From the media

Xi Jinping addressed the Chinese Communist Party congress on Wednesday, he urged the delegates to “resolutely oppose” any action that undermines its leadership. The observers have said that the congress is set to enhance the Chinese President’s already formidable power. He told an estimated 2,300 delegates that the prospects for China are bright but the challenges are severe.

The President is expected to secure a second five year term as general secretary and put loyalists in leadership positions. The congress is held twice in a decade. Xi, in his speech spoke about the growing clout china has globally, its fight againt poverty and inequality, he also spoke about “zero tolerance” for corruption within the party. Xi has emerged as China’s most powerful leader since Mao and Deng Xiaoping. This congress may be his attempt to gain term beyond the stipulated two terms of five each. The party is 89 million strong and his top leadership position gives him unrivalled power. 

By his side were his predecessors, Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin. According to France24 it will be an end to the collective leadership process followed thus far which was aimed at preventing the rise of another “Mao.” Xi’s vision and thinking will be added to the constitution but whether his name would be added is open to speculation. Mao and Deng are mentioned in the constitution.

Xi’s anti corruption drive “swept aside” any rivals to his leadership of the giant nation.  He also ensured that all dissent was silenced. One illustrious prisoner of conscience was the nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo who was not released even when he was dying of cancer in July. On the global stage he has made China’s prescense felt in Asia and globally. It has alongwith Russia been instrumental in preventing NATO allies from toppling the Assad regime. It has caused much tension in South China sea, where a new island is taking shape. It has only now come down heavily on North Korea, till now it had been its ally despite UN sanctions.     


Of priorities and ministers

The Congress Party Chief Minister of Karnataka State in southern India wants to distribute gold coins to his MLAs (members of legislative assembly), while potholes go unattended in Bangalore the state capital. There have been drowing deaths in the city due to flooding. The CM wants to get the MLAs to support his bid to get a flag for his state. Rs.26 crorers worth of gold are to be given away as part of the “diwali celebrations.”

Such spurging while the people are on the verge of collapsing from hunger exemplifies the priorities our ministers have. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, one of the poorer states of India, with high percentage of malnourished children and women, and hungry people, has pledged to erect a 100 meter tall statue of Lord Rama, the mythlogical hero. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, first home inister of independent India got a 600 ft tall statute, a “gift” of the PM to the people of India.

“Graffiti” had in one of the posts talked about this latter venture of the PM, and also written about Mayawati’s park full of statutes one of her own and others of the elephant symbol of her party. India is known around the world as a nation full of poor, hungry people, where the government is corrupt and incompetent. This is the reason why. The government doesn’t seem to have money for the more basic essential needs of her people – health care, education, clean drinking water and sanitation. While the nation splurges on luxuries, there are millions of people dying of diseases that are cureable with minimum health care.


From the media

California wildfires claimed 40 dead, DW reports 100s are missing. Hundred thousand people have been evacuated as the fires raged sixth day in a row, most fires are in the northern parts of the state. More than five thousand homes have been destroyed. Twenty deaths were reported from the wine producing region of Sonoma County, those dead include elderly residents. The blaze came as a surprise and they could not take appropriate measures to save themselves, the fire started in the middle of the night, on October 8 2017.   

An estimated 10,000 firefighters are battling the blaze, they have an ardous task as the wind picked up and became stronger – gusts of up to 64 km per hour were reported on Saturday. 

US Politics

Government lawyers have asked judge to refuse CNN’s request to make available James Comey’s memos on his meetings with President Trump. The lawyers, in a late Friday evening filing have asked permission to argue in secret why the disclosure could compromise the investigation into Russian interferance in the 2016 elections and potential obstruction of justice into the probe. 

CNN reports that several news outlets and government watchdogs including CNN have requested the release of the documents under the Freedm of Information Act. Comey testified in Congress that the documents reveal that the President had asked him to pledge personal loyalty and what he interpreted as a request to curtail the investigation into former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn. Comey says that he had written the memo to avoid including classified information, the government lawyer represented to the judge that the documents contain classified material.

