Saturday, May 28, 2011

You can't have a genuine conversation about Pakistan without including Kashmir

To Pakistan the main issues that it is dealing with has to do with the perception of an attack on their sovereignty (which makes them look weak)...

...and because of a balance of power situation with India.

Pakistan and India have fought wars over Kashmir. It is true that the Muslim world does not yet see the whole global community as family and friends. But that's hard when you see fellow Muslims being abused in the border land of Kashmir, an abuse which has been going on for decades.

Amnesty International last week accused security forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir of exploiting a law that enables them to hold tens of thousands of prisoners without trial. The group argues that the Public Safety Act, which allows security to detain individuals for as many as two years without presenting charges, violates prisoners’ human rights. Amnesty reports that hundreds of new prisoners are being arrested and detained each year under the law. Control of Kashmir, the disputed region divided between China, India, and Pakistan, has sparked two full-scale wars and countless skirmishes between Islamabad and Delhi. Amnesty is calling for Kashmiri officials to repeal the law and release prisoners held illegally, and for India to investigate reports of detainee abuse and torture.

Some history on the Kashmir conflict...

UNLIKE many other books on Kashmir, Luv Puri’s Across the LoC: Inside Pakistan-Administered Jammu and Kashmir, concentrates on the socio-economic side of the 63-year-old dispute, touching upon the geopolitical part of the story only briefly to provide perspective. The focus of the book is on matters which to a student of geopolitics would appear peripheral, but which deserve to be highlighted as they have been lost in the vast volume of diplomatic literature which examines Kashmir as a dispute between Pakistan and India.

Puri dwells at length on the ethnic, geographical and religious diversity of Kashmir, and the factions and sub-factions which not only cut across the Line of Control but also exist within India-held territory and Azad Kashmir. The author, being Indian, calls Azad Kashmir “Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir”.

Astonishing as it appears, regional loyalties had a profound bearing on the tragedy of Kashmir and on the Jammu revolt, which ignited the war. The majority of the British army’s Kashmiri soldiers were from Poonch and Mirpur, and the people, both Hindu and Muslim, were loyal to the local raja. There was an angry Muslim reaction to the maharaja’s decision to dismiss the local raja, who, the former thought, was not doing enough to de-weaponise the Jammu Muslims. The maharaja also imposed new taxes on the region.

Finally, a story from Kashmir...

Roushan Illahi isn’t like any youth in Indian-administered Kashmir Valley. He’s special. He’s a rapper. A poet. His rhymes are as much about him as they are about the countless youth who live in Kashmir — the world’s highest militarised zone, which also has the highest suicide rate in the world.

Born in 1990, at the peak of the armed insurgency, Roushan, who calls himself MC Kash, and hails from a middle-class family says he has seen “no fancy stuff in all the little time I’ve been alive.” At 20, Roushan is a man on a mission. He sees himself “as a storyteller who walks the graveyards”. He laughs, “I am a student who’s in love with truth. See, my father taught me three H’s – honesty, humility and hard work. That’s all I get reminded of whenever I do something.”

Roushan shot to fame in 2010 — the year where 123 people were shot in the Valley during pro-freedom demonstrations — with I Protest (Remembrance), dedicated to Kashmiris. The mellow beat peppered with gunshots betrays the angst felt by not only those who have lived to see atrocities by the Indian security forces over two decades, but also the future generations grapple with brutal state violence marred to a culture of impunity.

Pakistan, India, Kashmir and Afghanistan are all interconnected. You can't genuinely discuss one without understanding their perspectives on the others and vice versa.

Friday, May 27, 2011

An introduction to oil politics from 2/3 years ago.

Collected these links and wrote the comments a couple 'a three years ago. I'm not sure if I ever posted it before. So let this post be an introduction till I have time to look into the current situation:

Over the last eight years, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their Republican allies in Congress have fallen over themselves to give oil companies huge tax breaks. They have repeatedly blocked meaningful progress toward energy independence and they have shown no interest in taking on the unchecked speculation that has created extreme volatility in energy markets and pushed oil and gas prices upward.

Yesterday, addressing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Vice President Cheney said, "We have to recognize that there isn't anything out there that is going to get us away from a hydrocarbon economy anytime in the near future. There really isn't anything on the horizon that today is economic, relative, for example, to basic, good old oil and gas."

