1 July 2013

The Middle-Class Revolution ***

June 28, 2013

All over the world, argues Francis Fukuyama, today's political turmoil has a common theme: the failure of governments to meet the rising expectations of the newly prosperous and educated.

 BRAZIL JUNE 22, 2013 | Demonstrators protest corruption and poor public services.

Over the past decade, Turkey and Brazil have been widely celebrated as star economic performers—emerging markets with increasing influence on the international stage. Yet, over the past three months, both countries have been paralyzed by massive demonstrations expressing deep discontent with their governments' performance. What is going on here, and will more countries experience similar upheavals?

The theme that connects recent events in Turkey and Brazil to each other, as well as to the 2011 Arab Spring and continuing protests in China, is the rise of a new global middle class. Everywhere it has emerged, a modern middle class causes political ferment, but only rarely has it been able, on its own, to bring about lasting political change. Nothing we have seen lately in the streets of Istanbul or Rio de Janeiro suggests that these cases will be an exception.

In Turkey and Brazil, as in Tunisia and Egypt before them, political protest has been led not by the poor but by young people with higher-than-average levels of education and income. They are technology-savvy and use social media like Facebook FB +0.89% and Twitter to broadcast information and organize demonstrations. Even when they live in countries that hold regular democratic elections, they feel alienated from the ruling political elite.

European Pressphoto Agency
TURKEY JUNE 22, 2013 | A protester holds a flag in Taksim Square in Istanbul.A

European Pressphoto Agency

TUNISIA FEB. 25, 2011 | Tunisians rally to demand the resignation of the interim government.

European Pressphoto Agency

EGYPT JUNE 28, 2013 | Egyptians opposing President Morsi hold placards reading 'Leave.'

In the case of Turkey, they object to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's development-at-all-cost policies and authoritarian manner. In Brazil, they object to an entrenched and highly corrupt political elite that has showcased glamour projects like the World Cup and Rio Olympics while failing to provide basic services like health and education to the general public. For them, it is not enough that Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, was herself a left-wing activist jailed by the military regime during the 1970s and leader of the progressive Brazilian Workers Party. In their eyes, that party itself has been sucked into the maw of the corrupt "system," as revealed by a recent vote-buying scandal, and is now part of the problem of ineffective and unresponsive government.

The business world has been buzzing about the rising "global middle class" for at least a decade. A 2008 Goldman Sachs GS -1.47% report defined this group as those with incomes between $6,000 and $30,000 a year and predicted that it would grow by some two billion people by 2030. A 2012 report by the European Union Institute for Security Studies, using a broader definition of middle class, predicted that the number of people in that category would grow from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 3.2 billion in 2020 and 4.9 billion in 2030 (out of a projected global population of 8.3 billion). The bulk of this growth will occur in Asia, particularly China and India. But every region of the world will participate in the trend, including Africa, which the African Development Bank estimates already has a middle class of more than 300 million people.

Disaster Management: A nation's Litmus Test

Issue Net Edition | Date : 30 Jun , 2013

A nation is not only the territory, its natural resources or the amassed wealth but it is all about the great people that work towards making it a great entity. These people carry humanity in their hearts; they fight for the truth, strive for perfection and collectively face the challenges that present before the country. When a country is dared by a disaster, it faces a real litmus test. A great nation not only rises collectively to save the unfortunate and recover from the damage but also conveys to the world of its invincibility, even in the face of nature’s rage. The complexity involved in overcoming these trials and tests lies in Statesmanship at political level; leadership and unity at legislature level; foresight, forethought and organisational ability at executive level. All these factors contribute towards mobilising the people into selfless service towards the distressed and the devastated. The true character of a nation is thus reflected in the manner it deals with its disasters.

Whatever be the crisis and which ever be the force created to tackle such a challenge, it has finally been proved that there exists no better organisation in India other than its Armed Forces in living up to the expectations of our country men.

In the words of Chanakya “A calamity of a constituent, of a divine or human nature, springs from ill luck or wrong policy”. The nature wreaks havoc at the first place and the man by his misadministration adds to the devastation, in his words “Inversion of excellences, absence, a great defect, addiction or affliction constitutes a calamity”. Uttarakhand disaster has proved these sayings to be correct.

In our recent memory we can recollect some of the deadly disasters that India has faced in the past two decades. The disasters in form of earth quakes in 1991 at Tehri, 1993 at Latur and 2001 at Gujrat, super cyclone in 1991 that hit Orrisa, Tsunami in 2004, Kosi floods of 2008 in Bihar and the latest in the series being the Uttarakhand tragedy, all these account for more than a lakh deaths and more than 28 lakh people displaced. These catastrophes reaffirm, that 60 percent our country’s landmass is disaster prone. It was only after the Tsunami of 2004 that we decided to raise the NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) having the responsibility of Preparedness, Rescue, Recovery and Mitigation. The NDRF battalions (National Disaster Response Force) were raised as a specialised force knitted and kitted to respond to both natural and manmade disasters.