Trump is threatening to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal because he says that Iran is violating the deal. He wants to freeze and reverse Iran nuclear program if Congress and US allies do not agree to strengthen it, as he unveiled a tough and comrehensive new policy toward the Islamic Republic. In a major speech the president said that the deal was the worst and the most one sided transaction the US has ever entered into. Trump has effectively frozen the deal as against killing it off completely as some backers had feared This, according to CNN, would start a chain reaction that would end in derailing the deal and raises the prospect of a war with Iran. 

The contention that Iran has violated the deal is not borne out by facts as the International Atomic Energy Commission, America’s European advisors, and those in his own government say that Iran is complying with 2015 deal agreed by Obama and major world powers. All of Trumps reasons why he wants to pull out of the deal are contradicted by US allies and those in his government. The UN Security Council has ratified the deal, its a multilateral deal and the President cannot uilaterally walk out of it, Iran’s President Rouhani said in a live address soon after Trump spoke.


A regional power? An emerging global power?  

India is often referred to as an emerging power on the global arena. Considering its military might, the fourth largest army, largest importer of sophisticated weapons, etc this may be true, however, let us not be carried away. To be a real power on the world stage, at the minimum, you need to have people who have adequate health care, so that they are healthy and productive, have quality basic education, so that they are aware of what is right or wrong for their country and be intelligent participants in debates on matters affecting the nation. The other thing is it should have an industrial base – providing employment to the people and be able to support the country in times of grave emergencies.

India on the other hand has been on a shopping bing for weapons – very sophisticated ones from the US and Russia. The PM says that India faces challenges from China and Pakistan. China has made incursions into the country as far as Arunachal Pradesh, however, if we do a deep analysis we would be able to see that the matter can be dealt with through diplomacy not bullets. India cannot afford a full scale war with China, even if US allies with India, it would be a protracted war, India cannot afford such a war. Its economy cannot support such a war. 

There are other things to consider, Pakistan would definately align with China, perhaps Russia would play its role as China’s ally. The US has on the other hand over extended itself, its troops are fighting on many fronts, some closer home in Afghanistan, so it cannot be expected to help India strategically over a period of time. It would be a nightmare if it escalates into a nuclear war, both for the region, as well as globally. 

India is obtaining sophisticated weapons – it makes the elite happy. A large number of people get carried away by the strength of our armed forces, they should look beyond the marching uniforms and the armoury on display – it only goes to boost the egos of the elite, the real issues get shoved under the carpet. The economy isn’t going to gather momentum in the short term. India’s growth figures hide the fact that the “fastest growing” economy did not generate commensurate jobs. And on the political front we are a very divided country – we have challenges on sectarian front; from not having dealt with issues of the Dalits who face humanitarian challenges on a daily basis. 

India’s global standing would be much enhanced if it seriously works towards meeting the needs of the 99 percent of the population – builts an educational infrastructure for them, creates a viable health care system for them, looks into the problems in the farm sector, looks into the problems of the unemployed, creates opportunities for all.


From the media

The debate over gun control can be heard in the media…the liberals, a species despised by Trump lovers, and a whole lot others are vocal…they are urging the Americans to come to their senses and stop mad men from buying guns – the likes of assault rifles. Stephen Paddock had an armory of weapons of all description. Why would anyone want so many deadly weapons. America may be the only country in the world where individuals can own weapons used by the army and be protected under the Second Amendment. 

There have been 521 shootings in 477 days, since June 12, 2016, when someone opened fire on a party in a club, in Orlando, Florida. Last March saw “just” 22 shootings. A congressman had in an article titled, “Nothing will change after Las Vegas shooting,” in the New York Times, cited by Frank Bruni in his article “God Bless America,” has said that although it sounds outrageous it is an “accurate” prediction.

