January 04, 2008

QUOTE OF THE DAY : Sandhya Jain

The resounding verdict of Gujarat 2007 is that Smt Sonia Gandhi has peaked while Shri Rahul Gandhi has faded without blossoming

INDIA : Election Commission Soft on Sonia

By Sandhya Jain Courtesy: The Organiser, Jan. 06, 2008

The Election Commission should have reprimanded Smt Gandhi for her remark, which was intended to polarise voting on communal lines by reviving memories of the 2002 riots. It did not do so for reasons best known to itself. But the Commission has not acquitted itself well by appearing visibly soft on Smt Gandhi, and future solicitude towards select politicians will diminish its stature. As of now, the Commission’s action is like the media-run discourse on the Gujarat riots - just as there is no mention of the Godhra provocation that triggered the riots.

If one were asked to identify the two biggest losers of the Gujarat Assembly elections, the answer would be the Election Commission and the ‘dynasty’ that leads the Congress party.

Had the Election Commission waited one more day before rapping the chief minister on the knuckles for supposedly justifying the encounter death of underworld associate Sohrabuddin Sheikh, it could have been even-handed in its treatment of Shri Narendra Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh.

Since the degradation of political discourse in Gujarat began with Smt Sonia Gandhi’s now infamous “darr aur maut ke saudagar” remark, made worse by the party dithering over whether or not it applied to Shri Narendra Modi personally, and aggravated by Shri Digvijay Singh’s assault upon “Hindu terrorists”, the Election Commission should treaded carefully. On the contrary, it rushed to react to doctored reports regarding Shri Modi’s poll rhetoric, which was a political response to Smt Gandhi’s provocative taunts, and issued notices to Smt Gandhi and Shri Singh only after being pressurised to do so by the BJP.

When Shri Modi proved the inaccuracies in the complaint against him (he had not justified the encounter killing after all), the Election Commission had no choice but to exonerate him. It did so rather ungraciously, equating him with Shri Singh and giving both a reprimand, while letting Smt Gandhi off the hook with a mere statement of displeasure, just a day before the counting.

In fairness, the Election Commission should have reprimanded Smt Gandhi for her remark, which was intended to polarise voting on communal lines by reviving memories of the 2002 riots. It did not do so for reasons best known to itself. But the Commission has not acquitted itself well by appearing visibly soft on Smt Gandhi, and future solicitude towards select politicians will diminish its stature. As of now, the Commission’s action is like the media-run discourse on the Gujarat riots—just as there is no mention of the Godhra provocation that triggered the riots, there is no notice of the ‘maut ka saudagar’ that drew the Sohrabuddin response.

The Congress rout in Gujarat, close on the heels of the debacle in Uttar Pradesh, has fully exposed the true political stature of its dynasty. Though the Congress campaign was entirely centred upon Smt Sonia Gandhi and Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi, they could not bring even one-third of the assembly seats into the kitty, and gracelessly deserted the arena instead of staying on to congratulate the winner. Since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was quick to congratulate Shri Narendra Modi, the silence of the mother-son duo was all the more deafening. Smt Gandhi’s habit of leaving others to own up and clean up the mess created by her is coming with an increasing cost to the party. The sad fact is that neither she nor her family connect emotionally with the Indian people, understand their aspirations, or empathise with their sorrows. The mere ability to hire a speechwriter does not make a leader. Some Nehru-Gandhi enthusiasts wrote prior to the election that Shri Modi would emerge as the main contender to Smt Gandhi in the 2009 general elections.

To my mind, this was a grossly over-optimistic assessment. In Gujarat 2007, both Smt Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi measured their status against Shri Modi, and were found visibly deficient. This was true even of Uttar Pradesh in May 2007, but it was overlooked by an indulgent media because the bold and brash Mayawati was seen as a political upstart, notwithstanding the fact that she had been state chief minister twice before. Her ability to craft an independent majority has forced a dramatic revision of her national status; the same is now true of Shri Modi.

Even before electioneering started, Shri Modi had established that Tehelka-type of stings would not work; indeed, the local Congress did not take it up at all because it was an obviously contrived affair. In fact, when Shri Modi remained unfazed by the defection of then home minister Gordhan Zapadia and his insinuations against the chief minister on prime time television, Smt Gandhi’s advisers should have realised that the ‘sting’ would not get them anywhere. Only one new channel agreed to air the sting, and all print media reports were subdued - a sure indicator that the media viewed the legal viability of the sting operation as suspect. Despite such warning signals, someone scripted the ‘maut ka saudagar’ line—it went hopelessly off tangent because the Congress had not till then referred to the 2002 riots at all for fear of offending Gujarat’s Hindu-conscious electorate. And Shri Modi was quick to seize the opening and cash in—an expected victory became a veritable landslide.

It remains to be seen, in the circumstances, how long the Congress party veterans will be content to play second fiddle to a dynasty that cannot bring in the votes, but has cut down all state level leaders to size. The high-level meeting convened to analyse the Gujarat result saw senior leaders take full responsibility for the debacle, but this may not continue in future. A sure test will be the Congress party’s own diffidence towards the Indo-US nuclear deal, a pet child of the Congress president.

Already murmurs have begun about Congress seeming to appear as the party of just one community (read Muslims), and this is causing jitters to grassroot leaders. Shri Modi tacitly reaped the fruits of this projection once the ‘saudagar’ folly was committed, and the show was over for Congress. The “over-dependence” on BJP rebels showed a bankrupt organisation without issues or leaders, and completed the picture of a party led by rootless paratroopers. The resounding verdict of Gujarat 2007 is that Smt Sonia Gandhi has peaked while Shri Rahul Gandhi has faded without blossoming.

NATIONAL INTEREST is not a Common Minimum Program

Source: Offstumped

The debate rages on this blog and on Nitin’s blog on what constitutes the Indian National Interest and of course on the inane subject of exclusive inclusivity. Offstumped makes yet another attempt at shining light on that rather obscure subject on where the Indian National Interest resides.

So how do we know when somethings are in the nation’s interest while others are not ?

Some basic rules for starters.

That which is in this nation’s interests

- speaks for the people of this nation and not other nations

- does not hurt the territorial integrity of this nation

- does not subjugate the freedom of this nation to another nation

- is explicitly and exclusively committed to securing all of the above both in the short term and more importantly in the long term

- will not work for the primacy of any ideology, organization or individuals over any of the above

- will also not compromise one of the above to secure one or more of the above

So let us apply these basic rules to contemporary issues to see where the National Interest lies.

Speaking for the people of this nation and not others

- When the CPI-M lobbies the Indian Parliament on behalf of the Hezbollah it is not speaking for the people of this nation and hence was not serving the national interest.

- When the Communists, the Samajwadi Party, TDP and others organized Muslim rallies in Uttar Pradesh on the Iran Nuclear Issue they were not speaking for the people of this nation and hence were not serving the Indian National Interest.

- When a few Congress Leaders in Bangalore mobilized a rally of muslims to protest Saddam Hussein’s execution they were not serving the Indian National Interest.

- When Karunanidhi writes to Manmohan Singh protesting Malaysian crackdown on ethnic Indians (majority Tamil and Hindu) he was not serving the Indian National Interest at least directly (indirectly he may be, for some of the people of Indian Origin in Malaysia maybe stakeholders in the Indian Economy)

Does not hurt the territorial integrity of this nation

- When the Communists hold a brief for China on border issues they are not serving the Indian National Interest

- When the Manmohan Singh Government goes soft on tackling terrorism it is not serving the Indian National Interest

- When successive Indian Governments put the Kashmir issue in cold storage they are not serving the Indian National Interest

- When successive Indian Governments drag feet on key defense upgrades and play politics on big ticket procurements they are not serving the Indian National Interest

Does not subjugate the freedom of this nation to another nation

- No need to labor on this one, we have centuries of history to clarify this beyond any doubt or debate but for the question of Treaty Making. Unless we are signing up to treaties of the NATO or EU kind no Treaty subjugates the freedom of this nation to another nation. Our nation has the freedom to pull out of a treat at any time of its choosing. There will be consequences that our nation will have to bear responsibility for but that is no different from consequences stemming from unilateral action. So the Indo-US Nuclear Deal serves national interest as long as it secures long term energy/defence interests while not relinquishing sovereignity in a NATO or EU type arrangement.

Is explicitly and exclusively committed to securing all of the above for the long term

- When the Vajpayee lead NDA Government created the National Security Council and the role of a National Security Advisor it was serving the Indian National Interest

- When the Manmohan Singh lead UPA Government created the Knowledge Commission it was serving the Indian National Interest

- When Manmohan Singh calls for “long term strategic thinking” and a group of people who have a “long-term stake in the system he was serving the Indian National Interest

Will not work to ensure the primacy of any ideology, individual(s), organization(s) over any of the above

- Commitment to an ideology like Communism that calls for revolution, compromises the territorial integrity and explicitly calls for class war does not serve the Indian National Interest

- Commitment to a Pan-Islamism that speaks for the Taliban over military action against Afghanistan, speaks for the Hezbollah over defence collaboration with Israel, speaks for Saddam Hussein over defence collaboration with the U.S., and that speaks for the rights of the theocratic regime of Iran over access to Nuclear Technology does not serve the Indian National Interest

Will also not compromise one of the above to secure one or more of the others

- Commitment to a military pact like NATO or a political pact like the EU would not be in the Indian National Interest

Well all fine and good some would ask - what of Hindutva, how pray does it serve the Indian National Interest ?

One must ask the above questions of its various adherents as there is no single official version or an authoritative interpretation of what Hindutva is or is not.

As far as Offstumped goes the key test is does it call for the primacy of ideology over all else. If it does then it fails the National Interest test else it doesnt. The Flat World Hindutva that Offstumped has articulated is clear on the secondary role of ideology as a moral compass to guide local communities and individuals on socio-cultural issues. It has no role to play in Governance and does not call for a Theocratic State. By coming out firmly in favor of securing the nation’s long term interests it serves the National Interest.

What of Psuedo-Secularism, how pray does it serve the Indian National Interest ?

It doesnt, for it fails the test multiple times as pointed above when it stood for pan-Islamic causes.

What of Non Alignment, how pray does it serve the Indian National Interest ?

It doesnt again for it stands for primacy of an ideology and an organization over all else.

Offstumped Bottomline: In closing the National Interest is not a Common Minimum Program based on compromises and political correctness. It is unambiguous and clear on what it stands to secure and what it does not seek to compromise or subjugate.

India needs special agricultural zones: Swaminathan

Fakir Balaji , Indo-Asian News Service
Visakhapatnam, January 04, 2008
First Published: 08:31 IST(4/1/2008)
Last Updated: 08:34 IST(4/1/2008)

If special export zones or special economic zones (SEZs) can be set up for promoting manufacturing and services sectors, why not special agricultural zones (SAZs) for the crisis-ridden farm sector to boost food production, asks renowned scientist MS Swaminathan.

The million dollar question was raised Thursday by the father of the first green revolution in India decades ago, at the ongoing 95th Indian Science Congress (ISC) in this port city.

"Let the centre take the initiative to set up such SAZs in partnership with state governments, especially in the distressed states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala where hundreds of farmers have committed suicide due to debt burden and poor returns from low-yields.

"There is an urgent need for integrated development in the farm sector. The government should make a beginning to develop SAZs in the 33 drought-prone districts identified in these states," Swaminathan told IANS on the sidelines of the five-day event.

Explaining the agrarian crisis gripping the country and the growing income disparity between the rural and urban populace, Swaminathan said he was saddened by the plight of the present-day farmers, particularly small and marginal ones, holding an acre or two of land, mostly in un-irrigated areas.

"Unlike in the 1960s and 1970s, when the first green revolution was ushered in, present generation farmers are a pessimist lot. They are cynical and diffident about the way politicians and governments deal with them. They are no longer enthused to take to farming seriously.

"When the first green revolution was launched, it was carried out like a symphony in unison by scientists, policy makers, state agriculture departments, marketing agencies and farmers.

"Over the years, with the monstrous growth of the administration and multiple ministries handling farm issues at the centre and state levels, the delivery mechanism has collapsed. As a result, implementation of various agricultural policies remained on paper," Swaminathan lamented.

On the prospect of ushering in a second green revolution as advocated by the prime minister in his Science Congress inaugural address Thursday, Swaminathan said more than technology and government support, there was a need to empower panchayats and to give greater importance to women in farming activities.

"The integrated approach towards setting up SAZs should not only include all farm-related schemes, but also panchayats and women members. They must be empowered to decide which crop to grow, what seeds to use, whether they should take to organic farming or use chemicals, whom to sell to and at what price.

