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Syria: Accidental Diplomacy in the Devils’ Playground #mustread

Posted: 09/16/2013 5:46 pm

Iara Lee

Activist and filmmaker, huffingtonpost

It’s unfortunate that diplomacy has now become an accident of U.S. foreign policy. After John Kerry’s slip-of-the-tongue in London last week, warmongers in and outside the beltway are sulking at the idea that a peaceful solution might prevent them from going to war in another Middle Eastern country.

Washington politicians’ chagrin at the prospect of a peaceful resolution makes one thing very clear: they do not care about chemical weapons, they do not care about dead children, and they do not care about Syrians, period. If they did, they might have themselves put forth the fairly unimaginative proposal that Syria give up its stockpile of chemical weapons. They might have not helped to nurture the Islamist insurgency that has hijacked what was once a national struggle for democratic reforms. And they might have put their weight behind a peace plan before the death toll topped 100,000, with a third of the country now refugees from their own land.

Let’s also not forget that the U.S. has always had a love/hate relationship with chemical weapons, looking the other way when its former client, Saddam Hussein, gassed tens of thousands during the Iraq-Iran war (including 10,000 innocent Iraqi Kurds in Halabja); White House officials similarly ignored the use of white-phosphorous, an incendiary chemical weapon, by Israel in Gaza in 2008; and then of course there is their own use of depleted uranium during the Iraq invasion.

So what is motivating this policy of “If you don’t stop gassing civilians, we will bomb your civilians”? We keep hearing on cable news that if the U.S. doesn’t attack Syria, the Iranians may continue to work on their dramatically overhyped nuclear weapons program. But this is a rhetorical feint, meant to obscure a much more grim reality: that Syria is only an appetizer for a much more destructive campaign against Iran, initiated by Israel and destined to be executed by their praetorian American backers.

After all, most of the jihadist forces fighting the Syrian government are not better than the current, odious regime of Bashar Al-Assad, and the U.S. and Israel know it. And so what they strive for is not the downfall of Assad, but a state of perpetual chaos in Syria. This is perhaps why Alon Pinkas, former Israeli consul general in New York, was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.”

Humanitarian motives indeed. But threat to whom? Prior to the uprising, the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel, were rather quiet for some time. So perhaps the better question is, threat to what? Some may argue that what is “threatened” by a stable Syria is the plan to attack and destabilize the Assad regime’s Shia patrons in Iran, a nation which lives in the crosshairs of the United States and Israel, and whose leaders use the threat of foreign attack as justification for a militarist fundamentalism of their own.

Much like Obama, Vladimir Putin is not concerned with the loss of Syrian lives. His interests lie in the billions in arms agreements that his government has with Assad. The Gulf monarchies — Saudi Arabia and Qatar — along with Israel and the United States, are interested in alienating Iran. Each of these players continues to make a terrible situation worse by throwing more bombs and guns into the mix, splashing fuel onto a fire with one hand while shaking their sanctimonious fists with the other.

And so the geo-political power games continue, with indisputably bad people on every side surrounding average, innocent Syrians who live under constant threat of death from all parties involved. Back in 2012 I made a film to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees caught in the middle of what one little girl I spoke to referred to as a “soccer match,” with Syria as the ball. The title of that film, The Suffering Grasses, was taken from the following proverb: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” With over 100,000 dead and counting, and the entrance of the biggest elephant of all into the fray, this phrase couldn’t be more apt.

Given that ethical concerns are a low priority for the U.S., one would hope that rational self-interest might play some role in their decision-making when it comes to Syria. But the primary financial beneficiary of a U.S. strike on Syria (aside from the jihadists fighting Assad and the hemorrhage-happy Israelis next door) will be Russia. As oil prices invariably rise with a U.S. strike, Russia — the world’s largest exporter, along with Saudi Arabia — will be the first to profit from skyrocketing oil prices.

Then of course there are the direct costs of war. A single Tomahawk missile costs roughly $1.4 million. Experts have predicted that, putting together the costs of munitions, refueling, and keeping naval vessels within striking distance, even a “limited” cruise missile strike would end up costing U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Given the slow recovery from the 2008 financial meltdown, and another one likely on the horizon, one would think that American leaders would think twice about spending taxpayer money to assist an opposition that includes al Qaeda in its ranks.

The American people, scarred by lies and fatigued from wars that have profited them nothing, came out in massive opposition to Obama’s “punitive” bombing of Syria. It seems they are coming around to the idea that there is no such thing as a humanitarian bombing, and that such conditions for war bring only more war. They are beginning to recognize that, like the slaughtered innocents of Syria, they too are grass suffering under the weight of elephants.

In the end, accidental diplomacy is better than no diplomacy at all. So we must continue to put pressure on our elected officials to move in this direction and to use negotiations over chemical weapons as an opportunity to bring all the major stakeholders — the Assad regime, the opposition, the United States, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran — into further diplomacy that could end the civil war in Syria. Such intervention does not involve more weapons or bombings, but rather brings a framework for ending the violence and moving towards the peaceful democracy that the Syrian people rightly deserve.

To watch the trailer for The Suffering Grasses: When Elephants Fight, It Is the Grass That Suffers, click here.

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#India – Second Largest country after US, to seek 4,144 Facebook users’ details #Prism

Itika Sharma Punit,Bangalore  August 28, 2013, BS

Only 50% govt request, considered by social networking website. India second largest country after US in terms of total user requests sought

Indian government sought information about 4,144 users from popular social networking site Facebook during the first six months of the year making it the second largest country after United Statesin terms of the total number of details sought.

