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Saturday, January 14, 2012

A year after Jasmine and Tahrir

It is still early to come to any conclusion about the dénouement of the churning in West Asia. Things are far from settled.

The euphoria generated by the Jasmine and Tahrir revolutions has all but dissipated during the past year. The unrealistic expectations, the hype built up mainly by the western governments and the media have given way to doubt, disappointment and even despair over the fate of ‘Arab Spring.' The concern of most observers in the international community is now focussed on the direction in which “people's movements” in various countries will proceed, and on the loss of lives that occurred in Libya, Yemen and, to a less extent, Egypt, and that is continuing in Syria and can be expected to happen in some other countries in the region in the coming months. It is a sad commentary on the rest of the international community that it unhesitatingly adopts the terminology coined by the West to describe the historic events in West Asia. ‘Arab Spring' or ‘Arab Awakening' is a condescending description; it suggests that the people of West Asia have been sleeping all these decades, not caring for freedoms enjoyed by people elsewhere. The fact is that non-regional governments have been supporting the authoritarian regimes through massive supply of deadly weapons and technology, which were used to suppress the people.

Increased Shia-Sunni tensions

There are some who would like the Egyptians to believe that their revolution would not have happened but for the speech of President Barack Obama in their capital two years ago. The fact is that the people of Tunisia, followed by the people of Egypt, owe their revolutions to no one except themselves; they are the owners of their revolutions. If anything, the intervention of external powers, as in Libya, has complicated matters for the most part, created space for more extreme forms of Islamic thought to gain ascendance and, perhaps unwittingly, greatly accentuated the tensions between Shias and Sunnis. It is still early days to come to any conclusions about the dénouement of the churning in the region. Things are far from settled, except to some extent in Tunisia where it all began a year ago. Some broad trends, however, may be attempted.

Strengthening of Islamist groups

In all countries which have witnessed some degree of protests, Islamist groups have gained significant ground. In Tunisia, a ‘moderate' Islamic party has won plurality of the vote. In Libya, where regional forces are refusing to give up their arms or disband their militias, hard-line Islamists, including loyalists of the al Qaeda, have secured influential positions. Egypt has surprised most observers, including knowledgeable Egyptians, by giving a huge electoral mandate to the Muslim Brotherhood and, more ominously, to Salafists; together, the two Islamist groups will control about 70 per cent seats in Parliament, to the great disappointment of the ‘secular' forces. Similarly, in Yemen, the extremists have gained ground and will emerge as the most influential force as and when President Saleh leaves the country. The same phenomenon is evident in Syria in an acuter form. Bahrain is possibly an exception in the sense that the conflict there is between the minority Sunni ruling family and the majority Shia community.

The success of the Islamists by itself need not be seen as a negative outcome, except perhaps by Israel. Their success is an indication of the disillusionment of people with the ‘secular' authoritarian regimes as well as the reward for the socially useful work they have been doing such as running hospitals and schools. Whatever the nature of the new governments, people will enjoy more freedoms and will have a greater say in running the affairs of the state. The most amazing phenomenon of 2011 is the shedding of fear by the people, first in the Arab world and, subsequently almost everywhere else, including Russia and China. (This does not apply much to India since we always were free and unafraid to protest and demonstrate, although Tahrir Square could have provided some inspiration.) The Time magazine is absolutely right in naming the unnamed ‘Protester' as the person of the year. This means the Islamists, as and when they occupy positions of power, will not be able to manipulate people in any way they like. In the medium term, the Islamists-led regimes will insist, at the least, on all legislation being compliant with the Sharia, whatever it means in practice.

Security forces, the army and police, will continue to wield significant, even decisive, influence in the stability of governments. The Turkish model will not be followed consciously given past history but some variation of it should be expected to emerge at some stage. Libya has to go through the difficult process of creating an army out of disparate armed militias and will take longer to achieve stability. In Egypt, the armed forces, which have been used to wielding power for nearly five decades, will hold on to it for quite some time, especially since they also have significant vested interests in the economy.

More attention on Palestine

The Palestinian issue will receive much more attention and focus from the new regimes, which probably would mean more support for Hamas. Israel, which already feels threatened by Iran's nuclear programme, will be under increased pressure to suspend settlement building. Israel's posture will harden and its military spending will increase. The U.S. is in no position to bring effective pressure on Israel, especially in an election year, but it might appeal to Israel to be more reasonable on the Palestinian track in return for tightening the screws on Iran.

Syrian issue

Syria is a complex case but certain facts are clear. (1) There is genuine popular demand for reform. (2) There is repression and use of ruthless force by the regime — at the same time, it continues to enjoy the support of the security forces and significant sections. (3) There is open intervention by external powers and groups such as the Brotherhood as well as elements subscribing to the al-Qaeda ideology, if not the al-Qaeda itself. (4) Many dissident groups are well armed and have killed a number of security forces. (5) Western powers are determined to bring about regime change. (6) Israel is greatly interested in seeing Bashar Assad removed even if the alternative will be a fundamentalist regime. Its priority is Iran and whatever weakens Iran in the region is considered to be in Israel's interest. Bashar's removal will greatly diminish the Hezbollah's ability to threaten Israel and also reduce Hamas' clout. (7) Unless a solution is found soon, the country will be headed towards a bloody civil war.

