February 29, 2008

La Niña: Bad science?

Source: Oxford Analytica

La Niña, the climate event caused by unusually cool waters in the eastern Pacific, has strengthened and, according to some scientists, has been responsible for many recent extreme weather events. With the latest data on the phenomenon due out on Wednesday, this latest episode may not have reached its peak. However, there is little consensus as to what can and cannot be attributed to La Niña, and scientists are divided as to whether or not La Niña may produce more extreme weather conditions in the future.

Bad girl

La Niña is the meteorological baby sister of the better-known El Niño event:

During an episode of La Niña, waters in central and eastern areas of the Pacific Ocean cool, while those in the west remain warmer. This is associated with the frequency of heavy rainfall on the western side of the Pacific Rim. El Niño, on the other hand, is associated with warmer waters in central and eastern areas of the Pacific.

La Niña leads places such as north-eastern Australia, south-east China, southern Africa and southern Asia to experience wetter than usual weather. By contrast, El Niño causes some dry areas to become even dryer.

These phenomena, which are known in the scientific community as the Southern Oscillation, occur cyclically every four to five years. A strong El Niño is usually followed by a La Niña that persists for around 12 months.

Bad science?

The current La Niña is the strongest in eight years -- that much at least is uncontroversial. However, due to the complexity of the Southern Oscillation and the difficulties of long-term meteorological forecasting in general, there is little consensus as to which events can be attributed to La Niña. For example, some scientists have claimed that recent flooding in Ecuador and Bolivia were the result of unusually heavy rainfall caused by La Niña. However, others blame deforestation and soil erosion, which accelerate the transfer of water down river.

Similarly, La Niña’s role in recent snowstorms in China is disputed. A recent report by the World Meteorological Association claimed the events were a ‘text-book style expectation’ from La Niña. However, while many climatologists agree that a link is possible, they argue that the blizzards -- the worst for five decades -- were the product of many overlapping factors.

Unsurprisingly, the linkages between La Niña and global warming are no less controversial. This month an international team of scientists released a study, which concluded that ‘the most realistic’ climate change models demonstrate that global warming will increase the intensity of the Southern Oscillation. Yet other studies have failed to find a link with either the intensity or the frequency of El Niño/La Niña episodes.

One thing is certain: with Bolivian President Evo Morales calling upon developed countries to pay off their ‘ecological debt’ to Bolivia -- on account of the fact that they bear the blame for causing global warming -- the controversy surrounding La Niña will swirl as fiercely as the Southern Oscillation.

A word to Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram


"Competitive populism is a bottom-less pit into which many a political fortunes have sunk. If you havent already learnt this lesson from Narendra Modi in Gujarat it is no wonder you are left with a sour tone in parliament complaining that the Congress is one up on you in populist rhetoric."

Source: OFFSTUMPED ( Unwritten Letter from a Farmer)

Union Budget 2007-2008 - Unwritten letter from a farmer

Source: OFFSTUMPED
Date: Friday, February 29, 2008

Dear Shri P Chidambaram

I gather from the news channels that you have delivered a please-all budget and that agriculture was the highlight of your budget. Out of curiosity I looked up your speech on the Internet, yeah we farmers can manage to access the internet every so often. I understand you have announced a packaged to waive farm loans.

Oh by the way I noticed that your speech has mentions agriculture 16 times and farmers 11 times in stark contrast to industries which get mentioned only 10 times and mqanufacturing which gets a mention only 6 times. I also noticed that banks and credit get mentioned as many times as agriculture. I get the message you are desperately wooing us farmers.

But then it got me thinking, what exactly are you wooing us with ?

Knowing that you have an economist in Dr. Manmohan Singh for a Prime Minister and you yourself have been marketed in the media as being reform oriented, I started to wonder if you are wooing us to make us farmers competitive and look beyond merely sustainable farming. So I looked up your speech and found rather interestingly that none of the references to “sustainable” were with reference to agriculture. I also found it interesting that the words “sustainability”, “competitive” or “competitiveness” find no mention in your entire speech.

Well I thought I should give you the benefit of doubt for you are an erudite and eloquent speaker and may have a wider choice of words at your disposal from your vast vocabulary.

So are you wooing us to help us farmers create more wealth for ourselves. Well again interesting results from your speech. You mention wealth only twice and that too only in your conclusion to speak not on how to help create more wealth but to merely make the point on distributing it equally.

So Mr. Finance Minister if agriculture which was the highlight of your speech and gets mentioned 16 times but you dont speak either of making us more competitive beyond merely sustainable farming nor do you speak of wealth creation, how exactly are you helping the Indian Farmer ?

A waiver of Rs 50,000 crore worth of loans to small and marginal farmers and a settlement scheme for other farmers that would cost the exchequer another Rs 10,000 crore sounds generous and large-hearted but I have a minor problem.

Firstly, it is not your money to be generous Dr. Manmohan Singh !

Secondly this largesse that you have just announced is Government funded one time amnesty. Three crore marginal and small farmers would benefit from it while an additional one crore farmers will benefit from a one time rebate of 25 per cent on payment of outstanding loans. But then this is for overdue loans.

What happens the day after the loans are waived ?

I noticed that you propose to invest more in irrigation and provide insurance while subsidizing fertilisers.

This populism of yours may keep you in business but it does little by way of making us independent and viable. What is worse it leaves a large part of the workforce unskilled and dependent on an uncompetitive sector which itself is further ever more dependent on your benevolence and at the mercy of your inefficient and more often than not corrupt bureaucracy.

I also noticed that your political opposition in the Lok Sabha was shell shocked with this populism of yours calling an election stunt. The BJP has described your loan write-off as too little too late.

I am not surprised that the Opposition is at a loss on how to react to this largesse of yours for they have all along been advocating the same kind of populism. I have these words for Mr. Advani.

Competitive populism is a bottom-less pit into which many a political fortunes have sunk. If you havent already learnt this lesson from Narendra Modi in Gujarat it is no wonder you are left with a sour tone in parliament complaining that the Congress is one up on you in populist rhetoric. If only your party went beyond the day after the loans were written off with to articulate a vision to make us competitive and a roadmap for us to create wealth you would have sounded far more credible and incisive in your criticism of the UPA’s populism.

Unfortunately that was not to be.

I once read a piece on Offstumped on how your recommendations to solve agriculture indebtedness had 46 ideas to get us into more debt only 1 idea to get us out of all debt. That in a nutshell sums up how lop-sided your approach to solving the problems faced by agriculture are.

In closing I just have this to say. We are not here to provide you with food security. We are here to create wealth for ourselves and those dependent on us. If you really want to help us, create avenues for us to either acquire scale and get competitive or to exit by encashing the real market value of our assets while equipping us with new skills. Dont merely treat the symptoms of that which ails us only to realize the day after that the disease lingers on.

PDVSA in London courts to defend Venezuelan oil sovereignty in Exxon dispute

February 28th 2008, by James Suggett - Venezuelanalysis.com

Venezuelan state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) initiated court proceedings today in London where it will seek to overturn the freezing of $12 billion of its assets, which the U.S.-based Exxon Mobil Corporation achieved in British courts on February 7th.

The hearing is expected to last 3 days and is part of a compensation dispute over the nationalization of what used to be Exxon's 41.6% stake in a Venezuelan Orinoco River belt oil project called Cerro Negro.

PDVSA is expected to argue that it intends to compensate Exxon fully, as it has already honored $1.8 billion in indemnifications to other companies whose stakes in the Orinoco River belt were nationalized.

PDVSA will present evidence from records that the value of Exxon's stake was $750 million when it was nationalized, and the highest amount Exxon ever solicited during negotiations was $5 billion, which PDVSA claims should be the ceiling for an assets freeze, if any assets remain frozen at all. Exxon's claim to $12 billion is based on the company's calculations of projected earnings had the Cerro Negro project been fully realized.

Venezuela's Energy and Petroleum Minister and PDVSA President Rafael Ramírez said the maximum amount PDVSA can justifiably offer to Exxon is around $1 billion, and it is willing to cede its 50% stake in the Louisiana-based Chalmette refinery, which it co-owns with Exxon, if necessary as part of the deal.

Last week, Ramírez made a public appeal to Exxon to return to established arbitration proceedings that were underway in the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) before Exxon averted them by pursuing the assets freeze, which Ramírez labeled an act of "judicial terrorism".

Ramírez also railed against having to submit to international courts at all, proclaiming that "in our legal tradition of petroleum policy, never was arbitration contemplated for resolving themes related to sovereign decisions in any court and much less in courts outside of the national territory."

In a speech to the Venezuelan National Assembly, Ramírez criticized the previous government which had "handed over" the country`s sovereignty when it signed the original deal with Mobil (which had not merged with Exxon yet) in 1997.

On top of that, Exxon's move to freeze PDVSA assets after the case had already been submitted to ICSID arbitration is "invalid" because it "lacks legal basis" in ICSID conventions, according to Mario Isea, a representative in the National Assembly, and former PDVSA manager Gustavo Gabaldón in an interview with Panorama newspaper Monday.

Isea and Gabaldón also pointed out that submission to international arbitration runs counter to Article 151 of the current Venezuelan constitution, which states that "contracts of public interest...that are not resolved amicably by the contracting parties, will be decided by the competent courts of the Republic, in conformity with its laws, without any motive or cause giving origin to foreign demands."

Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Álvarez Herrera, suggests that the core issue in the dispute is whether the commercialization of natural resources will promote the healthy growth of developing nations or mainly benefit stockholders in international companies.

Herrera, the former Vice Minister of Gas and Petroleum and Director of Hydrocarbons in the Energy and Mining Ministry, recounted in an interview with the Mexican newspaper La Jornada this week that in the years following the nationalization oil and the creation of PDVSA in 1976, the Venezuelan state received 70% of oil dollars and foreign companies provided services but did not receive land concessions.

However, administrations in the 1980s and 90s granted autonomy to PDVSA, which became more powerful than the state, and new types of profit sharing agreements were innovated which permitted concessions, while the state's share of oil income lowered to 40%, Herrera explained.

"What Chávez did was return to the notion that petroleum is a strategic natural resource and not just another raw material [to be exploited and managed by the highest bidding corporation,]" Herrera asserted.

Exxon intends to establish a "legal precedent" to use against governments that assert public control over natural resources, according to Patrick Esteruelas, a risk analyst with Eurasia Group in New York who was interviewed this week by Bloomberg news.

Meanwhile, the price of oil rose to a record $101.43 per barrel during yesterday's New York trading sessions, and closed at $100.88 per barrel, a price increase that Minister Ramírez attributes partially to speculations about the outcome of the Exxon-PDVSA dispute.

PDVSA's total assets are now valued at $109 billion, while those of Exxon, the most profitable company in the world in 2007, stand at $290 billion.

Amidst soaring oil prices, PDVSA has sold $2.8 billion of its foreign assets that are not in frozen accounts, and deposited $1.3 billion of this money into the National Development Fund (FONDEN), which sustains Venezuela's extensive social programs.

Opposition parties criticize the government for using increased oil income to extend credit on favorable conditions to some 15 neighboring countries in the Caribbean and South America, including Cuba, Nicaragua, and Argentina, through hydrocarbon-based economic accords such as "PetroCaribe". The policies, which involve two-year grace periods, 2% annual interest, and 15-20 year payment plans, have increased the amount that foreign countries owe to Venezuela by 48% since 2006, to just over $1 billion.

Meanwhile, Argentine President Cristina de Kirchner publicly advocated Venezuela´s full admission to the South American economic integration project MERCOSUR because "we need Venezuela in the Latin American energy equation... in order to sustain this growth which surely will have beneficial effects on all of our peoples." President Kirchner declared that inviting Venezuela into the deal is "pure rationality with respect to energy operations." The ratification of Venezuela in MERCOSUR lacks only the congressional approval of Brazil and Paraguay.

Prominent British Figures Call on ExxonMobil to Respect Venezuelan Sovereignty

February 28th 2008, by Venezuelan Information Centre

Over 50 prominent figures representing a wide section of British society have signed a statement raising concern over legal action taken by oil giant ExxonMobil to prevent the Venezuelan government from exercising its right to control its natural resources. They have urged ExxonMobil to work for "the amicable settlement" of its dispute with the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA through international arbitration.

The statement is published as Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA goes to the High Court to appeal an English court's decision to freeze its assets in England and Wales.

The statement points out that "The action by ExxonMobil was in response to the policy of the Venezuelan government to take back majority control of their own oil resources. Unlike other international oil companies, where some 30 out of 32 contracts have been successfully renegotiated and amicable agreements and compensation terms reached with the Venezuelan government, ExxonMobil refused the terms offered."

The statement concludes "We further restate our support for Venezuela's national sovereignty, including the right to determine its own policy in relation to its oil and natural resources in favour of the people of that country, rather than in the interests of multinational companies."

Signatories to the letter included writer and film-maker John Pilger, veteran political activist Tony Benn, Bruce Kent, Vice President of CND, Ann Pettifor, founder of Jubilee 2000, Brian Wilson, Chair of the Scottish Venezuela Society, an MEP and many MPs from 5 parties, a number of leading writers, artists and academics and many senior national trade union leaders.

Colin Burgon MP, Chair of Labour Friends of Venezuela group of parliamentarians said: "Millions of Venezuelans are now benefiting from free healthcare and education thanks to the Chavez government's greater control over that country's oil resources. Government's must have the right to be able to put the interest of people ahead of company's profits".

UNISON Deputy General Secretary Keith Sonnet, added that, "This sends a clear message internationally, including to the Bush administration, that Venezuela's right to self-determination must be respected, rather than the wishes of multinational companies to make profits."

Gordon Hutchison, Secretary of the Venezuela Information Centre, said "There are many voices in Britain who strongly oppose ExxonMobil's attempts to undermine the right of Venezuela's democratically elected government to control its own resources."

The full text of the statement and full list of signatures is as follows:

STATEMENT RE EXONNMOBIL AND PDVSA

We note with deep concern that on 7 February an English court granted an injunction to US multinational oil company ExxonMobil freezing the assets of the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA in England and Wales. The order covered assets to the value of US$12 billion.

The Venezuelan Government was given no notice of the case and was not afforded any opportunity to be represented at the hearing.

This week PDVSA will appeal the decision in the High Court and seek to revoke the injunction.

The action by ExxonMobil was in response to the policy of the Venezuelan government to take back majority control of their own oil resources. Unlike other international oil companies, where some 30 out of 32 contracts have been successfully renegotiated and amicable agreements and compensation terms reached with the Venezuelan government, ExxonMobil refused the terms offered.

We believe that the action by ExxonMobil, and the ruling by the court, contravenes the right of the democratically elected government of Venezuela to exercise sovereignty over its natural resources. The nationalisation of Venezuela's state oil company, holder of some of the world's largest oil reserves, under the government of President Hugo Chavez has allowed Venezuela to tackle a range of social inequalities, by taking back the oil wealth and redistributing it to benefit the Venezuelan people.

We urge the amicable settlement of this dispute through arbitration under the auspices of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a body of the World Bank, as sought by the Venezuelan government in compliance with the terms of the contract signed between PDVSA and ExxonMobil in 1995.

We further restate our support for Venezuela's national sovereignty, including the right to determine its own policy in relation to its oil and natural resources in favour of the people of that country, rather than in the interests of multinational companies.

SIGNATURES

Diane Abbott M.P (Labour)

Tony Benn

John Pilger

Bruce Kent

Prunella Scales

Caroline Lucas MEP

Gordon Hutchison, Secretary, Venezuela Information Centre (VIC)

Brian Wilson, Chair, Scottish Venezuela Society

Ann Pettifor, Fellow, New Economics Foundation

Neal Lawson, Compass

Graeme Smith, General Secretary. STUC

Keith Sonnet, Deputy General Secretary, UNISON

Ken Loach

Colin Burgon M.P (Chair, Labour Friends of Venezuela)

Jon Cruddas M.P (Treasurer, Labour Friends of Venezuela)

Mike Hancock M.P (Liberal Democrat)

Adam Price M.P. (Plaid Cymru)

Angus MacNeil M.P. (Scottish National Party)

Richard Harvey

David Hillman

Jon Trickett M.P (Secretary, Labour Friends of Venezuela)

Jeremy Corbyn M.P

Victoria Brittain

Graham Goddard, Deputy General Secretary, UNITE

Billy Hayes, General Secretary CWU

Owen Tudor, Head of European Union and International Relations, TUC

Rodney Bickerstaffe

Sue Branford, Chair, War on Want

Richard Gott

Doug Nicholls, National Secretary CYWU/UNITE

Derek Wall, Green Party

Cllr. Salma Yaqoob

Hazel Marsh, University of East Anglia

Andy Bain, President TSSA

Maggie Bowden, General Secretary, Liberation

Ruqayyah Collector, Black Students Officer, NUS

Marie Daley, UCU National Executive Committee

Michael Derham, Northumbria University

Bill Greenshields, Vice-President NUT

Chris Kitchen, General Secretary NUM

Matt Wrack, General Secretary FBU

Dr Mandy Turner, University of Bradford

Dr Kaveh Moussavi, University of Oxford

Paul Laverty

Gerry Doherty, General Secretary TSSA

Baljeet Ghale, President NUT (personal capacity)

Joe Marino, General Secretary, BFAWU

Dr. Francisco Dominguez, University of Middlesex

Doreen Massey, Open University

Martin McIvor, Editor, Renewal

Gerry Morrissey, General Secreary, BECTU

Linda Newman, President UCU

Diana Raby, University of Liverpool

Mick Shaw, President, FBU

Notes to Editors: 1) In the past, ExxonMobil has received criticism from NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth for its poor record in terms of corporate and environmental responsibility. Examples can be found at www.exxonsecrets.org and www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/exxons_climate_footprint.pdf

2) For more information or media comment from signatory's to the letter, please contact Gordon Hutchison, Secretary, Venezuela Information Centre on info@vicuk.org, 0207 272 2654 or 077 109 56332.

Uncle Sam's unique democracy

SOURCE: SIFY

Arvind Lavakare may be 71, but the fire in his belly burns stronger than in many people half his age. The economics post-graduate worked with the Reserve Bank of India and several private and public sector companies before retiring in 1997. His first love, however, remains sports. An accredited cricket umpire in Mumbai, he has reported and commented on cricket matches for newspapers, Doordarshan and AIR. Lavakare has also been regularly writing on politics since 1997, and published a monograph, The Truth About Article 370, in 2005.
_____________________

Judging by foreign news agency reports splashed in our English press, the uninitiated Indian reader like me would be justified in believing that the long exercise for finalising the Presidential nominee of the two major political parties of the US is wastefully competitive and unusually complex. And, sometimes, comical as well.