 Whatever be the crisis and which ever be the force created to tackle such a challenge, it has finally been proved that there exists no better organisation in India other than its Armed Forces in living up to the expectations of our country men. On 26 Dec 2004 a deadly Tsunami struck the Eastern shores of Tamil Nadu, Andaman Nicobar Islands and other littoral countries in South East Asia, which left 3 lakh dead and another 6 lakh people displaced. The very same day Indian Navy deployed 19 ships and 11 helicopters, this commitment later rose to 32 naval ships, 7 aircrafts and 20 helicopters, conducting relief and rescue in Tamil Nadu, Andaman Nicobar islands, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia. The ability of the Indian nation to take a call and undertake disaster relief at such a large scale was noticed by the Asian and Western powers and thus we re-established our credentials as a major regional power. The political strength, military robustness and its operational readiness were displayed during this crisis. Our country appeared confident with the economy growing at 9 per cent and a strong military to support it, not only capable of handling crisis situation within but also rendering help in the neighbourhood.

Uttarakhand tales: The good, the bad and the greedy

Last updated on: June 29, 2013 

While the armed forces won hearts, the Uttarakhand government and civil administration drew flak for the poor disaster management. N Sundaresha Subramanian gives an eyewitness account of the rescue effort.

Savitri Sharma, 60, of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, who landed at the Gauchar Airbase after an ordeal of over ten days in Badrinath, was furious.

"Every state," she ranted, "is taking its people out. But there is nobody from Rajasthan. I don't know what (Chief Minister Ashok) Gehlot sahib is doing."

On hearing her, a Rajasthan officer stepped forward. First off he told Sharma that her breast-beating was unfair. Gehlot, after all, had sent him to make sure people from Rajasthan were taken out safely. But Sharma's wailing didn't go waste. She was put on a helicopter to Dehradun and was saved the arduous seven-hour road journey to the Uttarakhand capital.

If the Uttarakhand evacuation was about the heroics of the armed forces, it was also about the failure of the civil administration, greed and political one-upmanship. Senior political leaders influenced strategic decisions.

"Decisions such as which site was to be cleared first were influenced by the leaders, " said somebody who was in the thick of the rescue operations.

For example, when Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was here, one could see a greater movement of Gujarati people, eyewitnesses said. While officers of most states stayed put in Dehradun, some braved the weather to go into remote airbases and push their people into the first available chopper.

A Karnataka government officer was seen working at the Gauchar Airbase. He came to Dehradun expecting it to be a one-day visit. But after witnessing the situation first-hand, he extended his stay. Nearly 150 people from the state are still stuck in Badrinath area, he said on Thursday, while Kedarnath is almost clear.

The Air Force did a commendable job in the first three days of the operations under difficult conditions. Makeshift helipads in Kedarnath, Gaurikund and Guptkashi demanded precision landing and takeoff.

"A chopper had just three minutes to land, pick up the people and take off under zero-error conditions. The fleet worked dawn to dusk to clear a few thousand people in the first few days," an army aviator, who took part in the operations, said.

A video showing three helicopters, one just taken off, a second one landing and picking passengers, and a third waiting to land amidst difficult weather conditions was doing the rounds.

ISI infiltrates Indian think tanks and the media?

Issue Net Edition | Date : 30 Jun , 2013

It took a gutsy lady like Ayesha Siddiqa to pen down what has been known for many years now – that the ISI has successfully infiltrated foreign think tanks. In the instant case, she mentions in particular the ones based in Washington. According to her, a Pakistani diplomat had to an American six years ago that the ISI had set up funds to infiltrate Washington DC think tanks and had boasted they “finally did it”. Siddiqa would know better as she herself has been a visiting scholar at john Hopkins University. She talks of individuals with inadequate educational qualifications being positioned and has even has pointed out that Arif Rafique, a Pakistani serving with the US Institute of Peace (USIP) belongs to this category. But then if the fellow is on ISI mission, what educational qualifications are needed? Such individuals would get periodic briefs of what to do, what to say and how to mould perceptions. This again, need not necessarily come all the way from Islamabad.

Kiyani, Pakistan’s Army Chief has taken keen interest in this institution in the past five years, facilitating its expansion and providing more scholars.

The Atlantic Council of US, headed by Shuja Nawaz (brother of a former Pakistani Army Chief) based in Washington DC, is closely chaperoned, financed and supported by the Pakistani Military and ISI. Kiyani, Pakistan’s Army Chief has taken keen interest in this institution in the past five years, facilitating its expansion and providing more scholars. Atlantic Council of the US is well linked with sister Atlantic Council of Ottawa and host of former Pakistani military officers settled in Canada provide backup pool for morphing perceptions at the informal level; skills that Pakistan perhaps acquired from China.

