Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Green Books, red herring and the LoC war


FOCUS: India must become aware that a more muscular response to Pakistani aggression on the LoC will come with a price that probably isn’t worth paying. The picture is of commanders of the Indian and Pakistani Armies at a flag meeting in Poonch recently.
Photo: PTIFOCUS: India must become aware that a more muscular response to Pakistani aggression on the LoC will come with a price that probably isn’t worth paying. The picture is of commanders of the Indian and Pakistani Armies at a flag meeting in Poonch recently.
Pakistan’s military literature makes clear that its generals are seeking to provoke a crisis. India is pushing itself into their trap
Late one night in the summer of 2009, four improvised 107-millimetre rockets arced over the Pul Kanjari border outpost in Punjab, and exploded in the fields outside the village of Attari. For the first time since the war of 1971, there was an attack across the India-Pakistan border. In September that year, four more rockets were fired; then, in January 2010, there was a third assault.
Now, as Indian and Pakistani troops trade fire along the Line of Control (LoC), it is more important than ever to understand the significance of those events. The rocket attacks, believed to have been carried out by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, represented a glimpse into a grim future that India’s policy of strategic restraint has been designed to avert — a war of attrition waged by jihadists that would turn India’s western frontiers into a kind of nuclear-fuelled Lebanon.
Ever since January 2008, two months after General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani took over as chief of the Pakistan Army, clashes along the LoC have escalated. India reported 28 ceasefire violations in 2009, 44 in 2010, 60 in 2011, and 117 last year. The traditional explanation — that these clashes are linked to terrorist infiltration across the LoC — borne out by the data: during this period, Jammu and Kashmir has become significantly less violent, not more.
New doctrine
Pakistan’s military literature provides some insight into what is going on. The country’s generals, it shows, hope heightened tensions with India will help rebuild their legitimacy, extricate themselves from a domestic insurgency they are losing, and push jihadist groups now ranged against the Pakistani state to turn their energies eastwards. India, driven by a barrage of ill-conceived war polemic, is pushing itself into this trap.
Earlier this month, reports emerged that Pakistan had amended its doctrinal manual, called the Green Book, to include a chapter identifying internal insurgent forces as the country’s principal national security threat. No one, though, has quoted as much as a single line from the Green Book in question — one of several reasons to suspect it might just be a red herring. Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, in a January 4 address at the National Defence University, called on the armed forces to “redesign and redefine our military doctrine” to fight terrorism. It seems reasonable to infer that, on that date, he at least was unaware of a new doctrine.
C. Christine Fair, a Georgetown University scholar who is the preeminent authority on the Pakistan Army’s internal doctrinal literature — and the first to bring the Green Book series to light — is in little doubt that is the case. “This talk of a new doctrine is rubbish,” says Dr. Fair, “I think a lot of people who really ought know better have let themselves be talked into buying snake-oil.”
The Green Book isn’t, in fact, a doctrinal testament — or even, in fact, one book. For the last two decades, as first reported in The Hindu in 2011, the Pakistan Army’s general headquarters has published collections of essays by senior officers, with the name assigned to the series. The 2010 Green Book, on information warfare, only became available last year; the next in the biennial series only became available in 2011.
Suspicions of India
From the very first essay in the current Green Book, it becomes clear the Pakistani officer corps’ maniacal suspiciousness of India hasn’t stilled. Brigadier Umar Farooq Durrani’s “Treatise on Indian-backed Psychological Warfare Against Pakistan,” asserts that the Research and Analysis Wing “funds many Indian newspapers and even television channels, such as Zee Television, which is considered to be its media headquarters to wage psychological war.” The “creation of [the] South Asian Free Media Association a few years back,” Brigadier Farooq claims, “was a step in the same direction.” Even the eminent scholar Ayesha Siddiqa’s work, he insists, is “a classical example of psychological war against Pakistan.”
