Monday, March 31, 2008

The unrealized siege of Capitalism

The unrealized siege of Capitalism
- By U. Mahesh Prabhu

We all swear by our democracy, don't we? We appreciate our freedom. We say that we adhere to the finest principles of philosophy that which endures free will. We are not willing to be slaves. But how much of it do we really practice.

There is no need for an elaborate justification to say that 'Money' rules not just our lives but also our Institutions and other social framework, in totality. This is the hallmark of Capitalism. Capitalism, that which became very persevering theme after the World War II and grew to be an even major objective, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is what ruling us today.

But how good is Capitalism? No doubt it gives a great lifestyle, lots of opportunities for growth and all that. But have we ever spent time to realize its constraints? I bet – never. Why? That's because capitalism hardly gives you any chance to think about zilch, but riches.

Let's assume what is happening in the social front. We all swear by our democracy, don't we? We appreciate our freedom; we adhere to the finest principles of philosophy that which endures free will. We are not willing to be slaves. But how much of these do we really practice? Take this case: As per the labour laws prevailing in this country a corporate house is not supposed to employ a person more than eight hours a day. But if you peep in to those countless software and services company offering solutions to international clientele, all the employees are slogging like donkeys for more than ten hours to keep up with their 'deadlines' and 'schedules'. They might be stressed, irked or even dehydrated, yet they will not stop to complain. Why? Because they have been hired under a contract which ensures they are not under prevailing labour laws, yet paid phenomenally. If they aren't doing their job to the best of their abilities they would loose it anytime. Well, yes, that's another matter to note that they might also turn unemployed if the company thinks that they have been over-staffed, at any given point of time. All for money honey!

Today the world is in the brink of an ecological disaster. We have the disproportionate amount of hydrocarbons polluting our atmosphere and corroding the life sustaining ozone layer, and creating the 'Greenhouse effect'. This is also to increase the global temperature and then steadily, in few hundred years, set to melt all the polar icecaps in the South and North Pole, thus depleting the land mass and pushing the human life to the brink of extinction. Nevertheless, we are creating our own doom. But there is still a chance to save it. We just have to stop these polluting industries and those machineries running on hydrocarbons, for this cause. It's not such a difficult task, but that will never happen. Why? Simply because it incurs loss!

Recently in Tibet, which is under Chinese dictatorship since 1950s, thousands of Tibetans began massive protests for their independence. Their cohorts in India too staged several agitations, though peaceful to begin with ultimately they turned semi-violent. The Chinese Communist Party, who never believes in freedom and free speech, retaliated - heavily and bloodily. The news spilled across the world through the Tibetan propaganda of 'human rights violations'. Beijing pinned the blame for the consecutive two weeks of violence on the Dalai Lama and said he was trying to sabotage the upcoming Olympics.

To ensure that its image, internationally, is not trashed, Chinese allowed and led some of the important international media into Tibet. This they believed would make an impression upon press that everything is calm and peaceful. But this design spun out of control when monks interrupted the media and exploded their angst against the Chinese administration. 'We don't have freedom of speech, we can't practice our religion here…', 'these people inside the monastery are cadre and not monks…', 'Please help us, we need freedom…' they shouted. Television media portrayed this heartening scene.

But instead of supporting, and showing solidarity to, the Tibetans the Chinese's vile statement against the Dalai Lama, reading 'Wolf in monk's robe', was being justified by our communist comrades in India. Despite call by the Tibetan leader along with rightwing activists for an independent inquiry into the Chinese crack down, which latter called as 'People's War', on protesting monks in Tibet, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) failed to even discuss the issue, forget the point of 'taking action' against Chinese administration.

On the UNSC issue Chinese diplomat said that it did not come up in the council 'as it does not pose threat to international peace and security'. 'It is a domestic issue' they asserted. Actually the reason for the issue not be taken up in the UNSC was because: China is a powerful veto-wielding member of the 15 member council and Washington often needs its support to get the resolutions through the body. And if you were to disagree with me on this then perhaps you need to explain as to why did UNSC voiced concerns against crack down by Myanmar's ruling Junta against Buddhist monks, asserting that 'it posed a threat to international peace'?

