to share ideas and ask for their support. This means most candidates have to spend a lot of money to reach voters. Paid phone calls, enough literature to leave behind at the door, mailers, and digital advertising are all absolutely essential in races often decided by a relatively small handful of votes. Most losing candidates spend way below the legally mandated cap, and while it’s not always their fault that they don’t have the money to spend the maximum, fairness doesn’t get a vote on Election Day.
However, money only goes so far and while you need it to win, you need to spend it the right way. At the top of the shopping list is creating a strong personal brand and choosing the right messaging. In my experience, losing municipal candidates almost always fail because their message is incoherent, or because they run as a single-issue candidate.
Having a single issue you really care about is great, and I would never discourage someone from being true to their passion – but you have to remember that not everyone shares your same passions. Single-issue candidates lose because there are only a limited amount of voters who a) care about the exact same issue and b) have their vote decided by that one issue alone.
Even more important than messaging is branding. Does the candidate’s brand reflect their values? Does it resonate with their electorate? Do they have a brand at all? Think of a candidate’s brand as their main message and if it’s inconsistent or non-existent, then voters will notice. Voters need to know exactly what you stand for, otherwise they’ll be suspicious about why you want the job or what you’ll do once you get elected. You want voters to see you walking down the street and immediately think of you in a very clear and simple way: “There goes Mr. Johnson, a real family man” or “There’s Ms. Juarez, she’s a strong leader.”
Losing candidates often lie, spin, or purposefully create an ambiguous brand in order to not alienate voters. The key here is that winning candidates accept that they won’t win every vote, but the votes they do win will be solid and reliable. The key is having a strong brand, the money and time to communicate it to enough voters.
So now we know that losing candidates often have little to no money backing their candidacy, and we know that they often have bad messaging or weak branding. So how did this all happen? Aren’t those two issues obvious problems?
Of course, but they’re obvious mostly to people who have done this before (or god help them those of us who do it for a living). Losing candidates rarely bring on people who know what they’re doing. The single most important thing a candidate can do to improve their chances of winning is choosing a good campaign manager who has multiple campaigns under their belts, knows the process, the rhythm of campaigning, and the pitfalls to avoid.
From the campaign manager out, a candidate can build an organization to sort out money issues, to refine branding and messaging, and to actually talk with voters in the community. Most importantly, a candidate’s organization is what brings voters out to the polls. All the money in the world, the best branding and messaging will still lose if a candidate’s supporters don’t go out to vote.
Losing candidates think they can do it all themselves, or worse, fashion themselves as experts in all things campaigning. Like the lawyers’ proverb goes “a candidate who has only herself for a campaign manager has a fool for a client.”
So You Still Want to Run for Office 
So we see to get elected for reasons ranging from branding and messaging to financial and organizational miscues might be the reasons for their failure.
If you’re still interested, not scared of running for office, bravo! Half the battle is having a strong stomach for doing what it takes to run and win.
Now that you’ve proven your sincerity, let’s talk about the most challenging scenario any municipal candidates can face – unseating an entrenched incumbent.
In my mind, it’s the political equivalent of a scene in the Lord of the Rings, where the fellowship are running through the dwarf mines and run into a big fiery beast that could very seriously end them all.
That big fiery beast (known as the Balrog, but who’s keeping track) is basically the equivalent to an entrenched incumbent municipal candidate. Outsized, outmuscled, intimidating to face down, and the odds-on favourite to win a fight.
But, despite the odds, not impossible to beat.
So how do you do it? How do you win such a lopsided contest?
Incumbents tend to have an easier time winning because their jobs (ideally) require them to stay connected to the people who will vote for them during elections. A good councillor will emphasize constituency work and events that will maintain their brand and build a solid base upon which they can rely.
It also doesn’t hurt that they’ve done this before and won. Most elected officials, contrary to angry relatives around dinner tables everywhere, generally know what they’re doing when it comes to elections.
So let’s assume you’ve taken my advice from last week: you’re ready to spend the maximum, you’ve developed a strong personal brand and some good messaging, and you’ve engaged a competent campaign manager. What’s next?
It sounds obvious, but the first step is talking with voters. Candidates can do this in a lot of different ways, but in my experience candidates should focus on coffee parties early in the months leading up to the election. Ideally, the campaign locates some volunteers who have a strong personal network and then invite 10-15 of their neighbours and friends to meet the candidate in their homes for an open discussion.
Early on, when time is not of the essence (3-5 months before Election Day), the coffee party setting provides a more intimate chance for a candidate to have a dialogue about ideas and learn just as much from potential voters as they in turn learn from a candidate. What are they most interested in? Do they have any grievances with the incumbent? Do patterns begin to emerge over the course of multiple coffee parties? Think of these events as part focus group and part lead generation. They will give you a running start before you begin knocking on doors and having short conversations with more voters.
Talking with voters is just one part of amplifying your brand and broadcasting your message as widely as possible. To win against the odds, you’ll need to spend some of your campaign budget on other tactics that will help spread the word about your values and ideas.
The most popular options are always printed literature and phone calls. But we’re not in a normal setting are we? We’re running to beat an incumbent, so it’s time to think outside the box, just a little.
Exceptional candidates will use their budget to target digital ads, promoted social media posts to complement more traditional ways of contacting voters. You want a situation where a voter comes in contact with your message from all directions.
The key is to create a scenario by which you knock on someone’s door and they’ve already heard some variation of your message. At the very least, you want them to know who you are and what you stand for before you say hello. That way you can spend more time contrasting yourself with the incumbent, identifying the voter as a supporter, or save time if they’re not.
Beating the odds means that you’ll have to fight for every single vote. Take care to both spend time making sure your supporters (or those who do not support the incumbent) are as motivated as possible to vote. You want them worked up. You want the voter to make it their mission in life to cast a vote for you. What you want to prevent at all odds is a voter thinking that their vote does not matter because ‘Councillor X or Mayor Y has been here forever.’ Every single vote matters.
As we get closer to the end of your hypothetical campaign, I feel like I should mention something else.
A little luck can go a long way. I’ve given you the impression that money, planning, and branding are all that matters.
They aren’t.
Yes, the luck we create for ourselves through good planning, temerity, and resources are very important factors. But sometimes good candidates can do everything right and still lose. The best candidates know the right time to run and when to take a pass. They know how to read the hand they’re dealt, but make the best out of it by taking advantage of their opponents’ weaknesses. The immortal words of Kenny Rogers say it best:
You got to know when to hold ’em,
Know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run.

Is Everything Hunky-dory in India?

Prime Minister Modi’s speech at the World Economic Forum was sweeping and aspirational (one observer said he was “preaching to the choir”). He presented India as the most attractive investment destination in the world, with its democracy, its young population, its diversity and the headroom it has in catching up with the West’s levels of consumption. He also defended globalisation, saying protectionism cannot be considered a lesser threat than terrorism or climate change.
I don’t know if he had watched former US President Barack Obama’s interview with David Letterman a few days earlier. Letterman, known for his irascibility during his Late Show years, lobbed softball questions at the former president. Yet, the conversation was thoughtful and engaging.
During the past week I watched three interviews on television. Besides the Letterman interview, two with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. All three were touchy-feely and velvet-gloved. There was something else in common: the interviewers had all sheathed their claws. Especially the Indian ones: they were literally purring.
Many of the questions to Modi, who has not held a press conference in his 44 months in power, had me clutching my head (this is the Fourth Estate we are talking about, remember?) Among other things, the prime minister was informed that there was a New World Order called PTM – Putin, Trump, Modi. No mention of China’s Xi Jinping, who has just tightened his grip on power for the next five years at the head of the world’s second-largest economy. Modi was told that the opposition was needlessly dragging the government into the controversy gripping the Supreme Court. To this, he replied: “The opposition has made several attempts to finish Narendra Modi. I wish them all the best.” To which the journalist responded: “But they keep at it. It doesn’t end.”
Modi should have been pressed on why, despite his talk of inclusive growth and the good of the common citizen, he does not speak out strongly against caste and religious violence, or use his power to steer the national discourse towards the development theme he says is his lodestar.
You had to trudge through the treacle to find the odd policy statement or insight from the prime minister. For instance, he spoke persuasively about his wish for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. Administrative machinery is frozen while officials are diverted to election duty, thousands of crores are spent on campaigns, and police and paramilitary forces are deployed to poll security, away from their real functions – all good arguments for one big election every five years. That is a huge ask and will need the cooperation of every state. Look at the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states that, sensitive to the Vidhan Sabha elections strung out through this year, would rather keep the voters and law and order on a slow burn with the faux rage over ‘Padmaavat’ in defiance of the Supreme Court’s order. On the day Modi spoke at Davos, mobs were attacking malls and burning cars in Ahmedabad.
Presaging Davos, Obama talked about the things that worried him. “You still have growing inequality,” he said. “The combination of technology and globalisation means that entire industries and categories of jobs are being eliminated … in that environment, if all the money is going to a handful of people at the top, and they are investing in all kinds of stuff because they want to maximise their return, that’s how you start getting bubbles, that’s how you start getting an overheated financial system. The challenge we still have to address is, how do we make an economy in this globalised, technological environment, that’s working for everybody?”
That question ought to preoccupy our policymakers as we head into an eventful year. Trade and development topped he agenda at Modi’s summit on Thursday with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN is dominated by authoritarian members who couldn’t have been too pleased with the violence and intimidation triggered by Padmaavat’s release, including the reprehensible attack on a schoolbus in Gurgaon not far from the airport where the VIPs were flying in.
Is the glass half-empty or half-full? The global economy is doing remarkably well. In 2017, there was an acceleration in the growth rates of three-quarters of the world. India was among those countries whose growth rate shrank. Global trade is also growing in value and volume. This trend is spreading to India’s exports; but oil prices are also rising, putting an end to more than three years of low import bills. At the same time, the oil price rise is benefiting India’s exports of oil products – take a look at Reliance Industries’ latest profit figures.
The disruption caused by demonetisation and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax is starting to dissipate. The bad news is that India is not heading back into a boom in a hurry. This is mainly because of our Twin Balance Sheet problem – over-indebted companies (causing the continuing atrophy in investment) coupled with banks burdened with bad loans. Both are being addressed: creditors may have to take a haircut, but there are bidders for the stressed asset that will be sold off.
These remedies are going to take a couple of years to take effect. This means the patient will be out of the ICU, but linger in the recovery room, when general elections roll around next year (that is if Modi does not club major state elections late this year with early Lok Sabha polls).
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will not have room to present a populist budget next Thursday. He will have to contend with a revenue crunch. The clamour from businessmen is that he needs to trim corporate tax rates urgently. It is clear that Jaitley will not be able to hold to his fiscal-deficit target of 3.2 percent of GDP in 2017-18. Modi told one of his interviewers that his government was hopeful of creating many new jobs by boosting infrastructure spending on highways and railways. Where will that money come from?
The government also announced reforms in state-owned banks and a Rs 88,000-crore capital infusion, adding a huge slab of expenditure. It will have to move forward purposefully on consolidation. That process seems to have already begun in the private sector, with the proposed merger between Capital First and IDFC Bank. Capital First is a non-banking financial company with a strong base of retail credit, caters mainly to small and medium businesses as well as individual borrowers, and has an enviably low bad-loan ratio. IDFC Bank has been struggling to ‘retailise’ since it obtained a banking licence in 2015.
There are reports that the government may loosen foreign investment rules to allow 100 per cent foreign equity in Indian private banks, and up to 49 per cent foreign ownership in state-owned banks. That move would catapult the banking sector into positive-sentiment territory. The privatisation of Air India will also send a strong signal that India means business. For the moment, though, we have to wait and see if the floodgates of investment open up. Don’t expect much bravado in this government’s final full budget. Everything is not hunky-dory yet.

Celebrate the Democratic Culture of Quest

Someone asked me the other day if I was an uncritical believer in the existing political regime. I found the question amusing. Not just because, as I am constantly urging people to seek, not believe. But also, anyone who knows me is aware that I am capable of questioning vested interests unrelentingly.
There are, however, many ways to question. Questioning can be constructive or destructive. Democracy is a powerful way of disrupting status quo, challenging power equations, shaking up cliques and cartels, pockets of monopoly and exclusivity.
The gift of modern democracy, is that it effects the change of power through the ballot box. This is a great achievement that we have found a means of transferring power without bloodshed, to disrupt power non-violently.
However, once we choose to respect the ballot box, it means that we have tacitly agreed to subordinate our personal will to the will of the collective. Does this mean that we have lost our right to protest? Far from it. It is vital to retain our individual freedom of speech and expression, our capacity to discern and dissent, to dialogue and debate. A democracy is only functional when these individual freedoms are proudly enshrined and robustly protected.
Before we become vociferous champions of the cause of individual freedom, it is imperative that we first become individuals. A system that has found ways to manipulate groups to vote en masse – whether on the basis of caste, religion, gender, or even ideology – is not a true democracy. It is feudalism in democratic garb.
A thriving democracy, like an authentic spiritual process, is based on the notion of individual freedom. But only when individuals look beyond the lure of populist political and religious propaganda can true democracy and true spirituality be born. In both cases, the individual must emerge from peer pressure and cronyism, narrow group interests and power lobbies.
A true spiritual process is never authoritarian. It is always fluid, open-ended and open to debate. This has always been the view of spirituality in this subcontinent. This is a culture of quest, not commandment. Here what we consider to be ‘sacred’ can be debated. It does not have to be obeyed. Even when beings believed to be divine appeared in this land – from Shiva to Krishna – we did not simply obey them. We questioned them, debated with them. Likewise, the Indian Constitution is not a set of commandments. If it were, it would be the political equivalent of religious authoritarianism.
Once you emerge as an individual, it is important to realise that your freedom has an impact on others. To live in a democracy means we have agreed to allow everyone the right to the same freedoms. You may choose to protest a policy, or denounce a film, but if you shut down a city or state to express your rage, you are muzzling other people’s liberties as well. This is personal whim masquerading as freedom, irresponsibility masquerading as individual initiative.
As we celebrate the 68th year of the Indian Constitution, the question we must ask ourselves as a nation is this: are we exercising our individual freedom constructively or destructively? Is our freedom truly empowering or is it sabotaging other citizens’ right to well-being? Before we speak of individual freedom, we have to honestly ask a more fundamental question: have we truly become responsible individuals yet?

Aziz or Obama: No Man Can Really Claim to be a Feminist

The comedian Aziz Ansari is a Male Feminist because he is male and he has said that he is a feminist. No other qualification is required in the age of labels, but then it is important not to get caught.
A recent news story, in which a young woman gives an account of her date with him, reveals him as a man who is, apart from being “a feminist”, dependent on hydraulics more than romance to achieve an erection. He rushed her through a dinner, took her to his flat, and did a set of things that made her feel she was assaulted.
These days the male claim to feminism is a virtue that has the same halo as disgust for Aadhaar, capitalism and fascism. But can men ever be feminists? Forget the charlatan empathy uncles, the fake good boys and earnest simpletons, can honest, intelligent men, including Barack Obama, ever be feminists?
At the heart of all the contested meanings of feminism is the indisputable idea that feminism is a response to a world designed by men for men. Without the experience of being a woman, can men comprehend the response and why the response is the way it is? Are empathy and conjecture, which are good enough for men to achieve great novels about women, a match for experience? Absolutely not. Experience is everything.
The experience of a wounded state also creates rage and bias, which are better conductors of ideas than objectivity.
The publication of the Aziz Ansari story, I am certain, was greatly encouraged by the stupendous success of a short fiction called ‘Cat Person’ in the New Yorker magazine. It is a story about a young woman on a date experiencing very bad sex. Thousands of women saw in the story their own experiences. Some called the bad sex “rape”. Men were confused by the hysteria. In fact, from a male point of view the man in the story was just a regular guy, even nice until the last sentence. The Male Feminists too were baffled, but they kept silent as they normally do when confused.
To call men feminists is like calling every Brahmin who wishes Dalits well a Dalit. Men can be allies of women, but that does not make them feminists because they are, including good men, a major part of the problem. They are the creators and beneficiaries of what feminism wishes to overthrow. They will sabotage the resistance knowingly, through criminal acts or even giving poor ratings to films that celebrate women, and unknowingly in more principled ways, like using the ruse of equality to co-opt women into professions where they will spend a lifetime imitating men, professions where men hold all the cards but graciously let women have panel discussions on how men hold all the cards.
“Equality feminism,” the writer Germaine Greer said last year repeating one of her most important thoughts, is exactly what capitalism and governments use to expand their army of exploiters. “If equality means entitlement to an equal share of the profits of economic tyranny, it is irreconcilable with liberation,” she wrote over a decade ago.
The very idea of athletic excellence, for instance, which is the first foreboding of little girls that they are innately at a disadvantage in at least one important sphere of life, is an honorable insult. In fact, until 2016, the definition of a female athlete was a person who was deficient in a hormone that is extremely useful in athletes — testosterone. Now there is total confusion as to who exactly is a female athlete.
Most men who claim they are feminists say that they are so because they believe men and women “have equal rights”. At first glance this is virtuous but then it is convenient for men to promote this view. The idea of equality as a moral goal of feminism makes women from elite backgrounds sound hollow. How can Indian women who have had more opportunities than almost all Indian men lament inequality? Is Indian feminism then a grouse of the top 2% against the top one percent? So equality cannot be the central goal of feminism as men make it out to be.
The tussle between men and women is often a zero-sum game. One wins at the expense of the other. For instance, India’s reformative rape law has meaningful powers because it is at the expense of the fundamental human rights of men. If Ansari were in India and his date imagined she was actually raped he would be in a stinky prison cell right now. The anarchist activist Julian Assange once described the paradise for women, Sweden, as “the Saudi Arabia of feminism”.
Any act of feminism that does not make men uncomfortable is probably something useless to women. But these days women are under pressure to make feminism palatable to men, and the ubiquity of festive Male Feminists is evidence that women are succumbing.

