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Archive for March 15th, 2010

US Sewers and Water Systems in Dismal Disrepair

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The Times continues its fantastic series on the state of our water delivery systems:

Today, a significant water line bursts on average every two minutes somewhere in the country, according to a New York Times analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data.In Washington alone there is a pipe break every day, on average, and this weekend’s intense rains overwhelmed the city’s system, causing untreated sewage to flow into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

State and federal studies indicate that thousands of water and sewer systems may be too old to function properly.

For decades, these systems — some built around the time of the Civil War — have been ignored by politicians and residents accustomed to paying almost nothing for water delivery and sewage removal. And so each year, hundreds of thousands of ruptures damage streets and homes and cause dangerous pollutants to seep into drinking water supplies.

Written by pavanvan

March 15, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Posted in environment

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The Swine Flu Panic

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Spiegel has a good article on how Swine Flu, a non-lethal strain of influenza indistinguishable from the regular variant, captivated the world for a few months in 2009 and then mysteriously disappeared.

The Mexican boy’s infection was mild, like an overwhelming majority of the millions of cases that would occur worldwide in the coming months. The new virus would probably have attracted far less attention if it hadn’t been for modern molecular medicine, with its genetic analyses, antibody tests and reference laboratories. The swine flu would have conquered the world, and no doctor would have noticed.

But the world did notice, largely because of high-tech medicine and the vaccine industry. From Ebola to SARS to the avian flu, epidemiologists, the media, doctors and the pharmaceutical lobby have systematically attuned the world to grim catastrophic scenarios and the dangers of new, menacing infectious diseases.

Now turned up, the machinery was set into motion. Researchers got to work examining the molecular structure of the virus. The pharmaceutical industry started to develop vaccines. Government agencies laid out disaster plans. There was only one thing that everyone was ignoring: The new pathogen was, in fact, relatively harmless.

Written by pavanvan

March 15, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Posted in environment

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The Times and China: Pot, Meet Kettle

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The Times has the latest in a string of articles accusing China of “using global trade rules to its advantage” today. With their angry, disapproving tone and several vague references to trade imbalances, one gets the distinct impression that America (and the Times by extension) has a hard time swallowing its own medicine.

Just look at what China is being accused of:

China buys dollars and other foreign currencies — worth several hundred billion dollars a year — by selling more of its own currency, which then depresses its value. That intervention helped Chinese exports to surge 46 percent in February compared with a year earlier.

And:

Beijing has worked to suppress a series of I.M.F. reports since 2007 documenting how the country has substantially undervalued its currency, the renminbi, said three people with detailed knowledge of China’s actions.

Horrific! Tell me, when was the last time China invaded a country for not selling its main resource in its own currency?

As for the Times’ description of the I.M.F – well, it must be read to be believed:

The International Monetary Fund acts as a kind of watchdog for global economic policy but has no power over countries like China that do not borrow money from it.

Astonishing. The IMF’s true role is that of an economic enforcer on behalf of the United States. It compels “poor” countries to take IMF loans, and when they can’t pay them back, forces the debtors to enact “structural” changes to their economy, changes usually geared towards a neo-liberal agenda. This has happened in Russia, Poland, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Pakistan, Eastern Europe, and a raft of other countries. The IMF is not so much a “watchdog” as a “police dog”, on behalf of the United States and its “Washington Consensus” economic policies.

Then they accuse China’s “beggar-thy-neighbor” policies as being of the same sort that caused the Great Depression:

Two closely related scourges played a central role in the collapse of world trade in the 1930s: protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbor currency devaluations. World leaders set up two institutions after World War II, now known as the W.T.O. and the I.M.F., to reduce the risk of another Great Depression.

But they neglect to mention the role of US banks and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which the US congress enacted in 1930 and began the worldwide trend of “protectionism” during the Great Depression. I mean, this is high school level history here.

Now, there can be no doubt by this point that China is, indeed, keeping its currency devalued in order to boost its export sector. This is common knowledge. But for the Times to blame this whole situation on China belies a real bias on their part.

Remember, it would be impossible for China to keep its currency artificially devalued if the US had not run historic deficits in pursuit of tax cuts and murder in the Middle East. A very weak showing from our “newspaper of record”.