Peurto Rico, a territory of the United States, had a visit from their President. What a visit. His chief of staff held his head in embarrassment according to some reports. The Governor of Peurto Rico was sitting next to the POTUS. Trump was accompanied by his wife Melania Trump. Trump said that in Peurto Rico “only” 16 people died. He praised the governor and the people of that unfortunate territory where they had lost everything in the hurricane for losing so few people. He compared it to Katrina where, in his own words, “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” had lost their lives. He also said that Peurto Rico was a big drain on the budget, he said “You have thrown our budget a little out of whack. We have spent a lot of money on Peurto Rico.” The other “memorable” remark was, “Its a great trip.” Your weather is second to none but every once in a while you get hit,” as if remarking in a friendly way on a trip to the island on holidays.


Just another day in the US

The United States has been rocked by another senseless shooting, another in a series of such incidents. This time it happened in Las Vegas. This has been the deadliest in US history, 58 people were killed and 500 were hurt. The gunman was Stephen Paddock, 64, he was not known to authorities. It happened during a country music festival. The shooter fired from 32nd floor of a hotel. 

Nevada governor described the scene as a ‘war zone.’ Some medical professionals risked their lives to attend to the injured while the shooting was ongoing, CNN reports, quoting the governor. DW citing the police reports that the lone gunmen shot himself after the police stormed his room on the 32nd floor of the hotel.  According to the news channel, DW, 515 were hurt in the attack. A dozen of  them are reported to be critical. 

DW citing police has said that the gunman was a retired accountant, Stephen Craig Paddock. 64, of Mesquite, Nevada. The police found more than 10 guns inside the room. The authorities have set aside claims that IS was responsible for the attack, according to them there is no evidence of any international terror group being involved.


Railways in India, a reality check

This post makes me feel funny. I had written quite glowingly about the railways in India in one of my posts, particulary about the emphasis on safety. This post is a reality check…15000 people are killed in railway accidents in India every year. The tracks are in state of disrepair to say the least, the signaling needs modernisation. However, despite all this India signed an agreement with Japan for their Bullet trains, they are initially slated to run between Ahmedabad and Mumbai.

How bitzzarre it sounds and how incongrous. It won’t benefit the mass of people who use the railways, they won’t be able to afford even the base fare of the Bullet Train. They would still die, we have seen the state of the suburaban railways that run in Mumbai, people die by falling off the train or crossing the tracks. These tracks pass through densely populated slums where people have their homes on either side of the tracks. 

Tracks need to be renewed every year but this has not been happening. More accidents take place due to derailment, the other cause is unmaned level crossing. The present government minister has pledged that he will institute track replacement where ever this is needed. Would this be another rhetoric of the government or would it translate into action? The investment in bullet trains is something that shakes our faith in the government…when India needs to bring the railway infrastructure to meet 21 century standards, the present dispensation is pulling in the wrong direction. 

There are panels set up to study railway safety, they present their report, they give recommendations – the government cherry picks those things that would be popular with the voters, railway safety suffers. The present scenario isn’t any different. The Bullet train is a populaist move and is aimed at establishing Mr. Modi as the author of a “revolution” in rail travel. The ministers of railways introduce new trains – so that the passengers would “gratefully” remember them by.  Each new train means that the resources are diverted from more essential work of making railways safer. 


NDA government and the economy

Modi government received the ultimate reality check from a BJP veteran, Yashwant Sinha, who was the fianance minister in the Vajpayee government. He has criticised the government in his article in Indian Express. The scathing piece had said that the economy was in for a “hard landing.” He had been espeically critical of the state of the economy in the aftermath of demonetization and GST Act implementation. 

Yashwant Sinha said in his opinion piece in Indian Express, that he “would be failing in his national duty if [he] did not speak up even now against the mess the (current) finance minister has made of the economy.” Many within the party are aware of this, however, they were afraid of speaking out he said in his piece. He also said that demonetization and GST Act were an “unmitigated” disaster. The State Bank of India, the largest public sector Bank in India has said that slow down were here to stay for a long time. 

Jean Dreze in his new book makes a case for rising above the GDP growth rate figures and economic models to make policies that create a “morally good, progressive society.” He said that these were as essential as economic indexes. The economists need to listen to the activists as well. The government had so far has focussed on faster growth rates. They were tuned to the wealthy, the industrialists…people who owned most of the resources of the country. They are the one percent. 

