July 30, 2006

U.S. Is Bankrupt and This Is One Way That Counts

That's the question that's been bouncing around since economist Laurence J. Kotlikoff posed it in a paper for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in the current issue of its Review journal. Kotlikoff's thesis brings to mind images of the U.S. edifice teetering, like General Motors Corp., or imploding, like Enron Corp.

The bankruptcy thought is reverberating in envious Europe, since it fits in with the continent's preconceptions. The U.K.'s Daily Telegraph hyped the idea with the headline, ``U.S. `Could Be Going Bankrupt.'''

Kotlikoff's comparison of the U.S. to a failing company is too interesting to dismiss out of hand. The place to start is with the books, beginning with the liabilities.

So Big and Healthy Grandpa Wouldn't Even Know You

Valentin Keller enlisted in an all-German unit of the Union Army in Hamilton, Ohio, in 1862. He was 26, a small, slender man, 5 feet 4 inches tall, who had just become a naturalized citizen. He listed his occupation as tailor.

A year later, Keller was honorably discharged, sick and broken. He had a lung ailment and was so crippled from arthritis in his hips that he could barely walk.

His pension record tells of his suffering. “His rheumatism is so that he is unable to walk without the aid of crutches and then only with great pain,” it says. His lungs and his joints never got better, and Keller never worked again.

He died at age 41 of “dropsy,” which probably meant that he had congestive heart failure, a condition not associated with his time in the Army. His 39-year-old wife, Otilia, died a month before him of what her death certificate said was “exhaustion.”

People of Valentin Keller’s era, like those before and after them, expected to develop chronic diseases by their 40’s or 50’s. Keller’s descendants had lung problems, they had heart problems, they had liver problems. They died in their 50’s or 60’s.


Secularists try to rationalise terrorism

Why do Muslims feel the system is biased against them? Our society is divided into so many sections and everybody is angry about something or the other. Even a Dalit is angry about the way he’s treated. Why doesn’t he react in the same fashion?
A Hindutva Supporter
Igrew up in a small town in Mayurbhanj district of Orissa. After completing my school and college education there, I moved to Delhi. Mine was a typically apolitical, middle-class family. No one had ever been a member or actively supported any particular political party — they used to vote for Congress and later shifted to Biju Patnaik’s party.
As a schoolboy, I did not have any political leanings. But in class XI, I started attending RSS shakhas, simply because it was the ‘in’ thing and all my friends had joined. It was basically a reaction to the Emergency and since the ban had just been lifted, we were looking for an alternative ideology to the Congress.
When I joined JNU for my post-graduation in the ’80s, there was no ABVP on the campus. Communism seemed attractive for a while. I appreciated their discipline, commitment and anti-imperialist views. But that was then. The Nehruvian concept of secular India has become irrelevant now. Today, I am totally disillusioned by the so-called secularists and Leftists. I am all for Hindutva.
It angers me when secularists try to look for a cause and rationalise every terrorist act. Terrorism is terrorism, it cannot be condoned. They try to link the Mumbai blasts of 1993 to the Babri Masjid demolition and 7/11 to Gujarat. By doing this, they justify the acts of terrorists.
Minority appeasement policies of various political parties are the root cause of a lot of our problems. This has only harmed minorities (read Muslims), since they have not been able to integrate into the mainstream. Thanks to these policies, terrorists feel they can get away with anything. We come across as a soft state.
Theologically, there is a fundamental difference between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslims have problems of co-existence with most other communities. Examples abound all across the world: look at Indonesia, Bangladesh, Philippines, Pakistan. In Bangladesh, there is a systematic attack on symbols of Hinduism. All over the world, Hindus are considered moderate and accommodating people. If secularism and democracy has survived in India, it is only because of us.
Unfortunately, the voice of the moderate Muslim is not loud enough to be heard by even their own community. Their protests don’t seem to matter to anyone. No wonder it is the extremists’ leaders who have become politically relevant now. And why do they feel the system is biased against them?
Our society is divided into so many sections based on caste, ethnicity, state, and everybody is angry about something or the other. They don’t resort to violence to show their angst. Even a Dalit is angry about how he’s treated; why doesn’t he react the same way? Many houseowners may not be willing to rent out their premises to a Bihari, so why is it that only a Muslim feels victimised?
Can minorities in any other country behave in this fashion and get away with it? What happened in Gujarat was a response of the majority community to certain actions. If the majority does not react all the time, it comes across as soft. The message had to go across: every action can have an equal reaction.
— These are the views of a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, who spoke to Sujata Dutta Sachdeva.

Terror Trail on the Bangladesh Border

The detention of 11 persons from Maharashtra in Tripura after 7/11 has put the focus on the porous Bangla border. As evidence of rebel-ultra links grows, Sunday Times looks at a new terror corridor in N-E

By Keshav Pradhan /TNN

Malaya is a tiny frontier village, about 145 km north-east of Agartala, in West Tripura district. It overlooks the expanse of paddy fields in Bangladesh’s Moulvibazar district, which is a stronghold of jailed terror kingpin Aziz-ur-Rahman alias Banglabhai. Malaya may be Marxistdominated, but it is here that 11 Tabliq-i-Jamaat activists from Maharashtra were detained on July 13, to verify if they had any links with the blasts on Mumbai’s trains that killed about 180 people this month.

Their interrogation did not reveal anything objectionable, but it brought to light the absence of a strategy to counter the danger of Tripura turning into a terror conduit. Tripura shares a 856-km long border with Bangladesh, but only 608 km of that is fenced with wire, and that too in patches. In fact, it’s easier to walk into Bangladesh from Tripura than travel to Assam by car.