Just see Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama of the Democratic Party engaged in an intense, occasionally bitter, contest as they jet across the vast continent, with their better halves in tow, to speak to packed halls. Watch them attend meetings called caucuses and primaries, raising funds on the way to reach the so-called magical figure of 2025 delegates for clinching the nomination.

How are caucuses different from primaries, and how is 2025 the magical number? Our media doesn’t tell us. Why the Indian media seems almost obsessed with the US elections at this early stage is another puzzle.

(The 45th Democratic National Convention, to be held in Denver, Colorado, in late August, will have a total of 4,048 delegate votes, with 2,025 (a majority) necessary in order for a Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate to be nominated, explains a Democrat website.)

But we must keep learning throughout our life. And American democracy does have something to teach us -- take it or leave it.

For one, Uncle Sam’s electoral rules are immensely complex for the uninitiated Indian like me.

Read all Lavakare columns

Consider this: This time around, delegates won by the Democratic candidates in Florida and Michigan are not to be counted in the rat race for the magic figure. Reason? Those two populous states were punished by the party because they “broke the rules” and held their primaries in between key votes in New Hampshire, on January 8, and Super Tuesday, on February 5.

“Super Tuesday” -- another Americanism in the nomination exercise –apparently rules when primaries are to be held and where. Whether such rules apply to caucuses --- another baffling term -- is not known to the uninitiated Indian who will, if he can, have to go to Google for help.



Then there are delegates and “super delegates” of whom some are called “committed”, some apparently are not. Committed to whom or what? To the candidate or to the party philosophy? Foreign agency reports published here don’t explain, though our English newspapers carry those reports ever so copiously and faithfully, including graphics of delegates won by each Democratic candidate.

There is also something inexplicably comical about the intense competition between two candidates of the same party.

Obama’s apparent refusal to shake the extended hand of Ms Clinton at some important assembly hall makes a front page box item; explanations come in another box item the next day -- all about a silly, missing handshake between two of the same party.

Again, in the Florida primary in January, John McCain and Mike Romney of the Republican Party sparred publicly over the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. McCain, whose strength is security, accused his party colleague publicly of wanting to set a timetable for the withdrawal. This, he said, was “simply wrong, dishonest”, and wanted Romney to apologise.

Will one of these two children at a school fracas become the new US President this November? Can you imagine two senior leaders of our Congress or the BJP indulging in such a spat among themselves in pubic?

But McCain and Romney belong to America’s democracy, free and fair and unique in some unbelievable ways.

There is no electoral code of conduct hanging over candidates and parties. There are no party election manifestos drafted for a Presidential election. The candidates vying for Presidential nomination have the choice of resorting to their party’s funds (where conditions apply) or can publicly raise millions of dollars without fear of the Federal Election Commission and without promising favours in return.

Candidates apparently jump into the fray on their own initiative, without being officially chosen or endorsed by their party. An interested candidate forms an exploratory committee, raises funds, tests the water at a primary or two and then takes a final call all by himself.

That’s what Rudy Guiliani (famous for handling the 9/11 disaster as New York’s Mayor) of the Republican Party did this time after first issuing some 3,000 TV ads, twice more than Romney did, in Florida. He could never have been the party’s choice because of his pro-abortion and pro-gay beliefs, which are so fundamentally opposed to the Republican Party’s philosophy in recent years. He therefore first dared on his own, and later retreated.

What a contrast with the practice in India. Here, the BJP central executive decides to nominate Advani as its prime ministerial candidate and that’s that. The Congress leaves the choice to its one-woman High Command, and that’s that. No complications, no caucuses, no primaries. All so short and sweet and inexpensive.

A simpler version of the primaries model of the US, would, however, be excellent for choosing candidates for our legislative assemblies and Lok Sabha elections, so that the best are picked and there are no “rebel” candidates who feel aggrieved at being denied their party’s ticket.

Three more quaint facets of the US democracy need mention.

One: The President is not chosen by the strength of the votes he gets but the votes delivered by the Electoral College, which comprises pre-determined votes of representatives from all the states of the US.

Thus, Al Gore won more popular votes than George Bush in 2000, but the latter was declared President because of the College votes. This is as distorted as our own system, where the candidate with the largest number of votes in his constituency is declared elected, though that number is invariably less than the majority of the votes polled.

Two: the date for electing every US President is fixed and unchangeable -- the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, every four years. This prevents the ruling government from manipulating the system by resigning prematurely in order to force a new election when it seems advantageous to do so.



But while that has the benefit of ensuring continuance of the government of the ruling President for his full term, it pre-empts the remedy of the “no confidence” motion that acts as a brake on misgovernance.

A fixed date even for a possible mid-term poll may well be the answer for getting the best from both the practices. Do our Parliamentarians have the spine to undertake a constitutional reform on these lines?

The third remarkable fact of the US Presidency is that a President cannot stay on for more than two terms of four years each. Indians would love it if a similar constitutional limit could be put on our MPs, ministers and PMs included.

So what are two candidates for the Democratic Party nomination, Clinton and Obama, telling the voters? While this is mostly ignored by the foreign wire service reports carried by our English newspapers, Google tells us that both are talking a lot on policy issues.

Obama, who had dubbed President George W Bush’s intrusion into Iraq as a “dumb war”, is talking of restoring fiscal discipline, of reversing Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy; he is emphasising that his country is on the wrong track, that there is a need for a change of stance and attitude. He rejects the concept of partisanship and wants “not blue states, not red states, just the United States” to come together. Internationally, he is willing to talk to the enemy.

Clinton is promising 200,000 jobs in New York over six years, a global development agenda to fight HIV/AIDS, end to malaria deaths, basic education for all, expansion of women’s opportunities and children’s health, elimination of poor country debt, improvement in US development assistance in consonance with America’s traditional generosity of heart and a cabinet-level agency to fight poverty around the world, where more than two billion people are living on less than $2 a day.

Both, however, seem to have overlooked what New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says is poisoning America: Domestic poverty.

In 2006, he says, 17.4 per cent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this, he thinks, probably understates the truth. And he reminds Presidential hopefuls that poverty rates in most European countries are much lower than in the United States.

Yes, just like in India, high poverty is a grave problem in the US. The uniqueness of that truth is that the Indian still thinks the US to be a land of milk and honey.

Tailpiece: In America, the most scientifically advanced country, a studied magazine article says that Obama’s horoscope is pointing to the Presidency.

The views expressed in the article are of the author’s and not of Sify.com.

Why India prefers Israel ?

http://www.centralchronicle.com/20080301/0103301.htm

The smooth and successful launch of Israel's military satellite TECSAR by an Indian space vehicle this January and the presence of a number of defence and aerospace firms from Israel at the DefExpo-2008 in Delhi in February are a clear pointer of Israel emerging as India's most-preferred defence partner in the near future. In sharp contrast, the subdued and modest presence of Russian defence entities at the Expo was a mirror to the growing friction in Indo-Russian defence ties. From being a reliable defence partner, Russia has come to be looked upon in India as an undependable supplier of military hardware, many of which have proved to be "poor performers".

In fact, India is far from happy over the cost escalation, time slippages and poor after- sales service including the non-availability of spares on number of occasions in respect of many defence projects for which it has signed up with Russia. Perhaps the most galling to the Indian defence establishments is the Russian insistence on an additional payment of US$1.2-billion for the retrofitting and modernization of the Admiral Gorshkov, a 44,750 tonne Kiev class aircraft carrier. Russia had originally agreed to retrofit this decommissioned aircraft carrier for US$1.5-billion and supply it to the Indian Navy by 2008-09. Now it will reach India only by 2012-2013. Currently, negotiations are on between the two nations to sort out the controversy.

Sometime last year the Chief of Navy Admiral Suresh Mehta had stated that it was high time that New Delhi stopped putting all its eggs in one basket, thereby implying that India should stop depending totally on the Russians and instead expand its defence ties with more reliable partners such as Israel. Obviously, Mehta was referring to the change of Russian stance over the retrofitting of Gorshkov.

Clearly and apparently, Gorshkov is not the only case of Indo-Russian defence collaboration gone sour. It is only the tip of the ice-berg. Citing global inflation and depreciating US dollar, Russia has already asked India to cough up more for SU-3)-MKI combat aircraft. And, the Indian Navy on its part has refused to take delivery of the Kilo class submarine and the land attack missiles it was equipped with to fire, after it came a cropper in test firings. Similarly, last year India withheld the payment for one of the three IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft upgraded with the Sea Dragon submarine detection equipment since it did not fulfill the stringent norms set by the Indian Navy.

Another bone of contention between India and Russia is the issue of technological transfer in critical areas for production of T-90S battle tank by the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi near Chennai. There is a dismay in India over the way Russians are putting impediments in its plan to indigenously manufacture 1000 T 90S battle tanks. Now India has decided to develop the critical technological elements in respect of T-90S that Russia has refused to make available.

As a defence analyst in New Delhi put it, India is irritated with Moscow for its failure to keep its commitment of delivering weapons systems on time and also failing to sustain a system to provide uninterrupted supply of spares, apart from jacking up the cost arbitrarily halfway through the implementation of the project.

