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Saturday, April 2, 2011

‘We have gone after every mafia'

It is a veritable one-man army that is leading the ruling Left Democratic Front's campaign in Kerala. Known for his stern manner and relentless campaigns against corruption, 89-year-old Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan speaks the language of the Opposition even in power. He tells C. GOURIDASAN NAIR that the election in Kerala is a battle for the poor and for clean governance. Excerpts from an interview:

Why should the people of Kerala vote for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) a second time?
To save Kerala from the hands of the corrupt. You have seen the corruption scandals at the Centre and the many corrupt deeds of UDF leaders when they were in power. They ate up Rs.1,76,000 crore in the 2G spectrum allocation. Then there was the Commonwealth Games scam, the Antrix-Devas deal, the Adarsh flat scandal and many more. Has the Prime Minister moved even his little finger against the corrupt? No.
In Kerala too, Congress and UDF leaders were neck-deep in corruption when in power. Aren't we hearing shocking revelations by their own people these days? [Leader of the Opposition] Oommen Chandy's involvement in the palm oil deal was brought out not by us, but by a Congress leader......................................................................................

Libyan rebels 'receive foreign training' and arms from US and Egypt

US and Egyptian special forces have reportedly been providing covert training to rebel fighters in the battle for Libya, Al Jazeera has been told. An unnamed rebel source related how he had undergone training in military techniques at a "secret facility" in eastern Libya.
He told our correspondent Laurence Lee, reporting from the rebel-stronghold of Benghazi, that he was sent to fire Katyusha rockets but was given a simple, unguided version of the rocket instead.

"He told us that on Thursday night a new shipment of Katyusha rockets had been sent into eastern Libya from Egypt. He didn't say they were sourced from Egypt, but that was their route through," our correspondent said.
"He said these were state-of-the-art, heat-seeking rockets and that they needed to be trained on how to use them, which was one of the things the American and Egyptian special forces were there to do."
The intriguing development raises several questions, about Egypt's private involvement and what the arms embargo exactly means, said our correspondent.
"There is also the question of whether or not the outside world should arm the rebels, when in fact they [rebels] are already being armed covertly."
Our correspondent added that since the rebels appear to be receiving covert support in terms of weaponry and training, it is not surprising that they are not inclined to criticise NATO openly.
Al Jazeera and agencies

How a big US bank laundered billions from Mexico's murderous drug gangs

As the violence spread, billions of dollars of cartel cash began to seep into the global financial system. But a special investigation by the Observer reveals how the increasingly frantic warnings of one London whistleblower were ignored