The Shia-Sunni tensions and Saudi-Iranian rivalry will intensify. Iraq presents a most discouraging example in this respect. After so many years of American shepherding, society in Iraq remains deeply divided on sectarian fault lines. Prime Minister Maliki, now that he is liberated from whatever moderating influence American presence might have exercised on him, is dealing with the Sunni community in exactly the wrong way. The sectarian violence seems all set to return to the horrors of the 2005-07 period. Iraq's Sunni neighbours, especially Saudi Arabia, will definitely intervene to protect their Sunni brethren across the border. It is not a coincidence that Iraq's Shia government has been voting against the Arab League's decisions on the Alawite Shia-led Syrian regime. The Saudi hostility to Damascus has everything to do with the Shia-Sunni divide. Turkey's current antagonism to Syria has many explanations and the Shia-Sunni factor is one of them. The Turkey-Syria-Iraq triangle offers quite a few fertile grounds for conflict — water, the Kurdish problem, Shia-Sunni hatred, etc. There is a tendency to downplay the Shia-Sunni tension but it is very much a fact of the Muslim life and it is better to recognise it.

In sum, the region is likely to remain unstable for quite some time. It would become destabilised should the Iranian nuclear issue lead to extremely harsh sanctions — and the process has begun — or worse, military action.

Some Indian experts would like India to take a more proactive role on the happenings in West Asia, to be on ‘the right side of the forces of history.' It is no doubt good to feel self-righteous and earn an occasional pat on the back from the western or any other government. But it is more important to think of our national interests. Compared to our friends in the West, we are more dependent on the energy resources of West Asia. Most importantly, unlike other countries, we have to worry about 6 million of our compatriots who are working there and sending billions of dollars to their families back home. It makes sense to take a cautious stance, make as thorough an analysis as possible of the evolving situation and try to be on the winning side. That is our challenge. That challenge is coming sooner that we would like, in Iran.

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan-THE HINDU

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ensure implementation of nuclear deal: U.S.

A senior Obama administartion official has said that Indian should ensure the full implementation of the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal and that New Delhi is aware about this, but have not done it yet.

“The Indians know very well, how we feel about the necessity to get these things done and they assure us that they are but they are still not done,” the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, Ellen Tauscher, told Washington—based Defense Writers Group at a breakfast meeting.

“We are working closely with the Indian allies and partners. There are a number of things, legislatively, that they (India) have got to do including some of the indemnity issues,” said Tauscher, in response to a question.

Notably, Tauscher during the Bush Administration, as a member of the Congress, was a key opponent of the deal but now is in favor of its full implementation.

The issue also came up for discussion when the Deputy Secretary, William Burns, visited India recently.
The Hindu

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cameron risks the union----Scottish independence

David Cameron's proposal for a referendum on Scottish independence might have caught opponents as well as allies by surprise. At first sight, the British Prime Minister seems to be setting the terms for the play on this issue. He appears to be outmanoeuvring Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, by offering him what he wants, but with conditions; Mr. Salmond's Scottish National Party (SNP), which holds an absolute majority with 69 of the 129 seats in Scottish Parliament, is committed to a referendum on independence. The catch is that the outcome will be binding provided the U.K. parliament at Westminster and the devolved regional chamber at Holyrood in Edinburgh agree to it and provided the plebiscite occurs within the next 18 months. If held after that, the result would be only advisory. It also suits Mr. Cameron that Scottish public opinion is currently running at 32 per cent for independence; there is more support in Scotland for stronger devolved powers within the U.K. In addition, the 18-month deadline would enable a binding referendum to be held a year before the iconic 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, in which a Scottish army defeated a larger English one. Furthermore, Mr. Salmond cannot reject a referendum and is trying to influence the argument by insisting on a date late in 2014.

But Mr. Cameron's gambit is also high-risk. As he has not consulted the other pro-union parties, in particular Labour and the Liberal Democrats, it is unclear if he aims to preserve the union or merely score party-political points against the SNP. The majority of Scottish voters have backed the centre-left since the mid-1980s. Mr. Salmond has drawn on widespread resentment of Westminster dominance without slipping into ethno-nationalism; for example, SNP Members of the Scottish Parliament have taken their oath of office in Urdu, Italian, Gaelic, and English. Mr. Cameron might have played into the SNP's hands by provoking Scots to accuse him of interfering in their nation's affairs; they are also angry about his choice of Lord Forsyth, a former Cabinet Minister for Scotland who is very unpopular north of the border, to put the argument for a referendum. Constitutionally, only Westminster can legislate for Scottish independence, but it remains the case that no British parliament can bind its successor. That in turn means that even if the Prime Minister forestalls Scottish independence now, he could well generate enough opposition in Scotland to ensure the dissolution of the United Kingdom in the not inconceivable future. Ironically, Mr. Cameron leads what used to call itself the Conservative and Unionist Party.

Editorial-The Hindu

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Govt Trying to Bring FDI in Retail through Backdoor: CPI(M)

Hyderabad: January 11, 2012 : The CPI(M) has charged the Manmohan Singh government of trying to bring in FDI in multiple brand retail through the back door and it threatened to launch a countrywide movement against it.

Addressing a press conference here today, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat slammed the government for allowing 100 per cent FDI in single brand retail, which was earlier limited to 51 per cent. He said the government seems to be waiting for the elections to five state assemblies to get over before trying to push ahead with 100 per cent FDI in multi brand retail.