The break-up of the mighty Soviet empire leading to the bankruptcy of its vast and sprawling military industrial complex has been blamed for India's far from happy track record in dealing with the Russian defence contractors. As it is, India had a taste of this in 1992, when succumbing to the American pressure, Russia refused to honour its commitment of transferring the critical cryogenic engine technology to India. Russia, which had signed with Glavkosmos as part of the deal with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) before the break up of the Soviet Union was required to make available the cryogenic engine technology. Subsequently, ISRO managed to build and test a fully Indian cryogenic engine stage meant to power its high performance GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle).

Diplomatic observers in New Delhi believe that the growing chill in Indo-Russian defence ties has to do with India's growing bonhomie with the US. The Russian supreme Vladimir Putin who is at logger heads with the American administration is quite keen about India remaining within the orbit of Russian influence. However, Russian political and defence commentators continue to believe that Indo-Russian defence ties are as healthy as ever despite "frictions and tensions" In this context, they point out to the Indo-Russian high-level cooperation for developing a fifth generation combat aircraft and a multi-role cargo transport aircraft.

The Brahmos supersonic cruise missile, developed through a joint Indo-Russian endeavor, is being cited as yet another example of robust Indo-Russian military ties. Interestingly, India and Russia are now not only exploring the possibility of exporting Brahmos to friendly countries, but also are working on building an advanced version of Brahmos missile.

Russia which currently sells defence hardware worth about US$1.5-billion to India could in the years to come yield place to Israel whose annual sale of defence equipment to India clocks a turn over of US$1-billion. In fact, Israel has now displaced France as India's second largest defence partner.

The sky seems to be the limit for India to expand its defence ties with Israel. At DefExpo-2008, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) entered into an agreement with Tata Industries to float a joint venture meant to cater to the needs of the Indian customers of IAI. Tata Industries is looking at digging deeper into the Indian defence market. Further, the Bangalore-based state-owned defence enterprise BEL (Bharat Electroncis Ltd) tied up with three Israel-based companies at the Expo. BEL has singed a "term sheet" with Rafael Advanced Defence Systems to form a joint-venture company to "encourage indigenous advanced technology capabilities of missile electronics and guidance systems". On the other hand, BEL has signed a MOU with IAI-Malat for the joint development of unmanned aerial vehicles. Further, a 12-year tie up with Elisra envisaged the joint working on various air borne electronics warfare programmes.

Israel, which has supplied Barak missiles to the Indian Navy, is also assisting the Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in upgrading many of the Soviet era weapons including MiG series of combat aircraft. It is a tribute to the growing Indo-Israel ties that the Government-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and IAI have joined hands to develop a missile capable of intercepting aircraft and other aerial objects. And despite the opposition from the US, Israel has struck a deal with India to supply three state-of-the art AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System).

These AWACS would help the Air Force gain a deeper and more detailed insight into the enemy territory. First of the three AWACS would reach India by the year-end. In addition to supplying a variety of missiles, UAVs, and electronics warfare hardware for all the wings of the Indian defence, Israel is also assisting many Indian entities in developing missiles and radars for a variety of end uses. For instance, Israel is helping Bangalore- based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) to test and integrate the multi mode radar (MMR) into the indigenously developed fourth generation Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas. HAL has also decided to equip its Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv meant for export market with IAI made avionics system.

Meanwhile, the launch of the 300-kg TECSAR featuring a synthetic aperture radar capable of seeing through the clouds and cover of darkness by means of the four stage Indian space vehicle PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) has stirred political and diplomatic controversy. The CPM whose support is crucial to the survival of the UPA Government has hit out at ISRO for launching a spy satellite belonging to Israel. "The launch of Israel's TECSAR shows how India is aiding the military efforts of Israel. The satellite has the capability to track the activities in Iran and the region", said a CPM spokesman.

The Left party has also alleged that ISRO has agreed to launch two more defence satellites from Israel. Iran on its part has made its displeasure over the TECSAR launch by India with the statement that India should have weighed the geo political situation before agreeing for this launch contract on purely commercial terms. Time will tell how far India goes with its defence requirements with Israel.

Radhakrishna Rao, INFA

U.S. Policy Shifts Can Encourage Dawn of New Era in Pakistan

Timothy D. Hoyt 29 Feb 2008
World Politics Review Exclusive



The results of Pakistan's parliamentary elections provide a genuine opportunity for Pakistan and the United States to rebalance their relationship. For Pakistan, they are a chance to re-establish representative government. For the United States, they are a chance to demonstrate support for Pakistan's democratic institutions. And for both countries, they are an opportunity to initiate a much healthier long-term relationship.

Despite his recent appeals to European and American audiences for support, the Musharraf era is over. President Pervez Musharraf once could claim to rule Pakistan with the support of the public, the Army and the Americans, but not anymore. His deliberate repression of political and judicial opposition and his reluctance to yield power destroyed any sympathy among the Pakistani public. The new chief of the Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, has restricted Musharraf's access to the officer corps and, in the weeks before the elections, the Pakistan Ex-Serviceman's Society twice called for him to step down as president.

Unfortunately, U.S. policy in recent years has focused on individuals -- like Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto -- instead of institutions. Now, in the aftermath of Bhutto's assassination and Musharraf's repudiation at the polls, U.S. policy is in tatters. On the one hand, American policymakers feared an imminent Islamist takeover of Pakistan, so they turned a blind eye to crackdowns on the country's free institutions. On the other hand, those same policymakers understood the long-term importance of Pakistan's civil institutions, so they demanded free and fair elections. The contradiction is obvious.

To be clear, Pakistan faces significant security challenges. Radical jihadist groups, particularly on the Western frontier, have become increasingly autonomous and aggressive, while Pakistani forces are either distracted or unresponsive.

Still, Pakistan is not rapidly descending into Islamist revolution. In fact, Pakistan possesses strong institutions that provide the basis for stability and economic prosperity in much of the country. Pakistan's political traditions and party infrastructure create opportunity for meaningful regional and national political participation. Because of their power, Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule last year was directed at the moderates who populate these institutions -- not the extremists he promised to fight.

Furthermore, radicals are poorly positioned to stage a coup. Their ineffective record in areas where they have wielded political power -- the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan -- was reflected in the voters' complete rejection of them at the polls in this month's election. Radicals can disrupt, but not destroy, Pakistan's central government. Unopposed, however, they can delegitimize it over time.

The real threat is found in the possibility of radical Islamists gradually gaining political legitimacy through the erosion of existing Pakistani institutions and traditions. Poor governance, corruption, political intrigue and military interference in domestic politics undermine Pakistan's viability -- and the national security interests of the United States.

U.S. policy, therefore, should now focus on two key issues:

reshaping the role of the Pakistani Army and

maximizing the legitimacy and effectiveness of Pakistan's civilian institutions.

First and foremost, Pakistan must get its Army out of politics. The military's ability to govern will only decline over time and discredit itself and Pakistan's democratic institutions. The United States should encourage this and immediately commit to working with the winners of the parliamentary elections.

Second, the Pakistani Army must further transition from a force focused on conventional warfare with India to a force focused on a growing internal threat. Pakistan once nurtured radical groups as armed proxies for its foreign policy goals in Afghanistan and India. These forces on its frontier, left unchallenged, will increase their influence over ungoverned areas and may eventually challenge the central government itself. This is an area where the United States can help by refocusing its military assistance to Pakistan on equipment for counterinsurgency, not additional supplies of supersonic strike aircraft.

Finally, the United States must find ways to strengthen Pakistan's existing civilian institutions and traditions. By increasing targeted economic assistance, the United States can help Pakistan's government provide jobs for young men and women. Funding the education system would help combat reliance on madrassahs, particularly if focused in Pakistan's western provinces. The independent judiciary must be bolstered and the rule of law reinforced so that radicals and their followers cannot begin local reigns of terror or seize control of localities. A combination of education, jobs, good governance and economic growth will be important in demonstrating the effectiveness and legitimacy of any new democratically elected government.

It is time for the United States to take the plunge and commit to a long-term relationship with a democratic Pakistan. With the events of the past several weeks, nervousness about a radical Islamist electoral success can be dismissed for what it has always been -- fear mongering, fostered in part by Musharraf himself.

We talk a great game when it comes to democracy; constantly stressing the importance of individual liberty and our trust in the instincts of a democratic population. In the case of Pakistan, it is time that we put our money where our mouth is and help the Pakistani people regain control of their own destiny.


Timothy D. Hoyt is a Professor of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College. This article is adapted from a longer analysis, "Pakistan and the United States: Rebalancing the Relationship," prepared for the American Security Project. The views expressed here are his own, and not those of the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or any other U.S. government agency.

PAKISTAN : ISI's new triumvirate

Commentary: ISI's new triumvirate
Published: Feb. 29, 2008 at 6:33 AM
By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE
UPI Editor at Large


WASHINGTON, Feb. 29 (UPI) -- Afghanistan, the main battleground in the war on terror, has been shortchanged by the Iraq war and its manpower and equipment priorities.

Al-Qaida got trounced by U.S. forces in Iraq -- but Iraq was never the problem. Under Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida was not welcome in Iraq. After the U.S. invasion, Iraq became a force multiplier for would-be unholy warriors from Middle Eastern countries -- primarily Saudi Arabia -- and Europe's Muslim ghettos. Several hundred al-Qaida volunteers have been killed -- or gone home. But home base for al-Qaida and Taliban was and still is the weird-sounding acronym for Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Area -- FATA -- some seven fiercely independent tribal "agencies" under nominal Pakistani sovereignty that form, along with Baluchistan (one of Pakistan's four provinces), the 1,400-mile border with Afghanistan.