There’s enough evidence of crossborder links. There has reportedly been a rise in the number of international telephone calls in the frontier areas since the arrival of the 11 activists — from 54 calls in May and June, it rose to 70 in July in the Kamlapur-Mohanpur belt alone. Police claim that most of the calls were made to Bangladesh and Gulf nations. ‘‘There’s no way we can keep any track of calls made through Bangladesh’s Gramin phone which functions in our border districts,’’ says a police official based in Ambasa in Dhalai district. However, Tripura’s Jamiat Ulama (Hind) chief Mufti Tayebur Rahman sees no reason why the authorities should look at minorities with suspicion. He says, ‘‘We fought against Partition. We will hand over anybody who works against our country.’’

That is easier said than done. The tiny state is brutal territory. A journey along national highway 44, Tripura’s only link to the rest of the country, is dangerous and cumbersome. Much of this route zigzags through hills and lowlands that are ravaged by rebels who want Tripura’s ‘‘independence’’. Movement of civilian vehicles without police escort is prohibited. In a day, only three convoys, each with 200 to 300 vehicles, are allowed between 7.30 am and 2.30 pm.

Vehicles assemble at Chakmaghat, 45 km north-east of Agartala, to form the convoys. CRPF jeeps, equipped with light machineguns, lead them slowly along the 90-km stretch to Manu near the Assam border. Heavily armed CRPF, Assam Rifles and Tripura State Rifles men guard every bend of the highway.


Tripura’s villages have seen riots, massacres and ambushes by outfits like Tribal National Volunteers, National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tigers Front (ATTF). While TNV is defunct, the other two are active and operate from Bangladeshi districts. ‘‘Tripura desperately needs special attention,’’ says state director-general of police G M Srivastav.

Says Dhanonjoy Reang, who founded NLFT in 1989, ‘‘We had our training in a foreign country. But I cannot tell you where.’’ The 48-year-old Baptist Christian surrendered along with 154 guerrillas in December 1991. Now head of Tripura Resurrection Army, he is preparing to begin a fast-untodeath to press for fulfilment of promises made by the state government at the time of the surrender. He says, ‘‘People take up arms only when they suffer from a strong sense of deprivation.’’


Security agencies say ATTF and NLFT have been conducting arms training camps at Satcherri (Habiganj district), Dalubari and Khasipunja (Moulvibazar district), Wadukpara, Sankachari, Panchari and Lowlang (Khagrachari district), Sylhet and Tarabon in Chittagong Hill Tracts, all in Bangladesh.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and United National Liberation Front (two Manipuri rebel outfits), the Hyniewtrep National Liberation Council, a Khasi outfit, and National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), also use Tripura as a passage to Bangladesh. The ATTF has ties with PLA and the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), while NLFT has links with NSCN and UNLF. Ulfa chief Paresh Baruah and NLFT chairman Bishwamohan Debbarma are believed to be holed up in Bangladesh.

Authorities fear that the rising tide of fundamentalism in Bangladesh might spill over into the minority-dominated frontier areas of Tripura and Assam’s Barak valley. They say many religious organisations in Bangladesh get funds from Gulf countries. ‘‘With western powers breathing down Pervez Musharraf ’s neck, the chances of ISI promoting Bangladesh-based anti-India elements are high,’’ says a Border Security Force official. ‘‘There is evidence of India’s underground rebels getting closer to Bangladeshi fundamentalists. This is the only way they can fulfil each others’ interests,’’ he adds.

July 27, 2006

Only 15% BE students job-fit

By Mathang Seshagiri/TNN

Bangalore: Raising serious doubts over the employability of engineering graduates in the state, results of the first-ever skills assessment test carried out by the Visvesvaraya Technological University and Meri-Trac showed that only 15% of students were fit to be employed.
Of the 4,400 final-year BE students from 89 colleges who took the skill assessment test in the first phase, only 39% of them could match the selection criteria in verbal ability. About 50% of the candidates failed the English communication test.
In all, only 29% met the selection criteria in all sections of the abilities test.
“As this is the first of such exercises, the results are very encouraging. There aren’t any non-bridgeable gaps. In fact, by introducing auxiliary courses in communication skills and English we could improve the employability of students. There’s a need for greater awareness and exposure among students on what the industry expects of them,’’ said Madan Padki, co-founder, MeriTrac, which designed the test based on industry expectations.
On the positive side, 63% of the candidates passed the analytical abilities test while 83% sailed through the attention to detail test. The conversion rate was better among Bangalore colleges (30%) when compared with colleges which is at 13%.
As a remedial measure, VTU has made Functional English a mandatory subject for BE students and is also beaming classes on soft skills via Edusat. “If you look at the results closely, you will see that students have done exceedingly well in terms of analytical skills and attention to detail. Verbal communication and English are the low areas. This is largely because 50% of the students come from rural areas where the medium of instruction is vernacular. We plan to set up language labs in all colleges from next year to focus on communication skills,’’ VTU vice-chancellor Balaveera Reddy said.
VTU will hold a job mela on July 30-31 for 1,000 candidates who have cleared the test. “Seven companies including Accenture, Tesco and SAP Labs, are looking to hire 600 graduates during the mela,’’ said Padki.

