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Monday, March 23, 2015

The UN's Top Job: A Review

Lucia Mouat, who was the UN correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor when I first met her, has a new book out on the eight men who have been Secretary-General. [The United Nations’ Top Job: A close look at the work of eight Secretaries-General.ISBN 978-1484806197 519 pages]

Her timing is excellent, for an increasing number of people will want the essential background the book provides as the UN prepares to pick a new head before the end of 2016.

The book begins with a chapter providing a conceptual overview of the job of Secretary-General, often referred to as “the world’s top diplomat” and less grandly described by its first incumbent as “the most impossible job in the world.”

Both descriptions are accurate, for the Secretary-General must moderate the never-ending global dialogue at the UN while trying to herd its multitude of cats into effective action.

In both roles, the Secretary-General is at the mercy of an unforgiving process entirely owned by a handful of powerful governments and he (perhaps she after the next selection) has little leeway.

The book’s review of the track record of the eight Secretaries-General is extremely kind to the member States most responsible for the widely perceived failures of the organization, especially the five Permanent Members of the Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russian Federation, United States). A corrective account might look at some of the following problems:

Trygvie Lie (pronounced Lee), a Labour politician from Norway, never knew what hit him after Britain engineered a “special relationship” with the American military-industrial complex and launched the Cold War months after the creation of the UN. His firm support of the Korean War won instant Soviet disapproval while the McCarthy-era inquisition of American staff made a mockery of UN independence. After the United States side-stepped a Soviet veto to get Lie a second term through action in the General Assembly, no Eastern Bloc diplomat would even shake the Secretary-General’s hand at social functions. He endured it for a while and then resigned.

Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold succeeded Lie because the Permanent Members of the Security Council thought he was a quiet, unassertive bureaucrat who could be controlled easily. Instead, they got a man with a powerful moral conscience and sense of mission. When Hammarskjold went to bat for the newly won independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo he entered the “license to kill” zone of the European imperial Powers; while on a peace mission to the region his aircraft crashed, killing all on board. There was immediate talk of a conspiracy engineered by Britain but no conclusive evidence; new findings indicating the craft was shot down has led the UN to reopen the investigation in 2015.

U. Thant of Burma got the UN top job with American support that overrode imperial Europe’s dislike of his role in the UN Committee on Decolonization and a Soviet bid to replace a single Secretary-General with an ideological “Troika.” However, when the Secretary-General began speaking out on the escalating Viet Nam War, the Johnson administration came down on him like a ton of bricks. The Secretary-General declined a second term and accepted it only after a written assurance from the United States that he could speak his mind. The freedom to do so was curtailed by mouth cancer that was diagnosed during Thant’s second term.

The Big Powers ensured that the next incumbent would be incapable of causing any trouble by selecting Kurt Waldheim of Austria, a Nazi SS officer accused of war crimes during World War II. Only an overt conspiracy among the major Cold War intelligence agencies can have allowed him to lie about that record, and they exacted a heavy institutional price from the UN. Under Waldheim spies and informers proliferated throughout the Secretariat and its appointments and promotions bodies became incapable of enforcing the “highest standard of integrity” ideal set by the Staff Rules. Waldheim would have got an unprecedented third term if Beijing, newly on the Security Council, had not vetoed him.

Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru is perhaps the most successful Secretary-General to date because he had the integrity and diplomatic skill to take advantage of the winding down of the Cold War to negotiate and oversee the end of long-running proxy conflicts in Namibia, Cambodia and Central America. He did little on crises where the UN had no purchase (Middle East, African resource wars and the Balkans). Despite his success the organization came close to bankruptcy as the Reagan administration pushing for “reforms” withheld ever larger chunks of its mandatory contributions to the organization’s budget.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt had a disastrous one-term stint as Secretary-General marked by messy UN involvements in the Rwanda, Iraq and the Balkans. He was followed by UN insider Kofi Annan who parlayed his role as head of peacekeeping operations into the top job. His most significant success was getting the United States to return to full funding of the UN budget. However, relations with Washington suffered after the 2003 suicide bombing of the UN office in Baghdad. Things became irreparable after Annan told the BBC in 2004 that the American-led war on Iraq was “illegal” under the UN Charter.