"On the government side, its administrative machinery should provide services, techno-infrastructure and access to market, while scientists and agricultural universities should step in with technology and tools," he said.

The National Farmers' Commission chairman feels SAZs will help bring about a revolution in small farm management, with national and state-level land use advisory services based on meteorological, ecological and marketing factors.

"As in the case of exporters and industries, we need to encourage farmers to grow more by offering incentives such as smart cards to those who sell their produce to the government, vital inputs to go in for multiple or diverse crops and direct access to markets without middlemen so as to make them a part of the inclusive growth process," said Swaminathan, a 1971 Ramon Magasaysay award winner.

In the context of climate change and global warming, the Rajya Sabha member favoured organic farming and green agriculture with integrated pest management, nutrient supply and natural resource management to herald an "evergreen revolution" in the Indian farming sector.

"While the contribution of manufacturing and services to the GDP growth is laudable, it is still the farm sector that provides the largest employment in the sub-continent. About 640 million people across the countryside depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

"Jobless growth in the industry and stagnant farm growth will lead to social unrest, as witnessed in many states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh where Maoists are spreading their tentacles.

"What will these rural people do when they are away from their farmlands during the off-season in the absence of jobs or alternative livelihood? Agricultural crisis will force the farmers to sell their lands to industries and migrate to cities, creating slums and severe stress on civic amenities," Swaminathan said.

Russia’s Federal Security Service celebrates its 90th anniversary

It came as little surprise that Felix Dzerzhinsky was chosen to found the Soviet secret police - Vladimir Lenin trusted him, and believed he could handle the most difficult tasks. Dzerzhinsky established and headed the VChK, which was later renamed several times.

Triple jeopardy: the Nazi plan to kill WWII leaders in Tehran

18:03 | 04/ 01/ 2008

The attempt by Nazi Germany to assassinate the "Big Three" - Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill - was foiled thanks to Soviet intelligence

MOSCOW. (Nikolai Dolgopolov) - The British Big Ape Media TV company and the Moscow TV Center are making a documentary series about Russian-British relations over four centuries. The Lion and the Bear, for release in 2008, will mix documentary history, travelogue and personal accounts and will be presented by author, and Winston Churchill's granddaughter, Celia Sandys.

One of the best sections in the film is devoted to the Tehran meeting of the three leaders in 1943, when Hitler's agents planned to destroy the Big Three in one fell swoop. The attempt was foiled by Soviet intelligence.

The "Long Jump" operation to assassinate the Big Three was masterminded on Hitler's orders by Otto Scorzeny, an SS thug and daredevil saboteur.

The first tip-off about the planned attempt came from Soviet intelligence agent Nikolai Kuznetsov, aka Wermacht Oberleutnant Paul Siebert, from Nazi-occupied Ukraine. Kuznetsov, a famed Soviet spy, got an SS man named Ulrich von Ortel to spill the secret over a bottle of good brandy. Von Ortel not only told his "friend" Paul about the operation, but invited him to accompany him on a trip to Tehran to buy cheap Persian rugs.

"Light cavalry" had no mercy for the Germans

In the autumn of 1943, fate thrust 19-year-old Gevork Vartanian into the center of the operation. Vartanian was an intelligence agent as well as the son of a Soviet intelligence agent who worked in Iran under the cover of a wealthy merchant. He received his first assignment and the cover name Amir from the resident in 1940.

He formed a group of seven like-minded people. All were of about the same age - Armenians, a Lezghin and an Assyrian - and they communicated in Russian and Farsi. Their parents had been exiled or fled from the USSR to escape Stalin's gulag. They were outcasts and refugees, but they put their lives at risk for the sake of the Motherland that had rejected them.

They were new to the intelligence profession and people from Soviet intelligence had to teach them as they went along. The resident called the group "light cavalry" because of their agility and speed. They shadowed Germans and identified Iranian agents. Gevork Vartanian/Amir today claims that the "light cavalry" had been instrumental in bringing about the arrest of several hundred people who posed a great danger to the USSR and Britain, who both had troops stationed in Iran as early as the autumn of 1941.

On the eve of the Tehran Conference, the Soviet and British field stations were working under tremendous strain. The "light cavalry" received orders to prevent the assassination attempt at all costs. These young men handled the job. I asked Gevork Vartanian whether it was true that on the eve of the Tehran Conference the Soviet and British intelligences moved ruthlessly to detain all the suspects.

"What did you expect?" Gevork Vartanian replied. "To let the Germans take out the three leaders with one stroke? People were placed under temporary arrest on the slightest suspicion.

If suspicions were not confirmed, they were released after the conference. On one occasion we had to arrest an Iranian Nazi agent at a wedding party. We got a tip that he was complicit in the assassination plot. As it turned out, it was not the first terrorist attack he had been a part of."

And no "Long Jumps"

During the filming at the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service press office, Celia Sandys tried to find out from Gevork Vartanian how they had managed to foil the plot. The slender man in a well-fitting dark suit with the top Russian military decoration - the Golden Star of the Hero - answered in good English and then, at Ms. Sandys's request, repeated the answers in Russian.

"Six German radio operators had been dropped by parachute into the holy Muslim city of Qum and made it to Tehran. That was the start of Operation Long Jump. The Germans established communication with Berlin. The ‘light cavalry' was given the mission to locate the intruders' radio station in the huge city of Tehran. Day and night, 14 to 16 hours a day we scoured the streets. Eventually we found the place where the group was hiding.

"From then on the Germans were transmitting messages to Berlin that were intercepted by the Soviet and British intelligence. But the Nazi radio operators were nobody's fools. One of them managed to send a coded message, ‘we are under surveillance.'

"The principals in Germany realized that the operation was getting off to a disastrous start. The Nazis decided against sending the main group led by Scorenzy to certain death. The Germans failed to make their Long Jump.

"Your grandfather," Vartanian went on, "was staying at the British Embassy, where he was provided with security guards. But the U.S. Embassy was on the city's outskirts and staying there was too risky. In a departure from the rules of protocol, Roosevelt, after much urging, stayed at the Soviet Embassy, where, of course, Stalin was also staying."

Churchill's granddaughter was naturally curious to know what security precautions had been taken to guard the Prime Minister.

"The street between the Soviet and British Embassies, which were located close to each other, had been sealed off. They stretched a six-meter tarpaulin sheet to make something like a passage guarded by Soviet and British machine-gunners.

"All the participants in the Tehran Conference were able to go back and forth safely.

"According to some information, the Nazis planned to get into the British Embassy through a water supply channel and assassinate Churchill on his birthday, November 30. But these plans were foiled.

"In those days I was also there, in Tehran. I was close enough to see your grandfather, Stalin and Roosevelt. What struck me was their confidence and calmness."

"You must have had a certain amount of luck," noted Ms. Sandys.

"Yes, of course," Vartanian agreed. "Luck is important for many professions, and all the more so for that of an intelligence agent."

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Source: Rossiiskaya Gazeta

Neither Intelligent nor Designed


Evolution succeeds where "Intelligent Design" fails in describing the natural world.
Bruce and Frances Martin

Are you puzzled by the appearance of the words "Intelligent Design" in recent anti-evolution discourse? Most of us lack time to follow the history of this term or its analysis in the expert volumes produced by Robert T. Pennock and others (see references). But as the phrase Intelligent Design shows up more and more often in public debate over science education, skeptical citizens need a handle on this topic. [For recent previous articles on this subject in the Skeptical Inquirer see Mark Perakh, "Intelligent Design: Dembski's Presentation Without Arguments," November/December 2002; Massimo Pigliucci, "Design Yes, Intelligent No," September/October 2001 (Science and Religion issue); and the section "Evolution and Intelligent Design" in the World Skeptics Conference report, September/October 2002.]

Intelligent Design is a well-worn concept in theological argument. Since ancient times, the harmony and complexity of natural organs and systems have served as "proof" for the existence of God. In modern times before Darwin (1859), William Paley (1802) was the most famous proponent of this idea. Remember the watch found on the heath? Paley supposed that, just as the discovery of such an intricate mechanical setting would be proof of a human designer, so the intricate mechanisms of the natural world, such as the human eye, prove the existence of a benevolent, divine designer. Today design has new currency in the latest anti-evolution thrust. Pennock gives a list of its academic sponsors (Pennock 1999, 29) and cites Philip Johnson as "the most influential new creationist and unofficial general" of the Intelligent Design school. Johnson is a retired professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial (1991) and Defeating Darwinism (1997). Since the word design itself implies plan or purpose, it appears redundant to say "intelligent design" unless one means to imply intelligence of the highest order or divine intelligence. Despite its abstract aura, the origin of the term is undeniably religious.

By their own definition, creationists believe that the world in general, and mankind in particular, are designed and exist for a divinely ordained purpose (Pennock 2001). Therefore, creationists reject the possibility that new species appear through evolution by common descent, which proceeds without a preordained purpose. They offer as the alternative Intelligent Design: the purposeful fashioning of each species by an intelligent designer-by implication God. Like its forerunner, creation science, this movement presumes that by undermining Darwinism they ensure Intelligent Design reigns as the sole available alternative, ignoring numerous other creation myths. A full defense of evolution is available elsewhere; our purpose in this short article is to cite some cases incompatible with Intelligent Design.

Does the real world show evidence of wise, omniscient design? To be plausible, an argument must take all the facts into account. The scientific study of biology shows us that existing species have serious flaws, belying claims of a beneficent creator. Intelligent design spokesmen ignore vestigial organs, anatomical inefficiency, destructive mutation, the sheer wastefulness of natural processes, and the findings of molecular genetics. The constant interplay of random mutations honed by selection pressures during evolution produces many instances of poor design. What follows are a few of the less technical of the hundreds of examples of flaws noted by paleontologists and other students of evolutionary processes.

Vestigial Features
Darwin was not only convinced by the success of evolution in explaining numerous instances of common descent, but also by its ability to account for vestigial organs, "parts in this strange condition, bearing the stamp of inutility." These organs are of little or no current use to an organism but are probable remnants of an earlier form from which the organism evolved. Intelligent Design has no explanation for these organs. As Stephen Jay Gould has put it, "Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution-paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history follows perforce" (Gould 1980; Gould in Pennock 2001, 670). Let's look at some examples.

Cockroaches and other insects may grow an extra set of wings, as did their fossilized ancestors. Unlike most other snakes, boa constrictors possess small vestigial hind legs. Crabs possess small useless tails under their broad, flat bodies, remnants of some ancestral form. Flounders lie flat on the sea floor and in the adult both eyes are on the same side of the head, but when young the eyes are on opposite sides of the head and one moves to the other side! The earlier stage is a clue to an evolutionary path. The result is a wrenched and distorted skull.

The frigate, a non-aquatic bird, does not benefit from the webbing on its feet. In flightless birds the number of usable limbs is reduced from four to two with the presence of two non-functional limbs. Penguins possess hollow bones although they do not have the same need for minimal body weight as flying birds. Otherwise fully aquatic animals such as sea snakes, dolphins, and whales must rise to the surface to breathe air. Modern whales exhibit several non-functional vestigial traits. Fetuses of baleen whales bear teeth that are absorbed as the fetus matures; adult baleen whales do not have teeth.

Paleontologists proposed that whales had evolved from land mammals with legs, and therefore, in an example of its predictive power, the theory of evolution forecast that legs would be found on fossilized whales. In recent years the evolution of whales from now extinct land mammals has become well documented through newly found fossils from the Eocene epoch, about 50 million years ago (Wong 2002). The fossilized whales contain well-defined feet and legs. In modern adult whales, the front legs have evolved into flippers and the rear legs have shrunk so that no visible appendages appear. Hindlimbs still appear in the fetuses of some modern whales but disappear by adulthood. Externally invisible, vestigial diminished pelvic bones occur in modern adult whales. Evolution accounts for these useless vestigial elements as leftovers in the development of whales from land mammals, but they remain unaccounted for by Intelligent Design.

Anatomical Inefficiency
Some anatomical features that may be useful to a creature do not show efficient design one could term intelligent. They testify instead to the process of natural selection. Tails have a widely varied role in mammal bodies. They appear essential for monkeys, but the small, wispy tail in a large elephant seems useless. Tails are absent in adult apes and humans, except they appear in early embryos and are residual in the coccyx at the end of the vertebra. In some human babies a residual tail is clipped at birth.

Why should moles, bats, whales, dogs, and humans among others possess forelimbs based on the same bones that have been adapted in each case unless inherited from a common ancestor? Starting from scratch, an engineer could do a better job in each case. In pandas a normally small bone in the wrist has undergone significant enlargement and elongation so it is opposable as a thumb to the other five fingers, enabling them to strip leaves from a bamboo stalk (Gould 1980; Gould in Pennock 2001, 669). To achieve this feat, the thumb muscles normally assigned to other functions have been rerouted. It is difficult to see how this anatomical architect would receive another commission.