On 10 April 2006, a DC-9 jet landed in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, on the Gulf of Mexico, as the sun was setting. Mexican soldiers, waiting to intercept it, found 128 cases packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $100m. But something else – more important and far-reaching – was discovered in the paper trail behind the purchase of the plane by the Sinaloa narco-trafficking cartel.
During a 22-month investigation by agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and others, it emerged that the cocaine smugglers had bought the plane with money they had laundered through one of the biggest banks in the United States: Wachovia, now part of the giant Wells Fargo.
The authorities uncovered billions of dollars in wire transfers, traveller's cheques and cash shipments through Mexican exchanges into Wachovia accounts. Wachovia was put under immediate investigation for failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering programme. Of special significance was that the period concerned began in 2004, which coincided with the first escalation of violence along the US-Mexico border that ignited the current drugs war.
Criminal proceedings were brought against Wachovia, though not against any individual, but the case never came to court. In March 2010, Wachovia settled the biggest action brought under the US bank secrecy act, through the US district court in Miami. Now that the year's "deferred prosecution" has expired, the bank is in effect in the clear. It paid federal authorities $110m in forfeiture, for allowing transactions later proved to be connected to drug smuggling, and incurred a $50m fine for failing to monitor cash used to ship 22 tons of cocaine.
More shocking, and more important, the bank was sanctioned for failing to apply the proper anti-laundering strictures to the transfer of $378.4bn – a sum equivalent to one-third of Mexico's gross national product – into dollar accounts from so-called casas de cambio (CDCs) in Mexico, currency exchange houses with which the bank did business.
"Wachovia's blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations," said Jeffrey Sloman, the federal prosecutor. Yet the total fine was less than 2% of the bank's $12.3bn profit for 2009. On 24 March 2010, Wells Fargo stock traded at $30.86 – up 1% on the week of the court settlement.
The conclusion to the case was only the tip of an iceberg, demonstrating the role of the "legal" banking sector in swilling hundreds of billions of dollars – the blood money from the murderous drug trade in Mexico and other places in the world – around their global operations, now bailed out by the taxpayer.
At the height of the 2008 banking crisis, Antonio Maria Costa, then head of the United Nations office on drugs and crime, said he had evidence to suggest the proceeds from drugs and crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to banks on the brink of collapse. "Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade," he said. "There were signs that some banks were rescued that way."
Wachovia was acquired by Wells Fargo during the 2008 crash, just as Wells Fargo became a beneficiary of $25bn in taxpayers' money. Wachovia's prosecutors were clear, however, that there was no suggestion Wells Fargo had behaved improperly; it had co-operated fully with the investigation. Mexico is the US's third largest international trading partner and Wachovia was understandably interested in this volume of legitimate trade.
José Luis Marmolejo, who prosecuted those running one of the casas de cambio at the Mexican end, said: "Wachovia handled all the transfers. They never reported any as suspicious."
"As early as 2004, Wachovia understood the risk," the bank admitted in the statement of settlement with the federal government, but, "despite these warnings, Wachovia remained in the business". There is, of course, the legitimate use of CDCs as a way into the Hispanic market. In 2005 the World Bank said that Mexico was receiving $8.1bn in remittances.
During research into the Wachovia Mexican case, the Observer obtained documents previously provided to financial regulators. It emerged that the alarm that was ignored came from, among other places, London, as a result of the diligence of one of the most important whistleblowers of our time. A man who, in a series of interviews with the Observer, adds detail to the documents, laying bare the story of how Wachovia was at the centre of one of the world's biggest money-laundering operations.
Martin Woods, a Liverpudlian in his mid-40s, joined the London office of Wachovia Bank in February 2005 as a senior anti-money laundering officer. He had previously served with the Metropolitan police drug squad. As a detective he joined the money-laundering investigation team of the National Crime Squad, where he worked on the British end of the Bank of New York money-laundering scandal in the late 1990s.
Woods talks like a police officer – in the best sense of the word: punctilious, exact, with a roguish humour, but moral at the core. He was an ideal appointment for any bank eager to operate a diligent and effective risk management policy against the lucrative scourge of high finance: laundering, knowing or otherwise, the vast proceeds of criminality, tax-evasion, and dealing in arms and drugs.
Woods had a police officer's eye and a police officer's instincts – not those of a banker. And this influenced not only his methods, but his mentality. "I think that a lot of things matter more than money – and that marks you out in a culture which appears to prevail in many of the banks in the world," he says.
Woods was set apart by his modus operandi. His speciality, he explains, was his application of a "know your client", or KYC, policing strategy to identifying dirty money. "KYC is a fundamental approach to anti-money laundering, going after tax evasion or counter-terrorist financing. Who are your clients? Is the documentation right? Good, responsible banking involved always knowing your customer and it still does."
When he looked at Wachovia, the first thing Woods noticed was a deficiency in KYC information. And among his first reports to his superiors at the bank's headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, were observations on a shortfall in KYC at Wachovia's operation in London, which he set about correcting, while at the same time implementing what was known as an enhanced transaction monitoring programme, gathering more information on clients whose money came through the bank's offices in the City, in sterling or euros. By August 2006, Woods had identified a number of suspicious transactions relating to casas de cambio customers in Mexico.
Primarily, these involved deposits of traveller's cheques in euros. They had sequential numbers and deposited larger amounts of money than any innocent travelling person would need, with inadequate or no KYC information on them and what seemed to a trained eye to be dubious signatures. "It was basic work," he says. "They didn't answer the obvious questions: 'Is the transaction real, or does it look synthetic? Does the traveller's cheque meet the protocols? Is it all there, and if not, why not?'"
Woods discussed the matter with Wachovia's global head of anti-money laundering for correspondent banking, who believed the cheques could signify tax evasion. He then undertook what banks call a "look back" at previous transactions and saw fit to submit a series of SARs, or suspicious activity reports, to the authorities in the UK and his superiors in Charlotte, urging the blocking of named parties and large series of sequentially numbered traveller's cheques from Mexico. He issued a number of SARs in 2006, of which 50 related to the casas de cambio in Mexico. To his amazement, the response from Wachovia's Miami office, the centre for Latin American business, was anything but supportive – he felt it was quite the reverse.
As it turned out, however, Woods was on the right track. Wachovia's business in Mexico was coming under closer and closer scrutiny by US federal law enforcement. Wachovia was issued with a number of subpoenas for information on its Mexican operation. Woods has subsequently been informed that Wachovia had six or seven thousand subpoenas. He says this was "An absurd number. So at what point does someone at the highest level not get the feeling that something is very, very wrong?"
In April and May 2007, Wachovia – as a result of increasing interest and pressure from the US attorney's office – began to close its relationship with some of the casas de cambio. But rather than launch an internal investigation into Woods's alerts over Mexico, Woods claims Wachovia hung its own money-laundering expert out to dry. The records show that during 2007 Woods "continued to submit more SARs related to the casas de cambio".
In July 2007, all of Wachovia's remaining 10 Mexican casa de cambio clients operating through London suddenly stopped doing so. Later in 2007, after the investigation of Wachovia was reported in the US financial media, the bank decided to end its remaining relationships with the Mexican casas de cambio globally. By this time, Woods says, he found his personal situation within the bank untenable; while the bank acted on one level to protect itself from the federal investigation into its shortcomings, on another, it rounded on the man who had been among the first to spot them.
On 16 June Woods was told by Wachovia's head of compliance that his latest SAR need not have been filed, that he had no legal requirement to investigate an overseas case and no right of access to documents held overseas from Britain, even if they were held by Wachovia.
Woods's life went into freefall. He went to hospital with a prolapsed disc, reported sick and was told by the bank that he not done so in the appropriate manner, as directed by the employees' handbook. He was off work for three weeks, returning in August 2007 to find a letter from the bank's compliance managing director, which was unrelenting in its tone and words of warning.
The letter addressed itself to what the manager called "specific examples of your failure to perform at an acceptable standard". Woods, on the edge of a breakdown, was put on sick leave by his GP; he was later given psychiatric treatment, enrolled on a stress management course and put on medication.
Late in 2007, Woods attended a function at Scotland Yard where colleagues from the US were being entertained. There, he sought out a representative of the Drug Enforcement Administration and told him about the casas de cambio, the SARs and his employer's reaction. The Federal Reserve and officials of the office of comptroller of currency in Washington DC then "spent a lot of time examining the SARs" that had been sent by Woods to Charlotte from London.
"They got back in touch with me a while afterwards and we began to put the pieces of the jigsaw together," says Woods. What they found was – as Costa says – the tip of the iceberg of what was happening to drug money in the banking industry, but at least it was visible and it had a name: Wachovia.
In June 2005, the DEA, the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service and the US attorney's office in southern Florida began investigating wire transfers from Mexico to the US. They were traced back to correspondent bank accounts held by casas de cambio at Wachovia. The CDC accounts were supervised and managed by a business unit of Wachovia in the bank's Miami offices.
"Through CDCs," said the court document, "persons in Mexico can use hard currency and … wire transfer the value of that currency to US bank accounts to purchase items in the United States or other countries. The nature of the CDC business allows money launderers the opportunity to move drug dollars that are in Mexico into CDCs and ultimately into the US banking system.
"On numerous occasions," say the court papers, "monies were deposited into a CDC by a drug-trafficking organisation. Using false identities, the CDC then wired that money through its Wachovia correspondent bank accounts for the purchase of airplanes for drug-trafficking organisations." The court settlement of 2010 would detail that "nearly $13m went through correspondent bank accounts at Wachovia for the purchase of aircraft to be used in the illegal narcotics trade. From these aircraft, more than 20,000kg of cocaine were seized."
All this occurred despite the fact that Wachovia's office was in Miami, designated by the US government as a "high-intensity money laundering and related financial crime area", and a "high-intensity drug trafficking area". Since the drug cartel war began in 2005, Mexico had been designated a high-risk source of money laundering.
"As early as 2004," the court settlement would read, "Wachovia understood the risk that was associated with doing business with the Mexican CDCs. Wachovia was aware of the general industry warnings. As early as July 2005, Wachovia was aware that other large US banks were exiting the CDC business based on [anti-money laundering] concerns … despite these warnings, Wachovia remained in business."
On 16 March 2010, Douglas Edwards, senior vice-president of Wachovia Bank, put his signature to page 10 of a 25-page settlement, in which the bank admitted its role as outlined by the prosecutors. On page 11, he signed again, as senior vice-president of Wells Fargo. The documents show Wachovia providing three services to 22 CDCs in Mexico: wire transfers, a "bulk cash service" and a "pouch deposit service", to accept "deposit items drawn on US banks, eg cheques and traveller's cheques", as spotted by Woods.
"For the time period of 1 May 2004 through 31 May 2007, Wachovia processed at least $$373.6bn in CDCs, $4.7bn in bulk cash" – a total of more than $378.3bn, a sum that dwarfs the budgets debated by US state and UK local authorities to provide services to citizens.
The document gives a fascinating insight into how the laundering of drug money works. It details how investigators "found readily identifiable evidence of red flags of large-scale money laundering". There were "structured wire transfers" whereby "it was commonplace in the CDC accounts for round-number wire transfers to be made on the same day or in close succession, by the same wire senders, for the … same account".
Over two days, 10 wire transfers by four individuals "went though Wachovia for deposit into an aircraft broker's account. All of the transfers were in round numbers. None of the individuals of business that wired money had any connection to the aircraft or the entity that allegedly owned the aircraft. The investigation has further revealed that the identities of the individuals who sent the money were false and that the business was a shell entity. That plane was subsequently seized with approximately 2,000kg of cocaine on board."
Many of the sequentially numbered traveller's cheques, of the kind dealt with by Woods, contained "unusual markings" or "lacked any legible signature". Also, "many of the CDCs that used Wachovia's bulk cash service sent significantly more cash to Wachovia than what Wachovia had expected. More specifically, many of the CDCs exceeded their monthly activity by at least 50%."
Recognising these "red flags", the US attorney's office in Miami, the IRS and the DEA began investigating Wachovia, later joined by FinCEN, one of the US Treasury's agencies to fight money laundering, while the office of the comptroller of the currency carried out a parallel investigation. The violations they found were, says the document, "serious and systemic and allowed certain Wachovia customers to launder millions of dollars of proceeds from the sale of illegal narcotics through Wachovia accounts over an extended time period. The investigation has identified that at least $110m in drug proceeds were funnelled through the CDC accounts held at Wachovia."
The settlement concludes by discussing Wachovia's "considerable co-operation and remedial actions" since the prosecution was initiated, after the bank was bought by Wells Fargo. "In consideration of Wachovia's remedial actions," concludes the prosecutor, "the United States shall recommend to the court … that prosecution of Wachovia on the information filed … be deferred for a period of 12 months."
But while the federal prosecution proceeded, Woods had remained out in the cold. On Christmas Eve 2008, his lawyers filed tribunal proceedings against Wachovia for bullying and detrimental treatment of a whistleblower. The case was settled in May 2009, by which time Woods felt as though he was "the most toxic person in the bank". Wachovia agreed to pay an undisclosed amount, in return for which Woods left the bank and said he would not make public the terms of the settlement.
After years of tribulation, Woods was finally formally vindicated, though not by Wachovia: a letter arrived from John Dugan, the comptroller of the currency in Washington DC, dated 19 March 2010 – three days after the settlement in Miami. Dugan said he was "writing to personally recognise and express my appreciation for the role you played in the actions brought against Wachovia Bank for violations of the bank secrecy act … Not only did the information that you provided facilitate our investigation, but you demonstrated great personal courage and integrity by speaking up. Without the efforts of individuals like you, actions such as the one taken against Wachovia would not be possible."
The so-called "deferred prosecution" detailed in the Miami document is a form of probation whereby if the bank abides by the law for a year, charges are dropped. So this March the bank was in the clear. The week that the deferred prosecution expired, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo said the parent bank had no comment to make on the documentation pertaining to Woods's case, or his allegations. She added that there was no comment on Sloman's remarks to the court; a provision in the settlement stipulated Wachovia was not allowed to issue public statements that contradicted it.
But the settlement leaves a sour taste in many mouths – and certainly in Woods's. The deferred prosecution is part of this "cop-out all round", he says. "The regulatory authorities do not have to spend any more time on it, and they don't have to push it as far as a criminal trial. They just issue criminal proceedings, and settle. The law enforcement people do what they are supposed to do, but what's the point? All those people dealing with all that money from drug-trafficking and murder, and no one goes to jail?"
One of the foremost figures in the training of anti-money laundering officers is Robert Mazur, lead infiltrator for US law enforcement of the Colombian Medellín cartel during the epic prosecution and collapse of the BCCI banking business in 1991 (his story was made famous by his memoir, The Infiltrator, which became a movie).
Mazur, whose firm Chase and Associates works closely with law enforcement agencies and trains officers for bank anti-money laundering, cast a keen eye over the case against Wachovia, and he says now that "the only thing that will make the banks properly vigilant to what is happening is when they hear the rattle of handcuffs in the boardroom".
Mazur said that "a lot of the law enforcement people were disappointed to see a settlement" between the administration and Wachovia. "But I know there were external circumstances that worked to Wachovia's benefit, not least that the US banking system was on the edge of collapse."
What concerns Mazur is that what law enforcement agencies and politicians hope to achieve against the cartels is limited, and falls short of the obvious attack the US could make in its war on drugs: go after the money. "We're thinking way too small," Mazur says. "I train law enforcement officers, thousands of them every year, and they say to me that if they tried to do half of what I did, they'd be arrested. But I tell them: 'You got to think big. The headlines you will be reading in seven years' time will be the result of the work you begin now.' With BCCI, we had to spend two years setting it up, two years doing undercover work, and another two years getting it to trial. If they want to do something big, like go after the money, that's how long it takes."
But Mazur warns: "If you look at the career ladders of law enforcement, there's no incentive to go after the big money. People move every two to three years. The DEA is focused on drug trafficking rather than money laundering. You get a quicker result that way – they want to get the traffickers and seize their assets. But this is like treating a sick plant by cutting off a few branches – it just grows new ones. Going after the big money is cutting down the plant – it's a harder door to knock on, it's a longer haul, and it won't get you the short-term riches."