The most subtle form” of this psychological war, the Brigadier states, “is found in movies where Muslim and Hindu friendship is screened within [sic.] the backdrop of melodrama. Indian soaps and movies are readily welcomed in most households in Pakistan. The effects desired to be achieved through this is to undermine the Two National Theory [as] being a person obsession of [Muhammad Ali] Jinnah.”
Had the Green Books not been official publications, none of this ought to have been a cause of worry. There is, after all, no shortage of delusional paranoiacs on the eastern side of the India-Pakistan border either, in and outside the armed forces.
From the Pakistan Army chief himself, though, we know ideas like those of Brigadier Durrani are considered worthy of serious consideration. In his foreword to the 2010 edition, General Kayani asserts that the essays provide “an effective forum for the leadership to reflect on, identity and define the challenges faced by the Pakistan army, and share possible ways of overcoming them.”
The eastern enemy
Language of the kind that runs through the 2010 Green Book pervades earlier editions too. In 2002, as Pakistan faced up to the looming war between its armed forces and their one-time jihadist allies, theGreen Book focussed on low-intensity warfare. Brigadier Shahid Hashmat, typically, argued that the “threat of low-intensity conflicts should be considered as the most serious matter at [the] national level.” Thus, he went on, “all national agencies and resources must be directed concurrently for launching an effective and robust response against this threat.”
The blame for the crisis imposed on Pakistan by religious sectarian groups and jihadists, though, is firmly placed on India. Lieutenant-Colonel Inayatullah Nadeem Butt, using ideas near-identical to those in the current Green Book, asserted that “India has been aggressively involved in subverting the minds of youth through planned propaganda and luring them towards subversive activities.”
Even as they considered how to fight religious sectarian groups and revolutionary jihadists, the officers who contributed to the 2002 Green Book thus focussed on imposing punitive costs on India. Brigadier Muhammad Zia, for example, noted that “India is highly volatile on its internal front due to numerous vulnerabilities which, if agitated, accordingly could yield results out of proportion to the efforts put in.” In similar vein, Major Ijaz Ahmad advocated “that [the] Inter-Services Intelligence should launch low profile operations in Indian-held Kashmir and should not allow the freedom movement to die down.” “Linguistic, social, religious and communal diversities in India,” the officer continued, “should be exploited carefully and imaginatively.”
Put another way, even as they considered tactics to defeat insurgents in Pakistan, the officer corps also discussed sponsoring insurgencies in India, to tie down their arch-adversary. General Pervez Musharraf described the 2002 Green Book, as a “valuable document for posterity”; he was right.
Tough challenge
Like all forms of madness, the texts in the Green Book aren’t without method: crisis with India is, after all, a precondition for ensuring the Pakistan Army’s preeminent position in the country’s power structure. 26/11, it is surprisingly little remarked upon, almost did pay off for Pakistan’s Army. Less than a week after the attack, a senior Army commander was reported as calling the jihadist chief Baitullah Mehsud a “patriot.” The officer said the army’s war with the Taliban leaders like Mehsud was merely the result of minor “misunderstandings.”
There is plenty of evidence that jihadists in Pakistan are growing more powerful — and that organisations like the Tehreek-e-Taliban are seriously considering expanding their operations eastwards. “The practical struggle for a shari’a system that we are carrying out in Pakistan,” its deputy chief Maulana Wali-ur-Rahman said in a recently-released video, “the same way we will continue it in Kashmir, and the same way we will implement the shari’a system in India.”
It is self-evident that preventing a rapprochement between jihadists and the generals is in India’s best interest — one reason why Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh proved willing to pay the political price for a policy of strategic restraint. That the will to continue doing so is fraying in the build-up to the General Election is evident. India has, so far, punished Pakistani aggression with a variety of means, conventional and covert — but the seduction of grandiose gestures is growing. Indians must become aware, though, that a more muscular response to Pakistani aggression on the LoC, like all instant gratification, will come with a price that probably isn’t worth paying.