Not surprising coming from an oil man, and the man who sat down with oil company lobbyists behind closed doors to write the current failed policy. But those remarks show the bankruptcy of the Republican vision on energy. It's a vision of the status quo, invested in the problem, not in finding a solution. And it just doesn't cut it.

Note: closed door meeting on a ‘failed’ policy that put Halliburton at number one and helped Exxon have the largest profits EVER. I wonder how many other failed policies have helped the oil companies?

The following is from an old book called Unequal Democracy

“The recession of 1974-1975 was triggered by a massive oil price shock engineered by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The real price of oil increased by 140% in 1974, throwing the industrial sector of the United States and other advanced economies into a tailspin. Accidental president Gerald Ford entered the White House in the midst of a major economic crisis not of his own making.

Although every president’s economic performance is shaped by unpredictable and uncontrollable events, presidents’ responses to those events are often strongly colored by their partisan priorities and predispositions. Given President Ford’s conventional Main Street republican background, it is perhaps unsurprising that he “initially refused to respond” to the OPEC price shock “with policies to restore aggregate demand,” as most Democrats would have done. Instead he “launched the ‘whip Inflation Now’ program of fiscal and monetary restraint, which helped prolong the deep post-OPEC slump in employment and output through 1974 and into 1975…only after a long and sharp decline in real output did President Ford finally propose a one year tax rebate in January 1975. the Democratic-dominated Congress passed the bill two and a half months later, after increasing the amount of the rebate substantially and redistributing it in favor of low-income and middle-income individuals.” Real incomes, which had declined significantly in 1975, rebounded in 1976 – almost, but not quite, enough to get Ford reelected.”(Page 45)

By focusing all the benefits of economic policy and oil policy for the rich the economy still grows, it has to as money is still being made, there is just no ‘redistribution’ of income. The idea that the poor live off the scraps of the rich is also false as the deregulation of banks and wall street bankrupted the nation. So basically, there is no trickle down effect whatsoever.

Anyways, getting back to old news, after Ford, Carter was elected. Through a large retraining program called CETA managed to reduce unemployment tremendously. This was the trend throughout his Presidency…until the last year, when this happened...

“The unemployment rate declined through most of Carter’s term but spiked back up in the wake of a second major oil price shock in 1979-1980. Slow growth was coupled with double-digit price inflation – an unprecedented combination of economic ills dubbed “stagflation.” Running for election in the midst of recession, as well as foreign crises in Iran and Afghanistan, Carter was defeated by a popular vote margin of almost 10 percent points.” (Page 46)

Note: It wasn’t government policy that brought in a recession – it was oil company policy? Is there a pattern to this? 

Reading through a post by Paul Jenkins, I came across this...

If the GOP cannot hold on to the most religious of Americans because they are more concerned with social equality than with, say, sexuality, it is doomed.

This is the reason that Republicans are able to stir up a large voter base amongst those who are not, essentially, rich. Since average incomes of middle class and lower income groups always decrease during Republican years there has to be another hook to keep the attention of average Americans away from issues that directly benefit Americans. That hook is to boost income growth in an election year. I am going to show you that it’s worse than that…the party rulers can actually engineer recessions to take out a candidate.

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.
Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Anything to make money, no matter what the cost!

His name is Jim Wilkinson. He helped organize the GOP "protest"/obstruction of the Miami election recount in 2000. He was the White House's key media spinner at the Coalition Media Center in Quatar in 2003. A reporter from Texas said he used techniques first perfected by Stalin. He was then a architect of the media strategy for the Republican convention in New York in 2004.

"The financial crisis that we now face was created by design. It is intended to destroy the labor movement, crush the middle class, quash Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, reduce our foreign debt by 50 or 60%, force a restructuring of America's debt, privatize all public assets and resources, and create a new regime of austerity measures which will divert more wealth to the banking and corporate establishment."

This was months before the sub-prime meltdown in August 2007, or the more recent hike in food prices and oil prices. Their plan, blessed by business and the banks, was implemented step by step. The consequence was intended.

News, as we know, passes by so fast, and unless a story is repeated ad nauseam, no one remembers it or looks for the context and background of breaking developments.

When Lou Dobbs lied, Bill Schneider played along.