The farmers who feed the nation suffer most because the government has not paid any attention to the farm sector which employs most of the nation’s labour force. Agriculture land has become poor due to heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the farmers have to take loans to buy more and more chemical inputs to be able to keep farms economically viable – crops also fail due to the fact that most of the farming is rain dependent. Rainfall is unreliable leading to crop failure. They are facing the brunt of climate change.


Its Trump again

The Guardian reports that Donald Trump in his Tweets has said that Texas and Florida which had been “lashed by Hurricane Harvey, and Irma respectively” were doing well and were on the way to recovery. He said that Puerto Rico on the other hand was suffering from broken infrastructure and massive debt even before Hurricane Maria. His lack of empathy was clear, his expression of grief if any was shallow. He said their power system was broken – he was much concerned with the debt it owed Wall Street.

Now the latest is that his son-in-law and daughter both advisors to POTUS used their private email for official purpose – Trump and his team had based most of their Presidential camaign against Hillary on this factor. Six other White House officials in Trump administration had also used their private emails for official purpose. Hillary Clinton has called it height of hypocrisy. She had been cleared of any wrong doing by the FBI twice. Yet the campaign chant of “lock her up” persisted. 

War of words between US and North Korea continues. North Korea has said that the US has “declared war,” Sarah Sanders has called it “absurd.” A UN spokes person has said that the “fiery talk” could lead to accdental war, BBCtv reports. North Korean foreign minister has said that “the world should clearly remember that it was US who first declared war on North Korea (BBC).” The latest flash point came when Trump tweeted, “North Korea would not be “be around much longer.”” 


An alarming world 

The President of US of America told the gathering at the UN General Assembly in no uncertain terms that it will obliterate North Korea if the need arises. He called the leader of North Korea “rocket man.” Two high intensity earthquakes rocked Mexico and the Caribbean, the death toll has risen to 273, BBC reports citing officials. 

Hurricane Maria was the second most devastating to hit the Caribbean islands, it killed at least one person in Guadeloupe and then barreled towards Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. It devasted the small island of Dominica. The calamity should make the climate sceptics take notice, climate change is a reality, the devastation it wreaked is but a preview of more lethal things to come in the near future.

Trumps rhetoric has been met with stunned disapproval. According to the news media, Trump’s speech got only polite clapping from those gathered at the UNGA. Both sides have called each other names – Kim Jong Un called Trump deranged, and Trump called Kim the “rocket man.”  Pyongyang had launched a missile over Japan, second since September 3 2017. The second one was launched on September 14. New UN sanctions had been imposed on Pyongyang after the September 3 test firing of missiles which also flew over Japan. 

Meanwhile the Rohingya crisis has balooned into ethnic cleansing and a major refugee crisis – 400,000 refugees have made their way into Bangladesh. The refugees, mostly Rohingya Muslims have escaped violence in the western Rakhine state of Myanmar. The situation was described as “ethnic cleansing” by the UN. Bangladeshi authorities are reported to be “overwhelmed” by the arrivals. The flimsy tents that pass for shelter are unable to keep the rain out and the floor is muddy. The food and water situation has become desperate – the TV reports showed people crying and expressing hopelessness. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has come under heavy criticism, some even went to the extent of saying that her Nobel Peace Prize be taken away. One elderly refugee told a reporter that they are pushed out from Myanmar and unwanted in Bangladesh. 


Humans are born with rights

The recent murder of the outspoken and firebrand journalist Gauri Lankesh is a testament to what contemprory India looks like. Although journalists have lost their lives or have been threatened even earlier does not belittle the horror of her murder at the hands of yet to be identified persons. She had been a vocal critic of the present dispensation. 

She had spoken about how a Hindu outfit had attacked a group of boys and girls celebrating a birthday event, she had articulated this in a speech which she had given in 2012 and had posted bits of it in her twitter account. She tweeted that she is facing a case because of this. 

