Saturday, 30 May 2009

Why the benefits of massage may be a myth

Athletes use post-exercise rubdowns to boost recovery but the gains could be all in the mind


Peta Bee
To top athletes and anyone else who exercises a lot or has put him or herself through the rigours of a marathon or triathlon, a regular massage is considered almost as essential to keeping the body in condition as diet and training. After all, the kind of deep-tissue massage practised by registered sports massage therapists promises to increase blood flow to aching muscles and flush out metabolic waste products such as lactic acid after a hard workout.

Nothing could be better for your aching limbs. Or could it? In a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual conference in Seattle this week, researchers claimed to have blown the myth that massage speeds up recovery from exercise. Professor Michael Tschavovsky of the health studies department at Queens University in Ontario, Canada, says that while most massage therapists believe that their work boosts circulation to the muscles and reduces fatigue, no study before his had tested the validity of this theory.

Tschavovsky asked 12 healthy male subjects to perform isometric hand-grip exercises for two minutes at a time while he and his team measured blood flow and lactic acid build-up every 30 seconds and for ten minutes after the exercise had finished. They also took the same measurements during rest, when the subjects had massage and during “active recovery” such as gentle jogging, walking or stretching. What they found was that massage did not increase — but decreased — blood flow to the muscles and hindered rather than improved the removal of lactic acid and other waste materials by as much as 25 per cent compared to “active recovery”.

“Anyone who believes that lactic acid symptoms are relieved by massage is wrong because the alleviation of discomfort is not due to waste products being flushed out after exercise,” Tschavovsky says. So does this mean that post-workout massage is a waste of time? Tschavovsky thinks not. He is a fan himself and admits to having massage to help his legs to recover after football tournaments. But he says that the benefits could all be in the mind. “It feels good, that’s the truth of it,” he says. “A lot of sports performance is psychologically based so if you feel you are in a better situation to train with massage then, yes, it probably does have the ability to improve your performance.”

What his study shows, Tschavovsky says, is not that massage is useless but that it isn’t helpful for the claimed reasons. If it does work, scientists have yet to prove how.

Massage therapists are taking the findings with a pinch of salt. “Any sort of physical activity produces a cocktail of waste products — not just lactic acid — that vary according to the activity, the intensity of the workout, your age and diet,” says Mel Cash, principal tutor of the London School of Sports Massage, where many of Britain’s Olympic sports masseurs have trained. “A qualified therapist will be able to reduce the swelling of tissues and aid minor soft tissue injuries so that you are ready for your next workout.” Bob Bramah, a spokesman for the Sports Massage Association, the governing body of sports massage in the UK, says that there is plenty of evidence that massage is helpful after exercise. “But I also know by personal experience that what I do works,” he says. “I know that my players feel better afterwards. I know that as a result of that their performance is enhanced.”

But is it? Experts who have reviewed other types of massage claim that not only are many approaches ineffective but that some hold potential risks. Professor Edzard Ernst, a researcher into complementary medicine and director of the Peninsular Medical School in Exeter, says that part of the problem is that the profession is unregulated. While studies do show that massage can help to relieve a range of ailments from stress, migraines and infertility to back pain, sickle cell anaemia and joint problems, many are inconclusive.

A study at Ohio State University last year, for example, showed aromatherapy treatment to be relaxing because of a placebo effect, while a study of hot stone treatment (heated stones placed on the body) found that while the warmth was comforting there was no scientific evidence of a reduction in ailments. In the case of Thai massage, which aims to realign the body by using pressure on acupressure points, after a five-week study by the Touch Research Institute in Florida, subjects reported reduced job stress and elevated moods.

“In most cases the evidence is highly contradictory and while some studies suggest an effect others don’t,” Ernst says. “There is reasonably good evidence that massage can be helpful for back pain, but rigorous investigations are difficult to carry out because a good placebo does not exist.”

Susan Findlay, a spokeswoman for the General Council for Massage Therapies, the UK’s governing body for all soft-tissue techniques, says: “The lack of reputable studies boils down to massage being very difficult to investigate because there are so many variables, including technique, perception of benefits and the standard of a practitioner.” There are groups of people — including those with low platelet counts or who are taking blood-thinning medications, pregnant women and people with cancer, osteoporosis or rheumatoid arthritis — who should be cautious about having a massage and should do so only on medical recommendation. For them — and others — massage could do more harm than good.

Research by Dr Robert Gotlin, a sports and orthopaedic rehabilitation specialist at the Beth Israel Medical Centre in New York, suggested that 15-20 per cent of people who have massage for injuries end up having corrective treatment afterwards: problems they attributed to muscular pain were more likely to be linked to spine or bone abnormalities. Massage could make the problem worse, injuring nerves, causing muscle spasms or inflammation. Gotlin suggests that thin people avoid deeptissue techniques such as shiatsu and Swedish massage. They are good for easing tight muscles, he says, but can lead to damaged muscle tissue, nerves or bones, particularly around the spinal area, in people without much body fat to act as protection.

Ernst says that serious problems linked to massage are rare. A review of evidence he conducted for the journal Rheumatology uncovered a few adverse effects; the majority were associated with “exotic” types of manual massage or techniques delivered by underqualified practitioners. “Massage is not risk-free, but significant adverse events are true rarities.”

Un-Indian idol

Kapil Dev bowled fast at a time when his country didn't produce fast bowlers; his spirit lives on through the style and aggression of modern Indian teams



Gideon Haigh

May 30, 2009



'The liveliest and least imitable action of all' © Getty Images




In 1982 Scyld Berry, the very excellent cricket correspondent of the Observer who has lately become the editor of Wisden, published a fine book on England's recent tour of the subcontinent, entitled Cricket Wallah. No English writer to that point had studied India with such clarity, sympathy, or indeed rosy prophecy, for he far-sightedly concluded that the country would become "the capital of cricket": demography, he believed, was destiny.

In one judgment alone was Cricket Wallah amiss. On the basis of the tour's two one-day internationals, Berry thought that limited-overs cricket held "no great attraction" in India. Batsmen were still technically correct, and spin bowling endured, "integral, not an adjunct" to the game, for it "suited the rhythms of Indian life". In fact, he had just watched the cricketer who, more than any other, would challenge both those appealing preconceptions.

Two-hundred and seventeen of Kapil Dev's 432 Test wickets were taken in the heat and dust of India by uncompromising toil; he brought a gaiety to batting in a team that sometimes seemed unaware that Tests were no longer timeless. Above all, by leading India to the World Cup of 1983, he turned his country's cricket priorities on their head - and all this from most inauspicious beginnings.

"There are no fast bowlers in India," 15-year-old Kapil was told when he complained about the short rations at lunch at a training camp at Brabourne Stadium in 1974. The judgment was hurtful, but not unfounded. In the last Test India had played at home, for example, the new ball had been taken by Eknath Solkar (two overs) and Sunil Gavaskar (one over), then surrendered to the slow-bowling wiles of Bedi, Chandra and Prasanna. It had not, however, been ever thus. Peer back to pre-war, pre-partition India, and the country's opening attack was probably superior to Australia's. The likes of Tim Wall and Ernie McCormick had nothing to teach Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh, except that Nissar's best years were swallowed by World War II, while Amar succumbed to pneumonia aged 30.

A "feeling of loss" pervaded Indian cricket in their wake, according to its historian Mihir Bose, which intensified over the next 40 years whenever the country's batsmen crossed paths with bowling of real pace. Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller made them suffer in Australia, Fred Trueman lorded it over them in England, and Charlie Griffiths nearly killed Nari Contractor in Barbados. Most ignominiously Clive Lloyd's pacemen set about Bedi's batsmen like sadistic thugs in a dark alley at Sabina Park in April 1976.

By that stage Kapil had been a first-class cricketer for one season, without much encouragement. In his second game for Haryana, versus Delhi, he played against Bedi, who was selling one of his Gray-Nicolls bats, and had set a reserve on it of Rs 500. With help from his friend Ashok Malhotra, Kapil scraped together Rs 475, but there were no discounts, and no gimmes either: his first tour, to Pakistan, was played on pitches apparently prepared for the diplomatic parity of drawn Tests.

From the first, nonetheless, Kapil upset cricket's prior balances of power. In Spin and Other Turns, Ramchandra Guha describes the first morning of Kapil's Test career, how in his second over the teenager sent a bouncer past the pentangle on Sadiq Mohammad's cap, "very likely the fastest delivery from an Indian bowler since independence". Sadiq's summon of a helmet was so unforeseen that it took some overs to arrive; as Guha notes: "It is a wonder there was one at the ground at all". When West Indies toured India soon after, they dished it out, as was their wont, but Kapil was no less hostile. Normally above the fray, Wisden described the Chepauk Test as "a bumper war" in which India "for once gave as good as they got". Bose believes it a hinge point in Indian cricket history.