The early embryos of most animals with backbones have eyes on the sides of the head. In those such as humans that develop binocular vision, during development the eyes must move forward. Sometimes this forward movement is incomplete and a baby is born with the eyes too far apart.

In mammals the recurrent laryngeal nerve does not extend directly from brain to larynx, but upon reaching the neck bypasses the larynx and drops into the chest where it loops around a lung ligament and only then retraces up to the larynx in the neck. While a one-foot length of nerve would be required for the direct route from brain to larynx in giraffes, the actual length of the doubled-back nerve from the chest of giraffes may reach twenty feet (K.C. Smith in Pennock 2001, 724-725).

There are many features of human anatomy we might wish were better designed. Our jaws are a little small to accept wisdom teeth that are often impacted and may need pulling. The openings of our tubes for breathing and swallowing are so close that we often choke. In humans the appendix serves no apparent purpose, but it is infection-prone, leading to inflammation and potentially fatal appendicitis. In men the testes form inside the abdomen and then drop through the abdominal wall into the scrotum, leaving two weak areas that often herniate, requiring surgery to relieve pain. Also in men the collapsible urethra passes though the prostate gland that enlarges in later life and impedes urine flow. Anatomists cite many more examples of such inefficient or useless structures, such as nipples in male primates.

Creationists often cite the human eye as a model of perfection for which Darwinism cannot account, claiming that such a complex organ could not be created by natural selection. But throughout the animal kingdom eyes have evolved many times, presumably beginning with plentiful photosensitive material followed by a stepwise incremental buildup over generations to the current organs. And the human eye is far from a model of perfection. In all vertebrate eyes the "wire" from each of three million light-sensitive retinal cells passes in front of the retina, and the collection is bundled into the optic nerve, creating a blind spot. This set-up is just the reverse of what any designer would construct: wires leading away from the backside, not light side, of the light-sensitive cells (Dawkins 1987). On the other hand, the wires do lead from the backside of the separately evolved eyes of the squid, octopus, and other cephalopods. Why does the designer favor squid over humans?

Instead of the efficiency and elegance one expects from Intelligent Design, we see numerous vestigial characteristics and instances of poor design. Such anomalies are both expected and accommodated by evolution. Only evolution offers a self-contained explanation of why more than 99 percent of the species that have lived on Earth are extinct. What sport does a benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent deity receive from visiting on humans and other mammals all sorts of afflictions including parasitic bacteria, viral diseases, cancer, and genetic diseases?

These and many other examples suggest that any Intelligent Design must have been undertaken by a committee of fractious gods who could not agree. Taken at face value, invocation of Intelligent Design supports an argument for polytheism.

Of course creationists might respond to these and other examples by saying that the ways of God are mysterious and inscrutable, and that we are not wise enough to comment on the means by which he achieves his ends. If anyone offers this argument, what gives him license to propose Intelligent Design as the means by which God achieves his ends? Such a personal view is patently religious, and does not belong in any science classroom.

Destructive Mutations
The study of molecular evolution strongly reinforces and extends the classic whole animal conclusions for evolution, while appearing whimsical at best for an intelligent designer. Modern evolutionary theory regards genetic mutation in the DNA of a species as the source of favorable variations that nature selects for their value in aiding the survival of an individual. But mutation occurs randomly, and in most cases the variation is harmful and results in miscarriage, deformity, or early death. Such mutations are passed from one generation to the next, sometimes lurking in recessive genes until they meet a recessive partner. One example is cystic fibrosis, which causes mucus buildup in lungs, liver, and pancreas. Sickle cell anemia results in poor blood circulation, general weakness, and when inherited from both parents, painful crises owing to sickling and clumping of the red cells. Phenylketonuria prevents infant brain development. Muscular dystrophy wastes muscles and often leaves the victim helpless. In other cases such mutations are dominant. Huntington's Disease causes gradual deterioration of brain tissue in middle age. Hypercholesterolemia causes heart disease due to cholesterol build-up. Neither intelligence nor design seems at work in producing such cruel mutations, though modern evolutionary theory fully accounts for nature's fickleness.

Discoveries of Molecular Genetics
In the genetic material, DNA, the sequence of four nucleic bases furnishes three-letter code words for the sequence of twenty amino acids that occur in proteins. Owing to similarities among the properties of some of the twenty amino acids, substitutions may occur without consequence for proper protein folding and function. For many animals it has proved possible to follow the sequences of both nucleic bases in DNA and amino acids in proteins to spot the changes that have occurred over time. One example is the blood protein hemoglobin, which is a tetramer composed of two alpha and two beta chains working in concert to bind four oxygen molecules. For the beta chain of hemoglobin, the number of amino acid differences compared to that in normal adult humans of 146 amino acids appears in parentheses after the listed animal: gorilla (1), gibbon (2), rhesus monkey (8), dog (15), horse and cow (25), mouse (27), chicken (45), frog (67), and lamprey (125) (Campbell 1987). Clearly, species more closely related to man have fewer differences from humans in their hemoglobin. Since each amino acid substitution requires millions of years to occur, a time scale for branching descent from a common organism according with evolutionary theory is more probable than creation by an intelligent designer.

The known library of DNA and protein sequences is now so huge that numerous comparisons between organisms are possible. If evolution had not already been elaborated by Darwin, we would be led to it by the more recent results of substitutions in molecular sequences. Many amino acid substitutions result in inactive mutant proteins that are not further elaborated by the organism, if it survives the mutation. On the other hand, many substitutions do not impair function and result in amino acid sequence variation of a functional protein, as in the example of the beta chain of hemoglobin above. Furthermore, in humans there are more than 100 amino acid substitutions in the 146-amino-acid beta chain of normal adult human hemoglobin that still yield a functional protein, and most carriers are unaware that they bear a hemoglobin variant. On the other hand, the substitution of only the third amino acid in the beta chain of human hemoglobin gives rise to an aberrant hemoglobin that aggregates within and produces sickling of the red cell with consequent reduced oxygen-carrying capability. This kind of trial-and-error probing involving numerous inter- and intra-species amino acid substitutions has evolution written all over it; it is very difficult to ascribe any design or anything intelligent to this process.

Human Nature
Is it any more than an overweening human ego that proposes intelligent design for such a poorly designed creature? In this egoism, creationists confirm in a perverse way that they have great difficulty rising above their animal origins. It is by reducing influence of ego that the nobler aspects of human nature emerge in humanistic values, values which have been appropriated by some religions.

Of course, evolutionary history fails to induce the warm and fuzzy feeling inspired by Intelligent Design. People would rather believe in a benevolent creator who cares for them. Evolution offers no mercy for the individual or species that lack the traits enabling them to compete in the struggle for food or adapt to changing environments. Fossil evidence shows the number of species that have failed these trials. An Intelligent Designer would create only successful species, but evolutionary theory can account for the many unsuccessful ones. If Intelligent Design fails so badly to account for the real world, aside from the emotional appeal of a wise providence, is there any justification for its continued promotion?

Addendum: The Law of Evolution
We end with a comment on the status of evolution-as fact, "just a theory," or something in between. In the physical sciences there are many observations or facts that have given rise to generalizations: two of these are the law of conservation of matter and the law of definite proportions (which states that when two or more elements combine to form a compound they do so in definite proportions by weight). The statements of facts and their convenient generalization to laws are expressed in terms of macroscopically observable and weighable quantities. The overarching explanation for these laws is achieved in atomic theory, which is expressed in terms of invisible atoms and molecules. No one thinks that atomic theory is "just a theory," for it possesses extraordinary explanatory power and provides the context in which many of the conveniences of our civilization depend. Thus we proceed from many observations or facts to their generalization in terms of laws, both levels macroscopic, to a theory expressed in terms of invisible entities.

If we now apply this scheme to biology, we see that the concept of evolution is at the law level, as it summarizes the results of a large number of observations or facts about organisms. The analogous theory is natural selection or other means by which evolution is achieved. Unknown nearly 150 years ago to Darwin, explanations of macroscopic evolution in terms of microscopic genes and molecular sequences of nucleic bases in DNA are known to us. Placing the concept of evolution at the law level clarifies its status; it is not a theory.

In contrast, the premise of Intelligent Design fails to meet even the most fundamental elements of rational inquiry. By being able to account for everything by divine edict, Intelligent Design explains nothing.

S.Korean Spy Chief's Visit to N.Korea Questioned

National Intelligence Service Chief Kim Man-bok made a secret visit to Pyongyang on Dec. 18, the day before South Korea's presidential election, it was emerged on Thursday. The NIS said that during his one-day stay the NIS director installed a stone marker for a pine tree that President Roh Moo-hyun planted at Pyongyang Central Botanical Garden during the inter-Korean summit in October.

However, a South Korean intelligence official claimed that the NIS head was in Pyongyang to discuss a proposed visit to South Korea by Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea.

He said he was skeptical that the top North Korean government official would actually make the visit, and added that it would be unlikely for the South Korean spy chief to visit the North just to install a marker.

The NIS denied that its chief visited North Korea to discuss a visit by Kim Yong-nam. Roh and Kim planted the tree to commemorate the inter-Korean summit on Oct. 4. A marker was not installed at the time.

(englishnews@chosun.com )

January 03, 2008

PICTURE OF THE DAY : A Baluch girl

Courtesy : Flickr
Original Pic: Link

After Bhutto's Murder: A Way Forward for Pakistan

Asia Briefing N°74
2 January 2008


Gravely damaged by eight years of military rule, Pakistan’s fragile political system received a major blow on 27 December 2007, when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Her murder, days before the parliamentary elections scheduled for 8 January 2008 and now postponed to 18 February, put an end to a U.S. effort to broker a power-sharing deal with President Pervez Musharraf which the centre-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader had already recognised was unrealistic. Her popularity and the belief Musharraf and his allies were responsible, directly or indirectly, have led to violent countrywide protests.

Stability in Pakistan and its contribution to wider anti-terror efforts now require rapid transition to legitimate civilian government. This must involve the departure of Musharraf, whose continued efforts to retain power at all costs are incompatible with national reconciliation; an interim consensus caretaker government and a neutral Election Commission; and brief postponement of the elections to allow conditions to be created – including the restoration of judicial independence – in which they can be conducted freely and fairly.

Bhutto’s death has drawn the battle lines even more clearly between Musharraf’s military-backed regime and Pakistan’s moderate majority, which is now unlikely to settle for anything less than genuine parliamentary democracy. Many in Pakistan fear that the federation’s very survival could depend on the outcome of this struggle.

Belying his reiterated slogan of “Pakistan first”, Musharraf is placing regime survival and his personal political fortune first, just as he did in November. That month he imposed martial law, suspended the constitution, imprisoned thousands of lawyers and politicians and sacked the judiciary with the sole objective of preventing the Supreme Court from challenging the legitimacy of his re-election as president by a lame-duck and stacked Electoral College.

Musharraf gave up his position of Army Chief on 28 November under U.S. pressure, but the legitimacy of his presidential election remains contested. He withdrew martial law formally on 15 December, ending the emergency and reviving the constitution. At the same time, however, he not only did not restore the dismissed judges or void the repressive decrees he had issued but also unilaterally and without any legal basis proclaimed amendments to the constitution purporting to deny the courts and the parliament their constitutional prerogatives to challenge his changes.

Bhutto’s PPP and the centre-right Muslim League (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PML-N) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had reluctantly agreed to participate in the 8 January elections, motivated primarily by the desire to expose Musharraf’s intention to rig the vote. Stacked courts, partial caretaker governments, a subservient Election Commission, the gagging of the media, curbs on political party mobilisation and association and the actions of the security agencies all undermined the essential conditions for free and fair elections.

The regime’s international backers, particularly the U.S., continue to give signs of wanting to retain Musharraf in the presidency in the belief that he and the military (his sole support base) are the only guarantors of stability in a crucial country. But after Bhutto’s murder, and with the extent of popular anger now evident, elections that are not seen as free and fair would have disastrous consequences. The person of Musharraf has become so unpopular that his continuation in a position of power guarantees increasing domestic turmoil. By continuing to back him, Western governments might not just lose the battle for Pakistani hearts and minds, but could also be faced with the nightmare prospect of a nuclear-armed, Muslim-majority country of 165 million descending into violent internal conflict from which only extremist forces would stand to gain.