The Manmohan Singh government was forced to suspend its decision to allow FDI in multi brand retail following widespread opposition. Karat said that opposition stemmed from the fact that the livelihoods of millions of small shopkeepers and traders would be jeopardised by that decision. Asserting that this cannot be allowed, he said that CPI(M) has taken a decision to conduct a countrywide movement against FDI in retail if the government went ahead with its intention. He was confident that other political parties would also stand in opposition to this measure.

On Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s comment about the high levels of malnutrition being a ‘national shame’, Karat questioned as to what his government was doing about the situation. “It is not that the parents do not want to feed their children. They are unable to feed because they cannot afford the high prices of food. In such a situation the government must make available food at cheap rates to all”, he demanded. Karat lambasted the government for trying to bring in a food security legislation that actually curtails the right to food security of people. He asserted that the CPI(M) will oppose this Bill if the objectionable aspects of food coupons, foodgrains at Rs 3 per kg, conditionalties on states etc are not removed. He demanded supply of 35 kgs foodgrains per month to everyone in the country at Rs 2 per kg.

On Lokpal legislation, the CPI(M) leader asked the government to make necessary amendments to the Bill before trying to get it passed in Rajya Sabha. The Bill in its present form will not provide for an effective Lokpal. The CPI(M) demands the following amendments: broadbasing of selection process of Lokpal; the removal of Lokpal power must be transferred to Supreme Court; the Lokpal must have its own investigative machinery; corporate misdeeds must also be brought within the ambit of Lokpal; and there should be no imposition of Lokayuktas through a central legislation, it must be left to the states.

Karat opposed the visit of foreign minister S M Krishna to Israel saying that it sends a wrong signal to the Arab world given the fact that Israel is right now conducting bellicose joint military exercises along with US in that region. In the background of Israel’s open threats about bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, India’s foreign minister should not have gone now, he said. He questioned the direction of Indian government’s foreign policy.

About the coming elections to five state assemblies, Karat informed that the CPI(M) would be contesting 18 seats in UP along with CPI, 9 seats in Punjab along with CPI and Punjab People’s Party, 6 seats in Uttarakhand and 2 seats in Manipur.

Answering a question, he ridiculed Mamata Banarjee for charging CPI(M) being B Team of Congress. He reminded that TMC had joined hands with Congress to fight against the Left Front. He said after coming to power the TMC has not taken any steps to implement the tall promises made before elections. “Today if anything goes wrong in Bengal, she blames CPI(M)”, he said.

About Telangana issue, Karat criticised the union government for unduly delaying its decision despite the Srikrishna Committee submitting its report over a year ago. He felt there is no need for further consultations on this issue and the government must come out with its decision without delay.

To another question, he said the merger of CPI(M) and CPI is not on the agenda of his party . There would be strengthening of cooperation between CPI and CPI(M) on people’s issues, he said.


The US-Iran Conflict: Spiralling into Another War?

The US Iran confrontation is building up and can go out of hand at any time. Illegal US sanctions on Iran will force most countries to take sides.

Iran has already threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, and will certainly do so if any war breaks out. Threats and counter threats with naval manoeuvres can spiral out of control, even if this is not the intent of either of the parties. Israel has successfully manipulated Obama and the US into this course through a mixture of bluff, bluster and use of the Zionist lobby in the US.

Manmohan Singh Government needs to show some spine – by opposing the Iran sanctions and rallying world opinion around it. Asking the US meekly for a waiver on Iran sanctions cannot be India's response to these patently illegal US actions. More than 70% of India's oil comes from Straits of Hormuz. A war will affect India the most. Even if India does not want to play a global leadership role and thinks non-alignment is passé, its national self-interest demands a much tougher role on Iran.

Step by step, under pressure from Israel and its own domestic constituency that wants a war with Iran, Obama has set the US on a slippery path where the only outcome is another war in West Asia. Except this time, it will be a much bigger war – Iran is much larger than Iraq and is militarily much more powerful.

Let us look at the US is already doing in Iran. Along with Israel, it has started an open assassination campaign of Iran's scientists. It has started a cyber war, using the Stuxnet virus on the systems controlling Iran's fuel enrichment centrifuges. As the Iranian action in bringing down a CIA drone showed, the US is also invading Iranian airspace. The economic sanctions against Iran are now being ratcheted up to a level where it becomes outright economic war.

The latest economic sanctions that the US and UK are introducing – and indications are that EU may follow suit – are all unilateral measures without the sanction of the UN. Iran's central bank is being sanctioned meaning that countries like India and Turkey will find it increasingly difficult to pay for Iranian oil. Already India had problems when its banks were threatened by the US for having business with Iran, forcing it to arrange its payment through Turkey’s Halkbank. Halkbank has indicated that with the new US sanctions, it may not be able to handle India's payments. India has now sought a waiver from the US for buying oil from Iran for which it should need no permission of any third country.

All these are hostile acts. It also seems farcical that the US which already involved in assassination campaigns in Iran, should cry foul over Iran's so-called conspiracy for assassination of Saudi diplomats in the US. In any case, most serious analysts consider that the conspiracy of which the US administration accused Iran of being either a deliberate fabrication by the FBI and CIA or a an attempt by an interested third party to increase tensions between Iran and the US. No prizes in guessing this third party to be Israel.