Washington Times reports that the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) based in Beijing has a long history of supplying information to the CIA through agency-paid US consultants but some of CICR’s disinformation designed to influence US policies is said to have shown up in some CIA intelligence products, according to officials familiar with the reports. As per CIA, CICIR is so close to the ruling CCCP that it is reported to be the Eighth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security (MSS); Chinese equivalent of the KGB. Yet, 60 percent of CICIR work is actually collecting intelligence about the US. In 2009, a Xinhua journal actually described CICIR as subordinate to MSS. Cui, head of CICIR since 2005 and his colleague in CICR either taught or studied at the University of International Relations set up in 1964 to train intelligence personnel for CCP Investigation Department and undercover agents at Xinhua News Agency. The University of International Relations continues to be closely linked to CICIR. So, ISI agents-cum-scholars in think tanks in US are hardly surprising. In fact, while Beijing based CICIR plays the reverse intelligence game with US, ISI has penetrated think tanks in the US capital itself.

No wonder Pakistan has the US by the scruff and policy makers in the US convinced that there is no alternative than subcontracting Afghanistan to Pakistan even at the cost of India.

It may be recalled that the FBI caught on to Ghulam Mohammed Fai only in 2011 after he had already pumped in some $350 millions funded by the ISI into US over several years for moulding perceptions in Pakistan’s favour with regard to Kashmir. But what must be appreciated is Pakistan’s focused effort towards the US over and above the close relationship with the US since Pakistan joining CENTO, raising of US sponsored Taliban, partnership in GWOT and what have you. No wonder Pakistan has the US by the scruff and policy makers in the US convinced that there is no alternative than subcontracting Afghanistan to Pakistan even at the cost of India. For the same reason, the US administration ignored calls by US / NATO generals serving in Afghanistan to attack the heart of the terrorist mother bases within Pakistan rather than perfunctory predator strikes.

The fact that India has not made any similar cogent effort is no secret. Converse to taking initiatives, we seem to specialize in missing opportunities. When a Nepalese delegation visited India in recent months asking for assistance to construct and establish a think tank in Kathmandu, our lukewarm response was ironically limited to giving advice how to go about it, whereas, we should have done much more considering India-Nepal relations and the close camaraderie between the armies of the two countries. Our response was all the more surprising considering the all out efforts by China to woo Nepal. But what should be of serious concern to us is that if the ISI has done this so successfully in Washington DC, what have they done in India and what needs to be done especially if we have moles within the establishment as well, of which possibility exists.

Submerged Srinagar needs to be excavated

Smriti Kak Ramachandran

The Hindu An aeriel view of Devprayag town ravaged by the flash floods. Photo: R V Moorthy

Mighty Alaknanda swallows almost entire city; houses lying buried under sand and silt

First there was the smell of petrichor. Then a light drizzle. Soon, it began to rain. Ankit Raturi who lives by the banks of the mighty Alaknanda here watched his mother gather clothes from the terrace. There was nothing unusual about the day, except it had begun to pour. As the night of June 16 turned to morning, water began to enter their house.

“We are used to rain here, but at 7.30 a.m. we were woken up by an announcement that was being made by the administration. They said the level of water was rising. I went out to check and there was water around my ankles,” he recalls.

Even that was not alarming enough for the Srinagar residents; it is a place where the weather has many transient moods.

‘It happened suddenly’

“Now we can’t even pinpoint when the water rose so high that we had to run for our lives. It happened so suddenly, in 15 minutes the water rose so high that five cows drowned immediately,” he says, in between removing shovelfuls of sand that has buried the house and everything else in sight.

The phenomenon is almost transcendental for the residents of this town on the left bank of the Alaknanda. “The river just seemed to change its course, as if to swallow everything here. Everything we owned is gone. And there is no telling how we will ever be able to get rid of this sand,” Mr. Raturi says, pointing to the vast stretches of sand.

A JCB machine sent by the government to help, is being pulled out of the ground. It is no match for the silt that the river has deposited everywhere. “My friends are here to help. We try to shovel out the sand so that we can try and recover whatever we can,” he says.

Rakesh Jhaknola an instructor at the ITI is at a loss, he doesn’t know where to begin. The campus is destroyed. “You can touch the roof of the building if you stand on your toes. And this building was at least six metres high,” he says.

Houses, vehicles, buildings are all enveloped in sand. Srinagar needs to be excavated.

And what might seem to be mere material destruction and monetary loss is more than that. It is a lifetime’s savings gone in a flash and there is no hope of ever being able to recover or rebuild.

“You think I will ever be able to build a house again. All this…” Ram Kot, an octogenarian with tears rolling down his face asks. He retired from the State Horticulture Department in the 90s and used every penny from his savings and retirement fund to build the house.

“This deodar wood is ruined, I paid Rs. 34,000 for painting the house in March, the fridge is ruined… the fans too. Nothing can be salvaged,” he weeps. He thanks the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansathan (DJJS), which is running a relief camp in the area for keeping him alive. “The government has given me Rs. 9000 and a blanket so far. I took it because I didn’t want to turn it down,” he says.