Behavioral Economics& Easier Life

Behavioral economics led to an approach that made it easier to disinfect water. This is so, since the behavioral economics has the ability to influence human behavior for both good and bad. He argues that much of what behavioral economics does is remove barriers. The goal is not to change people but to make life easier, but that idea can be skewed by organizations or individuals looking to capitalize on the biases of people. There is need to improve the lives of people and avoid insidious behavior. This persuasion shall be a nudge in the right direction.
The list of ways companies nudge behavior is endless, and I would love to hear more examples from you all in the comments section. In the meantime here are a few- I’ll let you judge which ones “nudge for good”:
⦁ Waterborne diseases such as cholera cause widespread illness, especially among children, in developing countries without nation-wide water and sanitation networks. In Kenya, chlorine tablets are distributed by NGOs and other organizations, and people generally understand that the tablets disinfect their water, protecting them from disease. Nevertheless, usage rates are often low. Cost is not the barrier here, convenience is because routinely purifying water requires energy and attention. A series of randomized controlled trials conducted in Kenya, that providing chlorine as a concentrated liquid at prominently displayed dispensers at local water sources dramatically increase the rate of disinfection. The dispensers provided a visual reminder when and water was collected and made it easy to add the right does. Along with promotion by community members, this approach increased chlorine use by 53%. Thus, making it easier to disinfect water increased the rates at which tablets are used.
· Research in the technology sector shows that most people never change the default options on their devices, demonstrating the degree to which people tend to go with the default. These default options include items such as auto-saving documents, the browser that will pop-up when accessing the internet, which app is enabled for GPS, and so-on. These default options are critical to a company’s bottom line because they determine which company’s software will be used by the vast majority of users who do not adjust the default options. According to the New York Times, “Google made a big bet early in its history: In 2002, it reached a deal with AOL, guaranteeing a payment of $50 million to come from advertising revenue if AOL made Google its automatic first-choice search engine — the one shown to users by default. Today, Google pays an estimated $100 million a year to Mozilla, coming from shared ad revenue, to be the default search engine on Mozilla’s popular Firefox Web browser in the United States and other countries. Google has many such arrangements with Web sites.”
· Every year, consumers in industrialized countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (222 million vs. 230 million tons). According to a report by UNEP and the World Resources Institute, about one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth about US$1 trillion, is lost or wasted in through food production and consumption systems. This means that about 1 in 4 calories intended for consumption is never actually eaten. Vancouver, Canada is now collecting food scraps from all homes and duplexes on a weekly basis as part of a plan to double organic waste collection this year. Food waste accounts for 40% of household garbage, said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. The city will also spend $5.4 million — $16 per household — to build a new facility to compost an estimated 50 tons of organic waste a year. Around 26,000 tons of food scraps and yard waste — enough to fill 10 Olympic swimming pools — went through the current composting station in South Vancouver in 2011, and the city is expecting to collect twice that amount this year.
· Mumbai, and indeed the rest of the Indian state of Maharashtra is currently struggling water scarcity due to a prolonged drought. In response to the water shortage, restaurants in Mumbai have adopted half-filled water glasses during meals and paper napkins that replace water to wash hands after meals. The Hotel & Restaurant Association (Western India), a body for over 10,000 restaurants across Maharashtra, issued a circular on April 15 urging all eateries to serve half a glass of water to patrons, and replenish it only on request. Similar efforts have been undertaken in California, which is also experiencing a severe and prolonged drought. There, servers in bars, restaurants and cafeterias are not allowed to bring out water with menus and silverware unless customers ask. Some restaurants already have signs saying they don’t automatically serve water because of the drought. The rule is meant to raise conservation awareness as well as save water.
· When we’re “given” something by default, it becomes more valued than it would have been otherwise—and we are more unwilling to part with it. McKinsey found that changing the script at an Italian telecom’s call center helped them to retain more customers after they had raised their rates. Originally, the script for canceled plans offered callers 100 free calls if they kept their plan. The company reworded it to say “We have already credited your account with 100 calls—how could you use those?” Customers did not want to give up free talk time they thought they already owned so they decided to stay and accept the rate increase.
Others include:
· Restaurants that only give you a plastic straw if you ask for one in an effort to reduce waste- in particular plastic waste in the oceans.
· Airlines let you drink directly from the can, unless you ask for a plastic cup.
· Businesses have set their printers to print and copy double-sided as the default to cut paper consumption.
· Hotels don’t change your sheets and towels, unless you specifically request it.
· Electronic billing unless paper bills are requested.
· Energy/power-saving modes for electronics can dramatically reduce energy consumption when used properly.
Educating people is the key to moving towards more and better nudges. If restaurants are not going serve water or straws except on request, then they need to explain why. If employees are auto-enrolled in pension plans, they still need information on whether the default rate is sufficient for their retirement needs. Nudges need to be communicated to avoid the attack that they are “paternalistic” and to develop greater awareness among consumers about the impact of their choices.

India & Israel: a Marriage Made in Heaven

On his recent four-day visit to India, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu said during a TV interview that the relationship between the two countries was “a marriage made in heaven”. But according to Pakistan Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, speaking recently in Tehran, it was more of a union conceived in hell.
He “warned the Muslim world that the emerging nexus between the United State, Israel and India is a major threat to the ummah”.
Had Mr Rabbani been entirely frank, he would have included Saudi Arabia in this alliance. By its words and deeds, the kingdom has quietly supported Israel while paying lip service to the idea of an independent Palestinian state. But by applying pressure on Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, to accept the American decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince and de facto ruler, showed us where his sympathies truly lie.
For years, India has been trading with Israel and has diplomatic relations with the Zionist state. Thousands of Israeli tourists flock to India every year. Currently, Israel is the third largest weapons supplier to India after the United States and Russia. But earlier Indian governments tended to keep Israel at arm’s length, given the pro-Palestinian sentiments that used to run deep in India.
Judging from the warm welcome Netanyahu received, and the lack of any significant demonstrations against his visit, it seems clear that public opinion in India has undergone a huge change.
And of course there is a convergence of interests between the two countries. Israel manufactures and exports a large number of very sophisticated weapons systems. Last year, its weapons exports hit $6.5 billion.
On his recent visit, Netanyahu managed to revive a possible deal for anti-tank missiles worth $500 million. Earlier, the Israeli offer had been shelved as India was considering developing and building the missiles locally. Israel’s experience and expertise in arid area farming is highly relevant to Indian conditions. It has also offered to train Indian security forces in anti-terrorist operations.
While Indian reasons for joining the nexus Raza Rabbani spoke of are clear, Saudi Arabia is obviously aiming to please the United States by currying favour with Tel Aviv. According to one saying in the Middle East, “the road to Washington passes through Tel Aviv”.
When Obama took a more favored position towards Iran, he infuriated the Saudi ruling family. Trump, in his crusade to undo his predecessor’s policies, has gone to the other extreme by threatening to abrogate the nuclear agreement with Tehran that was painstakingly arrived at in partnership with Germany, France, Britain, Russia, China and the UN. This is music to Israeli and Saudi ears, both of whom are itching for the US to take action against Tehran.
Those Pakistanis who, in the wake of Trump’s anti-Pakistan tweet-storm, comfort themselves with the notion that our close links with China and Saudi Arabia will protect us need to wake up and smell the coffee. The kingdom’s openly pro-Israel, pro-US position will bring it closer to India. In Pakistani planners’ zero-sum game — where every gain for India is a loss for Pakistan and vice versa — this would be a disaster. And while China, seeking to neutralise India, will continue supporting Pakistan, it will not issue any blank cheques. It certainly will not get drawn into yet another Indo-Pak conflict.
One of the functions of diplomacy is to prevent hostile powers from ganging up, and to enter defensive alliances to enhance security. Judging by these yardsticksPakistn has failed miserably. Isolated as seldom before, international support for it single-point Kashmir agenda has dwindled.
One reason, of course, is that India is now globally acknowledged as the pre-eminent regional power, apart from being a major player in the world economy. Pakistan, by contrast, is widely perceived as an irresponsible exporter of jihadist terror and ideology. The fact that Hafiz Saeed, viewed as the architect of the Mumbai attacks of 2008, is still free 10 years later, is held up as an example of Islamabad’s perceived duplicity.
China, too, is upset with Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to control extremist elements who pose a threat to the many Chinese engineers and workers in Pakistan. Indeed, Beijing has repeated its advice to restore political stability in the country that has the potential to derail the CPEC initiative. Clearly, its “all-weather friend” is alarmed at its partner’s dysfunctional politics.
Nawaz Sharif was absolutely right when he said ‘we should put our house in order’. Countries like Saudi Arabia and China brook no opposition, and cannot understand how a government can allow political rivals to bring the country to a halt whenever they like. Even democracies like the US do not permit unfettered street protests.
In a sense, Pakistan has created its own isolation through rigid, unimaginative policies that are out of touch with the real world. But its diplomats aren’t the only ones to blame: the truth is that its foreign and security policies are shaped almost exclusively by the military establishment. The result is before us.
While Pakistani commentators and politicians have suggested that losing out on US military assistance isn’t a very big deal, the reality is that American arms gave it a technological edge that Chinese weapons still can’t. India, on the other hand, is acquiring sophisticated weaponry from the US, Russia and Israel.
Its shaky economy clearly can’t sustain an arms race with its neighbour, and the sooner sane, rational diplomacy comes into play, the better.

Reviving an Old Friendship: India & ASEAN

Discussions between PM Modi and ASEAN leaders must focus on expanding security cooperation with South East Asia.
The collective presence of the leaders from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations makes this year’s Republic Day celebrations very special. Delhi’s invitation to them signals India’s strong diplomatic commitment to boosting ties with the ASEAN. And the acceptance of the invitation by the ASEAN leaders underlines the regional forum’s abiding enthusiasm for India.
The special moment in India’s relations with South East Asia comes amidst the growing pressures on the regional forum to safeguard its strategic coherence. A historic power shift in Asia marked by China’s dramatic rise and widespread questions about the future of the US’s role in the region has generated considerable geopolitical turbulence. India’s slow but certain emergence as a regional power has raised expectations in the ASEAN that Delhi will contribute to the building of a stable economic and political balance of power system in the region. Delhi must now rise to the occasion and extend unflinching solidarity with the ASEAN that has been so instrumental in promoting peace and prosperity in South East Asia over the last five decades.
The idea of solidarity with South East Asia was the theme at the very first Republic Day in 1950. The special guest then was Sukarno, the charismatic leader of newly liberated Indonesia. Sukarno was Jawharlal Nehru’s partner in Asia’s anti-colonial project and later in founding the Non-Aligned Movement. In convening the first Asian Relations Conference in Delhi a few months before Independence, Nehru underlined new India’s determination to promote Asian unity. Nehru was clear that Delhi must play a critical role in building a new order in Asia.
One strand of that vision was early decolonisation of Asia. If the armies of undivided India helped liberate South East Asia from Japanese occupation, Nehru led the region’s resistance to the return of European powers to their former colonial possessions. Security cooperation with the newly independent nations of the region emerged as one of the important elements of independent India’s Asian policy. When Burma’s government led by U Nu was threatened by an insurrection led by communists and ethnic rebels in 1949, Nehru organised diplomatic, financial and military support for Rangoon. He also extended similar support for Jakarta in consolidating its internal security.
Nehru also responded to requests from Burma and Indonesia for formal security cooperation agreements by signing peace and friendship treaties with them in 1951. Rangoon and Jakarta also signed a similar treaty between themselves. With Indonesia, India followed up with separate agreements for military cooperation between their respective armies, navies and air forces. The focus was on high-level military exchanges, cross-attachment of officers, training, supply of equipment, and the grant of Indian loans to facilitate this.
In the 1950s, the three countries also became the most vocal proponents of Asian identity in the early-1950s. As champions of non-alignment, India, Indonesia and Burma opposed the emerging military blocs in the East and the West. But the leaders of the three countries understood the importance of greater security cooperation among themselves. It was only later that the idea of non-alignment acquired a doctrinaire turn in India and led to a form of military isolationism.
This interesting story about political and security cooperation between the three countries, however, begins to fade in the 1960s as multiple differences cooled the special relations between them. More broadly, India turned away from the region just as it began to integrate itself under the banner of the ASEAN.
This policy was reversed only in the early 1990s, when India returned to the region with its “Look East Policy”. Along with economic integration and physical connectivity, security cooperation became a part of India’s agenda in South East Asia. Eager to develop stronger defence and security ties with India, the ASEAN welcomed Delhi into the various regional forums for security cooperation including the East Asia Summit and the biennial defence ministers conclave. Although India’s security engagement with the region has expanded significantly in recent years, it remains tentative and way below potential. Addressing that must be one of the top priorities for the discussion between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ASEAN leaders this week.
In the 1950s, Nehru saw the importance of India lending security support for South East Asia and could respond quickly to the demands from the region. Although Delhi’s declaratory commitment to security cooperation with the ASEAN has grown under the Look East and Act East policies, and its military capabilities have become considerable, the Indian defence establishment has been disappointing in its delivery. This has little do with the ASEAN, but the general absence of an effective institutional framework in Delhi to conduct defence diplomacy with India’s international partners. While correcting this structural fault in the Ministry of Defence might take a while, Delhi could begin this week by announcing a new and specific framework for deepening the defence partnership with the ASEAN.
For five decades, the ASEAN has provided the platform for promoting regional economic integration, limiting great-power competition and avoiding regional conflict. As India reaffirms the centrality of ASEAN for Asia’s peaceful future this week, Delhi must back its words with concrete proposals for stronger defence and security cooperation with the region

A Passage with a Message

The jeep that desalinates water, in which PM Netanyahu drove PM Modi around Tel Aviv, was delivered as a gift, in his passage to India. There was a huge message. The two countries as a first priority, agree to trade and develop new technologies with a hint that the Israeli PM knows what priorities India should push for immediately. Water, agriculture produce, particularly in peninsular India, tragically now known all over as the land of farmer suicides.
Seventy years after independence, it is just about getting late to adopt a technology that can make fresh water rivers run back to land from salinized seas to irrigate what they were not allowed, thanks to man-made hurdles to share and prosper. Now the situation has reached threatening paucity of palatable water for millions.
Thanks for the idea, and thanks for the back-up which one can see as a miniature in the Jeep. If we do come up with driving fresh waters from the seas from three sides to much of the peninsula, that is peace, prosperity which often takes care of much human acrimony.
One has to step with trepidation in noting down facts and interactions of a PM as Benjamin Netanyahu, and to some extent our own “Damodar”, PM Modi. It is because both have risen as strongmen in their countries, having first learnt to count their words, and spell their actions. So unconditional apologies, if in this strategic analysis, long held beliefs and political stands are seen to be trespassed.
Issues that come to the fore, is that we are interacting with a technology, bio, pharma, defence nation, few have been able to appreciate due to a collective bias, politically, historically, even communally coloured. These very nations have interacted with so many, traded for profit, turning a blind eye to similar collective calls for isolation, and gone ahead.
The alliance assumes importance as the hitherto global “game-changers”, may voluntarily take a step back, due to internal circumstances, and others, with these two countries not excluded, may have more to contribute to the needs of humanity. The US has declared that it shall go for “America First”, and as it happens, despite majority in the Congress and the Senate, has gone for a standstill.
China would be quick to count its pennies, and North Korea may just keep quiet, not understanding democracy at all!
Putin’s Russia is due for elections, and it is likely, that post elections, the policies would be more towards economic development and sharing. Britain after Brexit has to come to terms or amiable negotiations to interact with Europe.
Entirely on economic and developmental terms, this is where an Indo-Israel pact takes a bigger role in world economics and productivity. Somehow, the chemistry of these two leaders has become a pivot, central or epicentral to the changing world scenario—a scenario that was rarely stable since WWII. Much of which was regarding unsettled geographical borders, further fanned by truant diplomacy into bloody wars, so mischievously placed on communal platforms.
There was an echo in what went wrong in the closing stages of the last war, when PM Modi was greeted by the Israeli PM, at Tel Aviv! “ Prime minister, I have been waiting for you for seventy years”! That referred to the time since the two countries became independent, only to realize that crucial agreements for international borders were left undecided, which were further to be fanned by communal fires.
Billions were lost in resources, and millions in lives! Finally, by Divine, or circumstantial compulsions, the two countries have come together, for the decisions that shall clear-up the incongruencies of each one’s borders. As has been decided, they shall be mutual.
Being a Gujarati who is known for his pride in his and the nation’s culture, PM Modi made a longish stop-over at the Sabarmati Ashram. The kites must have revived some childhood memories in the visiting PM and his wife Sara. The iCreate Centre was the emblem for creation of technology for the betterment of the world.
Gujarat has India’s largest holding in Pharma Companies, a particular one having taken the rights to market the Israeli mega generic manufacturer Teva’s products in Britain. The Sabarmati waterfront would not have gone un-noticed. Mr Modi staged a long struggle with activists and courts to get the Sardar Sarovar Dam made, making millions of acres of arid land into fertile agricultural fields.
The Raisina Convention (for a change local names, as Camp David), was the place of interaction between the hundred odd businessman from Israel and their Indian counterparts. Mutual deals must have been struck.
A diplomatic and actionable word that came to describe the acrimony in the region was, “disruptive” forces. This is an apt description, as it pertains to those actions that take away from regional peace, pushing the meaning towards acts that hamper peace and economics of the region. It encompasses hegemony, destructive threats, undue war exercises, without sounding abrasive.
The design and the theme of this convention was so unique, that it gives the corporate world the right to keep confidentiality, in sensitive matters of research and development. Surely, binding clauses, deadlines, and quality would be part of the contracts.
They did not bring the “Jeep” to the central platform, but I am sure, it must be kept with the engine “idling” at a secure place in the arena –one more object of inspiration for PM Modi, after his morning yoga.
PM Netanyahu, from his external persona, could well have been a commando, as his iconic brother, Jonathan. As a diplomat, he has shown what to pick, and what to leave. Must have gone through the various policies of his country, from the soft negotiating equations of Yitzak Rabin, unfortunately assassinated in 1996.
He first took the seat then, between 1996-1999, and his present tenure starts from 2009. His brother was a part of Ariel Sharon’s self -strategized “six day war”, though as PM, he has a larger and me even canvas to script.
Probably, he is the only world leader, with all that is around, who, at a personal level, professional level, propped up the economy, evolved technology, streamlined defence, aligned diplomacy, and has brought Israel on the negotiating table. Those wars I believe are over. He also must have dabbled in the wisdom of many negotiations, battles, wars his country must have faced.
He allowed a small peep into his mind, when he said that he prefers “soft aggression”, but sometimes it is “hard aggression” that works. It’s an unending paradigm.
Yes, the anti-tank deal is on. You may call it a proverb! But we hope for peaceful days. That perhaps is the bond between these two extra-ordinary men and civilizations. Their susceptibilities and strengths.
History has been good, and history has been bad to every country in equal measure at various times. I would not comment further.
Post WWII “allies” appear fatigued. They may have erred, but one may leave it at that. The coming change in the world order, shall have evolving medium democracies, who probably have suffered and pondered over the right lessons to take.
It’s a full circle since the historic “Dandi” March. It was salt from sea water then. It is fresh water from the sea now! The efforts and visions shall have to match.
Some endearing words, “Jai Bharat, Jai Hind, Jai Israel”!
Thanks PM Netanyahu, we have started working on the “Jeep”! For the time being it is “Jugaad”. (Indian word for makeshift duplication. A car mechanic, a plumber would be sufficient). Seeing Woody Allen, and Ben Stiller, I know Jew humour is as raw as it is subtle