Annan's crooked finger

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan betrayed his apolitical guise yesterday, as was manifest by his preposterous allegation that an Israeli attack on a U.N. post in southern Lebanon was "apparently deliberate." Mr. Annan knows full well that Israel would never, even if it suited its interests, deliberately attack U.N. personnel or other innocents -- not when the entire world is waiting to unleash its righteous indignation against any perceived "disproportionate" Israeli response to ongoing Hezbollah terror.
    Most tellingly, Mr. Annan's comments did not come during an impromptu press conference with reporters, where any number of silly things are often mistakenly said. Rather, they came via a prepared statement, released by Mr. Annan's Rome office, meaning, the secretary-general had ample time to consider his words. That being the case, perhaps Mr. Annan's intent was to increase pressure on Israel to accept terms of a ceasefire, especially since he later called for participants in a Middle East conference to push for an immediate halt to hostilities. Regardless, that his first instinct was to blame Israel seems to have lifted the curtain on Mr. Annan's pre-existing prejudices against Israel.
    The curious part is that if anyone -- aside from Hezbollah -- should be blamed for the deaths of the four U.N. observers, it's the secretary-general himself. The purpose of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, is primarily to support the Lebanese government's re-establishment of authority in the area. Judging by Hezbollah's re-entrenchment of southern Lebanon over the last few years, UNIFIL seems to have utterly failed in that mission. But since the start of the current hostilities, UNIFIL personnel have been acting as humanitarian agents, mostly shuttling Lebanese out of targeted areas. At times, UNIFIL has even coordinated its evacuation efforts with Israel to ensure that the Israeli military is aware of the location of a U.N. convoy.
    Nevertheless, U.N. posts near Hezbollah targets have been accidentally hit or caught between small-arms fire, and several U.N. workers have been wounded. Despite this, according to a July 23 UNIFIL press report, "All UNIFIL positions in the area of operation remain permanently occupied." Mr. Annan surely knew this, yet he elected to keep his workers in the middle of a war zone and surrounded by Hezbollah anyway. As they say, it was only a matter of time.
    This all makes Mr. Annan's accusation even more despicable. Alas, in the salons of Turtle Bay, blaming Israel remains very much in vogue.


July 26, 2006

The Cuban Solution

For some reason, I was incredulous when I read the first para of this article. American citizens not being able to afford medical school in the US? You gotta be kidding, right? There are some thoughts that come to mind when reading this article-
there is something rotten in the state of america when aspiring and talented medical students cannot afford school. For crying out loud, this is america. (1)States should provide atleast 80 % of the funding in the form of pell grants or loans(that can be forgiven if they later serve in impoverished areas). The remaining 20 % can be in the form of scholarships. People are readily willing to put up 20% scholarships if they know that the student will not be financially burdened for the remaining time.
I know for a fact that the US armed forces is a very generous employer. After you complete medical school, work for the forces for 5 years and all your loans are taken care of. For students with 200,000 $ loans, this is a god-sent. After 5 years in the army, they can now contribute to whatever community they want.
Doctors are not poorly paid in the US. The only solution to this is make loans on easier terms to medical students. See (1).
Make medical school less of a torture. In India, medical school is 5 years of MBBS and then 2 years of MD and maybe 2 years of speciality. Instead in the US, you need to have a bachelors degree to even apply to medical school. Very unappetizing.
There is a growing trend in India for medical students to go to China(search for article of kerala medical students going to china in the times of india), east europe, russia for medical studies. The fees is far less than what they would have to pay in India and admissions are far easier. Due to the unholy politics of reservations, admissions to medical colleges is far far tougher than necessary. Many aspiring medical students have to pay 20,000-100,000 $(not a typo) for admissions to good medical colleges. Medical education needs to be rationalized, in India and the US.


July 22, 2006

Science needs oxygen urgently: CNR Rao

Bureaucracy Is Unbearable, Research At An All-Time Low
By Seethalakshmi S & Mathang Seshagiri/TNN
Bangalore: Science in India is on its deathbed. Sounding this red alert is none less than Prime Minister’s scientific adviser C N R Rao.
An angry Rao has shot off a letter to PM Manmohan Singh highlighting the threat faced by the fragile structure of science in the country. Indian science will be finished in the next five years. Our universities have dried up. There are only a handful of scientists left. Even the smaller countries such as Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have overtaken us. India's position as a potential leader will soon be in question if the present situation continues, Rao told The Times of India.
At the last meeting of the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (SAC-PM), the 30-member group apprised Manmohan Singh on the grim situation. I am really worried. I am saddened that the best of us in government and public affairs may only consider science as a budget item, possibly as a non-productive expenditure. I am writing this, as a warning..., Rao has said in his five-page note to the PM, copy of which is available with TOI.
Stating that India's performance in basic sciences has come down markedly both in terms of percentage of continuation to world science and percentage of high quality research papers, he said: While China contributes 12% to world science, India lags behind with a mere 3%. The decreasing number of high impact papers from India, which is less than 1% is of serious concern. Terming the bureaucracy as unbearable, Rao said: We cannot have the department of personnel in Delhi deciding on who is a good scientist or who is able to head an institution. Why not set up a separate parallel mechanism for scientific and higher educational institutions?
The scene, he said, is grim on the research front too. The research contribution from universities is hitting an all-time low. Universities are unable to perform and compete. What specially causes concern is that even our top institiutions are not performing well in terms of research papers and the number of research students they train.
He said: Science in India is only a lip-sympathy. Our investments in science are pathetic. Today we spend only .85% of the GDP on science.
Summing up Rao has said: The suggestions made here (in the letter) are to be taken seriously, if India has to be a leader in Science. They may be ignored only at the cost of becoming a mediocre or a marginal performer.
The alarm bell
Singapore invests more in science than IndiaScience is only a lip-sympathy and another budget item for bureaucracyUniversities are drying up as research has hit an all-time low.
The pill
Make science as a career more attractive to the young.Increase investment in science significantly. Hike funding for research and funding courses.Lift restrictions on recruitment of scientists and teachers. Increase retirement age for good scientists and engineers up to 65.Set up autonomous research foundation.