Dobbs: "We have to consider what else happened in the markets and that is precisely as most of the experts had suggested, once the executive ban on oil drilling offshore had been lifted, we have seen a huge decline of approximately 13 percent decline in the price of crude oil and gasoline prices actually begin to roll back over the course of 11 days, which is remarkable, isn't it?"

Schneider: "It is certainly remarkable. And the vast majority of Americans do support offshore oil drilling. They support anything, anything that will give them relief from high gas prices." Lou Dobbs Tonight, July 29, 2008

No experts said any such thing. For obvious reasons. "[Bush's] move to end the moratorium, in place since 1992, won't have any effect until a separate congressional prohibition expires or is overturned," said The Wall Street Journal on July 15. Instead, analysts "point to two distinct trends that may take the wind out of this year's price spike: an easing of tensions over Iran and evidence that demand for oil in the U.S. is falling faster than many believed."(The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2008)

Senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M, has relayed the mixed message of "we feel your pain" (at the pump), while attempting to justify his party's blockage of a windfall profit tax on Big Oil by saying that increased taxes on oil companies would be something Americans wouldn't want.

[Note: Which Americans?]

"Americans are furious about what's going on," declared Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and want Congress to do something about oil company profits and "an orgy of speculation" on oil markets.
"If you don't tell the big oil companies they can no longer run energy policy in America, we will not succeed, plain and simple," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told CBS Radio News. 

Some links to ancient news articles:

Complete control and domination of the oil industry by the Standard Oil Companies, in violation of the 1911 dissolution decree of the Supreme Court, was charged by the La Follette Oil Investigation Committee in its report presented to the Senate after a three months' inquiry into conditions and prices in the oil business.

The methods of control as set forth in the report include division of marketing territory between the various Standard Oil Companies on almost the same basis as before the dissolution, ownership of the principal pipe lines, interlocking stock ownership, fixing of prices in the producing fields, excessive and discriminatory freight rates, and ownership of the basic patents for "cracking," the technical name for reducing crude oil to gasoline.

" If a few great oil companies are permitted to manipulate prices for the next few years as they have been doing since 1920," the report asserts, " the people of this country must be prepared before long to pay at least a dollar a gallon for gasoline."

Prominent oil men in the Standard Oil companies in New York, headed by Walter C. Teagle, President of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, declared that dollar gasoline was an economic impossibility.

A similar and even more striking case of climbing prices and record production is afforded by the petroleum industry. Crude oil has been marked up 25¢ to $1.75 per barrel by several prominent companies, notably the Texas Company and the Humble Oil and Refining Company. Yet the daily average production of 1,801,800 barrels for the period ending March 10 has established a new high record for the history of this country. The recent difficulties in the coal industry have probably proved of importance in the steadily widening employment of fuel oil.

The mounting price for petroleum products has not gone without an accompaniment of verbal fireworks. Senator La Follette could not quite bear to leave Washington this session without a final and characteristic fling at the " Standard Oil monopoly." In rebuttal, President W. C. Teagle of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey rather brutally manhandled the Senator's prediction of "dollar gasoline " by pointing out that at about 30¢ industrial alcohol could successfully compete as automotive fuel. Hard on the heels of this exchange, Chairman Bedford, of the same company, issued an even more thought provoking and pessimistic statement concerning oil production in Mexico. Thus do the many and much criticized Wall Street rumors of last year concerning "salt water" finally find official confirmation.

Three... ?

Friday, May 20, 2011

A random commentary on select extracts of President Obama's May 19th speech

[Update - 23rd May '11 - President Obama does an interview with the BBC and talks to a 'Pro-Israel' group . The facts remain the same. (another update below)]

Extracts from the United States President's speech are in italics - and are from here.

Today, I want to talk about this change -- the forces that are driving it and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security.

President Obama begins his speech by talking about 'advancing values and strengthening security', i.e. given the changing situation in the Middle East (and thus the Muslim world) how can the US position itself so that it is safe and secure. In other words, tis speech is about adjusting to the new global balance of power situation.

It's the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world -– the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity.

Every person just wants to live, eat and be merry. If you make it difficult for people to live you can get away with it for a while but when people have nothing to live for, no money to spend on food AND entertainment then there will eventually be a backlash. [all use of force begets resistance - all attacks on a nations/peoples sovereignty begets resistance... more on this topic in other posts]

There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years.