The government sent a total of 3,245 requests to Facebook between January and June of which 50% were complied with, the website said in its first transparency report which lists the number of requests received by the site from governments across the world.

United States, on the other hand, sent 11,000-12,000 requests seeking information on 20,000-21,000 users from Facebook.

While technology giant Google has been coming out with such transparency reports for the last couple of years, the revelations about the US government’s surveillance programme PRISM has prompted other tech firms such as Facebook to follow suit.

Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said in a statement that the company has stringent processes in place to handle all government data requests. “We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law, and require a detailed description of the legal and factual bases for each request.”

The company fights many of these requests, pushing back when there are legal deficiencies and narrows the scope of overly broad or vague requests, he added.

As per the report, Facebook received around 25,607 requests from 71 countries, seeking information about 37,954 users. The company also said, it often shares only basic user information, such as name, when it is required to comply with a particular request.

“As we have said many times, we believe that while governments have an important responsibility to keep people safe, it is possible to do so while also being transparent,” Stretch said. “We strongly encourage all governments to provide greater transparency about their efforts aimed at keeping the public safe, and we will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure,” he added.

Top five nations in terms of total requests sent

Country Total Requests User/Accounts requested % of requests were some data produced
United States 11,000-12,000 20,000-21,000 79.00%
India 3245 4144 50.00%
United Kingdom 1975 2337 68.00%
Germany 1886 2068 37.00%
Italy 1705 2306 53.00%
 Source: Facebook Global Government Requests Report

 

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#India – Whistle Blowers and the Public Interest

June 25, 2013

whistle

by M. V. Ramana

The bulk of development policies, justified in the ‘national interest’, actually diminish poor people’s ability to control and gainfully use natural resources. Every ‘national’ project is presented as beneficial for the masses even though it requires some poor people to surrender their land or their livelihood. While the ‘greater good of the nation’appears to be a laudable cause, it must appear suspicious to the rural poor who are consistently chosen, time and time again, to make all the sacrifices, while those more powerful reap the benefits. – Amita Baviskar, In the Belly of the River

There is a common message emanating from the centers of power in Washington, D.C. and New Delhi: Whistle blowing, or truth telling as the act may be more accurately described, is not a welcome activity. As I write this, officials in the United States are searching all over Hong Kong for Edward Snowden, the high school dropout, who revealed the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance programme. Proving its status as a loyal ally of the United States, the United Kingdom warned airlines not to fly Snowden to Britain. In the meanwhile, the trial of Bradley Manning, the most famous truth teller in the United States, started in Maryland, USA.

A much less celebrated truth teller was also in the Courts recently in New Delhi. Once upon a time, Manoj Mishrawas employed by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) at its Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS) in Gujarat and was the president of Kakrapar Unit Kendriya Sachivalaya Hindi Parishad. Before describing why this person was at the Supreme Court, a little bit of geography and history might be in order.

Kakrapar was originally considered as a potential site for a nuclear power plant in the 1960s but then rejected. The reason given then was that there was a large population within the exclusion area and the site was close to a major source of water used for drinking and cultivation (For more on the criteria used for reactor siting, see pp. 44-46 of The Power of Promise). In addition to the population, another problem with the Kakrapar site was that it was in a low-lying area, prone to flooding. This was of particular concern because the site was close to the Ukai Dam and it was conceivable that the whole reactor might get flooded.

In 1980, however, the Atomic Energy Commission announced that Kakrapar was to become the fifth nuclear power station and the two reactors there started commercial operations in 1993 and 1995. Of course, neither of the problems originally cited had changed. If anything, the population in the area had only increased, both naturally and because of various construction activities.Though some amount ofearth-fillingwas done to avoid flooding, things didn’t turn out so well.

The outlet from the turbine building of KAPS leads to an artificial lake called Moticher, which has gates to control the flow of water. On 15 and 16 June 1994, there were heavy rains in South Gujarat andthe water level of the lake began to rise. The ducts thatwere meant to let out water ended up becoming conduits for water to come in. And since there were no arrangements either for sealing cable trenches and valve pits, they too allowed water to enter. Water began entering the complex on the night of 15 June and by the next morning, there was water in the turbine building as well as other parts of the reactor complex. The workers inthe morning shift had to swim in chest-high water, and the control room was reportedly inaccessible for some time. Finally, a site emergency was declared and workers were evacuated.

By this time, another problem had become apparent. The gates that could control the flow of water into Moticher had not been well maintained, and so, mud had collected around them and they could not be opened. The KAPS management requested help from the district and state authorities, but that evidently didn’t help either. Fortunately, villagers from the area, who were worried about the security of their own homes, made a breach in the embankment of the lake that allowed the water to drain out. Finally, on 18 June, a large pump was brought to Kakrapar from Tarapur, and the work of removing the water from the turbine building began.

In the meanwhile, much of the equipment in the turbine building was submerged, including the water pumps used to cool the reactor core. Electrical power from the grid failed, and diesel generators had to be used. Fortunately, the reactor had been shutdown following the major fire at the Narora for inspection of turbine blades. The floodwater carried away canisters of radioactive waste, and it is not clear if they were ever recovered or if any of them released its contents into the waters.