July 15, 2006

How To Kill A Glacier

Gomukh, the source of the Ganga, teeters on the verge of ecological disaster, due to insensitive visitors, greedy locals and an indifferent state government
THE FINAL DESTINATION: Visitors throng Gomukh
Every year in from April to July, over one lakh visitors trek 20 km along the Ganga to reach at 14,000 feet above sea level, the Gomukh glacier, the source of one of India's mightiest rivers. Against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks, Gomukh has offered both spiritual and visual sustenance to travellers of all kinds down the ages-be it the common pilgrim, the trekker or the kanwaria who arrives after journeying hundreds of miles on foot carrying pitchers of water on his shoulders.

However, Gomukh is today facing a threat to its existence because of ecological assault by insensitive visitors and greedy locals. What has aggravated the situation is the negligence by the Uttaranchal government in terms of steps to protect Gomukh's ecology.

The signs of degradation are everywhere: what used to be a memorable trek through bhoj (birch) forests is now a trudge through a treeless landscape. Bhojwasa, five km before Gomukh, has lost the tree that gave it its name. The locals use the bhoj timber as fuel, despite a government ban, and trekkers use its branches as walking sticks. With no public toilets along the trek, travellers simply use any place they can.

Dumping ground:
Garbage piling up along the Gangotri-Gomukh trek
With no stringent checks by the government, tent houses, sheds and ashrams have mushroomed along the trek, most of them dependent on fuel wood to run their business. Scattered on rocks around Gomukh are piles of old clothes. The kanwarias go by the dictates of superstition and discard their old clothes at the snout of the glacier after bathing in the holy river.

There is a snaking line of dhabas along the trek and their business comes accompanied by a mountain of empty plastic bottles and left-overs all piling up in an area that was declared a 'national park' two years ago.

The forest department allots dhabas on this trek, but does not monitor how they run their business, charging visitors three times the price for water and soft drinks."The rape of this shrine is gruesome and the neglect by the government in this regard is pathetic," says Prem Kumar, head priest of Gangotri temple.

VISITORS: Discard plastic bottles, left-overs and clothes without caring about the impact on the environment.
LOCALS: The precious bhoj (birch) tree timber is used as fuel. Bhojwasa, which once had bhoj forests, has almost lost the ancient tree.
To the region's conservationists, it feels like a losing battle, due to the government inaction and peculiar decision-making. Harshwanti Bisht, reader in the Economics Department of the Garhwal University has been working around Gomukh for the revival of the bhoj forests for more than a decade. Bisht started a nursery in Cheerbasa, 10 km before Gomukh and developed thousands of saplings, which were later planted in Bhojwasa. Curiously, the forest department has slapped a notice on her asking her to stop plantation and disband the nursery. Furious, Bisht sent a memorandum to the President and the Prime Minister of India. She said, "The government has no problem with the dhabas and the babas, who spread garbage. But I have been asked to stop plantation for no reason."

For the last eight years, the mother-daughter duo of Shanti Thakur and 20-year-old Kalpana has been campaigning against the use of plastic in the region and dumping of wastes in the river, but their efforts seem as futile as trying to stop the Ganga from flowing. On conducting personal checks of visitors' baggage, the Thakurs have recovered plastic bottles, liquor, meat, gas cylinders, and narcotics. As a 10-year-old, Kalpana staged street plays to warn the visitors against the use of plastics. Mother and daughter have often been threatened by local shopkeepers and businessmen who see the conservationists as harming their interests. And trees continue to be felled, garbage thrown into the Ganga and ashrams used as drug-dens. Thakur has even petitioned Chief Minister Narain Dutt Tewari. "Nothing has moved the government officials," she says. Her daughter spends substantial time with the local people educating them about environmental degradation, "I cannot compromise the life of my mother, river Ganga, for the sake of promoting tourism and religion," says Kalpana.

Om Prakash Bhatt, son of Chandi Prashad Bhatt-a Magsaysay Award winner for his works in the hills-had filed a PIL in the Allahabad High Court in 1999 for the protection of glaciers in the Himalayas, but to no avail. "It is shocking that the government is compromising with the flora and fauna of the state under the guise of promoting religio-adventure tourism," he says. Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to have scaled the Mount Everest, was critical of the lack of basic infrastructure and civic amenities in the region. "There should be a check on the number of visitors," Pal demanded. Though the Uttaranchal government in 2005 sought to put a check on the number of visitors to Gomukh by issuing permits, it failed to implement the order.

The glacier has already receded by 28 km and if the rate of retreat does not stop, it would one day disappear drying up the source of water for the Ganga, which will cause havoc in northern India.The only piece of news that the conservationists may welcome comes from Dr Ashwani Kumar Tangari, a senior glaciologist at the Remote Sensing Data Application Centre (RSAC) of the UP government. He believes that while it is true that the Himalayan glaciers are shrinking and retreating due to global warming, the rate of retreat has slowed down over the last four years. According to Tangari, there is a possibility that the region is re-entering a cooling era which could reverse the trend worrying glaciologists today. "The cooling era could result in advancement of the glaciers and heavy discharge of water from the snow-melt," said Tangari.

For the rest-both ecologists and visitors-the Gomukh trek seems unsustainable. Gangotri-Gomukh together form one of the Chardhams (four sacred sites) of Hindu pilgrimage. A majority of the pilgrims are old but there is no medical assistance available. Shanti Devi, a pilgrim from Madhya Pradesh, had to tend to her ill relative who lay in a dhaba for three days with no medical help. Porters charge the seriously ill Rs 5,000 to carry them back.