Ban ki-moon of South Korea, the incumbent Secretary-General, is generally regarded in UN circles as a bit of a buffoon, an impression reinforced by his irrepressibly corny sense of humour. (At his first meeting with the UN Press corps he sang “Ban ki-moon is coming to town” to the tune of the Santa Claus ditty.) According to John Bolton, the temporary American Ambassador at the UN when the Security Council picked Ban, his best quality was low wattage.

Mouat’s book rakes up little of this muck, for it is very much in the American liberal mainstream that sees support of the UN as a moral duty.

I do too, but my loyalty is to the ideal of peace for which the UN stands; to go beyond that and turn a blind eye to what has been happening to the organization does it no service, especially when the fading elites of the old world order are maneuvering desperately to turn the clock back to their imperial heyday.  


Monday, March 16, 2015

Fake Racism on NDTV Will Blacken Indian Image

NDTV aired a show yesterday that can cause considerable harm to India and Indians in countries around the world.

It involved a "hidden camera" recording a set of actors in public places loudly airing primitive views of dark skin color.

A "father" rejected the "suitor" his "daughter" wanted to marry because his skin was too dark.

A woman in a Bangalore bar loudly ran down another for the same reason.

A "corporate executive" dismissed the job application of a well qualified candidate because he was "too black."

According to Prannoy Roy's typically oily explanation, this was all in the service of making public the anguish of dark people in India.

I have never seen such blatant racism anywhere in India, private or public -- or in fact anywhere in the world.

As there was no indication on-screen that the situations were not real -- that was revealed at the end -- the most damning footage will certainly find selective use by anti-Indian propagandists within and outside the country.

Far from helping change social attitudes, NDTV's fake racism might promote harshly European attitudes in Indian society.

As a society we have certainly had skin color preferences but nothing remotely similar to the dark oppression of Africans and Asians in Europe and America.

In fact, dark skin is not a universally negative quality in Indian tradition.

The name "Krishna" means "black." So does "Kali."

We are the only society that worships God as a black man and woman.   

If Prannoy Roy wants to attack Indian skin color preferences he should send reporters into the real world and not try to create sensationally misleading footage with paid actors.

It would be interesting to find out who first had the idea for the show; it fits rather too nicely into the current BBC India-blackening campaign.

The show is yet another sickening indication of the complete lack of professionalism in our "elite media."


Sunday, March 15, 2015

India in International Rape Rankings






As the chart above downloaded from Wikipedia shows, India is nowhere in the top ranks of the incidence of rape reported by the United Nations.  The following paragraph spells out the situation:

“Adjusted for population growth over time, the annual rape rate in India has increased from 1.9 to 2.0 per 100,000 people over 2008-2012 period. This compares to a reported rape rate of 1.2 per 100,000 in Japan, 3.6 per 100,000 in Morocco, 4.6 rapes per 100,000 in Bahrain, 12.3 per 100,000 in Mexico, 24.1 per 100,000 in the United Kingdom, 28.6 per 100,000 in the United States, 66.5 per 100,000 in Sweden, and world's highest rate of 114.9 rapes per 100,000 in South Africa.” [Note: Figures for Sweden are so high not because it has a worse problem but because its laws have zero tolerance for sexual aggression.]

This comparative picture has been entirely ignored by Indian mass media in covering the overall story of rape in the country; it was blatantly absent from comment on the BBC rape movie by Leslee Udwin.

Western media have gone out of their way to present India in the worst light possible.

For example, the CNN report of the latest Indian outrage – the weekend rape of a 70-year old nun in Nadia, West Bengal – concludes with the following observation:

“Official data in India show that rape cases have jumped almost 875% over the past 40 years -- from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011. But campaigners say sexual assaults are underreported because of stigma and cultural factors. Experts say the causes of the high number of rapes include the nation's patriarchy, widespread poverty and lack of law enforcement in rural areas.”

Another element of imbalance in the CNN report is that its first paragraph says on the basis of a local police report that one of the robbers of a Christian school raped the old woman when she resisted, while the next quotes a New Delhi Church official saying three of the four robbers raped her. (He added bizarrely that the crime was especially heinous as “all her life she has remained a virgin.”)