But what makes China so powerful? What makes it just impossible for mightier nations like Americas to intervene when they violate every single human rights law? The answer lies in those several industries setup by the international business houses in the Dragon land. These conglomerates have invested the money for the cause of cheap labour. There is cheap labour due to absence of the internationally framed labour laws. Billions of dollars are earned in profits by those conglomerates. And these are the same conglomerates unto whom those politicians have to turn to, for funding their electioneering campaigns, and thus play a very crucial role in the current international political scenes. And the only thing which bothers to business is returns. And because it matters to businesses it also matters to the politicians. And because it matters to politicians, they would certainly careless as to whether or not the human rights laws are implemented. Again… it's all about money honey!

Sad but true, Capitalism has begun to rule supreme over freedom and value. Let's not forget that what happened to Tibetans might happen to every one of us, should this monster of Capitalism go untamed.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Alternative zindabad Mainstream murdabad

Comunist Posts : Susenjit Guha

Alternative zindabad Mainstream murdabad
- Susenjit Guha

M J Akbar’s speech in Riyadh echoed a crying need for not only the much misunderstood Muslim society and Islam, but society in general which is denied the right to correct information and analogy by the mainstream media.

Trapped in a vortex of pressure groups and the establishment, the mainstream media is faltering in its duty to provide unbiased news and opinions, the hallmarks of freedom of speech and expression.

Former president of CBS news Richard Salant once blatantly put it: "Our job is to give people not what they want, but what we decide they ought to have." He may have spoken for his channel, but he reflected a malaise common to mainstream media the world over.

And J K Galbraith was succinct on that score: "The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking."

Certainly viewers and readers have the right to ask “Why the hell should you decide for us?”

But they don’t. Few readers, most of them nowadays, have a mind of their own when they read the morning newspaper or watch television. We are constantly fed opium which comes in the form of pre-conceived notions in different attractive looking packages into our drawing rooms. And opium is packed inside the folds when we hear the rustle of the morning paper. Some of them have nearly done away with the editorial page.

Challenging conventional viewpoints - stripping facts to the bone - has ceased to be the job of the media.

That brings us to J K Galbraith. We are not thinking anymore - thanks to the media which has relieved us from the painful task and morphing into zombies. Our interest is consumed by banal commentaries on trivia which in recent years have begun to occupy our minds and shape our conscience.

Media is normally under threat and gagged under dictatorships and totalitarian regimes. Surprisingly, presidenT, now grumpy looking, Musharraf of Pakistan set the institution free after decades which became his nemesis. He quickly turned Geo TV, ‘to live’ sounding in Urdu to Mauth TV by letting loose rampaging policemen on its offices. It remains to be seen how Asif Zardari, in Pakistan’s bumpy road towards democracy, deals with the media now. Bhutto dynasty is history and a Zardari dynastY, with his friend’s wife as speaker seems to be shaping up.

Dynastic political parties in democracies are naturally wary of media criticisms and impact editorial slants and news coverage of media houses. While dynasty thrived in medieval era owing to pliant subjects in thrall of the king or queen, in modern times, an exercise in sleight-of-hand is required to justify its continuance.

The buck stops just outside the palace as prime ministers are sponsored and tailored before elections till such time a scion of the dynasty manages to work up the aura of yore. And elected representatives expend their energy trying to be in the dynasty’s good books.

Alternative media is counter- hegemonic and challenges the very basis of conventional notion and wisdom without the threat of either direct or indirect establishment pressure. When an editor of an alternative US news site wrote back that he liked my piece, but was keeping it on hold for further scrutiny with his staff since he was uncomfortable with terms like ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’, I was surprised. He thought they were misperceptions and might further the very Bush/Neocon doctrine they were challenging.