A Digital India Needs to Embrace the circular Economy

As the day dawns, India opens to a new recognition. PM Modi gives the opening address to WEF in Davos. It is a signal honor for India, and recognition of its having arrived, to have its Prime Minister be the lead speaker at a place where over 3,000 world leaders from business, politics, art, academia and civil society attend the 48th World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting over the next five days in the small ski resort town on snow-covered Alps mountains, where the Indian presence will be the largest ever with over 130 participants.
And it is also the time to let the old concepts go by. It is time to realise that the circular economy is the need of digital India as it could give India annual benefits of $624 billion by 2050, according to recent reports.
The latest Global E-Waste Monitor places India as one of the highest contributors to global e-waste, generating over 2 million metric tonnes in 2016. Posing serious health and environmental risks, growing e-waste represents the hidden cost of increasingly digital lives in an information society.
With just 33 per cent of the population owning a smart phone, India already has the second largest number of smart phone users in the world, nearly 4 times that of the United States. The amount of e-waste generated will exponentially increase in the coming decade as the cost of consumer electronics decline, middle-class incomes rise, and the frequency at which devices are discarded increases.
As governance instruments are increasingly digitized and industry re-repositions itself to leverage Industry 4.0 solutions, the generation of e-waste will become a byproduct of institutional choices rather than consumer consumption and behaviour alone.
India is already a leader in the management and recycling of e-waste. But over 90 per cent is managed in the unorganized sector by small businesses and individual entrepreneurs, typically from low-income marginalized communities, and often women. E-waste contains various toxic substances such as mercury and lead, prolonged exposure to which can lead to major health problems.
Almost 80 per cent of e-waste workers in India suffer from respiratory ailments due to improper standards and nearly 500,000 children are engaged in e-waste collection without adequate protection and safeguards. The bulk of the dirty and dangerous work supporting India’s march towards an increasingly digital society is done by those who have the least access to technology gains. Government regulations for the management of e-waste, on the other hand, are becoming more relaxed, presumably as a result of industry pressure. To streamline e-waste management, the government notified Electronic Waste Rules in 2011, based on the concept of extended producer responsibility (EPR).
EPR makes manufacturers of electronic products responsible for the end-of-life management of their products, including setting up collection centres. By shifting the burden to manufacturers, the EPR framework, in theory, creates incentives for more environmentally friendly design. But the impact of EPR rules on manufacturers has been minimal, at best. The recently released Draft Notification (2017) by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change further relaxes the EPR rule by reducing the e-waste collection targets for industries.
While the efficiency and productivity gains of Digital India are to be welcomed, growing e-waste should draw attention to the broader sustainability of a digital society. Data centres, for example, are one the largest contributors to global warming, contributing a similar amount to global greenhouse emissions as the aviation industry.
This amount is expected to triple in the next decade. In many ways, the sustainability challenge is a ‘wicked problem’ – where possible solutions create a new set of additional challenges and the choice between available alternatives is largely about competing values.
For example, data centres powered by renewable sources of energy such as solar provide a greener alternative, but will also create new forms of e-waste in the form of photovoltaic cells and panels. An unverified estimate suggests that India’s projected solar capacity of 100 gigawatts by 2022 will create 7.76 million tonnes of e-waste. Without adequate and preemptive consideration of how this waste should be disposed and recycled, renewable energy solutions can create new negative externalities.
For Digital India to be sustainable, we need to develop anticipatory knowledge for preemptive solutions. It is an opportune moment to think of the broader architecture of a digital society, one that avoids getting locked into unsustainable models of production and consumption, as is the case with many industrialized economies.
The argument that such considerations are premature for India, given high levels of poverty and unemployment, are misplaced. Enquiries into the sustainability of Digital India are no less urgent than the need for sustained job-creating economic growth. These issues should not be addressed in a sequential or linear manner, but in parallel, or else we will be only partially aware of available choices and their consequences, creating new forms of technological and economic lock-ins.
The value-based choice demanded by the ‘wicked problem’ at hand is one that embraces the idea of a circular economy — one that departs from the linear economic growth model predicated on ‘take, make, dispose’ to embrace a growth model based on creating closed loops of production, consumption and re-use. A circular economy model is built on the idea of designing out waste and pollution; keeping products and materials in use; and regenerating natural systems. In many ways, India is already a leader in the circular economy.
Alongside, the management of e-waste and other forms of recycling, high levels of repair and reuse are distinctly observable. A number of reports note that the informal waste management sector in India works better than systems in many industrialized economies.
A circular economy vision for Digital India would include organizing informal waste management systems, including safety and social protection initiatives for workers; revising and tightening existent e-waste rules for increased accountability by manufacturers both in terms of durable design and responsible disposal; green data centres; and building future smart cities with a view towards energy and water efficiency, among others.
A recent report by the Ellen McArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum also estimates that a circular economy path to development could bring India annual benefits of $624 billion by 2050. Greenhouse gas emissions could also be 44 per cent lower in 2050, compared with current development path.
Unsurprisingly, Nordic countries are leading the way in promoting the idea of a circular economy. Sweden recently announced tax breaks for repair related activities and Finland hosted the first global conference on the circular economy earlier this year. The circular economy provides an opportunity for India to capitalize and leverage an already existing culture of circular activities, and promote it as a policy agenda that will create new forms of employment while facilitating sustainable environmental management.


We Must Remember History

Our high schools and colleges teach less and less of history, and what they do teach is usually distorted to suit present moral sensibilities and political agendas.
Why is this such a problem?
Think of senility. When a man loses his memory, he loses everything. He is disoriented; he can easily be led astray. His personality and character erode. As anyone who has witnessed it knows, it is one of the most heartbreaking tragedies possible in a human life.
The same is true of societies. The memory of a society is its history. Lose that, and you lose everything. With no common remembered past, a society has no common sense of purpose, direction, moral orientation, belonging, being. It is not a community participating in a shared story but a constellation of individuals traveling different paths.
Ignoring history doesn’t erase its effect on us; our lives are shaped, blessed and cursed by it in countless ways. But when our society becomes senile, we don’t know history and we don’t know that we don’t know it!
Thus, we take for granted the assumptions that frame our thinking. We are trapped in the time and culture that surrounds us, with all its bias and noise. We are susceptible to embracing proven lies as newfound truths. We apply failed solutions to age-old problems. We unwittingly repeat humanity’s past mistakes. We have no sense of where our choices may lead—even when the answers have been recorded at the terrible cost of ruined empires and ruined lives. And we lack the humility that comes from recognizing the mere pinprick of time we inhabit in the panorama of history.
America has lost its memory. (Interestingly, the ancient progenitor of the American people was named Manasseh, which means “causing to forget” or “one who forgets.”) We are experiencing all the disorientation, disruption, fragmentation and tragedy that results.
One reason for this trend that Mr. Flurry mentioned in his radio program is that so much history falls afoul of what I recently called “the New American Morality.” Today’s educators have become excellent at pointing out the sins of others. Historical figures are particularly easy targets, because nobody in human history has lived according to the remarkably stringent and unforgiving dictates of the Left’s new moral code, with its intolerant condemnations of all conceivable forms of intolerance, even those practiced by God Himself.
So educators can easily demonstrate how they are the moral superiors of everyone who came before them in Western civilization. They can show how every supposed hero of Western history was actually a villain. But they have no interest in learning anything from them. What could a slave-owner like Thomas Jefferson possibly teach us? What could we gain from studying an imperialist like Winston Churchill? So the thinking goes. They feel no gratitude for what those people built, and from which they benefit. They feel only self-righteous indignation and disdain for their supposed sins.
Right study of history begets humility. Their view of history inflates arrogance.
I’m reminded of an essay by Marcus Aurelius in which he, point by point, enumerates the people in his life for whom he owed appreciation for the virtues they taught him. From my grandfather I learned how to govern my temper; from my mother I learned abstinence from evil thoughts; from the teacher Rusticus I learned that my character requires improvement and discipline—that sort of thing, page after page. Think of the mindset such an exercise would require: extraordinary awareness of what is truly important to you; extraordinary recall of sources and origins; extraordinary respect for and gratitude toward superiors and instructors; extraordinary humility to scrupulously give proper credit.
It struck me as an extreme opposite of the mindset of today’s moralizers, who would trash the very history that made them and consider it an act of virtue.
History provides specific lessons that can inform our decision-making, both individually and nationally. It fortifies us to face hardships with resolution. It provides a realistic sense of just how cruel human nature can be, and the magnitude of the effort needed to conquer it. And it is extremely prophetic, as it tends to play out in repetitive cycles.
History is vital to a nation’s survival, just as memory is to an individual’s. We are casting aside fundamental, painful lessons that man has written time and again. Daily we see the tragic, maddening results: constantly shifting standards; sweeping social change; willing acceptance of known lies; the domination of the loudest voice in the room over the most truthful voice; growing arrogance and declining humility; short-term political victories scored at cost of principle; repudiation of virtue; redefinition of victory; appeasement of dictators in pursuit of peace. We have forgotten the disasters that accompany moral decline and the loss of absolute truth. We have forgotten the dangers of statism. We have forgotten the tendency for revolution to produce mob rule, for democracy to surrender to tyranny. We have forgotten how victory tends to lead to prosperity and then devolve into decadence and decay.
We have forgotten just how fragile great nations and empires can be. We act like they can withstand any amount of abuse and assault, and emerge the better for it. We forget that empires fall. We forget how volatile and dangerous the world can be in their absence.

Relearning A Forgotten Art

There are many things wrong with India. To be honest, there are many things wrong with most nations of the world, particularly those which are very rich or very poor. And frankly, I don’t know which category to put India in because we are very rich in many ways and yet very poor in others.
The real question, I guess, is: In these three years have we grown richer in the areas we were rich and poorer in the areas where we were poor? Or have we really done a turnaround and grown richer in the areas we were poor and (in the great tradition of socialist doublespeak) poorer in the areas we were rich?
It’s tough to write a balance sheet for a nation because all regimes fudge figures. And media is so self obsessed it has no time to check out facts. Everyone wants to beat others to the deadline. This makes it impossible to be always accurate. So you end up with a loud and noisy (and often vainglorious) media far too lazy to actually go out and hunt down facts instead of relying on Government press handouts and official stats.
Most journalists find it more convenient (and safer) to put out fudged figures and cunning news plants than do their own research. Even fewer have the spunk to call out the lies propagated by the official machinery.
No wonder it’s getting tougher to differentiate right from wrong, fact from fiction, truth from travesty. The whole world of news looks like a busy bazaar for Chinese rip-offs. The BS is at times so good that everyone, including those who know they are nothing but rip-offs, buy into them. It’s the easy option, too convenient to ignore. And you need not go through the effort of fighting with a Government that doesn’t give a damn, for you or the pursuit of truth.
So let’s try and sidestep the bumfuzzle, look for actual fault lines.
That’s what defines a journalist, an old fashioned one for sure, teetering on the edge of obsolescence. Poverty percentages may have dropped a whit but the number of people still very poor is as high if not higher than it ever was. That is if you stop defining poverty by daily wages and, instead, define it as the inability to afford a minimum quality of life.
That way you may find a more accurate number. Schools may increase on paper but the quality of education offered looks dubious when, by Government diktat, history textbooks change the outcome of the Battle of Haldighati in the very state where it happened.
If you define education as that learning which enhances your life and gifts you the means to earn a decent livelihood, no, that is not always happening. Coaching classes may grow. A whole lot of people may make a whole lot of money from the business of teaching but school dropouts keep increasing as children discover that what they are learning has no connect with the real world around them. Take this: 129 engineers, 23 lawyers, a chartered accountant and 393 post grads were among the 12,453 recently interviewed for a peon’s job in the Rajasthan Assembly secretariat.
So the truth is even if you get your degree, jobs are not easy to land. Not the jobs people aspire to. So they take what they get. On the other hand, ask any employer and they will tell you how tough it is to find someone good enough to fill a vacancy. There is disappointment at both ends. And the jobless keep increasing. The elephant in the room no one talks about is that under employment is never part of joblessness stats.
Random crime is on the rise. So are violence, suicides, rapes, murders in broad daylight. But what makes things much worse today is the incredible apathy of people. An accident happens and instead of taking the dying victim to a hospital, people crowd around clicking videos to put out on social media. Murders are taking place on crowded thoroughfares. No one intervenes. The law enforcement machinery takes so much time to respond that when they arrive, if at all they do, not only have the criminals fled but the witnesses too.
Cases go on for years and years; no one realises justice is lost in delays. Ask India’s many rape victims. Ask the sodomised boy who committed suicide. Ask those who have had acid thrown on their faces. Every story is punctuated by the indifference of the law and its enforcers.
There was a time when bad things happened in faraway places. Today, bad things happen to good people anywhere, everywhere and no one cares. The new face of callousness is Governments paying off victims and trying to put a lid on the crime. Whether it’s a village that has been torched or a man who has been lynched, the remedy is the same: A cheque (or the promise of a cheque) to keep the family quiet in front of TV cameras.
Now let’s look at the flipside. The economy appears to be in fine fettle. Corruption is not hitting the headlines as frequently as it once did. Is this because corruption has eased up or is it because no one cares any more? Has the subject itself crossed its sell-by date. The jury is still out on whether disruptions like demonetization and GST are yielding the promised results.
Clearly, the collateral damage has been high but then, when have Governments really cared about that? They rely on schadenfreude to keep the poor happy. It’s a byproduct of the socialist playbook. Meanwhile, the stock market continues to break all records. This means corporate India is, by and large, happy. Or are they really?
It’s said that on a clear day one can see forever. But clear days don’t come easy in a post-truth world fogged by lies, fake news and plain BS. The methane cover is too thick, too oppressive for us to look through it and see where we are heading. Perhaps it’s time to pause, think, consider, evaluate—and relearn the forgotten art of coping with the truth instead of clobbering it. Since politicians can no longer afford to do that, journalists may like to take the lead.

Developing World Has 2 Mentors-China & India

Indonesia shares similar characteristics with China and India as Asian countries that have more people between the ages of 15 and 64 than young children and the elderly.
Analysts call this surplus of people of productive working age a “demographic bonus”, which can contribute to the rise of China, India and Indonesia as leading economies.
The young populations of these countries are entering a shifting jobs landscape propelled by innovation in digital technology. China and India are moving to prepare their populations to take advantage of the digital era.
But Indonesia has a lot of catching up to do to provide its people with skills including digital literacy, to be able to find employment in a world where the ability to use the internet via digital mediums, such as personal computers, smartphones, tablets and others, will be a necessary skill.
Changing jobs landscape
Before there was the internet, around 30 years ago, more than half of Indonesia’s population (54.7% in 1985) worked the land as farmers.
By 2016 only 34% were still working in the agriculture industry. Some 44.8% work in the services sector and 19.7% in manufacturing.
Data from Indonesia’s Statistics Agency show more than half of Indonesian workers (51.5%) are underqualified or lack the right skills to do the job. This occupational mismatch is often associated with low levels of education. Some 40% of workers’ skills and employment are well matched. And 8.5% are overqualified for their occupations.
The data show Indonesia is facing a skills shortage. One of the skills Indonesians lack is digital literacy.
What China and India are doing
China provides us with a good example of how to take advantage of an internet-enabled digital economy. It accounted for 30.6% of China’s GDP in 2016.
Even though China restricted its citizens’ internet access, by blocking certain websites and applications since 1997 (“the great firewall of China”), it has, on the other hand, driven the development of its native platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, QQ, Renren, Alibaba, and many others.
With its restrictions, China has reoriented internet adoption and online behaviours by maximising its market potential within the country.
For example, WeChat has grown rapidly since 2011 to rival Facebook and become the nation’s most-used social media app. It has radically changed the Chinese lifestyle and way of doing business. WeChat will potentially overtake Facebook in the future.
It offers features such as instant messaging, commerce and mobile payment services. It makes a virtual workplace possible by offering components that enable and improve important business functions such as task co-ordination. It provides a convenient virtual wallet that can be used for almost every transaction, from paying utility bills to a coffee.
The Chinese diaspora has spread the use of WeChat worldwide. This is an example of China using its demographic bonus to create opportunities and a competitive environment that allow its citizens to redefine the global economic balance of power.
Meanwhile, India made a serious move to combat digital illiteracy by establishing the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) in August 2014.
With the objective of “making one person in every family digitally literate by 2020”, India has pledged to provide 147 million people in rural India with the necessary skill to use the technology.
This can be seen as a positive move towards a more digital-savvy India that recognises the need of digital literacy for development.
What about Indonesia?
Indonesia currently focuses on traditional infrastructure development, such as roads, ports and a subway system, to improve physical connectivity and mobility. But the government should not lose sight of the importance of providing the population with the infrastructure to access information and technology.
A survey by the Association of Indonesian Internet Providers (APJII) pointed out that people living in the urban areas in Java, Sumatra and Bali enjoy internet access, whereas the rest of Indonesia is still struggling to connect.
According to Akamai, as of March 2017, the internet penetration rate in Indonesia is 50.4%. This is lower than neighbouring countries such as Australia (85.9%), Singapore (81.2%), Malaysia (67.7%), Philippines (52%), Vietnam (52.1%), and Thailand (60%).
The average speed of internet connection in Indonesia (7.2 Mbps) is also slower compared to Singapore (20.3 Mbps), Thailand (16.0 Mbps), Vietnam (9.5 Mbps) and Malaysia (8.9 Mbps).
Despite high smartphone sales (55.4 million users in 2015 with 4.5 million smartphones sold annually), Indonesia remains “a marketplace” rather than a rising power in the global competition. Indonesia is the third-largest smartphone market in the Asia-Pacific rgion, after India and China.
Indonesians can use social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp, but they do not have fast and reliable internet access to browse and research online, let alone create business opportunities.
Research by Edwin Jurriens and Ross Tapsell recommends that the Indonesian government start paying attention to the digital divide if Indonesia is serious about its objective to combat inequality.
Start with simple but necessary steps
Indonesia needs to develop policies with clear objectives to spur internet adoption and digital literacy.
If President Jokowi is serious about creating “1000 technopreneurs by 2020”, the government should start by:
⦁ working with the private sector to provide internet access and telecommunication services for rural areas
⦁ training citizens to use digital technology via formal and informal education programs nationwide
⦁ promoting and providing incentives to develop native online platforms.
This could involve, for example, holding hackathons to solve the real issues that Indonesians face daily, such as traffic jams, floods, finding markets for local products, access to health services and referral, options for different service providers, a channel to provide feedback to improve services, etc.
Instead of leaping towards the objective of creating “technopreneurs”, Indonesia could begin with a simple objective to start a nationwide movement to combat digital illiteracy, a hidden inequality that persists in Indonesia.
Indonesia should also provide an environment where tech startups can thrive, through tax rebates and investments, to really benefit the Indonesian economy.
For example, Gojek, one of the most successful local startups, was founded and is led by Nadine Makarim, an Indonesian. However, it could only succeed after receiving backing and investment from Warburg Pincus, KKR and Farallon Capital – all American-based equity firms.
We may celebrate Gojek as a successful Indonesian example of a startup that has helped to solve local issues by allowing access to convenient services. But, if we fail to understand who are “the real owners” of the business, Indonesia will only be “a marketplace”, not an emerging economy.