The Church official made no mention that there was no assault on two younger nuns, who were merely tied up, an anomaly difficult to explain if the robbers were intent on gang rape.

The latest atrocity, coming as it does on the heels of growing criticism of the BBC rape movie, adds to the speculation that we are witnessing a deliberate anti-Indian campaign.

As the CNN report on the nun noted helpfully, “A series of rape cases involving girls, foreign tourists and a physiology student who died following a brutal gang rape in 2012 has hurt India's international reputation.”

Indian commentators should note that the timing of the assault on the nun will maximize that negative impact because the story will certainly be noticed at Sunday church services around the world.

Another recent story from eastern India that gained worldwide attention is the lynching of a Bengali man accused of raping a Naga girl.

In the aftermath it appears the sex was negotiated for payment, and that the accusation of rape followed a demand for more money. The lynching occurred after a few provocateurs roused the communal feelings of a crowd of impressionable young students.

None of that has made it into the headlines.

That was also the case with another infamous rape/murder case last year, when two UP teenagers were found hanging from a tree (see here).

What should be amply clear from all this is that nearly 70 years after decolonization, Indian society and its political establishment are entirely incapable of responding to a malign British campaign aiming to make India less attractive to investors and tourists.

Indians should take note of the role of Britain's local media proxies in making that possible.

They do not make the least effort to verify the facts of reported outrages, much less present a balanced picture of the situation in the country.

They did not feel impelled to investigate even when the prime accused in the Nirbhaya case committed "suicide" in prison, giving substance to the suspicion that the men had been paid for the crime and that loose ends were being tied.

This is part laziness -- it is so much easier to blather on with meaningless condemnations -- and part corruption: Indian media barons are not their own masters (see here), and have little power to create a national narrative in the face of foreign pressure.

Things will not change unless Indian readers and television viewers become vocally disapproving of this situation.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

What to do With Markandey Katju


Former Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju has become like the drooling, farting idiot who embarrasses all polite company, and there’s no point in condemning him (as the Rajya Sabha just did), for calling Mahatma Gandhi a “British agent” and Netaji Subhas Bose a Japanese one.

Predictably, his response to the action has been buffoonish, and nothing is to be gained by any arm of the government trying to change his behavior.

However, there should be action – perhaps a “sense of the house” resolution in parliament – taking note of Katju’s statements that indicate a seriously impaired judgment and urging a review of all his major decisions on the Bench.

The resolution should cite statements made when he was a sitting judge -- in one he said black money offenders should be hanged -- and others since his retirement asserting that  “90 per cent of Indians are idiots,” and that Gay relationships are “humbug and nonsense”.

His comparison of Indian to European history and his pontifications on the nature of economic development can be adduced as further proof of an extremely confused mind.  

Finally, the house should express sympathy for Katju's advanced senility and note the need for vigilance on the part of care givers to ensure that he does not hurt himself or others as the condition worsens.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

BBC Rape Film Widely Seen as Hypocrisy


The BBC production India’s Daughter has been generally seen in the country as “a fake film” (to quote Nirbhaya’s male friend who was with her that fateful night and suffered a fearful beating).

"The documentary is unbalanced as the victim's viewpoint is missing,” Avanindra Pandey told IBN Live. “The facts are hidden and the content is fake.”

Supporting the government’s decision to ban the film, he said “the documentary is far from truth."

As with almost every Indian who has watched the film, he found the jailhouse interview with the rapist offensive.

"A controversy was created unnecessarily and was sensationalized,” he told IBN. “The documentary made fun of emotions and questioned the law and order situation in our country."

Leslee Udwin, the movie’s director has dodged that charge in numerous interviews.

For instance, in answer to a specific question about that by The Hindu she complimented Prime Minister Modi and then added, “All I wanted was to say to the world is that India led by example, now follow India’s lead. This was the point of my film and campaign.”

She has also sought to pass herself off as the “world-renowned” winner of “a British Oscar” and thus presumably beyond question.

In the same grand vein she has pushed the rather maniacal notion that by banning her film India “committed international suicide.”