Trekking here is very dangerous. With the cracking of the glacier, the ice boulders keep caving in, sometimes killing visitors, particularly the kanwarias who walk up to the snout of the glacier to bathe. "Last year over a dozen kanwarias died." says an official of the base camp of the RSAC. A foreigner was also reportedly washed away after being trapped under the debris of the glacier.

"We cannot compromise with the life of the Ganga, for the sake of promoting tourism and religion." KALPANA THAKUR,
"The government has no problem with dhabas and babas, but ask us to stop plantation for no reason."

The path towards Gomukh is at some stages barely two feet wide, with a roaring Ganga rolling down in a deep gorge on the right and a rocky cliff on the left, from where gravel and big boulders can come tumbling down from a height of around 3,000 feet. There is no railing or fencing for pilgrims to hold on to. However the Public Works Department (PWD) has put some caution boards by way, it seems, of moral support. On the last 5 km-long stretch to Gomukh, where boulders function as the route, one of the boards says, "asuvidha ke liye khed hai" (sorry for the inconvenience).

With pressure mounting from every corner, the state government has finally constitued a committee comprising scientists, geologists and technical experts to submit a report on the retreat of glaciers in Uttaranchal and also to study its impact. But unless it moves faster, the situation may move beyond control soon.


July 14, 2006

The Jews Will Not Go Quietly Again

The Jews will not go quietly again. Joe McCain
Senator John McCain's brother on The Jews & Israel.

There is a lot of worry popping up in the media just now — "Can Israel Survive?" Don't worry about it. It relates to something that Palestinians, the Arabs, and perhaps most Americans don't realize — the Jews are never going quietly again. Never. And if the world doesn't come to understand that, then millions of Arabs are going to die. It's as simple as that.

Throughout the history of the world, the most abused, kicked-around race of people have been the Jews. Not just during the holocaust of World War II, but for thousands of years. They have truly been "The Chosen People" in a terrible and tragic sense.

The Bible story of Egypt's enslavement of the Jews is not just a story, it is history, if festooned with theological legend and heroic epics. In 70 A.D. the Romans, which had for a long time tolerated the Jews — even admired them as 'superior' to other vassals — tired of their truculent demands for independence and decided on an early "Solution" to the Jewish problem. Jerusalem was sacked and reduced to near rubble, Jewish resistance was pursued and crushed by the implacable Roman War Machine — see 'Masada'. And thus began The Diaspora, the dispersal of Jews throughout the rest of the world.

Terror is practised by local recruits

You don’t have to wait for intelligence agencies to release their trademark identikit pictures to know the faces behind Mumbai’s serial blast. Those fuzzy, looks-like-everyman sketches can’t tell you anything what Abdul Razzaq can. Or what Mohammed Waliullah can. Razzaq and Waliullah are not foreign mercenaries. They are from here. They are the faces of India’s very own homegrown jihadi network. They tell the story of how astonishingly unprepared our internal security establishment is, of how the UPA’s politics is not allowing a committed policy against terror.

Razzaq was trained by Lashkar-e-Toiba in Muzaffarabad last year. His mission was to target his country — India. He had decided however to take a detour: fight the Americans in Iraq first before going back to his native city, Hyderabad. His contribution to Iraqi insurgency — he fought near the Iraq-Iran border — over, he came back home and was picked up

Waliullah, a Phulpur cleric and a HUJI activist, is an accused in the March 7 Varanasi bomb blast case. When asked during interrogation why he bombed the Varanasi station apart from the Sankat Mochan temple, Waliullah replied the station architecture reminded him of a temple. But religious symbolism isn’t what grabs these jihadis most. They want the country they are citizens of to suffer, lose its bearings. Hence reports of LeT reconnaissance on the Ajmer Sharif dargah. Hence the bombs targeting Mumbai’s lifeline.

But the Intelligence establishment under the UPA is in denial. The comfortable theory about terrorism is that it is imported into this country. And that is still true. But the UPA, it seems, simply can’t accept that jihad now has a domestic manufacturing facility. Shivraj Patil wants us to think of boys gone astray. But his men have done little about massive recruitment by banned SIMI splinter groups, which head-hunt for jihadis by using Gujarat riots as a motivational tool.

more http://www.indianexpress.com/story/8366.html

Who needs a media cop?