The guns men remain unidentified. Whoever, may be the prepatrator, the point is one of rights. Freedom of expression, as the eminent jurist Soli J. Sorabjee said in his article in the Indian Express, is among the several rights humans are born into this world with. The state cannot take away those rights. The state and the judiciary safeguard these rights; the constitution articulates these rights. The freedoms are enjoyed by the citizen in a way that does not impinge upon others rights. 

The state does not look upon individual rights in quite the same way. Thulasi K. Raj a lawyer in the Kerala High Court, in his article, “State on the other Side,” The Hindu, September 12 2017, says that the state in the present day context “takes an apathetic view of fundamental rights.”  We are on the verge of becoming another Turkey, Russia and China, where fundamental rights are or have been taken away by the state. Of course in case of China the Communist Party is everything and people in that country had never enjoyed freedoms as liberal democracies do, Turkey on the other hand had been a liberal democracy until the present leaderhsip sought to abrogate rights, and now free speech comes at a premium. 

India is one of the countries where it is dangerous to be a journalist. With this murder India’s score must have hit a new low. What is the difference between now and those days when people were incarcerated for even casual criticism of the Madam or her party. Mr. Narendra Modi’s supporters have made him a cult figure. Mr. Modi cannot see the relaity of today’s India. How we are becoming poorer because some groups have taken it upon themselves to abridge their lives for being critical of the God they worship and want him to win in 2019, not for them the administration of the state day to day for the advancement of people. The vigilantes are doing the job of what Mrs.Gandhi’s younger son and his cohorts used to do strutting about the city forcing sterlization, enforcing the will of the state. Even at that time, the party, and more importantly the Gandhi family were pre-eminent. 

BJP was one of the constituent party of the coalition that took over the reigns of power after the people gave it a landslide majority. The coalition worked to bring back fundamental rights and make it difficult for the future leaders to put India in the same situaltion again. The context may be different now but one does get a deja vu. 


Hype and reality

The Indian landscape is marginally better than what it was at the time of independence. It is true that on an average people live longer in India, although it is pretty low in global terms. At the time of independence people could expect to live upto 32 years. This rose to 65 years in 2012, and in 2015 it was 69.6 years. However, infant mortality remains high, it is 42 per 1000 live births. This figure is lower than it was in 2005, standing at 58 per 1000 live births in that period.

India hypes about being the fastest growing nation in the world, although even this is not true since China oertook India. The region itself is home to the poorest people on the planet. India ranks pretty low in the Human Development Index. India infact slipped from 130 to 131 among 188 countries. It is ranked medium in the HDI. It ranked third among the South Asian countries behind Sri Lanka (73), Maldives (105) both countries rank high in the HDI. As a comparison, world’s top three countries are Norway (0.949), Australia (0.939) and Switzerland (0.939). 

Human Development Index is a measure for assessing progress in three basic dimensions of human deveopment: long, healthy life, access to knowledge, and access to decent standard of living. The report says that 1.5 billion people worldwide still live in multidimensional poverty, 54 percent of them are concentrated in South Asia, inequalities have sharpened with economic growth in the region. India has the second largest population on the planet, it also has the highest number of people living in abject poverty. India’s public health expenditure was lower than its South Asian neighbors, 1.4 percent of the GDP. 

The constant cycle of drought followed by floods does not help either, people aren’t able to get any degree of stability in their lives, something Graffiti has been discussing often. The water bodies are not being taken care of and water runoffs are not cached in underground storage. Often storm water drains become clogged with waste and sewage, the water then has nowhere to go and it inundates the cities or towns. In villages there are no systems that can contain rainwater therefore it engulfs the villages. Crops are destroyed, lives are shattered and then the cycle starts all over again, first there is drought: inadequate or no rain when the crops need it most, then a deluge. 

Over the 70 years, India has been Independent there has been little real change in the lives of the millions. The PM has set 2020 as the target year for ending poverty, ending corruption, etc. The nation should take that with a pinch of salt because on the ground the picture remains dismal. 