This is where Manoj Mishra comes in. NPCIL officials evidently did not bother to inform members of the public about what happened. The way the public got to know anything about the damage at KAPS was because Mishra wrote a letter to Gujarat Samachar about what happened. For this revelation, Mishra was suspended and, after an internal inquiry, removed from service in March 1996. Since then, Mishra has been fighting the nuclear establishment in courts—and losing. This process of fighting in the courts took him to the Gujarat High Court, which, in 2007, dismissed his case. Mishra then appealed to the Supreme Court, and in April of this year, the SC dismissed his appeal. Itsobservations are worth quoting at some length:

“it will be apposite to notice the growing acceptance of the phenomenon of whistleblower.A whistleblower is a person who raises a concern about the wrongdoing occurring in an organisation or body of people. Usually this person would be from that same organisation. The revealed misconduct may beclassified in many ways; for example, a violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations and corruption. Whistleblowers may make their allegations internally (for example, to other people within the accused organisation) or externally (to regulators, law enforcement agencies, to the media or to groups concerned with the issues)…

“In our view, a person like the respondent can appropriately be described as a whistleblower for the system who has tried to highlight the malfunctioning of an important institution established for dealing with cases involving revenue of the State and there is no reason to silence such a person by invoking Articles 129 or 215 of the Constitution or the provisions of the Act…

“In our opinion, the aforesaid observations are of no avail to the appellant…the appellant is educated only upto 12th standard. He is neither an engineer, nor an expert on the functioning of the Atomic Energy Plants. Apart from being an insider, the appellant did not fulfill the criteria for being granted the status of a whistle blower. One of the basic requirements of a person being accepted as awhistle blower is that his primary motive for the activity should be in furtherance of public good. In other words, the activity has to be undertaken in public interest, exposing illegal activities of a public organization or authority. The conduct of the appellant, in our opinion, does not fall within the high moral and ethical standard that would be required of a bona fide whistle blower.”

There are many questions that we should ask. First, in what way is the education level of Manoj Mishra relevant to deciding if he was a whistle blower, and why should any whistle blower be an expert on whatever it is that he or she is revealing the truth about? If someone reveals that a pharmaceutical company is producing contaminated drugs meant to treat cardiac problems (Such things do happen, see for example), does that person have to be an expert on how pharmaceutical plants operate? Or should he or she be a doctor with many years of experience in treating heart disease? Second, what might have happened if Mishra had actually been an expert in the operation of atomic power plants? Well, we can only speculate. But remember that for Mishra to become an expert, he would necessarily have to have spent several years at the DAE’s training school, during the course of which he would likely not just have learnt about nuclear reactor physics and engineering, but also become indoctrinated to trust authority and support the NPCIL and DAE policies of secrecy unquestioningly. This is a potential reason for the paucity of truth tellers from the upper echelons of the DAE or NPCIL. Or most other hierarchical organizations, for that matter. Third, what exactly is the public interest in this case? It is clear what the interest of NPCIL and DAE would have been—to hide the news that its design and its maintenance were inadequate to protect against even moderately severe floods. But, for the public, it would be just the opposite: to hear about what happened within KAPS during the floods, so they know what risks they faced.

Why then did the Court argue otherwise? Of course, we cannot know for sure. But some clues can be had from the other recent Supreme Court judgment. This decision dismissed a plea seeking to halt the commissioning of the Koodankulam nuclear reactors, under construction in Tamil Nadu, till the implementation of key additional safety measures recommended after the Fukushima accidents of 2011.

As is well known, the massive release of radioactive materials from the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, which has resulted in the contamination of a large swath of area and is now estimated to lead in the long run to something on the order of a thousand cancers, also added to the already strong opposition among people living around Koodankulam. What the Supreme Court decided, in essence, was that these people will now have to put up with such “minor inconveniences”, “minor radiological detriments” and “minor environmental detriments”.

The Court’s opinion is replete with references to the public interest. “While setting up a project of this nature, we have to have an overall view of larger public interest rather than smaller violation of right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution”. Elsewhere, “Larger public interest of the community should give way to individual apprehension of violation of human rights and right to life guaranteed under Article 21”. It went on further to say, “Nuclear power plant is being established not to negate right to life but to protect the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution…it will only protect the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution for achieving a larger public interest and will also achieve the object and purpose of Atomic Energy Act”. And so on, and so forth.

What’s important about this decision is that the Judges’ idea of public interest seems to be based largely, if not completely, on testimony offered by various arms of the nuclear establishment. The decision,in essence, neglects the numerous pieces of expert testimony submitted by the petitioners questioning various aspects of the government’s wisdom in building nuclear reactors in general, including at Koodankulam. For this reason, if the Supreme Court decision was meant to help settle the contentious debate over Koodankulam, it has not, and cannot, succeed in this aim. The reliance on expert testimony from within the nuclear establishment demonstrates myopia on a very basic issue – the lack of public trust regarding thenuclear establishment.

But back to the basic point: arguments made by powerful institutions about the public interest often hide a more divisive reality: it is hard, if not impossible, to come up with a clearly defined and widely accepted notion of public interest that can apply to a large range of areas. [See Robert Jensen’s arguments on a related theme, the national interest, albeit in a different context]. More important, even if there might besome common public interest (“clean air”, for example), trying to actually reach that common interest usually involves having those goals be negotiated through power struggles, and the imposition of hardship to one disadvantaged group or the other.

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek once wrote: “It is indeed true that we live in a society of risky choices, but it is one in which only some do the choosing, while others do the risking.” To this one may add, those who have the power to choose often make choices that are beneficial to them but have become adept at passing off those choices as being in the public interest. Whistle blowers seem to care more for those suffering the consequences, real or potential, than the interests of the powerful elite. We, at least those of us who do not belong to these exclusive elite enclaves of power, owe these whistle blowers a huge debt of gratitude.