Inhabited by fiercely independent Pashtun tribes whose women are so backward only 2 percent can read and write and their men only marginally better at 20 percent, the landscape is among the world's most inhospitable. Mountains that soar to 15,000 feet interspersed by deep gorges and ravines and deserts provide safe havens for al-Qaida and Taliban's training camps as well the world's most wanted terrorists. For Pashtun tribesmen, hospitality is sacrosanct. Rewards for information leading to the capture of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants have soared from $20 million to $50 million -- but no one talks.

Under President-Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the U.S. military was told to butt out of FATA. Bombing of FATA targets by the United States or raids by Special Forces would have led to bloody clashes countrywide. Bin Laden is certainly more popular than President Bush for millions of Pakistanis. Instead, the United States made its $1 billion-a-year military aid to Pakistan contingent on Musharraf ordering the Pak army to chase Taliban and al-Qaida up and down FATA's snow-covered peaks.

The Pakistan army began entering FATA in mid-December 2001 for the first time since independence with 37,000 troops. Assigned to blocking positions while U.S. bombers dropped 15,000-pound "Daisy Cutters" on the Tora Bora mountain range, they deployed too late to intercept the terrorist chieftains. Since then, Musharraf has increased the military assigned to FATA to 110,000 troops. Most of them hate the assignment with a mix of revulsion against killing fellow Pakistanis, unease over the hostility of the local population, and the conviction they are acting under U.S. orders transmitted by Musharraf.

Beginning last summer, the Pak army in FATA, mostly Punjabis, in effect stood down. Heavy casualties and sympathy for Taliban fighters led to ambushes and surrenders without a fight. This makes the Afghan war unwinnable, unless the United States can strike a new deal with new Pakistan military chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani now that Musharraf is a much-weakened civilian president subject to impeachment by political parties victorious in the Feb. 18 elections. But Kiyani must tread carefully lest he be seen as another American puppet. He has agreed to closer intelligence sharing among Pakistani, Afghan and U.S. agents on the mythical Pakistan-Afghan border and quick responses by U.S.-trained Pakistan Special Forces. The United States will continue remote-controlled (from Nevada-based cockpit by satellite) Predator drone airstrikes on targets generated by agents on the ground in North and South Waziristan and Bajaur -- which 99.9 percent of Americans could not locate on a world map. Yet this is where a WMD attack on the United States is being planned.

The three strongest parties to emerge from Pakistan's relatively free elections are now haggling over what kind of coalition to put together among ideological opponents. Together, they can impeach Musharraf and force the election of a powerless civilian president. But the Bush administration wants Musharraf to stay in the job even with much reduced authority. More worrisome for U.S. and NATO objectives in Afghanistan, the two victorious pols -- the Pakistan Muslim League's Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan People's Party's Asif Zardari (Benazir Bhutto's widower) -- want to talk and negotiate with Taliban, not fight. Taliban reacted with a "unilateral cease-fire," a decision Islamabad's cognoscenti say was the work of the still all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the original sponsoring entity that midwifed Taliban and shepherded its conquest of Afghanistan in the early 1990s.

Trouble is, this was tried Sept. 5, 2006, when Musharraf signed a peace accord with FATA's tribal leaders, which was violated within 48 hours. One of the signatories was Baitullah Mehsud, the "Emir of Taliban in Pakistan," second in command after Mullah Mohammed Omar, and the terrorist who ordered the assassination of Mrs. Bhutto last Dec. 27.

Replacing U.S. influence topside in Pakistan -- or still competing for it -- is Saudi Arabia and its protege Nawaz Sharif, the man who was deposed by Musharraf in 1999 and exiled to the Saudi kingdom for 10 years. He flew home last fall after Mrs. Bhutto's return, this time generously bankrolled by his Saudi friends. Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries (with Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates) to recognize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The new triumvirate that is gradually superseding President Bush's "most trusted non-NATO ally" is made up of ISI, Saudi Arabia and Sharif. This does not bode well for the future of NATO in Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul controls only a third of the country while a resurgent Taliban is now solidly entrenched in 10 percent of the narco-state, according to U.S. Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell. And tribal leaders call the shots in the rest of a barren, medieval country whose opium poppy production generates more than two-thirds of its gross domestic product and funds Taliban's insurgency. The most optimistic estimate calls for the United States and NATO to remain engaged, with increased military and economic assets, for another three to five years. Ten years would be more realistic.

Speaking not for attribution, a Darwi-speaking U.S. official, back from a wide-ranging inspection trip to Afghanistan, said, "The corruption defies imagination. It has to rank as the worst in the world." Karzai, he said, used to be called the mayor of Kabul. No more, said my informant. He doesn't even control the capital. Most of his ministers have U.S. visas up to date -- just in case. More important is that NATO could fracture and founder over the Afghan commitment. Violence and terrorism could then quickly escalate across the world.


© 2008 United Press International. All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be reproduced, redistributed, or manipulated in any form.

Canadian Ambassador identifies business opportunities on first visit to Erbil

Erbil, Kurdistan - Iraq (KRG.org) – Mrs Margaret Huber, the Canadian Ambassador to Iraq, this week for the first time visited the Kurdistan Region to identify public and private sector opportunities for cooperation.

On her three-day visit, she was accompanied by a delegation of officials from Canada’s foreign affairs ministry and from the embassy’s international trade and commerce sections. They will write a report on their visit and recommend commercial opportunities here to Canadian businesses.

Ambassador Huber and her delegation were in Erbil for three days to identify public and private sector opportunities for cooperation between the Kurdistan Region and Canada.
At a reception for Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials, members of the business and diplomatic communities, UN personnel and NGO representatives, Ambassador Huber said, “I am heartened by the high level of cooperation I've been afforded at all levels of the Kurdistan Regional Government and delighted at the openness to international cooperation that I’ve experienced in the Kurdistan Region.”

The Ambassador added, “All too often foreigners do not have an accurate understanding of what is really happening inside Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. I want to change that.”
On the KRG’s behalf Mr Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, thanked Ambassador Huber for her visit. He said, “The clear vision of the Region’s leadership embraces expansion and cooperation with the outside world. We are dedicated to building a bright future for our region, and all of Iraq. The KRG is grateful for Ambassador Huber’s visit and looks forward to strong relations with Canada.”

Minister Bakir continued, “We want the world to know that the Kurdistan Region is stable, peaceful and on the road to prosperity. Because of this, we hope foreign companies will come to the Kurdistan Region and use it as a launching pad from which to expand into the rest of Iraq. As Prime Minister Barzani points out, the Kurdistan Region is open for business and while our natural resources have attracted much attention to date, there are a wide range of investment opportunities in agriculture, industry, tourism, infrastructure, and the financial sectors. I know that with Ambassador Huber’s help, Canada and the Kurdistan Region can become greater friends and business partners.”

Ambassador Huber met President Masoud Barzani, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, other senior KRG officials, and figures from the private and non-governmental sectors. She has served as Canada’s ambassador to Iraq and Jordan since July 2007. This is her first visit to the Kurdistan Region.

PM Barzani: “We will not allow use of our territory to threaten others’ security

PM Barzani: “We will not allow use of our territory to threaten others’ security . Turkey is an important neighbour”


Interview with Asharq Alawsat

By Maad Fayad

Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), expressed his concern regarding Turkey’s military incursion along the Iraq-Turkey border. He said, “We are concerned about the recent developments on the border. Experience has shown that there is no military solution to this problem.”

The Prime Minister stressed that the military attacks against PKK fighters in villages and bridges in the Kurdistan Region served no purpose: “The KRG supports dialogue.” He repeated the KRG’s belief that four party-talks between Washington, Ankara, Baghdad and Erbil are needed.

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barazani gave his views in an exclusive to Asharq Alawsat by phone from his office in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region.

He explained the PKK problem from the KRG’s perspective. “We want Turkey to understand that we are not a part of this problem. We also suffer from it. Past experience shows all countries, particularly neighbouring countries, that we are a factor for stability in our region, and we have done what we can for the sake of stability,” said the Prime Minister.

He spoke of his respect for the principles of international interaction and good relations with neighbouring states. “We respect the principles of international relations, the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other countries, and national sovereignty.” He stressed that the KRG and the Kurdish people in Iraq are not a threat to others saying, “We have not been, nor will we ever be, a threat to the security of neighbouring countries.”

Mr Barzani made clear his views on solutions to the PKK problem, which threatens the security of both Turkey and Iraq. “We know that this is a problem, but history shows that the military option is not the best way to solve it.”

When asked about the KRG participating in dialogue between Iraq and Turkey to solve the current crisis and the PKK’s presence in Iraqi territory, the Prime Minister said, “We are partners in Iraq and therefore have a responsibility for Iraq’s borders. As partners, we expect to be part of any political equation to find a peaceful solution to this issue. We are serious about working together to overcome this crisis.”

He said the federal government in Baghdad was slow in addressing the issue of the Turkish incursion. “The federal government was slow in addressing this issue and when it did so, its comments were not at the required level,” he said.

Nechirvan Barzani stressed that the KRG’s clear and serious position was this: “We do not allow the use of our territory to launch attacks against any neighbour, particularly Turkey. The KRG has taken the necessary steps to show our goodwill and determination.”