Locked in U.N. files, 15 years of bloodletting at LoC


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Complaints by Pakistan of executions, beheadings in secret cross-border raids by Indian forces
In classified protests to a United Nations watchdog that have never been disclosed till now, Pakistan has accused Indian soldiers of involvement in the torture and decapitation of at least 12 Pakistani soldiers in cross-Line of Control raids since 1998, as well as the massacre of 29 civilians.

The allegations, laid out in confidential Pakistani complaints to the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), suggest that Indian and Pakistani troops stationed on the Line of Control remain locked in a pattern of murderous violence, despite the ceasefire both armies entered into in November 2003. Earlier this month, bilateral relations were severely damaged after a series of LoC skirmishes, which culminated in thebeheading and mutilation of two Indian soldiers Lance-Naik Hemraj Singh and Lance-Naik Sudhakar Singh.

The Ministry of Defence did not respond to an e-mail from The Hindu, seeking comment on the alleged decapitation of Pakistani civilians and troops reported to UNMOGIP. However, a military spokesperson said the issue had “not been raised by Pakistan in communications between the two Directors-General of Military Operations.”

The Ministry of External Affairs also said the UNMOGIP complaints had not been raised in diplomatic exchanges between the two countries.

“Ever since 9/11,” a senior Pakistan army officer told The Hindu, “we have sought to downplay these incidents, aware that a public backlash [could] push us into a situation we cannot afford on the LoC, given that much of our army is now committed to our western borders. Each of these incidents has been protested by us on both military and UNMOGIP channels.”
UNMOGIP, set up after the India-Pakistan war of 1947-1948 to monitor ceasefire violations, does not conduct criminal investigations, or assign responsibility for incidents. The reports of its ceasefire monitors are sent to the organisation’s headquarters in New York, and forwarded to the Ministry of Defence in New Delhi.

Ever since 1972, India has responded to UNMOGIP queries with a standard-form letter, saying it believes the organisation has lost its relevance following the demarcation of the LoC. Earlier this month, India argued in the United Nations that the organisation ought to be wound-up.

Massacre for massacre

The most savage cross-LoC violence Indian forces are alleged to have participated in was the killing of 22 civilians at the village of Bandala, in the Chhamb sector, on the night of November 26-27, 1998. The bodies of two civilians, according to Pakistan’s complaint to UNMOGIP, were decapitated; the eyes of several others were allegedly gouged out by the attackers. The Pakistani military claimed to have recovered an Indian-made watch from the scene of the carnage, along with a hand-written note which asked, “How does your own blood feel”?

First reported by The Hindu’s sister publication Frontline in its June 19, 1998 issue, the Bandala massacre is alleged to have been carried out by irregulars backed by Indian special forces in retaliation for the massacre of 29 Hindu villagers at Prankote, in Jammu and Kashmir, by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The LeT attackers slit the throats of their victims, who included women and children.

No Indian investigation of the Bandala killings has ever been carried out. However, an officer serving in the Northern Command at the time said the massacre was “intended to signal that communal massacres by jihadists, who were after all trained and equipped by Pakistan’s military, were a red line that could not be crossed with impunity.”

The Lashkar, however, continued to target Hindu villagers in the Jammu region; 10 were killed at Deesa and Surankote just days later, on May 6, 1998. In 2001, 108 people were gunned down in 11 communal massacres, and 83 people were killed in five incidents in 2002 — a grim toll that only died out after the 2003 ceasefire.

Brutal retaliation

Even though the large-scale killings of civilians did not take place again, Pakistan continued to report cross-border attacks, involving mutilations, to UNMOGIP.

Six months after the Kargil war, on the night of January 21-22, 2000, seven Pakistani soldiers were alleged to have been captured in a raid on a post in the Nadala enclave, across the Neelam River. The seven soldiers, wounded in fire, were allegedly tied up and dragged across a ravine running across the LoC. The bodies were returned, according to Pakistan’s complaint, bearing signs of brutal torture.
“Pakistan chose to underplay the Nadala incident,” a senior Pakistani military officer involved with its Military Operations Directorate told The Hindu, “as General Pervez Musharraf had only recently staged his coup, and did not want a public outcry that would spark a crisis with India.”

Indian military sources told The Hindu that the raid, conducted by a special forces unit, was intended to avenge the killing of Captain Saurabh Kalia, and five soldiers — sepoys Bhanwar Lal Bagaria, Arjun Ram, Bhika Ram, Moola Ram and Naresh Singh — of the 4 Jat Regiment. The patrol had been captured on May 15, 1999, in the Kaksar sector of Kargil. Post mortem revealed that the men’s bodies had been burned with cigarette-ends and their genitals mutilated.

Less detail is available on the retaliatory cycles involved in incidents that have taken place since the ceasefire went into place along the LoC in 2003 — but Pakistan’s complaints to UNMOGIP suggest that there has been steady, but largely unreported, cross-border violence involving beheadings and mutilations.

Indian troops, Pakistan alleged, killed a JCO, or junior commissioned officer, and three soldiers in a raid on a post in the Baroh sector, near Bhimber Gali in Poonch, on September 18, 2003. The raiders, it told UNMOGIP, decapitated one soldier and carried his head off as a trophy.