[M. V. Ramana is with the Program on Science and Global Security at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University and the author of The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India (Penguin 2012)]

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Nelson Mandela would have made a fine peace journalist #Sundayreading

By Steven Youngblood
Director, Center for Global Peace Journalism, Park University

At a fundamental level, Mandela and peace journalists share an understanding of the importance of language. One key tenant of peace journalism is that the words we as journalists use matter—that they can either soothe or inflame passions. Mandela might have gone one step further, noting not only journalists’ responsibility to choose their words carefully, but also their duty to use language in a way that bridges divides and brings people together.  Mandela said, “Without language, we cannot talk to people and understand them. One cannot share their hopes and aspirations, learn their history, appreciate their poetry and savor their songs. I again realize that we are not different people with separate language; we are one people with different tongues.” (http://africa.waccglobal.org/what%20is%20peace%20journalism_.pdf )

Another value peace journalists share with Mandela is a commitment to ongoing dialogue, like the kind begun under Mandela’s post-apartheid Peace and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory is continuing that work today, offering “a non-partisan platform for public discourse on important social issues…that contribute to policy decision-making.” (nelsonmandela.org)  Peace journalists, of course, can provide this platform, but not just to those in power. We seek to give a voice to all parties, with a special emphasis on giving voice to the voiceless.

I hope Mr. Mandela would be proud of the work that one group of peace reporters just concluded in Lebanon.  These reporters told the stories of Syrian refugees living in Beirut in a way that demystified the stereotypes about these individuals while fostering a dialogue within Lebanese society about how to accommodate and protect 440,000 refugees.

Many of Mandela’s principles not only align with peace journalism, but also lay out a blueprint for successful peace journalists.

This blueprint for peace journalists can be found, succinctly, in the UN’s written declaration of July 18th as Nelson Mandela International Day.  The UN declaration “recognizes Nelson Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity, in the fields of conflict resolution, race relations, the promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, as well as the uplifting of poor and underdeveloped communities. It acknowledges his contribution to the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world.” (masterpeace.org).

This statement is not only Mandela’s legacy, it is his charge to all of us, but especially to those of us who subscribe to the notion that we as journalists have a higher responsibility. This means that we must study and understand conflict resolution, and apply that knowledge to balanced reporting that gives proportionate voice to those who seek peace rather than exclusively to those who rattle the sabers of violence.  Mandela’s legacy charges peace journalists with facilitating meaningful dialogues on race, and empowering those in our society who are marginalized (women, children, and the poor).  This means that along with peace journalism, we should practice development journalism, using our platforms to focus attention on societal problems and solutions.

Most of all, this legacy charges journalists with putting the spotlight on the Nelson Mandelas in each society—those who seek  peace and reconciliation. Mandela’s statement during his 1964 trial is a testimony to the positive power of language, and to journalism’s responsibility to give voice to those who seek a peaceful path.  Mandela told the court, “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (transcend.org)

 

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#Monsanto digs its heels in Pakistan

Monsanto's Involvement With Agent Orange - 40 Years After the Vietnam Conflict

Coming from a politician or bureaucrat, it wouldn’t have been surprising.
But it was unexpected from the Vice Chancellor of Faisalabad University of
Agriculture when he claimed that GMOs would “bring about a new green
revolution based on biotechnology, precision agriculture and climate
change.” As if the first Green Revolution wasn’t bad enough! If it was for
citizens’ benefit, why wasn’t Dr Iqrar Ahmad Khan addressing sustainable
farmers and concerned citizens, instead of briefing diplomats from 24
countries? That fit more into loaded trade and investment talks, not a
country’s delicate agricultural security.

Dr Khan offers no evidence based on local research whatsoever to prove that
GMOs are “a great and safe invention that would enhance crop productivity”.
He seems oblivious of the fact that even GM seed-producing corporations
don’t make that claim.

“Where is the independent data which shows that GM Corn would increase
average yield?” demands Ijaz Ahmed Rao, professional farmer, graduated from
Australia, “Data from USDA clearly shows that despite GM technologies
(Insect-resistant (Bt), Herbicide-tolerant, Stacked gene varieties), yields
in USA have not increased since 1987!”

Rao sounds an alarm the government must note – that Pakistan’s corn exports
to Europe and elsewhere would be seriously affected as they import non-GM
corn and corn products from Pakistan at premium rates and on bases of
certification. Far from boosting Pakistan’s output and earnings, Bt corn
would be the ideal weapon to destroy our exports to Europe which recently
banned Monsanto and other GMOs, with ongoing plans to wipe them out
completely.

Similarly, sans evidence, Dr Khan claims that Bt (GM) cotton increased
productivity while pesticide-application was reduced in Pakistan. Strange
indeed, when in the rest of the world – including USA, the heaviest GM user
– it rapidly lost resistance to pests and required increasing amounts of
pesticides, now multiplied several-fold.

He disregards India’s terrible 15-year experience with Monsanto’s Bt cotton
that, with Monsanto’s overpriced products and unfair practices, led to over
300,000 suicides since 1995, making India the world’s farmers’ suicide
centre. Should we be joining their ranks?

Indeed, Dr Khan ignores Monsanto’s long and ignominious history around the
world – originally a chemical corporation that co-supplied 19 million
gallons of herbicide to defoliate Vietnam’s forests and crops on 4.5
million acres over 11 years, killing or maiming 400,000, causing half a
million deformed children born, helpless and dependant for life, and two
million cancer cases. After diverse other ventures, Monsanto got into GM
seeds which are ‘successful’ only if Monsanto’s accompanying poisonous
chemicals are heavily sprayed.