Gavaskar, great as he was, could never rival the epic grandeur of a Viv Richards. Kapil, in an era of the international game uncommonly blessed with fast-bowling allrounders, more than held his own against them




Kapil altered also the Indian team's internal dynamics. The dominant presence in the country's cricket to that time had been Gavaskar, batting's classical sculptor: patient, implacable, self-sufficient, self-involved, peppery temper beneath a surface urbanity. Kapil provided a rival to national affection, and a new source of national self-definition. Gavaskar, great as he was, could never rival the epic grandeur of a Viv Richards. Kapil, in an era of the international game uncommonly blessed with fast-bowling allrounders, more than held his own against them.

Remember? Botham, Imran, Hadlee: all fierce rivals. You could imagine them in a western saloon. Botham would be the one chesting open the swing doors and shouting the bar, Imran the one comfortably encircled by comely belles in crinoline, Hadlee the one staring fixedly at his ice water. But that Injun, Kapil - he held aloof. He had the liveliest and least imitable action of all, a skipping, bounding run of gathering energy, and a delivery stride perfectly side-on but exploding at all angles, wrists uncoiling, arms elasticising, eyes afire. Which was part of his significance. No fast bowlers in India? Kapil could have hailed from no other country.

All that stood in the way of Kapil's bowling was his batting, full of generous arcs and fearful cleaves, signed with an exuberant pull shot that featured a chorus-line kick from his crossed front leg. At first, team-mates took Kapil's run-making more seriously than he did himself: he reached the first of eight Test hundreds in Delhi 30 years ago only because Syed Kirmani sacrificed himself, a cacophony of calls sending them to the same end.

He retained a sense of play and adventure into which even opponents sometimes entered. At the Gabba in December 1980, he launched Jeremy Coney over the roof of the Clem Jones Stand and into Stanley Street during an innings of 75 off 51 balls; the puckish New Zealander waved his white handkerchief like a flag of surrender.

Selectors were sterner, benching Kapil after the Delhi Test of December 1984, when he hit his second ball for six and his third down long-off's throat as India stumbled to defeat against England. But Kapil, for all that he accomplished, never really repented. He won the Lord's Test of June 1986 with three fours and a six off Phil Edmonds; he saved the follow-on there four years later with four consecutive sixes off Eddie Hemmings.

It was the year of the building of the Compton-Edrich Stand, and I happened to be amid a throng of ecstatic Indian supporters in temporary seating in front of it. I can still hear the glorious "thunk" of those straight drives, each faster and flatter than the last, into the building site behind us: they lent new meaning to the expression "hard-hat area".

Lord's was the venue, too, of that fabled match 26 years ago, after which Kapil could have retreated to an ashram but remained one of the most significant players who ever lived - all because of one catch. It came from the top edge of the bat of Viv Richards, then on course to be match-winner for the third consecutive World Cup final, and it looked suspiciously like providence.



'Has a more difficult catch been made to seem easier at a more critical moment in the annals of the game?' © PA Photos





Kapil had deposed Gavaskar as captain, in one of those Indian intrigues that outsiders find unintelligible, and led his country with expected spirit and unexpected smarts. Gavaskar, never a one-day natural, had had a wretched tournament, and been first to fall that day in India's ramshackle 183. West Indies in reply had charged to 50 for 1.

Now Madan Lal bowled a bouncer - a bouncer to Richards. What's Hindi for chutzpah? The crowd on the midwicket boundary began shrinking back; even Father Time ducked. In the event Richards miscued, but the ball would have fallen safe had any other fielder been stationed near the drop zone. As it was, Kapil Dev turned, ran back with the flight of the ball, loose stride eating up the distance, cast a split-second glance over his shoulder, and collected the descending ball in his fingertips - making even this look deliberate. Has a more difficult catch been made to seem easier at a more critical moment in the annals of the game?

India had won one game in two previous World Cups, against East Africa; now they won what remained their only global trophy until the Twenty20 World Championship 18 months ago. Both wins similarly tilted the cricket world off its axis. One-day cricket went forth and multiplied in the subcontinent, to the extent that the next Cup was held there four years later, just as Twenty20 did 24 years later, making India its social, cultural and financial fastness.

Kapil was part of that shift, too, shoulder to shoulder with Subhash Chandra's Indian Cricket League, while Gavaskar was firmly in the camp of the official Indian Premier League. Much else had transpired between times, but it was almost as though their unspoken rivalry had never quite ended. The ICL has floundered and the IPL prospered, so Gavaskar might consider his the last word; yet today's stylish, aggressive Indian stars, like MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan, are more obviously Kapil's spiritual heirs.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

Thursday, 28 May 2009

After Iraq, it's not just North Korea


 

 

The nuclear weapons states are the main drivers of proliferation. Only radical disarmament can halt their spread 

 

The big power denunciation of North Korea's nuclear weapons test on Monday could not have been more sweeping. Barack Obama called the Hiroshima-scale ­underground explosion a "blatant violation of international law", and pledged to "stand up" to North ­Korea – as if it were a military giant of the Pacific – while Korea's former imperial master Japan branded the bomb a "clear crime", and even its long-suffering ally China declared itself "resolutely opposed" to what had taken place.

 
The protests were met with ­further North Korean missile tests, as UN ­security council members plotted tighter sanctions and South Korea signed up to a US programme to intercept ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction. Pyongyang had already said it would regard such a move as an act of war. So yesterday, nearly 60 years after the conflagration that made a charnel house of the Korean peninsula, North Korea said it was no longer bound by the armistice that ended it and warned that any attempt to search or seize its vessels would be met with a "powerful military strike".
 
The hope must be that rhetorical inflation on both sides proves to be largely bluster, as in previous confrontations. Even the US doesn't believe North Korea poses any threat of aggression against the south, home to nearly 30,000 American troops and covered by its nuclear umbrella. But the idea, much canvassed in recent days, that there is something irrational in North Korea's attempt to acquire nuclear weapons is clearly absurd. This is, after all, a state that has been targeted for regime change by the US ever since the end of the cold war, included as one of the select group of three in George Bush's axis of evil in 2002, and whose Clinton administration guarantee of "no hostile intent" was explicitly withdrawn by his successor.
 
In April 2003, North Korea drew the obvious conclusion from the US and British aggression against Iraq. The war showed, it commented at the time, "that to allow disarmament through inspections does not help avert a war, but rather sparks it". Only "a tremendous military deterrent force", it stated with unavoidable logic, could prevent attacks on states the world's only superpower was determined to bring to heel.
 
The lesson could not be clearer. Of Bush's "axis" states, Iraq, which had no weapons of mass destruction, was invaded and occupied; North Korea, which already had some nuclear capacity, was left untouched and is most unlikely to be attacked in future; while Iran, which has yet to develop a nuclear capability, is still threatened with aggression by both the US and Israel.
Of course, the Obama administration is a different kettle of fish from its ­predecessor; it had earlier floated renewed dialogue with North Korea and has made welcome noises about nuclear disarmament. Whether such talk was ever going to impress the cash-strapped dynastic autocracy in Pyongyang – which had had its fill of broken US commitments and the new belligerence from its southern neighbour – seems doubtful. In any case, having gone so far, it was surely inevitable the regime would want to rerun its half-cocked 2006 test to demonstrate its now unquestioned nuclear power status.
 
Yet not only has America's heightened enthusiasm for invading other countries since the early 1990s created a powerful incentive for states in its firing line to acquire nuclear weapons for their own security. But all the main nuclear weapons states have, by their persistent failure to move towards serious disarmament, become the single greatest driver of nuclear proliferation.
 
It's not just the breathtaking hypocrisy that underpins every western pronouncement about the "threat to world peace" posed by the "illegal weapons" of the johnny-come-latelys to the nuclear club. Or the double standards that underpin the nuclear indulgence of Israel, India and Pakistan – now increasing its stock of nuclear weapons, even as the country is rocked by civil war – while Iran and North Korea are sanctioned and embargoed for "breaking the rules". It's that the obligation of the nuclear weapons states under the non-proliferation treaty – and the only justification of their privileged status – is to negotiate "complete disarmament".
 
Yet far from doing any such thing, both the US and Britain are investing in a new generation of nuclear weapons. Even the latest plans to agree new cuts in the US and Russian strategic arsenals would leave the two former superpower rivals in control of ­thousands of warheads, enough to wipe each other out, let alone the smaller fry of global conflict. So why North Korea, no longer even a signatory to the treaty and ­therefore not bound by its rules, or any other state seeking nuclear protection, should treat them as a reason to disarm is a mystery.

 
Obama's dramatic plea for a "world without nuclear weapons" in Prague last month was qualified by the warning that such a goal would "not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime". But a lifetime is too long if the mass proliferation of nuclear weapons is to be halted. Earlier this month, ­Mohammed ElBaradei, the outgoing director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Guardian that without radical disarmament by the major powers, the number of nuclear weapons states would double in a few years, as "virtual weapons states" acquire the capability, but stopped just short of assembling a weapon, to "buy insurance against attack".
 