That’s alternative media. It attempts to shuffle the mind till it flips into rewind, pauses, goes fast forward, but never stops.

But the numbers, who acknowledge there is a hidden hand shaping world events like never before, are swelling. Alternative media attempts to tell the truth rather than hide or misdirect as CBS’s Richard Salant bragged.

No wonder people are voting with their feet and putting their money and mind increasingly in alternative media in the US and Europe while the Riyadh speech of MJ Akbar is laden with possibilities for our part of the world.

What makes army such an important political factor in Pakistan?

Columnist Posts: U Mahesh Prabhu

What makes army such an important political factor in Pakistan?
- U Mahesh Prabhu

With the elections over and Nawaz-Zardari joining hands together to form the government, people in Pakistan and around the world might be of the impression that Pakistan's military is out of the scene, as if obvious. But, we can only wish.

Looking at the history of the Islamic Republic it is evident that army is the most important political actor in Pakistan, even without being a formal political party it can influence or manipulate most things in the country: from managing its nuclear weapons programme to conducting census.

It might come as a surprise, for many, to know that from the areas as disparate as running businesses to finding ghost schools, the army is the ubiquitous face of Pakistan's government. Besides it also builds roads and fights insurgencies; less important to say that its membership is superior to any exclusive club. From one phase of a military regime to another, the army has ever taken care of itself.

Given the failing of other institutions, even civilian governments have taken recourse to using the military to get their jobs done. In the process, of course, they have succeeded in further undermining Pakistan's already weak civilian institutions.

Since the end of the 1980s, Pakistan has been running a comparatively low-cost war against India by backing militants in Jammu & Kashmir. At the same time, it saw no contradiction in running the massive Fauji Foundation, said to be the 'Largest private sector employer in Pakistan.' In its scheme of things, a Jihad in Kashmir and the Fauji Foundation can, and did, happily co-exist.

Success, be it material or otherwise, was something the military establishment in the nation has aimed for without minding the means to achieve it. The Annual Report of the Foundation would make you to realize how far the Army had gone in controlling the nation and stakes it had in the economic stability of Pakistan.

The Fauji Foundation is at the heart of the military's economic machine. With an annual turnover of more than $500 million and profits of $41 million, Fauji provides womb-to-tomb benefits for more than 8.5 million ex-military men and their dependents. Retired servicemen get preferential hiring for the 10,000 jobs at the foundation's wholly owned companies. Thousands more find work at Fauji subsidiaries, while top management jobs are reserved for retired generals… Just how big a slice of the economic pie the military controls remains a well-guarded secret, but it's safe to say it is by far the single biggest player. Fauji Fertilizer companies in 2000, earning $44 million on sales of $170 million. Outside of the Fauji network, Askari Commercial Bank, controlled by the Army Welfare Trust (AWT), is the country's largest private bank in terms of assets and profits. Military companies enjoy access to prime real estate, easy bank credit, and tax breaks, and routinely beat out civilian companies in bidding for contracts.
Started in 1947 with a $3.6 million endowment from the departing British colonial administration to provide for the needs of World War II widows and their families, the Fauji Foundation remained a modest institution until the late 1970s, when it started expanding aggressively. Using money made by its 20 companies, the foundation spends $18 million a year running some of Pakistan's best hospitals and schools.

Owen Bennet Jones, in his book Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, asserts that the asset of the Pakistan Army is at nearly $2 billion. Former BBC Correspondent, Jones, has argued that the army's economic operation were profitable to such an extent because they could obtain both tax breaks and subsidies.

The army, thus well networked and, over the years, has perfected the job of protecting its institutional interests. Even as it allowed a civilian fa├žade of government since 1988, it retained the clout to influence decision making on key domestic issues or when it came to overseeing Islamabad's India policy.

The aforesaid are an iota of information about the strengths of the Pakistan Army, in economic areas, that which makes it the most power establishment by itself, and also strengthens it to rise against the civilian government, as and when needed.