Throughout history this has been the norm unless the leader is so tyrannical that he/she is willing to massacre whole populations. Such leaders generally meet their end by being stabbed in the back by a close associate or ally as no one can maintain a sense a loyalty under such brutality and only fear can keep the followers behind a tyrant if there is no other option that involves keeping the individual alive. Unfortunately, there is a stagnancy in society that arises from resistance to change. Sometimes because it is traumatic and other times because it requires too much work. In such times change only happens when there is momentum for this change in the citizenry of the country/world. 

In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of a few.

This is also a norm in many societies. In Egypt the top people were a small group and you can see this by looking at that countries distribution of wealth (i.e. when wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, so is power). If you did the same for the US you would notice the same thing BUT the rich are larger in number...yet the distribution of wealth between the rich and poor is drifting apart which is one of the signs that the US has moving in the wrong direction.

In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn -– no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.

This is the reason why repression can't last. To live in a peaceful land you must give people their self dignity.

But in a global economy based on knowledge, based on innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground.

The global economy is growing and with it knowledge is growing and with that technology. There are so many ideas for technology and innovation that relying on one type of energy source will soon be outdated.

Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region. And through the moral force of nonviolence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.

The Muslim world has proven to itself that it can decide its own fate in a non violent and peaceful manner. This should be a source of great pride for people of these regions.

 In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual.

Change happens at different rates for different reasons. In some cases fast change is good and in some cases it isn't. When it comes to emotional damage (such as that caused by a traumatic event) you have to remove the emotional charge just as suddenly as it was installed. Like pulling off a bandage.

Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.

I commented on this above and will again it other posts (not necessarily on this blog).

Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don't align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region.

Every country and people have their own style of behavior and societal structures. To assume that the two party system of representative democracy, that {kinda} works in the States, could be followed anywhere is folly. The second part of the statement further reaffirms the fact that the United States (and Israel) are facing a new balance of power situation and should face this situation appropriately.

We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future -– particularly young people. We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo -– to build networks of entrepreneurs and expand exchanges in education, to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease. Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths.

Investment in technology, education and increasing the wealth of a nation in a way that doesn't leave most of the money in the hands of the few is the way to economic prosperity - on a global level - and the way to a global peace.

In the 21st century, information is power, the truth cannot be hidden, and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.

Enough said.


Update 26 May '11 - Extracts from here. [only notes added]

Of course, all relationships have their ups and downs. Admittedly, ours got off on the wrong foot with a small scrape about tea and taxes. There may have also been some hurt feelings when the White House was set on fire during the War of 1812. But fortunately, it's been smooth sailing ever since!

Note: "tea and taxes" is a reference to the fight over a new tax on tea that led to the American revolution.

The reason for this close friendship doesn't just have to do with our shared history and heritage; our ties of language and culture; or even the strong partnership between our governments. Our relationship is special because of the values and beliefs that have united our people through the ages.

Note: Core values unite all the worlds peoples together (see this article, this one and this one)

In a world where the prosperity of all nations is now inextricably linked, a new era of cooperation is required to ensure the growth and stability of the global economy.

Note: There has always been a need for unity in any tribe or national but now the world has become so integrated the whole planet needs to learn to work together.

In other words, we live in a global economy that is largely of our own making. And today, the competition for the best jobs and industries favors countries that are free-thinking and forward-looking; countries with the most creative, innovative, entrepreneurial citizens.

Note: In todays world of advancing technology and information, being creative in ideas, innovation and business is the key to short and long term success. 

But in today's economy, such threats can no longer be contained within the borders of any one country. Market failures can go global, and go viral, and demand international responses. A financial crisis that began on Wall Street infected nearly every continent, which is why we must keep working through forums like the G20 to put in place global rules of the road to prevent future excess and abuse. 

Note: Read "Too big to fail" and this one.

Moreover, even when the free market works as it should, both our countries recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us. And so part of our common tradition has expressed itself in a conviction that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security -- health care if you get sick, unemployment insurance if you lose your job, a dignified retirement after a lifetime of hard work. 

Note: Without a support system a person/population is fearful of basic survival. No human being can be creative and productive when they are just struggling to survive. Besides social support systems, proper retraining programs need to be set up to improve labor mobility between industries (particularly when switching from an outdated system to a new system) [see any econ 101 course]