Barzani said that while he seeks to build good relations with neighbouring countries, this would not be at the expense of the Kurdistan Region’s security and stability. “Security is a shared responsibility that has nothing do with making political or security concessions, but is rather the joint work of all parties for the sake of security and stability.”

The Prime Minister highlighted the ambitions of his government. “We seek to work with the relevant agencies to find a comprehensive regional mechanism that ensures the stability of the region as a whole. These solutions include political and economic aspects.”

The young Prime Minister expressed his ambitions and aspirations for the region as a whole and projects that are beneficial to the peoples of the region. “Stability is in everyone’s interests. Stability serves the political process, economic development and reconstruction efforts. All these things will help build good relations with Turkey and other countries.”

“We see Turkey as an important partner in the region and Iraq as a whole. We see in the future many opportunities to benefit from dialogue. We have, and will continue to, support investment, trade and strong economic ties which are for the good of all the people.”

Barzani said he was very worried about the impact of a military operation in an area that has achieved stability after years of oppression by former Iraqi regimes. He said, “The military incursion and the escalation of the crisis negatively affect the current situation. Nevertheless, the KRG continues to act as a calming influence. I hope these military operations end as soon as possible because their continuation will only lead to further complications and casualties.”

When asked whether the KRG will allow the Iraqi military to intervene if necessary to defend Iraqi territory, Barzani said, “We hope that things will not reach a point that requires the Iraqi army’s intervention, or for that matter any armed confrontation between us and Turkish forces. I know the Iraqi army will fulfill its role honourably if necessary. It is prepared to defend this part of Iraq despite the fact that the army is really not ready for this kind of confrontation. It is part of the Iraqi army’s sacred duty to defend this part of the country.”

The Prime Minister said, “Our visit to Baghdad is still on the cards, we are partners in Iraq and we must continue with the political process. The aim of our visit is to discuss issues that affect all Iraqis, a mechanism for cooperation between the KRG and the federal government, and other outstanding issues.”

Letters from Israel

In this 'Letters from...' ISN Security Watch writer Dominic Moran looks at the challenges facing local Israeli communities, relating these to wider social, security, economic and political trends.


Dom Moran, ISNC ommentary by Dominic Moran in Tel Aviv for ISN Security Watch (29/02/08)


"We heard screaming from outside. They were beating her. Her mother was pulling her hair, her father was slapping her, and when she fell, he was kicking her," "Iris," who asked that her real name not be used, told me.

"My mum and I ran outside, and I jumped on the father's back. And my mum took her hand and ran to the house with her. And I was shouting at them to go away and we locked ourselves in."

"Jamilla," also a psuedonmyn, an Arab-Israeli cleaner from the village of Jisr al-Zarqa, had been working for several months at the house of a Jewish family in nearby Binyamina when she was accused of stealing items and making calls from her employer's phone. Hours after her dismissal, her family arrived at the house demanding an explanation.

Scared that the revelation of the phone calls could endanger Jamilla - through indicating the existence of an illicit affair - her employer refused to answer the father's questions, at which point Jamilla was taken outside by her parents and beaten.

With most men in the village either unemployed or employed in seasonal work in adjacent Jewish communities, the cleaning women of Jisr al-Zarqa constitute a primary economic pillar in Israel's poorest Arab community.

Often treated with a mixture of disdain and fear by their employers, Jisr women outnumber the village's men. With scarce public transport serving the village, the women of Jisr are a regular fixture on the roads of Binyamina, where they can be seen waiting for rides in private cars driven by village men, who reportedly charge for the service.

It is hard for me to describe the juxtaposition in experiences upon entering the village from nearby Or Akiva - a Jewish "development town" - where we have made our home for the last two years.

From the massive potholes in the highway underpass - one of only two entrances to the village - to the squalor of the backstreets, where children play with rubbish and sticks on the roads, the atmosphere is oppressive, overwhelming and profoundly depressing.

Few Jewish Israelis enter the village, and when I biked into Jisr with my 10-year-old son last week, all eyes were on us. This caution is understandable given that the village is rumored to be home to Palestinian collaborators dumped there by the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence service.

The large sign expressing the village's support for Bnei Sakhnin, the only team from an Arab town in Israeli football's top flight, is gone now, along with the flowery rhetoric surrounding the side's 2004 State Cup triumph. This victory was rather fatuously heralded in the liberal Hebrew press as a marker in the integration of the country's Arab minority.

Four years on, we have an unprecedented wave of support in the Jewish-Israeli community for the "transfer" of the country's Arab minority to a future Palestinian state; calls led by a party that still holds the state's purse strings.

Some limited progress has been made with the government promising to work on equalizing local budgets, currently slanted massively in favor of Jewish communities, and to build the first Israeli-Arab town since independence in a bid to ease pressure on overcrowded Galilee communities.

However, such promises largely remain on paper, and despite the recent paving of a small part of the main street, Jisr remains mired in poverty. The village suffers from regular gangland shootings, while the local school struggles to cope with the scourge of drugs.

Jisr residents are physically and economically distanced from adjacent Jewish communities and the main highway, which runs past the village without an on-ramp. Socially, other Arab residents in the area refuse to marry into the village, citing the residents' purported origin as Sudanese and Egyptian slaves.

Situated across an open field from Jisr, Or Akiva also has its problems.

One story that quickly entered local lore is that of police who left their car to chase a thief, returning to find their vehicle burned out. As with Jisr, police rarely enter the town, leaving the community open to the depredations of organized crime families.

The town itself is split into three sectors. The south is dominated by immigrants from the former Soviet Union; the north, lower middle class families escaping high rentals in the center of the country; and the center, Sephardim and immigrants from Central Asia. The social differentiations are clear to locals and correspond closely to class and ethnic boundaries and allegiances.

Israel's development towns and neighborhoods (shikkunim) were the social dumping grounds for recurrent waves of immigration from North Africa and the wider Middle East, and more recently Ethiopia and former Soviet states.

My family lived in a postage-stamp sized apartment in the Binyamina shikkun in 2005. It became apparent shortly after moving in that we had made a very bad mistake: There was an open sewer pipe below our second floor bedroom window and a line of addicts waiting outside at night to buy drugs from our downstairs neighbors.

Regardless of origin, the prevalent politics in the Binyamina shikkun and Or Akiva is right wing and/or Sephardi religious. There are few points of interaction between Jisr residents and their Or Akiva counterparts. While racial and nationalistic tensions are largely kept in check, they continue to simmer below the surface and center primarily on the issue of lower class employment.

During the October 2000 race riots, these tensions exploded when a Jewish mob surrounded the gas station on the northern outskirts of Or Akiva, which employs Arab workers.

Or Akiva residents fear that a planned bypass linking the two north-south highways via the town will destroy the local market and increase apartment rentals, forcing them to move even further from the country's economic center, Tel Aviv.

"The existence of the mall and new supermarkets around here have already reduced customers from the market and the whole market is going down," said Tom, who runs a spice and dried fruit shop.

"Four to five years ago you couldn't move on the market street on Thursday afternoons," Tom said, adding "Soon the little shops won't exist anymore."

Given that Jisr residents are regular customers and that most Or Akiva residents cannot afford cleaners, the collapse of the market threatens to sever one of the few remaining ties between the communities.




Dr Dominic Moran, based in Tel Aviv, is ISN Security Watch's senior correspondent in the Middle East and the Director of Operations of ISA Consulting.

'Letters from...' is an ISN Security Watch series in which our correspondents give their thoughts on day-to-day life in their communities.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).

Kalam proposes joint investment in space by India, Israel



Tel Aviv (PTI): India and Israel should consider jointly investing up to USD one billion in selected areas in space technology based on their mutual core competence, former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam said here on Wednesday.

"India and Israel should consider investing in equitable proportion to the tune of $ 1 billion investment for implementing certain selected missions based on the mutual core competence," Kalam, the keynote speaker at Israel Annual Conference on Aerospace Sciences here, told an august audience while laying out his 'World Space Vision 2050'.

Pointing towards the large number of satellites in the geosynchronous orbit leading to a "clutter", Kalam, a renowned rocket scientist, emphasised on the need of immediate steps to enhance cooperation between the space-faring nations.

As a first step towards achieving these goals, Kalam suggested that the Indian and Israel aerospace agencies should consider establishing a world knowledge platform to enable joint design, development, cost effective production and marketing of the aerospace systems and products.

Seeking the creation of a 'World Space Council' to carry out tasks like large-scale societal missions and low-cost access to space, Kalam asked space-capable countries to pool their resources and technical capabilities to tap the potential for the common benefit of the mankind.

"Aerospace science and technology has been cradle for a number of innovations. It has brought a culture of a number of disciplines working together to achieve state-of-the-art systems. It has connected people from remotest parts of the world," Kalam, regarded as the architect of India's guided missile programmes, said.

However, Kalam also cautioned that the dreams of aerospace research have created a mindset of "competitiveness and possessiveness" that has led to the underutilisation of its potential.

Emphasising on cooperation at the global level, he said that "standing alone has caused certain feelings of insecurity and suspicion".

"The goal should be utilisation of space technology to improve the quality of life. The concept should be space for six billion people. More the stakeholders, the safer the system is," he emphasised.

In order to make space technology a thing for the common good of the mankind, he suggested the creation of a "World Space Council" which could oversee the planning and implementation of exploration, space, security and societal missions.