Near-identical incidents have taken place on at least two occasions since 2008, when hostilities on the LoC began to escalate again. Indian troops, Pakistan’s complaints record, beheaded a soldier and carried his head across on June 19, 2008, in the Bhattal sector in Poonch. Four Pakistani soldiers, UNMOGIP was told, died in the raid.

The killings came soon after a June 5, 2008 attack on the Kranti border observation post near Salhotri village in Poonch, which claimed the life of 2-8 Gurkha Regiment soldier Jawashwar Chhame.

Finally, on August 30, 2011, Pakistan complained that three soldiers, including a JCO, were beheaded in an Indian raid on a post in the Sharda sector, across the Neelam river valley in Kel. The Hindu had first reported the incident based on testimony from Indian military sources, who said two Pakistani soldiers had been beheaded following the decapitation of two Indian soldiers near Karnah. The raid on the Indian forward position, a highly placed military source said, was carried out by Pakistani special forces, who used rafts to penetrate India’s defences along the LoC.

Fragile ceasefire

Part of the reason why the November 2003 ceasefire failed to end such savagery, government sources in both India and Pakistan told The Hindu, is the absence of an agreed mechanism to regulate conflicts along the LoC. Though both sides have occasional brigade-level flag meetings, and local post commanders exchange communications, disputes are rarely reported to higher authorities until tensions reach boiling point. Foreign offices in both countries, diplomats admitted, are almost never briefed on crises brewing on the LoC.

In October last year, highly placed military sources said, Pakistan’s Director-General of Military Operations complained about Indian construction work around Charunda, in Uri. His Indian counterpart, Lieutenant-General Vinod Bhatia, however, responded that India’s works were purely intended to prevent illegal border crossings. The unresolved dispute led to exchanges of fire, which eventually escalated into shelling and the killings of soldiers on both sides.

The November 2003 ceasefire, Indian diplomatic sources say, was based on an unwritten “agreement,” which in essence stipulated that neither side would reinforce its fortifications along the LoC — a measure first agreed to after the 1971 war. In 2006, the two sides exchanged drafts for a formal agreement. Since then, the sources said, negotiations have stalled over differing ideas on what kind of construction is permissible. “In essence,” a senior government official said, “we accept that there should be no new construction, but want to be allowed to expand counter-infiltration measures and expand existing infrastructure.”

India insists that it needs to expand counter-infiltration infrastructure because of escalating operations by jihadist groups across the LoC. Pakistan argues that India’s own figures show a sharp decline in operations by jihadists in Jammu and Kashmir. Last year, according to the Indian government, 72 terrorists, 24 civilians and 15 security personnel, including police, were killed in terrorist violence in the State — lower, in total, than the 521 murders recorded in Delhi alone. In 2011, the figures were, respectively, 100, 40 and 33; in 2010, 232, 164 and 69.

“You can’t say that you need more border defences to fight off jihadists when you yourself say there is less and less jihadist violence,” a Pakistani military official said. “The only reason there are less jihadists,” an Indian military officer responded, “is because we’ve enhanced our defences.”
Indian and Pakistani diplomats last met on December 27 to discuss the draft agreement, but could make no headway.