This is what Iran is widely assumed to be doing, despite its denial of any interest in acquiring nuclear weapons. And the evidence is now growing that the US administration is heading towards harsher sanctions against Tehran rather than genuine negotiation, as two former US national security council staffers, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, argued in the New York Times at the weekend. That was also the message Hillary Clinton sent to North Korea last month when she said talks with the regime were "implausible, if not impossible".
 
In fact, they are desirable, if not essential. Obama has set out a positive agenda on the nuclear test ban treaty, arms cuts and control of fissile material. But if, instead of slapping more sanctions on Pyongyang, the US were to push for far broader negotiations aimed at achieving the long-overdue reunification of Korea, its denuclearisation and the withdrawal of all foreign troops – now that would be a historic contribution to peace.



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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

How economics lost sight of real world


 

 

By John Kay
Published: April 21 2009 20:51 | Last updated: April 21 2009 20:51
John Kay, columist
The past two years have not enhanced the reputation of economists. Mostly they failed to point out fundamental weaknesses of financial markets and did not foresee the crisis, and now they disagree on appropriate policies and on the likely future course of events. Although more economic research has been done in the past 25 years than ever before, the economists whose names are most frequently referenced today, such as Hyman Minsky and John Maynard Keynes, are from earlier generations.
 
Since the 1970s economists have been engaged in a grand project. The project's objective is that macroeconomics should have microeconomic foundations. In everyday language, that means that what we say about big policy issues – growth and inflation, boom and bust – should be grounded in the study of individual behaviour. Put like that, the project sounds obviously desirable, even essential. I confess I was long seduced by it.
Most economists would claim that the project has been a success. But the criteria are the self-referential criteria of modern academic life. The greatest compliment you can now pay an economic argument is to say it is rigorous. Today's macroeconomic models are certainly that.
 
But policymakers and the public at large are, rightly, not interested in whether models are rigorous. They are interested in whether the models are useful and illuminating – and these rigorous models do not score well here.
 
Indeed, at an early stage of the project Robert Lucas, one of its principal architects, who received the Nobel prize for his contributions, developed what is known as the Lucas critique. He argued that ordinary standards of statistical validity should not be applied to the project's predictions. According to his colleague Thomas Sargent, Lucas was concerned that such tests rejected "too many really good models".
 
Economists, like physicists, have been searching for a theory of everything. If there were to be such an economic theory, there is really only one candidate, based on extreme rationality and market efficiency. Any other theory would have to account for the evolution of individual beliefs and the advance of human knowledge, and no one imagines that there could be a single theory of all human behaviour. Not quite no one: a few deranged practitioners of the project believe that their theory really does account for all human behaviour, and that concepts such as goodness, beauty and truth are sloppy sociological constructs.
 
But these people discredit themselves by opening their mouths. That people respond rationally to incentives, and that market prices incorporate information about the world, are not terrible assumptions. But they are not universal truths either. Much of what creates profit opportunities and causes instability in the global economy results from the failure of these assumptions. Herd behaviour, asset mispricing and grossly imperfect information have led us to where we are today.
 
There is not, and never will be, an economic theory of everything. Physics may, or may not, be different. But the knowledge we can hope to have in economics is piecemeal and provisional, and different theories will illuminate different but particular situations. We should observe empirical regularities and – as in other applied subjects such as medicine and engineering – we will often find pragmatic solutions that work even though our understanding of why they work is incomplete.
 
Max Planck, the physicist, said he had eschewed economics because it was too difficult. Planck, Keynes observed, could have mastered the corpus of mathematical economics in a few days – it might now have taken him a few weeks. Keynes went on to explain that economic understanding required an amalgam of logic and intuition and a wide knowledge of facts, most of which are not precise: "a requirement overwhelmingly difficult for those whose gift mainly consists in the power to imagine and pursue to their furthest points the implications and prior conditions of comparatively simple facts which are known with a high degree of precision". On this, as on much else, Keynes was right.


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Why ‘too big to fail’ is too much for us to take


 

By John Kay
Published: May 26 2009 20:35 | Last updated: May 26 2009 20:35
John Kay, columist
 
Neither a democratic society nor a market economy can accept the notion that a private business is "too big to fail".
 
Liberal democracies of the modern world based on lightly regulated capitalism acknowledge two mechanisms of accountability – the marketplace and the ballot box. In the marketplace, organisations that do not meet, or respond to, the needs of society are ground between the twin pressures of their customers and their investors. At the ballot box, politicians that do not meet, or respond to, the needs of society suffer popular rejection.
Commercial success and democratic election are the only sources of legitimate authority in a society that no longer relies on spiritual leadership nor respects hereditary titles. An organisation exempt from either of these disciplines represents an unaccountable concentration of power. As we have today at Citigroup, Barclays and Deutsche Bank.
 
If "too big to fail" is incompatible with democracy, it also destroys the dynamism that is the central achievement of the market economy. In principle, there is no reason why disruptive innovations and radically new business models should not come from large, established, dominant companies. In practice, the bureaucratic culture of these organisations is such that this rarely happens. Revolutions in business generally come from new entrants. That is why so many of today's market leaders – Microsoft and Google, Vodafone and Easyjet – are companies that did not exist a generation ago. These companies could not have succeeded if governments had been committed to the continued leadership of IBM and AOL, AT&T and British Airways.
 
Any form of selective government support distorts competition. To win such subsidy today, the companies concerned must, like General Motors and Citigroup, be both large and unsuccessful. It is difficult to imagine a policy more damaging to innovation and progress.
 
The assertion that in future we will supervise the activities of large banks so that their businesses do not fail represents a refusal to address the issue. Even if that assertion were credible – and it is not – the outcome would not deal with either the political problem or the economic problem. Such regulation fails to call managers effectively to account, while supervision that ruled out even the possibility of organisational failure would kill all enterprise.
 
There should be a clear distinction in public policy between the requirement for essential activities to survive and the continued existence of particular companies engaged in their provision. There are many services we cannot do without – the electricity grid and the water supply, the transport system and the telecommunications network. These activities are every bit as necessary to our personal and business lives as the banking sector and at least as interconnected. Even a brief hiatus in their supply is intolerable.
But the need to keep the water flowing does not establish a need to keep the water company in business. We do not mind if one chain of high street shops closes its doors, because there are many other places to buy our clothes and groceries. Other industries are different. We cannot contemplate keeping aircraft circling over London while the liquidator of Heathrow Airport Ltd finds the way to his office.
 
In all industries where there is or might be a dominant position in the supply of essential public services, there needs to be a special resolution regime. The key requirement is that assets that are needed for the continued provision of these services can be quickly separated from the organisations engaged in their supply. The businesses involved must be required to operate in such a way that such a separation is possible. In some relevant industries such a scheme exists; in others it does not. In all cases, review and contingency planning is required.
 
"Too big to fail" – whether the claimant is a bank or an auto company – is not a status we can live with. It is both better politics and better economics to deal with the problem by facilitating failure than by subsidising it.



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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

UK BBC Holocaust Denial


 

By Dr Gideon Polya

24 May, 2009
Countercurrents.org

The UK British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has produced a book and a lavish, 6-part TV series called "The Story of India". However the 6th episode that deals with India under the British manages to completely ignore horrendous, repeated British-imposed atrocities on a scale of death greater than that of the World War 2 (WW2) Jewish Holocaust (5-6 million dead, 1 in 6 dying from deprivation), most notably the 1769-1770 Bengal Famine (10 million dead), the WW2 Bengal Famine (6-7 million dead) and the British India Holocaust in general that was associated with 1.8 billion excess Indian deaths in the period 1757-1947. [1, 2].

Indeed in the TV series "The Story of India" the very word "Famine" is not even mentioned as such even once – the presenter Michael Wood refers to "famine-stricken refugees" in talking about 18th century British military campaigns in the South of India and, later in the Indian Holocaust-ignoring 6th episode, an image is given of a volume in the Indian National Library with the title "Famine".

Just imagine the outcry in the West - and indeed around the World – if the BBC produced a lavish TV series entitled "The Story of Germany" and failed to mention its millennium history of massacring Jews and culminating in the WW2 Jewish Holocaust (5-6 million dead, 1 in 6 dying from deprivation) and the WW2 Holocaust in general (30 million Slav, Jewish and Roma deaths).

Does the BBC somehow regard Indians or non-Europeans in general as somehow Lesser Creatures in deleting horrendous British atrocities from "The Story of India"?

Does the BBC secretly subscribe to the views of a succession of racist Englishmen who regarded Indians in much the same way as the German Nazis regarded Jews i.e. as untermenschen [sub-humans]? Here, with documentation, is a sample of 7 of those views – but before reading them see the following image of starving Indians in British India circa 1900: http://mwcnews.net/content/view/26713/42/ (of course there are no such images in the BBC's sanitized "The Story of India"). [3].