New Delhi: Imagine a law where no single company can sell more than one variant of a soap brand or any other product or service. Since most marketers like to sell to a majority, all that consumers have, is duplication of the same variant, albeit with different brand names from different marketers. Moreover, no one company can sell its one soap brand variant across the country in keeping with the letter of this law (of preventing ‘national dominance’). Obviously, in such a case, consumers’ outcry will invariably result in the law being scrapped outright or least rewritten in favour of consumer choice.
   Incredulously, such a law is actually in the works in India for the media industry. And that too without much public debate or scrutiny, something that should be at the root of any pragmatic, practical and market-building policy making.
   In fact, as things stand, and in view of the country’s unique polity, multi-linguism and business realities, the very need for the proposed ‘The Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill, 2006,’ and specifically its anti-consumer and anti-choice restrictions on cross-media ownership is completely unfounded. And the Bill’s other much avowed, though rightly desired, objective of content regulation is anyway already addressable and totally enforceable through the existing Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, more so after a recent government fiat which makes it mandatory for even foreign channels beaming from satellites and facilities outside India to register in India.
   It’s important to understand not just the provisions of cross-media laws in some of the most developed, vibrant and pluralistic markets such as the USA, but also the genesis of these laws. Cross-media laws in the US were a result of big television channels controlling terrestrial networks and, therefore, the need to prevent their control over other media in newspapers and radio. In India, terrestrial television is the sole monopoly of the government with Prasar Bharati running terrestrial television in Doordarshan.
   Moreover, India is not a land of one language. We have over 15 official languages with hundreds of dialects, as you move from one region to another. Print media has a reach of over 200 million, compared to terrestrial TV’s 400 million and 220 million for cable & satellite TV. If anyone has a monopoly today, it is Prasar Bharati. No C&S TV channel in India commands an audience share greater than 20 %, let alone the 45% threshold prescribed in the US cross-media legislation.
   It is also pertinent to point out that India’s FM radio policy is irreconcilable to its stated objective of ensuring plurality of content. The illconceived caps on a radio company, both at the city (only one station) and the national level (not more than 15% share of all FM stations) has resulted in precisely the opposite effect on plurality of radio content. With the cap of running just one station per city, all FM stations understandably have gone after the general entertainment music genre, with the scenario of listeners getting Jhalak Dikh La Jaa across stations.
   Is this the kind of plurality of content the policy had aimed for?
   With news and views on radio being a monopoly of the government-run All India Radio, as also AIR’s monopoly over short-wave and mediumwave radio broadcast, the very talk of any one private FM player’s ‘dominance’ sounds ridiculous. In the name of pseudo-pluralism, the radio policy has ended
up resulting in colossal
waste of scare resource
such as spectrum, besides stifling the growth of muchneeded radio genres, something that would have benefited the public and enabled the stunted and loss-making private FM radio industry to flourish.
   In view of the medium’s easy and cheap accessibility to the masses, the policy’s anti-consumer and anti-market artificially-led caps should not only be revised (say in line with USA’s legislation), but big radio companies should be encouraged to take radio coverage more deeper and wider across the country. It is also important that ‘dominance’ needs to be read in the context of zones/cities and realistic audience share, much like 45 % in the US, and not number of stations as is the case.
   Take the newspaper market in India, for instance. Out of the 200 million-odd readers (as per the latest Indian Readership Survey), English language readership itself is merely 22 million, just about 10% of the total print readership and perhaps just about 1% of the total population of India. In fact there is no pan-Indian media company, unlike big hotel chains or an FMCG company. There is no media equivalent of say a Coke, Pepsi or Mc-Donalds’ with one-product national footprint. Each city in India has a unique culture and has supported its own media. Our culture and its alchemy guards against dominance of any one company.
   NDTV is a popular TV news channel commanding 3% of news viewership in cable homes and just 2% in all television homes. Likewise, Aaj Tak is a popular Hindi language news channel with a news viewership share of 15% in cable homes and 12% in all television homes. The government-controlled Doordarshan News on the other hand commands 25% of news viewership amongst all television homes. We need to note here that the combined viewership of NDTV and Aaj Tak in all television homes is just about half of DD News. Given the fact that terrestrial broadcasting ownership rests with the government, no private television channel can ever become dominant.
   The government currently has control over just newspapers, radio and television channels, and this in the age where the role of new media — internet, mobile, interactive media — is becoming critical. The government is still living in an old mindset and its recent attempts at pushing through an archaic cross-media law shows its inability to comprehend the media scenario in the wake of the birth of new media. Internet-based portals such as Yahoo and Google today hold more sway with more consumers in the USA compared to, say, a traditional media like The New York Times.
   In fact, today, internet portals have become both broadcasters (video-clips of news) as well as publishers of news & views. But with the rise and rise of blogging, consumers themselves are becoming publishers. According to a recent survey of 20,000 online users in India, as many as 86% are regular readers or contributors of blogs. Internet too has in-built anti-dominance features, so what is it that the government is anyway trying to achieve?
   The government’s intention of supporting plurality of media voices and preventing anyone’s control over this voice for the benefit of consumers is best served by supporting both old and new media. The government should not put spokes in the growth of old media, or mitigate the size and scale of media organisations. Most of all, it should not deny them their fundamental right of free speech or access to new media technologies.

Centre quietly buries Right to Education Bill

To Make Way For Arjun’s Quota In Elite Institutions

By Seethalakshmi S/TNN

Bangalore: What’s important? Sending 17 crore children to school or vote-bank politics? The latter, obviously.
   While it’s ready to pour funds in higher educational institutions to see that quota is implemented, the Centre is giving a quiet burial to the Right to Education Bill citing lack of funds. The Bill makes education a fundamental right for children in the 6-14 age group.
   Another ‘excuse’ for dropping the Bill is the private school lobby. Schools are opposing the Bill as it mandates that even private and elite schools reserve 25% seats for poor children. In fact, the sub-committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education which prepared the draft Bill held this provision as a significant prerequisite for creating a democratic and egalitarian society.
   In fact, even the Law Commission, which prepared an alternative draft Bill, said 50% of seats should be reserved for the poor in all schools, irrespective of management or financing. The principle behind this was to end the divide between the rich and the poor in the school system.
   Educationists refuse to swallow the reasons given by the government. “It’s intriguing because the government is ready to give funds to create additional places in higher education institutions to accommodate the reservation policy, but cities lack funds for elementary education. All in the name of equity and social justice,’’ R Govinda, senior fellow at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), Delhi, said. NIEPA prepared the financial memorandum for the Centre to implement the Bill.
   Agreed others. “Though it is the private school lobby which has pushed the Bill to the backburner, HRD minister Arjun Singh’s proposal to implement 27% quota in IIMs/IITs and other elite institutions has taken centrestage. The government has an excuse now,’’ sources said.
   Six years after the Constitution was amended to make education a fundamental right, the Centre will now send a model Bill to the states. They will be asked to make their own
Kill Bill

Parliament passed the 86th Constitution Amendment Act in 2002 to make education for children in the age-group of 6 to 14, a fundamental right.