Families face battle with GSK over dangerous diabetes drug

Exclusive: Pharmaceutical giant resists claims despite settlement with victims in US
Avandia pill bottle
GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to payouts in US lawsuits alleging Avandia pills could cause heart attacks. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images
Thousands of families in the UK could be deprived of compensation for the death or harm of a relative caused by the diabetes drug Avandia, even though the British maker has agreed to pay billions of dollars to settle similar claims in the US.
The licence for Avandia was revoked in Europe, in September 2010, because of evidence that it could cause heart failure and heart attacks. The drug can still be prescribed in the US, but not to patients at risk of heart problems.
A scientist with the Food and Drug Administration estimated that Avandia could have been responsible for 100,000 heart attacks in the US.
The manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, has admitted concealing data about the damaging side-effects of the drug, and there is evidence of the drug's harmful effects. But, despite this, GSK is not prepared to settle claims in the UK without a court fight.
The history of drug litigation in the UK suggests that families might not easily get  compensation.
Daniel Slade, with the Express company of solicitors in Manchester, has 19 cases on his books and has begun proceedings against GSK in four of them.
The pharmaceutical firm has told the solicitors that it will contest the cases. In just one of the cases it has indicated a willingness to spend £600,000 on its defence, which, the solicitor says, would be a fraction of what the claim is worth.
"It is very disappointing," said Slade. "We anticipate that these claims do have a good prospect of success, but they still have to prove their case in the UK with suitable evidence. They are tasked with having to produce that evidence, including medical expert opinion. It is a burden one would have thought they might not have to go through."
He expected that, if GSK fought in the courts rather than settled outside, as it had done in the US, it would take years for bereaved relatives, or those who have been harmed, to get any sort of payment.
A spokesman for GSK said: "We have every sympathy for people with complications associated with diabetes and those who care for them, but unfortunately we are unable to comment on individual legal cases. We continue to believe that the company acted appropriately and responsibly in its management of Avandia."
Liz Thomas, policy manager at the patient safety charity Action against Medical Accidents, said it had "become increasingly difficult in the UK to challenge large corporations such as pharmaceutical companies, an incredibly expensive form of litigation".
Corporations have a vast amount of money at their disposal to contest legal cases, butlegal aid is about to cease for medical negligence cases.
The Avandia cases in Manchester will be fought on a "no win, no fee" basis by Express solicitors.
The cases in the US were settled by GSK extremely quickly, said Thomas. "I would hope they would not take advantage [in Britain] of the inequality of arms."
Avandia was first introduced in the NHS in July 2000. It was given to people with type 2 diabetes whose glucose levels were no longer being properly controlled by the standard drugs – metformin and a sulphonylurea drug. Avandia could be prescribed with those drugs or on its own.
The drug, which generically is known as rosiglitazone, was designed to lessen the body's resistance to insulin. It was available as a standalone drug – Avandia – or in a combination with metformin, and known as Avandamet.
When both drugs were withdrawn by the European Medicines Agency, there were about 90,000 people taking them in the UK.
The first warnings of trouble with Avandia came in 2007, when a prominent US scientist, Steve Nissen, published data from a review of 42 clinical trials which had been carried out on the drug. The trials involved 28,000 patients, and showed that Avandia could cause heart attacks. Further trials, the results of which were published in 2010, found people on Avandia were 27% more likely to have a stroke, 25% more likely to have heart failure, and 14% more likely to die, than patients on an alternative diabetes drug.
Potentially yet more damaging for GSK was its guilty plea to federal charges of concealing data about the drug's side effects. Most of the data on the drug comes from GSK's own trials. In November 2011 GSK agreed to pay $3bn to the US government over the Avandia issue and to end investigations into its marketing of the antidepressants Paxil (Seroxat in the UK) and Wellbutrin.
"This is a significant step toward resolving difficult, long-standing matters which do not reflect the company that we are today," Andrew Witty, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, said at the time.
GSK is also still defending cases in the UK from people who claim to have been badly affected by Seroxat. A group action, involving people who say they suffered severe withdrawal problems when they tried to stop the drug, has been going on for years though many claims have been settled in the US.
The same is true of Vioxx, made by Merck, the painkiller that was withdrawn after it emerged eight years ago that it doubled the risk of a heart attack.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

It’s time to switch off your mobile and set yourself free

Experts have found an effective new formula for happiness - ditching the smartphone