Pakistan’s ace in poker match with US: Afghan air routes

As bad as President Donald Trump describes US-Pakistani ties today, they can get far worse. Over 16 years that included hundreds of deadly US drone strikes, Osama bin Laden’s killing on Pakistani soil and accusations Pakistan helps insurgents that kill Americans, the reluctant allies never reached one point of no return: Pakistan closing the air routes to Afghanistan.
It’s an action that could all but cripple the US-backed military fight against the Taliban. It could also be tantamount to Pakistan going to war with the United States.
Even if such a step is seen as unlikely by most officials and observers, Pakistan’s ability to shape the destiny of America’s longest war is a reminder of how much leverage the country maintains at a time Trump is suspending hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance.
“There’s some suggestion that we have all of the cards in our hands,” said Richard Olson, a former US ambassador to Pakistan. “But we don’t. The leverage is strong on the Pakistan side as well and arguably stronger than our side.”
Trump’s re-commitment of US forces to the fight in Afghanistan makes the stakes high for his administration. The top US diplomat for South Asia, Alice Wells, made a low-key visit to Islamabad this week, suggesting both sides want to prevent a breach in ties. Pakistan’s cooperation is needed not only to reduce violence in its northern neighbor. It’s also critical to any hope of a political settlement with the Afghan Taliban after decades of conflict.
Defense secretary Jim Mattis has said the US doesn’t expect Pakistan to cut off supply routes. Even so, the US is seeking out alternatives, a senior administration official said, without elaborating on what those routes might be. The Pentagon wouldn’t discuss the issue, citing operational security, other than to say military planners develop “multiple supply chain contingencies” to sustain their mission.
The administration official, who wasn’t authorized to comment by name and demanded anonymity, said it would be “very difficult” but not impossible for the US to get military equipment into Afghanistan if the Pakistan route is shut down. Restrictions limit what types of supplies can flow through the Northern Distribution Network in Central Asia, set up during the Obama administration amid concerns about relying solely on Pakistan.
Pakistan has cut overland access before. When a US airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at the Afghan-Pakistan frontier in late 2011, months after the US commando raid that killed bin Laden, Pakistan blocked border crossings into Afghanistan.
The decision sunk US-Pakistani relations to a post-9/11 low point. Supply trucks that trundle across desert into Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province or into Nangarhar via the mountainous Khyber Pass ground to a halt. Hundreds of containers shipped from the US or the Gulf were left stranded in the Pakistani port of Karachi until mid-2012.
For the US, truck and rail costs inflated by about 50 percent, said David Sedney, a former Pentagon official who organized the alternative northern routes. He said deliveries by air cost three times as much or more.
But the saga, resolved through a US apology, also exposed the limits of Pakistan’s leverage, Sedney said. Pakistan’s own economy was hurt, notably the military-dominated trucking industry. And the Afghan war effort, which was then supporting more than 70,000 US troops, compared with around 16,000 now, endured.
That was perhaps the result of Pakistan never closing the air corridor into Afghanistan, which US pilots call “the boulevard.” It’s essential for ferrying ammunition and weapons for US and Afghan forces, and waging war. US intelligence flights and combat missions use it when taking off from US bases in the Persian Gulf or from aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean.
Since closing Pakistan’s airspace would hinder America’s ability to defend its forces in Afghanistan, Olson, the former ambassador, said the US might regard such action as a “casus belli,” or grounds for war. Other former US officials echoed that assessment.
“From what I can tell we don’t actually have any serious alternative,” said Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Sedney said the Northern Distribution Network, which fell out of use after most US forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan by late 2014, could be restored with astute US diplomacy. Nations such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan all have been used before for transporting mostly nonlethal supplies. Poor US relations with Russia could make the task trickier, however. Moscow wields significant influence over these former Soviet states.
Pakistan is weighing options carefully. The suspension of around $1.2 billion in assistance and Trump’s accusations of Pakistani “lies and deceit” for allowing Taliban havens have stirred anger and demands from opposition party leader Imran Khan for both land and air links to be cut.
Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Aizaz Chaudhry, indicated such steps weren’t imminent, urging greater US cooperation on counterterrorism. But he warned that further downward spiraling in US-Pakistani ties could create a situation in which “everything will be on table.”
Chaudhry cited Pakistan’s longstanding complaints that its efforts have been unappreciated, claiming that most leaders of the Haqqani network _ which the US hopes to eradicate _ have fled to Afghanistan. Critics say Pakistan’s military only targets insurgents threatening Pakistan itself.
“The problem is we have a porous open border and it’s like a revolving door,” Chaudhry told the Associated Press. “These elements tend to come back, and travel back and forth, but there is no organized presence or safe havens inside Pakistan.”
Republicans and Democrats in America aren’t sold. Lawmakers have urged targeted financial sanctions against Pakistani intelligence officials linked to militants, and for Pakistan to lose its “non-NATO ally” status that offers preferential access to US military technology. Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US ambassador in Kabul, is among hawks advocating Pakistan be declared a state sponsor of terrorism, unless it cooperates.
But others who’ve worked with the Pakistanis fear coercion could backfire at a time they’re hedging their bets, unsure America will win in Afghanistan.
A tacit Pakistani alliance with the Taliban will appear “more important to them than ever as we turn once again from an ally into an adversary,” said Ryan Crocker, who was US ambassador in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Sunday Special: Theories About the Origin of Life on Earth Suspect

The confusion about the origin of life on this planet had been befuddling human being ever since life began. Diverse theories have been dished out from time to time. And now the research shows that life arose deep in the ocean within warm, rocky structures called hydrothermal vents.
For nearly nine decades, science’s favorite explanation for the origin of life has been the “primordial soup”. This is the idea that life began from a series of chemical reactions in a warm pond on Earth’s surface, triggered by an external energy source such as lightning strike or ultraviolet (UV) light. But recent research adds weight to an alternative idea, that life arose deep in the ocean within warm, rocky structures called hydrothermal vents.
A study published last month in Nature Microbiology suggests the last common ancestor of all living cells fed on hydrogen gas in a hot iron-rich environment, much like that within the vents. Advocates of the conventional theory have been skeptical that these findings should change our view of the origins of life. But the hydrothermal vent hypothesis, which is often described as exotic and controversial, explains how living cells evolved the ability to obtain energy, in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible in a primordial soup.
Under the conventional theory, life supposedly began when lightning or UV rays caused simple molecules to join together into more complex compounds. This culminated in the creation of information-storing molecules similar to our own DNA, housed within the protective bubbles of primitive cells. Laboratory experiments confirm that trace amounts of molecular building blocks that make up proteins and information storing molecules can indeed be created under these conditions. For many, the primordial soup has become the most plausible environment for the origin of first living cells.
But life isn’t just about replicating information stored within DNA. All living things have to reproduce in order to survive, but replicating the DNA, assembling new proteins and building cells from scratch requires tremendous amounts of energy. At the core of life are the mechanisms of obtaining energy from the environment, storing and continuously channelling it into cells’ key metabolic reactions.
Where this energy comes from and how it gets there can tell us a whole lot about the universal principles governing life’s evolution and origin. Recent studies suggest that the primordial soup was not the right kind of environment to drive the energetics of the first living cells.
It’s classic textbook knowledge that all life on Earth is powered by energy supplied by the sun and captured by plants, or extracted from simple compounds such as hydrogen or methane. Far less known is the fact that all life harnesses this energy in the same and quite a peculiar way.
This process works a bit like a hydroelectric dam. Instead of directly powering their core metabolic reactions, cells use energy from food to pump protons (positively charged hydrogen atoms) into a reservoir behind a biological membrane. This creates what is known as a “concentration gradient” with a higher concentration of protons on one side of the membrane than other. The protons then flow back through molecular turbines embedded within the membrane, like water flowing through a dam. This generates high-energy compounds that are then used to power the rest of cell’s activities.
Life could have evolved to exploit any of the countless energy sources available on Earth, from heat or electrical discharges to naturally radioactive ores. Instead, all life forms are driven by proton concentration differences across cells’ membranes. This suggests that the earliest living cells harvested energy in a similar way and that life itself arose in an environment in which proton gradients were the most accessible power source.
Vent hypothesis
Recent studies based on sets of genes that were likely to have been present within the first living cells trace the origin of life back to deep-sea hydrothermal vents. These are porous geological structures produced by chemical reactions between solid rock and water. Alkaline fluids from the Earth’s crust flow up the vent towards the more acidic ocean water, creating natural proton concentration differences remarkably similar to those powering all living cells.
The studies suggest that in the earliest stages of life’s evolution, chemical reactions in primitive cells were likely driven by these non-biological proton gradients. Cells then later learned how to produce their own gradients and escaped the vents to colonise the rest of the ocean and eventually the planet.
While proponents of the primordial soup theory argue that electrostatic discharges or the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation drove life’s first chemical reactions, modern life is not powered by any of these volatile energy sources. Instead, at the core of life’s energy production are ion gradients across biological membranes. Nothing even remotely similar could have emerged within the warm ponds of primeval broth on Earth’s surface. In these environments, chemical compounds and charged particles tend to get evenly diluted instead of forming gradients or non-equilibrium states that are so central to life.
Deep-sea hydrothermal vents represent the only known environment that could have created complex organic molecules with the same kind of energy-harnessing machinery as modern cells. Seeking the origins of life in the primordial soup made sense when little was known about the universal principles of life’s energetics. But as our knowledge expands, it is time to embrace alternative hypotheses that recognise the importance of the energy flux driving the first biochemical reactions. These theories seamlessly bridge the gap between the energetics of living cells and non-living molecules.


Saturday Special: Great Rulers Exemplify Integrity of the Nation

The fifth century BC was a remarkable century. We had great thinkers here in India, the Buddha, the Mahavir; in China, you had Lao Tzu, Confucius; and in Greece, you had Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, all at the same time. Plato, in his Book 6 of the Republic, spoke of a utopian city Kallipolis, which would be ruled by a utopian philosopher-king. The utopian philosopher-king, in fact, came about during the great age of the Antonines…
The importance of the philosopher-king is that a ruler when he is merely a ruler, must not carry the entirety of his people with him. A philosopher-king, on the other hand, carried the entirety of his people with him. And the subject chosen for today is three great contemporaries. Historians, after each of their rules, have dubbed each of these people great.
Akbar incidentally means great anyway, and he was an amazing personality. He was contemporaneous with Elizabeth I from England, who was also called great. And Suleiman, 10th in the line of Ottoman rulers, from 1300 onwards, was called the magnificent, something even greater than the great, by the Western world. Akbar, Suleiman the magnificent and Elizabeth I were contemporaries. They also fit the bill of Plato’s ideal of philosopher-kings, for they carried the entirety of the people they ruled
Incidentally, the Muslim world called him Suleiman the Law-giver… He ruled from 1520 to 1566. Akbar’s rule started in 1565, and ended in 1605, and Elizabeth’s rule was co-terminus, almost exactly with Akbar’s, ending in 1603.
Now, the important thing about the lives of each of these people is that… they carried the entirety of their people with them.
Akbar was the third in the illustrious dynasty which ruled this country for about 250 years, the Mughal dynasty…. Having established his rule in Delhi, (he) extended his territory to Gujarat in 1572.
In commemoration of which he built the great Buland Darwaza, which you see at Fatehpur Sikri, the great fort that Akbar built… Now, all this conquest was not without purpose. The object was not to come here and be a robber baron and run away with the wealth of this country.
The object was to somehow settle here and rule the nation, the entirety of the nation, as beneficently as possible. And this is where we come to, his great Ibaadat Khana, which was really the first council of world religions. This was set up in Fatehpur Sikri, some say that it was probably in the Diwan-i-khaas… And it is remarkable that people of every faith and hue actually visited and disputed with others or spoke about their faiths, all of which the emperor drank up…
Having listened to all this, he imbibed the wisdom of every great world religion. There were followers of the materialist school which did not believe in anything, beyond existence. Sabians went there — a Sabian incidentally is a Yemeni, monotheist, and they are mentioned in the Quran as people of the book, along with Jews and Christians.
Jews, of course, went there. The Christians had three great Jesuit missions sent to Akbar’s court… He had great reverence for every faith. One of the faiths for which he had tremendous reverence was mine.
A Dasturji called Mayyaji Rana, whom we call Meherji Rana went from one of our cities in Gujarat, Navsari, and somehow or the other impressed the emperor enormously, so much so that he put on a Sudreh and a Kusti also, which is something that we wear, as emblems of our faith…
Another person who impressed him enormously was a person called Hiravijaya Suri, who was a Jain monk… He was also greatly taken up, by a Sufi saint, and ultimately decided in the interest of this nation that he should form a new religion by himself, which he called the Din-i-Ilahi… The reason why this religion did not ever take root in this country and died with him was because even though it was highly evolved, highly spiritual, there was no priesthood, there was therefore no ritual, no custom. Above all you did not have to abjure your own faith to enter this faith…
The emperor was so great that the Muslim maulvis, who used to despise him because of his open-mindedness, ultimately issued what was called the infallibility decree in 1579 which is based on a verse of the Quran that says, if a person is like this, so learned and so brilliant, we will take our spiritual guidance from him… We now come to the second great of our talk, Suleiman the magnificent.
When Suleiman came to throne, he was a liberal philosopher-prince. Again like Akbar, he was a great conqueror…. But his greatness is in being called Suleiman the Law-giver. He was called Suleiman kanooni, and his kanoon lasted for 300 years after him. It was liberal, punishments were reduced, Jews and Christians were treated extremely well in his realm, they were the minorities.
As this ruler was loved, the one great blot in his career was that he married a slave called Roxalena. Now, he was so besotted by this woman he produced four children from her, that she somehow or the other made him put to death his older son Mustafa, who was extremely well-suited to succeed him… But short of this one great blot, this great man ruled for a very long period, 1520 to 1566, and ultimately, died on the banks of the Danube… This man’s reign again teaches us something, and teaches us that a philosopher-king is one who rules for all his subjects and is loved by all his subjects.
The third great ruler now, Elizabeth. When Elizabeth succeeded (to the throne), she was very clear that she had to rule over all of her subjects, Protestants as well as Catholics. And, therefore, despite there being Catholic invasions against her, Catholic plots against her, Catholics were given free reign. That was one very great attribute of this great queen…
In one of her last speeches made to Parliament, another very great speech, she told Parliament that “You may have had many greater rulers than me, but none who have loved you so well, and none who have tried to keep this nation together”.
Incidentally, she did something remarkable to Northern Ireland. She sent a whole lot of English Protestants to go and settle in Northern Ireland. The idea being, that because there were disturbances between Catholics and Protestants, the demographic balance would then be restored, and people would be able to live in peace. Imagine her foresight.
What do these three great rulers exemplify? According to me, they exemplify what is written on Ashoka’s rock edict 12. Ashoka was one of our greatest emperors. On rock edict 12, Piyadasi, beloved of the God, has this to say: Do not ever extoll the virtues of your own sect… or denigrate the sect of others. What you must do is to attempt to extoll the virtues of the other sect and by doing so you increase the influence of your own sect and you make the other sect learn. By denigrating the other sect, you diminish the influence of your own sect… What is important is concord, what a beautiful word he uses, concord…
I don’t think any constitutional lawyer could better put the great quality of fraternity, which our Constitution has. Liberty, equality and fraternity was the cry of the French revolution, if you remember. Each one of them is in the Preamble of our Constitution. Reams have been written, in our judgments on liberty, on equality. Somehow or the other, very little (has been said) on fraternity.
And if one is to live cohesively, in today’s nation, indeed in the world, this cardinal value is of extreme importance. For in the words of the Preamble to our great Constitution, what does it lead to? It leads not only to the dignity of the individual, but the unity and integrity of a nation as a whole.