Make no mistake. The US is already in war with Iran. It may be a low-grade war and not a full-blown shooting war. But war nevertheless. If Iran had done any of the acts that the US and Israel has done, it would have been construed as an act of war. And lead to an immediate shooting response.

Iran can retaliate – closing the straits of Hormuz through which 40% of world's tanker traffic passes being an example. The recent naval manoeuvres of the Iranian navy in the Gulf of Oman was clearly a signal of its intent in case hostilities break out. While Iran may not take this ultimate measure unless their nuclear installations are bombed, if their sale of oil is stopped, what are their other options?

For the US and its cheerleaders, international law is only for others; they operate on a “higher” plane – where only the national interests of the US counts as “law”. In Iran's case, the US has been arguing that Iran developing nuclear capability is itself enough cause for sanctions and even war. Despite the fact that developing nuclear capability including fuel enrichment is a right retained by any country even after it signs the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). And is something that about 40 countries in the world already have.

Despite an international media blitz, all that Iran is accused of continuing is developing nuclear capability. Both the US intelligence agencies and IAEA agree that Iran has not taken any physical steps towards building nuclear weapons. The charge is that they are developing “break-out” capability, and even that – according to Israel and the US -- would change the balance of power in West Asia and is therefore unacceptable.

Even after the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin and starting of the Vietnam War on that pretext, the mirage of WMD's in Iraq and now various visions of a nuclear Iran being conjured up without any evidence, the US media is playing completely to the US security establishment's gallery. The IAEA report, which found no new evidence but only regurgitated pre-2003 evidence is paraded as Iran becoming nuclear. Never mind that all that it says – after you read the actual report and not the one that US media pretends it has read – is that Iran could be developing nuclear capability. If we read the US media, it is Iran which is not fully sane in its foreign policy. Commentators after commentator in the west talks about Iran as if it is the one acting irrationally. What they neglect to analyse is how rational are the US policies and what rational options Iran has?

Why is the US marching towards another and even more disastrous war in West Asia? Particularly as it is in the process of trying to get out of its two current wars. What sense does it make for the US to get into a military conflict with Iran, which is certainly much bigger and stronger than Iraq?

To understand this, we have to look at the way the US foreign policy is enmeshed with Israel and its domestic policies. Given this is an election year, it is even more important.

We have already covered how Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are planning an air strike on Iran. If they execute such a strike, this will automatically draw in the US. They are bargaining with the US that they may forego such a strike if the US agrees to their demand for much stronger economic sanctions. Either way, it is a win-win for Israel– or at least that is the way Netanyahu and Barak see it.

The US elections provide Israel with much greater leverage. This is election year and every presidential candidate must offer full-throated support to Israel. No wonder, each Republican candidate has been outdoing the other in demanding military action against Iran. Obama and Netanyahu may not like each other. The reality of the election year is that Obama is under pressure to win votes and forget the rest.

If we look at the Iranian side, is there any action they can take that will satisfy the US short of regime change? Yes, if they say that we were making the bomb and have all these secret facilities for doing so and now we are dismantling them, please come and witness it. If they say that we are not building the bomb and all we are doing is building nuclear capability permitted under NPT, it will be considered as lying and further proof of Iran's bad intentions. And no, this is not some fantasy I am manufacturing. This is exactly the way Iraq's WMD debate went – the demand was always that show us your WMD's – otherwise you are hiding them. All Iraq's statements that they did not have a single WMD was treated as hogwash.

The problem for the world is that once the US gets locked on to this course, the rest seems to get dragged in the US wake, either willingly or unwillingly. Every country is now negotiating with the US what they will do in response to the sanctions. The UK is one step ahead in imposing sanctions of its own; that is its way of showing “independence” from the US. The EU is following suit. India and Turkey will have to show either significant lower imports from Iran to get an exemption or have their financial institutions come under US sanctions. Only China and Russia can ignore the US. Despite the sanctions not being accepted in the UN, the US sanctions can therefore become de facto global sanctions.

Apart from the uncertainty of taking a route that can cause another war in West Asia, the US sanctions can intensify the already precarious global economy. If Iran cannot sell its oil, it means a drop in oil production and oil prices going through the roof. Already, oil prices have started to go up again. Iraqi oil fields have yet to recover, Saudis are pumping out as much as they can and the rest of the world does not have the capacity to compensate for the second largest oil producer in OPEC going out of the market. Why Obama should be willing to play Russian roulette with Iran with a teetering economy is difficult to understand, his domestic electoral compulsions notwithstanding.

What the world needs is for the rest of the world – the Russia, China, India, Brazil Turkey and other intermediate powers, the non-aligned block to come out opposing the western sanctions. The west is not just imposing sanctions on Iran, it is also threatening the economy of each and every country in the world today. And purely on Israel's security demand of being the pre-eminent military power in West Asia.

Extra marital affairs--The Shrinking Universe - The more the merrier?

Is our society ready for multiple partner relationships?

My last column on extra-marital affairs generated a fair bit of email. Not just from those who agreed with my position, but mainly from those who didn't. The general theme of what most of my interlocutors had to say centred around the belief that since multiple partner relationships are successful in many parts of the world, they should, therefore, be acceptable in our country as well. Although my research hasn't provided me any convincing data that such relationships actually work in the short or long-term, I thought it may be politic to examine some of the dynamics in some clearly delineable prototypes of multiple partner relationships.

