Thursday, January 29, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Sunday, January 25, 2009
The News, January 25, 2009
We are 6.7 billion. Of the 6.7 billion, 1.2 billion are extremely poor (at or below $1 a day). Of the 1.2 billion extremely poor citizens of the world, some 550 million live in India and Pakistan combined. Wow; India and Pakistan are home to half of the world's population that lives at or below $1 a day. The single largest chunk of extremely poor human beings lives in India --some 500 million. Should India and Pakistan be fighting each other or fighting poverty together?
Pakistan's newly elected civil administration, on a marathon begging expedition, begged Saudi Arabia, urged China and pleaded with the Sheikhdoms for a billion dollar donation. We begged, urged and pleaded but to no avail. If it wasn't for General David Petraeus, the 10th Commander of the U.S. Central Command, we couldn't have qualified for an IMF handout. On November 24, IMF Executive Board approved the release of $3.1 billion. Then came 26/11. Do you know the cost of a 100-hour war with India? Answer: Some $3 billion to $5 billion.
India and Pakistan have been fighting the Siachen War--the highest battlefield on the face of the planet--for the past 25 years. Pakistan has some 3,000 troops and around 150 manned posts. The War has already consumed 1,025 Indian and 1,344 Pakistani lives--and that too mostly from frost bites and avalanches (very few casualties from enemy fire). Pakistan and India each spend an estimated $200 million to $300 million per year on Siachen. How much have India and Pakistan spent on the Siachen War so far? Answer: An estimated $10 billion. What was Pakistan's budgetary allocation for education? Answer: $300 million.
Look at all the money gone down the drain during the Kargil War: A strike fighter of the Indian Air Force (IAF) takes off from Awantipur AFS and returns after dropping its bomb-load. The cost of the return trip: $1.1 million. And, there were a total of 350 air-sorties for an accumulated expenditure of $416 million. The cost of the army operation was estimated at an additional $2 billion.
Imagine; 44 percent of India 's population lives at or below $1 a day. What is India's defence expenditure? Answer: $25 billion a year. At the same time, 31 percent of Pakistan's population lives at or below $1 a day and Pakistan spends a colossal $4 billion every year in buying and maintaining killing machines. Should India and Pakistan be fighting each other or fighting poverty together? At least 77 million Pakistanis are food insecure. And, Pak Army buys a roti for Rs10 and then spends an additional Rs75 in transporting that roti to feed soldiers fighting in Siachen.
Imagine India's annual trade deficit is a mind-boggling $100 billion. To be certain, India is heavily dependent on foreign investment in order to bridge its trade deficit but General Deepak Kapoor, India's 23rd Chief of Army Staff, continues to fuel war hysteria. In Pakistan, the de jure Chief Justice is campaigning for reinstatement while Pakistan insists that the suspects of the Mumbai tragedy will be tried in Pakistani courts.
On 13 December 2001, five terrorists managed to enter the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha and undertook indiscriminate shooting, killing five policemen, a security guard and a gardener. India ordered Operation Parakram, mobilizing and deploying troops along the international border as well as the Line of Control. Pakistan followed suit. Cost incurred by India: Rs65 billion (deployment and withdrawal). Cost incurred by Pakistan: $1.4 billion (deployment and withdrawal).
How long well India and Pakistan continue to beg, borrow and steal to fight each other? Guns or butter? Schools or bullets? Tanks or hospitals? Gunpowder or milkpowder?
The writer is the executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS).
by Dr. Manzur Ejaz
Every historical change affects women in more profound ways than other segments of society. However, it is amazing that little has been recorded by historians in this regard. The Muslim invasion of the Punjab led by Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi in the 10th century, also resulted in fundamental changes in the status of women, but one does not find much material about this
shift in women’s status in historical chronicles of that period. Probably, most of the history books of that time were written by those Northern and Central Asian men who were attached to the Slave Dynasty and had little regard for women. The only exception is Abu Rehan Al Beruni (973-1048) who wrote about the status of women and other social aspects of the Punjab .