The office of the comptroller of the currency is still examining whether individuals in Wachovia are criminally liable. Sources at FinCEN say that a so-called "look-back" is in process, as directed by the settlement and agreed to by Wachovia, into the $378.4bn that was not directly associated with the aircraft purchases and cocaine hauls, but neither was it subject to the proper anti-laundering checks. A FinCEN source says that $20bn already examined appears to have "suspicious origins". But this is just the beginning.
Antonio Maria Costa, who was executive director of the UN's office on drugs and crime from May 2002 to August 2010, charts the history of the contamination of the global banking industry by drug and criminal money since his first initiatives to try to curb it from the European commission during the 1990s. "The connection between organised crime and financial institutions started in the late 1970s, early 1980s," he says, "when the mafia became globalised."
Until then, criminal money had circulated largely in cash, with the authorities making the occasional, spectacular "sting" or haul. During Costa's time as director for economics and finance at the EC in Brussels, from 1987, inroads were made against penetration of banks by criminal laundering, and "criminal money started moving back to cash, out of the financial institutions and banks. Then two things happened: the financial crisis in Russia, after the emergence of the Russian mafia, and the crises of 2003 and 2007-08.
"With these crises," says Costa, "the banking sector was short of liquidity, the banks exposed themselves to the criminal syndicates, who had cash in hand."
Costa questions the readiness of governments and their regulatory structures to challenge this large-scale corruption of the global economy: "Government regulators showed what they were capable of when the issue suddenly changed to laundering money for terrorism – on that, they suddenly became serious and changed their attitude."
Hardly surprising, then, that Wachovia does not appear to be the end of the line. In August 2010, it emerged in quarterly disclosures by HSBC that the US justice department was seeking to fine it for anti-money laundering compliance problems reported to include dealings with Mexico.

"Wachovia had my résumé, they knew who I was," says Woods. "But they did not want to know – their attitude was, 'Why are you doing this?' They should have been on my side, because they were compliance people, not commercial people. But really they were commercial people all along. We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. This is the biggest money-laundering scandal of our time.
"These are the proceeds of murder and misery in Mexico, and of drugs sold around the world," he says. "All the law enforcement people wanted to see this come to trial. But no one goes to jail. "What does the settlement do to fight the cartels? Nothing – it doesn't make the job of law enforcement easier and it encourages the cartels and anyone who wants to make money by laundering their blood dollars. Where's the risk? There is none.
"Is it in the interest of the American people to encourage both the drug cartels and the banks in this way? Is it in the interest of the Mexican people? It's simple: if you don't see the correlation between the money laundering by banks and the 30,000 people killed in Mexico, you're missing the point."
Woods feels unable to rest on his laurels. He tours the world for a consultancy he now runs, Hermes Forensic Solutions, counselling and speaking to banks on the dangers of laundering criminal money, and how to spot and stop it. "New York and London," says Woods, "have become the world's two biggest laundries of criminal and drug money, and offshore tax havens. Not the Cayman Islands, not the Isle of Man or Jersey. The big laundering is right through the City of London and Wall Street.
"After the Wachovia case, no one in the regulatory community has sat down with me and asked, 'What happened?' or 'What can we do to avoid this happening to other banks?' They are not interested. They are the same people who attack the whistleblowers and this is a position the [British] Financial Services Authority at least has adopted on legal advice: it has been advised that the confidentiality of banking and bankers takes primacy over the public information disclosure act. That is how the priorities work: secrecy first, public interest second.
"Meanwhile, the drug industry has two products: money and suffering. On one hand, you have massive profits and enrichment. On the other, you have massive suffering, misery and death. You cannot separate one from the other.
"What happened at Wachovia was symptomatic of the failure of the entire regulatory system to apply the kind of proper governance and adequate risk management which would have prevented not just the laundering of blood money, but the global crisis."

‘U.S. wants to use India in missile shield against Russia, China'

Russian daily quotes WikiLeaks cables to reveal Washington's plan
The United States has been trying to rope in India for its plans to build a global missile defence system threatening Russia and China, the Komsomoloskaya Pravda, a popular Russian daily published from Moscow reported on Thursday.
In a story based on the WikiLeaks releases, the report said the U.S. has not only been planning to deploy a missile shield against Russia in Europe, but had also been negotiating with countries along Russia's borders, such as Japan and India, to jointly build missile defences that would also target Russia.
“The noose [around Russia] is tightening,” the newspaper said. “Thanks to WikiLeaks, it has become known that Washington has been simultaneously conducting talks with countries in other parts of the world for building U.S. missile defences on their territories. Those are different countries, but they form a chain around Russia.”
A 2007 confidential cable from the U.S. embassy in New Delhi carried by the daily refuted media reports that India had abruptly turned its back on a 2005 agreement with the U.S. to cooperate on missile defences. The cable said the Indian media had misinterpreted remarks by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee after the Russia-India-China trilateral meeting in Harbin, China, on October 24, 2007. Mr. Mukherjee had dismissed as “groundless” the idea that India was going to join a U.S.-led missile defence system.