Prospect of unification of Korea threatens China

In signs of a thaw, North and South Korea have decided to march together under a single flag at the Winter Olympics Opening ceremony next month and even field a united women’s ice hockey team for the games. The Winter Olympics will take place in South Korea’s Pyeongchang where North Korea plans to send a 550-member delegation. This comes after Pyongyang decided to send officials for talks with their southern counterparts amid growing tensions over the North’s nuclear programme.Health minister’s Twitter account cost $100K
I had mentioned in a previous blog that perhaps US President Donald Trump’s highly unorthodox approach to foreign policy might actually get countries to work with each other and sort out their differences rather than deal with the American president. And the sudden rapprochement between the two Koreas would seem to confirm this.
However, there could be another explanation behind Pyongyang and Seoul coming together. Just as Pyongyang frequently threatens to rain down fire on Seoul in response to perceived military threat from the South and the US, rapprochement between the two Koreas is also a threat it holds out against another country – China.
This is because China sees Stalinist North Korea as a buffer between itself and US ally South Korea. In fact, Mao Zedong had compared the relationship between China and North Korea to lips and teeth – if the lips are gone, the teeth will feel cold.
This clearly shows China views the North as a security asset. However, if North and South Korea evolve a modus vivendi and eventually unite, there is no doubt that the South’s capitalist democratic system will soon overwhelm the North. And with that American influence and assets will move right up to China’s doorstep.
Hence, it is my reading that with China supporting the last two rounds of UN sanctions against North Korea, Pyongyang is sending a message to Beijing through its rapprochement with Seoul. And the message is this – Beijing should know how much Pyongyang has sacrificed for its sake and should support the Stalinist state; otherwise it can itself deal with the consequences of having the US and its allies right at its gate.
In other words, the Kim regime in Pyongyang basically has two tools at its disposal to have its way. The first is its nuclear programme that is directed at the US and its allies South Korea and Japan. However, it is hardly conceivable that Pyongyang will actually launch a nuclear strike.
For, this would be akin to signing the death warrant for the North Korean state with the US certain to obliterate it in a retaliatory strike. And no one will defend North Korea then. But the other tool in Pyongyang’s arsenal is its strategic value to China. This is equally potent and Beijing knows it can’t abandon Pyongyang completely. It is only by using these two tools that the North Korean regime has survived so far.
It yet remains uncertain how this will all end. However, it’s to be noted that a recent North Korean security meet in Canada sponsored by the US excluded China. Beijing certainly wasn’t happy. Pyongyang will be quietly smiling.

‘Daylighting’- the new trend transforming cities

Waterways were once the beating hearts of our cities. They bore the boats laden with the goods, tradesmen and settlers that transformed inlets and backwaters into hubs of humanity.
However, all that changed 200 years ago with the advent of the industrial revolution: as cities became crowded, rivers were polluted with human and industrial waste, becoming sources of disease; at the same time the development of the railways meant waterways were no longer the essential mode of transport they once were.
The result was that all across the world cities covered over their rivers, forcing them into culverts or tunnels below the metropolis.
Today, waterways across the world are fighting back.
Seeing daylight
In a trend known as “daylighting”, towns in Europe, Asia, North America and Australasia are breaking open culverts to reveal the hidden rivers that have always been at their heart.
The two most active cities by far have been London and Zurich.
The British capital was the world’s largest city during the industrial revolution.
As a result, despite being famous for the River Thames, dozens of London’s rivers were covered over or converted into sewers during the Victorian era.
Some of these hidden rivers have world-famous streets that run above them: the Fleet, the Strand.
While these iconic roads are unlikely to be torn up anytime soon, many other rivers in the city have seen daylight.
The UK’s most famous river restoration project is the clean-up of the River Lea for the London 2012 Olympics.
At the same time, more than 17km of other waterways have been opened up across the capital since 2009.
It is a trend being repeated across the UK, with the most recent example of daylighting coming in the centre of the Yorkshire city of Sheffield.
While the UK’s industrial heritage means it has plenty of rivers to de-culvert, it is Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city that has carried out more daylighting than any other to date.
Since the 1980s Zurich’s officials have supported the Bachkonzept (Stream Concept), which seeks to “daylight” as many covered watercourses as possible.
Why is it so popular?
There have been two main drivers behind Zurich’s daylighting of its hidden rivers.
First, there’s a public desire to recapture lost spaces and improve quality of life in the city.
Second, there’s an economic incentive: by having clean water flowing through rivers instead of sewers, it means less water flows to sewage works, reducing wastewater treatment costs.
The combined social, environmental and economic benefits help explain why daylighting is becoming so popular around the world.
The Cheonggyecheon stream in Seoul is an almost 11km-long artificial water corridor that diverts water from an underground river.
Located in the city centre at the site of what used to be an elevated expressway, the stream is both a tourist attraction that draws more than 60,000 visitors each day, and a major flood-relief channel.
At a time when the planet is experiencing record levels of flooding, opening up hidden rivers to use as flood channels can help relieve some of the flooding in towns and cities.
It is also believed that waterways can help cool cities and reduce the Urban Heat Island effect.
As well as climate benefits, daylighting also brings benefits for wildlife: the opening up and cleaning of the Saw Mill River in Yonkers, New York, has created a natural habitat for migratory fish and native vegetation to attract insects and encourage food chains.
In addition, the Saw Mill River project is expected to create 950 permanent jobs in the area surrounding the river.
Little wonder daylighting is so popular among urban planners today.


Reality of GG Vetting Process

For the first time in the 150 years of Canadian History, the appointment of Governor-General has raised questions. For the first time, the process was given a go-by and the due process ignored. I do not impugn the person of the new GG, but the process of her appointment seems worth of examination and scrutiny. The Canada Revenue Agency and the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy say they have no records they were ever asked to do a background check on Governor General Julie Payette prior to her appointment.
These are two of the four federal agencies responsible for vetting candidates for top government jobs.
A third, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, initially said it had no record of being asked to conduct any checks, but abruptly reversed itself – though the agency is refusing to disclose any evidence that shows a check was done.
Letters obtained in reply to requests made under Canada’s Access to Information laws appear to contradict Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s adamant statements that the former astronaut had undergone a “thorough and in-depth” vetting process.
Candidates for top government offices are supposed to receive what is called a “four-way” background check. This involves CSIS, the RCMP, the Canada Revenue Agency and the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy.
Office holders required to undergo a Four-Way (2010) check include:
⦁ ministers and ministers of state,
⦁ parliamentary secretaries,
⦁ other privy councillors
⦁ senators
⦁ the chief justice and justices of the Supreme Court
⦁ chief justices of Superior Courts
⦁ deputy ministers
⦁ heads of agencies
⦁ heads of Crown corporations
⦁ heads of Canadian missions
⦁ ambassadors not posted abroad
⦁ senior advisors to the Privy Council Office
⦁ members of the Board of Management of the Canada Revenue Agency and the Bank of Canada’s board of directors
Spouses of ministers, ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries are also required to under go a Four-Way check.
A routine internet search by reporters following Payette’s appointment discovered police records showing she had been charged with second-degree assault while living in Maryland in December 2011. The charges were later dropped and Payette has since had them legally expunged from her record.
Media requested all pertinent documents under Access to Information from each of the four agencies “regarding the vetting of candidates to be Governor General of Canada between January 1, 2017 and August 1, 2017.”
In response, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy (OSIB) said in letters they have no records that show they helped vet governor general candidates in 2017. CSIS also initially responded to the ATIP request saying that it had no records showing any checks were done as part of a proper vetting process of Payette (or any other candidates) before her appointment in July 2017.
“A record search for the requested information was completed on the basis of the information provided by you and we were unable to locate any record relevant to your request,” stated the letter from a CSIS official.
The CSIS letter’s findings were confirmed subsequently by Tahera Mufti, the intelligence agency’s chief of public affairs for its communications branch. “I have just received confirmation that, for the dates you’ve requested, ATIP doesn’t have any records to provide to you,” Mufti wrote in a Nov. 17 email. That statement was later amended to say there had been a vetting process but CSIS has refused to disclose any evidence that shows any vetting process was carried out.
CRA said: “I regret to inform you that the requested documentation does not exist.” The Dec. 11 letter was from the CRA’s Access to Information and Privacy Directorate and was signed by manager Kim Lanthier. It was in response to an Access to Information request made by iPolitics this Fall that asked for any documents “regarding any role Canada Revenue Agency had in reviewing candidates for the position of Governor General.”
The OSIB had a similar finding: “I regret to inform you that a search found no records relevant to the subject of your request,” adding “officials had advised that the RCMP conducts such searches as part of their overall assessment of candidates using the Bankruptcy and Insolvency database. The Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy does not conduct such searches,” the Dec. 21 letter reads, noting “the Privy Council Office also holds records regarding governor-in-council appointments.”
Having also initially claimed to have no records, CSIS later revised its answer to say that further investigation had “surfaced relevant material” – but, citing four distinct sections of the Access to Information Act, the agency said those documents would not be released.
The Privy Council Office – which has responsibility for overseeing the federal and prime ministerial appointment process – also disputed CSIS’s initial findings.
“The Privy Council received a request to conduct a four-way background check for Ms. Julie Payette. A thorough background check prior to her installation was conducted in collaboration with our partners, including CSIS,” spokesperson Stéphane Shank wrote in a Nov. 17 email.
The RCMP has so far ignored all requests for information. The Privy Council Office has responded to one request and has since given itself a six-month extension, to June 2018, on another request that asks for updated vetting guidelines.
A complaint against CSIS with Canada’s information commissioner, arguing the agency did not make a reasonable effort to assist with, or respond accurately to, the request.
Similar complaints have been filed in relation to the RCMP’s refusal to respond to requests about the vetting of governor-general candidates and the Privy Council Office for delays around obtaining updated vetting guidelines.
Certain senior public office holders are required to undergo four-way checks prior to appointment, according to a copy of Privy Council guidelines obtained by iPolitics from the RCMP’s previously completed Access to Information list.
The guidelines, issued by the Clerk of the Privy Council in July 2010, require the RCMP to look at police records, both provincial and municipal, relating to the candidate – including “information related to criminal charges and/or convictions, details surrounding an offence or intelligence concerning a candidate’s involvement in criminal activity.”
CSIS is required to perform a “security assessment” on the candidate, as outlined under section 13 of the CSIS Act.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced 54-year-old Payette, a retired Canadian astronaut from Montréal, as Canada’s new Governor General on July 13. Trudeau made the appointment without the advice of an ad hoc committee of advisers, unlike former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who picked Payette’s predecessor David Johnston.
Anatomy of a Vetting
The list of positions which are subject to four-way checks does not explicitly mention that of the Governor General.
However, emails obtained from the Privy Council Office under Access to Information show at least one senior official expected Payette would be required to undergo a four-way check.
“They’re moving on the appointment,” Allen Sutherland, the Privy Council’s assistant to the cabinet, wrote in an email sent at 1:30 p.m. to Privy Council Director of Strategic Policy Donald Booth on June 25.
“Will need to have letter and other pre stuff ready. Can we move to prepare everything with name TBD? Is there much work to this?” Sutherland asked Booth. “What would it take to have things ready by 11 am Monday?”
“From an instrument perspective, all we need is a letter from the PM to the Queen requesting approval of a name which she would sign,” Booth replied at 1:34 p.m. “Presumably we would want to have the 4-way security check done first?”
“Security – yes!” Sutherland replied 19 minutes later.
“They need to give us a name – then a few days for security check then a note up to PM seeking approval with the letter attached. 11 am Monday isn’t likely …” Booth replied two minutes later.
“It seems the National Security and Intelligence Advisor has a name and is initiating the security screen,” Sutherland told Booth in an email at 2:27 p.m. Canada’s national security and intelligence adviser to the prime minister is Daniel Jean, a former deputy minister for Foreign Affairs who took over the post in May 2016 after its previous holder, Richard Fadden, retired.
“Ms. Payette’s life has been one dedicated to discovery, to dreaming big and to always staying focused on the things that matter most,” Trudeau said at the time of her appointment. “These truly Canadian traits, along with her years of public service, make her unquestionably qualified for this high office.”
Payette acknowledged the arrest and the charges, which she called “unfounded,” in a personal statement on July 17.
“For family and personal reasons, I will not comment on these unfounded charges, of which I was immediately and completely cleared many years ago, and I hope that people will respect my private life,” she said.
The prime minister’s office refused to confirm in July whether it had prior knowledge of the charges.
“We’ve got no comment on this,” Kate Purchase, Trudeau’s director of communication, told in an email sent July 15. Purchase would not say whether the prime minister had been aware of the almost six-year-old criminal charge — which was ultimately dropped — before he appointed Payette.
Payette, the prime minister told reporters in Quebec City on July 20, underwent a vetting process that found “no issues” that would prevent the former astronaut from becoming Governor General.
“We have in any time there is going to be an important post filled, like governor general, a through and in-depth vetting process,” Trudeau said. “And, I can assure everyone there are no issues that arose in the course of that vetting process that would be any reason to expect Mme. Payette to be anything other than the extraordinary governor general she will be.”
The prime minister would not say whether he had discussed Payette’s past legal issues with her.
Last July, a consortium of publications that included CTV, CBC, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, iPolitics and Postmedia challenged a seal order issued by the circuit court for St. Mary’s County on the records of her divorce from William “Billie” Flynn.
Payette sought the seal on July 18 – the same day iPolitics reported on the expunged second-degree assault charge. She was married to Flynn at the time. He is believed to be the victim of the alleged 2011 assault.
Maryland Circuit Judge David Densford granted a temporary seal of the divorce records in July. Later that month, after hearing arguments from both sides, Densford decided to unseal most of the records – a decision he stayed in order to give Payette’s council a chance to seek a further stay from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
Payette argued unsealing the divorce documents would not be in the in best interests of her 14-year-old son. She also argued that she had a right to privacy and that the records would not be released under Canadian law.
Densford’s second stay was later extended to August 18, with the appeals court deciding on that day to extend the stay order again into the first two weeks of November. At that point, Payette would have already been sworn in as Governor-General.
Why should the process not have been followed is the question posed by millions of concerned Canadians?

Tackling the World That’s Being Reshaped by Conflict

At the end of each year, the United Nations releases its World Humanitarian Data and Trends report, which highlights the current nature of humanitarian crises, as well as their drivers. None of us in the humanitarian community were surprised to see one word come up over and over again in this year’s report: conflict.
Over the past decade, the number of violent political conflicts worldwide has increased dramatically. According to the UN, there are now 402 conflicts taking place around the world. We are witnessing a terrifying 25-year peak in global violence.
This alarming development is upending the way we apportion humanitarian resources. Twenty years ago, 80% of humanitarian aid went to people affected by natural disasters. Today, 80% of aid goes to people who are threatened by violent conflict.
In my long career , nothing has ever compared to the confluence of global crises we are witnessing right now. From Syria to South Sudan, Afghanistan to Ukraine, violence is now the driving force behind the bulk of human suffering. An unprecedented 65.6 million people are on the run, forcibly displaced from their homes and on a long, gruelling search for safety.
Equally concerning, the number of undernourished people worldwide has increased by nearly 40 million over the last two years. Last night, 815 million people went to bed hungry. And in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria, some 20 million people are at immediate risk of famine. This is mind-boggling after years of progress towards eradicating global hunger. The primary reason? Conflict. After all, you can’t feed your children if someone with a weapon is standing between you and the food you need, or the work you do to earn money to buy it with.
Today, conflict is the number one driver of extreme poverty and hunger. It is propelling an unprecedented rise in fragile states after decades of decline.  The pathway to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals starts with goal 16 and its emphasis on peace, governance and justice.
In the face of such a fractured world, it is tempting to become distraught and believe that nothing can be done – except perhaps resorting to military options. We see a clear-eyed path toward reducing – and even, one day, ending – the scourge of conflict.
We focus our theory of change on three challenges: grievance, governance and growth.
1. Mitigate longstanding grievances. A growing body of research argues that extremist organisations drive recruitment by capitalising on government voids, unresolved grievances and feelings of injustice. Mercy Corps’ own research in Afghanistan and Colombia found that – contrary to popular assumption – unemployment and poverty alone rarely dictate whether or not a young person will engage in conflict (although unemployment is often evidence of systemic sources of frustration and marginalisation). Instead, we found that young people are driven to take up arms by legitimate frustrations over experiences of injustice through discrimination, corruption and abuse.
2. Support good governance (or at least minimally decent governance). In Nigeria, we found that grievances with government failings created community acceptance of Boko Haram, which in turn helped the latter to recruit youth. Yes, the allure of improved economic status does play a central role in recruitment, but former Boko Haram members rarely cited poverty or unemployment as a driving factor in their decision to join.
We must encourage – perhaps even pressure – governments to be more open and inclusive, especially of the young people who are the future political and economic engines of their countries. Research has shown us that in high-risk places like Somalia, programmes that provide young people with access to education and nonviolent civic engagement reduce youth participation in and support for violence.
Good governance goes beyond better government. It is the healthy interaction between government, business and civil society. This is truly – and more than ever – a multi-stakeholder world.
3. Promote economic growth. Without inclusive economic growth, no gains in health, education and social welfare are sustainable. Furthermore, market forces can be a catalyst for peace. Establishing a stable economic environment can help people return to normality more quickly after conflict has torn apart their communities and destroyed their livelihoods. And here’s where the private sector can play a leading role in building lasting peace, by creating entrepreneurial and employment opportunities for young people. Africa is the world’s youngest continent, with 60% of the population under the age of 25. Like their peers in the United States, Europe, Australia and other economically healthy nations, young Africans deserve the opportunity to build a career and enjoy the benefits of financial security for themselves and their families. Economic opportunities should not be reserved for a privileged few.
Can you put a price tag on world peace? This study shows conflict costs us $13.6 trillion
Moreover, when global businesses use their financial power and influence in countries affected by conflict, they can promote support for political peace efforts. After all, peace is good for business. Businesses can lobby political leaders into creating the conditions for peace, and can in turn commit to staying in the country as a secure, committed employer. This creates a more attractive environment for foreign direct investment, which creates a virtuous circle that drives stable jobs and thriving economies.
There are no simple solutions or silver bullets for resolving conflict and healing our fractured globe. But in this multi-stakeholder world, when government, business and civil society truly come together, transformational change can happen. It’s time for our better angels to shine again. Our world depends on it.