Al Beruni’s account of India is largely based upon his observations about the Punjabi society to which he came with Mahmud Ghaznavi, and later on lived in for a long time. Therefore, for all practical purposes Al Beruni viewed India through his knowledge of the Punjab . One can trace back Al Beruni’s characterization of Punjabi women as being part of the decision-making process in all important matters, from the customs of the ancient Vedic period. We can see a similar depiction of Punjabi women in the work of the intellectuals who came after him. For example, one can find metaphorical descriptions of the status of women in the poetry of Hazrat Fariduddin Masud Ganj-e-Shakar aka Baba Farid (1173-1265) and through the memoirs of his intellectual heir Nizam-ud-Din Aulia (1238-1325). In addition, folk tales can be utilized as an indirect source of our information, though their authenticity will remain suspect.
Al Beruni notes that Indian men are different from those in Central Asia because, “in all consultations and emergencies they take the advice of their womenfolk”. Contrary to many other Muslim historians of medieval India , Al Beruni notes that the custom of sati (self-immolation) is optional for the common people, though mandatory for kings’ wives. Al Beruni’s characterization indicates that in the Punjab the status of women was not diminished very much during the thousands of years following the Vedic period.
The oldest Vedic scripture, Rig Veda, was written in the Punjabi plains that are called Sapat Sindhu or land of the seven rivers. The hymns of the Rig Veda show that women had complete and absolute freedom. As a matter of fact, from some hymns it appears that women were dominant over men. For example in the marriage hymns the wife addresses the assembly as a conquering commander. See the following verses from Rig Veda’s book ten entitled Saci Paulomi:
1. Yon sun hath mounted up, and this my happy fate hath mounted high. I knowing this, as conqueror have won my husband for mine own.
2. I am the banner and the head, a mighty arbitress am I: I am victorious, and my Lord shall be submissive to my will.
3. My Sons are slayers of the foe, my Daughter is a ruling Queen: I am victorious: o’er my Lord my song of triumph is supreme.
4. That which Indira gave and thus grew glorious and most high,– This have I offered, O ye Gods, and rid me of each rival wife.
5. Destroyer of the rival wife, Sole Spouse, victorious, conqueror, The others’ glory have I seized as ’twere the wealth of weaker Dames.
6. I have subdued as conqueror these rivals, these my fellow-wives, That I may hold imperial sway over this Hero and the folk.
These verses give an impression that in earlier periods it was the women who would compete with each other to win the husband, just as in the later periods princes of different states used to fight duels with each other to win the hand of a princess through the custom of Soembar. It is also well-established that many of Rig Veda’s hymns were revealed to women like Romasa, Lopamudra, Apata, Kadru, Vishvavara, Ghosha, Juhu, Vagambhrini, Paulomi, Jarita, Shraddha-Kamayani, Urvashi, Sharnga, Yami, Indrani, Savitri and Devayani. The Sama Veda mentions another four: Nodha (or Purvarchchika), Akrishtabhasha, Shikatanivavari (or Utararchchika) and Ganpayana. A woman could also be a guru, and in Sanskrit there is a separate word for a female spiritual leader.
The epic war of the Mahabharata was also fought in the Punjab: Its location is identified as Kurukshetra, a town in Haryana which was part of the Punjab until not very long ago. In the Mahabharata, Kunti, the wife of the deceased King Pandu, does not go to the funeral pyre with him, and stays with his sons who are all known as Kunti Puttar (Kunti Puttar Arjan etc). All Kunti sons are fathered by different deities and that means she was free to choose the father of each of her children. Kunti had a son, Kiran, who was born out of wedlock before her marriage to king Pandu. Continuing the tradition, Kunti’s five sons shared one wife named Dhropadi, following their mother’s advice. Beside Kunti Putters, most of the males in the epic story are know by their mother’s names. This shows that women were not subjugated, unlike the custom that prevailed in later periods.