While appearing to promote Monsanto’s planned launch of ‘Herbicide
Resistance Corn’, Dr Khan was blind to the dangerous ground he was treading
on. Chemically-grown food crops have already lost nutritive value and led
to malnutrition, in both South countries and USA.

Because it wasn’t reported here, the VC probably doesn’t know that on May
25, over two million participants in 436 cities across 52 countries,
protested against Monsanto, demanding it gets out from everywhere. This,
apart from the long-standing, ongoing “Millions against Monsanto” campaign
that informs and brings together concerned citizens and activists globally.

Or that the Carnival of Corn in Mexico City coincided with and joined the
global protest. Mexico was the cradle of corn boasting thousands of corn
varieties; it needed no more, let alone GM corn, from outside. But their
own president sold his country out to Monsanto and other GM corporations,
just as Bush and Obama did the same to their people. In country after
country, it was not the merit of the product but officials that succumbed
to tempting lures.

And last week Japan and South Korea cancelled huge contracts for US wheat
when it was revealed Monsanto’s unapproved GM seeds had contaminated vast
farmlands in USA.

Monsanto dug in its heels in Pakistan over a decade ago since Musharraf’s
time. The General probably didn’t understand agriculture which may have
made it easy to sway him. His regime unilaterally sanctioned corporate
farming, which is increasingly pursued with GM seeds. The timing was
significant.

When Musharraf’s rule ended, the PPP government dealt an unexpected shock
when Mr. Gilani’s very first speech as prime minister ended with the
incongruous announcement – having nothing to do with his political
statements – that they had decided to let Monsanto in. Clearly, political
changes did not undo special interests. Since then, ceaseless crises in
Pakistan have kept attention diverted from Monsanto activities in Pakistan.

Dr Khan should remember the ‘Precautionary Principle’ – unless he’s
excluded ecology from agriculture – and investigate the extent of unchecked
contamination in Pakistan. GM monoculture threatens to wipe out what’s left
of our biodiversity without which even GM can’t continue, will further
chemical-drench and kill our deteriorating farmlands, while he risks being
remembered among the short-sighted responsible for near-extinction of
species.

*
http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/06/12/comment/columns/genetically-modified-threats/

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What Is Striking In India Is The Indifference Of The Privileged- #Noamchomsky

At 84, Noam Chomsky remains the sharpest, most acute, most unrelenting critic of power, particularly American power. He speaks to Priyanka Borpujari about the evolution of protest; the disconnect between the misery he sees on the streets of Delhi and our elites’ chest-thumping pride; the narrow concerns of mainstream media; and his starring role in a Gangnam Style parody.

2013-07-06 , Issue 27 Volume 10

Noam Chomsky, 84, Linguist & Activist, Photo: AP

, 84, Linguist & Activist, Photo: AP

You have been protesting wars, from Vietnam to Iraq. And then, there has been the Occupy Wall Street movement. What have been the similarities and differences in protest movements over the years?

People do not know this, but it was very tough to oppose the Vietnam war. In the early ’60s, if I was giving a talk, it would be in somebody’s living room or a church with very few people. Right here in Boston, a liberal city, we could not have an outdoor demonstration in the Boston Common until about 1967. Any demonstration would be broken up by force. In March 1966, when we tried to have an indoor demonstration at a church downtown — since we could not have a public one — the church was attacked.The Boston Globe, which was supposed to be a liberal newspaper, denounced the demonstrators. The Harvard University faculty would not even hear about it; nobody would sign a petition. It was a few years of hard slogging. Finally by 1967-68, there were two or three years of intense activism, before it declined. The ’60s were very significant but it was very condensed. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was a very conservative campus until about 1968 and then it became very radical, perhaps the most radical in the country.

Since the late ’60s, activism has expanded but with less visibility, and it is a part of a general consciousness about all kinds of things. In the 1980s, there was a huge anti-nuclear movement. But the most significant phenomenon in the ’80s — although it did not leave much of an impact in history because it did not involve the elites very much — were the solidarity movements with central America. This solidarity was coming mostly from rural United States, like rural Kansas, and the Evangelicals, with tens of thousands of people going down to central America just to be with the victims, to help and defend them. This had never happened before, that people from the imperial state went there not just to protest, but to live with the people and participate with them. And a lot of these people stayed on. So it had a great effect over rural United States.

Towards the end of the last millennium, solidarity was visible on a new kind of global justice movement, on particular issues, like Israel-Palestine. There has been a massive shift in that. I used to have police protection on this (MIT) campus, right until the 1990s, when I talked about it. But now it is the most lively issue on the campus. I am asked to give talks about it all the time. So it’s not militant activism, but there’s a culture of independence and opposition, which I think is pretty bright.

So, who is listening to dissidents like you?

Well, anybody who is willing to talk has people listening. There aren’t too many people who are willing to go around and give talks all the time. The few of us who are willing, are deluged. Every night, I turn down a dozen invitations. When I do give talks, there is a real hunger for something different, but there is very little supply. You can almost count on the fingers of your hands the number of people who are willing to spend their lives going around and giving talks.

But on the other hand, you are in Cambridge, so you get to hear a little about . In the United States almost nobody knows anything about the outside world — people don’t know where France is.  would be some word that they might have heard in school in passing. It is a very insular society.

What about India baffles you the most?