1. Lord Hastings (Lord Moira, Marquess of Hastings and Governor-General of India, 1813-1823) (1813): "The Hindoo appears a being nearly limited to mere animal functions and even in them indifferent. Their proficiency and skill in the several lines of occupation to which they are restricted, are little more than the dexterity of which any animal with a similar conformation but with no higher intellect than a dog, an elephant, or a monkey, might be supposed to be capable of attaining. It is enough to see this in order to have full conviction that such a people can at no period have been more advanced in civil policy." [4].

2. Charles Dickens (circa 1857): "I wish I were Commander in Chief over there [India]! I would address that Oriental character which must be powerfully spoken to, in something like the following placard, which should be vigorously translated into all native dialects, "I, The Inimitable, holding this office of mine, and firmly believing that I hold it by the permission of Heaven and not by the appointment of Satan, have the honor to inform you Hindoo gentry that it is my intention, with all possible avoidance of unnecessary cruelty and with all merciful swiftness of execution, to exterminate the Race from the face of the earth, which disfigured the earth with the late abominable atrocities [2,000 British killed in the 1857 Indian War of Independence aka the 1857 Indian Mutiny]". [5].

3. Report of the Indian Famine Commission 1880 (arguing against generous famine relief): "the great object of saving life and giving protection from extreme suffering may not only be as well secured, but in fact will be far better secured, if proper care be taken to prevent the abuse and demoralisation which all experience shows to be the consequence of ill-directed and excessive distribution of charitable relief." [6].

4. Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India on the 1900 Indian Famine, January 1900 (arguing against generous famine relief): "In my judgement any government which imperilled the financial position of India in the interests of a prodigal philanthropy would be open to serious criticism. But any government which, by indiscriminate alms-giving, weakened the fibre and demoralised the self-reliance of the population would be guilty of a public crime." [7].

5. Winston Churchill, speech to the House of Commons (1935): "In the standard of life they have nothing to spare. The slightest fall from the present standard of life in India means slow starvation, and the actual squeezing out of life, not only of millions but of scores of millions of people, who have come into the world at your invitation and under the shield and protection of British power." [8].

6. Winston Churchill to Leo Amery, Secretary of State for India (1942): "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." [9].

7. Winston Churchill (1953) (in an egregious act of Nobel Prize-winning Holocaust Denial in which he totally wipes out any mention of the 6-7 million Indians he deliberately starved to death in 1943-1945): "No great portion of the world population was so effectively protected from the horrors and perils of the World War as were the peoples of Hindustan. They were carried through the struggle on the shoulders of our small Island." [10].

Here is a list of immense British atrocities in its over 2 centuries of genocidal mis-rule in India (substantially from 1757-1947) that were simply not noticed by the BBC's TV series "The Story of India" (for detailed histories of India, details of British atrocities in India and detailed documentation see my books "Body Count" and "Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History"). [1, 2].

1. 1769-1770 Bengal Famine (10 million dead).

2. Other pre-20th Century famines in British India, in particular those in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa (1769-1770), Rajasthan, Oudh and elsewhere in northern India (1782-84), Rajasthan, Bombay, Gujarat and north-western provinces (1812-1815), north-western provinces, Punjab and Rajasthan (1837-1838), Madras, Deccan, Bihar, Bengal and particularly Orissa (1866; 3 million dead), Rajasthan and northern India (1868-1870), and throughout much of India from Hyderabad to Rajasthan and the Punjab (1899-1900; millions dying).

3. 25 million Indian cholera deaths in 19 th century India due to British transmission of the disease from Bengal by rail and sea (and by sea around the world).

4. 1.5 billion Indian excess deaths in the period 1757-1947 (1.8 billion excess deaths in the British-dominated Native States are included).

5. 17 million Indians died in the Spanish influenza pandemic (1918-1923) out of a world total of about 50 million, this being exacerbated by the return of hundreds of thousands Indian soldiers from WW1 and British Empire commerce.

6. 1943-1945 Bengal Famine (first WW2 atrocity to be described as a "Holocaust" – by Jog in 1944; 6-7 million Indians deliberately starved to death by the British under Churchill; see the 2008 BBC "confessional" broadcast involving myself, 1998 Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen of Harvard University, medical historian Dr Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Wellcome Institute, University College London, and other scholars: http://www.open2.net/thingsweforgot/
bengalfamine_programme.html
). [11].

How did the BBC's "The Story of India" manage not to notice this 2 centuries of appalling carnage that is unprecedented in human history in its sheer magnitude?

The BBC's TV version of "The Story of India" did qualitatively (if not quantitatively) notice Indian collateral damage in South Indian British wars and brutal British reprisals after the 1857 "Indian Mutiny". In addition, the book version mentions the 1866 Orissa Famine (3 million dead) but attributes this to the El Nino meteorological phenomenon and makes passing reference to British administrative failure: "In the almost thirty years since the Mutiny they [educated Indians] had seen for themselves the failure of British government in many key areas, but especially in the basic one of providing food and security to the population" (p281).

What "The Story of India" resolutely ignores is the merciless British policy for over 2 centuries of keeping the Indian population on the edge of starvation (see Winston Churchill's 1935 speech quoted above) – this deliberate strategy enabling a relatively small number of British troops and much larger numbers of well-fed Indian sepoys to keep several hundred million Indians subjugated.

What a disgrace! Tell everyone you can – because history ignored yields history repeated. South Asia is currently under immense threat from First World-imposed global warming. Many scientists now doubt that we can avoid further damaging temperature increases to over 2C above that in 1900. According to top UK climate scientist Dr James Lovelock FRS fewer than 1 billion people (mostly European) will survive the century due to First World profligacy and unaddressed man-made climate change – this translating to 10 billion deaths (mostly of non-Europeans, 3 billion Muslims, 2 billion Indians) in an already-commenced Climate Holocaust and Climate Genocide. [12].

Peace is the only way but silence kills and silence is complicity. Tell everyone you can (a) about Western holocaust commission and holocaust denial and (b) how they can act to help save India from a 2 billion-victim, First World-imposed Climate Genocide and help save Muslims from a looming First World-imposed, climate change-based, 3 billion-victim, Muslim Holocaust.

[1]. Gideon Polya, "Body Count", G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ and http://mwcnews.net/Gideon-Polya .

[2]. Gideon Polya, "Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability", G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2008: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/ .

[3]. Gideon Polya (2008), "Media lying over Churchill's crimes. British-Indian Holocaust", MWC News: http://mwcnews.net/content/view/26713/42/ .

[4]. Lord Hastings (1813), Private Journal I, p30 quoted by Spear (1971), p198 [Spear, P. (1971) The Nabobs. A Study of the Social Life of the English in Eighteenth Century India (Peter Smith, Gloucester, Massachusetts)] and by Plumb (1963), p178 [Plumb, J.H. (1963), England in the Eighteenth Century (Penguin Books, London) ].

[5]. Grace Moore (2004), Dicken and the Empire. Discourses of class, race, and colonialism in the works of Charles Dickens" (Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot, UK): http://www.amazon.com/Dickens-Empire-
Discourses-Colonialism-Nineteenth/dp/g
lanceands=books/0754634124

and

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=ZUxw0x
84cGwC&pg=
PA94&lpg=PA94&dq=exterminate+dickens+%22
commander%22&source=bl&ots=HYRvwOuGJK
&sig=gTCZ7lGSDKf
20lcjsseDgicVm7k&hl=en&ei=xjkXStmlK6j8tgOC97
HbCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&r
esnum=5#PPA94,M1
.

[6]. Famine Commission Report (1880); quoted in Kachhawaha (1985), p32 [Kachhawaha, O.P. (1985), Famines in Rajasthan (1900 A.D. - 1947 A.D.) (Hindi Sahitya Mandir, Jodhpur)].

[7]. Lord Curzon (January 1900) quoted in Edwardes (1967), pp230-231 [Edwardes, M. (1967), British India 1772-1947 (Sidgwick & Jackson, London)].

[8]. Winston Churchill, Hansard of the House of Commons, Winston Churchill speech, Hansard Vol. 302, cols. 1920-21, 1935; quoted by Jog (1944), p195 [Jog, N.G. (1944), Churchill's Blind-Spot: India (New Book Company, Bombay)].

[9]. Winston Churchill (1944), in Diary of Amery (Secretary for India), September 9, 1942; quoted by Ziegler (1988), pp 351-352 [Ziegler, P. (1988), Mountbatten. The Official Biography (Collins, London) ].

[10]. Churchill (1954), vol. 4, p181 [Churchill, W.S. (1954), The Second World War. Volumes I-VI (Cassell, London)].

[11]. Dr Gideon Polya, Professor Amartya Sen, Dr Sanjoy Bhattacharya et al., BBC (2008), The things we forgot to remember. The Bengal Famine:: http://www.open2.net/thingsweforgot
/bengalfamine_programme.html
).

[12]. Gideon Polya (2009), "Letter to global warming-threatened Island States – take climate criminal Australia et al to ICC", Bellaciao, 2009: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?article18830 .