Of course the situation changed profoundly after the Vedic period. Male domination became the law of the land in the Punjab as well. However, since the Punjab developed as an agrarian society requiring the joint labour of man and woman in the production process, the female retained a certain level of importance in society, as was noted by Al Beruni in the 11th century. He was also well aware of the very low status of women in those Northern and Central Asian societies which depended on trade. Female labour is not as important in the day-to-day activities of trade, although it is in agriculture.
The significance of the status of females in the Punjab also indicates that within a village community – classified as the Asiatic Mode of Production by Marx – the differentiation of sizes of property holdings varied, and small-sized parcels of land may have been the norm rather than the exception. If most of the land-holding was concentrated in a few hands, the female status would have been totally diminished, as we see in all other medieval feudalistic societies. As a matter of fact in small-sized farming communities, the females have or had an equal or bigger say in important family matters than their male counterparts. This is why urbanites viewing rural Punjab through television and films on rural life are always shocked to see the power of women in families in central Punjab .
Another socio-historical trend points towards the structure of Punjabi society as characterized above: the Punjab has been open to progressive movements more than other areas of the region because of a relatively less encumbered population. The spread of Buddhism, Islam and Sikhism indicate that whenever oppression increases to a certain level, a resistance movement in the form of religion changes the whole set-up in the Punjab . Such large shifts assume a vibrant, less burdened society, and by extension females have a better status in such set-ups, as described by Al Beruni. Furthermore, women always benefit and enhance their status during progressive changes in society.
Even in our own times, the movement for economic and social justice led by Zulifqar Ali Bhutto in the late 1960s and 70s found its early firm traction in the Punjabi heartland. Interestingly, women voters were much more attracted to Bhutto than men. The women in the Punjab heartland could generally go against the wishes of their men folk because they enjoyed the liberty to do so: it was a continuation of established social tradition in the Punjab over the centuries. On the contrary, the oppressed women of the tribal belt have not been able to follow their Punjabi sisters because of their centuries’ long subjugation under their men folk who are products of a Northern and Central Asian male chauvinist society.
Punjabi literature and folk tales also elucidate a positive female status in society. In the folk tale of Puran Bhaghat, Raja Salvahan of Sialkot marries a young girl from a very low caste, who manipulates him. Though in many such folk tales the women do not dominate the men, yet nevertheless they take part in decision-making processes. In another set of folk tales of the Punjab , the women, sometimes represented metaphorically as birds, are shown equal to their male counterparts and are even sometimes wiser.
When we come to Punjabi literature, Baba Farid was the first Punjabi poet to be born 125 years after Al Beruni’s death. During this period the Punjab had experienced immense devastation caused by later Ghaznavid rulers and the invasion of Muhammad Ghauri and other warlords of the Slave Dynasty. Punjabi women were subjected to slavery on a large scale, and Lahore emerged as the largest slave market in India . And yet, the Punjab-born second generation immigrant from the North, Fariduddin Masood Ganj-e-Shakar expressed his deepest thoughts while adopting female pronouns. In many dohas (couplets), Baba Farid expresses himself as a woman contemplating the world. In some dohas life is depicted as feminine, while death is masculine. Baba Farid’s poetry requires a separate detailed expose in this regard, which we may attempt at some later time.
Dr Manzur Ejaz taught at the Punjab University, Lahore, for many years and now lives in Virginia
Saudi patience is running out By Turki al-Faisal
In my decades as a public servant, I have strongly promoted the Arab-Israeli peace process. During recent months, I argued that the peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia could be implemented under an Obama administration if the Israelis and Palestinians both accepted difficult compromises. I told my audiences this was worth the energies of the incoming administration for, as the late Indian diplomat Vijaya Lakshmi Nehru Pandit said: "The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war."
But after Israel launched its bloody attack on Gaza, these pleas for optimism and co-operation now seem a distant memory. In the past weeks, not only have the Israeli Defence Forces murdered more than 1,000 Palestinians, but they have come close to killing the prospect of peace itself. Unless the new US administration takes forceful steps to prevent any further suffering and slaughter of Palestinians, the peace process, the US-Saudi relationship and the stability of the region are at risk.
Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, told the UN Security Council that if there was no just settlement, "we will turn our backs on you". King Abdullah spoke for the entire Arab and Muslim world when he said at the Arab summit in Kuwait that although the Arab peace initiative was on the table, it would not remain there for long. Much of the world shares these sentiments and any Arab government that negotiated with the Israelis today would be rightly condemned by its citizens. Two of the four Arab countries that have formal ties to Israel – Qatar and Mauritania – have suspended all relations and Jordan has recalled its ambassador.
America is not innocent in this calamity. Not only has the Bush administration left a sickening legacy in the region – from the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to the humiliation and torture at Abu Ghraib – but it has also, through an arrogant attitude about the butchery in Gaza, contributed to the slaughter of innocents. If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact – especially its "special relationship" with Saudi Arabia – it will have to drastically revise its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine.
The incoming US administration will be inheriting a "basket full of snakes" in the region, but there are things that can be done to help calm them down. First, President Barack Obama must address the disaster in Gaza and its causes. Inevitably, he will condemn Hamas's firing of rockets at Israel.
When he does that, he should also condemn Israel's atrocities against the Palestinians and support a UN resolution to that effect; forcefully condemn the Israeli actions that led to this conflict, from settlement building in the West Bank to the blockade of Gaza and the targeted killings and arbitrary arrests of Palestinians; declare America's intention to work for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, with a security umbrella for countries that sign up and sanctions for those that do not; call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Shab'ah Farms in Lebanon; encourage Israeli-Syrian negotiations for peace; and support a UN resolution guaranteeing Iraq's territorial integrity.
Mr Obama should strongly promote the Abdullah peace initiative, which calls on Israel to pursue the course laid out in various international resolutions and laws: to withdraw completely from the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, returning to the lines of June 4 1967; to accept a mutually agreed just solution to the refugee problem according to the General Assembly resolution 194; and to recognise the independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, there would be an end to hostilities between Israel and all the Arab countries, and Israel would get full diplomatic and normal relations.
Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran wrote a letter to King Abdullah, explicitly recognising Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds and calling on him to take a more confrontational role over "this obvious atrocity and killing of your own children" in Gaza. The communiqué is significant because the de facto recognition of the kingdom's primacy from one of its most ardent foes reveals the extent that the war has united an entire region, both Shia and Sunni. Further, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's call for Saudi Arabia to lead a jihad against Israel would, if pursued, create unprecedented chaos and bloodshed in the region.
So far, the kingdom has resisted these calls, but every day this restraint becomes more difficult to maintain. When Israel deliberately kills Palestinians, appropriates their lands, destroys their homes, uproots their farms and imposes an inhuman blockade on them; and as the world laments once again the suffering of the Palestinians, people of conscience from every corner of the world are clamouring for action. Eventually, the kingdom will not be able to prevent its citizens from joining the worldwide revolt against Israel. Today, every Saudi is a Gazan, and we remember well the words of our late King Faisal: "I hope you will forgive my outpouring of emotions, but when I think that our Holy Mosque in Jerusalem is being invaded and desecrated, I ask God that if I am unable to undertake Holy Jihad, then I should not live a moment more."
Let us all pray that Mr Obama possesses the foresight, fairness, and resolve to rein in the murderous Israeli regime and open a new chapter in this most intractable of conflicts.
(Prince Turki is chairman, King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, Riyadh. He has been director of Saudi intelligence, ambassador to the UK and Ireland and ambassador to the US.)
In the last few days I have heard a lot of declarations from Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert. And every time, these eight words came back to haunt me: “You are on the wrong side of history!”
Obama was speaking as a man of the 21st century. Our leaders speak the language of the 19th century. They resemble the dinosaurs which once terrorized their neighborhood and were quite unaware of the fact that their time had already passed. During the rousing celebrations, again and again the multicolored patchwork of the new president’s family was mentioned.