That's enough mobile phones: 'I found myself paying closer attention to the world around me, and having conversations that felt like real conversations'
That's enough mobile phones: 'I found myself paying closer attention to the world around me, and having conversations that felt like real conversations' Photo: Bloomberg
Will miracles never cease? I learnt yesterday that there is a team of officials in the Cabinet Office known as the Nudge Unit, charged with suggesting “ways people can make small changes to improve their lives”. Naturally, this sent the taxpayer in me into a lather of indignation. No wonder the national debt is so mountainous if crackpot initiatives like this are given the green light in Whitehall.
But then, wonder of wonders, out of the Behavioural Insights Team, as it is formally known, emerged common sense so beautiful and bracing that it was like being nudged by Marilyn Monroe.
Suppose, asks Prof Paul Dolan of the London School of Economics, a former stalwart of the unit, a man who nudges for England, happiness is not owning the latest, smartest mobile phone, but is, in fact, having that phone switched off? Suppose silence truly is golden, a necessary antidote to a shrill, intrusive world?
The problem with smartphones, warns Dolan, an expert on happiness, is that they distract users’ attention from the people around them. “Turning your phone off and enjoying being with your friends is much better for you than constantly checking your phone and emails,” he told an audience at the Hay Festival in Cartagena, Colombia.
What? Enjoy the company of your friends when you could be reading tweets from Wayne Rooney or perusing the weather forecast in New York? The professor is flying so much in the face of fashionable opinion that, the next time he switches on his mobile, he may find he has been denounced as a fascist Luddite by the Twitterati. 
But he is hardly a lone voice. He is only articulating something that millions share: a vague sense that our super-connected world is also dangerously disconnected from things that matter.
Switching off your mobile can improve your emotional health – as I found from personal experience last year. I was travelling in the States, left my mobile phone at the hotel and, for the next two hours, felt anxious and disorientated. Suppose something happened to my loved ones? Suppose so-and-so needed to get hold of me? What was happening at the Oval? All the usual neuroses of the middle-aged male.
But then, as sanity returned, the feelings of anxiety abated. After four hours of being cut off from what I had come to regard as civilisation, I felt as relaxed as if I’d had a particularly good lunch. After six hours, I was in such a happy space that, when I finally got back to the hotel and was reunited with my phone, I felt not relief, but resentment. Did my life have to revolve around that little electronic tyrant? Couldn’t its biddings wait?
The next day, and for the following five days, I left my phone in the hotel and resolved to check my messages no more than once a day. If I was late receiving some genuinely urgent communication, so be it.
The result was as dramatic as it was heartening. Until you sever your links with the people you are in touch with 24/7, you don’t realise quite how stressful those links are; quite how much energy you expend fretting about the contents of emails you have or have not received; quite how many footling demands other people will make on your time, if you are stupid enough to let them.
Liberated from those demands, I found myself paying closer attention to the world around me: enjoying the sights and sounds of America, and having conversations that felt like real conversations, flowing easily and sweetly, at no risk of being interrupted by the beep of a phone. It felt like an epiphany, an unexpected reversion to a better, simpler lifestyle.
Prof Dolan, guru of contentment and distinguished graduate of the Nudge Unit, has clearly had similar epiphanies. His plea for reduced dependency on mobile phones throws down the gauntlet to a generation that, in its fascination with new technology, has got its priorities askew.
One of the defining images of the 21st century is rows of men in suits on aeroplanes switching on their phones within nanoseconds of their planes landing. They have mistaken ergonomic efficiency for coolness: they think they are demonstrating energy and dynamism. They cannot see how pathetic they look, clutching at the umbilical cord that links them to their bosses/girlfriends/bookmakers.
The next time they land at Heathrow, they should try waiting five minutes before switching on their mobiles. Then 10 minutes. Then 20. It could be the saving of them.