Open relationships

The first of these are what are usually referred to as ‘open relationships', wherein both partners are free to get emotionally and sexually involved with other people without needing the partner's consent every time. In other words, consent is a given. There is also no restriction on the degree of emotional or sexual closeness you can experience with the ‘paramour'. It is quite conceivable that you may end up having a committed relationship with the ‘ paramour' if this is indeed what you want to do, but then, you will have an open relationship with the ‘paramour' too, thereby permitting you to still maintain a relationship with your original partner. In other words, the element of exclusivity gets taken out of your open relationship, although commitment is still inherent.

This is different from ‘swinging' and ‘spouse-swapping' in which the focus is more on sexual rather than emotional intimacy. You're still married to your spouse, but both of you, by mutual consent, engage, from time to time, in sexual romps with other swinging couples. The idea here seems to be to provide both partners some sexual variety, but in a reasonably controlled situation, so that some degree of exclusivity is retained, and when both partners tire of sexual frolic, they retire to lives of companionable monogamy.

And in recent times, there is the new phenomenon called polyamory or simply, poly, sometimes described as ‘responsible non-monogamy'. While the definition of polyamory is not always absolutely clear, and can include open relationships as well in its ambit, it is distinguished from swinging, because it's seen as encompassing sexual, emotional, romantic and spiritual dimensions. The basic understanding here is that anyone is capable of having simultaneous, multiple, deep, intimate relationships, and that the ‘ distracting' elements of marriage, like jealousy, exclusivity, power imbalances etc., are squarely removed from the equation, thereby creating opportunities to grow as human beings.

However, jealousy does appear every now and again, and the successful poly is one who has been able to conquer this emotion and replace it with what is referred to as compersion (the opposite of jealousy, where you experience genuine happiness that your partner finds fulfilment or joy from somebody or something other than yourself). Fidelity, loyalty, honesty, equality, respect and transparency are big virtues among polys, for, no relationship takes place in the absence of consent and consensus. If ever consent is withheld, the reasons have to be substantial.

Polyamorists may engage in long-term relationships in triads, quads or networks. They would still tend to have a ‘primary' relationship and one or several ‘secondary relationships'. They are a growing movement in the United States (apparently there're about half a million polyamorists there) and also participate in Pride parades to highlight the legitimacy of their cause. Polyfidelity is a more controlled method of engaging in multiple relationships. The partners that one can choose from are limited to members of a group, network or commune. And fidelity to this group is demanded at all costs. Otherwise, the dynamics are similar to polyamorous relationships.

And finally, there is the old faithful — polygamy, which, in our country, was not uncommon in the past, but confined, since we live in a patriarchal environment, primarily to the male of the species (polyandry, which refers to a woman having multiple husbands, is too rare to even mention). Polygamy refers to having multiple socially, even if not legally, sanctioned spouses. This means that the polygamist takes responsibility for all of his wives and whatever children may be born of these liaisons. However, in the last few decades, polygamy, whether on account of inflation, recession or just an increasing belief in monogamy, is certainly on the decrease, even in religious denominations or sub-cultures where it used to be acceptable.

Viable alternative?

Some research into multiple marriages is under way in the west, but it's too early to tell whether it is a viable and sustainable alternative to monogamy. However, the fundamental issue is whether such multiple partner relationships could actually be considered to fall under the rubric of ‘marriage', which, by and large, has been a monogamous institution. The general clamour of my email interlocutors has been to expand the institution of marriage to cover multiple partner relationships as well. But, my question is, why? If one is comfortable with monogamy, one gets married. If one is not, one can opt for one of the ‘poly' alternatives. And then one can really understand whether more is actually merrier or whether three is indeed a crowd.

The writer is the author of 3's a Crowd: Understanding and Surviving Infidelity and can be contacted at

vijay nagaswami-the hindu

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chavez Deplores World Powers' Aggressive Policies

TEHRAN (FNA)- Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez lashed out at the world powers' hostile and aggressive policies towards the world nations, and described his country and Iran as "victims of superpowers' greed".
"Unfortunately hegemonic powers are more aggressive than the past and show unprecedented movements foolishly," Chavez said on the sidelines of ceremony to welcome his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Venezuelan president underscored that the Iranian and Venezuelan nations are victims of the superpowers' greed, but are introduced by hegemonic powers' propaganda machine as warmongers.

Chavez noted that Tehran and Caracas have never invaded any country but some other arrogant states have killed thousands of thousands of peoples in their invasions and nuclear bombardments.

"Nations advocate peace and justice; Iranian and Venezuelan governments will do their best to support the human rights, their countries' sovereignty as well as international peace," he reiterated.

President Ahmadinejad, for his part, underlined that Tehran and Caracas are resolved to defend their rights against hegemonic powers.

"Tehran and Caracas will stand together against the hegemonic powers' greed to dominate the world and would defend their rights," Ahmadinejad said.

Ahmadinejad is in Caracas on the first leg of a tour of four Latin American states.