I have followed India carefully, and have been there a number of times. It is an exciting country in many ways with its rich culture. But what is really striking to me about India, much more than most other countries I have been to, is the indifference of privileged sectors to the misery of others. You walk through Delhi and cannot miss it, but people just don’t seem to see it. Everyone is talking about ‘Shining India’ and yet people are starving. I had an interesting experience with this once. I was in a car in Delhi and with me was (activist) Aruna Roy, and we were driving towards a demonstration. And I noticed that she wasn’t looking outside the window of the car. I asked her why. She said, “If you live in India, you just can’t look outside the window. Because if you do, you’d rather commit suicide. It’s too horrible. So you just don’t look.” So people don’t look, they put themselves in a bubble and then don’t see it. And those words are from somebody who has devoted her life to the lives of the poor, and you can see why she said that — the misery and the oppression are so striking, much worse than in any country I have ever seen. And it is so dramatic. There is a lot of talk about how India is slated to be a major power, and I can’t believe it, with all its internal problems; China too for that matter, but less so.

When my wife and I went to India a couple of years ago, my friend Iqbal Ahmed had told me that I would discover that the press in Pakistan is much more open and free than the press in India. I did not believe him first but when I looked into it, he explained, “The English language press in Pakistan is for you and your friends, and the government just lets them say whatever they want, because there are so few of them to cater to, just a couple of hundred thousand people.”

You have hailed the Mexican newspaper La Jornada as “maybe the only real independent newspaper in the hemisphere”. Do you think something similar can be founded in India?

It could. The interesting thing about La Jornada is that the business world hates it. They don’t give it any ads. It is the second largest newspaper in the country with a very high level of journalistic acumen and very smart people, and they are all over the country. You see people reading this newspaper on the streets. Actually, I noticed that in Kerala, the only part of India where you can see people reading on the streets.

In the recent past, India witnessed a scam that exposed the deep nexus between journalists and businessmen, but nothing happened…

That is a bit different here (in the United States). One good thing about this country is that there is very little state repression, no censorship, so they can speak out what they can. On the other hand, the internalisation of doctrine here is just overwhelming, that is, with the intellectual community in the universities. And it is partly a reflection of the freedom, I think. You get an impression that everything is free and open because there are debates that are visible: the Democrats are debating the Republicans, and the press does its share of condemning. But what people don’t see — and the seeming openness of the debate conceals it — is that it is all within a very narrow framework. And you can’t go even a millimetre outside that framework. In fact, it is even taught in journalism schools here as the concept of ‘objectivity’ — that means describing honestly what’s going on inside that framework and if there is something outside, then no, that is subjective. You see that all the time and that is a big domestic problem.

Life outside the bubble The misery and oppression in India are striking, says Chomsky, Photo: Ishan Tankha

Life outside the bubble The misery and oppression in India are striking, says Chomsky, Photo: Ishan Tankha

For example, domestically, for the population, the big problem is jobs. They don’t care about the deficit. For the banks, the problem is deficits. So the only thing discussed (in the ) is deficits. You do have an occasional different viewpoint, but it doesn’t show up at all in the  coverage of the deficit. During the 2012 presidential elections, the two countries that were mentioned way more than anyone else in all debates were Israel and Iran. And Iran was described as the greatest threat to world peace. And that’s what’s repeated in the  all the time. There is an obvious question that no journalist would ask: who thinks so? They don’t think so in India; they don’t think so in the Arab world, they don’t think so in South America. The only countries to think so are the United States and England. But that you can’t report.

And then comes the question: is there anything you can do about it? This is quite spectacular when you talk about the media because it does not say this. There is something very obvious one could do about it — move to establishing nuclear-free zones. There is an overwhelming support for that all over the world. In fact, in December 2012, there was supposed to be an international conference in Finland to carry it forward under UN auspices. But in early November 2012, Iran announced that they would participate. Within days, Obama called off the conference. Not one word about that in the newspapers. Literally, not one word. The same in England. I don’t know about India; probably not there too.

On a less serious note, how did you come to feature in mit’s Gangnam Stylevideo?

I didn’t know what they were talking about. They were just a bunch of kids who seemed to be having some fun.

Did you have fun?

I was just saying what they wanted me to say.

[email protected]

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 10 Issue 27, Dated 6 July 2013)

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#India must address worrying stock out of tuberculosis drugs #healthcare

 

 

Indian government drug tender process leads to deadly delay in drug supply

 

New Delhi, 17 June 2013 – The Indian government must urgently address the persistent issues and almost routine delays of procuring drugs to treat tuberculosis, international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today. The issues are behind a worrying stock out of TB drugs which the country is currently experiencing.

 

“As a country with such a high burden of tuberculosis, MSF is deeply disturbed that India is experiencing stock outs of critically needed drugs to treat children and those with drug-resistant TB”, said Leena Menghaney, India Manager of MSF’s Access Campaign. “In this instance, it’s a stock out that can cost people’s lives and the government must act urgently to fix the problems.”

 

India is currently experiencing stock outs across the country of both paediatric TB drugs and those used to treat drug-resistant TB (DR-TB). Under India’s public TB treatment program, the government is responsible for buying drugs and distributing them to the states which then provide treatment.

 

The stock out is related to the never-ending issues with drug procurement that India faces in many of its public health programmes – the routine but deadly delay in tendering for these drugs – and the resulting drug stock outs are one of the reasons why India has one of the world’s highest burdens of DR-TB.

 

“As a TB treatment provider, MSF is witnessing the impact this is having on our own patients”, said Dr. Homa Mansoor, the TB Medical Referent for MSF India. “In our Mon, Nagaland project, I’ve seen a 12 year-old girl on treatment arrive with her father after a long journey to get her medicine. The medicines were out of stock, but luckily we had six days’ worth of drugs available from a patient who had died. Otherwise, we’re having to resort to breaking adult pills to give to children, which is really dangerous as it could over- or under-dose them.”