Europe is haunted by the myth of the lazy mob

It suits the wealthy to turn the debate about poverty into a morality tale, but the reality is that inequality is structural
New York Stock Exchange
'Markets are frequently rigged in favour of the rich.' Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA
"A spectre is haunting Europe." Thus began the famous opening passages of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Today, once again, Europe is haunted by a spectre. But, unlike back in 1848 when Marx and Engels wrote those passages, it is not communism, but laziness.
Gone are the days when the upper classes were terrified of the angry mob wanting to smash their skulls and confiscate their properties. Now their biggest enemy is the army of lazy bums, whose lifestyle of indolence and hedonism, financed by crippling taxes on the rich, is sucking the lifeblood out of the economy.
In Britain, the coalition government constantly slags off those welfare slobs in the working class suburbs, sleeping off their hard night's slog with Sky Sports and online casino. It is their shameless demand for "something for nothing", pandered to by the previous Labour government, we are told, that has created the huge deficits that the country is struggling to get rid of.
In the eurozone, many believe that its fiscal crisis can be ultimately traced back to those lazy Mediterranean types in Greece and Spain, who had lived off hard-working Germans and Dutch, spending their time sipping espresso and playing card games. Unless those people start working hard, it is said, the eurozone's problems cannot be fixed.
The problem with this story is that it is, well, just a story.
First of all, it is important to reiterate that the fiscal deficits in the European countries, including Britain, are largely due to the fall in tax revenues following the finance-induced recession, rather than to the rise in welfare spending. So, attacking the poor and eviscerating the welfare state is not going to cure the underlying cause of the deficits.
Moreover, on the whole, poorer people typically work harder. They usually work in jobs with longer hours and tougher working conditions. Except for a tiny minority, they are poor despite the welfare state, not because of it.
The point comes into a sharper relief, if we compare nations. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, people in Greece, that famous nation of skivers, worked on average 2,032 hours in 2011 – only a shade less than the supposedly workaholic South Koreans (2,090 hours). In the same year, the Germans worked only 70% as long (1,413 hours), while the Netherlands was officially the "laziest" nation in the world, with only 1,379 hours of work per year. These numbers tell us that, whatever else is wrong with Greece, it is not the laziness of their people.
Now, if the laziness story has such flimsy bases in reality, why is it so widely believed? It is because, in the past three decades of dominance by free-market ideology, many of us have come to believe in the myth of the individual fully in charge of his/her destiny.
Starting from Disney animations we watch as young children telling us that "if you believed in yourself, you can achieve anything", we are bombarded with the message that individuals, and they alone, are responsible for what they get in their lives. This is what I call the L'Oreal principle – if some people are paid tens of millions of pounds a year, it must be because they're "worth it"; if others are poor, it must be because they are either not good enough or not trying hard enough.
Now, it is politically difficult to criticise the poor for their incompetence, so the attack is focused on the mythical lazy slob, who has no moral leg to stand on. But then the end result is the dismantling of a whole set of policies and institutions that help all poor people in the name of punishing the lazy.
The beauty of this worldview – for those who disproportionately benefit from the current system – is that, by reducing everything down to individuals, it draws people's attention away from the structural causes of poverty and inequality.
It is well known that poor childhood nutrition, lack of learning stimulus at deprived homes, and sub-par schools restrict capability developments of poor children, diminishing their future prospects. When they grow up, they have to contend with all sorts of prejudices that constantly discourage and deflate them, especially if they have the wrong gender or the wrong skin colour.
With these sandbags on their legs, the poor find it difficult to win the race even in the fairest market. Markets are frequently rigged in favour of the rich, as we have seen from a series of recent scandals surrounding deliberate mis-selling of financial products, lies told to the regulators, to the rigging of the Libor rate.
More importantly, money gives the super-rich the power even to rewrite the basic rules of the game by – let's not mince our words – buying up politicians and political offices (think of all those former banker-turned-US treasury secretaries). Many deregulations of the financial and the labour market, as well as tax cuts for the rich, in the last three decades are results of such money politics.
By turning the debate into a morality tale of laziness, the rich and powerful can divert people's attention away from all of these structural problems that create more poverty and inequality than is necessary.
All of this is not to say that individual talents and efforts should not be rewarded. Attempts to completely suppress them can create societies that are ostensibly equal but fundamentally unfair, as in the former socialist countries.
However, it is vital to recognise that poverty and inequality also have structural causes and start a real debate on how to change those things. Ridding the debate of the pernicious and baseless myth of the lazy mob is an important first step in that direction.

‘Yes, we spent money on paid news ads’

Confessions by politicians to EC belie claims of innocence by top newspapers
The political class is more honest than the media when it comes to ‘paid news’ during elections, judging by the fact that several poll candidates have owned up to this corrupt practice. At least, after the Election Commission and the Press Council of India shot off notices to them and held inquiries into the matter. They have acknowledged guilt by belatedly adding their “news” buying expenses to their election statement of accounts. Some candidates have accepted in writing that they bought what are now called, somewhat oxymoronically, “Paid News Advertisements.” But not a single one of the newspapers they say they gave their money to has accepted any wrongdoing. 

These are not just any papers. In readership terms, they include three top-ranked dailies.
In some cases, the battles are still on, involving both the politicians and newspapers concerned. On January 15, the EC found that Madhya Pradesh Cabinet Minister Narottam Mishra “failed to lodge his accounts of his election expenses in the manner prescribed by law.” He faces possible disqualification. The EC’s notice to Dr. Mishra concerns 42 news items on him during the November 2008 state elections. These, it pointed out, “read more like election advertisement(s) in favour of you alone rather than (as) news reports.” The EC names four newspapers in its notice: Dainik Bhaskar, Nai DuniyaAacharan and Dainik Datia Prakash. Dainik Bhaskar is the second most-read daily in the country.
Less than a month earlier, the Press Council of India held quite a few dailies guilty of doing much the same thing during the 2010 Bihar assembly polls. These include Dainik Jagran, the newspaper with the highest readership in the country. The others are Dainik HindustanHindustan TimesDainik Aaj and Purvanchal Ki Raahi. Also, Rashtriya SaharaUdyog Vyapar Times and Prabhat Khabhar.
In many cases, the route to exposure followed the pattern set in the classic case of the former Congress Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan. His 2009 poll campaign for the State legislature drew scores of full pages of “news.” Not a single one of those pages ever mentioned the name of Madhav Kinhalkar, his rival for the Bhokar seat. In a 2009-10 investigation into paid news, The Hindu found a hagiographical article on Mr. Chavan appear word for word in three major rival publications. In two of them, on the same day, in all of them under different by-lines (The Hindu, Nov. 30, 2009).