Dr Gideon Polya published some 130 works in a 4 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London, 2003: http://www.amazon.com/Biochemical-Targets-Plant-Bioactive-Compounds/dp/0415308291 ). He has recently published "Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950" (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ and http://mwcnews.net/Gideon-Polya) and an updated 2008 version of his 1998 book "Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History, Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability" (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2008: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/ ). He is currently teaching Biochemistry theory and practical courses to second year university agricultural science students at a very good Australian university.




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Friday, 22 May 2009

Why Dalits Have Slammed Mayawati’s Sarvjan Formula?


 

 

By S.R.Darapuri

21 May, 2009
Countercurrents.org

 

Kanshi Ram and Mayawati started their politics with "Tilak, Traju aur Talwar- inko maro jute char" (beat the Brahmins, Banias and Thakurs with shoes) and "Vote hamara raj tumhara nahin chalega" (we won't allow you to rule us with our vote). Besides this, in order to attract Dalits (Scheduled Castes.) they gave the slogans like "Baba tera mission adhura, Kanshi Ram karenge pura" (Kanshi Ram will fulfill the mission left incomplete by Dr. Ambedkar) and "Political power is the key to the entire problem." Through these slogans they aimed at attracting and agitating the dalits against the 'Savarans'( higher castes) and they succeeded also to a good extent. This polarization of dalits was further facilitated by the political vacuum created by the division and downfall of Republican Party of India which was established by Dr. Ambedkar himself in 1956.

 

Since 1995 Mayawati made various experiments to broaden the base of her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). In the beginning it was known as the party of the dalits only. Later on Muslims and Other Backward Castes were also co-opted. It fought the 1993 Assembly election jointly with Samajwadi Party (S.P.), a party of Other Backward Classes and made good gains. It resulted in the formation of first coalition government of BSP and SP in Uttar Pradesh state of India. This coalition of natural allies became a subject of discussion all over India but soon a clash of personal ambitions resulted in its fall in June, 1995. Kanshi Ram and Mayawati grabbed the post of Chief Minister by making an unethical and opportunist alliance with Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP.), a party of orthodox Hindus and the bitterest enemy of dalits. This put the dalit movement and dalit politics on the path of opportunism bereft of principles. It not only confused the direction of dalit politics but also fogged the difference between friends and foes of dalits. This alliance not only gave a lease of life to the dying BJP but also broke the natural alliance of dalits and Backward Castes for ever. This unprincipled and opportunistic alliance was justified as being essential for getting into power and party workers were mislead by this briefing.

 

This alliance with BJP not only confused the dalits but Muslims also moved away from BSP as they consider BJP as their bitterest enemy. During the first tenure of BSP rule in 1995 some land was distributed to empower the dalits because till then the party workers had some presssure on the party leadership. But later on in order to please the Upperr Caste people dalit interests were given a go bye and getting power became the sole motive of the party leadership. After first tenure of Chief Ministership of Mayawati, this process became faster and BSP raced towards 'Sarvjan' throwing aside the Bahujan. In every election moneyed, musclemen and mafias were given preference being winning candidates and dalits were restricted to reserved seats only. Party mission was overtaken by money power and muscle power. Old missionary party workers and those who were close to Kanshi Ram were made to exit the party unceremoniously. As such dalits were put on the margin in the party but they continued to be with the party with the hope that one day they may also get some benefit of government but their hopes were belied.

 

From 1995 to 2003 Mayawati thrice became the Chief Minster of Uttar Pardesh (U.P) but she always took the help of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). During this period neither any dalit agenda was chalked out nor any effort was made in that direction. During 1993 this author during many discussions with Kanshi Ram suggested chalking out a dalit agenda but my suggestions were ignored. I think it was done purposely because declaration of an agenda brings upon a duty to implement it and if failed it brings upon the responsibility and accountability for the failure. It is a matter of regret and sorrow that a party seeking political power in the name of dalits has not framed any agenda till to date as a result of which the dalits have been deprived of any gain coming from a government being run in their name. The result is that the dalits of U.P. are the most backward dalits in whole of India barring those of Bihar and Orissa. During this period moneyed and musclemen of Upper Castes have been managing to get Assembly and Parliament tickets and getting elected they been enjoying the fruits of power whereas dalits with a meager representation have been deprived of all such benefits.

 

BSP, which is doing politics in the name of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, in its effort to secure power has totally ignored his warning in which he had said that "dalits have two enemies. One is Brahmanism and the other is Capitalism and dalits should never compromise with them." But Mayawati has compromised with both by co-opting Brahmans and Corporate sector. At present dalit politics has become a tool for power grabbing. It reached its height when before 2007 Assembly elections Mayawati formed Dalit Brahman Bhaichara Committees (Dalit Brahmans Brotherhood Committees) headed by a Brahman president and a dalit as secretary.

 

The election success of BSP during 2007 was mainly attributed to the important role played by Brahmans and they got a lion's share in power which was much disproportionate to their population. Dalits were reduced to the level of second class players in the Party and in minister ship. This methodology of co-opting Upper Caste people was publicized as new "Social Engineering" and BSP was transformed from the Party of dalits to a Party of Sarvjan (all inclusive).

 

During this period slogans such as "Haathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai" (it is not an elephant but a trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh- all Hindu gods) and "Brahman shankh bajaiga, Haathi dilli jaiga"( Brahman will blow the conch and elephant will march towards Delhi) were coined to placate the Upper caste persons much to the chagrin of dalits. Elephant symbolizes the symbol of BSP. The Varna system of graded inequality became fully operative in the Party and dalits were further pushed to the margin.

 

Even now during the present régime of Mayawati, dalits have been totally ignored and Sarvjan have occupied the front seats. All important ministerial posts have been given to Upper caste people. Mayawati's personal corruption has percolated to all the branches of administration and U.P. has been assessed to be " an alarmingly corrupt state". The various welfare schemes aiming at empowering dalits and other weaker sections of society have fallen a prey to all pervading corruption thereby depriving the intended beneficiaries of their benefits.Balatant corruption came to light during recruitment to the posts of Safai Karamcharies (Sweepers). Similar complaints surfaced during other recruitments also. It is said that there might be only a few lucky persons who escaped payment of high price for government jobs. The funds intended for development works were spent on installation of statues including her own and creating royal memorials and parks.

 

Since 1990 UP has been deprived of any development and creation of employment opportunities. This lack of development has adversely affected the dalits as a result of which they have become the most backward dalits in whole of India. As per 2001 senses their sex ratio, literacy rates and works participation rate are much lower than their counter-parts in other states. A fall of 13% dalits from the category of cultivators to the category of landless labourers during the last decade (1991-2001) indicates their disempowerment.

 

If judged from the angle of protection against atrocities on dalits, there has been no decrease during Mayawati's rule. On the contrary as a result of written and oral orders of Mayawati the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act-1989 has become inoperative. This act was intended to prevent atrocities and award stringent punishment to the perpetrators of atrocities on Dalits. The atrocity cases against dalits are taking place as before but they are not being registered by police. As a result of non-registration of cases the dalits are condemned to suffer atrocities and deprivation from monitory compensation. The intention behind not allowing the registration of cases is to keep the crime figures low thereby projecting a crimeless state. In spite of all this burking of crime, UP stands first in whole of India in terms of crime against dalits. As such Mayawati has totally failed to give even legal protection to dalits.

 

The action of Mayawati of ignoring the dalits and giving preference to Upper Castes has resulted in disillusionment and anguish amongst dalits. This has been displayed by them during the recent 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Most of the criminals, moneyed men and muscle men fielded by Mayawati have been defeated as the dalits did not vote for them. Mayawati now and earlier also gave tickets to the persons whom she had herself accused of threat and assault during the Guest House case of 2nd June, 1995. But dalits refused to oblige her and almost all have been defeated.

 

Mayawati as before had confined the dalits to 17 reserved seats only out of whom only 2 have been elected. If we look at the allotment of tickets during this election it is found that Brahmins being 7.5% of total population of the state were given 20 tickets i.e. 25% of total seats whereas the dalits with 21% population were given 17 reserved seats only. Out of the total 20 seats won by BSP, 5 are Brahmins and only 2 are dalits. On account of this hold of Brahmins in the party, the people have started calling BSP as a Brahmins Samaj Party. From the angle of representation dalits are marginalized in the party. This has been one of the major grievances of dalits against Mayawati.

 

With a view to attract Most Backward Classes, Mayawati sent a recommendation to the Central Government for inclusion of 16 castes in the list of Schedule Castes. Earlier Mulayam Singh had also made a similar attempt which was opposed by dalits as it would have harmed their reservation quota. It was challenged in the court and had to be dropped. This action of Mayawati irritated the dalits. Whereas Mayawati strongly recommended the case for 10% reservation for the poor among the Upper Castes, she did not show a similar interest in respect of dalits. Her declaration of granting 10% reservation to dalits in private sector has remained on paper only.