Written by pavanvan

March 15, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Homes in Detroit Sell for $10

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Being a Metro-Detroiter myself, this make me cry:

According to Tim Prophit, a real estate agent, the crisis has led to a unprecedented portfolio of homes, but they are failing to sell.

He said there were homes on the market for $100 (£61), but an offer of just $10 (£6) would be likely to be accepted.

Speaking on a BBC 2 documentary, Requiem for Detroit, to be screened on Saturday, Mr Prophit said: “The property is listed by the city of Detroit as being worth $35,000 (£22,000), but the bank knows that is impossible to ask.

Written by pavanvan

March 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Economy

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FBI: “No Hard Evidence Linking Bin Laden to 9/11”

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No joke. Very few are aware of this, but the FBI has been on record at least since 2006 to say that they have “no hard evidence” that Bin Laden had anything to do with 9/11. And there goes yet another rationale for our Afghan adventure.

Source:

On June 5, 2006, the Muckraker Report contacted the FBI Headquarters, (202) 324-3000, to learn why Bin Laden’s Most Wanted poster did not indicate that Usama was also wanted in connection with 9/11. The Muckraker Report spoke with Rex Tomb, Chief of Investigative Publicity for the FBI. When asked why there is no mention of 9/11 on Bin Laden’s Most Wanted web page, Tomb said, “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Usama Bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11.”

Surprised by the ease in which this FBI spokesman made such an astonishing statement, I asked, “How this was possible?” Tomb continued, “Bin Laden has not been formally charged in connection to 9/11.” I asked, “How does that work?” Tomb continued, “The FBI gathers evidence. Once evidence is gathered, it is turned over to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice than decides whether it has enough evidence to present to a federal grand jury. In the case of the 1998 United States Embassies being bombed, Bin Laden has been formally indicted and charged by a grand jury. He has not been formally indicted and charged in connection with 9/11 because the FBI has no hard evidence connected Bin Laden to 9/11.”

Written by pavanvan

March 15, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Posted in War

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Telangana Reflections: Three Months Later

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Three months after the eruption of Telangana’s latest independence movement, I want to take a few minutes to examine the issue at large. This dispute has caused so much fury and hatred on both “sides” that it’s easy to forget the genuine historical issues that lie at its root. Every two weeks or so, the students at Osmania University begin new demonstrations. The suicides have not ceased – in fact, they’ve accelerated. A bright young chemical engineering student, age 20, hanged himself a few days ago, leaving a note that specifically identified the delay over Telangana’s statehood as the reason for his death. He joins at least one hundred who have successfully killed themselves for this issue, and several hundred who have tried.

The many supporters of Telangana’s statehood with whom I’ve spoken invariably bring up the historical injustices their region has suffered. These date back to the pre-independence era, when the Nizam of Hyderabad, an “independent prince”, ruled Telangana as a fiefdom within the British Empire. The areas now comprising Andhra were under direct British rule, and as a result, those from Andhra gained exposure to the English language and institutions. This, of course, put them at a natural advantage after Independence, when India adopted an English administrative language and a government modeled after Britain’s.

India’s independence was a bloody, sorrow-filled affair that brought with it a raft of state-related problems, in many ways similar to Telangana’s present dispute. In 1956, the States Reorganization Act divided India along “linguistic” lines, wherein they tried to give every major language group its own state. Ironically, Andhra Pradesh was itself born of such a struggle, as the Reorganization Act largely sprang from agitations for a Telegu-speaking state, what later became Andhra Pradesh.

Any Telegu-speaking state would have to include Telangana, and so it joined the new Andhra Pradesh by what is now known as the “Gentleman’s Agreement”, which stipulated that Telangana be given a certain percentage of state spending with respect to population along with several other demands. Most notably, Telangana demanded – and got- an escape clause which would allow it to secede from Andhra Pradesh at any point it should wish. Later, Andhra tried to forget this aspect, but it forms the central part of Telangana’s legal argument for secession.

The Andhra Pradesh government violated the agreement before the ink dried. In not one year after the signing did Telangana receive any of the promised investment. The region was already “underdeveloped” with comparison to the Andhra region due to its separation from the British Empire and the pervasive corruption of its previous ruler, the Nizam. After centuries of feudal serfdom under the Nizam, Telangana found it had merely traded one oppressor for another.