All the preceding 43 presidents were white Protestants, except John Kennedy, who was a white Catholic. 38 of them were the descendants of immigrants from the
This is the face of the new American nation – a mixture of races, religions, countries of origin and skin-colors, an open and diverse society, all of whose members are supposed to be equal and to identify themselves with the ”founding fathers”. The American Barack Hussein Obama, whose father was born in a Kenyan village, can speak with pride of “George Washington, the father of our nation”, of the “American Revolution” (the war of independence against the British), and hold up the example of “our ancestors”, who include both the white pioneers and the black slaves who “endured the lash of the whip”. That is the perception of a modern nation, multi-cultural and multi-racial: a person joins it by acquiring citizenship, and from this moment on is the heir to all its history.
When Ehud Barak speaks about the future, he speaks the language of past centuries, in terms of brute force and brutal threats, with armies providing the solution to all problems.
That was also the language of George W. Bush who last week slinked out of
Our leaders are now boasting about their part in the Gaza War, in which unbridled military force was unleashed intentionally against a civilian population, men, women and children, with the declared aim of “creating deterrence”. In the era that began last Tuesday, such expressions can only arouse shudders.
The first signs are small. In his inaugural speech, Obama proclaimed that “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and nonbelievers.” Since when? Since when do the Muslims precede the Jews? What has happened to the “Judeo-Christian Heritage”? (A completely false term to start with, since Judaism is much closer to Islam than to Christianity. For example: neither Judaism nor Islam supports the separation of religion and state.)
The very next morning, Obama phoned a number of
Instead of the group of American Jews who had been in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during both the Clinton and Bush administrations, Obama, on his very first day in office, appointed an Arab-American, George Mitchell, whose mother had come to America from Lebanon at age 18, and who himself, orphaned from his Irish father, was brought up in a Maronite Christian Lebanese family.
These are not good tidings for the Israeli leaders. For the last 42 years, they have pursued a policy of expansion, occupation and settlements in close cooperation with
It will happen, of course, gradually. The pro-Israel lobby in
This could not have happened, if
The Gaza War, during which tens of millions of Americans saw the horrible carnage in the Strip (even if rigorous self-censorship cut out all but a tiny part), has hastened the process of drifting apart. Israel, the brave little sister, the loyal ally in Bush’s “War on Terror”, has turned into the violent Israel, the mad monster, which has no compassion for women and children, the wounded and the sick. And when winds like these are blowing, the Lobby loses height.
The leaders of official
Our leaders are still intoxicated with war and drunk with violence. They have re-phrased the famous saying of the Prussian general, Carl von Clausewitz into: “War is but a continuation of an election campaign by other means.” They compete with each other with vainglorious swagger for their share of the “credit”. Tzipi Livni, who cannot compete with the men for the crown of warlord, tries to outdo them in toughness, in bellicosity, in hard-heartedness.
The most brutal is Ehud Barak. Once I called him a “peace criminal”, because he brought about the failure of the 2000
In his own eyes, and in the eyes of a large section of the public, this is a military operation which deserves all praise. His advisors also thought that it would bring him success in the elections. The Labor party, which had been the largest party in the Knesset for decades, had shrunk in the polls to 12, even 9 seats out of 120. With the help of the
What was Barak’s mistake? Very simply: every war helps the Right. War, by its very nature, arouses in the population the most primitive emotions – hate and fear, fear and hate. These are the emotions on which the Right has been riding for centuries. Even when it’s the ”Left” that starts a war, it’s still the Right that profits from it. In a state of war, the population prefers an honest-to-goodness Rightist to a phony Leftist.
This is happening to Barak for the second time. When, in 2000, he spread the mantra “I have turned every stone on the way to peace, / I have made the Palestinians unprecedented offers, / They have rejected everything, / There is no one to talk with” - he succeeded not only in blowing the Left to smithereens, but also in paving the way for the ascent of Ariel Sharon in the 2001 elections. Now he is paving the way for Binyamin Netanyahu (hoping, quite openly, to become his minister of defense).