“MEA contacts confirm this did not mean India was not interested in continuing to cooperate with the U.S. on missile defence technology and that there has been no change from the current level of bilateral missile defence cooperation,” the U.S. embassy cable said.
The “MEA contacts” explained that Mr. Mukherjee's comments were “misconstrued” by the Indian press. When Mr. Mukherjee said that “India does not take part in such military arrangements,” the officials said, he had had in mind the U.S. plan to install a missile-detection system in Europe, which his Russian and Chinese counterparts referred to in the same press interaction.
“MEA Director Amandeep Singh Gill [Disarmament and International Security] confirmed to PolOff on October 26 that Mr. Mukherjee's comment in Harbin cannot be interpreted as a deviation from the status quo of current U.S.-India Military Defence cooperation,” the cable said.
The embassy recalled: “Then-Defence Minister Mukherjee and SecDef [U.S. Secretary of Defence] Rumsfeld agreed to expand collaboration relating to missile defence in the July 2005 U.S.-India Defence Framework Agreement.”
Indo-U.S. collaboration on missile defence “has thus far been confined to technical and fact-finding discussions,” the cable said, noting that “the GOI has focused its attention increasingly on developing indigenous MD system capabilities.”

Ring of systems

The Russian newspaper said the U.S. had “cast a fishing net over India” to get it to join the U.S. plans for building a ring of missile defence systems encircling Russia.

Eyeing resources?

Washington's “plans to deploy missile defences along Russian borders — first in Europe, then in other places — may result in a situation where they will twist our hands to make us share our natural riches,” the daily said.

Nearly half of Chinese dairies to stop work

Nearly half of Chinese dairies to stop work

Associated Press
Saturday, 2 April2011

Government regulators say nearly half of all dairies in China are being denied new licenses and shut down after failing inspections to clean up the scandal-plagued dairy industry.
The quality inspection agency said today that 533 of the country's 1,176 dairy producers have been ordered to cease operations. The agency says some 107 of them will have a chance to apply anew for licenses once they improve their quality controls.
It's the latest move by the government to clean up the dairy industry since 2008 when children started falling ill and an investigation discovered that suppliers were adding the industrial chemical melamine to milk to fake higher protein readings. Despite the public outcry, contaminated milk products are still showing up in stores. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Uncompetitive, dishonest: MPs' verdict on UK banks

Britain's biggest banks get away with poor service, confusing products and dishonest claims about free banking because they have a stranglehold on the market, a report by MPs says.
The House of Commons Treasury Committee poured scorn on banks' claims that they offer free banking and that the benefits of their size means lower prices.
All customers pay for their banking and the most vulnerable pay the most, while benefits of being a big bank are not passed to customers, the cross-party committee said in a unanimous report on the retail banking market.
Banks that are "too big to fail" enjoy unfair advantages over smaller challengers in a market that is less competitive after the financial crisis, the report said. The MPs rejected arguments put to them by some of Britain's most powerful bankers, including Bob Diamond, the chief executive of Barclays, and Eric Daniels, who headed Lloyds until earlier this year. "It has many of the characteristics of an oligopolistic market. They [the bank bosses] certainly understand it very well," said Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the committee. "It is natural enough that banks should fight their corner on behalf of their shareholders but it is even more important that those trying to protect the consumer and get the best deal for the public challenge them and that is what we have done."
On "free" current accounts, the MPs argued customers in credit were really paying because they were missing out on higher interest elsewhere while more vulnerable customers paid charges that subsidise those in credit.
The committee said that, over a decade after the Cruickshank report called for easier account switching and product comparison the market had hardly changed. "The bottom line is that you and I don't know and for all practical purposes it is impossible to find out how much we are being charged by our bank," Mr Tyrie said.
"Until consumers know the price tag for basic services and until the fear of switching is reduced the preconditions for competition will not exist."
The big banks told the committee's inquiry that their size created economies of scale that were passed back to consumers in lower prices. But the MPs said the benefits went mainly to shareholders and that the impact on competition outweighed any virtues of their size for customers.
The MPs called on the Government to make competition part of the remit for the new Financial Conduct Authority, which is set to replace part of the Financial Services Authority, and to prioritise competition over short-term returns when selling Northern Rock and other nationalised bank assets.
The big banks get a subsidy from Government guarantees that reduce their costs and crowd out competition, the MPs said.
They called on the Independent Banking Commission to deal with the issue when it produces its interim report on 11 April.
The British Bankers' Association said setting up a bank required lots of capital which protects depositors but limits new entrants.
It said it was working with competition authorities on switching and clearer pricing.

“Probe Sena MP's mediation between Dow and villagers”

People who protested against Pune facility upset at lobbying for MNC
A day after The Hindu carried the WikiLeaks exposé, people who had protested demanding the shifting a Dow Chemical unit out of Maharashtra reacted strongly to mediation by a Shiv Sena MP between the U.S. multinational and agitating villagers, and sought a judicial probe into the issue.
The report, published on Friday, said Dow Chemical appointed a public relations manager recommended by the Shirur MP, Shivajirao Adhalrao Patil, on a monthly salary of $20,000, to defuse opposition from locals.
The allegation was contained in a confidential Mumbai Consulate cable sent to the U.S. State Department in 2008 and accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks. Dow wanted to establish its research and development facility on a 100-acre plot near Chakan in Pune district during 2008. However, the locals opposed the plant citing the company's association with Union Carbide, which was responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas leak tragedy.
Mr. Patil has since denied the allegation terming it baseless.
Ironically, the Sena, ahead of the general elections, backed the locals and opposed the Dow plant.
The cable says the then Maharashtra Chief Secretary, Johnny Joseph, had also called on Dow “to express his support but asked for time to defuse the situation.”
Activists who protested against the proposed plant are agitated over the alleged involvement of politicians and administrative officers “for lobbying in favour of Dow.”
“We demand an independent judicial enquiry into possible kickbacks, the unwarranted interest shown by Shri Adhalrao Patil, the local Shiv Sena MP, and the State and Central administration's undue eagerness to support Dow Chemical,” Vilas Sonawane, who, along with others, spearheaded the anti-Dow agitation, said in a statement. The statement is also signed by Banda Tatya Karadkar, a leader of the Warkari sect that opposed the Dow plant.
During the entire agitation, the role of Mr. Patil was “suspicious,” says the statement.
“The protests by political parties are always a farce and we knew this then. Our agitation has been independent of any political influence,” Banda Tatya Karadkar told The Hindu.
“I am not surprised to hear about Mr. Adhalrao Patil's involvement because political forces have always been pro-corporate. That is why we wanted to keep a distance from them during the agitation,” said the retired judge, B.G. Kolse Patil.
According to the cable, the Sena MP told U.S. officials in July 2008 that he had advised Dow to explain the project to the villagers “preferably through a public relations company that was experienced at this.” After a Dow vehicle was burnt down, Mr. Adhalrao Patil reiterated his advice to hire a public relations outfit “like the one that the local company Bharat Forge hired when it ran into problems, and give donations to local villagers to resolve the situation.”
The cable says Dow's head of Corporate Affairs Rakesh Chitkara met consulate officials. He told them that three months earlier, Dow “hired the public relations specialist Mr. Patil had recommended for $20,000 per month.” The cable further adds, “Mr. Chitkara said that the PR specialist is a ‘close associate' of Mr. Patil.”
Substantiating the issue of donation — as mentioned in Mr. Adhalrao Patil's interaction with the U.S. officials — Datta Temghare, the then sarpanch Gokarnanath Temghere's brother, told The Hindu over telephone that the multinational did offer donations to build a temple and a school at Shinde Vasuli village.