 

Mayawati's way of ignoring dalits and treating them as a bonded vote bank has irritated a large section of awakened and oppressed section of dalits and has instilled in them a feeling of alienation. But as before Mayawati tried to befool them by projecting a possibility of her becoming the Prime Minister of India. But most of Dalits refused to be taken in. A big chunk of Chamar and Jatav votes, which is the core vote bank of Mayawati, moved away from her to Congress fold. The other Dalits sub-castes like Pasi, Dhobi, Khatik and Balmiki had earlier moved towards SP and BJP. Most Backward Classes also deserted Mayawati. Afraid of Mayawati's love for BJP Muslims also walked away from BSP. This resulted in a limited success on 20 seats only as against a projected tally of 50-60 seats whereby she could stake her claim for the Prime Ministership.


The disheartening defeat of BSP during this election has clearly shown that vote base of BSP has shrunk. Not only Muslims and Most Backward Classes have deserted BSP but a big chunk of dalits have also moved away from it to Congress. Dalit society has been badly divided on sub-caste lines. Dalit movements and dalit politics have fallen a pray to opportunism, corruption and immorality. Today it is standing at cross roads. It is not only a danger signal for Mayawati but for whole of dalit society. Will Mayawati and Dalit intellectuals think over it with their cool mind? If it is not done immediately it may again result in betrayal of dalit interests. There is a fear of dalits again becoming political slaves of Congress. It should be a matter of grave concern and serious introspection by all Ambedkarites.

 

Going by present signs Mayawati has refused to learn any lesson from her debacle. As rightly pointed out by B.G. Verghese in 'Deccan Herald' dated 2009 "the lesson Mayawati requires to learn is that she has been cut to size not on account of conspiracies against Dalit-ki-beti (daughter of a dalit) but because of her own greed, corruption and authoritarianism that is fast blunting her original appeal as a Dalit leader intent on forging a wider social alliance. People do not want innumerable self-aggrandizing statues and mausoleums at the cost of good governance and welfare. She perhaps still has time to learn and mend her ways."

The recent election results show that dalits have rejected Mayawati's much trumpeted up "Sarvjan Formula" and she needs to do a serious introspection and learn from her mistakes otherwise it will prove to be a missed opportunity.




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China has long way to go to dislodge dollar

 

 

By Geoff Dyer
Published: May 21 2009 18:47 | Last updated: May 21 2009 18:47
 
China is on the offensive. Long a bystander in international economic affairs, Beijing has in recent weeks announced a string of initiatives for remoulding the global financial system. And they all have one target – knocking the US dollar off its perch.
Last month, China said it hoped eventually to see the US dollar replaced as the main global reserve currency by a basket of significant currencies and commodities. Zhou Xiaochuan, head of the central bank, argued that the current dollar-based system was too vulnerable to financial crises.
 
China has set up a series of swap arrangements with other central banks, including Argentina, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and Belarus, through which it will make its currency available to the other countries if they run out of foreign exchange.
This week's initiative involves trade. China and Brazil are to begin talks on a scheme for bilateral trade to be settled in the renminbi and the real, rather than the dollar. Beijing has found a willing partner in the Brazilian government, which mixes conservatism in economic policy at home with developing worldist flourishes abroad.
 
Big changes will not happen quickly. The dollar's position is the result of powerful economic realities, not the decision of a room full of bureaucrats. But China is putting down some important long-term markers and all of a sudden, the dry arena of international financial arrangements has become loaded with the symbolism of economic power shifting from west to east.
China's language may be impeccably multilateral but the goal is to boost its position in international economic affairs and limit space for the US to do its own thing.
 
Yet the curious thing about China's attacks on the dominance of the dollar is just how much they are motivated by short-term, domestic politics. And in the process, the really important questions about China's growth model and its future role are being pushed to one side.
 
The government has been stung by domestic criticism of its $2,000bn (€1,440bn, £1,250bn) in foreign exchange reserves, about 70 per cent of which are invested in US government securities.
 
Why is a country that is still poor, people are increasingly asking, lending so much money to a rich country – especially when officials warn constantly about a possible slump in the dollar. Beijing has also reacted angrily to anyone who suggests its huge build-up in foreign currency reserves contributed to the orgy of liquidity in global financial markets.
 
Some of the outrage is understandable – who does not believe that profligacy in the US was at the heart of the crisis? Yet China's huge exposure to the dollar is partly a trap of its own making.
 
If the Chinese currency had appreciated more rapidly in recent years, the economy might not have experienced such turbo-charged growth rates – but its reserves would not have exploded so quickly and the much-needed shift to domestic demand would be more advanced.
 
It is all very well for Beijing to criticise irresponsible behaviour in the US, but for China to run a current account surplus of 8-9 per cent of gross domestic product, as it has been doing, someone on the other side of the ledger must be running big deficits.
If China wants a bigger international role for its currency, it will have to make other difficult shifts. For a start, the renminbi is not yet fully convertible and there are still a battery of restrictions on bringing funds in and out of the country. Why would a Brazilian exporter to China choose to be paid in renminbi, when the dollar is so much easier to trade and hedge against?
 
China's international leverage would also be enhanced if it could lend money overseas in its own currency– to the US, for instance. But until China has a deep and open bond market where interest rates are set by the market and not the government, there will be only limited takers for such renminbi assets.
 
There are plenty of reasons for China to be cautious about such changes – after all, the financial crisis is unlikely to have made Beijing more comfortable about lifting its capital controls.
 
But if China really does want to promote the renminbi and reduce the space for US economic unilateralism, it is these questions – and not toothless agreements about using the renminbi for bilateral trade – that it needs to address.



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How MI5 blackmails British Muslims - 'Work for us or we will say you are a terrorist'


  
By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor

 