And not only for him. The real victor of the war is a man who had no part in it at all: Avigdor Liberman. His party, which in any normal country would be called fascist, is steadily rising in the polls. Why? Liberman looks and sounds like an Israeli Mussolini, he is an unbridled Arab-hater, a man of the most brutal force. Compared to him, even Netanyahu looks like a softie. A large part of the young generation, nurtured on years of occupation, killing and destruction, after two atrocious wars, considers him a worthy leader.
Between the mental world of Obama and the mental world of Liberman and Netanyahu there is no bridge. Between Obama and Barak and Livni, too, there yawns an abyss. Post-election
Where are the American Jews? The overwhelming majority of them voted for Obama. They will be between the hammer and the anvil – between their government and their natural adherence to
But during this war masses of Europeans poured into the streets to demonstrate against the horrible events. The same masses saluted Obama on the day of his inauguration. This is the new world. Perhaps our leaders are now dreaming of the slogan: "Stop the world, I want to get off!" But there is no other world. Yes, we are now on the wrong side of history.
Fortunately, there is also another
But what has happened in the
We want to be on the right side of history. That will take months or years, but I am sure that we shall get there. The time to start is now.
- Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Date: Monday, January 12, 2009, 12:46 PM
by Norman Palihawadena, Dilanthi Jayamanne, Harischandra Gunaratna and Dasun Edirisinghe
Editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper and veteran journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge (51), who was shot by an unidentified gunman yesterday around 10.45 a.m. at Attidiya Road, Ratmalana, succumbed to his injuries
Chronology of attacks on Lasantha & Leader
1995 Feb. 7: Lasantha beat en inside his vehicle
1998 June 17: House attacked with a grenade
2000 May 22: The Sunday Leader press sealed
2005 Oct. 16: Failed arson attack on the Leader Publications printing press
2006 Dec. 28: Alleged move to arrest Lasantha by the CID
2007 Nov. 21: The Leader Publications printing press burnt
2009 Jan. 8: Lasantha killed
In the death of the Sunday Leader editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge , Sri Lanka lost a very courageous and visionary journalist who strived to expose corruption, human rights abuses and supported the rights of minorities in the face of great personal danger.
He had obviously anticipated his own demise and the manner of it as is evident from his last editorial published in today's Sunday Leader.
Sunday Leader Editorial
And Then They Came For Me
No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka , journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.
I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader's 15th year. Many things have changed in
Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in
But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.
The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.
The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.
Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see
The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let's face it that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For example, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urged government to view
Many people suspect that The Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition it is only because we believe that - pray excuse cricketing argot - there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the UNP was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady stream of embarrassing expose¢s we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.
Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship.
What is more, a military occupation of the country's north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering "development" and "reconstruction" on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen - and all of the government - cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.
It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government's sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.
The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, Mahinda and I have been friends for more than a quarter century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining who routinely addresses him by his first name and uses the familiar Sinhala address oya when talking to him. Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President's House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.
Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the SLFP presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. Indeed, we broke with a decade of tradition by referring to you throughout by your first name. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air. Then, through an act of folly, you got yourself involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, at the same time urging you to return the money. By the time you did so several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.
You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well that my sons and daughter do not themselves have a father.
In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.
Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.
As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most of them are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your Presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice. I feel sorry for you, and Shiranthi will have a long time to spend on her knees when next she goes for Confession for it is not just her owns sins which she must confess, but those of her extended family that keeps you in office.
As for the readers of The Sunday Leader, what can I say but Thank You for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I - and my family - have now paid the price that I have long known I will one day have to pay. I am - and have always been - ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remains to be written is when.
That The Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be - and will be - killed before The Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your President to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish. Not all the Rajapakses combined can kill that.
People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem"ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter.
As for me, God knows I tried.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
How many times do we have to see this play before we admit that it always ends the same way?