‘Gujarat tried to use SEWA for communal propaganda'

Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party Government in Gujarat tried to use the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), the respected Ahmedabad-based non-governmental organisation, as a “conduit to disseminate communal ideologies”; and when the group resisted there were attempts to “obstruct” its work by withholding grants, “ostensibly over financial irregularities.”
This is revealed in a United States diplomatic cable accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.
The cable (41091: unclassified), sent by the U.S. Consul General (CG) in Mumbai, Michael S. Owen, on September 22, 2005, quoted SEWA general secretary Reemaben Nanawati as telling him that the organisation was facing the “wrath” of the State government for “resisting” pressure.
Mr. Owen wrote: “The general secretary of SEWA, a large and well-respected union and self-help organization for poor women, claimed that the GOG [Government of Gujarat] was hoping to use the group's reach and extensive membership as a conduit to disseminate communal ideologies. SEWA was resisting fiercely, the CG was told, and feeling the wrath of the GOG as a result.”
The State government, Ms. Nanawati alleged, was being “vindictive” and “obstructing” SEWA's activities in the Kutch region.
‘Withheld grants'
“The GOG was withholding grants for state projects being implemented by SEWA in the (Kutch) region, she said, ostensibly over financial irregularities…SEWA was resisting…since communal harmony among its members was an important factor for its success, she said. The resistance was making the GOG more vindictive and causing it to step up its pressure on the organization, she added. Due to lack of funds, over 12,000 extremely poor SEWA members have not received wages for over five months, Nanawati claimed,” Mr Owen said.
Ms. Nanawati said the State government was trying to project an air of “normality” after the 2002 communal killings, but “politically” it was still pursuing a “divide and rule” agenda: a claim, Mr. Owen wrote, he heard from a number of Muslim and Christian activists he met.
Mr. Owen's own take on the situation in Gujarat was: “peaceful on the surface, yet state government continues its policies of communalization.”
“In the longer term,” he added, “the state government's clearly visible attempts to marginalize the Muslim minority and its discreet attempts to further communalize public life can only increase the risk of heightened tensions and renewed bloodshed in a state with a history of communal rioting.”
Gujarat Chief Secretary Sudhir Mankad “lost his patience” when asked how many people had been convicted for their role in the 2002 riots, Mr. Owen wrote.
‘Why the obsession?'
“He asked the CG why the U.S. was ‘so obsessed' with the riots. ‘You always express concern about the riots, but look what else is happening in the world,' Mankad complained…Reps of other diplomatic missions visited Gujarat to discuss the economy, education or cultural issues. The U.S. was always different. ‘When I saw your schedule I asked myself why you need to talk to all these groups', he said, referring to the CG's NGO interlocutors…,” Mr. Owen wrote, adding that he “underlined the importance the USG attached to human rights, and said we would continue to follow this issue closely.”
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)

Ireland Banking Day of DOOOOOM

by Colman
Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 06:42:05 AM EST

The government is announcing the results of stress tests at 4:30pm today and is expected to annouce a restructuring of the banks this evening in the Dail . AIB, Bank of Ireland and Irish Life and Permanent shares have all been suspended. From RTE
Following last week's summit of EU leaders, and the decision to put on hold any decision about the interest rate on Ireland's bailout, attention was explicitly drawn to the state of the banking sector. EU leaders will want to know that the stress tests are to reveal once and for all, as far as possible, the true vulnerability of Irish banks.
They're worried about the poor senior bondholders though: what if they had to carry the consequences of their decisions?
That is something the European Commission, the ECB and certain eurozone members have, to date, ruled out. Although one EU source told RTÉ News that if there was to be any burden sharing by bondholders it would have to be voluntary, and would require the consent of the so-called troika of the ECB, the European Commission and the IMF.
I have this mad hope that Noonan will stand up in the Dail and tell them to go screw themselves, that he's wiping out the senior bondholders and that they need to go fix Europe's banking system right now. Think of it as tough love.

New FDI policy to harm industrial and agricultural development: CPI(M)

The CPI(M) today opposed the government’s new FDI policy, claiming that it would not only strengthen the grip of foreign multinationals over Indian companies but also adversely affect agriculture as farmers would be at their mercy for supply of seeds.
Asking the UPA government not to pursue the measures which would “immensely harm our industrial and agricultural development”, the party expressed strong disapproval of the “unjustified concessions” given to multinational corporations (MNCs) to set up new units in the same field of business without approval of their Indian partners.
In a statement, the CPI(M) Politburo said the announcement made by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) even allows MNCs to change their Indian partner unilaterally.
“This measure will only strengthen the grip of MNCs over the Indian economy at the expense of Indian companies,” it said.
Pointing out that the notification allowed 100 per cent FDI in development of seeds, horticulture and planting materials without any restriction, it said, “This will adversely affect Indian seed manufacturers and peasants would be at the mercy of MNCs for the supply of seeds“.
The major Left party asked all sections of the people to resolutely oppose these measures to “force the government to withdraw them“.
Under the DIPP’s Consolidated FDI Policy Circular, the government yesterday provided greater flexibility to Indian firms to raise overseas capital and scrapped norms that required a foreign company to obtain its domestic JV partner’s approval for making investments in same field outside the joint venture.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

India allows 100 pc FDI in some areas of farm sector

Tuning the policy norms further to attract declining foreign investment, in a significant development, India on Thursday announced allowing 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the agriculture sector including seeds, plantation, horticulture and cultivation of vegetables.
According to the circular by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion released on ``Consolidated FDI Policy -- Circular 1 of 2011’’, 100 per cent FDI has been now allowed in development and production of seeds and planting material, floriculture, horticulture, and cultivation of vegetables and mushrooms under controlled conditions. The policy will come into effect from Friday (April 1).
Besides, animal husbandry (including of breeding of dogs), pisciculture, aquaculture under controlled conditions and services related to agro and allied sectors have also been brought under the 100 per cent FDI norm. Similarly, the tea sector has also been brought under the 100 per cent norm.
The DIPP has imposed certain conditions for companies dealing with development of transgenic seeds and vegetables wanting to take the 100 per cent FDI route.
According to the circular, when dealing with genetically modified seeds or planting material the company is supposed to comply with safety requirements in accordance with laws enacted under the Environment (Protection) Act on the genetically modified organisms; any import of genetically modified materials, if required, shall be subject to the conditions laid down vide Notifications issued under Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992; the company shall comply with any other law, regulation or policy governing genetically modified material in force from time to time; undertaking of business activities involving the use of genetically engineered cells and material shall be subject to the receipt of approvals from Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) and Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM); the Import of materials shall be in accordance with National Seeds Policy.
Further it states the term “under controlled conditions’’ covers the following: Cultivation under controlled conditions’ for the categories of floriculture, horticulture, cultivation of vegetables and mushrooms is the practice of cultivation wherein rainfall, temperature, solar radiation, air humidity and culture medium are controlled artificially. Control in these parameters may be effected through protected cultivation under green houses, net houses, poly houses or any other improved infrastructure facilities where microclimatic
conditions are regulated anthropogenically.
In case of animal husbandry, the term under controlled conditions includes: rearing of animals under intensive farming systems with stall-feeding. Intensive farming system will require climate systems (ventilation, temperature/humidity management), health care and nutrition, herd registering/pedigree recording, use of machinery, waste management systems. Poultry breeding farms and hatcheries where
microclimate is controlled through advanced technologies like incubators, ventilation systems etc.
In the case of pisciculture and aquaculture, it includes: aquariums hatcheries where eggs are artificially fertilised and fry are hatched and incubated in an enclosed environment with artificial climate control. 
curtsy The Hindu 