Indian feminists have generally not taken too kindly to the “White woman’s burden of rape in India” and even usually conservative voices have noted the hypocrisy of the whole exercise.

One retired diplomat circulated reports from the British Press that on average there were about 35 rapes a week in London taxi cabs.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Caveat Emptor: Regular Customer

Since coming back to India after four decades abroad I've been consistently surprised by a particular element of the business ethic here: as a regular customer at an establishment I am almost always more likely to be swindled or inconsiderately treated.

This is not because of any rudeness or lack of consideration on my part, for I am invariably polite and bend over backward not to be demanding.

On the contrary, I think it is because I am that way; familiarity seems to breed contempt.

The latest example is a small Panjim hole in the wall (SRS Businesspoint), where I have been paying my monthly television and phone recharge bills.

A Rs500 payment on 2 March for television service was not credited and I found out when my set went dead on Sunday.

A Rs.200 payment on the 7th for the phone has yet to be credited.

No explanations, and calls to the service providers reveal there is no recourse.

I have stopped going to a bigger company, Magsons Supermarket, where I used to spend several thousand every week because for some inexplicable reason, some of the clerks became almost bellicose.

These are just two examples.

I am tempted to lay this phenomenon at the door of my bete noire, rogue members of the Intelligence Bureau, whose noses I have put out of joint with my calls for the agency to be brought under constitutional controls.

They have engaged in considerable petty -- and not so petty -- harassment in the past, but to make an accusation without any proof would be invidious.

P.S: The day after I wrote this post it occurred to me that my experience could reflect a non-economic behavior pattern: extortion by some policing authority.

Recently a couple of Goa plain clothes police officers were hauled up for extorting money from tourists, who they thought powerless to resist.

This points to a danger of abuse in our intelligence agencies requiring internal vigilance arrangements; the power to force cooperation in gathering information could easily be corrupted into extortion of benefits.

In Pakistan, the ISI has developed into a major economic player by using its powers of extortion, and the same could happen here.

If it does, we're in a completely different ball game, with the entire democratic system under threat.   


Friday, March 6, 2015

Why the UN Has Been Such a Failure


The UN’s main man on the environment, Achim Steiner, has just provided monumentally bad advice to government policy makers.

Speaking in Cairo on 4 March at the opening of the biennial African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, Steiner asserted that the “only insurance against climate change impacts is ambitious global mitigation action” combined “with large-scale, rapidly increasing and predictable funding for adaptation.”

If anything is clear from the UN’s 45-year record of trying to deal with the problems of the human environment, it is that “mitigation action” is completely useless unless we deal with the destructive economic forces driving a multifaceted global crisis.

The UN has been unable to say so because the major industrial countries are in thrall to mega corporations that profit hugely from ignoring environmental concerns.

They ensured UN inaction by putting a Canadian oilman in charge of the first World Conference on the Environment (Stockholm, 1972), and making him the first head of the new Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Under his direction UNEP studied problems and identified causes but never ever hinted at the need for wholesale redirection of the world economy, the only thing that can stop our slide to disaster.

UNEP's stock in trade became international agreements to deal with negative impacts.

Meanwhile, another part of the UN that did try to negotiate a Code of Conduct for corporations was quietly wound up.

This lack of cojones is not just on environmental matters.

Even more glaring is the example of the UN Security Council, which has never been able to undertake its primary task of disarming the world and building a global security system because its five veto-wielding “Permanent Members” are the world’s largest arms producers and their elites profit hugely from war.

Less known but even more venal is the organization’s failure to deal with the enormously violent crime wave that has washed around the world since the 1960s.

Analyses show that drug trafficking has been its primary driver and that it now funds all other forms of organized crime, including “Islamic terrorism.”

But the UN has pussy-footed around the matter because Britain’s primary industry, banking, is neck-deep in laundering drug money.

None of this is secret. Books and expert analyses provide the sordid details in ample measure.

But getting from expert analyses to public policy has been impossible because the Cold War empowered a fascist apparatus in major countries that constrains politicians and the Press even in the freest of societies.

Revealing detail: The New Yorker, as genteel a publication as ever graced the rough and ready world of journalism, now has an encrypted system to receive material from whistle blowers.