Bhutto’s party will survive her demise, and will, should her successors act wisely, remain a force for moderation and stability in Pakistan. Sharif’s party has vowed to work with the PPP to restore democracy, peace and stability in the country. The U.S. and its Western allies must recognise that Musharraf is not only not indispensable, but he is now a serious liability. Instead of backing a deeply unpopular authoritarian ruler who is seen as complicit in the death of Pakistan’s most popular politician, they must instead support democratic institutions and the people of Pakistan. It is time that the West acknowledges that only a legitimate elected government, led by one of the moderate parties, would have the authority and the popular backing to return Pakistan to its moderate democratic moorings.

In summary, the policy outcomes that need to happen over the next two months, and which should be strongly and consistently supported by the international community, and particularly those like the U.S. most capable of influencing them, are:

Musharraf’s resignation, with Senate Chairman Mohammadmian Soomro taking over under the constitution as acting president and appointing neutral caretaker governments at the national and provincial levels with the consensus of the major political parties in all four federal units;

postponement of the polls, accompanied with the announcement of an early new election date. The Election Commission announced on 2 January a postponement until 18 February. This is reasonable in and of itself but it said nothing about the other crucial changes discussed in this Briefing and which are needed if this step is to contribute to restoration of democracy in Pakistan;

full restoration of the constitution, including an independent judiciary and constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly and association and safeguards against illegal arrest and detention;

reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan, with the consensus of all major political parties; and

the transfer of power and legitimate authority to elected civilian hands.
Islamabad/Brussels, 2 January 2008


How many Kurdish uprisings till today?

Source: Turkish Daily News
Thursday, January 3, 2008

The other day, a reader sent me a list of all the Kurdish uprisings that occurred since Ottoman times to the present. Apparently, our history is full of them

Mehmet Ali Birand
We are only beginning to learn about our relations with our citizens of Kurdish origins. We had never been allowed to learn or talk about them before. The other day, a reader sent me a list of all the Kurdish uprisings that occurred since Ottoman times to the present. Apparently, our history is full of them.

I won't give his name, for he doesn't want me to, so I'll only say that he's a retired soldier. I understand that he used the general staff archives to compile a striking list of all the important Kurdish uprisings since Ottoman times. I guess there must also have been tens of small revolts, not important enough to record. I couldn't believe what I read. We never knew that our history was so full of frequent and suppressed Kurdish revolts, for the relations with our citizens of Kurdish origins had always been a taboo subject. Their discontentedness was always kept a secret. Cut out and keep the information below. You may not be able to find it anywhere else.

A- Kurdish uprisings during the Ottoman era:

Babanzade Abdurrahman Pacha uprising (1806- Mosul); Babanzade Ahmet Pacha uprising (1812 – Mosul); Zaza uprising (1820); Yezidi uprising (1830- Hakkari); Şerefhan uprising (1831- Bitlis); Bedirhan uprising (1835- Botan); Garzan uprising (1839- Diyarbakır); Ubeydullah uprising (1881- Hakkari); Brothers Bedirhan Osman Pacha and Hüseyin Pacha uprising (1872-Mardin-Cizre); Bedirhan Emin Ali uprising (1889- Erzincan); Bedirhaniler and Halil Rema uprising (1912-Mardin); Şeyh Selim Şehabettin and Ali uprising (1912- Bitlis); and Koşgari uprising (1920- Koşgiri)

B- Kurdish uprisings during Republic times:

Nasturi uprising (1924- Hakkari); Jilyan uprising (1926- Siirt); Şeyh Sait uprising (1925- Bingöl-Muş-Diyarbakır); Seit Taha and Seit Abdullah uprising (1925-Şemdinli); Reşkotan and Reman uprising (1925- Diyarbakır); Yakup Agha of Eruh and sons uprising (1926-Pervani); Güyan uprising (1926-Siirt); Haco uprising (1926- Nusaybin); First Ağrı uprising (1926); Koçuşağı uprising (1926- Silvan); Hakkari- Beytüşşebab uprising (1926); Mutki uprising (1927- Bitlis); Second Ağrı uprising Biçar operation (1927- Silvan); Zilanlı Resul Agha uprising (1929- Eruh); Zeylan uprising (1930- Van); Tutaklı Ali Can uprising (1930- Tutak-Bulanık-Hınıs); Oramar uprising (1930- Van) Third Ağrı operation (1930); Buban tribe uprising (1934- Bitlis); Abdurrahman uprising (1935-Siirt); Abdulkuddüs uprising (1935-Siirt); Sason uprising (1935-Siirt); Dersim uprising (1937-Tunceli); and PKK terrorism (1984-1999)

C- Founded and disbanded Kurdish organizations:

i - Marxist and Leninist organizations:

Revolutionary Association of Eastern Culture (DDKO); Revolutionary Association of Democratic Culture (DDKD); Revolutionary Association of Popular Culture (DHKD); and Democratic Cultural Association of Anti-Colonialism (ASDK-DER)

ii - Separatist organizations:

Kurdistan Democratic Party of Turkey (TKDP); Leading Labor Party of Kurdistan (KÖİP-PPKK); Kurdistan Socialist Party of Turkey ( TKSP); Rizgari Organization; Ala Rizgari Organization; Kawa Organization; National Liberation Organization of Kurdistan (KUK); Kurdistan Socialist Movement (TSK); Socialist Union of Kurdistan (Yekitiya Sosyalista Kurdistan – YSK); Tekoşin Organization ; Kurdistan Liberation Movement (TEVGER); and Kurdistan Labor Party (Partiye Karkaren Kurdistan /PKK)

iii - Student associations:

Kurdish Development Association; Kurdish Independence Association; and Kurdish Student Association of Istanbul

D - Other Kurdish movements within the region:

IRAQ: Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (IKDP); Patriotic Union of Kurdistan ( PUK- YNK-KYB) and Kurdistan Independence Party (PÜK)

IRAN: Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (İKDP) and Kurdish Workers' Revolutionary Organization (KOMALA)

SYRIA: Kurdish Socialist Party and Syrian Communist Party

* The translation of M.A.Birand's column was provided by Nuran İnanç. nuraninanc@gmail.com

Internet advances in 2008


The coming year may not bring many major technological breakthroughs, but could see significant changes in the way we connect to, and use, the internet.

Internet connectivity is likely to become increasingly mobile, which portable computers in particular becoming smaller. This will be possible through greater use of flash memory and drives, which have the added benefit of being more reliable and stable than old-fashioned hard drives.

Mobile internet take-up will also increase, with mobile broadband through Wimax becoming increasingly common, which increases the viability of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) telephone services, such as Skype-using broadband devices. Nonetheless, widespread use of mobile VoIP may not come this year -– for one thing, mobile carriers may not be enthusiastic about Skype and other services undercutting their rates.

Mobile devices will be developed that significantly improve the mobile browsing experience. In particular, Apple is likely to release an update to the iPhone, which will incorporate 3G technology. This will drive innovation among competitors, notably Nokia.

US recession risk is real


The US economy continues to suffer from a battered housing market and consumer credit crunch. These events have shaken financial markets and sparked fears of recession in 2008.

US economic data has displayed alternating weak and strong tendencies for months, generating considerable uncertainty about the direction of the economy. After slowing in the first half of 2007, the economy posted surprisingly strong 4.9% GDP growth in the third quarter. Consumer spending increased by a moderate 2.7% annualised rate, while US exports surged at an 18.9% rate to help drive forward the expansion.

Several key factors stand out among these mixed indicators:

Healthy export performance almost certainly was boosted by the sharply weaker dollar, which fell to record lows against several major currencies.
Capital spending for equipment and software increased by a solid 7.2% in the third quarter.
Labour markets have been steady, with employers creating 94,000 net new jobs in November and 170,000 in October.
Closely watched initial unemployment claims have drifted upward in recent months, but are nowhere near the surging levels that would presage a recession.
However, a wide range of monthly indicators, including industrial production, orders for capital goods, building permits for new housing, and retail sales have shown weakness.
Private sector economists on average anticipate GDP growth of approximately 1.9% in 2008 -- the same as the latest IMF forecast. The range of individual forecasts by Federal Reserve governors and regional bank presidents -- just starting to be published as part of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's new openness policy -- was 1.6-2.6%, or 2.1% on average. Yet a number of prominent economists, including former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, have argued that the odds of a recession are closer to "50-50".

If a recession develops in 2008, the impact of the decline in housing prices on consumer spending and access to credit will be responsible. MEW is now in a reversal phase and likely substantially to weaken consumption spending. This suggests that growth will under-perform relative to the trend rate of 3% per year, as the economy enters an adjustment phase. A full-fledged recession cannot be ruled out.

QUOTE OF THE DAY : Vikram Sood, Taliban in Pakistan

"...recent report (November 2007) by SENLIS Council, a Britain-based international policy think-tank. The report is called ‘Afghanistan on the Brink’, but also discusses Pakistan. There is also a map that shows permanent Taliban presence in all of the NWFP, most of Punjab and northern Balochistan. Sindh is depicted as having substantial Taliban presence. Bhutto’s assassination only emphasises this growing Taliban presence and the support or sympathy they receive from various sections of the Pakistani establishment." Vikram Sood , former head of Indian's External Intelligence agency ,RAW -Research and Analysis Wing

Tolerating terror

Vikram Sood
Source : 30th Dec 2007, Hindustan Times

In the preface to the revised edition of her autobiography, Daughter of the East, Benazir Bhutto begins by saying: “I didn’t chose this life; it chose me. Born in Pakistan, my life mirrors its turbulence, its tragedies and its triumphs.” She goes on, “Once again Pakistan is in the international spotlight. Terrorists who use the name of Islam threaten its stability. The democratic forces believe terrorism can be eliminated by promoting the principles of freedom. A military dictatorship plays dangerous games of deception and intrigue. Fearful of losing power, it dithers, keeping the forces of modernisation at bay while the flames of terrorism flourish.” She wrote this in April 2007.

Bhutto represented modernity to the increasingly obscurantist power-brokers in Pakistan and, therefore, a threat to them. She represented, in some ways, a democratic hope for ordinary Pakistanis. She was thus perceived as a threat to the entrenched khaki interests.

Bhutto ended her autobiography with prophetic words. She said, “So as I prepare to return to an uncertain future in Pakistan in 2007, I fully understand the stakes not only for myself, and my country, but the entire world. I realise that I can be arrested. I realise that like the assassination of Benigno Aquino in Manila in August 1983, I can be gunned down on the airport tarmac when I land... But I do what I have to do, and am determined to return to fulfil my pledge to the people of Pakistan, to stand by them in their democratic aspirations.” It almost happened this way on the day of her arrival.

Ultimately, her prophecy came true. Judging from the last video clips of Bhutto’s life, the assassin knew she was wearing a bullet-proof vest, so he aimed for her neck. He knew her route, and was waiting for her. The assassin or assassins were trained, skilled and the bomb blast was either a fall-back or a diversion to allow escape. We will never know.

It is reasonable to assume that there must have been an assessment about the threat to Bhutto’s life, especially after the October attack. Despite this, the assassin had easy access to his target. This can only mean that those involved in providing her security were lax, or just callous and careless or worse, they were complicit.

The assassination has occurred at a time when Musharraf’s approval rating and his credibility among Pakistanis is at its lowest — lower than that of Osama bin Laden and Bhutto. People are prepared to believe the worst about him and not willing to accept the best from him. There has been a constitutional breakdown and institutional collapse in the country. The former Chief Justice of Pakistan and other judges have been locked up, the media have been gagged, political parties emasculated and other centres of nationalist dissent, like Baloch leaders Akbar Khan Bugti and Balach Marri, killed by Pakistani authorities. Any judicial probe ordered now would lack credibility because the courts have been widely suborned by Musharraf.

It is interesting and worrying to read a recent report (November 2007) by SENLIS Council, a Britain-based international policy think-tank. The report is called ‘Afghanistan on the Brink’, but also discusses Pakistan. There is also a map that shows permanent Taliban presence in all of the NWFP, most of Punjab and northern Balochistan. Sindh is depicted as having substantial Taliban presence. Bhutto’s assassination only emphasises this growing Taliban presence and the support or sympathy they receive from various sections of the Pakistani establishment.

Repeated attacks in recent months on the army and the ISI in Rawalpindi by unknown assailants signify that there is something more sinister happening in Pakistan.

Yet, those who planned and executed this attack must have taken several aspects into consideration. Bhutto’s death leaves the PPP without an effective and acceptable leader. The immediate beneficiaries in an election now would be Musharraf’s boys in the PML(Q), while the blame for the killing falls on al-Qaeda. If the PPP does manage to win the elections riding on a sympathy vote, despite various efforts by the authorities to prevent this, its leadership will be divided and thus easy to handle. If, like the PML(N), the PPP too chooses to boycott the elections, then the PML(Q) will have a free home-run. The hope is that the agitation will eventually die down and the murder will become just another episode in Pakistan’s history.