Brazil stares down the US on Libya

Tensions over Middle East policy are increasing, despite Barack Obama's recent visit to Latin America.
Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female president
At some point in the run-up to Barack Obama’s just concluded tour of Latin America, which included stops in Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador, the US press decided that coverage of the trip would focus on expected friendly meeting with Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's recently inaugurated president. 
The Washington Post, the New York Times, and National Public Radio, along with a host of other newspapers, cable news commentators, and blogs, all predicted that Obama, the US's first African American president, and Rousseff, Brazil's first woman leader, would find common ground, reversing the deterioration of diplomatic relations that had begun under Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The bad blood started, or so the story went, when Lula refused to listen to the administration of George W. Bush and isolate Venezuela's populist leader, Hugo Chávez. Before long, Brasilia was opposing or, worse, offering alternatives to Washington's position on a growing number of issues: climate change, opposition to the 2009 coup in Honduras, Cuba, trade and tariffs. 
Lula declined to criticise Iran and opened up a separate negotiating channel, outside of Washington's influence and much to its annoyance, with Tehran to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Differences on Middle East
The former Brazilian president also welcomed the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas to Brazil, leading the rest of Latin America to recognise the Palestinian state and calling for direct talks with Hamas and Hezbollah.  
Various explanations were posited in the US press for Lula's behavior, which, for a Latin American leader, was unprecedented considering the historically subservient role Latin America has long played to Washington. At times it was described as a personality disorder, a striving for attention on the world stage; at other moments it was explained away as Lula's need to play to his party's rank and file, which, apparently, always enjoys a good tweaking of the US's nose.
In any case, Obama's visit just after Dilma's election offered a chance for a reset. Rousseff, it was reported, would be eager to use the trip to distance herself from her political patron, Lula. Though she was a member of a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla organisation opposing a US-backed dictatorship during her youth in the 1970s, Brazil's new leader had, according to the Washington Post, a "practical approach to governance and foreign relations after eight years of the flamboyant Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva". 
"She's a different person and has a different style," remarked the chairman of Goldman Sachs asset management.
She was "warm" and would welcome Obama cordially (has it really gotten to the point where the US, which for decades presided imperiously over the international community, is today just happy that foreign leaders aren’t rude when its presidents come calling?).  Nearly all major news and opinion sources thought that she would be more accommodating to Washington's concerns than her predecessor, in Latin America but especially in the Middle East.
Unfortunately for Washington the reality has departed from the narrative. Brazil, under Rousseff, continues largely to follow its own diplomatic lights. 
Libya and the UN
Even before Obama landed in Rio, Brazil, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, joined with China and Germany to abstain from the vote authorising "all necessary measures" against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. 
Since then, its opposition to the bombing has hardened.  According to the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), Brazil's foreign ministry – still, for the most part, staffed by the diplomats who charted Lula's foreign policy – recently issued a statement condemning the loss of civilian lives and calling for the start of dialogue. 
Lula himself has endorsed Dilma's critical position on Libya, going further in his condemnation of the intervention: "These invasions only happen because the United Nations is weak," he said. "If we had twenty-first-century representation [in the Security Council], instead of sending a plane to drop bombs, the UN would send its secretary-general to negotiate." 
His remarks were widely interpreted to mean that if Brazil had been a permanent member of the Security Council – a position it has long sought – it would have vetoed the resolution authorising the bombing rather than, as it did, merely abstaining from the vote. 
These comments were the first indication that the ex-president, still enormously popular and influential in Brazil, planned to continue to openly weigh in on his successor’s foreign policy. 
Argentina and Uruguay likewise have voiced strong disapproval of the intervention.  On one level, this censure reflects Latin America's commitment to the ideal of non-intervention and absolute sovereignty.  But on another, less elevated and more commonsensical level, it reflects a belief that the diplomatic community needs to return to a standard in which war is the last rather than the first response to crisis.
"This attack [on Libya] implies a setback in the current international order," IPS reports Uruguayan President José Mujica as saying. "The remedy is much worse than the illness. This business of saving lives by bombing is an inexplicable contradiction."
Social inclusion vs IMF demands
On other important issues as well, Brazil continues push back against Washington. 
The US-controlled International Monetary Fund (IMF), for example, is demanding that Brazil, one of the world's fastest growing economies, calm bond market concerns about inflation by reining in social spending. 
Dilma's economic team has so far balked.  It argues instead that inflation can be controlled by government regulation of "hot money," that is, the ability of foreign capital to place speculative bets on, and reap enormous profits off of, Brazil’s currency.  
This might sound a bit technocratic, but it is in fact a big obstacle to the IMF's bid to restore its lost role as what economist Mark Weisbrot has described as a "creditor’s cartel" in Latin America, the chief mechanism through which Washington imposes "discipline" on economies, like Brazil's, that shows too much independence.
Likewise, Brazil continues to be the main obstacle to jumpstarting the Doha Round of the world trade talks, demanding that the US and Europe lower tariffs to the products and commodities of the developing world.   While graciously hosting the US president, Rousseff nonetheless strongly criticized Washington’s ability to preach free trade while practicing protectionism, demanding that the US open its markets to Brazilian imports such as ethanol, steel, and orange juice.
However "warm," "practical," or "cordial" Dilma, Brazil’s first woman president, may be, she'll be no push over when it comes to matters of war, peace, and economics.  
Greg Grandin is a professor of history at New York University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of a number of prize-winning books, including most recently, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan 2009), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History, as well as for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Dissent in Congress ahead of WB Assembly polls

The dissent in Congress ranks ahead of the West Bengal Assembly polls has worsened in several districts over the alliance with Trinamool Congress and selection of party candidates with Congress rebels filing nominations as independents in some places.
Many Congress leaders have been left out this time with the Trinamool Congress leaving merely 65 of the total 294 seats to the ally for the six phase elections which begin on April 18.
With the release of the Congress candidates’ list by the party high command last Friday the voices of dissent within the local leadership of the party have grown louder.
Congress rebels have already filed nominations as independents in certain constituencies with the last date of filing of nominations for the 54 seats in North Bengal scheduled to end tomorrow.
In North Dinajpur district where Congress MP Deepa Dasmunshi is unhappy over the seat-sharing deal with Trinamool, two rebel Congress leaders - Chittaranjan Roy, a sitting Congress legislator and Hamidur Rahman, a former MLA have filed nominations as independents against the Trinamool Congress nominees protesting against the denial of tickets to them by the high command.
While Mr. Roy filed nomination at Hemtabad which falls under the Raiganj Lok Sabha seat held by Deepa Dasmunshi, Mr. Rahman filed nomination at Chopra constituency.
“The Congress leadership has ditched me. They gave me false hopes that I would be nominated from Hemtabad. But at the last moment, they denied me ticket and instead asked me to back the Trinamool candidate,” Mr. Roy said.
Mr. Roy, who had won the adjoining Raiganj seat twice when it used to be reserved for Scheduled Castes, was not fielded as it has become a general constituency this time.
Ms. Deepa, the wife of ailing Congress leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, alleged that the Trinamool Congress was not campaigning for Congress candidates in five constituencies allotted to the party.
Some Congress leaders were also unwilling to accept their fate lying down. Some, including six-time MLA Ram Pyare Ram have announced that they would contest on their own.
Senior Congress leader and MP from Berhampore Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has indicated that the Murshidabad unit of the Congress may extend support to independent candidates in the four constituencies within the district where the Trinamool Congress has been allotted 4 of the 22 seats.
He has claimed “this was to ensure the defeat of the Left Front as the Trinamool Congress candidates do not stand a chance.”
In Nadia district, DCC president Shankar Singh alleged the alliance was not transparent.
Congress workers were determined to contest all the 17 seats in the district, he said. “Trinamool has only left one seat to the Congress.”
In Birbhum district, Congress leaders and workers expressed grudge over the nomination of party candidates from Saithia and Murarai constituencies.
Vice-president of district Congress Biswajit Mukherjee has resigned to protest the nomination of Trinamool candidate and singer Parikhit Bala from the Saithia seat.
Mr. Mukherjee told PTI that he had sent his resignation to WBPCC Congress president Manas Bhunia on Monday.
In Murarai, Congress workers threatened to field independent candidates. The name of the son of the former Congress minister Motahar Hossain was proposed by a section of Congress workers.
A block-level leader said, “In Murarai Congress dominates and did very very well in the last panchayat election. Most of the panchayats are ruled by Congress.”
The Trinamool Congress has fielded former justice of Kolkata High Court Nure Alam Chowdhury from this seat.
In Howrah district, DCC president Kazi Abdul Rezzak openly denounced the alliance where the Trinamool Congress which has left only one of the 16 seats to the ally.
In Malda district, thousands of Baishanabnagar Congress unit supporters joined by Trinamool Congress activists, burnt effigies of district Congress president and MP Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury to protest the nomination of his son Ishaque Khan.
When contacted, WBPCC president Manas Bhunia told PTI “We are trying to collect information from the districts. But, I urge Congress leaders in the districts to abide by the decision taken by the high command to ally with the Trinamool Congress to dislodge CPI(M)-led government from power.”
The scenario is similar to the one in the 2001 elections when the Congress and Trinamool Congress fought unsuccessfully against the Left Front. Several Congress rebels had at that time contested as Independents against the TC which queered the pitch for the alliance between the two.
Curtsy The Hindu 

New York's 'day of rage' against cuts

Thousands protest against plans to slash education and healthcare budgets in state with highest income inequality.