Five Muslim community workers have accused MI5 of waging a campaign of blackmail and harassment in an attempt to recruit them as informants.
The men claim they were given a choice of working for the Security Service or face detention and harassment in the UK and overseas.
They have made official complaints to the police, to the body which oversees the work of the Security Service and to their local MP Frank Dobson. Now they have decided to speak publicly about their experiences in the hope that publicity will stop similar tactics being used in the future.
Intelligence gathered by informers is crucial to stopping further terror outrages, but the men's allegations raise concerns about the coercion of young Muslim men by the Security Service and the damage this does to the gathering of information in the future.
Three of the men say they were detained at foreign airports on the orders of MI5 after leaving Britain on family holidays last year.
After they were sent back to the UK, they were interviewed by MI5 officers who, they say, falsely accused them of links to Islamic extremism. On each occasion the agents said they would lift the travel restrictions and threat of detention in return for their co-operation. When the men refused some of them received what they say were intimidating phone calls and threats.
Two other Muslim men say they were approached by MI5 at their homes after police officers posed as postmen. Each of the five men, aged between 19 and 25, was warned that if he did not help the security services he would be considered a terror suspect. A sixth man was held by MI5 for three hours after returning from his honeymoon in Saudi Arabia. He too claims he was threatened with travel restrictions if he tried to leave the UK.
An agent who gave her name as Katherine is alleged to have made direct threats to Adydarus Elmi, a 25-year-old cinema worker from north London. In one telephone call she rang him at 7am to congratulate him on the birth of his baby girl. His wife was still seven months' pregnant and the couple had expressly told the hospital that they did not want to know the sex of their child.
Mr Elmi further alleges: "Katherine tried to threaten me by saying, and it still runs through my mind now: 'Remember, this won't be the last time we ever meet.' And then during our last conversation she explained: 'If you do not want anything to happen to your family you will co-operate.'"
Madhi Hashi, a 19-year-old care worker from Camden, claims he was held for 16 hours in a cell in Djibouti airport on the orders of MI5. He alleges that when he was returned to the UK on 9 April this year he was met by an MI5 agent who told him his terror suspect status would remain until he agreed to work for the Security Service. He alleges that he was to be given the job of informing on his friends by encouraging them to talk about jihad.
Mohamed Nur, 25, a community youth worker from north London, claims he was threatened by the Security Service after an agent gained access to his home accompanied by a police officer posing as a postman.
"The MI5 agent said, 'Mohamed if you do not work for us we will tell any foreign country you try to travel to that you are a suspected terrorist.'"
Mohamed Aden, 25, a community youth worker from Camden, was also approached by someone disguised as a postman in August last year. He alleges an agent told him: "We're going to make your travelling harder for you if you don't co-operate."
None of the six men, who work with disadvantaged youths at the Kentish Town Community Organisation (KTCO), has ever been arrested for terrorism or a terrorism-related offence.
They have repeatedly complained about their treatment to the police and to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which oversees the work of the Security Services.
In a letter to Lord Justice Mummery, who heads the tribunal, Sharhabeel Lone, the chairman of the KTCO, said: "The only thing these young people have in common is that they studied Arabic abroad and are of Somali origin. They are not involved in any terrorist activity whatsoever, nor have they ever been, and the security services are well aware of this."
Mr Sharhabeel added: "These incidents smack of racism, Islamophobia and all that undermines social cohesion. Threatening British citizens, harassing them in their own country, alienating young people who have committed no crime other than practising a particular faith and being a different colour is a recipe for disaster.
"These disgraceful incidents have undermined 10 years of hard work and severely impacted social cohesion in Camden. Targeting young people that are role models for all young people in our country in such a disparaging way demonstrates a total lack of understanding of on-the-ground reality and can only be counter-productive.
"When people are terrorised by the very same body that is meant to protect them, sowing fear, suspicion and division, we are on a slippery slope to an Orwellian society."
Frank Dobson said: "To identify real suspects from the Muslim communities MI5 must use informers. But it seems that from what I have seen some of their methods may be counter-productive."
Last night MI5 and the police refused to discuss the men's complaints with The Independent. But on its website, MI5 says it is untrue that the Security Service harasses Muslims.
The organisation says: "We do not investigate any individuals on the grounds of ethnicity or religious beliefs. Countering the threat from international terrorists, including those who claim to be acting for Islam, is the Security Service's highest priority.
"We know that attacks are being considered and planned for the UK by al-Qai'da and associated networks. International terrorists in this country threaten us directly through violence and indirectly through supporting violence overseas."
It adds: "Muslims are often themselves the victims of this violence – the series of terrorist attacks in Casablanca in May 2003 and Riyadh in May and November 2003 illustrate this.
"The service also employs staff of all religions, including Muslims. We are committed to recruiting a diverse range of staff from all backgrounds so that we can benefit from their different perspectives and experience."
MI5 and me: Three statements
Mahdi Hashi: 'I told him: this is blackmail'
Last month, 19-year-old Mahdi Hashi arrived at Gatwick airport to take a plane to visit his sick grandmother in Djibouti, but as he was checking in he was stopped by two plainclothes officers. One of the officers identified himself as Richard and said he was working for MI5.
Mr Hashi said: "He warned me not to get on the flight. He said 'Whatever happens to you outside the UK is not our responsibility'. I was absolutely shocked." The agent handed Mr Hashi a piece of paper with his name and telephone contact details and asked him to call him.
"The whole time he tried to make it seem like he was looking after me. And just before I left them at my boarding gate I remember 'Richard' telling me 'It's your choice, mate, to get on that flight but I advise you not to,' and then he winked at me."
When Mr Hashi arrived at Djibouti airport he was stopped at passport control. He was then held in a room for 16 hours before being deported back to the UK. He claims the Somali security officers told him that their orders came from London. More than 24 hours after he first left the UK he arrived back at Heathrow and was detained again.
"I was taken to pick up my luggage and then into a very discreet room. 'Richard' walked in with a Costa bag with food which he said was for me, my breakfast. He said it was them who sent me back because I was a terror suspect." Mr Hashi, a volunteer youth leader at Kentish Town Community Organisation in north London, alleges that the officer made it clear that his "suspect" status and travel restrictions would only be lifted if he agreed to co-operate with MI5. "I told him 'This is blatant blackmail'; he said 'No, it's just proving your innocence. By co-operating with us we know you're not guilty.'
"He said I could go and that he'd like to meet me another time, preferably after [May] Monday Bank Holiday. I looked at him and said 'I don't ever want to see you or hear from you again. You've ruined my holiday, upset my family, and you nearly gave my sick grandmother in Somalia a heart attack'."
Adydarus Elmi: 'MI5 agent threatened my family'
When the 23-year-old cinema worker from north London arrived at Chicago's O'Hare airport with his pregnant wife, they were separated, questioned and deported back to Britain.
Three days later Mr Elmi was contacted on his mobile phone and asked to attend Charing Cross police station to discuss problems he was having with his travel documents. "I met a man and a woman," he said. "She said her name was Katherine and that she worked for MI5. I didn't know what MI5 was."
For two-and-a-half hours Mr Elmi faced questions. "I felt I was being lured into working for MI5." The contact did not stop there. Over the following weeks he claims "Katherine" harassed him with dozens of phone calls.
"She would regularly call my mother's home asking to speak to me," he said. "And she would constantly call my mobile."
In one disturbing call the agent telephoned his home at 7am to congratulate him on the birth of his baby girl. His wife was still seven months pregnant and the couple had expressly told the hospital that they did not want to know the sex of their child.
"Katherine tried to threaten me by saying – and it still runs through my mind now – 'Remember, this won't be the last time we ever meet", and then during our last conversation explained: 'If you do not want anything to happen to your family you will co-operate'."
Mohamed Nur
Mohamed Nur, 25, first came into contact with MI5 early one morning in August 2008 when his doorbell rang. Looking through his spyhole in Camden, north London, he saw a man with a red bag who said he was a postman.
When Mr Nur opened the door the man told him that he was in fact a policeman and that he and his colleague wanted to talk to him. When they sat down the second man produced ID and said that he worked for MI5.
The agent told Mr Nur that they suspected him of being an Islamic extremist. "I immediately said 'And where did you get such an idea?' He replied, 'I am not permitted to discuss our sources'. I said that I have never done anything extreme."
Mr Nur claims he was then threatened by the officer. "The MI5 agent said, 'Mohamed, if you do not work for us we will tell any foreign country you try to travel to that you are a suspected terrorist'."
They asked him what travel plans he had. Mr Nur said he might visit Sweden next year for a football tournament. The agent told him he would contact him within the next three days.
"I am not interested in meeting you ever." Mr Nur replied. As they left, the agent said to at least consider the approach, as it was in his best interests.



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Thursday, 21 May 2009

Bossnapping - Hostages to tradition


By Peggy Hollinger
Published: May 20 2009 20:34 | Last updated: May 20 2009 20:34
Marcus Kerriou of Molex
There are worse ways to spend time as a hostage than being locked in the headquarters of one of France's best-known champagne houses.
Back in the summer of 1993, the boss of Moët & Chandon was trapped in his Epernay offices overnight with only a fridge full of bubbly for company. Meanwhile, workers barricaded themselves in the cellars and cracked open a few of the 95m bottles laid down in the dusty warren of tunnels to protest against the group's plan to commemorate its 250th anniversary with 250 job cuts.
Bossnapping is nothing new in France, almost as much a part of the culture as baguettes and brie. But in recent months, the economic crisis and rising tide of factory closures and restructurings have prompted an unusually high rate of corporate hold-ups. At least 10 companies over the past two months have had managers held hostage, while many more have had factories occupied.
Though most have been peaceful, and no hostage has come to serious harm, few experiences have been as amiable as that champagne-fuelled evening at Epernay. Two managers at the French factory of Molex, the US connectors group, were jostled and bruised as they walked away from their 26-hour ordeal last month (and another Molex manager received death threats in the post). Only last week, 74 energy workers were arrested after extensive damage was done to the Paris offices of power services groups ErDF and GrDF during a protest over pay.
The growing radicalisation of protest is worrying the French government, which has privately discouraged managers from pressing charges against kidnappers and protesters to avoid inflaming an already tense social situation.
But companies, too, are struggling with the potentially explosive issue of how to implement restructuring plans in the heat of the economic crisis. The anxiety is particularly acute among foreign companies, unfamiliar with the French tendency to take direct action and where bossnappings have been most frequent.