It does not matter if the elections are described by every Pakistani as a farce, since approval from the US to go ahead with them has already been received. As of now, the elections are supposed to be held on schedule, but if the violence in the country escalates and the army has to be called in, it is possible that they may have to be postponed. The calculation probably is that the leaderless agitation and the anger on the streets will eventually subside. It has to be remembered that the last time elections in Pakistan were ordered by a dictator, the country split. And as already stated in these columns earlier (August 20, 2007), Pakistan faces a bigger crisis today than it did in 1971.

For American policy-makers, having messed around in the region for decades, salvaging US policy means protecting Pakistan.

This, in turn, means bolstering Musharraf under all circumstances, even when it was known that there is institutionalised double-crossing of benefactors in the hunt for terrorists and in the use of largesse supplied. This has been America’s Magnificent Obsession.

The current American blind spot for the generals of Pakistan is similar to that for the Shah of Iran and other surrogates in the past. Unfortunately, instead of persuading the US towards our perceptions of policy towards Pakistan, we are now seen to be following the US in putting all our eggs in a leaking Musharraf basket.

Second, all countries have an army, while in Pakistan, it is the army that has a country. No one denies the importance of the armed forces or intelligence agencies, but unless Pakistan adopts a system of governance where the army retains its special perks and privileges, yet remains subservient to the civil authority, Pakistan will never start to move towards being a ‘normal’ country.

Third, very often, Pakistanis refer to the ‘root cause’, meaning Kashmir, in the context of improving Indo-Pak relations. There is a larger issue here. Pakistan must address its own ‘root cause’ first — its increasingly jehadi mindset. The mullahs are winning in Pakistan thanks to what is taught to its children not just in madrasas but even in mainstream schools. A curriculum of hatred and bigotry only leaves the young with warped notions about the rest of the world as some of them find their way into the corridors of power.

Bhutto’s assassination may make some difference internally in Pakistan but will have little immediate impact on Indo-Pak relations. Her assassination in Rawalpindi, the unofficial capital of Pakistan, only heightens the fact that terrorists have the ability to strike at symbols of power and their own mentors in that country. The extent to which power in Pakistan is being wielded by an intolerant section, in league with some in centres of power, is frightening. The drift towards radicalism and intolerance that began with the jehad in the 1980s has now become a tidal wave which many outside Pakistan fail to recognise or accept

Tata small car to be rolled out-- Oxford Analytics's Opinion

Source: Oxford Analytica
Emerging trend

Tata Motors will this week launch its long awaited 'people's car' in Delhi. Much is riding on the new four-door vehicle, a pet project of Tata conglomerate chairman, Ratan Tata. Its $2,000 price tag has the potential to give the market a dramatic shake-up, with competitors already considering their own versions.

However, there are doubts about its prospects. The rising cost of steel and other components threatens to eat into profit margins, and there are also concerns about the environmental impact of the car and about how it will fare against a sizeable and affordable second-hand market. The test will come with a commercial launch in India expected towards the end of the year.

India has emerged as a key production centre for global automobile manufacturing, while ownership has surged. The launch takes place amid growing speculation that Tata will soon acquire Ford's Jaguar and Land Rover brands, confirming the growing global status of 'India Inc.'

US : Inefficiencies in the Arms Export Process

Three key trends indicate that DDTC's--Department of State's (State) Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) , arms export licensing process is under stress.

  1. First, the number of arms export cases processed by DDTC increased 20 percent between fiscal years 2003 and 2006. Most of this increase was for licenses for permanent export.
  2. Second, during the same period, median processing times almost doubled.
  3. Third, the number of open arms export cases increased 50 percent from about 5,000 in October 2002 to about 7,500 in April 2007, with a high of more than 10,000 cases in September 2006.

At the beginning of fiscal year 2007, DDTC launched a campaign to reduce the growing number of open cases. Through extraordinary measures--such as canceling staff training, meetings, and industry outreach, and pulling available staff from other duties to process cases--DDTC was able to cut the number of open cases by 40 percent in 3 months. However, such measures are not sustainable in the long term, do not address underlying inefficiencies and problems, and may have negative unintended consequences for the mission. While some blips in the trends can be attributed to onetime events or efforts--such as DDTC's campaign to reduce open cases--procedural inefficiencies, electronic processing system shortcomings, and human capital challenges underlie the overall trends. For example, GAO's analysis shows that DDTC is taking increasingly longer to refer cases to other agencies or State bureaus for additional review--from 7 days in fiscal year 2003 to 20 days during the first 7 months of fiscal year 2007. In addition, implementation of DDTC's electronic system for submitting applications has been problematic, and electronic processing has not been the promised panacea for improving processing times. DDTC does not perform systematic assessments to identify root causes of increased workload, processing times, and open cases and, in turn, develop sustainable solutions.


IPI Gas Pipeline to Bring Regional States Closer

TEHRAN (FNA)- Iranian Ambassador to Islamabad Mashallah Shakeri Wednesday said that Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project will not only open new avenues of cooperation, but also bring regional countries closer.

He made the statement in a meeting with Pakistan's Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Ahsanullah Khan in Islamabad, discussing bilateral cooperation in oil and gas sectors.

Both sides expressed satisfaction over the progress in IPI gas pipeline project, reiterating the desire of their leadership for its early implementation for the benefit of the entire region.

The Pakistani minister said that his government was taking concrete steps for exploiting untapped hydrocarbon resources spanning over 627,000 sq. km sedimentary areas to meet the speed of socioeconomic growth in the country.

He said that more onshore and offshore blocks would be opened for enhancing the oil and gas exploration activities in the country which would provide enormous investment opportunities.

The Pakistani official also said that there exists tremendous scope for promoting Iran-Pakistan ties in the oil, gas, and mineral sectors and invited Iranian companies to participate in the upcoming petroleum projects for learning a lot from each other's experience.

Secretary Petroleum Farrak Qayyum was also present in the meeting.

‘Browning’ of African technology —G Pascal Zachary

Daily Times , Pakistan

Chinese mastery over ultra-small, cheap “micro-hydro” dams, which can generate tiny amounts of electricity from mere trickles of water, appeals to power-short, river-rich Africans. Tens of thousands of micro-hydro systems operate in China, and nearly none in Africa

Forget MIT. Hello, Tsing Hua University. For Clothilde Tingiri, a hot young programmer at Rwanda’s top software company, dreams of Beijing, not Cambridge, animate her ambitions. Desperate for more education, this fall she plans to attend graduate school for computer science — in China, not America.

The Chinese are no strangers to Rwanda. Near Tingiri’s office, Rwanda’s largest telecom company, Rwandatel, is installing new wireless telephony equipment made by Huawei of Shenzen. Africa boasts the world’s fastest-growing market for wireless telephony, and Huawei — with offices in 14 African countries — is running away with the business, sending scores of engineers into the bush to bring a new generation of low-cost technology to some of the planet’s poorest people.

Motivated by profit and market share rather than philanthropy, Huawei is outpacing American and European rivals through lower prices, faster action, and a greater willingness to work in difficult environments. According to Chris Lundh, the American chief of Rwandatel, “That’s the way things work in Africa now. The Chinese do it all.”

Well, not quite. Across sub-Saharan Africa, engineers from India — armed with appropriate technologies honed in their home market — are also making their mark. India supplies Africa with computer-education courses, the most reliable water pumps, low-cost rice-milling equipment, and dozens of other technologies.

The sudden influx of Chinese and Indian technologies represents the “browning” of African technology, which has long been the domain of “white” Americans and Europeans who want to apply their saving hand to African problems.

“It is a tectonic shift to the East with shattering implications,” says Calestous Juma, a Kenyan professor at Harvard University who advises the African Union on technology policy.

One big change is in education. There are roughly 2,000 African students in China, most of whom are pursuing engineering and science courses. According to Juma, that number is expected to double over the next two years, making China “Africa’s leading destination for science and engineering education”.

The “browning” of technology in Africa is only in its infancy, but the shift is likely to accelerate. Chinese and Indian engineers hail from places that have much more in common with nitty-gritty Africa than comfortable Silicon Valley or Cambridge. Africa also offers a testing ground for Asian-designed technologies that are not yet ready for US or European markets.

A good example is a solar-powered cooking stove from India, which has experimented with such stoves for decades. Wood-burning stoves are responsible for much of Africa’s deforestation, and, in many African cities where wood accounts for the majority of cooking fuel, its price is soaring. The Indian stove is clearly a work-in-progress; it is too bulky and not durable enough to survive the rigors of an African village. But with India’s vast internal market, many designers have an incentive to improve it. How many designers in America or Europe can say the same?

Of course, technology transfer from China and India could be a mere smokescreen for a new “brown imperialism” aimed at exploiting African oil, food, and minerals. In recent years, China’s government alone has invested billions of dollars in African infrastructure and resource extraction, raising suspicions that a new scramble for Africa is underway.

But Africans genuinely need foreign technology, and the Chinese, in particular, are pushing hard — even flamboyantly — to fill the gap. This year, Nigeria’s government bought a Chinese-made satellite, and even paid the Chinese to launch it into space in May. China was so eager to provide space technology to Africa’s most populous country that it beat out 21 other bidders for a contract worth $300 million.

China’s technology inroads are usually less dramatic, but no less telling. In African medicine, Chinese herbs and pharmaceuticals are quietly gaining share. For example, the Chinese-made anti-malarial drug artesunate has become part of the standard treatment within just a few years.

Likewise, Chinese mastery over ultra-small, cheap “micro-hydro” dams, which can generate tiny amounts of electricity from mere trickles of water, appeals to power-short, river-rich Africans. Tens of thousands of micro-hydro systems operate in China, and nearly none in Africa.

Americans do-gooders like Nicholas Negroponte, with his $100 laptop, have identified the right problem: Africa is way behind technologically and rapid leap-frogging is possible. But Chinese and Indian scientists argue that Africa can benefit from a changing of the technological guard. They may be right. —DT-PS

G Pascal Zachary is the author of The Diversity Advantage: Multicultural Identity in the New World Economy and a fellow of The German Marshall Fund

Rising India : Widening Of The Diplomatic Reach And Role

Salman Haidar

At the beginning of the year, in the customary stock-taking, what is immediately striking is the extent to which a rising India’s diplomatic reach and role has grown. New Delhi has established itself as an important way station for globe trotting dignitaries of all description ~ statesmen, captains of industry, media luminaries, eminent personalities in varied fields. India draws them, just as India’s soft power, Bollywood to the fore, is felt more and more widely across the globe. It is a picture of a country on the move whose fast increasing wealth and confidence is the honey that draws the global parade.

There are important signs that relationships with several old partners have been revitalised. In a quest for partnership, many top level European visitors have come and more are on the way. Consultative mechanisms between India and Europe that have been in place for years without achieving much have taken on a fresh significance. Thus the annual consultations with the EU are now top level occasions where once they were rather perfunctory affairs. With that, India can now expect to be a major part of the expanding Asia-Europe dialogue, including consultations within ASEM to which earlier it had no access.

Innovative policy

More innovative initiatives in foreign policy have also begun to mature, opening up real possibilities for the future. NAM may be fading but from its legacy have emerged new endeavours that are full of promise. Among the most striking of these is the IBSA initiative that joins India to Brazil and South Africa in a group that is finding fresh ways of mutual cooperation. Solidarity between Asia, Africa and Latin America was a leitmotif of NAM; in a sense, this laid the basis for the growing cooperation in the IBSA framework between three of the relatively advanced countries of these continents.

Another maturing association is the India-China-Russia consultation that strengthens dialogue between these three large Asian countries. The strategic possibilities of their closer exchanges will no doubt figure in the shaping of Asia's future, as will the strengthened association between India and South-east Asia. To be noted, too, is how India’s need for raw materials, especially oil and gas, have driven it with a new urgency and some success to Central Asia and also Africa, regions that will surely feature more prominently in future priorities.

On a broader scale, then, the activities of the past year provide an encouraging picture of an expanding horizon. Nearer home, however, it is not so positive a view. Entrenched problems continue to trouble policy-makers, and initiatives that seemed at one stage to promise much have in fact yielded little. Disappointments with the functioning of SAARC have not abated, despite the continued effort to get the organisation off the ground. Member-states remain reluctant to give full play to what the experts have been urging for over a decade, and there is little sign that the walls between them will be removed in any sort of hurry. India’s rapid advance has not yet had the effect of making it into a growth engine for South Asia as a whole, let alone the regional stabilising force it is set to become.