The heavens fall

Gargi Parsai

The Hindu Unregulated constructions at Karnaprayag along the Pindari river. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

THE SUNDAY STORY When floods and mudslides swept through Uttarakhand, they removed in one fell swoop the effects of many years of neglect and corruption. It will take political will to leave the hills undisturbed, and avoid a repeat of the death and destruction

Uttarakhand has come a long way from the Chipko movement of the ‘70s, when women hugged trees to protect them from being felled, to the present times when market-driven development is threatening to rip apart the valley. The region sustains a large part of the country through the perennial rivers that originate in the Himalayan glaciers.

The hill State, source of the Ganga, is also the site of the Char Dham pilgrimage which attracts Hindu believers who undertake it at least once in a life time. This year, the pilgrimage became a nightmare for thousands who fell victim to landslips and floods with the Alaknanda, the Mandakini and the Ganga unleashing unprecedented devastation.

Nature’s fury reinforced the fact that preserving the ecosystem and the harmonious balance with human beings cannot be compromised. Moreover, the fragility of the Himalayas is due to its steep slopes, which should be a major consideration while planning for development, with the participation of locals. A watershed approach to soil and water conservation that drains out rainwater into the river is a must.

Traditionally, agriculture, forestry, horticulture and animal husbandry have been the mainstay of sustainable income-generating activity in hilly regions, with women at the centre.

In recent years, though, commerce and the quest for short-term gains have prompted successive governments in Uttarakhand to allow new hotel clusters, resorts and commercial complexes to come up on river boundaries.

Hydel projects have been constructed in the seismic zone, and many more are planned. Roads have been built haphazardly by blasting through the vulnerable Himalayas, destabilising them and loosening up boulders, soil and plantations.

Despite protests by local residents, builders and contractors have been allowed to dump vast mounds of debris into the rivers that killed pilgrims as gushing floodwaters brought up the detritus and boulders.

Afforestation, which should be an integral part of any development activity, has been given the go-by, whereas the fragile Himalayan ecosystem cannot be endlessly exploited.

The Chairperson of Gandhi Peace Foundation and Sarva Sewa Sangh, Radhaben Bhatt, who, having being born and raised in the valley, describes herself as “Uttarakhand ki beti.” She is clear that corruption is at the root of haphazard growth of construction activity. “For whom is this unplanned development and at whose cost,” she asks, speaking to The Hindu.

When the Kedarnath landslips and floods occurred, Radhaben was touring the State to protest against the government’s decision to allow a Coca Cola bottling plant to come up on Gauchar land in Charba village. “For years, villagers had done afforestation on this land with the State refusing to help in any way, and now it is selling this land to the Coke company for Rs. 19 lakh per acre. It will cut down all the trees on village land and allow the company to extract six lakh litres of water a day. This is the kind of politician-private company nexus that is destroying the valley,” she asserts.

After the completion of the 1000-MW Tehri dam across the Bhagirathi, 18 more projects are planned across the Alaknanda, Mandakini, Pinder and Ganga.

However, last December, following protracted protests by activists, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests declared the 100 km of Bhagirathi watershed an eco-sensitive zone and banned all construction activity, including large dams, stone-quarrying, polluting industries, commercial felling of trees, saw mills and so on.

Questions are being asked about why warnings were not issued about the impending danger on the fateful night of June 16 when it all began. The Central Water Commission (CWC), tasked with issuing flood warnings, says it does not have a Flood Forecasting Station in the command area of the Alaknanda and Kedarnath.

An Indian mission to another frontier in space

Published: July 1, 2013 
N. Gopal Raj

Today, the country takes the first step to launching its own navigation satellite set-up to tap civilian and military applications that the system can offer

Today, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch the first of seven satellites that will provide the country with an independent navigation satellite capability.

A navigation satellite system uses a cluster of spacecraft that regularly transmit signals.

Suitably equipped receivers can then use that data to work out their exact position. Satellite-based navigation has, over the years, become indispensable, with a multitude of both civilian and military uses. Vehicles, big and small, as well as aircraft and ships increasingly find their way using such navigation devices. People these days turn to map and location-based services on their mobile devices.

World scene

The best known and currently the most widely used navigation satellite system is the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), which became operational two decades ago. Russia too offers global coverage with its Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS). Europe is establishing its own global system, Galileo. Although the full constellation will be ready only by 2019, it plans to begin some services with a reduced number of satellites by the end of next year.

Last December, China announced operational services from its BeiDou Navigation Satellite System over that country and surrounding areas. It intends to launch more satellites and expand the system for global coverage by 2020. Japan has already launched the first of three satellites for its regional system that will augment GPS services.


With seven satellites, the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) will broadcast its signals primarily over India and to about 1,500 km beyond its borders.

ISRO planned to put the full constellation of satellites into orbit by the financial year 2014-15, according to the space agency’s chairman, K. Radhakrishnan. If necessary, the coverage area around India could be enhanced by adding four more satellites, he told The Hindu.

As to why India needed its own satellite navigation system, he responded: “It is essentially to ensure that you have an assured service when you want it. If you are dependent on a foreign navigation signal and then you are in dire need, there could be a situation [it may] not be available to you.”