Lessons from The Western World’s Loneliness Epidemic

Theresa May has had enough on her plate. Brexit or no Brexit, tensions in the transatlantic relationship, nervousness about another terrorist attack as 2017 turned out to be a year of incessant and intermittent attacks by so-called lonely wolves, resulting in several deaths in the major cities of the United Kingdom.
Yet, 2018 started for the Conservative government by putting focus on an altogether different and unheard-of social issue. There is one problem facing the British society that hardly gets any attention, loneliness. Britain is not only known for its controversial Brexit referendum, it is also referred to in Europe as the loneliness capital of Europe. According to several reliable research projects, it is estimated that approximately 9 million people in Britain very often feel lonely. This means that almost every sixth person in Great Britain experiences some kind of loneliness.
Therefore, Theresa May, has finally appointed a Minister of Loneliness to address this issue in 2018. An initiative taken after the results of the cross-party Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness concluded quite surprisingly that we live in a very disconnected world, where the institutions that brought people together, like church, trade unions, pubs, and workplace no longer provide a reliable social network. Addressing the issue of loneliness is absolutely essential when a substantial portion of society feels lonely. This is no longer a rumor but a conclusion based on a proper study.
Add to this the rate of divorce, the alienation of children from one of the parents, resulting in break-up and no contact, old people losing their spouses after natural death and having no one to talk to. When people visit western countries from India, they see the clean roads, historical monuments and buildings, and visit fancy restaurants but they never visit an old people’s home.
Loneliness among the old offers compelling evidence, and doctors are warning that sitting alone on your couch with no one to talk to is harmful for your health. You do not feel motivated to go for a walk alone, you do not want to make a proper meal if you do not have the chance to share it with someone, and the art of conversation slowly decays as you have no one to talk to. In short, feeling lonely is inversely proportional to feeling healthy, it increases risk of heart attacks and dementia substantially for those millions in Europe who feel chronically lonely.
Isn´t this mind-boggling in a post-modern world where we are more connected than ever through the social media, etc?
What are the lessons to be learned here for Asian countries? As the number of old people will rise dramatically in Asia in a decade or so, it is important to note that it is disastrous to dismantle the institution of the family. The welfare system does offer help in Western countries, but it cannot replace the need of communicating with someone with whom you have had a long-term relationship. The help you get from the welfare state is impersonal. Deep down, people want a personal engagement, someone to talk to, and someone in whom they feel they can confide, and with whom they can have a heartfelt relationship.
There is no doubt that when the number of people above 60 in India is rising and has now reached 100 million, the issue of caring for the old is also a major issue in this country. But in future the challenge needs to be addressed and debated, as the number of elderly citizens will only rise. The institution of family is intact, but people are migrating for jobs, the apartments they live in are too small to accommodate an extended family. To be brutally honest, some families do not prefer living with their parents. Add to this the NRIs and Indians who have either permanently or temporarily migrated abroad and hence cannot take care of their parents even if they want to.
The issue of loneliness is knocking on the doors of many countries. Yet, the western countries can learn something from the way Asian immigrants prioritize families. Whether it is a Chinese or an Indian family, the importance given to the grandparents in raising children is very helpful in reducing the feeling of being left out.
The welfare state is a great invention and a necessity today. It can provide health care, housing and educational needs. But there is an element of personal initiative which the welfare state cannot provide. One such initiative was taken by one of my Danish friends. She moved in with her grandfather after the demise of her grandmother. He was 90 years old, probably too old to start a new relationship, but he lived in a huge villa. She moved in together with her boyfriend and they cooked extra food and hence had dinner with him and talked to him often and made him part of their life.
In countries where more than half of the grown-up population in big cities lives as singles this is a great initiative. I do not know what measures the Minister of Loneliness will recommend. But I would love to hear if they offer a financial reward to people who live with the elderly.
The list of lonely people is long. Immigrants, mothers, teenagers, etc. Teaching children in school to co-operate, teaching the value of forgiveness and compromise in order to retain good friendships and family relationships is an art, and probably there is a science to it. Why not make it obligatory to judge students in schools in their capacity to be social and help them acquire those skills that will make them and their society less lonely?

Present Canadian Foreign Policy Sans Courage Where Courage is Needed

It’s well and good for Justin Trudeau’s government to take a moral stance and impose sanctions on Venezuela for crimes against democracy.
But Ottawa needs to be consistent when it parades its sense of moral superiority. If not, it inevitably will be ridiculed for hypocrisy and pompous posturing.
The Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro is undoubtedly an evil enterprise. It has put great energy into perfecting the project started by the ridiculous cockerel Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013.
This involves the subjugation the country’s 32 million people under a pantomime dictatorship with a cast of characters drawn from a fanciful reading of the exploits of the 19th Century ‘Liberator’ Simon Bolivar.
It would be hilariously funny if it were not so disastrous for the Venezuelan people. They are on the verge of starvation because the Maduro regime has spirited away the country’s oil wealth, leaving little in the way of food and other necessities of life.
Those who demonstrate against this criminal nonsense are either locked up or killed. Over 120 demonstrators have been slain in recent months.
The same goes for those who have tried to use the democratic system to oust Maduro and his cronies. When democracy worked and the opposition won control of the national assembly last year, Maduro engineered the disbanding of that body and created his own Potemkin parliament.
So it was entirely appropriate on September 22 for Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland to announce that Canada’s new Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act was going to be used to impose personal sanctions on Maduro and 18 of his henchmen for “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
Relations between Ottawa and Caracas have been cascading downhill since then. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said in November that the sanctions were illegal and accused the Canadian government of “shameful and utter submission to Donald Trump’s administration.”
Matters came to a head on Christmas Day with Venezuela’s expulsion of Canada’s chargé d’affaires, Craib Kowalik, for “permanent and insistent, rude and vulgar interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela.”
In retaliation, Freeland announced the expulsion of the Venezuelan chargé in Ottawa, Angel Herrera, and said that the ambassador from Caracas would not be allowed back in the country.
Again, all well and good.
Two-way trade between Canada and Venezuela is only about $700 million a year. So Ottawa risks little real damage in taking the moral high ground here. It might even burnish Canada’s reputation with its Latin American allies.
But the measure of moral rectitude is sticking to your values when it takes pain and courage to do so.
Trudeau and Freeland can only expect to be taken seriously as champions of human rights when they use their sanctions against Beijing just as readily as they do against the operations the Maduro regime.
Ironically, as Freeland was delivering her Christmas lecture on morality to Caracas, a drama was playing out on the other side of the world which should have demanded her equal attention.
On Boxing Day, courts in Tianjin and Changsha in China announced verdicts in the cases of Wu Gan — an incorrigible activist for political reform — and human rights lawyer Xie Yang.
Xie clearly had been browbeaten into submission by one means or another. He read a stylized confession to “inciting subversion of state power” which was broadcast live. In a piece of pantomime worthy of Caracas, Xie denied having been tortured and thanked everyone involved for having safeguarded his rights and given him a fair trial.
Having performed the part required of him in the masquerade, Xie was found guilty, but was given no punishment.
“Subverting state power” is one of those nonsensical, catch-all charges the Chinese Communist Party uses to intimidate or crush people whose ideas or spirit it wants to destroy.
Xie accepted his defeat. Wu Gan did not. He refused to co-operate in the charade of his “subverting state power” charge — and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Wu’s lawyer managed to release a copy of his four-paragraph statement to the court after the verdict. It is a wonderful document of courage in the face of a fascist state and is worth reading in its entirety. It can be found here.
Despots cannot abide being laughed at, and Wu made a joke of the whole thing: “I thank the Communist Party for conferring on me this high honour (subversion). I will not forget my original aspiration, and will roll up my sleeves and work harder.
“For those living under a dictatorship, being given the honourable label of one who ‘subverts state power’ is the highest form of affirmation of a citizen. It’s proof that the citizen wasn’t an accomplice or a slave, and that at the very least he went out and defended, and fought for, human rights.”
Wu said the authorities had attempted to force him to plead guilty. “I have been subjected to torture and other forms of inhumane treatment during my detention thus far,” he said, naming the 13 officials “involved in persecuting, torturing and abusing me.”
He said he remained optimistic that the Chinese people are waking up, and that “the ranks of those ready to stand at the funeral of the dictatorship is growing stronger and larger by the day.” The Communist Party’s “tyranny is based on a lack of self-confidence — a sign of a guilty conscience and fear. It’s a dead end.”
Beijing and the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party are at least as guilty and vile in their treatment of dissidents as is the Maduro regime.
On Wednesday the United States and German embassies in Beijing issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply disappointed” by the trials Wu and Xie, and called for the immediate release of Wu.
Trudeau, Freeland and their government can only expect to be taken seriously as international champions of human rights when they use their sanctions against the culpable leaders of the Chinese Communist Party just as readily as they do against operations like the Maduro regime.
That would come at a cost, of course. Courage usually does.

China’s Way Or The Highway: Big Business Bows To Xi’s World View

China is demanding that international companies respect the government’s position on long-standing territorial disputes from Taiwan to Tibet.
The intolerance for slights regarding such territories mirrors President Xi’s tightening grip on power.
Multinational businesses keen for a slice of the world’s fastest-growing consumer market are finding they have to increasingly conform to China’s world view if they want to stay in Beijing’s good graces.
Companies from Marriott International Inc. to Qantas Airways Ltd. are scrambling to fall in line with China’s stance on the treatment of territorial disputes, or risk missing the biggest market opportunity some of them have ever known. In the past week, they have been checking the wording on websites and other material for references — some of which have been in public view for years — that might cause offense, while also offering apologies and acknowledgement of China’s sovereignty.
The state can quickly and easily punish defiant companies, said Stuart Orr, a professor at Deakin University’s faculty of business and law in Melbourne who has studied China for more than a decade. “I’m not aware of any industries that are so critical to China that China would feel the need to accommodate them,” Orr said. “I don’t think these companies really have a lot of leverage.”
China is demanding that international companies respect the government’s position on long-standing territorial disputes from Taiwan to Tibet. Australian airline Qantas, which flies to Beijing and Shanghai, said this week it had incorrectly listed on its website some Chinese territories as “countries” and the company was fixing the error. Delta Air Lines Inc., apparel maker Inditex SA and Marriott were singled out last week by Chinese authorities for similar transgressions.
Foreign corporations “should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, abide by China’s laws and respect Chinese people’s national feelings,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said during a Jan. 12 press conference. “This is the minimum requirement for any enterprise to invest, operate and conduct cooperation in another country.”
Keeping China happy can be a daunting exercise, as many companies are finding. Complying with a broad crackdown on the categorization of disputed lands would require trawling through decades of online archives for possible violations, even for companies that have sold goods and services in China for years.
A survey of some of the largest foreign companies doing business in China suggests many may have work to do if they want to fully comply with the government. Of the 10 biggest firms generating at least 20 percent of revenue from China and its territories, at least six describe Taiwan as a country on their websites, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The references span press releases, careers pages, business overviews and technical support pages.
China claims democratic Taiwan as a province, even though the two sides have been ruled separately for almost 70 years. The former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau are special administrative regions, with greater control over local affairs. Tibet is an autonomous region, but home to a movement seeking an end to China’s “occupation.”
‘Inadvertent Error’
Companies say any infringements are simply oversights. Delta apologized for listing Tibet and Taiwan as nations and called it “an inadvertent error with no business or political intention.” Starbucks Corp., which opens a store in China every 15 hours, said that while its major websites “respectfully reflect” the Chinese territories, the company is updating some minor sites that were not accurate.
Bellamy’s Australia Ltd., the baby food maker that relies on China and Hong Kong for almost one third of its annual revenue, on Tuesday said it changed the reference to Hong Kong on its website, noting it took the action voluntarily.
In many cases, the violations involve lists showing where a company has operations or where an airline flies to. An aviation and travel boom across Asia has increased online exposure to territory categorizations that China won’t allow. The solution to such a problem can be as simple as changing a “Countries” heading to “Countries/Regions.”
Regional Status
Political conflicts aren’t just restricted to territorial issues, as Marriott discovered this week even after apologizing for its website incident. It found itself in an awkward situation after being notified that one of its hotels in China displayed decorative copies of a book that alleges government abuse of the ba
The greater intolerance for slights regarding such territories mirrors China growing economic and geopolitical clout and President Xi Jinping’s tightening grip on power. Chinese leaders have expressed alarm over “separatist” movements after Taiwan elected a president from a pro-independence party and anti-China activists secured seats on Hong Kong’s legislature.
“We will never allow any person, any group, any political party, at any time, in any way, to split from any part of China’s territory,” Xi said in November 2016, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Flower-Growing Toilet to Fight Public Urination: Paris Experiment , a Model for India

In cities the world over, men (and, to a lesser extent, women) who urinate in the street — al fresco — are a scourge of urban life, costing millions of dollars for cleaning and the repair of damage to public infrastructure. And, oh, the stench.
Now, Paris has a new weapon against what the French call “les pipis sauvages” or “wild peeing”: a sleek and eco-friendly public toilet. Befitting the country of Matisse, the urinal looks more like a modernist flower box than a receptacle for human waste.
You can even grow flowers in its compost.
The Parisian innovation was spurred by a problem of public urination so endemic that City Hall recently proposed dispatching a nearly 2,000-strong “incivility brigade” of truncheon-wielding officers to try to prevent bad behavior, which also includes leaving dog waste on the street and littering cigarette butts. Fines for public urination are steep — about $75.
Even that was not deterrent enough, officials say. A small brigade of sanitation workers still has to scrub about 1,800 square miles of sidewalk each day. And dozens of surfaces are splattered by urine, according to City Hall.
Enter the boxy Uritrottoir — a combination of the French words for “urinal” and “pavement” — which has grabbed headlines and has already been lauded as a “friend of flowers” by Le Figaro, the French newspaper, because it produces compost that can be used for fertilizer. Designed by Faltazi, a Nantes-based industrial design firm, its top section also doubles as an attractive flower or plant holder.
The Uritrottoir, which has graffiti-proof paint and does not use water, works by storing urine on a bed of dry straw, sawdust or wood chips. Monitored remotely by a “urine attendant” who can see on a computer when the toilet is full, the urine and straw is carted away to the outskirts of Paris, where it is turned into compost that can later be used in public gardens or parks.
Fabien Esculier, an engineer who is known in the French media as “Monsieur Pipi” because of his expertise on the subject, said the Uritrottoir was more eco-friendly than the dozens of existing public toilets which dot the capital and are connected to the public sewage system.
“Its greatest virtue is that it doesn’t use water, and produces compost that can be used for public gardens and parks,” he said.
So far, Paris’s Gare de Lyon, a railway station that has become ground zero in the capital’s war against public urination, has ordered two of the toilets, which were installed on Tuesday outside the station, and the SNCF, France’s state-owned national railway, says it plans to roll out more across the capital if the Uritrottoir is a success.
“I am optimistic it will work,” said Maxime Bourette, the SNCF maintenance official who ordered the toilets for the railway. “Everyone is tired of the mess.”
He said it remained to be seen whether the toilets were cost effective — he said the SNCF paid about $9,730 for two, while it would cost about $865 a month to pay a sanitation worker to clean the toilets and take away the waste.
A designer of the Uritrottoir, Laurent Lebot, 45, an industrial engineer who has also invented an eco-friendly vacuum cleaner, said Nantes, in western France, had ordered three for the spring. He had also had inquiries from local councils in Cannes, France; Lausanne, Switzerland; London; and Saarbrücken, Germany. A large model can handle the outflow of 600 people; a smaller model absorbs 300 trips to the toilet.
“Public urination is a huge problem in France,” Lebot said. “Beyond the terrible smell, urine degrades lamp posts and telephone poles, damages cars, pollutes the Seine and undermines everyday life of a city. Cleaning up wastes water, and detergents are damaging for the environment.”
France is far from alone in combating public urination. In San Francisco, a street lamp whose base was damaged by urine recently collapsed, almost injuring a driver. The city has since installed public urinals adorned by plants.
New York has also long suffered from drunken urinating revelers, but the City Council recently downgraded the offense, along with littering and excessive noise, as part of its effort to divert minor offenders from its already overstretched court system. Nevertheless, offenders face a fine of $350 to $450 if they commit a third offense within a year.
In Chester, northwest England, the local government has clamped down on public urination amid concerns it was damaging the city’s medieval covered walkways.
In France, the acrid smell of urine has been a particular blight on the nation’s capital stretching back centuries, and Lebot noted that the carbon of the straw had the added benefit of combating the odor of urine. His next challenge, he added, was to design an aesthetically pleasing public toilet that women could use.
Among the steepest fines for an act of public urination — about $37,500 — was meted out to Pierre Pinoncelli, a French citizen who urinated on the artist Marcel Duchamp’s Dadaist porcelain urinal “Fountain” in 1993 — considered a masterpiece of conceptual art — before hitting it with a hammer.
In 2006, he was fined about $230,000 after he attacked the artwork a second time.