At one end of the region, Afghanistan remains mired in problems which are a worrying source of violence and terror, while across the eastern limit of SAARC Myanmar’s challenge to the international community is yet to be effectively handled. Political uncertainties in Bangladesh and Nepal also have their impact on India. The country’s “near abroad” is thus not a comforting environment, though it seems to draw less attention in New Delhi than is required.

Unfavourable international conditions compound the problem, most conspicuously in Afghanistan but also elsewhere in the region: India’s purpose of developing its relations with Iran in many fields, especially the long anticipated gas pipeline project, remains hostage to US suspicion.

Disappointing results in certain crucial areas of foreign policy are also to be noted. Most conspicuous is the unresolved matter of the India-US nuclear deal. For more than two years, this has been the landmark foreign policy initiative of the country. It has had the appearance of a gold-plated entry key to the higher reaches of global security discourse, something from which India has hitherto been deliberately excluded. Instead of enjoying the status that its nuclear capacity and foreign policy record should merit, India has been subjected to sanctions and kept to the periphery. It is well recognised that the India-US nuclear accord can inter alia serve to remove a legitimate Indian grievance and open many doors that presently remain closed. Nor, despite all the dust that has been raised, does acceding to the treaty entail any loss of sovereign independence in critical areas of national activity.

Indeed, US critics of the deal, and there are quite a few, have opposed it on the ground that it gives India too much without obtaining any adequate quid pro quo. In view of the strong commitment of the US Administration, the last hope of such critics was that internal dissent in India might yet hold up the deal, and this is what has in effect taken place. The argument is not yet over, of course, and we still hear more or less hopeful sounds from proponents of the deal in New Delhi, but the signs suggest that roadblocks put up by the opponents will be difficult to bypass. The government’s inability to bite the bullet when it came to the final reckoning has dampened expectation that something may yet be retrieved.

Talks with Pakistan

The other major initiative of the present government relates to Pakistan. The dialogue pursued with this neighbour has yielded significant results. It has raised genuine expectation that something could be agreed between the two even on the seemingly insoluble problem of Kashmir. There has been a notable improvement in the bilateral atmosphere and several useful CBMs have been agreed between the two countries. But in the last several months there has been a marked slowdown. Partly this has to do with the mounting internal difficulties in Pakistan, and in the current turmoil following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination there is obviously no room for any serious bilateral dialogue. But prior to President Musharraf’s long drawn political difficulties there were moments when it seemed that something could be done and big steps taken. The opportunity was not taken, the moment passed, and it is difficult to envisage when, if at all, it will return. It would be unfortunate indeed if after doing so much to prepare the ground, the legacy of this government should be nothing better than of a vision unfulfilled.

It is thus a mixed picture that is left by 2007. The country’s place in the world has been consolidated further and its global image has improved. Yet in two major endeavours that bid fair to place it on an altogether more elevated international path we have come up short.

The writer is India’s former Foreign Secretary.

The 2008 BCG 100 New Global Challengers

The 2008 BCG 100 New Global Challengers: How Top Companies from Rapidly Developing Economies Are Changing the World

by Marcos Aguiar, Arindam Bhattacharya, Laurent de Vitton, Jim Hemerling, David C. Michael, Harold L. Sirkin, Kevin Waddell, Bernd Waltermann, Kim Wee Koh
December 4, 2007

As we did in 2006, BCG has again identified 100 large and particularly successful companies that are based in rapidly developing economies and going global fast. Incumbent multinational companies will soon encounter them—if they haven't already—as formidable competitors in markets around the world, but also as potential suppliers, customers, and partners. The authors outline these companies' performance, analyze their motivations and strategies, and set forth key implications for incumbents. Read an excerpt [PDF] or order the full copy of this

The Rise of South-South Trade

January 3, 2008; Page A2

January 3, 2008; Page A2

At a recent meeting of global business executives convened in Abu Dhabi by consulting firm A.T. Kearney, managers of sovereign-wealth funds had a message for U.S. and European executives: Work with your government to keep your markets open to us. If not, we'll go elsewhere.

The big government-controlled investment pools weren't just talking tough. Sure, the U.S. remains the world's largest and most attractive economy. But the past couple of decades have seen the rise of trade and investment not only between the rich countries of the North and developing economies of the South, but between South and South.

Turned away by the U.S., Dubai Ports World is expanding in China, India, Peru and Vietnam. Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company is investing in refineries in China's Fujian and Shandong provinces. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China last year bought a 20% stake in South Africa's Standard Bank. India's sprawling Tata Group has African investments ranging from the Taj Pamodzi hotel in Zambia, to a railroad-car and steel-fabrication plant in Mozambique.

A.T. Kearney says flows of money, investment and trade are creating a multicontinental market spanning the Indian Ocean. Showing a consultant's affection for catchphrases, it has dubbed this market Chimea -- Chinese and Indian know-how, money and thirst for resources ("chi"), plus Middle Eastern money and oil ("me"), plus African raw materials and opportunity ("a").

Boston Consulting Group lists 100 companies in 14 emerging-market countries that, it says, are becoming global players. (Read the publication.) Many prosper by selling to other developing countries: Revenue of India's Bajaj Auto has more than doubled over the past several years to $2.2 billion as it exports two- and three-wheeled vehicles. (See more on Bajaj.)


What are the implications of the rise of South-South trade and investment among emerging market countries, as opposed to old flows between North and South? Share your thoughts.In his recent book, "Africa's Silk Road: China and India's New Economic Frontier," World Bank economist Harry Broadman argues, "China and India have a growing middle class, with increasing purchasing power and with an increasing appetite for imported goods" -- from Africa. The Asian giants offer Africa more than markets, though. He says Chinese and Indian companies are beginning to expand beyond oil and mining in Africa to telecommunications, food processing, textiles and construction. (Read more on Mr. Broadman's book.)

Economists Cigdem Akin and M. Ayhan Kose, in a new analysis published by the International Monetary Fund, detail ways in which the "the globalization era" that began in 1986 is different from earlier decades. One big one: The two dozen countries they call "the emerging South" (from Brazil to China to India to South Africa) have diversified, grown and become more dependent on one another's growth and less on the North. (Read their paper.)

By contrast, countries of "the developing South" (from Bolivia to Bangladesh to Botswana) are just as tethered as ever to demand from the North.

With all the hype about China and India, it's easy to forget just how big a change this is. When the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam three decades ago, would anyone have imagined a Morgan Stanley ad on page one of The Wall Street Journal lauding Vietnam as a promising market for luxury goods?

In a 1979 lecture accepting the Nobel Prize in economics, Sir Arthur Lewis said: "For the past hundred years, the rate of growth of output in the developing world has depended on the rate of growth of output in the developed world. When the developed grow fast the developing grow fast, and when the developed slow down, the developing slow down." (Read the lecture.)

"Is this linkage inevitable?" asked the Caribbean-born, British-trained Princeton professor.

Sir Arthur bemoaned developing countries' dependence on rich countries for food, fertilizer, cement, steel and machinery. He argued -- hopefully and presciently -- that South-South trade could change the world for the better. "Taken as a group, lesser-developed countries could quickly end their dependence" on the North for food, fertilizer, cement and steel -- and "more gradually throw off their dependence for machinery."

"LDCs are capable of feeding themselves now," he added, "if they adopt appropriate agrarian policies and...[scientists] give us better varieties and improved technology."

A central question about this year's global economy is whether emerging markets -- both China and others -- can keep growing as they have been as the U.S. and Europe slow.

The answer turns on at least three factors: whether demand for commodities abates and hurts economies dependent on raw-material exports, whether turmoil in financial markets of the North disrupts lending to borrowers in the South, and whether there is enough self-sustaining demand among emerging-market economies to stoke their growth.

But the importance of the explosion of South-South trade and investment goes far beyond this year's outlook. It could be the opening of a new epoch of globalization -- one in which the global economic might of big U.S. and European companies is challenged like never before, one in which the remarkable success of China and other Asian economies in lifting their people out of poverty is spread -- finally -- to other poor continents.

Write to David Wessel at capital@wsj.com

Venezuela: Not What You Think

December 23rd 2007, by Robin Hahnel

12/01/07 "MRZine" - -- -In the case of Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution, the mainstream media and politicians in the United States have elevated their game of demonizing all who oppose US foreign policy and business interests to a higher level of absurdity than usual. According to the mainstream media, the only newsworthy stories in Venezuela are one sided diatribes lifted from the discredited, opposition-owned media in Venezuela. For example, we read about Chavez shutting down opposition TV stations. We hear that Chavez is rewriting the Venezuelan Constitution so he can be President for life. Chavez is a dictator, QED.

All the badly outgunned, alternative media in the US can do is try its best to rebut the bias in the storylines defined by the mainstream media. The tiny fraction of Americans who visit the alternative media discover that Chavez has submitted a proposal to change the Venezuelan Constitution in a number of ways, one of which is to eliminate term limits on the office of President. All changes will first have to be approved by the democratically elected Venezuelan National Assembly, and then also approved in a popular referendum before they become law. Only Americans who search out the alternative media discover that HugoChavez was elected President by a comfortable margin in 1998, survived an opposition-sponsored recall in 2004, and most recently was re-elected in December 2006 with more than 60% of the vote. International observers certified all three elections as fair and square. George Bush, on the other hand, was selected President by a partisan Supreme Court after losing the popular vote in 2000, and won re-election only because enough black voters in Ohio were disenfranchised by a partisan Republican official to keep the Buckeye State in the Republican column in 2004. Few observers believe Bush could survive a recall election today, but of course this basic element of democratic rule is not permitted by the US Constitution. Nonetheless, the only storyline ninety-nine percent of Americans hear remains: Hugo Chavez is a dictator and George Bush is the democratically elected leader of the free world.

Similarly, only the small fraction of Americans who access the alternative media learn that RCTV was not shut down because it campaigns openly against the government -- which it has for nine years. Instead, when its license came up for renewal, its application was denied because it had violated 200 conditions of its licensing agreement -- many violations having to do with its role in helping to organize a military coup that nearly toppled the duly elected President of the country. Moreover, the station continues to broadcast on a cable network, and the opposition in Venezuela still broadcasts on more major TV channels than there are channels sympathetic to the government. In stark contrast, the alternative media in the US cannot be viewed on any major channel. Consequently the vast majority of Americans receive all their news from a mainstream media which never questions whether the US has any right to dominate other nations, but only debates the wisdom of alternative strategies for doing so, and would never dream of questioning the desirability of an economic system dominated by their corporate owners. Nevertheless the storyline most Americans hear remains: Freedom of the press is dead in totalitarian Venezuela, but alive and well in the democratic United States.

It is important to distinguish between whether mainstream coverage of issues like amendments to the constitution and the TV license is biased, whether there are grounds for reproaching the Venezuelan government, and whether the policies are wise. Clearly the mainstream media has failed to report relevant facts and their coverage has been grossly unfair. From what I know, the procedure that led to non-renewal of the TV license was unobjectionable, and the proposed constitutional amendment will be decided by a thoroughly democratic process. So while there are ample grounds for reproaching mainstream media coverage in the US, as far as I can see there are no grounds for reproaching the Venezuelan government in either case. However, this does not mean the policies are necessarily wise. Those in Venezuela who argue that the revolutionary government would be hammered by the imperial press in any case are surely correct. On the other hand, that does not mean either initiative is good policy, independent of the news coverage it receives. Moreover, giving one's enemies an easy chance to focus on a negative storyline seems unwise -- unless the policy has important benefits.

Unfortunately, the fact that only a tiny fraction of the American public are ever exposed to balanced coverage of the Venezuelan stories defined by our mainstream media is only one problem. A larger problem is that practically nobody in the United States ever hears anything about truly newsworthy stories in Venezuela. Stories about exciting new political and economic initiatives that are dramatically reducing poverty and challenging popular myths about the abilities of ordinary people to make good political and economic decisions for themselves go virtually uncovered in the United States.1

I speak fluent Spanish, have lived and worked in Latin America on two occasions, and have traveled extensively in Latin America for over forty years. One of the few Latin American countries I had never visited before a year ago was Venezuela. I have now made two trips to Venezuela in the past nine months at the invitation of the Centro Internacional Miranda. I was in Caracas for one week in October 2006 -- before the December 2006 presidential elections that provided Chavez with a popular mandate to pursue a more aggressive socialist agenda. During that visit I met with officials in the Planning Ministry and faculty and students in the Planning Ministry school. I had long discussions with people at the Miranda Center working on projects in critical pedagogy, participatory budgeting, new models of production, human development through popular participation, new forms of political participation, and new models of socialism for the twenty-first century. I also visited health clinics, subsidized food distribution centers, community radio stations, and adult education centers in poor neighborhoods in Caracas. During a two-week visit in July 2007 I visited the rural state of Lara as well as Caracas. In Caracas I participated in numerous seminars and meetings at the Miranda Center, attended an adult education class at the new Bolivarian University, met again with officials in the Planning Ministry and students in the Planning Ministry school, met with officials in the new Ministry for the Communal Economy, and visited with workers in a "recuperated" factory and activists in a "nucleus of endogenous development." In Lara I attended meetings of three rural communal councils, a meeting of spokespersons from ten other rural communal councils, a meeting of spokespersons from all the communal councils in the town of Carora, and talked with citizen directors of a communal bank. I also met with the mayors of Carora (state of Lara) and Libertador (state of Carabobo) who pioneered participatory budgeting initiatives in their municipalities. What follows is an account of some stories I believe many Americans would find truly newsworthy.