That sort of concern has also been voiced in Europe, which, although a close ally of the U.S., still felt the need to have its own navigation satellites. Much to America’s annoyance, European institutions began moves in the late 1990s to establish the Galileo system.

Defence, prime factor

The European Commission noted that Galileo would ensure Europe’s independence in a sector that had become critical for its economy and the well-being of its citizens. “We have become so dependent on services provided by satellite navigation in our daily lives that should a service be reduced or switched off, the potential disruption to business, banking, transport, aviation, communication, etc to name but a few, would be very costly.”

Military operations rely heavily on satellite navigation, and India’s defence requirements appear to have played an important part in the decision to establish an independent system. The operator of a foreign system can choose to deliberately degrade the accuracy of its signals, as the U.S. reportedly did with the freely accessible GPS signals when invading Iraq.

Apart from signals that anyone can utilise free of cost, satellite navigation systems, including the Indian one, provide an encrypted service that is restricted to those authorised to receive it.

As part of India’s modernisation of its armed forces, a satellite system of its own gave the country redundancy and reduced dependence on outside agencies for a key technology, observed Wing Commander Ajey Lele, a space and national security analyst at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in Delhi.

Moreover, satellite navigation had huge civilian applications, he pointed out. With India developing both economically and technologically, this factor too would have influenced the decision to establish the IRNSS.

The applications of global navigation satellite systems are potentially enormous, according to the consultancy firm, Frost & Sullivan. “The industry view is that it is a massive market waiting to take shape and what we see of its present use can be considered a tip of the iceberg.”

The global applications market would grow from €65 billion in 2012 to about €134 billion in 2021, it estimated in a report issued some months back.

India’s IRNSS, along with GAGAN, “is set to serve a potentially huge market across the sub-continent,” the report noted. (GAGAN, an abbreviation for “GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation,” is a satellite-based system implemented jointly by ISRO and the Airports Authority of India to improve GPS accuracy over the country as an aid for aviation. (For more details, see “GAGAN — making GPS more accurate,” “Science & Technology” page, The Hindu, June 2, 2011.)

Of Reliance, by Reliance, for Reliance

Published: July 1, 2013
Surya P. Sethi 

The government has used fallacious arguments to double the price of gas and hand over windfall profits to India’s richest company

Hans Christian Andersen’s story about the emperor’s new clothes came to mind as I read the Finance Minister’s justification of the totally indefensible hike in India’s wellhead price for dry natural gas. The absence of any evidence-based research backing key economic decisions is the true “economic reality” of India, which is today the only country in the world that sees no difference between the wellhead price of natural gas and the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The core argument being presented is that the higher price will yield higher upstream investment in untapped hydrocarbon frontiers, resulting in higher output of domestic natural gas and the reduction or even elimination of India’s import dependence on even costlier LNG, thereby improving the country’s fiscal stability and energy security.

Unfortunately this argument is fallacious on several counts.

Decline in output

First, the government itself admits that despite raising the domestic wellhead price of natural gas by almost 300 per cent from as low as $1.79/MMBtu to as high as $5.25/MMBtu, investments in the sector and the country’s gas output have actually dropped. The bulk of this drop is because of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), the company whose demands triggered the recent price increase. The Comptroller and Auditor General report explicitly outlines how RIL reneged on its production commitments while gold-plating its investments. Can the government guarantee that a price of $8.4/MMBtu will raise gas availability?

What if history repeats itself and it does not? Will the government then find more ways to raise prices even further? How long will the government wait to do so? Does it have a long-term vision based on geopolitical developments in the energy sector, especially gas, where Canada and the U.S. are poised to become major LNG exporters?

Significantly, the single largest instance of foreign direct investment that the above cited 300 per cent price increase attracted was BP’s acquisition of a 30 per cent stake in RIL’s declining KG basin play and not in any new greenfield frontier. BP is not known to invest $7 billion-plus for improving a country’s fiscal or energy balance. The company must have seen returns from a known discovery even at the then approved price of $4.2/MMBtu.

Second, the import parity price for a globally traded commodity such as crude oil (unlike natural gas) that has justifiably been in place since the 1990s has not succeeded in raising domestic crude production significantly or attracted significant FDI in the Indian sedimentary basin. Here too, the single largest investment was the purchase of a foreign company’s stake in an existing on-shore field in Rajasthan.

Finally, and most importantly, even if the government is right; what is the justification for raising the price of gas from existing fields? We can always pay a higher price for more difficult horizons provided the duly approved and audited costs of exploration and production warrant that. The current production was realised with no prospect of getting $8.4/MMBtu. Will the government spell out its plan for this windfall profit it is bequeathing to current producers at the cost of the common man and honest taxpayers?

Singapore Haze: Discontent Rises

June 27, 2013
By Kirsten Han 

The severity of the haze from Indonesian forest burning has prompted a growing chorus of complaints this year.