"Such a unified approach will enable the world to see a quantum jump in the progress in space science and technology for the benefit of all the nations of the world," the former Indian President said.

Kalam stressed that the three major goals of the "World Space Council" should be carrying out large-scale societal missions and low cost access to space, achieving comprehensive space security and space exploration and current application missions.

A spokesman of the organisers of the conference told PTI "Kalam has been invited as the keynote speaker at the conference in view of the reputation he commands in aerospace sciences and for his contribution in strengthening Indo-Israel cooperation".

Kalam also addressed the students and the faculty at Tel Aviv University in a science and technology workshop on "Nation Empowerment and Space".
___________


Kalam lays out World Space Vision 2050
Tel Aviv: Seeking the creation of a 'World Space Council' to carry out tasks like large-scale societal missions and low-cost access to space, former President APJ Abdul Kalam on Wednesday asked space-capable countries to pool their resources and technical capabilities to tap the potential for the common benefit of the mankind.

"Aerospace science and technology has been cradle for a number of innovations. It has brought a culture of a number of disciplines working together to achieve state of the art systems. It has connected people from remotest parts of the world," Kalam, the keynote speaker at Israel Annual Conference on Aerospace Sciences here, told the audience while laying out his 'World Space Vision 2050'.

However, he also cautioned that the dreams of aerospace research have created a mindset of "competitiveness and possessiveness" that has led to the underutilisation of its potential.

Emphasising on cooperation at the global level, the renowned scientist said that "standing alone has caused certain feelings of insecurity and suspicion".

"The goal should be utilisation of space technology to improve the quality of life. The concept should be space for six billion people. More the stakeholders, the safer the system is," he emphasised.

In order to make space technology a thing for the common good of the mankind, he suggested creation of a "World Space Council" which could oversee the planning and implementation of exploration, space, security and societal missions.

"Such a unified approach will enable the world to see a quantum jump in the progress in space science and technology for the benefit of all the nations of the world," the former President said.

Kalam stressed that the three major goals of such a "World Space Council" should be carrying out large-scale societal missions and low cost access to space, achieving comprehensive space security and space exploration and current application missions.

Pointing towards the large number of satellites in the geosynchronous orbit leading to a clutter, he emphasised on the need for immediate steps to enhance cooperation between the space faring nations.

As a first step towards achieving these goals, he suggested the Israel and Indian aerospace agencies consider establishing a world knowledge platform to enable joint design, development, cost-effective production and marketing of the aerospace systems and products.

"India and Israel should consider investing in equitable proportion to the tune of USD one billion for implementing certain selected missions based on the mutual core competence," Kalam said.

A spokesman for the organisers of the conference told PTI that "Kalam has been invited as the keynote speaker at the conference in view of the reputation he commands in aerospace sciences and for his contribution in strengthening Indo-Israel cooperation".
The former President also addressed the students and the faculty at Tel Aviv university in a science and technology workshop on 'Nation Empowerment and Space".

© Copyright 2008 PTI. All rights reserved.

India too can hit objects in space: Kalam

February 23, 2008
By Syed Akbar

Hyderabad, Feb 22: India has acquired the capability to hit foreign objects including space debris to protect its territory.
"We are capable of hitting foreign objects at a height of 200 km from the ground. When some object enters the Indian territory, it is our right to hit it and protect the country and its people. We have acquired the capability," missile man and former president APJ Abdul Kalam said.

Dr Kalam's statement gains significance in the backdrop of the United States of America shooting down its rogue spy satellite carrying dangerous toxic fuel. It has demonstrated the USA's effectiveness of missile defence system. India too is capable of protecting its territory from such foreign objects or rogue satellites.
India will, however, utilise the technology for peaceful purpose, though developed nations are vying with one another for militarisation of outer space.

Interacting with a select group of reporters after inaugurating the International Conference on Avionics System - 2008, at Research Centre Imarat here on Friday, Dr Kalam said the recent success of the DRDO in the launch of interceptor missile and Agni-III had taken India into the elite club of a few developed nations.
"The demonstration of air defence mission to intercept incoming ballistic missiles in both endo and exo atmospheric region propelled the country into a very select group of nations having such capability," he said adding that India's air defence programme has established several critical technologies including long range radar detection and tracking.
Earlier, Dr Kalam told defence scientists from various parts of the world that intercepting and destroying a flying and manoeuvring supersonic air target was a big challenge, especially if the attack was a surprise one and aided by jamming systems. "When the Akash surface to air missile system was being recently tested by the Air Force, they had demanded intercepting on air target by a ripple of two missiles.
This is to ensure hit probability of more than 99 per cent. The onboard avionics systems worked in unison for taking the missile close to the target within 35 metres. While the first missile exploded near the target, the second missile had to explode near debris of the first missile, which itself became the target for the second missile," he said.
Stating that the DRDO has developed an operationalised state of the art electronic warfare system such as Tempest, Samyukta and Sangraha, he emphasised the need to have built in facilities for active cyber warfare, so as to make the adversary systems ineffective by way of denial of service.
Dr Kalam said India was now moving towards micro and non sensor technology realise systems weighing a few grams. "We are for miniaturisation of missiles so that they could be mounted on aircraft," he said.

Cold, Hungry, and Fed Up

Transitions Online

29 February 2008

A memorably bitter winter has Uzbeks and Tajiks protesting and worrying. From EurasiaNet.

UZBEKISTAN: AUTHORITIES BRACE FOR SPRING

by Alisher Khamidov

A winter of discontent in Uzbekistan is giving way to a spring of uncertainty.

Along with neighboring states in Central Asia, Uzbekistan was battered by fierce winter weather for the better part of three months, featuring temperatures as low as minus-20 Celsius. The Deep Freeze has now given way to the Big Drench, as uncharacteristically heavy rains have pelted the country, and are forecast to continue for up to two weeks. Many Uzbeks are now worried about the possibility of severe flooding.

The harsh weather provided a jolt that the country’s decrepit infrastructure could not easily absorb: perhaps millions of Uzbeks shivered this winter because of a lack of heating. The shortages were not caused by an energy crunch, as Uzbekistan devotes about 50 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas out of its annual production of 62 bcm for domestic consumption. Worn-out pipes frequently malfunctioned under the cold conditions. As a result, electricity consumption skyrocketed, putting enormous pressure on the county’s outdated electricity grid, with some areas reporting multiple blackouts and brownouts. All portions of the country felt the shortages of heating and electricity, but conditions were especially dire in rural areas.

The first sign of open public anger appeared on 16 January in the city of Ferghana, located in the heart of the Ferghana Valley, Uzbekistan’s breadbasket, as well as the center of radical religious sentiment. For three consecutive days, about 300 residents demonstrated in front of the city’s municipal building, venting their frustration over interruptions in gas and electricity supplies.

Later in January, a protest erupted in the town of Khojeili, a transportation hub in the western Karakalpak Autonomous Republic, and in the Zafarabad district of Jizakh Province. As part of their protest, Khojeili residents blocked the main road linking the cities of Nukus and Kungrad, lifting their barricade only after local authorities took action to ensure the delivery of electricity and gas. In addition, reports have circulated about smaller-scale demonstrations in various locales.

"In a situation where basic needs are unmet, people have little to lose and are willing to take out their anger at government," said an Uzbek resident who spoke to EurasiaNet on condition of anonymity.

Most of the protesters were women, according to local observers, who added that the demonstrations were organized locally and showed no signs of being part of a coordinated campaign against the government. Even so, the protests underscore the tenuous social balance that exists in Uzbekistan. Officials have long relied on repression to contain various threats to the administration’s authority, most notably Islamic radicalism. But Karimov’s focus on security has caused the economy to suffer, and now developments may have reached a point where a significant portion of the population is willing to speak out.

In confronting demonstrators, the government eschewed shows of force. It helped that the recent protests, unlike previous political demonstrations, were narrowly focused on local social and economic problems, and did not contain any direct challenges to central authorities in Tashkent.

Rather than encourage decisive government action against protesters, Karimov and his lieutenants pursued a more populist course. On 2 February, for example, Karimov fired Adiljan Allayarov, the mayor of Ferghana. Some observers suggested that Allayarov’s removal was directly linked to his failure to resolve the energy emergency in the city, and was therefore an act intended to send a message to the political bosses of other cities and provinces.

Karimov may now be casting about to find the right balance of preventative measures to keep popular protests from ever posing a genuine threat to his authority. As long as protests remain random and disjointed, his administration has little to fear, observers say. But he might quickly find himself in serious trouble, if those angry with his policies were to ever coordinate their actions.

"The lack of organized opposition, [and] the inability of the protesters to forge a cohesive protest plan, backed by a clearly articulated alternative vision for the country’s future development, means that the protests stand little chance of attracting broad nationwide support," according to an exiled Uzbek opposition activist who spoke to EurasiaNet on condition of anonymity.

TAJIKISTAN: WINTER BRINGS FEARS OF PESTILENCE AND HUNGER

by Konstantin Parshin and Kambiz Arman

The United Nations is stepping in to try to rescue Tajikistan from a social catastrophe brought on by severe winter weather. But even if an emergency UN appeal for assistance generates a robust international response, it is questionable whether Tajikistan will be able to avoid entering a downward spiral, featuring pestilence and widespread hunger.

On 18 February, the UN issued a “flash appeal,” calling for an immediate international infusion of $25.1 million in assistance to Tajikistan. “At least 260,000 people are in need of immediate food assistance,” the appeal stated grimly.