Economic Progress

Like most Latin American economies, the Venezuelan economy deteriorated during the 1980s and most of the 1990s. From 1998 to 2003 real per capita GDP continued to stagnate while the Chavez government survived two general strikes by the largest Venezuelan business association, a military coup, and finally a devastating two month strike by the state owned oil company. However, after Chavez survived the opposition sponsored recall election, annual economic growth was 18.3% in 2004, 10.3% in 2005, and 10.3% in 2006, and the unemployment rate fell from 18.4 % in June 2003 to 8.3% in June 2007. Moreover, most of the growth was in the non-oil sectors of the economy, as the oil sector barely grew during 2005 and 2006. While this impressive growth would not have been possible without the rise in international oil prices, it also would not have been possible had the Chavez government not ignored the warnings of neoliberal critics and pursued aggressive expansionary fiscal and monetary policies.

At the height of the oil strike the poverty rate rose to 55.1% of households and a startling 62.1% of the population. However, by the end of 2006 the poverty rate had declined dramatically to 30.6% of households and 36.3% of the population, which compares favorably with a pre-Chavez rate of poverty in 1997 for households of 55.6% and for individuals of 60.9%. While much of this decrease in poverty was due to strong economic growth, it was also due to a dramatic increase in social spending by the Chavez government. Social spending per person by the central government increased by an average of 19% per year from 1998 to 2007. However, this does not include social spending by the state-owned oil company. If social spending by PDVSA is included, there was an increase of 35% per person per year since 1998. The most dramatic increase in social spending was in the area of health care. In 1998 there were over 14,000 Venezuelans for each primary healthcare physician, and few physicians worked in rural or poor urban areas. By 2007 there was one primary healthcare physician for every 1,300 Venezuelans, and many of the new physicians were working in clinics in rural areas and poor barrios that had never had physicians before.2 There are also now 16,000 stores in poor areas throughout the country selling staples at a 30% discount on average.

Building the Social Economy

Reforms First: For eight years the Chavez government went out of its way not to threaten the private sector. Despite relentless hostility and numerous provocations from the Venezuelan business association and the privately owned media, there were few nationalizations and the state sector did not grow appreciably. While the government did launch a serious land reform, the program proceeded more cautiously than government rhetoric and landowner complaints would lead one to expect. Instead, Chavez concentrated on redirecting profits from the state owned oil company to social programs to benefit the poor, and financing development of what the government called the "social economy." In addition to increasing spending dramatically on healthcare and food subsidies, the government launched a massive program of adult education. Millions of poor Venezuelans have now overcome illiteracy, and hundreds of thousands have received primary diplomas and secondary degrees studying in store-front schools named Mision Robinson I (literacy), Mision Robinson II (primary), and Mision Rivas (secondary).

But none of this addressed the high rate of unemployment and the most pressing economic needs of those who had voted Chavez into office. The business sector was hostile to the Chavez government from the outset and oscillated between economic sabotage and capital flight. So the private sector could not be relied on to increase investment, production, and employment. Nor was extensive nationalization an attractive option because Chavez wanted to avoid provoking the business community unnecessarily, and there was a shortage of competent officials who were also politically trustworthy to run more state enterprises. Moreover, neither Chavez nor his closest associates were enamored of the "state socialist" model. So increasing employment by expanding the state sector was also not seen as a desirable option. Determined not to renege on electoral promises to better economic conditions for his supporters as many populists in Latin America have in the past, Chavez launched a massive program to create worker-owned cooperatives in both rural and urban areas.

Cooperatives: New worker-owned cooperatives not only provided much needed jobs producing much needed basic goods and services, they also featured what was soon to become a hallmark of Bolivarian socialism -- popular participation at the grassroots level. When Chavez was first elected President in 1998, there were fewer than 800 legally registered cooperatives in Venezuela with roughly 20,000 members. In mid-2006 the National Superintendence of Cooperatives (SUNACOOP) reported that it had registered over 100,000 co-ops with over 1.5 million members.3 Generous amounts of oil revenues continue to provide start-up loans for thousands of new cooperatives every month, and the Ministry for the Communal Economy continues to spearhead a massive educational program for new cooperative members. However, the ministry provides more than technical assistance regarding technology, accounting, finance, business management, and marketing. It also teaches participants about cooperative principles, economic justice, and social responsibility.

Participatory Budgeting: Even before the December 2006 referendum provided Chavez with a popular mandate to deepen the social revolution, the government had moved ahead to add participatory budgeting and local economic development initiatives called "nuclei of endogenous development" to the educational Misiones, subsidized food stores, and worker cooperatives comprising the social economy. Three international experts on participatory budgeting in other countries were part of the Miranda Center work team during my visit in July. Richard Franke (USA) shared his research on the history of participatory budgeting in Kerala India, and Marcos Arruda (Brazil) and Daniel Schugurensky (Canada) shared their research on participatory budgeting in Brazil with those developing the program in Venezuela. What was clear to all of us was that while the practice of participatory budgeting may be more advanced in Kerala and Brazil where decades of experience have helped people learn how to deal with important practical problems like how to combine technical expertise about public work projects with popular determination about priorities, the prospects for participatory budgeting in Venezuela are much greater.

A hostile national government in India limits how far the left united front government in the state of Kerala can take the program there. And unfortunately the Lula government in Brazil has done little to build other elements of a "solidarity economy" to compliment participatory budgeting, and even damaged the reputation of participatory budgeting by using it to administer austerity measures. In Venezuela, on the other hand, the President and Congress are now fully supportive of participatory budgeting and busy building complementary components of a full-scale "social economy." In Venezuela, participatory budgeting is viewed by many not merely as a better way to make decisions about local public goods, but as part of a process to democratize all aspects of economic life. Not surprisingly some local officials have resisted participatory budgeting because it challenges their traditional powers and privileges. Others, like the mayors of Carora and Libertador who turned all municipal revenues over to neighborhood assemblies to use as they saw fit, have embraced the program as well as the changes it brings to the role of mayor.

Communal Councils: After the referendum in December 2006, a major campaign to organize and empower communal councils was launched as a new step toward building the social economy. The Ministry of Participation and Social Development, MINPADES, worked to establish the initial components of the social economy. In 2004 the Ministry for the Popular Economy, MINEP, was created to help build new components of the social economy. When the government decided to create communal councils in every neighborhood, MINEP was strengthened and renamed the Ministry for the Communal Economy, MINEC. After lengthy debate, it was decided that communal councils should be comprised of twenty to fifty households in rural areas and two-hundred to four-hundred households in urban areas. Since communal councils are the building blocks of a whole new political structure in Venezuela, it may seem odd that sometimes they are comprised of fewer than fifty families in rural areas. The small size was chosen to ensure that every family, even in rural areas where small villages are often distant from one another, would have a real chance to participate in the most fundamental political decisions that affect them.

All the rural communal councils we visited in the state of Lara had decided that housing was a high priority. Each went through the difficult process of deciding which families would get new houses since there was not enough to provide new houses for all. We asked the members what criteria they used. We asked about nepotism. We asked what happened to families who were disappointed and disagreed with the decisions. While answers varied, the major criterion taken into consideration was need -- the state of a family's existing housing and the number of children. While all tried to reach consensus, in some of the communal councils votes were taken, and in some cases those who were disappointed threatened to leave. A major difference between councils was how far they stretched their housing budget by providing materials locally, reducing the number of rooms, or providing labor. In one case, a council member was a builder himself who was able to oversee much of the building by community members, thereby stretching the housing budget the farthest. The builder did not receive one of the new houses because, we were told, his house was predictably in decent repair. He said he was not disappointed because he was confident he would receive a new house next year, or the following, after others whose houses were in worse repair got theirs. In another council the disappointed family who had threatened to leave was talked out of it, in part because they thought they had a good chance of getting a house the following year.

Other projects varied a great deal. One communal council built a facility to raise chickens -- against the advice of a government agronomist who thought they would be better off upgrading their facilities for goat herding. We asked who would work in the new communal chicken farm, how they would be paid, and how profits would be shared. It was clear from their answers that all of that remained to be thought through, although everyone agreed that not all would be expected to work in the communal chicken business since some had paying jobs outside the community that nobody expected them to give up. Several councils had mud roads paved over so people would be able to get out to a main road during the rainy season. One built a health clinic. Both these projects required coordination with outside agencies. Council spokespeople lobbied the municipality to pave more of their mud roads and only used communal council funds to pay for the remainder. The Ministry of Health had to be consulted about staffing the clinic. One communal council decided to build a community building for meetings and festivals.

The meetings we attended were well attended -- with representation from over half of the households. That was frequently not the case initially, as facilitators -- often municipal employees who had previously worked in educational Misiones -- had to help communities organize a second meeting after attendance was poor at the first meeting. Choosing more convenient meeting times, passing out more flyers, and knocking on more doors was often necessary, but making clear residents would forego significant funds unless they created a communal council eventually led to functioning communal councils in every community in the municipality. Every communal council had elected a vocero, or spokesperson, and a suplente, or substitute spokesperson, for each theme decided by the communal assembly (for example, health, recreation, electricity, etc.). Of the roughly two hundred spokespersons we met in rural communal councils and urban communal councils in the town of Carora, a disproportionate number were poor women of color with several children. Most of them had only recently become politically active. Almost all of them were strongly Chavista. A disproportionate number of facilitators in the municipality were younger women from working-class families who had some college education, who were also strongly pro-Chavez. One spokesperson we interviewed extensively was a middle-aged white man who appeared to be the wealthiest person in his community and was active in an opposition political party. His neighbors were fully aware of his political allegiance, which few of them shared, but expressed complete trust in his integrity and described him as the person in the community who was best at getting things done. For his part, he expressed strong support for participatory budgeting and communal councils for which he credited Chavez and the Chavista mayor of Carora. But he said he had no intention of quitting his opposition political party or becoming a Chavista himself.

Activists, Politicos, and Experts: While it is important to focus on what is happening on the ground, and what activists in different parts of the social economy are thinking, one should not ignore the influence of politicians and ministries that affect the social economy. More than anyone else, of course, Chavez has the greatest effect on the political agenda in Venezuela and especially on initiatives in the social sector. My impression from his speeches, and from what senior fellows at the Miranda Center who are familiar with his thinking have told me, is that Chavez is both the leader of the entire Chavista movement, but also the leader of its radical wing. Over the past nine years Chavez has frequently led the charge to deepen the process of social change -- often through new initiatives in the social economy. In this respect the role played by Chavez has been similar to the role Mao played in China during the 1950s and 1960s when he was both the head of government and the party, but also the leader of the left-wing faction within the CCP.4 What we might call the "Chavista camp" is an amalgam of small left parties and groups that initially included some small centrist and center-left parties as well -- all predating his election -- and a much larger diverse group of activists politicized by different campaigns and programs launched by his government. Although there is now an attempt underway to create a unified Venezuelan socialist party comprised of all who typically refer to themselves simply as "Chavistas," one of the defining features of the last nine years has been the absence of a unified socialist political party driving the political process -- for better or worse.5

While somewhat arbitrary and imprecise, it is useful to distinguish between two different tendencies within this diverse and loosely knit "Chavista" camp. The vision of the more moderate tendency includes left-Keynesian policies combined with further welfare reforms, but does not extend beyond a market system with a "mixture" of private and public enterprise. Since one of the two opposition parties representing the oligarchy, Accion Democratica, is officially a social democratic party and member of the Socialist (formerly Second) International, one has to be careful when using the term "social democrat" in Venezuela. But elsewhere this moderate tendency within the Chavista camp would be described as solidly social democratic, and mostly unmarred -- at least so far -- by retrogressive "third wave," or "New Democrat" tendencies. These moderates within the Chavista camp are generally less optimistic than those in the more radical tendency about the ability of ordinary Venezuelans to make good decisions for themselves, and therefore tend to be more skeptical about how well what we might call "power to the people" as opposed to "serve the people" initiatives will work.