The statistics bear this out. Telangana has received only 13% of irrigation projects in the state, and it faces discrimination in employment, education, health services, and many other areas. The average citizen of Telangana is noticeably worse off when compared an average citizen of Andhra.

In 1969, Telangana exploded into secession demonstrations that the Andhra police brutally suppressed, killing 300. And then began a long and humiliating list of “programmes” – the “Six-point plan”, the “Eight-Point programme”, etc – each valid only on paper. They essentially put the issue on permanent back-burner, allowing Telangana’s frustrations to slowly simmer for forty years, until now, when they again boiled over.

Irrigation is a major thorn. Telangana lies naturally on a plateau, and rivers tend to flow away from it. To add to that, the Andhra government built two dams that diverted away what little water reached Telangana. As a result, Telangana farmers find themselves at the mercy of the rains. Two or three years of uncertain rainfall, as they’ve just experienced, can utterly ruin them. The monsoons were three months late last year, and no one in India can afford the luxury of climate change denial. Each summer is hotter than the one before it. Telangana, being rain-fed, stands to lose the most. In many ways, this issue can be seen through a climate perspective.

Detractors of Telangana’s statehood generally employ “practical” arguments as to why it would be unwise to grant Telangana independence. Often, they refer, with no intended irony, to Telangana’s historical deprivation as a reason it “needs” Andhra to help it ‘develop’. I have even heard one vehement opponent claim that “they [people from Telangana] are just lazy – they don’t want to work and expect jobs to come to them.” Some level of overt discrimination is thus apparent, at least among certain circles – wealthy ones, I should imagine.

Others wonder whether Telangana will still rely on the fertile Andhra plains after it becomes independent, given the terrifying food inflation rate in India – a sore point to raise since a major aspect of this crisis is agrarian.

One also hears the problem of Hyderabad as a good reason this dispute ought to be evaded, or even ignored. Hyderabad is the capital of the consolidated Andhra Pradesh state, and it happens to be right in the center of Telangana. One reason why Andhra wanted Telangana so badly, many contend, is Hyderabad’s attraction as a capital. The Andhra region has no suitable city. And whether by deliberate planning or unconscious will, Andhra’s significant investment in Hyderabad (“colonization”, some would call it) became an unspoken claim to the land.

Hyderabad now stands as perhaps the fourth most-developed city in India, and it has attracted a surge of foreign investment. The city, hazy and overcrowded as it is, now sports dozens of shopping malls, every major fast-food chain, a “world-class” international airport, a burgeoning IT sector, four 5-star hotels, and a jet-set of American and European businessmen, promising to “do business”.

At various press conferences I’ve attended in my capacity as a newspaper intern I’ve heard Indian scientists, businessmen, and politicians, all talking about how Hyderabad knows no recession, how it will become a “world city” by 2015. Over the last two months, these pronouncements have had a tinge of worry to them. Everyone “knows” – or thinks they know – that if Hyderabad goes to Telangana, investment will be ‘scared off’.

One hears often how we must protect “Brand Hyderabad” at all costs. At press conferences and business luncheons, the Caucasian benefactors from America or Europe, those who write the checks, can be seen clucking their tongues in dismay. These protests are “bad for business”.

“Pragmatism” aside, however ,I think it should be clear that Telangana has suffered severe discrimination, and that they deserve some sort of redress for the historical disadvantage at which they find themselves. Further, they’ve been lied to, systemically, for more than forty years. Their anger is legitimate, and it cannot be deferred any longer. However, whether actual statehood is the solution to Telangana’s problems remains to be seen.

I admit my original reaction to these demonstrations was ignorant and uninformed. I saw this movement then as so much emotional nonsense – that even if Telangana had legitimate grievances (which, even at the time, I was beginning to suspect that they did) these pointless demonstrations distracted the political establishment from what should be the real focus of their endeavors: controlling India’s population, reducing the toxic brown cloud lingering above the subcontinent, ensuring equitable water and food distribution, and solving the land problem. I did not realize then that Telangana was agitating precisely for these things, albeit, only for themselves.

Written by pavanvan

March 15, 2010 at 3:08 pm