“Moreover, the government reports that up to 2 million people may require food assistance through the end of the winter, if limited food and fuel supplies in rural areas are not replenished.” In all, almost one-third of the country’s population of just over 7 million is in need of some form of assistance.

In recent days, the harsh weather, which has routinely seen temperatures of minus-20 Celsius, has exhibited signs of easing. But in discussing the condition of the country’s social and economic infrastructure, no matter what happens the rest of the winter, grievous harm has already been done. Dushanbe and other urban centers enjoy only a few hours of electricity a day, and hydropower generators will be able to operate at no more than 40 percent capacity at least until the onset of spring.

Gulomjon Bobozoda, Tajikistan’s Economic Development and Trade Minister, admitted at an 18 February news conference that the chronic power shortage was bound to have a “cumulative effect” on the economy. He added that it was too early to provide an accurate damage assessment.

Meanwhile, Matlubkhon Davlatov, a senior aide to President Imomali Rahmon, acknowledged the government’s concern about a looming food crisis. “Industrial enterprises and the agrarian sector are in critical condition,” Davlatov said.

The National Bank of Tajikistan has estimated the weather-related economic loss at $250 million in January and February alone, a calamitous figure in a country where the annual state budget is roughly $610 million, according to CIA estimates. The national bank added that the deep freeze has destroyed cotton fields, which are a major source of income for the country. In addition, farmland and private garden plots have been ravaged.

Representatives of the World Food Program and the World Health Organization have cautioned that livestock and poultry have suffered severely during the winter, estimating that production of milk and eggs could experience a 50 percent drop-off. In addition, many Tajiks are grappling with the initial stage of hunger, in which they are spending more than ever on food, but eating less, with many eating only once a day.

Inflation remains an alarming problem. The price of wheat in Tajikistan, for example, climbed 70 percent during 2007. The damage caused to the country’s agricultural infrastructure this winter could cause the inflation rate to rapidly accelerate in the spring and summer.

Likewise, experts express concern that once all the snow that fell this winter starts to melt, the country’s already overtaxed sewer and water-supply systems will collapse.

At the 18 February news conference, Michael Jones, the resident UN coordinator for Tajikistan, warned of a high probability of future calamities, especially outbreaks of typhoid and other waterborne infectious diseases.

Jones said that 64 percent of Tajikistan’s population subsists on less than $2 per day, while 41 percent did not have access to reliable drinking water.

Various U.S. government agencies have already pledged about $2.5 million in aid, or about one-tenth of the appeal’s target. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) intends to provide Tajikistan with fuel, heaters, clothing, household supplies, and health services valued at about $830,000. The State Department has also arranged for about $1.6 million in food aid to be delivered.

Coverage of the crisis by state-controlled media outlets has been muted, with a notable lack of criticism of official policies. But on the streets of Dushanbe, Tajiks are seething.

“We have double standards in our society,” said a Dushanbe lawyer, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We see a number of new construction sites in Dushanbe … Five-star hotels being erected … And we see the fancy cars and homes in the city.

“Everybody knows who these things belong to. These ‘masters of life’ control the economy, but they are deaf to the people’s cries,” the lawyer continued. “In the spring we will be facing another serious threat – dirty water from taps. And somebody will be appealing again for international assistance. It happens time and again.”





This partner post was compiled from articles on EurasiaNet. Alisher Khamidov is a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C. Konstantin Parshin is a freelance journalist based in Dushanbe. Kambiz Arman is the pseudonym for a Tajik journalist.

Russia's domestic policy under Vladimir Putin: achievements and failures

16:08 | 29/ 02/ 2008

Achievements:

1. Consolidation of state institutions and formation of the common legal space. Consolidation of the power vertical and state institutions, and restoration of the constitutional order in the entire country were one of the first steps towards overcoming Russia's systemic crisis.

The common legal space has been restored, and the legislation of the regions tailored to the federal laws. At the same time, the powers of the Federation, regions and local bodies of self-government have been strictly delimited. At the same time, a considerable part of functions in the socio-economic sphere have been transferred to the regional and local levels. In other words, the powers have been seriously decentralized.

2. Social orientation in domestic policy. President Putin has adopted a new approach to social problems. He has described it as a "policy of investment in people, and, hence, in Russia's future." Government policy has focused on improving the living standards of the Russian people. This is the goal of the priority national projects, which were introduced in 2006. The projects cover the most important and backward spheres, such as health care, education, housing, and agriculture.

The results are obvious. Under the public health project, more than 40,000 units of diagnostic equipment and over 13,000 ambulances have been purchased; more than 90% of mothers have received birth vouchers; free medical care has been provided to 1.3 million women and more than 300,000 children; 1,2 million of newborn children have been screened for five congenital diseases; 300,000 patients have been given high-tech medical assistance; massive campaigns on preventive medical examination and vaccination have been conducted.

3. Improvement in the demographic situation. The alarming trends toward the growing death rate and declining birth rate have been overcome in the last few years. In 2007, 145,000 more children were born, which is 10% more than in 2005. Over the same period, the number of deaths was reduced by 178,800. The nation has not seen such figures in the last 15 years.

The situation has been improved owing to reforms in medical care and measures to promote the birth rate, such as the introduction of the maternity voucher. The first owners of this voucher will be able to use the money in 2010. Last year, vouchers were received by almost 314,000 women. This year, maternity capital has been increased to 271,250 rubles (over $10,850). Social benefits for families with children have been raised substantially.

4. Stabilization of the situation in Chechnya. Consolidation and reformation of the army. The country's disintegration was prevented by a great effort. The war in the North Caucasus was brought to an end. A serious blow was dealt at separatism and its patron, international terrorism. The Chechen Republic became a fully-fledged member of the Russian Federation. It had democratic elections of parliament and president, and adopted a constitution.

At the same time, the conflict in the North Caucuses revealed serious problems in the Russian Armed Forces. Many of them have been resolved in the last few years. The upkeep of officers and men has been improved; troops have been equipped with modern weapons; and a reform of the army has been carried out after numerous delays.

5. Revival of physical training and sports. After years of decline in this sphere, the government has focused both on professional sports and sports events for the public. It has drafted and started implementing a federal program on the development of sports and physical training for 2006-2015, which provides for the construction of 4,000 sports facilities, most of them in small towns and villages.

The decision of the 119th session of the International Olympic Committee in Guatemala to conduct the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi confirms that Russia is retrieving its title of a great sports power. Presentations by the Putin-led Russian team largely contributed to this decision.

Failures

1. Rampant corruption. Top-level officials admit that in the last few years, Russian society has failed to find a cure for its grave disease - corruption. There were attempts to combat it - in 2007 more than 1,000 cases of bribery by high-ranking officials were taken to court. In some estimates, kick-backs in the system of government purchases amounts to about 10% from their total, or some 300,000 billion rubles (over $12,000) in value terms.

An anti-corruption bill has not been adopted despite large-scale debates on the problem. Moreover, Russian legislation does not even define corruption. But the main problem is that too little has been done to remove the causes of corruption - excessive administrative barriers.

2. Dependent and non-transparent legal proceedings. Contrary to verbal declarations, the conditions making the judicial system truly independent of the executive and legislative branches of power have not been created. Illegal verdicts are still being made on the basis of telephone calls or for money.

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin complains that rank-and-file judges are very dependent on court chairmen. The judicial reform designed to guarantee the implementation of the constitutional provisions on independence of courts has not achieved its goals in full measure. On a par with corruption, dependence and biased attitudes, which judges display in economic cases, are substantially impeding the development of the economy and blocking the flow of home and foreign investment.

3. Mounting xenophobic and nationalistic attitudes. Despite appeals for tolerance and numerous educational measures, radical nationalism continues to grow. Cases of race-related violence have become more frequent. Xenophobic attitudes are still running high in public mentality.

Over 25% of those polled by the Public Opinion Fund have declared that they are irritated by people of other ethnic origins. The Moscow Human Rights Bureau has registered 230 ethnic hate crimes - 74 people were killed and 317 were injured. In the estimate of the SOVA Human Rights Center, the growth of violence has registered 12% over the previous year.

4. Massive political apathy. In the estimate of the VTsIOM pollster, 60% of Russian people do not care about politics. In a poll conducted by the Levada Center together with the EU-Russia Center 94% of respondents said that they can do nothing or very little to influence current developments in Russia. Some analysts explain this by the failure to create an effective mechanism of checks and balances, which would not allow one branch of power to dominate over all others and which would promote interest-driven public dialogue and guarantee active public participation in determining the tasks and methods of building a new state.

The recent changes in the election legislation are driving ordinary people and the elite further apart. This applies to the cancellation of governors' elections, introduction of party lists, a ban on the right to recall an objectionable deputy, and abrogation of the "against everyone" column.

The authorities are increasingly monopolizing a system of government control, assuming responsibility for decision-making and depriving society of this right.

5. Renunciation of plurality. Human rights champions and some journalists believe that the authorities have been waging a vigorous onslaught on the independent media. The number of television companies, radio stations, and newspapers independent of the government or local authorities has sharply dropped. A narrow circle of personalities have established monopoly control over Russian national television, and are determining the tastes and political preferences of the public. The hopes that television and other media will become the fourth branch of power, which would be truly independent and would reflect the entire range of public opinion, have not been realized. Only the Internet still remains a free territory. But recent initiatives by our MPs are calling its future into question.