Which play? The one where gasoline prices go up, pressure rises for more fuel-efficient cars, then gasoline prices fall and the pressure for low-mileage vehicles vanishes, consumers stop buying those cars, the oil producers celebrate, we remain addicted to oil and prices gradually go up again, petro-dictators get rich, we lose. I've already seen this play three times in my life. Trust me: It always ends the same way — badly.
So I could only cringe when reading this article from CNNMoney.com on Dec. 22: "After nearly a year of flagging sales, low gas prices and fat incentives are reigniting America's taste for big vehicles. Trucks and S.U.V.'s will outsell cars in December ... something that hasn't happened since February. Meanwhile, the forecast finds that sales of hybrid vehicles are expected to be way down."
Have a nice day. It's morning again — in Saudi Arabia.
Of course, it's a blessing that people who have been hammered by the economy are getting a break at the pump. But for our long-term health, getting re-addicted to oil and gas guzzlers is one of the dumbest things we could do.
That is why I believe the second biggest decision Barack Obama has to make — the first is deciding the size of the stimulus — is whether to increase the federal gasoline tax or impose an economy-wide carbon tax. Best I can tell, the Obama team has no intention of doing either at this time. I understand why. Raising taxes in a recession is a no-no. But I've wracked my brain trying to think of ways to retool America around clean-power technologies without a price signal — i.e., a tax — and there are no effective ones. (Toughening energy-effiency regulations alone won't do it.) Without a higher gas tax or carbon tax, Obama will lack the leverage to drive critical pieces of his foreign and domestic agendas.
How so? According to AAA, U.S. gasoline prices now average about $1.67 a gallon. Funny, that's almost exactly what gas cost on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. In the wake of 9/11, President Bush had the political space to impose a gasoline tax, a "Patriot Tax," to weaken the very people who had funded 9/11 and to stimulate a U.S. renewable-energy industry. But Bush wimped out and would not impose a tax when prices were low or a floor price when they got high.
Today's financial crisis is Obama's 9/11. The public is ready to be mobilized. Obama is coming in with enormous popularity. This is his best window of opportunity to impose a gas tax. And he could make it painless: offset the gas tax by lowering payroll taxes, or phase it in over two years at 10 cents a month. But if Obama, like Bush, wills the ends and not the means — wills a green economy without the price signals needed to change consumer behavior and drive innovation — he will fail.
The two most important rules about energy innovation are: 1) Price matters — when prices go up people change their habits. 2) You need a systemic approach. It makes no sense for Congress to pump $13.4 billion into bailing out Detroit — and demand that the auto companies use this cash to make more fuel-efficient cars — and then do nothing to shape consumer behavior with a gas tax so more Americans will want to buy those cars. As long as gas is cheap, people will go out and buy used S.U.V.'s and Hummers.
There has to be a system that permanently changes consumer demand, which would permanently change what Detroit makes, which would attract more investment in battery technology to make electric cars, which would hugely help the expansion of the wind and solar industries — where the biggest drawback is the lack of batteries to store electrons when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining. A higher gas tax would drive all these systemic benefits.
The same is true in geopolitics. A gas tax reduces gasoline demand and keeps dollars in America, dries up funding for terrorists and reduces the clout of Iran and Russia at a time when Obama will be looking for greater leverage against petro-dictatorships. It reduces our current account deficit, which strengthens the dollar. It reduces U.S. carbon emissions driving climate change, which means more global respect for America. And it increases the incentives for U.S. innovation on clean cars and clean-tech.
Which one of these things wouldn't we want? A gasoline tax "is not just win-win; it's win, win, win, win, win," says the Johns Hopkins author and foreign policy specialist Michael Mandelbaum. "A gasoline tax would do more for American prosperity and strength than any other measure Obama could propose."
I know it's hard, but we have got to stop "taking off the table" the tool that would add leverage to everything we want to do at home and abroad. We've done that for three decades, and we know with absolute certainty how the play ends — with an America that is less innovative, less wealthy, less respected and less powerful.
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