Although a bustling, densely populated city-state, Singapore has nonetheless managed to maintain a reputation for having relatively clean air. Once a year, though, the island is engulfed in smog and haze, a result of forest fires caused by slash-and-burn tactics employed by plantations in Indonesia. For more than a decade now Singaporeans have endured the consequences of unethical plantations choosing the easy way out in clearing their land. Still, usually people just cough and scratch their noses, grumble a little and continue on their way.

Not this year, though, as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) climbs higher than ever before. At one point it hit 401, classified by the National Environment Agency (NEA) as “very hazardous”.

It’s all anyone can talk about. The Twitter hashtag “#SGHaze” is constantly trending in Singapore, and social media feeds are clogged with screencaps, comments and postings from those obsessively monitoring the PSI figures. The severity of this year’s haze problem has brought to the surface a plethora of worries and criticism of the government.

Stop work orders

With the smog hitting record levels, people have been advised not to remain outdoors for long periods of time. Several companies and employers have asked their employees to work from home, or stop working completely. McDonald’s temporarily ceased its delivery service, citing health concerns for its workers.

Despite this, the government has yet to issue an official “stop work” order, and many construction workers – most of them low-paid migrant workers from Bangladesh, India or China – are still toiling away in hazardous conditions.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), an NGO focused on migrant workers’ rights, wrote in a statement published on that website that it “is gravely concerned that current bad haze conditions will affect the health of workers in many trades, e.g. construction, marine, sanitation, landscaping.”

Concerned about the well-being of these workers, some Singaporeans have taken it upon themselves to do whatever they can to alleviate the situation. Visiting construction sites dotted across the island, they give out drinks and lozenges. In her blog post, filmmaker Lynn Lee observed the conditions in which the workers were working: “The hot, dusty worksite is also home to some 20 workers. For Zhou and his colleagues, there’s no respite from the haze. No respite from anything. The men sleep here at night – next to bags of cement and machinery and random bits of scaffolding. There’s a thin layer of dust everywhere. Zhou says their bunks are infested with bugs. Cockroaches and rats are a fact of life. There’s just one toilet. … No wonder they don’t see the haze as a big problem. There are other things to worry about.”

Although they have not issued a “stop work” order, the Ministry of Manpower has advised employers to “minimize strenuous work outdoors” for its workers. Tan Chuan-jin, the acting Minister of Manpower, wrote on his Facebook page: “I share many of your concerns, particularly for those outdoors carrying out strenuous activities, in particular construction workers, cleaners from NEA, our Town Councils etc; and also those who spend the better part of their day outdoors. … We have been coordinating with the various Ministries on our approach. … Meanwhile, do watch out for the elderly, young and those who have respiratory conditions as they will be most vulnerable to the worsening conditions.”

Fury in Europe over U.S. snooping & bugging

Vaiju Naravane

In this picture, taken Saturday June 29, 2013, a demonstrator protests with a poster against NSA in Hanover, Germany. Germany's top justice official says reports that U.S. intelligence bugged European Union offices remind her of "the methods used by enemies during the Cold War." Photo:AP

Der Spiegel claims U.S. deployed PRISM and bugs to spy on EU

The Europeans are furious following revelations by Germany’s influential Der Spiegel magazine that the United States spied upon the European Union, not just through its PRISM programme but by actually installing bugs in certain EU buildings and EU offices in Washington.

The magazine revealed that a document, dated September 2010, described European allies as “target countries.” From the NATO headquarters in the suburbs of Brussels, the U.S. systematically placed under surveillance all the internal computer systems of the European Union as well as telephonic and Internet traffic flowing out of the Justus Lipsius building, which houses the Council of Europe. Bugs were planted in the EU offices in Washington, the magazine claims.

Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, said he was “enormously worried and deeply shocked” by the allegations of espionage in EU offices by American agencies. “If these allegations prove to be true, it will be an extremely serious matter that will have a severe impact on EU-U.S. relations. On behalf of the European Parliament, I demand full clarification from the U.S.,” he said.

In a communiqué, the EU said: “We have contacted U.S. authorities in Washington and Brussels and confronted them with these press reports. They have told us that they will verify the exact nature of the published information and revert to us.”

There have been calls by several Euro-parliamentarians and, in particular German Green MP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, to halt negotiations on the Europe-U.S. Trade and Investment Partnership or to take other punitive measures. The PRISM scandal had already hit the headlines by the time U.S. President Barak Obama met major European partners during the G-8 Summit in Ireland.

“Barak Obama lied in Berlin,” declared the influential French daily Le Monde in a front-page editorial on Sunday. On June 19, a day after the G8 Summit, Mr. Obama went to Berlin, where he downplayed the extent of U.S. spying on Europe and Germany, claiming that U.S. surveillance operations had averted several deadly terrorist attempts, reminding his German interlocutors that the original 9/11 plot against the World Trade Centre in New York was hatched in Germany.