Demonetization: It did nothing good

The Reserve Bank of India, has admitted that demonetization of Rs. 500 and 1000 notes has had no benefits. On the other hand it put enormous stress on the economy. PM Modi had told the people on November 8 2016, that it was to curb black money and currency counterfeiting, the Annual Report of the RBI says that it failed on both the fronts.

The people were put to extraordinary stress, they had to stand in very long queue, some people died doing so. The organised sector and the unorganised sector of the economy suffered as large proportion of liquidity was squeezed out of the economy…15.44 trillion rupees were taken out of the economy. It now turns out that it was all for nothing. 

Large number of people in India store their money in boxes, they don’t have bank accounts. They found that their cash savings had become worthless overnight. They couldn’t buy food. The urban poor living in slums pay their rent in cash. Many who returned to work after holidays found that they had no jobs because their employers did not have cash to buy raw material or to pay the merchants to whom they owed money for the raw material. Also they did not have cash to pay the emloyees. So they started paying Rs.100 everyday so that the workers could meet their daily needs.

The question that comes to mind is: after this would anyone trust the government to manage the economy? There were reports in the media about how large amounts of black money was found in the homes of some civil servants – large numbers of it was in newly issued notes. Large amounts of currency was seized that was destined to some constituency, again in newly minted notes. 

Life of the people and the policies of the government, by and large traverses divergent paths. The former finance minister Mr. P. Chidambaram had ponted out in many articles in his column, “Across the Aisle,” that the chief economic advisor amy not have been consulted, or if consulted his warnings may not have been heeded. The end result was that India’s economy which was on steroids became weak, China went way ahead of India in GDP growth.


The belligerent leader

Despite the condemnation from the UN Security Council, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continues to play with fire almost literally. The medium range missile launched by the regime which flew over Japan, brought strong criticism from the US Ambassador to UN. The Security Council unanimously condemned the firing of a ballistic missile over Japan, despite this Pyongyang said that it was not ready to stop further tests of missiles.

However, what is even more galling in these stressful times in east Asia, is the lack of clear message from the US. Donald Trump has rejected any further dialogue with North Korea; while his Defense Secretary said, “We are never out of diplomatic solutions.” The North Koreans maintain that the missile launch was in response to the joint military exercise in the region. Graffiti has in a post a few years back said the same. Graffiti had also said that the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang will have minimum effect. 

The emergency meeting of the Security Council has not put any new sanctions. “A hint of the military options, Trump said that “all cards are on the table (France24)” reports. However, this is clearly far short of the “fire and fury” threat that he had articulated in a tweet. UN Security Council responded to July’s missile test by introducing sanctions that are expected to cut North Korea’s foreign cash earnings. However seven rounds of sanctions on Pyongyang, since 2006, have had little effect on North Korean behaviour. Japan had called for stronger UN sanctions in view of the recent grave provocation from North Korea.

Both China and Russia, which have veto power in the Security Coouncil. They have said that more sanctions would be counter productive.  


Note to readers

A few days have passed since I last posted on this blog. Apologies. The News today posts will now appear on The Global News-stand as they used to. The problem with my computer could not be resolved and continues, thus News today appeared on graffiti [The Reading Wall]. Now this blog will feature only my musings on the world and the News today stories would appear, as before in the Global News-stand.

The US rhetoric on North Korea were just words. NPR on their website says that there is little evidence of war preparations by the US armed forces, the US aircraft carrier in the Asia-Pacific region was on patrol, the other vessels of the US Navy have returned to their home ports, in San Diego and in Yokosuka port Japan. 

A US Navy vessel was involved in a collision with a tanker. The US guided missile destroyer hit a commercial oil tanker. A ‘comprehensive review’ of the US Navy collisions, second in two months and fourth this year, will be underway. Seven crew members died in the earlier incident. Search is on for the ten sailors missing after the collision. 

A powerful storm has swept across southern China. Twelve people are dead and hundreds injured. Typhoon Hato made landfall at noon in Zhuhai city in Guangdong province with strong winds and lashing rain. Hong Kong has raised its typhoon warning signal to 10 the highest level, BBC reports.