Then NDA government prepared a draft central legislation to implement Constitution provision.
In 2004, UPA government discarded draft Bill and got Central Advisory Board of Education to prepare another Bill. This was to be tabled in Parliament.
The PM set up a Group of Ministers to look into feasibility of draft. GoM said implementing it would involve huge funds.
May 2006, Centre decides Bill will not be tabled and that a model Bill will be sent to all states.

Education Bill back with states

Bangalore: With the Centre quietly burying the Right to Education Bill, history is only repeating itself.
   In 1994, following the Unnikrishnan judgment, the Centre asked states to make education compulsory for children in the age group of 6 to 14. But the state governments, including Karnataka, threw up their hands saying implementing it would result in severe financial burden on the exchequer.
   “Putting it back in the state’s court is going to the 1994 situation. Since education is in the concurrent list, it is only appropriate that the Centre prepares at least a framework for implementation rather than handing out the entire responsibility to us. If states could do it, we would have done it in 1994 itself,” education department officials explained.
   What has angered educationists is the Centre’s skewed priorities. As senior fellow in NIEPA, R Govinda put it: “Having violated the principle of social justice for the first 12 years of the education ladder, is it not illogical to talk of social justice with respect to the minuscule proportion of students who compete for seats in engineering and medical colleges? Are we not talking of equity and social justice too late in the educational ladder?”
   “By sidelining the Bill, the government has made a mockery of the long-drawn and complicated exercise undertaken by CABE. By shirking its responsibility in preparing a central legislation, the government is violating the Constitution,” said V P Niranjanaradhya of the National Law School of India University, which is working towards universalisation of education.


* 50% children don’t stay in schools to complete even elementary cycle of education.

* Only 26% children in the relevant age group complete relevant schooling.

* Only 6 to 7% have access to higher education. Of this, only a negligible proportion become eligible to compete for professional courses.


The National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, Delhi, took up the task of preparing the finances to implement the Right to Education Bill. The additional financial requirement for free and compulsory education Bill from 2006-07 to 2011-12 as projected by NIEPA: Option 1: Rs 4.36 lakh crore. Option 2: Rs 3.93 lakh crore Option 3: Rs 3.46 lakh crore. Option 4: Rs 3.21 lakh crore.

July 12, 2006

China's Army Yawns at Pyongyang's Missiles

 After initially expressing “concern” over North Korea’s July 4th missile launches, China’s unwillingness to work towards serious sanctions on North Korea provides further proof that Beijing has little interest in restraining Pyongyang. What are we to make of the disconnect between Chinese rhetoric and action? In many ways, it reflects a disconnect between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—which almost certainly does not share any real concerns about North Korea’s missile provocations—and Chinese diplomats, who have largely been kept out of the loop. At the end of the day, Washington needs to face the fact that without any Chinese interest in disarming North Korea there is no viable solution to the North Korean nuclear problem.


The PLA’s Relationship with North Korea

Provocative missile launches are nothing new in the Asia-Pacific region. In March 1996, China recklessly test-fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait in an attempt to intimidate Taiwan’s voters in the run-up to their first-ever free presidential elections. That series of missile tests, which for several days virtually closed the heavily-traversed Taiwan Strait to all shipping and air travel, was the brain-child of the PLA and acquiesced to by then-President Jiang Zemin, who at the time had not yet consolidated his support among China’s military.[1]


Indeed, the real players in Beijing’s Korea policy are the PLA leadership. There is no doubt that the PLA is in close contact with its North Korean counterparts. Article IV of the July 11, 1961, military pact (the “Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance between the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”) obliges Korean People’s Army (KPA) commanders and top Chinese generals to “continue to consult . . . on all important international questions of common interests.” In return, China is to “render . . . every possible economic and technical aid in the cause of socialist construction” including “scientific and technical cooperation.”



July 11, 2006

Jain, Buffett Pupil, Boosts Berkshire Cash as Succession Looms

July 11 (Bloomberg) -- As Ajit Jain was departing McKinsey & Co. two decades ago, he told a colleague he'd be helping to oversee insurance at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. He said he knew little about the business, yet was unconcerned.

Jain placed ads in industry publications, offering to take on risk from corporations and insurers for $1 million or more in annual premiums. The cash he has amassed -- $1.7 billion a year on average since 1998 -- has helped make Jain a leading candidate among investors to be Buffett's successor.

``He said, `I think I'll take out some full-page ads that say, we'll consider any risk, send us your proposals,''' says the colleague, John Parker, now a principal at the Chicago consulting firm Katzenbach Partners LLC. ``It was so Buffett. Buffett basically built Berkshire by saying, `Send us your deals,' and then just answering the phone.''

Today, Jain, 54, speaks daily to Buffett, 75, Berkshire's chairman and chief executive officer. Buffett, the world's second-richest man, fueled succession interest by pledging June 25 to donate Berkshire shares valued at about $37 billion, or 85 percent of his stake in the company, to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and four family charities over time.

He said in March the board had planned for the possibility he may become incapacitated, choosing a successor from among three ``reasonably young'' top Berkshire executives.

July 8, 2006

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

June 17, 2006; Page A11

With Great Britain now the world's most violent developed country, the British government has hit upon a way to reduce the number of cases before the courts: Police have been instructed to let off with a caution burglars and those who admit responsibility for some 60 other crimes ranging from assault and arson to sex with an underage girl. That is, no jail time, no fine, no community service, no court appearance. It's cheap, quick, saves time and money, and best of all the offenders won't tax an already overcrowded jail system.