The revelations by the magazine indicate that U.S. spying went far beyond monitoring Internet traffic or telephone calls of ordinary citizens. The document cited by Der Spiegel, as revealed by the U.S National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, shows that the U.S. targeted European institutions and offices. The revelations have raised a public outcry in Germany, where the protection of privacy remains a prime concern. Reactions have also been strong in France, where ruling Socialist party leaders have roundly condemned U.S. actions.

Surprisingly, the magazine claims that the Europeans discovered this listening post “five years ago.” The question why the Europeans failed to raise this point with the U.S. remains unanswered. Only ultra-friendly countries of the Anglo-Saxon world, such as Britain, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, have been part of the conspiracy and have been spared the spying. The Americans do not see them as “target countries,” the magazine remarked.

Will These Youth Protests Spread to Asia’s Corrupted Democracies?

June 30, 2013
By Robert E. Kelly 

Several have many of the same hallmarks as those that have recently experienced unrest.

The last few years have witnessed a wave of youth protest in developing countries, reaching even to developed states. Democracies, or regimes at least posturing nominally as democracies, have been the general target. It is unclear if these movements are cross-pollinating one another, but the similarity in both the profiles of the protestors and their grievances is suggestive. To date, Asia’s democracies have missed this wave, but it is worth noting that the protest profile could easily apply there too.

The youth riots in Brazil, Chile, the European Union, the Arab Middle East, Turkey, and even the “Occupy” movement in the West all reflect what political theory broadly calls the “legitimacy crisis” of modern democracy – the notion that participation in democratic politics does little to change the actual process of government, that elites are dug-in and immoveable, that cronyism is endemic, and so on. Young voters particularly become cynical of the formal electoral process, either dropping out in disdain, or expressing their grievances “extra-parliamentarily”, i.e., on the street. (For example, see this on Australia; or this on Brazil.) To be sure, the Arab Middle East’s pseudodemocracies are something of an exception. Protest there includes far more foundational or revolutionary grievances. But insofar the area’s “republics”, rather than monarchies, have been hit, that too is suggestive of the hopes raised by democratic forms, and then dashed in the minds of younger citizens by corruption and cronyism.

Watching all these riots – particularly listening to articulate young people in Ankara, Rio, or Cairo – raises the question if this wave might spread to Asia’s similarly corrupted democracies. Asian states, too, havewell-educated youth, exposed through modern technologies to the reality of better, cleaner governance elsewhere. And many of the problems these protests are identifying exist in spades in Asia: high-handed, out-of-touch governments; election-proof pseudo-technocracies that act as unaccountable oligarchies; shallow, clique-ish political parties that provide no meaningful transmission belt of citizen preferences; massive government and business corruption; wasteful white-elephant spending to capture global “prestige” while everyday services like health care and education are underfunded; closed political opportunity structures that regularly reward insiders and large corporations with crony connections to the state; wealthy, de-linking elites with 1% lifestyles wildly at variance with the rest of the population… That is not just Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, or the EU/Brussels. That is Asia too; there is more than enough sleaze to go around. Will this spread?

Transition expert Jay Ulfelder and I had a lengthy Twitter conversation on this question in recent weeks (here & here; and here). Jay runs an excellent website on the causes and consequences of social unrest, modernization, and democratization, and participates in the path-breakingGood Judgment Project”, which seeks to answers exactly these sorts of questions. (This short essay can only scratch the surface, but interested readers can actually participate in the Project as forecasters.) Jay asked which countries might this apply to in Asia. My first thoughts were India, the Philippines, and South Korea among the democracies (given the obvious problems street protests face in non-democracies). Are those countries really governed better than Brazil? I doubt it.

A Light Fails In Egypt

June 29, 2013
Walter Russell Mead

Is Egypt’s revolution falling apart? Clashes between anti-government protestors and Muslim Brotherhood supporters turned deadly yesterday, leaving at least three—including an American college student—dead. These clashes come ahead of massive country-wide demonstrations against President Morsi scheduled for Sunday. The NYT reports that on-the-ground forces are even speaking of a civil war:

The use of firearms is becoming more common on all sides. Secular activists who once chanted, “peaceful, peaceful,” now joke darkly about the inevitability of violence: “Peaceful is dead.”

…Egypt’s most respected Muslim cleric warned in a statement this weekend of potential “civil war.”

It’s hard for the American press to wrap its head around what’s happening in Egypt. The Western media instinctively wants to view the conflict as Islamists vs. secularists or liberals, with the future of democracy at stake. The reality is both darker and more complicated, but at best only a handful of journalists have the intellectual chops to make sense of this picture, or the writing ability to help American readers understand a reality so different from our own experience here at home.

Leslie Chang gets closer than most in this piece in the New Yorker, but the problems are even deeper than the ones she puts her finger on. Based on interviews with leaders in the anti-Morsi movement, Chang correctly points out that Egypt’s opposition is neither particularly coherent nor interested in governing. The looming protests were organized by a movement known as Tamarod, or “rebellion” in Arabic—a movement founded mostly by young Egyptians whose sole goal is to drive Morsi from power. ”I have yet to meet a politician with a substantive plan to overhaul a system of food and fuel subsidies that eats up almost one third of the budget, or to reform the education sector, or to stimulate foreign investment.”