In the shadow of towering colonial-style office buildings of the world's most powerful financial district, a crowd over 5,000-strong amassed outside Manhattan's City Hall last Thursday, chanting "the people united will never be defeated!"
As the contagious effects of democratic uprisings radiate from North Africa to North America, New York City's exploited workers and students are not about to let the opportunity for mass struggle pass them by.
The "Day of Rage Against the Cuts" has been in the works for over four months, ever since New York's recently appointed Democrat governor Andrew Cuomo openly declared his intention to slash spending on public education and healthcare and lacerate the budget previously allocated to state agencies by over half a billion dollars in order to close an estimated budget gap of $10 mn.
"I am fed up with Bloomberg and Cuomo taxing students and hiking tuition," said Sarah Anees, a graduate student at the City University of New York (CUNY).
"Passing a 100-dollar million budget cut on CUNY means less financial aid assistance, fewer professors, more decrepit buildings and no daycare services for student-parents," Anees said...........................................................

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Obama order CIA interventions in Libya

ibyan opposition fighters will be given extra support from the US, after President Barack Obama reportedly signed a secret order - authorising covert operations to hasten the downfall of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The armed rebels - who have found themselves outgunned and outflanked by Gaddafi's forces, despite a NATO-patrolled no-fly zone - could be boosted by CIA interventions in Libya, since the decision was allegedly endorsed by the White House.
Obama signed the order, known as a presidential "finding", within the past three weeks, four unnamed US government sources told the Reuters news agency.
But US officials did not confirm or deny reports. Jay Carney, White House press secretary, said:
"As is common practice, for this and all administrations, I am not going to comment on intelligence matters ... No decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya.
"We're not ruling it out or ruling it in. We're assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people, and have consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters."
'Steady pressure'
The reports emerged the day after Obama hinted at further equipping the pro-democracy opposition, telling TV networks the US objective in Libya was for Gaddafi to "ultimately step down" from power.
He also spoke of applying "steady pressure, not only militarily but also through other means" to force Gaddafi out.
"It's fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could," said Obama on Tuesday.
"We're looking at all our options at this point."
Arming rebels 'not discussed' previously
At this week's London conference on Libya's future, international officials said the transfer of weapons to anti-Gaddafi fighters had not been discussed.
William Hague, the British foreign minister, said that the country was under a UN-mandated arms embargo and that the restrictions "in our view, apply to the whole of Libya".
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, added: "I remind you it is not part of the UN resolution, which France sticks to, but we are ready to discuss it with our partners."
Specific covert operations, such as the delivery of cash or weapons to anti-Gaddafi forces, must be endorsed by the White House.
Former officials say these rulings are known in the intelligence world as "'Mother may I' findings", named after the children's game.
Obama was understood to have given similar authorisation for the expansion of covert counter-terrorism actions by the CIA in Yemen in 2009. The White House does not normally confirm such orders have been issued.
  Sources Aljazeera

Chinese judiciary holds hearing for 22 Indians

Charged with diamond-smuggling, they have been detained in the port city of Shenzen for over a year
Judicial authorities in Shenzhen last week held a hearing for the 22 Indian traders who have been detained in the southern Chinese port city for more than one year, charged with diamond-smuggling.
The Shenzhen Intermediate Court is expected to announce sentences for them within the next three weeks, officials said. The traders, from Gujarat and Mumbai, face the prospect of receiving heavy fines, running into several million dollars (U.S.), as well as possible jail terms for allegedly evading customs duties.
The traders have been held in a detention centre in Shenzhen since January 8, 2010, when they were arrested following a raid by customs authorities.

Kin clueless on case

Since then, their families have been left with little information about the status of the case. Local prosecutors took more than one year to complete the investigation and formally file charges. The families have criticised the slow judicial process, which, officials said, was not unusual in the often opaque Chinese judicial system.
At a week-long hearing, which concluded last week, the traders' families were given a rare glimpse into the judicial proceedings. Officials from the Indian Consulate in Guangzhou also attended the hearing.
According to several family members who were present at the hearing, most of the 22 traders have been charged with commercial crimes, while the companies they were working for were charged with higher criminal offences.
“This raises our hopes that the sentence will be less than what we originally feared,” one of the family members told The Hindu.
Following a request from Indian officials, the Shenzhen authorities allowed the family members to attend the hearing — a concession often not granted to Chinese citizens who run afoul of the law.

Hearing in auditorium

The hearing was held in a large auditorium to accommodate them, rather than in the usual courthouse. More than 60 family-members and friends were present.
The traders are likely to face heavy fines. A report in a Shenzhen newspaper, citing local prosecutors, said they had evaded customs duties up to $7.3 million. If the traders' companies, which are based in Gujarat, fail to pay the fines, they could face lengthy jail terms, officials said.
At the end of last week's hearing, the traders were allowed five minutes with their families who have been granted three visits to the detention centre since the arrests last January.
“We are pleading for leniency,” a family member said. “Many of them were only in their 20s, and none of them has a criminal record.”
“Some of the traders are in poor health,” family members said. Many of them are vegetarians and from the Jain community, and have struggled to adjust to the living conditions at the detention centre.
At the hearing, one Hong Kong resident was also charged with smuggling the diamonds into Shenzhen. Officials said the Indian traders would likely be charged with the lesser offence of receiving the smuggled diamonds without paying duties, and not with the crime of smuggling, which could face a heavier sentence of even up to 15 years