 

Other patients have been forced to purchase medicines from private pharmacies, but have received lower-dosage drugs, which – if it causes a patient to under-dose on that drug – could lead to resistance.

 

“A continuous, sustainable supply of quality-assured medicines is vital for TB patients to have even half a chance of being cured”, Dr Mansoor said. “As a doctor, I know the disease, I know how to manage it, but I feel powerless because we don’t have the medicines to treat.”

 

“It’s just not good enough that India talks of scaling up DR-TB treatment, but finds the medicine cabinet empty at a time when the most vulnerable patients – those diagnosed with DR-TB – are most desperate to get the medicines that can treat them”, Dr Mansoor added.  “The Indian Government must act now to address this dire situation.”

 

The stock outs in India are occurring as the World Health Organization late last week issued interim guidelines on bedaquiline, the first new drug to treat TB in 50 years, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration at the end of 2012. MSF has welcomed the release of the guidelines, but has said use of the new drug needs to be regulated and controlled, and studies must be undertaken to find combinations with the new drugs in shorter, more effective and less toxic treatment regimens.

 

 SOURCE- http://www.msfaccess.org/

 

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The US Wants Syrian Oil, Not Democracy

Coat of arms of Syria -- the "Hawk of Qur...

Coat of arms of Syria — the “Hawk of Qureish” with shield of vertical tricolor of the national flag, holding a scroll with the words الجمهورية العربية السورية (Al-Jumhuriyah al-`Arabiyah as-Suriyah “The Syrian Arab Republic”). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

 

18 June 13

 

 

 

“… the Persian Gulf, the critical oil and natural gas-producing region that we fought so many wars to try and protect our economy from the adverse impact of losing that supply or having it available only at very high prices.” –John Bolton, George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations

 

 

 

ll the hubbub over Syria is all about oil. And if you don’t believe me, believe John Bolton.

 

When there’s something being talked about in the news on a regular basis, and if one angle of the story is being consistently reported by various reputable news organizations, you can be sure there’s something else to the story that isn’t being told. Matt Taibbi called this “chumpbait” when referring to the media’s unified dismissal concerning Bradley Manning’s court-martial. The same applies to the latest corporate media stories speculating on US military involvement in Syria.

 

If the US were really concerned about spreading Democracy in the Middle East, we’d be helping the Occupy Gezi movement oust Turkish Prime Minister Ergodan and condemning his violent suppression of human rights, rather than assisting the Free Syrian Army. And the only reason the powers controlling the US would be interested in intervening in Turkey would be if Turkish protesters or government forces shut down the highly-productiveKirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which goes from Iraq through Southern Turkey.

 

All of the media has been atwitter about whether or not the US should get involved in the civil war unfolding in Syria by supporting anti-government forces. The atrocities recently committed by the Free Syrian Army are reminiscent of the kind committed against the Soviets in the 1980s by theAfghan mujahideen, whom we actively funded and supplied with arms. (Remember the movie Charlie Wilson’s War?) It should be worth noting that the same mujahideen fighters we funded to fight our enemies for us in the 1980s became our enemies even before the 9/11 attacks.

 

In a roundabout way, the US media is making the argument that because the Assad regime is using chemical weapons on the Syrian people, the US military should intervene by arming and training the Free Syrian Army in the hopes of overthrowing President Assad. On the surface, most Americans would agree that Assad is a brutal dictator and should be removed from office. But if you asked most Americans whether or not the US military should intervene in Syria to make sure the profit margins of oil companies remain strong, it’s likely most rational folks would say no. Digging just beneath the surface, it’s easy to see that US interest in Syria isn’t to provide Democracy to Syria, but to ensure the Kirkuk-Banias oil pipeline will be restored to profitable status. Even President Obama’s press secretary said that foreign policy isn’t driven by what the people want, but by what is best for “American interests.”

 

The Kirkuk-Banias pipeline runs from Kirkuk in Northern Iraq, to the Syrian town of Banias, on the Mediterranean Sea between Turkey and Lebanon. Ever since US forces inadvertently destroyed it in 2003, most of the pipeline has been shut down. While there have been plans in the works to make the Iraqi portion of the pipeline functional again, those plans have yet to come to fruition. And Syria has at least 2.5 billion barrels of oil in its fields, making it the next largest Middle Eastern oil producer after Iraq. After ten unproductive years, the oil companies dependent on the Kirkuk-Banias pipeline’s output are eager to get the pipeline operational again. The tension over the Syrian oil situation is certainly being felt by wealthy investors in the markets, who are thus dictating US foreign policy.

 

It’s easy to see why the oil-dominated US government wants to be involved in Syria’s outcome. The Free Syrian Army has since taken control of oil fields near Deir Ezzor, and Kurdish groups have taken control of other oil fields in the Rumeilan region. Many of the numerous atrocities that Assad’s government committed against unarmed women and children were in Homs, which is near one of the country’s only two oil refineries. Israel, the US’s only ally in the Middle East, is illegally occupying the Golan Heights on the Syrian border and extracting their resources. The US wants to get involved in Syria to monopolize its oil assets, while simultaneously beating our competition – Iran, Russia and China – in the race for Syrian black gold.