Premature Deindustrialization- A Hazard for Emerging Economies

The process of modern developed countries is essentially a process of ‘structural transformation’. This means they first went through a period of industrialization as the economic center of gravity shifted from agriculture to manufacturing, and then went through a period of deindustrialization, shifting the weight from manufacturing to services.
How does this compare to the more recent experience of emerging economies? Are today’s developing countries following a similar process of structural transformation?
The patterns of structural transformation in developing countries are different to those of advanced, post-industrial economies. Specifically, we show that emerging economies have been deindustrializing more quickly. We explain how and why this is happening, and whether we should be worried about it.
In the first section we explore broad trends of industrialisation, and after pointing out the common patterns, we turn to an analysis of the particular aspects that make structural transformation in today’s low income countries different, and perhaps problematic.
Structural transformation, all around the world
One way to study the process of ‘structural transformation’ across countries is to track how employment changes across sectors in the economy. The below chart does this, plotting the share of industry in total employment (vertical axis) against GDP per head (horizontal axis). This graph is a ‘connected scatter plot’ – each line shows the trajectory that a country followed over time along these two dimensions. Data is available for a selection of more than 40 countries, across all continents.
There is a lot going on in this chart. But on the aggregate, it is easy to see a pattern: there is a hump-shaped relationship between industrialization (measured by employment shares) and incomes. In low and high income countries the share working in industrial sectors is low.
As we can see, at low levels of GDP per head, economic growth tends to go together with a rising share of employment in industry; then at an intermediate point in national incomes, the industrial sector reaches a peak; and after that point the relationship is inverted and further economic growth goes together with a lower share of employment in the industrial sector.
Of course, this broad inverted U-shape pattern is not shared by all countries. See for example Colombia. And even among countries that do fit the pattern, we can see some interesting variations.
For example, the height of the ‘humps’ varies widely across countries. Indeed, the highest peaks in industry employment shares took place in the earliest industrializers: Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden and the UK all reached shares above 40% before beginning to deindustrialize. Outside Europe, the only countries to have reached comparable levels of industrialization are Mauritius and Taiwan.
You can use the slider at the bottom of this chart to change the time settings. If you move the left point of the slider all the way to 2010, the chart will show a snapshot of the cross-country correlation between average national incomes and the share of employment in industry. Doing this reveals that the cross-country correlation at any point in time is similar to the within-country correlation across time. This means that in the cross-section, the poorest and richest countries have some of the lowest shares of employment in industrial sectors while for individual countries over time, the lowest industry shares correspond to the periods with lowest and highest recorded income levels.
Another way to explore the relative importance of manufacturing and other industrial sectors is to look at their importance in the country’s total output. Let’s now turn to exploring industrialization from the perspective of the the other, notably interrelated, sectors.
Agriculture and Services
If the weight of the industrial sector in the economy changes, this obviously has a mirror effect on other sectors, namely agriculture and services. The next two charts show the share of employment in agriculture and services against GDP per capita. As we can see, in all the countries with available data, economic growth has meant a shift of workers away from agriculture and into services.
Taken together, the evidence shows that ‘structural transformation’ is a generalized phenomenon. Countries tend to go first through a period of industrialization, where economic activity shifts from agriculture to industry; and then they go through a period of deindustrialization, where there is a shift from industry to services.
This is of course not necessarily a story of a stagnant agricultural sector being overtaken by dynamic manufacturing and service sectors. Instead, this is a story of changes in relative productivity, with one sector overtaking the other.
The idea of ‘premature deindustrialization’
Despite the commonly-observed broad patterns discussed so far, it is easy to see that not all countries go through the different stages of structural transformation at the same level of economic development. Compare South Africa and Italy in the chart above. In 2007 South Africa had a GDP per capita similar to that of Italy in 1960. Yet at this level of economic development, South Africa had a much larger share of employment in the service sector (almost twice as large).
This observation goes further. Many emerging economies, notably those in Africa, have been going through a process of ‘premature deindustrialization’, in the sense that they have experienced a much quicker transition into the services sector relative to the changes experienced by early-industrialized countries when they were at comparable levels of economic development.
Of course, ‘premature deindustrialization’ is not happening everywhere, and to a great extent the broad cross-country pattern we observe is the result of global manufacturing becoming increasingly concentrated in countries such as China. But the fact remains: industry seems to have played a greater role in the growth experiences of today’s rich countries than in most of today’s poorer countries.
Let us look at why this is happening, and whether it is a good or bad thing.
What causes premature deindustrialization?
In a much cited paper, Dani Rodrik argues that premature deindustrialization can be attributed to the combination of two factors: technological progress and international trade.
Technological progress in recent decades has contributed to reducing the competitiveness of low income countries with a smaller proportion of skilled workers. In the past, many countries entered the manufacturing sector by first engaging in simpler, labor-intensive activities and then gradually moving up the industrial ladder. In recent decades this strategy has become less attainable because of increased skill requirements in the industrial sector. Today, it is no longer the case that farmers can easily transition to working in factories with little investment in additional training.
Globalization, in turn, has interacted with labor-saving technological progress, amplifying the mechanism described above. Comparative advantage forces exacerbate the difficulties faced by low income countries trying to enter a highly competitive global manufacturing sector.
In a recent overview of the literature, Rodrik writes: “It is now well documented that manufacturing has become increasingly skill-intensive in recent decades. Along with globalization, this has made it very difficult for newcomers to break into world markets for manufacturing in a big way and replicate the experience of Asia’s manufacturing superstars. Except for a handful of exporters, developing economies have been experiencing premature deindustrialization. It seems as if the escalator has been taken away from the lagging countries.“
It is likely that these constraints will remain binding for years to come: unless skills and training expand drastically, automation and further technological change will make it increasingly difficult for today’s poor countries to follow the path that early-industrialized countries took.
Why should we care?
Failing to develop a sizable secondary sector might have important implications. First, there are redistributive consequences: simple manufacturing industries tend to be quite labor-intensive, so they provide jobs for workers coming from the countryside with relative ease. And second, there might be efficiency consequences: missing out on the ‘manufacturing bandwagon’ lowers growth prospects because manufacturing industries tend to be particularly conducive to productivity growth. This efficiency argument comes from the fact that in the manufacturing sector, more than in other sectors, it is usually easier to absorb technology from abroad and generate high-productivity jobs.
In addition to these factors, there might be other consequences to keep in mind, such as those related to the development of institutions. For example, Rodrik argues that industrialization was crucial for the development of the labor movement, which led to demands for the expansion of voting rights and eventually the creation of the welfare state. Indeed, the political economy literature suggests that bargaining between elites and organized labor played a crucial role in the development of democracy. Hence, since premature deindustrialization can lead to weaker organized labor in today’s low income countries, it may take them down a path of political development that is less conducive to liberal democracy.

India Needs to Apply Art of Balance in Middle East

Pragmatism, not political pieties from the right or left, should determine India’s engagements with Israel and the Middle East.
Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor had, back in 2010, famously described Jawaharlal Nehru’s foreign policy as a “moralistic running commentary” on international affairs. He was certainly not denigrating India’s first prime minister. Nor was he attacking the government of the day. After all, he was serving as the minister of state for external affairs in it. As a scholar of diplomacy in his own right, Tharoor was reflecting on the complex legacies of India’s diplomatic tradition, especially Delhi’s temptation for moral posturing on international issues.
The end of the Cold War and India’s economic reorientation saw an inevitable recasting of Indian diplomacy after 1991. Although successive governments, of different political colour, have made a bow to pragmatism, the public discourse tends to remain ideological.
Nowhere is this more true than the Middle East, where India’s domestic politics have always had a huge impact on how Delhi debates the region. This week’s visit to India by the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has seen a reprise in India’s internal contestations on the Middle East.
It is not very often that the Israeli PM visits India. The first ever visit by an Israeli PM was in 2003. That it happened under a BJP prime minister was not surprising. Now the second visit too is taking place under a BJP-led government. If Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the first PM to host his Israeli counterpart, Narendra Modi became the first prime minister to travel to Israel last year.
If you think India’s Israel policy was all about BJP, you are mistaken. It was Jawaharlal Nehru, either accused of moralpolitik or praised for it, was the one who extended India’s diplomatic recognition to Israel when its was born in 1948. If Nehru held back from establishing an embassy in Israel, it was a Congress PM, P.V. Narasimha Rao, who normalised relations with Israel in 1992 and expanded security and technological cooperation.
Rao could not have done that, if his predecessor, Rajiv Gandhi, had not begun to end India’s political hostility to Israel that took root in the 1960s and 1970s. The CPI(M), which now declares that Netanyahu is not welcome in India, had no problem with Jyoti Basu, the party’s tallest leader and chief minister West Bengal, making an official visit to Israel in 2000. That kind of elite pragmatism on foreign policy has unfortunately given way to renewed disputation over the Middle East amidst the growing political polarisation within India.
The left accuses Modi of abandoning India’s traditional solidarity with the Palestinians. The right attacks the PM for not voting with Israel when the UN General Assembly strongly criticised the US move to shift its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. These rival arguments are probably a good indicator that the South Block may have found a sensible middle path.
Delhi’s interests in Israel have grown rapidly in the last quarter of a century. So have those with the 400 million Arabs. The Arab Middle East is the main source of India’s energy, the home to nearly seven million expatriate workers, and a big market for Indian goods. As we look to India’s growing stakes in the Middle East, Delhi’s problem is not about fidelity to one domestic ideological position or the other.
The challenge for India lies in finding the right balance between competing imperatives in a volatile region amidst the pursuit of enlightened self-interest. The Israelis and Arabs alike have a strong tradition of realpolitik. They might be happier with an open, predictable and interest-based Indian policy towards the region than the one trapped in political posturing for domestic audiences.
Israeli and Arab leaders too view India from the perspective of regional balance, rather than an ideological framework. Israel, for example, will be delighted if Pakistan chooses to establish diplomatic relations with it. The political significance of the diplomatic recognition from the second largest Muslim nation is indeed valuable for Israel.
Pakistan has often debated the option of openly engaging Israel. When he was at the peak of his power last decade, General Pervez Musharraf had reached out to American Jewish groups and sought to inject pragmatism into Pakistan’s policy. But he could not prevail over huge political resistance at home. Pakistan’s domestic politics on the Middle East, after all, are more intense than India’s.
India’s exceptional political warmth certainly does not beget uncritical Israeli support for India in its territorial disputes with Pakistan or China. Similarly the Arab nations don’t back India on Kashmir, just because India extends formal solidarity with the Palestinians. Like all nations, Israelis and Arabs want to maximise possibilities with India, but would want to limit its impact on the relations with Pakistan.
The pursuit of balance is an essential feature of international life; how it gets expressed or couched in a specific context is a matter of diplomatic detail. Israel’s dispute with Palestine is not the only one that India confronts in the Middle East. Delhi, for example, is constantly trying to balance between Israel and Iran, Riyadh and Tehran, the Sunni and Shia, Saudis and Qataris, and between the Kurds and everyone else. Domestic political pieties, on the left and right, are the last thing India needs in navigating the Middle East minefield.


Mr. Piketty, Income Equality is Over-rated

Last month, Thomas Piketty released the World Inequality Report, revealing worsening income inequality in virtually every country and region. Most readers groaned: they typically view income equality as an unqualified good.
The shortcomings of this view hit me when last week I visited the Killing Fields museum in Cambodia. Pol Pot launched the greatest equalisation programme in history on assuming power in Cambodia after US soldiers left in 1975. Within three days, he drove all city folk into the countryside to do manual agricultural labour.
A sophisticated Paris-educated revolutionary, Pol Pot aimed to create the most equal communist regime. All communist regimes swore by equality, yet clearly, the cities were far richer than villages, and well-educated folk were richer and more influential than poorly educated workers and farmers.
To end such distortions of equality, Pol Pot decided that all city folk, above all highly educated ones, must be brought on par with villagers doing manual work. This was resisted, naturally, not only by those forcibly evicted, but also by dissidents within the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot condemned all dissenters (including party colleagues) as traitors and enemies of the people, and ordered their liquidation to achieve true equality. Pol Pot’s equalisation programme led to the killing of 3 million people in Cambodia
Such megalomania is common among dictators. Seeking Marxist purity, Pol Pot took the killing of class enemies to a new extreme. He murdered an astonishing 3 million of the country’s population of 8 million, a far higher murder ratio than anything Hitler, Stalin or Changez Khan dreamed of. All in the pursuit of equality, you understand.
The killers were often teenagers hired to do the deadly work in rural camps to which supposed enemies of the people were sent. Bullets were too costly to use on this scale, so killing was done with clubs and agricultural implements. Agricultural reapers became Grim Reapers. Babies’ heads were smashed against trees. Victims were ordered to dig pits, into which their dead bodies were later dumped.
The Indian Left was delirious with delight when US troops abandoned Cambodia and allowed the Khmer Rouge to take over. It believed the end of American imperialism would usher in a new era of equality and prosperity.
Well, Pol Pot certainly achieved unrivalled equality. Unlike many dictators who lived lavishly, he and his colleagues lived spartan lives, determined to maximise equality. If this meant mass killing, so be it. After all, every Marxist revolutionary in history had called for the liquidation of class enemies and traitors.
I doubt if Piketty can unearth good income data on Cambodia under Pol Pot. But if such data were available, Piketty’s methodology would surely show Pol Pot’s Cambodia as the most equal country ever. Some leftists might applaud. I can only shudder with horror.
Lesson: do not exaggerate the virtues of income equality. The Berlin Wall was built to prevent people fleeing from egalitarian East Germany to inegalitarian West Germany. People swam across shark-infested waters from Mao’s egalitarian China to inegalitarian Hong Kong. Nobody swam the other way. Millions voted with their feet for opportunity over equality. Forced equality can kill opportunity, and thus become an instrument of oppression, not empowerment. Equality of opportunity can be more important than income equality.
Extreme income inequality is bad. It should be reduced by taxing the rich at a progressive rate, and providing safety nets and upward ladders to the poor. But such income redistribution needs sanction by a democratic regime accountable to citizens. This does not happen in the “People’s Democracy” of Marxist regimes like Pol Pot’s. There, the “people” actually means the party; the party actually means the politburo; and the politburo actually means the dictator. Such awesome concentration of power can expedite forced equalisation of income, but this turns out to be hell, not heaven.
True equality is not just equality of income. It is also, crucially, about equality of opportunity, something sorely missing in India. Above all, it includes some equality of power, some checks on the ruler. Pol Pot, like many other Communist dictators, aimed at economic equality by monopolising political power. But this produced a different inequality, the inequality of power. Forget Communist rhetoric about creating equality: there can never be equality between those with guns and power and those without.
Of the three kinds of equality — of income, opportunity and power — the last two are the most important. Piketty should cover all three sorts of inequality.
He and other analysts should also view global income inequality. This is falling dramatically, thanks to the rise of China and India. Poor countries are catching up. To ignore this, while decrying within-country inequality, is dishonest.


Presidential Profanity Over the Ages

When President Trump, who was honored with Ellis Island Award for contributing to conditions of Black Youth allegedly used the word shithole, it opened the floodgates of shit-holes verbal vomiting the world over. It seems that possibly he is the first resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to have used a four letter word.

From Lincoln to LBJ, dirty words are nothing new in the White House. Politicians throughout U.S. history have used less-than-flattering words.

Rahm Emanuel is known to frequently use the f-word

Sen. John McCain once told another Republican senator, “f— you”

Not quite the language you’d expect from U.S. politicians. But that’s never stopped them from expressing themselves, in private and in public.

Here’s a look at politicians who have let their true feelings shine over the years through their own brand of colorful language:

When President Obama called Mitt Romney a “bullshitter” in the pages of Rolling Stone earlier this year, it set off a brief firestorm. Defenders of the Republican candidate were shocked – shocked! – that the man holding the highest office in the land would resort to such language. In truth, the halls of the White House (like nearly every other house in the country, with the apparent exception of Romney’s) have heard no shortage of profanity over the decades. It’s a dirty job, leading the free world. Sometimes it takes a few dirty words. Read on for a brief history of presidential (and vice-presidential, and presidential candidate) profanity.

Abraham Lincoln

Honest Abe evidently loved a good off-color joke. In Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis bends the ears of an anxious telegraph crew with one of the president’s favorite shaggy-dog tales, recounting the tale of Ethan Allen encountering a portrait of George Washington in an outhouse in England after the Revolutionary War. His hosts were eager to see the reaction of their visitor, who stumped them by approving: “There is nothing to make an Englishman shit quicker than the sight of General George Washington.”

Barack Obama

Our 44th president has a very vivid vocabulary. Obama famously called Kanye West a “jackass,” and on the audiobook version of his autobiography, Dreams From My Father, you can hear the future president mimicking an old high-school friend who evidently knew his Richard Pryor: “You know that guy ain’t shit. Sorry-ass motherfucker ain’t got nothing on me.” But it was in the pages of Rolling Stone that Obama really drew the ire of the pious, calling opponent Mitt Romney a “bullshitter.” Sometimes the dirty word is the most precise

2010: The BP oil spill took an emotional toll on everyone — from those living along the Gulf of Mexico to politicians in Washington.

President Obama was not immune. In a June 8, 2010, NBC “Today” show interview, Obama said, “I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose a– to kick.”

Mitt Romney

Calling the GOP’s presidential candidate a “bullshitter” was that much more shocking because Romney himself has quite possibly never uttered such a humdinger in his life. His anachronistic language – all “gosh darns” and “good griefs” – is straight out of Leave It to Beaver. The former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives has recalled the ex-governor telling bothersome opponents where they could go: “H-E-double hockey sticks.”

Joe Biden

When President Obama signed the historic legislation that ensured health care coverage for all Americans, his vice president leaned over with a few commemorative words befitting the solemn occasion. “This is a big fucking deal,” said Biden.

2010: Known for his blunt talk, Vice President Joe Biden was heard telling Obama “this is a big f—— deal” during the March 23, 2010, signing of the health care reform bill. While he was whispering into the president’s ear, the profanity was picked up by nearby microphones.

Sen. John Kerry

2004: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, running in a brutal 2004 presidential race against incumbent President George W. Bush, dropped the f-bomb in an interview in the November 11, 2004, edition of Rolling Stone magazine.

“I voted for what I thought was best for the country. … Did I expect George Bush to f— it up as badly as he did? I don’t think anybody did,” Kerry said, referring to his vote allowing the U.S. to use military force in Iraq.

Kerry also made news during the campaign when he reportedly called his Secret Service agent a “son of a bitch.”

Dick Cheney

Back in 2004, then-Vice President Cheney reportedly told Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy to “go fuck [himself]” after the two got into a testy argument about Cheney’s ties to the defense contractor Halliburton. Later, Cheney told comedian Dennis Miller, “That’s sort of the best thing I ever did.”

2004: Tensions are nothing new on the Senate floor. But an incident between Vice President Dick Cheney and a Democratic senator took it to another level.

Cheney told Sen. Patrick Leahy on June 24, 2004, to “go f— yourself” when the Vermont Democrat blasted Halliburton’s role in Iraq.

Halliburton, as you may recall, was once under the helm of Cheney, who was chairman and CEO of the company.

George W. Bush

While campaigning for president in 2000, George W. Bush leaned over to his running mate, Dick Cheney, as they waited at the podium for a rally to begin and commented on the presence of New York Times reporter Adam Clymer. Believing he had an audience of one, Bush called Clymer a “major-league asshole.” Trouble was, the microphone in front of them was already live, and many in the audience heard the offhand comment loud and clear. After he’d taken office, Bush used his sense of humor to offer an apology of sorts when he taped a message for the press corps attending an annual dinner, calling Clymer a “major league ass . . . et.”

2000: Then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, running in the 2000 presidential race, was caught on a live microphone tearing into New York Times reporter Adam Clymer. At a Labor Day 2000 rally in Naperville, Illinois, Bush called him a “major-league a–hole.”

Bill Clinton

Before riding to President Obama’s rescue with his Democratic National Convention speech in September, Bill Clinton wasn’t exactly on the best of terms with the current prez. When Obama beat Hillary Clinton in South Carolina’s Democratic primary in 2008, the former president compared the victory to Jesse Jackson’s primary wins back in the Eighties. The Obama campaign hinted that the analogy was racially tinged, and Clinton shot back: “I don’t think I should take any shit from anybody on that, do you?”