She continues:

After two years of watching politicians on both sides of the fence squabble and prevaricate and fail to improve their lives, Egyptians appear to be rejecting representative democracy, without having had much of a chance to participate in it. In a country with an increasingly repressive regime and no democratic culture to draw on, protest has become an end in itself—more satisfying than the hard work of governance, organizing, and negotiation. This is politics as emotional catharsis, a way to register rage and frustration without getting involved in the system.

It would be a mistake to attribute the ineffectiveness of Egypt’s opposition to the purely personal failings and intellectual blind spots of the people currently prominent in its ranks. We are looking at something more deeply rooted and harder to fix. An intense rage and dissatisfaction with the status quo without any idea in the world how to make anything better: this is the typical condition of revolutionary movements in countries without a history of effective governance or successful development. It is also often typical of political movements in countries dominated by a youth bulge. The unhappiest countries are the places where this large youth bulge comes up against failed governance and curdled hope. Think Pakistan, where a comprehensive failure of civil and military leadership is turning one of the world’s most beautiful countries into one of its most miserable ones.

Inexperienced 18 years olds who have grown up in corrupt, poorly governed societies, and been educated in trashy schools by incompetent hacks know very well that the status quo is unacceptable. Young people who know they are being ripped off and abused are typically not very patient. Throw in healthy doses of sexual frustration and contempt for an establishment that has lost confidence in its own capacity to lead, and you have a cocktail much more explosive than anything Molotov knew.

Angry Young Men

by Nima Sanandaji 06/29/2013

“'Angry young men' lack optimism.” This was the title of a BBC News story earlier this year, exploring the deeply pessimistic views that some young working class British hold about their own future. Two-thirds of the young men from families of skilled or semi-skilled workers, for example, never expect to own their own home. Angry young men, this time of immigrant origin, were also recently identified as the group causing riots in Swedish suburbs such as Husby. As Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt noted, the riots were started by a core of “angry young men who think they can change society with violence”.

The social unrest occurring in Western Europe is often ascribed to the lack of integration into society among immigrants. It is true that dependency of public handouts rather than self-reliance has become endemic in Europe’s well‑entrenched and extensive welfare states. In Norway for example, the employment rate of immigrants from Asia is only 55 percent, compared to 70 percent for the non-immigrant population. Amongst African immigrants the figure is merely 43 percent. In neighboring Sweden, a recent government report noted that the employment rate of Somalians was merely 21 percent. This can be compared to 46 percent in Canada and 54 percent in the US for the same group. The low incentives for transitioning from welfare to work in Sweden and Norway compared to in Canada and the US explain at least part of this difference.

But a failure of integration is hardly the sole explanation for the social unrest which extends well beyond immigrant youth. Why not add another relevant perspective to the puzzle, namely the increasing marginalization that some young men feel across the continent? This frustration is hardly an excuse for violence, but relates to important social phenomena which deserve to be explored, and targeted with the right policies.

Youthful exclusion from the labor market constitutes a major challenge to European economies. Unemployment for European youth is in many countries more than twice the level of adult workers. The youth unemployment in advanced economies is, according to the International Labour Organization, estimated at an average level of 18 percent. Some countries, such as Switzerland, Austria and Germany, fare relatively well with a rate below ten percent. In others, such as the UK, France and Sweden, around one in five of the youth is unemployed. In Spain and Greece the share recently peaked at a rate of one in two.

It is hardly news that youth who face unemployment have a tendency to become angry, and to translate this anger to violence. What has become increasingly evident is how much this situation pertains particularly to men. 

To begin with we can see that a number of societal trends in particular favor women’s career opportunities. Girls tend to perform better in school, regardless of class, place of residence or ethnicity. Young women also, not only in developed countries but even globally, now constitute the majority of students in higher education. Another important change which in particular benefits women’s career opportunities is urbanization. Large cities attract talented young people like magnets. The attraction tends to be greatest for young women, who find employment and opportunities for entrepreneurship in the sprawling service sectors. Men who remain behind in less densely populated areas sometimes struggle to find both work and a spouse.

As a whole, we have little reason to feel sorry for men in the labor market. Since women still take the primary responsibility for children and family, men can on average invest much more time on their careers and thus more often reach the top. But while some men succeed, others fall behind. Men end up dominating not only the top of society but also the bottom. After having failed in school, many men face rejection in both the labor market and the marriage market. They are left with little in terms of social capital, in terms of valuable know-how and established social networks.

One reason for why frustration grows is that for men the link between success in work and success in finding a partner is very strong. Men without higher education for example face a higher chance of never becoming a parent, whilst men with higher degrees face the lowest chance (the relation is the opposite for women, where the individuals with higher education face the highest risk of remaining childless). Extreme opinions, racism and violence are not uncommon among young men who feel they have little chance of making their way in society.