A step closer to HIV prevention

Time and again, HIV vaccine trials have proved right the dictum, ‘monkeys lie and mice do not always tell the truth'. Positive results in animals did not translate into good outcome in humans. However, the results of a recent study in rhesus monkeys show greater promise of protective effects getting replicated in humans. The study was published in Nature (“Vaccine protection against acquisition of neutralization-resistant SIV challenges in rhesus monkeys,” by Dan H. Barouch et al.). Monkeys get infected not with HIV but only with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), which is distantly related to its human counterpart. So the monkeys were primed with SIV vaccine and then given a boost six months later. Vaccines with different combinations of genetically engineered SIV genes were tested. At the end of one year after priming, the animals were exposed to the virus six times. While 75 per cent of animals that did not receive a vaccine (control group) got infected after the first exposure, only 12 per cent of those that received the best vaccine did. And, at the end of six exposures, while all the controls got infected, only a majority of the vaccinated monkeys did. The best vaccine produced 80 per cent reduction in the “probability” of infection per exposure. Most importantly, the trial proved its ability to produce partial protection against a virulent, tough-to-neutralise strain that is different from the one used in making the vaccine.

Aside from protecting the monkeys, the vaccine was also effective in reducing the viral load in those infected. Although the precise mechanism responsible for preventing SIV infection is yet to be determined, the requirements for achieving the primary endpoint in monkeys have been found to be very different from those for reducing the viral load. Only those animals that produced high levels of ‘envelope' antibodies (in response to the Env antigen in the vaccine) remained free of infection. So critical was the inclusion of the Env antigen that the protection conferred was extended even to the virus that differed from the vaccine strain. Different immune responses against the ‘envelope' antigen and another antigen (Gag) were responsible for reducing the viral load. Incidentally, the importance of Env antigen was brought out earlier by the 2009 human Phase III Thai trial (RV144), which produced modest protection of 31 per cent. Volunteers who had produced high levels of antibodies against the Env antigen remained infection-free. There is room for cautious optimism that designing an effective HIV vaccine may become possible if the vital clues from the latest study are wisely utilised.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