The 2010 Bihar polls saw a similar pattern. This time, though, one paper came up with a truly novel defence. Same story in different papers? That’s not paid news, argues Udyog Vyapar Times. It submits that other newspapers “hack their computer site and publish the same news.” So what might look like paid news, contends Udyog Vyapar Times, is merely the outcome of desperate rivals hacking into the internal network of this Aligarh-based daily to steal their national exclusives.

How did the candidates issued ‘Paid News’ notices for the Bihar polls by the EC react? All but one seem to have accepted their guilt. According to the EC, they did so by simply adding “the expenditure included by them on account of these ‘news’ in their accounts of election expenses.” In fact, the District Election Officer of Muzaffarpur in Bihar stated flatly that the dailies had carried “news for payment.” He even had letters from the candidates owning up to buying “news.”

The Press Council of India, acting on the matter referred to it by the EC, issued show cause notices to Dainik JagranDainik HindustanHindustan Times et al, between July and September 2011. On December 21, 2012, the PCI, on the basis of its own inquiry committee’s report, got tough. Of the high-profile line-up, only Prabhat Khabhar escaped “the highest penalty” of the Press Council — censure — under Section 14 (1) of the Press Council Act of 1978. This was the only case where the paper and the candidate both firmly denied the charge. (In all the other cases, the candidates accepted they had purchased “news”.) And Prabhat Khabar’s own record — it has strongly campaigned against paid news — added weight to its defence. The paper offered to apologise if the EC produced proof of any such aberration. It was “cautioned for the future.”

All the other dailies denied the charges, too. But, as the PCI’s inquiry committee puts it, “in all these cases, the candidate in question admitted before the Election Commission of India that he paid for the impugned material.” These dailies were found “guilty of having carried news reports that were in fact self-promotion material provided by the candidate in the fray,” and so faced the highest penalty of censure.

So quite a few politicians seem willing to confess to their paid news sins. They face penalties, too. Just 16 months ago, the EC disqualified Umlesh Yadav, then sitting MLA from Bisauli in Uttar Pradesh, for a period of three years for failing to provide a “true and correct account” of her election expenses. She had skipped any mention of her spending on advertisements dressed up as news during her 2007 poll campaign. She was the first legislator ever to bite the dust on grounds of excessive expenditure (and paid news). Dr. Mishra, Health Minister in the BJP government of Madhya Pradesh, now faces charges of the kind that got her disqualified.

Ashok Chavan case

Oddly enough, the Ashok Chavan case, which triggered off a spate of such cases, is itself bogged down in both the EC and the Supreme Court. The case of former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda is likewise held up in the courts. Judicial delays could have a serious and possibly adverse impact in the fight against Paid News in the 2014 general election.

But what action do habitual offenders in the media face? The Paid News Committee constituted by the Election Commission has concluded that those 42 “news items” involving Dr. Mishra “appear to be advertisements in the garb of news” and fall “within the definition of ‘Paid News’.” The Press Council defines Paid News as “any news or analysis appearing in any media (print or electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration.” A Press Council team appointed by PCI Chairperson Justice Katju found last month that Paid News had been rampant in Gujarat during the State polls there in December 2012.
So what happens where media outlets concerned are found guilty? Where the “highest penalty” is censure and that draws not even an apology? Of course, Paid News is not only about elections, though that’s where it does greatest damage to the greatest number. It is an everyday activity in much of the media. The cloying coverage that powerful corporations get routinely reeks of it. You can see it in some completely corporate “sporting” events or “partnerships.” Governments, too, buy “news” sometimes. You can see it at work in Davos, too. Who funds journalists and channels from India at that World Economic Forum event each year is worth looking at. But that’s another story. Watch this space.