 

Big oil’s ideal outcome would be for US troops to back the FSA’s overthrow of the Assad regime, meaning that sharing in Syrian oil profits would be part of the quid-pro-quo the US demands in exchange for helping the Syrian rebels win. It would be very similar to when the US, under Teddy Roosevelt, backed Panama’s fight for independence in exchange for US ownership of the Panama Canal. But even after numerous interventions, including thekidnapping of Panama’s head of state, the Torrijos-Carter accords gave control of the Panama Canal back to Panama in 1999. The imperialistic approach to Panama turned out to be more costly than it would have been if we had just left Panama alone in the first place.

 

George Santayana said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. If we don’t learn from our past mistakes, like basing foreign policy goals on greed-inspired imperialism, Syria will blow up in our faces.

 

 

 


 

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary “We’re Not Broke,” which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at [email protected], and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

 

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#India- Supreme Court agrees to hear PIL on US surveillance of Internet data

PTI : New DelhiWed Jun 19 2013,
Court
Supreme Court. (IE Photo)
The Supreme Court today agreed to give an urgent hearing to a PIL on the issue of US National Security Agency snooping on Internet data from India and seeking to initiate action against Internet companies for allowing the agency to access the information.

Agreeing to hear the PIL filed by a former Dean of Law Faculty of Delhi University Professor S N Singh, a bench of justices A K Patnaik and Ranjan Gogoi posted the case for hearing next week.

In his plea, Singh has alleged that such large scale spying by the US authorities is detrimental to national security and urged the apex court to intervene in the matter. He has claimed that the Internet companies are sharing information with the foreign authority in “breach” of contract and violation of right to privacy.

“As per reports, nine US-based Internet companies, operating in India through agreements signed with Indian users, shared 6.3 billion information/data with National Security Agency of US without express consent of Indian users.Such larges cale spying by the USA authorities besides being against the privacy norms is also detrimental to national security,” the petition, filed through advocate Virag Gupta, has said.

Singh has submitted that it is a breach of national security as government’s official communications have come under US surveillance as services of private Internet firmsare being used by them. He has sought directions to the Centre to “take urgent steps to safeguard the government’s sensitive Internet communications” which are being kept outside India in US servers and are “unlawfully intruded upon by US Intelligence Agencies through US-based Internet companies under secret surveillance program called PRISM”.

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In India – ‘Good girls don’t drink, flirt or party’ #Film #Vaw #moralpolicing

New Documentary Shows That Urban India Blames Women For Crimes Against Them

Mithila Phadke TNN

When filmmaker Padmalatha Ravi decided to make a documentary on society’s perceptions of women, she kept it straightforward. A motley crowd of people—from college students to domestic help—were asked what they thought a “good girl” and a “bad girl” were. “A good girl is supposed to be docile,” says a silverhaired lady. “She wears a dress which covers her wholly.” Two college-going boys giggle and say it’s the front-benchers who are tagged as good. On the other hand, “slut”, “goes to discos” and “flirts with boys” are the primary identifiers for a bad girl.
The 14-minute crowd-sourced venture, titled ‘Good Girls Don’t Dance’, is Bangalore-based Padmalatha’s response to the theme of most drawing-room discussions that follow reports of sexual abuse. Invariably, the argument returns to the same question: what was the girl doing outside at a late hour anyway? “After the Delhi incident, the issue of rape was being spoken about like never before,” she says. “I wanted to look at why women are blamed.” The film was completed earlier this year and has been uploaded online for free viewing.
Through the opinions of students, couples, seniors, and families, a troubling picture emerges. The ideal woman keeps herself covered up lest she “provokes” men, abstains from smoking, drinking and flirting. Not having an opinion of her own is also an asset, says a respondent.
The answers were a revelation, says Padmalatha, especially when people were asked who they would hold responsible in case of a rape. Only a handful said “rapist”. A majority blamed society and women. Aside from illustrating how deep stereotypes run, the documentary also disproves that progressive mindset is synonymous with education and financial wellbeing. “We asked a domestic worker if clothes play a role (in instigating rape), she was clear that a person is free to wear what he or she wants,” says Padmalatha. This was in stark contrast to numerous middle-class respondents who held a woman’s attire culpable, at least in part.
Mumbai-based filmmaker Paromita Vohra came across a similar mindset among the middleclass while filming the 2002-documentary ‘Unlimited Girls’. “Sometimes, women who had the chance to experience freedom were the ones least able to recognise that it came from a long legacy of people working for them,” says Vohra. The idea of freedom, as something to be protected, nurtured and recreated for the next generation was shrugged off, or made respondents uncomfortable. Both ‘Unlimited Girls’ and Padmalatha’s film look at how women navigate the urban jungle.
Another film that explores the same idea is ‘Mera Apna Sheher’, by Sameera Jain. Set in New Delhi, the documentary looks at how women are expected to negotiate public spaces. It had college lecturer Komita Dhanda being filmed by a hidden camera as she spends time at a park, a street corner and a paan shop. The camera records the reactions of men to her presence, ranging from confusion to lechery. “It’s something that happens around us every day,” says Jain. Only by choosing to record it does the indignity women face become a subject of debate.
However, the filmmakers have no illusion about their works offering quick solutions. “We are trying to start a conversation on a subject that people are hesitant to talk about,” says Padmalatha. After her film’s first screening in Bangalore, an elderly viewer argued for stringent punishment to keep men in line. A 16-year-old girl stepped in and asked him why there shouldn’t be a balanced approach to solve the problem. That a documentary can spark such debates is what the makers hope for, says Padmalatha.

SEX AND THE CITY: While a domestic worker (left) said people have the right to wear what they want to, students and couples who were interviewed felt that women needed to be covered up; Contemporary dancer Shabari (right) in a shot from the film

 

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