Tips for surviving if the worst happens

Think carefully about where to hold your meetings with employees. Meeting at a factory earmarked for closure may ignite an already tense situation.
Prepare the venue by discreetly storing a change of clothes, toothbrush and baby-wipes close to where you will be sitting. If possible have a water cooler handy and a few snacks.
Put your family on speed dial on the mobile phone.
Go to the toilet before the meeting. One recent hostage described his humiliation at having to ask his employees to go to the toilet. Jean-Paul Sartre, the leftwing philosopher who cheered on bossnappings in the 1970s, once remarked that "when a boss has to ask his employees' permission to piss, a great step forward has been taken".
Don't panic. Most bossnappings pass peacefully, with employees often providing food and drink. The main aim is often to get media coverage for union claims and hostages are generally released within a day.
If your captors get unpleasant, sign whatever they ask. Agreements extracted under duress are not valid under French law.
Bring objective observers, such as mediators, to negotiations. They can help to avert aggressive action.
Remember that hostage taking remains rare. Ten in two months is hardly significant when hundreds of French companies are cutting jobs and closing factories. If you have been bossnapped, it may well be that you have failed to spot the warning signs.
Restructuring specialists report a surge of interest in advice from foreign clients, and small businesses are sprouting up across the country offering guidance on how to deal with a hostage situation.
Xavier Lacoste, chief executive of social relations firm Altédia, says the first lesson of bossnappings is not how to survive them but how to avoid them. This involves deep dialogue with staff, he says. "You do not have this kind of movement in companies with a tradition of discussion."
He cites Peugeot and Renault, the French carmakers, which have been able to implement sweeping job cut plans without managers being taken hostage, although they have had their fair share of strikes. Through negotiation, the companies have arrived at innovative solutions, such as white-collar workers volunteering for temporary wage cuts to help reduce job losses in the factories. "People will accept job cuts as long as you treat them with dignity," he adds.
Companies also have to be consistent in their treatment of redundancies, says Mr Lacoste. He cites the kidnapping of four managers at Sony, when the Japanese electronics group announced the closure of a French factory not long after a previous hefty redundancy plan. "Not only were they closing the factory but the workers who were losing their jobs were getting less than those who left before."
Many experts note that the hostage-taking often seems driven by a sense of despair over decisions taken in remote head of­fices with little sensitivity shown for the local situation. "In certain regions, when a factory closes it is the last one remaining. And the workers have no possibility of finding another job," says Mr Lacoste.
Jacques Buhart, a partner at law firm Herbert Smith, has advised dozens of international companies on restructurings and says the remoteness of decision-making can be a big problem in implementing job cut programmes. "People don't understand that the power to decide the fate of these factories is not in France," he said.
"The first thing I tell clients is that they are going to be kidnapped," he says, jokingly. "The second is that they have to be prepared to go to court."
But not to press charges. Instead, the court appearance is part of the ritual required to implement a restructuring plan. Under French law, the works council must be informed of any job cut proposals, and give an opinion on them, before they can go ahead. The opinion is non-binding, so even if the works council rejects the plan, it can still be enacted.
But, says Mr Buhart, "the position the unions take is to say they do not have enough information to give an opinion. So the company gives more and they still do not have enough. At some point management has to go to court to say they have given all the information necessary for an opinion". Then, he says, a judge will normally demand a few details but is also likely to rule that the works council will then have to opine. The real problem is that "all this can take six months".
Long before getting to that stage, Mr Buhart says managers have to prepare the way politically. In France, where pride in the country's industrial heritage runs deep, closing a factory – no matter how unprofitable – can be a minefield.
Once the plan is drawn up, managers have to get the government's local representative – the Paris-appointed prefect – onside. Foreign companies are often reluctant to do so, he says, for fear of government hostility to job cuts. But failure to do so could cause even greater political outrage if employee protest gets out of hand and the auth­orities had not been forewarned. "It is absolutely essential" to talk to the prefect, Mr Buhart says. "You have to go with the timetable and explain exactly what you are doing."
The real risk of political controversy lies with local officials, ac­cording to other restructuring specialists. "The one you don't tell is the local mayor, because he will have to be re-elected," says one who asked not to be named.
Yet companies need not fear a bout of conflicts if they recognise that workers have not aimed to stop restructuring itself, suggests Guy Groux, social relations professor at Sciences-Po. "The claims are about the value of the payoffs and the conditions of departure. They are not defending jobs."
Mr Lacoste agrees. In the end it often boils down to a question of money. "Companies need to be aware that the differences unions are asking for is often not a lot."


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Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The rise and fall of Prabhakaran


By M K Bhadrakumar

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran's death circa May 19, 2009, in circumstances we will never quite get to know, concludes a morality play.

As the curtain comes down and we leave the theater, the spectacle continues to haunt us. We feel a deep unease and can't quite figure out the reason. Something rankles somewhere. And then we realize we have blood on our hands.

Not only our hands, but our whole body and deeper down, our conscience - what remains of it after the mundane battles of our day-to-day life - are also dripping with blood.

Prabhakaran's blood. No, it is not only Prabhakaran's, but also of 70,000 Sri Lankan Tamils who have perished in the unspeakable violence through the past quarter century.

All the pujas we may perform to our favorite Hindu god, Lord Ganesh, for good luck each morning religiously so that we march ahead in our life from success to success cannot wash away the guilt we are bearing - the curse of the 70,000 dead souls.

Our children and grandchildren will surely inherit the great curse. What a bitter legacy!

A long time ago, we created Prabhakaran. We picked him up as an urchin from nowhere. What we found charming about him was that he was so thoroughly apolitical - almost innocent about politics. He was a simpleton in many ways, who had a passion for weapons and the military regimen. He suited our needs perfectly.

Which was to humiliate the Junius Richard Jayewardene government in Sri Lanka and teach it a hard lesson about the dangers of being disrespectful to India's status as the pre-eminent power in the Indian Ocean. Jayewardene was too Western-oriented and behaved as if he never read about the Monroe Doctrine when he read history in Oxford. We didn't like at all his dalliance with the Israelis and the Americans in our very backyard. So, we fostered Prabhakaran and built him up as a prick on Jayewardene's vanities - like Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale of the Deccans.

Then, as time passed, we decided that he had outlived his utility as we had come to develop an entirely different outlook towards the pro-Western orientation of the Colombo government by that time. Our egotistic leader in Delhi who detested Jayewardene was no more in power and the new soft-spoken leader didn't share his predecessor's strong political antipathies.

So, we arm-twisted Prabhakaran to tone down and fall in line with our changed priorities. But we didn't realize that by then he had become a full-grown adult.

He resisted our blackmail and pressure tactics. When we pressured him even more and tried to collar him, he struck back. He dispatched assassins to India and killed our beloved leader. And he became our eternal enemy.

Yet, we couldn't do anything to harm him. He had already become so strong - an uncrowned king among his people. So we waited. We are a patient lot. Who can match us in infinite patience, given our 5,000 years of history? Our cosmic religion gives us a unique wisdom to be patient and stoic and to bide our time.

And then, the opportune time came. We promptly moved in for the kill by aligning ourselves with Prabhakaran's enemies. We armed them and trained them in better skills to kill. We guided them with good intelligence. We plugged all escape routes for Prabhakaran. And then, we patiently waited as the noose tightened around Prabhakaran's neck.

Today he is no more. Believe it or not, we had no role in his death. How and when he died shall forever remain an enigma wrapped in a mystery. We will of course never divulge what we know.

All that matters is that the world woke up to the death only after the May 13 polling in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Otherwise, the parliamentary election results may have gone haywire against us. Strange are the ways of the Indian democracy.

We have had our revenge. Nothing else matters for the present.

What lies ahead? We will continue to make noises about a "political solution" to the Tamil problem that Prabhakaran championed through violent means.

Of course, let there be no doubt that we will periodically render humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians who have been herded into camps and may languish there till the dust settles down. We will demonstrate that we are indeed capable of the milk of human kindness. After all, the Sri Lankan Tamils are part of our historical consciousness.

But we must also be realistic. We know in our heart of hearts that the scope for a political solution in the fashion in which our leaders seem to suggest publicly is virtually nil.

The Sinhalese will never allow the world to dictate to them a political solution. More so, they will promptly and conclusively rebuff any attempt by us to seek a role in what they will now onward insist as strictly their internal affair.

Always remember that Sri Lanka is one of the last bastions of Theravada Buddhism and preserving that legacy is the Sinhalese people's precious tryst with destiny. At least, that is how they feel. We have to accept the weight of their cultural nationalism.

They see Sri Lanka as the land of the Sinhalese. How could they allow us Indians who wiped out Buddhism with such ferocity from the sub-continent interfere with their keen sense of destiny as the custodians of that very same great religion? Never, never.

If we try to pressure the Sinhalese, they will approach the Chinese or the Pakistanis to balance our pressure. They are capable of doing that.

The Sinhalese are a gifted people. We all know few can never match their terrific skills in media management. They have always lived by their wits.

Equally, they are fantastic practitioners of diplomacy. We suspect that they may in fact have an edge over us on this front, for, unlike us who are dissimulating from day to day as if we're a responsible regional power, and dissipating our energies in pastimes such as hunting down Somali pirates in distant seas, they are a highly focused lot.

They have the grit because they are fighting for the preservation of their country's future identity as a Buddhist nation.

Only last week, they showed their diplomatic skill by getting the Russians and the Chinese to stall a move in the United Nations Security Council to pressure them.

The Europeans fancy they can try the Sinhalese for war crimes. What naivety!

We asked the Sinhalese in private many a time how they proposed to navigate their way in the coming period. They wouldn't divulge.

But we know that it is not as if they have no solution of their own to the Tamil problem, either. We know they already have a blueprint.

See, they have already solved the Tamil problem in the eastern provinces of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara. The Tamils are no more the majority community in those provinces.

Similarly, from tomorrow, they will commence a concerted, steady colonization program of the northern provinces where Prabhakaran reigned supreme for two decades. They will ensure incrementally that the northern regions no more remain as Tamil provinces.

The Tamils will be made into a minority community in their own northern homelands. They will have to live among the newly created Sinhalese settlements in those regions to the north of Elephant Pass.

All this will indeed be within Sri Lanka's "federal structure". Sri Lanka will continue to adhere to parliamentary democracy.

Give them a decade at the most. The Tamil problem will become a relic of the bloody history of the Indian sub-continent.

The Sinhalese are good friends of India. Our elite and their elite speak the same idiom. We both speak English well, play golf and like chilled beer. We should, therefore, wish them well.

As for the blood on our hands, true, it is a blessed nuisance. But this is not the first time in our history that we're having blood on our hands.

Trust our words. No lasting harm will be done. Blood doesn't leave stains.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.





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