THE MARCH TOWARDS THE ABYSS ---Reflections by Comrade Fidel

t is not a matter of being optimistic or pessimistic, knowing or not knowing elementary things, of being responsible or not for events. Those who would like to be thought of as politicians should be thrown onto the trash heap of history when, as the norm goes, they have no idea about everything or almost everything related to it in that activity.
Of course I am not speaking about those who throughout the various millennia turned public affairs into instruments of power and wealth for the privileged classes, an activity where the real records of cruelty have been imposed during the last eight or ten thousand years about those we have certain traces of the social behaviour of our species, whose existence as thinking beings, according to scientists, barely covers 180,000 years.
It is not my purpose to get involved in such topics that would surely bore almost one hundred percent of the people continuously being bombarded with news across the media, going from the written word to three-dimensional images that are starting to be shown in expensive cinemas. The day is not far away when they shall also predominate in the already fabulous television images per se. It is no accident that the so-called leisure industry has its headquarters in the heart of the empire that tyrannizes everybody.
What I would like to do is to rest on the current starting point of our species to speak of the march towards the abyss. I might even speak of an “inexorable” march and I would certainly be closer to reality. The idea of a Last Judgement is implicit in the most practiced religious doctrines among the inhabitants of this planet, without anyone classifying them for that as being pessimistic. On the contrary, I think it is a basic duty of all serious and sane persons, who number in the millions, to fight to postpone and perhaps to prevent that dramatic and imminent event in today’s world.
Numerous dangers threaten us, but two of them, nuclear war and climate change, are decisive and both are ever farther away from coming close to a solution.
Verbose demagoguery, the statements and speeches of the tyranny imposed upon the world by the United States and its powerful and unconditional allies, on both topics, do not admit the slightest doubt in that respect.
January 1st of 2012, the western and Christian New Year, coincides with the anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution in Cuba and the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis of 1962 that put the world on the brink of a nuclear world war and this forces me to write these lines.
My words would be lacking in meaning if they had the objective of blaming on the American people, or on any other country which is an ally of the United States in the unusual adventure; they, like all the other peoples of the world, would be the inevitable victims of the tragedy. Recent events happening in Europe and elsewhere show massive indignation by those who are led to protest by the unemployment, shortages, reductions in their incomes, debts, discrimination, lies and politicking and lead to brutal repressions by the guardians of established law and order.
With growing frequency one speaks of military technologies that affect the entire planet, the only satellite known to be inhabitable hundreds of light years away from any other that may perhaps be suitable if we were to move at the speed of light, three hundred thousand kilometres per second.
We should not ignore that if our marvellous thinking species should disappear, many millions of years would go by before another one capable of thinking would arise, by virtue of the natural principles that rule as a consequence of the evolution of the species, discovered by Darwin in 1859 and which today is acknowledged by all serious scientists, whether they are religious or not.
No other era in the history of mankind has known the dangers that today humanity faces. Persons like me, at 85 years old, had reached our 18th birthdays with high school graduation degrees before the first atomic bomb had been put together.
Today artefacts of this type, ready to be used – incomparably more powerful than those that produced the heat of the sun over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki─ add up to thousands.
Weapons of this kind that are kept in storage, added to those already deployed by virtue of agreements, reach figures that surpass twenty thousand nuclear missiles.
The use of just one hundred or so of those weapons would be enough to create nuclear winter that would cause a horrible death in a short time for all the human beings living on the planet, as the American scientist and Rutgers University professor Alan Robock has brilliantly explained along with computerized data.
Those used to reading news and serious international analyses know how the risks of the outbreak of war with the use of nuclear weapons increase as the tension grows in the Middle East, where in the hands of the Israeli government hundreds of combat-ready nuclear weapons are accumulated, and whose nature as a strong nuclear power is neither admitted or denied. Likewise, tension grows around Russia, a country with unquestionable capacity for response, threatened by a presumed European nuclear shield.
The Yankee statement that the European nuclear shield is there to also protect Russia from Iran and North Korea is laughable. The Yankee position is so feeble in this delicate matter that its ally Israel does not even bother to guarantee prior consultations on measures that might unleash war.
Humanity, in contrast, does not enjoy any guarantee. Cosmic space, in the vicinity of our planet, is overcrowed by US satellites destined to spy on what is going on even on the roofs of houses in any nation of the world. The lives and customs of any person or family became objects of espionage; listenning to hundreds of millions of cell phones and subjects of conversations by any user anywhere in the world stops being a private matter and becomes information material for the US secret services.
That is the right that is being left to the citizens of our world by virtue of the acts of a government whose constitution, approved by the Philadelphia Congress in 1776, established that men were born free and equal and the Creator has given them all those rights, which they now no longer have, not the Americans themselves or any citizen of the world, not even to communicate by phone with relatives and friends about their most private feelings.
Of course war is a tragedy that can happen and it is very probable that it will happen; however, if humanity were capable of delaying it for an indefinite length of time, another equally dramatic event is happening at an increasing pace: climate change. I shall restrict myself to point out what eminent scientists and world-class exhibiters have explained through documents and films that are questioned by nobody.
It is well-known that the US government was opposed to the Kyoto agreements on the environment, a line of conduct that didn’t even agree with its closest allies whose territories would suffer tremendously and some of which, such as Holland, would practically disappear.
The planet goes on today without a policy to solve this serious problem, while the levels of oceans rise, the enormous ice caps covering Antarctica and Greenland, where more than 90% of the world’s fresh water is accumulated, are melting at a growing pace, and now humanity, on November 30, 2011, officially reached the figure of 7 billion inhabitants which, in the poorest areas of the world grows in a sustained and inevitable manner. Could it be that those who have dedicated themselves to bombing countries and killing millions of persons in the last 50 years could be concerned about the fate of all the other peoples?
The United States today is not just the promoter of those wars, but it is also the greatest manufacturer and exporter of weapons in the world.
As it is well-known, that powerful country has signed a covenant to supply 60 billion dollars in the next few years to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where the transnationals of the US and its allies extract on a daily basis 10 million barrels of light oil, in other words, a billion dollars in fuel. What will happen to that country and the region when those energy reserves should run dry? It is not possible that our globalized world will accept without a murmur the colossal wasting of energy resources that nature took hundreds of millions of years to create, and whose dilapidation increases essential costs. It would in no way be worthy of the intelligent nature attributed to our species.
In the last 12 months, that situation has worsened considerably because of new technological advances which, far from alleviating the tragedy coming from the squandering of fossil fuels, considerably make things worse.
World class scientists and researchers have been pointing out the dramatic consequences of climate change.