While President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton were not known to have cursed publicly, numerous accounts from White House insiders over the years tell a different story — that both often using the f-word in conversations and arguments inside and outside the White House.

In 2008, former President Clinton became irritable as Obama overtook Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries. Thinking no one could hear him, after an interview with a Philadelphia radio station that put him on the defensive over racial equality issues, Clinton said, “I don’t think I should take any shit from anybody on that, do you?”

Sen. John McCain

2007: McCain’s temper is nothing new to those who know the Arizona senator.

And that anger especially came out in a May 17, 2007, meeting on immigration, according to The Washington Post.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was none too happy when McCain showed up late, saying, “wait a second here. I’ve been sitting in here for all of these negotiations, and you just parachute in here on the last day. You’re out of line.”

McCain shot back, “F— you! I know more about this than anyone else in the room.”

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer

2007: According to the New York Post, then governor (and current CNN host) Spitzer told Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco in late January 2007: “Listen, I’m a f—–g steamroller, and I’ll roll over you and anybody else.”

President Jimmy Carter

1980: The relationship between former President Jimmy Carter and Sen. Ted Kennedy was sometimes less than friendly.

Time magazine reports that Carter told a group of congressmen in 1979 that if Kennedy ran against him in the 1980 presidential race, “I’ll whip his a–.”

Richard Nixon

The Watergate tapes put the phrase “expletive deleted” on the map – White House protesters held signs that read “Impeach the (Expletive Deleted)!” The tapes covered a lot more mundane moments than the wiretapping operation that got the president impeached. In one, Nixon is watching his beloved Redskins attempt to complete a major comeback against the Dallas Cowboys. “Son of a bitch,” he mutters when the push falls short.

1972, 1973: The December 12, 2010, release of new Nixon Oval Office audiotapes shed light on the mind of the disgraced former president. The Washington Post reported that in on a February 13, 1973, taped conversation, Nixon railed against Jews, Italians and the Irish, among others.

“The Jews have certain traits. The Irish have certain — for example, the Irish can’t drink. … The Italians, of course, just don’t have their heads screwed on tight. They are wonderful people, but. … The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”.”

On an April 18, 1972, recording, Nixon, discussing National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger’s meeting with Ivy League college presidents concerning Vietnam, told Kissinger: “The Ivy League presidents? Oh, I won’t let those sons of bitches ever in this White House again. Never. Never. None of them. They’re finished. The Ivy League schools are finished

Richard Nixon may hold the unofficial record for being the most openly profane U.S. President — probably because he recorded much of what he said in the Oval Office. In a taped 1971 conversation between the President and two of his aides, Nixon called Mexicans “dishonest,” said that blacks lived “like a bunch of dogs” and that San Francisco was full of “fags” and “decorators.” And that was just one conversation.

Lyndon Johnson

“People said my language was bad,” recalled Nixon, “but Jesus, you should have heard LBJ.” Few if any presidents have been quite as coarse as Johnson, who famously consulted with cabinet members while he sat on the crapper with the door open. His language was salted with profanity. “I do know the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad,” he once said.President Lyndon B. Johnson

1965: In a discussion about Cyprus in 1965, Johnson reportedly told Greek Ambassador Alexandros Matsas, “f— your parliament and your constitution.”

He continued: “America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fellows continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant’s trunk, whacked good.”

Lyndon B. Johnson had a famously dirty mouth. He chided Canada’s Lester Pearson for his anti-Vietnam stance by saying, “You pissed on my rug,” and once likened the difference between a Senator and a Representative to “the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit.” Another Johnson quote, referring to a Kennedy aide: “He wouldn’t know how to pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel.” When asked what he thought of Gerald Ford, Johnson said, “He can’t fart and chew gum at the same time”.

John F. Kennedy

Eloquent at the podium, JFK could swear like a sailor (which he was, of course) away from the microphone. When word leaked that the Air Force had spent $5000 to furnish a maternity suite for Jackie Kennedy at Otis Air Force Base, the president knew the expenditure would be used as a political football. “This is obviously a fuck-up,” he fumed to a hapless general over the phone.

Harry Truman

The folksy “Give ‘Em Hell Harry” was beloved by some and tsk-tsked by others for the colorful language he attributed to his youthful days working on the Santa Fe railroad, when he slept in hobo camps. In Truman’s eyes, General Douglas MacArthur was a “dumb son of a bitch,” and Nixon was “a shifty-eyed goddamned liar.”

1960s: In a December 3, 1973, article in Time magazine, Truman reportedly said in the early 1960s that he fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur “because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president.”

“I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”

“I never did give them hell,” he once reminisced. “I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.” It was an earlier, simpler time.

President Harry S. Truman was quoted as calling General MacArthur a “dumb son of a bitch.” John F. Kennedy used the same term to refer to Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. And even though John F. Kennedy grew up as a wealthy child of privilege, but his time in the Navy taught him how to swear like a sailor — at least, a little bit. In April of 1962, President Kennedy became infuriated when the President of U.S. Steel announced major price increases.  Kennedy told a reporter, “My father always told me that all businessmen were sons of bitches, but I never believed it ‘til now.”

Rahm Emanuel

Then-White House aide Emanuel warned Prime Minister Tony Blair, “don’t f— it up,” referring to the British leader’s February 5, 1998, visit to the White House, according to Foreign Policy magazine’s Passport blog.

The meeting came during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Later, as Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel allegedly once said “F— the UAW.” The comment was featured in former White House car czar Steven Rattner’s 2010 book “Overhaul.” The White House pushed back against the claim.

Ranking the Presidential Obscenities: 8 Foul Presidential Quotes

Everyone likes swearing, it makes the world a more exciting place. People with no imagination will tell you that expletives and other colorful metaphors are the sign of a poor vocabulary and limited intelligence. They say this because they are stuck up ass hats. The fact is a well used swear word can really bring a point home, cap off an excellent insult or just make you sound a little bit more awesome than you would if you had opted to use the term “maternal copulator.” And it’s not just us low brow internet comedians who bust out the language of the streets, oh no, Presidents crank out some winners too. In honor of Presidents Day (which is, ya know, not today) we bring you this list ranking some famous moments in presidential obscenities.

Jimmy Carter – “I’ll whip his ass”

Jimmy Carter is mostly famous these days for his brand of delicious sausages if our research is correct. But back in the day your grandparents elected him President, and apparently he sucked at it. How bad did he suck? His idea of swearing was saying he’d whip Edward Kennedy’s ass. Back to the sausage factory for you, Jimmy.

George Bush – “[G]et Hezbollah to stop doing this shit”

This snippet was taken from a conversation with British Prime minister Tony Blair, who was like the European version of George Bush but he sounded much smarter because of his accent. Anyway, they managed to crack the nut that was the Middle East with this one, suggesting that if Syria could just get Hezbollah to sop doing shit, then, ya know, awesome. Let’s have a Pabst!

Bill Clinton – “I don’t think I should take any shit from anybody about that, do you?”

Bill Clinton banged a chick while he was in office so I don’t know that his foul mouth really needs to be addressed in any way, but if you read this (or just listen to the audio) in Clinton’s voice, it’s a lot funnier. Even better if you read it in a parody of his voice, like from Family Guy. It’s a quote that he dropped when not realizing his mic was still on, which is where some of the best quotes seem to come from these days

JFK – “This is obviously a f*ck up.”

Kennedy was a pretty classy guy and his legend precedes him since his untimely death. This dude did Marilyn Monroe. In modern standards, this is like finding out Obama banged Scarlett Johansson, Kim Kardashian and Sofia Vergara at the same time. So while simply tossing out f*ck up” seems weak, the fact it was the topper to an angry phone call about being screwed on furniture makes it kind of awesome.

Obama Swears Like a Stevedore

It’s hard to pick just one quote from Obama’s book to highlight since all of them are pretty colorful in a Chris Rock sort of way. Most of them are him quoting someone else but it’s still good to know that Obama could handle a night on stage at the Apollo.

LBJ – “I may not know much, but I do know the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad.”

Lyndon Johnson, possibly due to having a name that sounded so much like Linda, developed a bit of a knack for cussing. This quote, proving it would be safe to eat a sandwich Johnson had made, was in relation to a Richard Nixon speech and his inevitable downfall. This makes it awesome in two ways; first for being accurate and second for comparing chicken salad to chicken shit.

LBJ – “The crotch, down where your nuts hang, is always a little too tight.”

Yeah, LBJ just keeps going. This quote came from aphone call at the White House, because they always recorded calls at the White House. Was it in a tense political discussion? A call to an advisor? Ordering pizza? Close, it was LBJ ordering new pants. In his lengthy request he also asks that they let out his ass a little and include some extra fabric since his weight changes about 10-15 pounds every month. Plus, you know, he needs more room for his nuts. How much room? The exact quote involved leaving an inch from where the zipper ends to the back of his bung hole. No lie, have a listen.

LBJ – “F*ck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fellows continue itching the elephant they may just get whacked by the elephant’s trunk, whacked good.”

The king of presidential cussing is, once again, in the capable hands of LBJ. You can tell this man never thought he’d ever be president; he was a latter day Dick Cheney and had just as much grace.

This fun quote was delivered to a Greek ambassador who apparently didn’t understand foreign relations and needed a succinct crash course in how America handles things abroad. Presidents probably wouldn’t say this today but you know George Bush thought something like this at least once, though arguably in his head there was a lot more snickering.

Still, for saying this out loud, to another person, from another country, in an actual work setting, LBJ takes the gold for Presidential cussing. You were one crazy song of a bitch LBJ. Shit yeah.

Enough of Shyness with Israel

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India promises to be fruitful, and one that can bring the two countries closer than ever before. The significance of his visit should be seen in the context of India’s vote at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last month, where India voted against the US government’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and thereby against Israel.

India’s vote came as a shock to some foreign policy analysts and they were apprehensive about the future of Indo-Israeli relations. But these apprehensions were put aside by New Delhi’s skillful diplomacy which made Israel realise that India’s vote at the UNGA doesn’t mean that India cares any less for Israel and India-Israeli friendship.

Netanyahu’s visit will strengthen the growing strength and closeness between India and Israel in trade and security, with the two prime ministers expected to talk specifically on issues related to water technology, agriculture, energy, IT and defence. A total of 130 businesspersons from Israel are expected to accompany Netanyahu for trade talks.

Culture is more than just a great facilitator of friendship between countries. The Israeli PM will visit Mumbai on January 18 to attend a special event, ‘Shalom Bollywood’, where the who’s who of the Hindi film industry are expected. The idea of holding such a gala event is to improve cultural and business ties with Israel in the global entertainment market.

But before that, tomorrow (on January 16) Modi and Netanyahu will also be speaking at the inaugural session of Third Annual Raisina Dialogue, India’s premiere foreign policy conference. This will be the first time that a foreign head of government will be speaking at this forum.

Facts and figures aside, this is a milestone where the two powers can come together and become each other’s allies in the longer run. Today, India needs ‘all-weather’ allies more than ever before. With Russia seemingly on a slow drift away from India, there is genuine concern among international relations observers that India might be losing its time-and-tested friend Russia due to New Delhi’s growing proximity with countries like the United States and its decision to join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or ‘Quad’, the informal strategic dialogue platform for the US, Japan, Australia and India that was initiated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007 and supported by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Israel could prove to be more than just an ‘ally’. This demands ‘reciprocity’ and, therefore, forward momentum in the Indo-Israeli relations. This bears special relevance in the aftermath of India’s recent UNGA vote on Jerusalem, and the cancellation of the $500-million deal to purchase 1,600 Spike anti-tank guided missiles from Israeli stateowned Rafael Advanced Defence System earlier this month.

Israel has arguably shown its willingness to be India’s ally more than the other way around. New Delhi’s Israel policy since 1947 bears to this view. It was under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was the first Indian PM to invite his Israeli counterpart (Ariel Sharon), that a thaw took place. The closeness further developed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accepting the Israeli proposal for a free-trade agreement in 2010. The two countries were, of course, brought closer in the tragedy of the Pakistani terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008.

Under PM Modi, this growing closeness has — despite a few realpolitikrelated hiccups — picked up momentum. A section of political commentators critical of this growing friendship need to look at it from beyond the filter of India-Palestine and Israel-Palestine relations. The two can be — and should be — seen as being mutually exclusive. The way India has chosen to look beyond Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan Walid Abu Ali sharing the stage with Lashkar-e-Taiba chief and Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed.Israel understands this. Now with Netanyahu’s visit that some thought would be ‘cancelled’ after the UNGA vote, India needs to show that it also understands it.

How Credible Are the Words of Trudeau

Let’s start with the obvious: politicians have virtually destroyed language as a means of honest communication.
Everyone who writes for politicians shares genes with Stephen Miller and Kellyanne Conway. Twitter, at least, tends to keep their lies short.
Still, language remains the favorite tool of politicians and their minions to manipulate and control — the new working definition of democracy for the ones running the show.
Left or right, they’ve all delivered the same Humpty Dumpty message to the masses: words mean only what the pols need them to mean — which explains why they change so much. They don’t have to keep their word. They just have to update it from time to time.
President Bill Clinton tried to deny having had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky by parsing the meaning of “is.” President Donald Trump says the “wall” along the Mexican border might just be a fence, or nothing at all because of mountains and rivers and “other things.”
As for Mexico paying for the wall … he doesn’t really talk about that these days. During the election campaign, that line did more than any other to whip up the bloodlust of Trump supporters at those sweaty political rallies with the Nuremburg production values.
Canada is not immune from the politically-driven destruction of language. Remember candidate Justin Trudeau saying that 2015 would be the last election run under the first-past-the-post system?
Remember how Trudeau claimed that he hadn’t placed himself in a conflict-of-interest by flying off to a billionaire’s island for a holiday because he thinks of his prime ministerial role in such encounters as largely “ceremonial”? In other words, our current PM thinks the heavy lifting of government is better left to others. He may be right.
When Trudeau describes himself as a climate-change warrior even after telling a bunch of Texas oil men that “no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there,” that’s the English language crying out in pain. (Dirty oil, Justin. What if it had been coal?)
Which brings me to the spear-end of my point. For the umpteenth time, the Trudeau government is attempting to hit the reset button — trying to make good on what voters thought they were getting in the first place when they saddled up the Shiny Pony.
The latest makeover was initiated by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in an essay in The Economist. In it, Freeland declares that the federal government is about to embark on a course of what she called “progressive internationalism,” a way of capitalizing on rising nationalism and protectionism.
The more amorphous the language, the less it means. The great poet William Carlos Williams said it well: “No ideas but in things.” Progressive internationalism could mean just about anything. Give it to us in plain language, Chrystia.
The Trudeau government is facing a moment of truth. Will it lead, as Trudeau promised during the 2015 election? Or will it merely muddle along?
Freeland probably would claim she already has. She does say it means a two-track (why is it always a two track?) approach. Track one is international affairs, where Canada will champion human rights, immigration and freer trade. Track two will be the domestic pursuit of tax reform and improved labour standards. (I wonder if that means no more Timbits at cabinet meetings.)
Because I respect Minister Freeland’s intellect, and because Trudeau undoubtedly gave Canada hope again after the Harper Dark Ages, I will give both politicians the benefit of the doubt. Let’s see what they do. Because they have a lot of lost ground to make up.
On the foreign affairs front, Canada’s reputation is not much better than it was under Harper, except on the Glamour Index. From our recent no-show at the UN over Trump’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem to our dreadful silence over his nuclear sabre-rattling with North Korea, it’s getting hard to keep claiming that Canada is “back”. In fact, Canada has fallen curiously silent.
Even on the very things Freeland mentions, any new initiatives must begin with significant damage control. Just a year ago, Trudeau flashed the peace sign on Twitter under the hashtag ‘Welcome to Canada’. His message was aimed at those Muslims who were victims of Trump’s immigration crackdown. “Regardless of your religion,” Trudeau tweeted, “diversity is our strength.”
Compare that to the Trudeau government’s message to 200,000 Salvadorans who are about to lose their Temporary Protected Status in Trumpland. They are not refugees — they are victims of two massive earthquakes in 2001. But they’re still facing summary deportation back to El Salvador — a humanitarian disaster in the making.
Nevertheless, Trudeau has pulled the welcome mat out from under these people, who have enjoyed humanitarian protection in the U.S. for ten years — until it was removed by the Department of Homeland Security. One newspaper described Trudeau’s message to Salvadorans about to lose their homes with this headline: “Please don’t come here.” Haitians will understand the cold shoulder.
If Freeland truly wants to make progress on Canada’s reputation for human rights, I have the perfect place to start: Saudi Arabia and its genocidal war in Yemen, which the UN has called “absurd and futile.” Just last month, Saudi-led airstrikes killed 68 civilians in a single day.
Why is Canada selling massive amounts of military equipment to the Saudis, who are not only slaughtering their neighbors in Yemen, but repressing their own people at home?
As CBC commentator Neil Macdonald pointed out last August, the explanation given by the Saudi embassy — that it is using Canadian equipment to fight terrorists — is beyond grotesque. The 47 per cent surge in Canadian military exports to the Saudis happened in 2016, on the Trudeau government’s watch.
It is noteworthy that some of the munitions shipped to the Saudis have been described by their Canadian manufacturers as “riot control agents.” Not too many riots in Yemen, just bodies to bury. Just before Christmas, a dreadful threshold was crossed there: one million cases of cholera.
Freeland also could do wonders for Canada’s perceived commitment to human rights by not being so tight with foreign aid for development. According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Canada was the only G7 country whose level of development assistance has actually declined.
Stuart Hickox is the Canada director at ONE Campaign, an international anti-poverty initiative. Here’s how he read the 5.2 per cent drop in Canadian development aid: “What the data shows is that while the rest of the G7 was investing more in development, Canada was investing less. At this moment, with all that’s going on in the world and Canada assuming the G7 presidency, frankly, it’s disappointing. It erodes our moral standing and undermines our political leverage at what should be a moment of strength for us.”
The Trudeau government is facing a moment of truth. Will it lead, as Trudeau promised during the 2015 election? Or will it merely muddle along?
Justin Trudeau promised we’d see the rubber hit the road under his government. Still waiting.