Not everyone will be treated so leniently. A new surveillance system promises to hunt down anyone exceeding the speed limit. Using excessive force against a burglar or mugger will earn you a conviction for assault or, if you seriously harm him, a long sentence. Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer jailed for killing one burglar and wounding another during the seventh break-in at his rural home, was denied parole because he posed a threat to burglars. The career burglar whom Mr. Martin wounded got out early.

Using a cap pistol, as an elderly woman did to scare off a gang of youths, will bring you to court for putting someone in fear. Recently, police tried to stop David Collinson from entering his burning home to rescue his asthmatic wife. He refused to obey and, brandishing a toy pistol, dashed into the blaze. Minutes later he returned with his wife and dog and apologized to the police. Not good enough. In April Mr. Collinson was sentenced to a year in prison for being aggressive towards the officers and brandishing the toy pistol. Still, at least he won't be sharing his cell with an arsonist or thief.

How did things come to a pass where law-abiding citizens are treated as criminals and criminals as victims? A giant step was the 1953 Prevention of Crime Act, making it illegal to carry any article for an offensive purpose; any item carried for self-defense was automatically an offensive weapon and the carrier is guilty until proven innocent. At the time a parliamentarian protested that "The object of a weapon was to assist weakness to cope with strength and it is this ability that the bill was framed to destroy." The government countered that the public should be discouraged "from going about with offensive weapons in their pockets; it is the duty of society to protect them."

The trouble is that society cannot and does not protect them. Yet successive governments have insisted protection be left to the professionals, meanwhile banning all sorts of weapons, from firearms to chemical sprays. They hope to add toy or replica guns to the list along with kitchen knives with points. Other legislation has limited self-defense to what seems reasonable to a court much later.

Although British governments insist upon sole responsibility for protecting individuals, for ideological and economic reasons they have adopted a lenient approach toward offenders. Because prisons are expensive and don't reform their residents, fewer offenders are incarcerated. Those who are get sharply reduced sentences, and serve just half of these. Still, with crime rates rising, prisons are overcrowded and additional jail space will not be available anytime soon. The public learned in April that among convicts released early to ease overcrowding were violent or sex offenders serving mandatory life sentences who were freed after as little as 15 months.

The government's duty to protect the public has been compromised by other economies. Police forces are smaller than those of America and Europe and have been consolidated, leaving 70% of English villages without a police presence. Police are so hard-pressed that the Humberside force announced in March they no longer investigate less serious crimes unless they are racist or homophobic. Among crimes not being investigated: theft, criminal damage, common assault, harassment and non-domestic burglary.

As for more serious crime, the unarmed police are wary of responding to an emergency where the offender is armed. The Thames Valley Police waited nearly seven hours to enter Julia Pemberton's home after she telephoned from the closet where she was hiding from her estranged and armed husband. They arrived once the danger to them had passed, but after those who had pleaded for their help were past all help.

To be fair, under the Blair government a host of actions have been initiated to bring about more convictions. At the end of its 2003 session Parliament repealed the 800-year-old guarantee against double jeopardy. Now anyone acquitted of a serious crime can be retried if "new and compelling evidence" is brought forward. Parliament tinkered with the definition of "new" to make that burden easier to meet. The test for "new" in these criminal cases, Lord Neill pointed out, will be lower than "is used habitually in civil cases. In a civil case, one would have to show that the new evidence was not reasonably available on the previous occasion. There is no such requirement here."

Parliament was so excited by the benefits of chucking the ancient prohibition that it extended the repeal of double jeopardy from murder to cases of rape, manslaughter, kidnapping, drug-trafficking and some 20 other serious crimes. For good measure it made the new act retroactive. Henceforth, no one who has been, or will be, tried and acquitted of a serious crime can feel confident he will not be tried again, and again.

To make the prosecutor's task still easier, he is now permitted to use hearsay evidence -- goodbye to confronting witnesses -- to introduce a defendant's prior record, and the number of jury trials is to be reduced. Still, the government has helped the homeowner by sponsoring a law "to prevent homeowners being sued by intruders who injure themselves while breaking in."

It may be crass to point out that the British people, stripped of their ability to protect themselves and of other ancient rights and left to the mercy of criminals, have gotten the worst of both worlds. Still, as one citizen, referring to the new policy of letting criminals off with a caution, suggested: "Perhaps it would be easier and safer for the honest citizens of the U.K. to move into the prisons and the criminals to be let out."

Ms. Malcolm is professor of history at Bentley College and author of, inter alia, "Guns and Violence: The English Experience" (Harvard University Press, 2002).

Savoring the American Dream

To be able to do what one likes and to savour barbecue all day, in word, heaven.

Just before 1 p.m. on a recent weekday, 17 people were standing in line at Bubba's Bar-B-Q in Falls Church waiting for their turn to stand under the "Please Order Here" sign and declare their barbecue wants and desires.

Stuffed potato with pulled pork was the No. 1 special on the board, which listed a couple of other features, including an Atkins diet special: pulled pork and either collard greens or green beans (no bread!).

Bubba was behind the counter. "Hello, young man, how are you. What can I get you?" he asked.

"Pulled pork," Bubba and the customer said at the same time.

"How did I know that?" Bubba said. "I must have ESPN." His customers laughed as if they were hearing the joke for the first time, which the regulars certainly were not. Bubba has a shtick to go with his Tennessee-style barbecue. He patted the counter. "This is my stage," he said. "I feel like Jerry Seinfeld."

Bubba, though, has little in common with Seinfeld. He is Hassan Khalili, 58, and was born in Iran. He served for four years as a lieutenant in the Iranian Air Force, where he first got the nickname Bubba as a term of endearment (the word for "father" is "baba" in Farsi).