In an excellent documentary film by French director Yann Arthus-Bertrand, entitled Home, and filmed in collaboration with prestigious and well-informed international celebrities, published in mid-2009, he warns the world with irrefutable data about what is happening. Using solid arguments, he shows the deadly consequences of consuming, in less than two centuries, the energy resources created by nature in hundreds of millions of years; but the worst of it is not the colossal squandering, but the suicidal consequences for the human species. Referring to the very existence of life, he admonishes the human species: “…You benefit from a fabulous legacy of 4,000 million years supplied by the Earth. You are only 200,000 years old but you have changed the face of the world.”
He didn’t blame nor could he blame anyone up to that time, he was simply pointing out an objective reality. However, today we have to blame ourselves for what we know and we are doing nothing to try to fix it.
In their images and concepts, the authors of that work include memories, data and ideas that we have the duty to know and take into account.
In recent months, another fabulous film was Oceans, made by two French film-makers, considered to be the best film of the year in Cuba; perhaps, in my opinion, the best film of this era.
This is amazing material because of the precision and beauty of the images never before filmed by any camera: 8 years and 50 million Euros were invested in the making of it. Humanity must thank that proof for the way in which the principles of nature adulterated by man express themselves. The actors are not human beings: they are the inhabitants of the world’s oceans. An Oscar for them!
What inspired me with the duty to write these lines did not arise from the events referred to up till now, which in one way or another I have commented on previously, but others that, managed by the interests of the transnationals, have been coming to light sparingly in the last few months and in my opinion serve as definitive proof of the confusion and political chaos rife in the world.
Just a few months ago I read for the first time some news about the existence of shale gas. It was stated that the US had reserves to supply their needs for this fuel for 100 years. Since I now have time to do research on political, economic and scientific topics that could be really useful for our peoples, I discretely got in touch with several people living in Cuba or abroad. Oddly, none of them had heard a word about the matter. Of course, this wasn’t the first time that happened. One is amazed about important facts that are hidden in a veritable sea of information, mixed in with hundreds or thousands of news items that circulate the planet.
Nevertheless, I persisted in my interest on the subject. Only a few months have gone by and shale gas is no longer news. Just before the new year enough information was known to clearly see the world’s inexorable march towards the abyss, threatened by risks of such great seriousness as nuclear war and climate change. I have already spoken of the first of these; about the second one, in the interest of brevity, I shall restrict myself to reveal known data and some to be known, that no political cadre or sensible person should ignore.
I don’t hesitate saying that I am observing both facts with the serenity imparted by the years I have lived, in this spectacular phase of human history, that have contributed to the education of our brave and heroic people.
The gas is measured in TCF, which can be referred to in cubic feet or cubic metres – it is not always explained whether they are dealing with one or the other – it depends on the system of measurement that is used in certain countries. On the other hand, when they speak of billions they tend to refer to the Spanish billion that means a million millions; that figure in English is called a trillion, and we must keep that in mind when analyzing the references to the gas which tend to be copious. I shall try to point that out when necessary.
The American analyst Daniel Yergin, author of a voluminous classic on the history of oil stated, according to the IPS news agency, that now a third of all the gas produced in the US is shale gas.
“…exploitation of a platform with six wells can consume 170,000 cubic metres of water and even create harmful effects such as influencing seismic movements, polluting surface and groundwaters and affecting the landscape.”
The British BP group informs us that “proven reserves of conventional or traditional gas on the planet add up to 6,608 billion ―million millions― of cubic feet, some 187 billion cubic metres, […] and the largest deposits are in Russia (1,580 TCF), Iran (1,045), Qatar (894), and Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan with 283 TCF each”. We are dealing with gas that is being produced and marketed.
“An EIA study ―a US government energy agency ― published in April of 2011 found practically the same volume (6,620 TCF or 187.4 billion cubic metres) of recoverable shale gas in just 32 countries, and the giants are: China (1,275 TCF), United States (862), Argentina (774), Mexico (681), South Africa (485) and Australia (396 TCF)”. Shale gas is gas de esquisto. Take note that according to what is known, Argentina and Mexico have almost as much as the United States. China, with larger deposits, has reserves that equal almost the double of those and 40% more than the United States.
“…countries secularly dependent on foreign suppliers shall count on an enormous base of resources in relation to their consumption, such as France and Poland which import 98 and 64 percent respectively of the gas they consume, and in shale or lutite rocks they would have reserves greater than 180 TCF each”.
“To extract it from the lutite ― IPS points out― they resort to a method called ‘fracking’ (hydraulic fracturing), with the injection of great amounts of water plus sand and chemical additives. Carbon traces (proportion of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere) are much greater than those generated in the production of conventional gas.
“Since we are dealing with bombarding layers of earth crust with water and other substances, the risk of damaging the subsoil, soil, surface and groundwater tables, the landscape and communication channels is greater if the facilities for extracting and transporting the new wealth presents handling defects or errors.”
Suffice it to point out that among the numerous chemical substances that are injected with the water to extract this gas we have benzene and toluene, substances that are terribly carcinogenic.
Lourdes Melgar, expert from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores of Monterrey, has the opinion that:
“‘It is a technology generating much debate and they are resources located in zones where there is no water…”.
“Gas-bearing lutites ― IPS states― are unconventional hydrocarbon quarries, encrusted in rock that protects them, therefore fracking is used to release them on a grand scale.”
“Generation of shale gas involves high volumes of water and the excavation and fracking generates great amounts of liquid waste that may contain dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that require treatment before they are disposed.”
“Production of shale leaped from 11,037 million cubic metres in 2000 to 135,840 million in 2010. In the event of expansion following this pace, in 2035 it will cover 45 percent of the demand of general gas, according to EIA.
“Recent scientific research has warned on the negative environmental profile of lutite gas.
“Professors Robert Howarth, Renee Santoro and Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell University in the US have concluded that this hydrocarbon is a greater pollutant than oil and gas, according to the study ‘Methane and the traces of greenhouse effect gases from natural gas coming from shale formations’ published in April last year in the Climatic Change review.
“‘Carbon trace is greater than that from conventional gas or oil, seen on any time horizon, but particularly within the lapse of 20 years. Compared to carbon, it is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than double in 20 years’, the report underlined.”
“Methane is one of the most polluting greenhouse effect gases, responsible for the rise in the planet’s temperature.”
“‘In active extraction areas (one or more Wells in one kilometre) average and maximum concentrations of methane in wells of drinking water increased with proximity to the closest gas well and were a danger for potential explosion’, states the text written by Stephen Osborn, Avner Vengosh, Nathaniel Warner and Robert Jackson, from Duke State University.
“These indicators put into question the industry argument that shale could replace carbon in generating electricity and, therefore be a resource for mitigating climate change.
“‘It is an adventure that is far too premature and risky’.”
“In April of 2010, the US State Department started up the Shale Gas Global Initiative to help countries seeking to use that resource in order to identify and develop it, with the eventual economic benefit for US transnationals.”
I have been inevitably extensive, I had no other option. I write these lines for the Cubadebate website and for Telesur, one of the most serious and honest channels in our long-suffering world.
In order to deal with the subject, I let the holidays of the old and the New Year slip by.
Fidel Castro Ruz
January 4, 2012.