The guiding vision of the more radical tendency in the Chavista camp reaches far beyond a mixed economy guided by left-Keynesian policies and humanized by a substantial welfare state. Most in the radical tendency describe what they are part of as the "Bolivarian Revolution," and call their guiding vision "twenty-first century socialism." Because these terms are unique to Venezuela, they offer little help to those of us outside trying to understand what they mean.6 Those in the radical tendency see what is happening as a revolution because they see it as a profound social transformation and dramatic change in power relations among social groups. They also believe this revolutionary transformation should continue until popular self-rule has been achieved in every area of social life. These "Bolivarian revolutionaries" call their vision "socialist," but they do not emulate any models of socialism developed by those who called their societies socialist in the twentieth century. For example, while they see Cuba as their closest ally, pay homage to Cuba for its lonely but steadfast opposition to US imperialism for half a century, and admire all that Cuban socialism has achieved for the Cuban people, they do not see Cuba, much less any other "socialist" country, as the model of socialism they aspire to. In particular, they make clear that their vision of a twenty-first century socialist economy is quite different from the Cuban economic system and the economic systems in all other countries that call or called themselves socialist. Instead, Bolivarian revolutionaries are socialist in the sense that they are committed to achieving what they believe those who have called themselves socialist dating back to the nineteenth century have all aspired to -- an economy qualitatively distinct from capitalism, where production is for use not profit, and where workers and consumers plan their own activities democratically and equitably.

One is tempted to describe these radicals in the Chavista camp as libertarian socialists because of their insistence on the centrality of worker and community self-management, and their rejection of any models of socialism where it is absent. But this would be misleading in important respects. Few Bolivarian Revolutionaries seem to trace their intellectual origins to libertarian socialism. Nor do many of them share the libertarian socialist critique of Marxism-Leninism. While Bolivarian Revolutionaries do not believe any who called themselves socialist in the twentieth century succeeded in achieving socialism as they envision it, most of them appear to believe it was the intent of socialists in Marxist-Leninist parties who achieved state power to do so, even if they failed to find the means, or got lost along the way. They also have a different perspective on reforms than many twentieth-century libertarian socialists. They see their Bolivarian Revolution as an evolutionary revolution -- feeling its way toward new social relations and new human values -- rather than as an abrupt reversal of class rule derived from a change in control over the means of production. As best I can tell, most Bolivarian revolutionaries also regard reforms in what is still predominantly a capitalist economy as positive steps in the revolutionary process. Libertarian socialists have often been inclined to view reforms within capitalism negatively, as distractions deployed by the enemies of "real" social change to forestall revolutionary momentum.

My ability to gauge the thinking of "experts" working in ministries involved with the social economy is limited. It is based on a few conversations I was able to have with officials in the Planning Ministry and the Ministry for the Communal Economy, on reactions to presentations I made at both ministries, and on my review of the curriculum students are studying at the Planning Ministry school. I was constantly surprised and invariably pleased by what these "experts" were thinking. At the beginning of my first visit, at the risk of never being invited back, I decided to take advantage of my opportunity to address the vice ministers, faculty, and first class of students at the Planning Ministry school to challenge the traditional conception of socialist planning. I began my talk by saying that if they thought their job was to make better and better plans, I thought they were wasting their time at best, and having a negative effect at worst. After an embarrassed silence, I went on to say that instead I thought the job of people working in the Venezuelan Planning Ministry was to help workers in cooperatives and consumers in communal councils and assemblies plan how to cooperate more effectively among themselves. To my surprise my audience agreed. Moreover, they said they understood this meant they rejected the foundation underlying previous conceptions of socialist planning, and had, in effect, accepted a new prime directive: "Do not plan for others, facilitate planning by others." Since I was invited back, I have had several opportunities to confirm that people at the Planning Ministry were not merely humoring a rude foreigner during my first visit. I have also studied the curriculum and read the texts being used to train those who will soon be key personnel in the Planning Ministry. It is completely different from standard curricula on national planning and reflects the perspective of "facilitator" rather than "plan maker."

At the new Ministry for the Communal Economy, the people I met seemed equally clear about what their job was. They are busy creating the basic elements of a social economy -- self-managed worker cooperatives, communal councils, and communal assemblies. They are busy teaching the elected leaders of these cooperatives, councils, and assemblies that they must work with one another on the basis of mutual respect and solidarity rather than treat one another as antagonists in commercial exchanges. And finally, they are trying to help cooperatives, councils, and assemblies find practical ways to plan their interrelated activities fairly and efficiently among themselves so the market system can be replaced within the social economy. The fact that nobody before has ever succeeded in helping large numbers of autonomous groups of workers and consumers plan their joint activities democratically, equitably, and efficiently themselves does not seem to daunt those I met at MINEC. They are sceptical of formulaic proposals and believe answers for how best to do this will emerge from trial and error over time. But they seem convinced it can and will be done.

A sum bigger than its parts: At present the social economy -- made up of educational Misiones, healthcare clinics, subsidized food stores, worker cooperatives, nuclei of endogenous development, participatory budgeting, communal councils, and assemblies of communal councils -- is the most rapidly growing sector of the Venezuelan economy and is the driving force behind the Bolivarian vision of twenty-first century socialism. Its typical promoter in policy circles is a new breed of left intellectuals thoroughly convinced that ordinary people can make their own economic decisions and determined to devise means to help them do so. Its typical face is a newly empowered, poor mother of color -- and make no mistake, she is a force to be reckoned with! It is in the social economy, not the state sector, that the future of Venezuelan socialism lies. The state sector is in many ways disappointing. Attempts to promote worker participation in state enterprises have been largely unsuccessful. There have been no serious attempts to plan within the state sector, as state-appointed managers are expected to keep their individual enterprises out of the red -- both economically and politically! What one must hope for in Venezuela is that, as the new social economy deepens and grows, its values and institutions will eventually absorb not only the private sector but the state sector as well.

What I found particularly impressive was how clear Venezuelan revolutionaries are for the most part about how they want their social economy to function, and why it must differ from both a market system and the kind of bureaucratic planning common in twentieth-century socialist economies. They have correctly identified the Achilles' heel of centralized planning -- failure to allow for self-management. Every component of the new social economy is self-consciously designed to give "direct producers" and consumers control over the economic decisions that affect them. There are no bureaucrats to tell workers in their cooperatives what to produce and how to produce it. There are no politicians to tell residents of barrios what local public goods to prioritize in the participatory budgeting process. The families in the new communal councils discuss and decide on their own spending priorities in open meetings, and spokespeople from communal councils decide on municipal spending priorities in communal assemblies. Communal banks, whose officers are members of the communal councils that the banks serves, allow communities to make their own decisions about who among them most deserve loans and can make best use of available funds. And nuclei of endogenous development are designed to organize local resources to meet local needs through local initiatives in ways that devotees of community-based economics in the developed capitalist world can only fantasize about.

But those building the social economy in Venezuela also reject the anti-social effects of commercial relations inherent in the market system. From the very beginning, those working with the new cooperatives worried that market forces lead worker cooperatives to prioritize their narrow self-interest at the expense of community and social interests. MINEP training programs for new members emphasized that cooperative values include serving the social interest. The decision to encourage cooperatives to join nuclei of endogenous development was intended to build community ties, involve cooperatives in local planning initiatives, and help cooperatives see themselves as part of a larger community. The vision for the social economy is clearly one where producers in worker councils, and consumers in communal councils, and communal assemblies plan their own activities and coordinate their interrelations among themselves equitably.

In his Alo Presidente program on September 14, 2003 devoted to the social economy, Chavez emphasized: "The social economy bases its logic on the human being," and its purpose is "the construction of the new man, of the new woman, or the new society." Popular participation, equitable cooperation, and solidarity -- the defining features of the social economy -- also permeate the new Bolivarian Constitution. Article 299 emphasizes the need to ensure "overall human development." Article 102 calls for "developing the creative potential of every human being." Article 62 declares that participation by people is "the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure their complete development, both individual and collective," and calls for democratic planning and participatory budgeting at all levels of society. Article 70 refers to "self-management, co-management, and cooperatives in all forms" as examples of "forms of association guided by the values of mutual cooperation and solidarity."

Socialism for the Twenty-First Century

I was invited to work with the Miranda Center and speak at both the Ministry of Planning and the Ministry for the Communal Economy primarily because my chief research interest is how to make economic planning more participatory. As traditionally studied this subject has two subfields: Most researchers focus their attention on how to broaden and deepen participation of members within a worker council or cooperative, or how to facilitate participation of consumers within a consumer or communal council. A smaller group of us focus our main attention on how production and consumption units that are internally self-managed can coordinate their interrelated activities among themselves fairly and efficiently while preserving their autonomy. A unique feature of a theoretical model of a participatory economy7 I helped design is a "participatory planning" procedure which solves this problem without resort to either markets or a planning bureaucracy. The participatory planning procedure is designed to give worker and consumer councils autonomy of action while helping them discover and commit to an equitable and efficient division of labor among themselves -- with as little time wasted in discussion and meeting as possible. To what extent my research in this area proves useful to those building the social economy in Venezuela remains to be seen.

In my opinion, all the essentials for a truly participatory, social economy are already in place in Venezuela -- worker cooperatives, communal councils and assemblies, and participatory budgeting. A strong political campaign encouraging popular participation, economic justice, and solidarity is in full swing. And the search for practical ways for worker cooperatives, communal councils, and communal assemblies to coordinate their interrelated activities themselves -- democratically, fairly, and efficiently -- is on. From what I saw during my visit, a great deal is being discovered about how to coordinate effectively with other units in the social economy by those who are making participation within worker cooperatives and communal councils a reality. From what I heard, most involved in developing the social economy in Venezuela understand that traditional solutions to the coordination problem should be studied as negative, not positive, examples to learn from. And from what I experienced, those involved on both the grassroots and ministerial levels in the first, great social experiment of the twenty-first century have open minds about how best to coordinate semi-autonomous groups in their social economy, and are asking all of the right questions about the pros and cons of different options.

There is no guarantee that all of this positive momentum will succeed, and one does not have to look hard to find reason for concern. In the US, the foreign policy establishment, which includes the leadership of the Democratic Party, remains adamantly opposed to the Venezuelan alternative to neoliberalism. Prior to the rise of Chavez, socialist political parties were not as strong in Venezuela as in some other Latin American countries, and therefore socialist ideology is still quite new to most Venezuelans. The hostility of the oligarchy and opposition parties has not diminished, and it is possible that disagreements between the moderate and radical wings of the Chavista movement will create dangerous political moments in the next few years. And finally, while much of what I saw and described above is extremely encouraging, the process of building the social economy has been very uneven. While millions of Venezuelans have been deeply affected and undergone a profound political transformation, there are still millions who remain passive even if they have benefited materially from a government-sponsored program. Socialism is by no means yet secured in Venezuela, and "all the right moves" is a lot to ask for. But what is happening in Venezuela should make us all more confident than ever that "a better world is possible," and millions of people in Venezuela are busy building it now.

1 I intend no criticism of alternative media coverage of Venezuela. For the most part, the alternative media does the best it can given the restrictive conditions under which it operates. In particular venezuelanalysis.com provides high-quality, professional coverage of Venezuela on a regular basis.

2 For an informative report on the new neighborhood clinics where healthcare and medicines are free and the emphasis is on preventative medicine, see a three-part series by Rebecca Trotzky Sirr on the Upside Down World web site: upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/852/1/.

3 For a description of the cooperative sector in Venezuela, see Betsy Bowman and Rob Stone, "Venezuela's Cooperative Revolution," Dollars & Sense, No. 266, July/August 2006, Camila Pineiro-Harnecker in MRZine, mrzine.monthlyreview.org/harnecker051205.html, and articles by C. Pineiro-Harnecker, S. Wagner, and F. Perez-Marti at venezuelanalysis.com. For an excellent account of the role the "social sector" played prior to 2005, see Michael Lebowitz, Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century, Monthly Review Press, 2006, Chapters 5, 6, and 7.

4 I am not likening Chavez to Mao in any other way, and certainly not suggesting that Chavez is a "Maoist."

5 A discussion of the pros and cons of attempting to organize a unified socialist party is beyond the scope of this essay. The initial local meetings of the five million Venezuelans who signed up to join the new party were beginning during my visit in July.

6 On the other hand, because the terms are new and unique to Venezuela, they do help us avoid the mistake of thinking that the process and associated vision can be neatly pigeon-holed into familiar leftist categories from the past -- which they cannot.

7 Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, The Political Economy of Participatory Economics (Princeton University Press, 1991), and Robin Hahnel, Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation (Routledge, 2005).

Robin Hahnel is a Professor of Economics at American University.