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

तानाशाही की अमेरिकी परिभाषा

 जब अमेरिका किसी देश को और उसके शासन को तानाशाह घोषित करता है तो पूरा मिडिया उसी दिन से उसके बारे में तानाशाह-तानाशाह का इतना राग अलापता है की आम आदमी के दिमाग में भी यह बात बैठ जाती है.लेकिन तानाशाही की अमेरिकी परिभाषा का केवल एक ही मापदंड है की वह अमेरिका के कितना अनुकूल या प्रतिकूल है.
                  पूरी दुनिया में अमेरिका अपने स्वार्थ के लिए सैनिक शासकों का समर्थन करता है.पूरी दुनिया में आज भी जहाँ जहाँ राजशाही है सभी जगह उन्हें अमेरिकी समर्थन हासिल है. यहाँ तक की उनके खिलाफ होने वाले जनांदोलनो को कुचलने का अमेरिका सीधे या टेढ़े  रूप में समर्थन करता है. अभी कल की बात है जब अफ्रीका की रंगभेदी सरकार को हटाने के लिए पूरी दुनिया एकमत थी तब अमेरिका और उसकी सहयोगी पश्चिमी सरकारें ही थी जो उसके समर्थन में खड़ी थी. क्या वह अमेरिका ही नही है जो पूरे विश्व समुदाय की अवहेलना करके सयुक्त राष्ट्र संघ की सुरक्षा परिषद के प्रस्तावों को अकेले वीटो करता रहा है. अमेरिका ने अकेले सबसे ज्यादा बार सयुक्त राष्ट्र संघ में वीटो का इस्तेमाल किया है.
                               इसके अलावा दूसरी कितनी अंतर्राष्ट्रीय सन्धियाँ हैं जो अमेरिकी सोच के अनुसार हैं और अमेरिका पूरी दुनिया के देशों पर उनको स्वीकार करने के लिए दबाव डालता है जैसे, अंतर्राष्ट्रीय न्यायालय से सम्बन्धित संधि, रासायनिक हथियारों से सम्बन्धित संधि, परमाणु अप्रसार संधि और दूसरी इसी तरह की अनेक संधियाँ हैं. परन्तु क्या यह आश्चर्य की बात नही है खुद अमेरिका ने इन पर दस्तखत नही किये हैं. यहाँ तक की अमेरिका यह शर्त तक जुडवाने के लिए लगातार दबाव डालता रहा और कामयाब भी हो गया की दुसरे देशों में की जाने वाली कार्यवाहियों में अमेरिकी सैनिकों द्वारा किये जाने वाले अपराधों के लिए अंतर्राष्ट्रीय न्यायालय में मुकद्दमा नही चलाया जा सकता. अमेरिका लगातार दुनिया पर इस बात का दबाव डालता रहा है की वह अमेरिकी नागरिकों को किसी भी अपराध के लिए उस देश में मुकद्दमा चलाने से छूट प्रदान करे. पाकिस्तान में हल ही में घटी घटना और विकिलीक्स के खुलाशों से यह बात साफ हो गयी है.जबकि अमेरिकी सरकार हर रोज किसी देश के शासक और उसके परिवार के सदस्यों के खिलाफ झूठे आरोप गढ़कर अंतर्राष्ट्रीय न्यायालय से उनके खिलाफ वारंट जारी करवाता रहता है. अमेरिका ने आज तक संयुक्त राष्ट्र महासभा द्वारा उसके खिलाफ बहुमत से [लगभग सर्वसम्मती से] पारित सभी प्रस्तावों को मानने से इंकार कर दिया है.
                   जब अमेरिका को किसी देश में तख्ता पलट करना होता है तो वह उस सरकार के खिलाफ झूठे आरोप गढ़ता है और फिर मिडिया और खासकर टी.वी. चैनलों के माध्यम से उनका प्रचार करना शुरू करता है. अमेरिका इस इंग्लिश कहावत के अनुसार काम करता है की  अगर आपको पडौसी का कुत्ता मारना है तो पन्द्रह दिन पहले से उसके पागल होने का प्रचार करना शुरू कर दो, पन्द्रह दिन बाद जब आप उस कुत्ते को मारेंगे तो कोई आपका विरोध नही करेगा.
                क्या अमेरिका  को यह हक है की वह दुसरे देशों पर तानाशाही के विरोध के नाम पर अपनी पसंद की सरकार थोपता रहे. आखिर कब तक विश्व समुदाय अमेरिकी स्वार्थ को साधने के लिए उसके अपराधों को चुपचाप बर्दास्त करता रहेगा.


Gaddafi troops force rebels to retreat

Pro-Gaddafi forces retake Bin Jawad, as opposition fighters retreat in the face of renewed counter-offensive.
Troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, have shelled pro-democracy forces heading west on the main coastal highway, pushing them out of Bin Jawad, a small town around 150km east of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown.
Al Jazeera's Hoda-Abdel Hamid, on the road leading east from Ras Lanuf, reported that explosions had also occured in that town on Tuesday, which opposition fighters had earlier retreated to from Bin Jawad.
"So certainly what we can say at this stage is that Bin Jawad is not any more in the hands of the rebels, actually the Gaddafi forces now are managing to pound Ras Lanuf and are getting closer and closer to them, pushing the opposition fighters eastwards more and more," she said.
I think this is an exact repeat of what happened about three weeks ago."
Pro-Gaddafi forces were mostly using mortars and artillery, as opposed to the tanks and airstrikes of early advances, she said.........................................

Guantanamo is an evolutionary experiment

US detention centre can remain open as long as the "war on terror" continues, with no end in sight.
On March 7, when president Barack Obama signed an executive order (E0) that varnishes the framework of indefinite detention without trial, he put the final nail in the coffin of his day-two promise to close Guantanamo.
Those detainees who, in the government's view, can not be tried but are too dangerous to release will continue to be subject to "law of war detention" because they are deemed by official reviewers "in effect, [to] remain at war with the United States".
This means that Guantanamo can remain open as long as the "war on terror" continues. Not only is there no end in sight, no one is even speculating about what the end might look like.
This executive order, as well as the recent announcement that military commission trials will resume, was no surprise.
In his 21 May 2009 address from the National Archives, Obama explained that his administration had inherited a "legal mess" from the previous administration and that the challenges of dealing with detainees were more difficult than expected.
In that speech, he explained that, contrary to his earlier promises and condemnations, military commissions were indispensable and indefinite detention may.............................

Congenial Situation for Industries in West Bengal : Nirupam Sen

West Bengal Industries Minister Nirupam Sen said on March 28 that the Left Front government had at no stage forcibly acquired land for setting up industries in the state. Despite disruptive and motivated agitation by the Trinamool Congress at Singur the government since then could acquire about 8000 acres of land for industries through peaceful talks and negotiations with landowners, he said.
Claiming that the ruling Left Front government has made impressive progress in industrialization, Sen blamed the agitation by the Opposition that stalled the progress to a greater extent in recent times. Citing instances, the senior CPI(M) leader pointed out that development of Haldia, including expansion of the HPL in particular, had been stalled because of such agitation. “In their tirade against the ruling Left Front, the Opposition Trinamool in the state is virtually working against the people,” Sen said.
Reiterating that the overall progress on industrialization in West Bengal was good with an investment of about Rs.35,500  crore for setting up 1303 big and medium units, the Industries Minister said development was equally good in micro and small sectors. In power sector alone, there was an investment oRs 26,000 crore in last five years, while exports in IT sector has escalated from Rs 2,700 crore in 2005-06  to Rs 6,500 crore at present.
Defending Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Sen insisted that government intervention in acquisition of land for big industries was necessary. Ruling out returning acquired land to willing farmers and hand over the rest of the plot to the railways for its project as requested, Sen said there was no law in the country for returning acquired land.
The Industries Minister said the Left Front government would always encourage investors to negotiate with farmers directly and get land to set up their units.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What has Centre done about Sachar report, asks Buddhadeb

The Opposition parties in West Bengal are harping on the findings of the Sachar Committee, but what has been done by the Centre for Muslims after the report was made public, asked Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee here on Sunday ahead of the Assembly election. He added that the State government had implemented development schemes for the community.
The Trinamool Congress has repeatedly talked about the findings of the report that criticised the conditions of Muslims in West Bengal and has made it a poll issue in elections ever since it was made public in 2006.
“What have governments across the country learnt from the Sachar Committee report? What did the Centre do about it? They have done nothing. What did they do after the Ranganath Mishra Commission? Nothing; they are waiting on it,” he said at a convention organised here by teachers and workers of Madrasas in the State.
Mr. Bhattacharjee said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh merely announced a 15-point programme for minorities,............................................

The West's 'double standards' in Middle East

The West's 'double standards' in Middle East On March 14, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain, invited Saudi Arabia and other GCC forces into his tiny island kingdom to aid a crackdown on pro-democracy protests that had been going already for precisely one month.
The protests, launched on February 14 to coincided with the tenth anniversary of the King's issuance of the "National Action Charter", a text that was supposed to lead his country towards greater democracy. But the terms were subsequently betrayed by the King, leaving the parliamentary system he established with little power actually to enact laws and shape the country's political future.
The non-violent spirit of the protesters was very much in line with that of the Egyptian pro-democracy movement that only days earlier had managed to remove Hosni Mubarak from power.
Protests had in fact begun last year, before Egypt and Tunisia exploded, surrounding the October 2010 parliamentary elections.
One month later, Egypt's vote saw the government arrest prominent human rights activists and according to observers, move the country back towards the days of "full blown authoritarianism". It seems the Egyptian government was over-confident about its ability to more or less openly suppress a fair vote, and in response the political consciousness of the people was heightened rather than further beaten down.
An assessment one month in
One month into the uprising in Bahrain, the warnings of last fall have come to fruition. Bahrain has returned to absolutist rule, with the King declari.............................