31 March, 2014

THE END OF THE NET AS WE KNOW IT


On March 15th, I wrote a blog post titled “Fourteen Drunk People.” It was about how the domain registration organization ICANN is controlled by the US government.

Seems there’s been a change in Internet governance. According to Deutsche Welles:

It was hardly a surprise. People had been calling for it for ages. But when the US Department of Commerce finally announced it was planning to relinquish control of a vital part of ICANN - and with it, the Internet - by October 2015, the chatter really began.

The announcement, says the same article from DW, has “"electrified" this week's ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore.”

The Republicans, of course, are not happy. According to the Hill:

A group of House Republicans introduced a bill Thursday that would prohibit the Obama administration from moving forward with its announced plans to relinquish oversight of the technical side of the Internet's Web address system.

The Internet now needs to be governed by an international body. I’m sure out of those 150 plus countries, there are going to be more than a few people with the technical capabilities to get this done. The question is: will the task be handed over to some efficient entity within a nation-state like Singapore to co-ordinate, or will it fall into the disorganized grasp of an institution like the UN?

By the time the unwieldy beaureaucracy of the UN gets its act in order, the Internet may have splintered into many independent pieces. Clearly the transition has to be well thought out, if it is to remain in the shape it is today.

I guess the question is: do we want it in the shape it is in today? There’s been some questionable usage of the Internet, including what appears to be a massive heist of all available data through the maws of American companies like Google and Facebook. Clearly there are dollar signs attached to all this data trawling.

Then there’s the even more questionable noise coming out that the US government may have started to “download data” from people’s brains. According to RT’s article “Pentagon's DARPA works on reading brains in real time”, dated October 28, 2013:

The new project is part of President Obama’s BRAIN initiative, which sets aside $100 million in its first year to develop new innovations in neuroscience. DARPA is collaborating with the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation on SUBNETS, and it is currently soliciting proposals from various research teams.

There’s a headset that generates “clean data”-the scientists are surprised now clean it is. Meaning basically they are now reading your minds, and possibly downloading this data on the web each time you Google your own name to scare the shit out of you. This is (or should be) known as the “Google Terror Complex”.

According to RT:

A new state-of-the-art headband is being developed by Tufts University scientists that could help facilitate communication between the human brain and computers.

Here’s a gushing 10Cool DARPA Projects In Development” article from Information Week that says:

SUBNETS will investigate therapies that use near real-time recording, analysis, and stimulation in next-generation devices inspired by current deep brain stimulation (DBS), which involves implanting electrodes within specific areas of the brain.

An article from Slate "How next-generation apps will market your brainwaves” also looks at ways in which companies are increasingly trying to predict people’s future behaviors by tapping their brains, for purposes of commercial gain.

Clearly there’s been a “cool” interface between data downloads of all kinds-including the human brain—and the ever entrepreneurial urge to make money and make it marketable. The military-industrial complex/financial maws of capitalism is an inexorable nexus.

A hitch has now developed for this massive “data grab”, with the Internet now out of American government’s exclusive control.

How does the data grab continue? You can be sure it will. And it may be best for civil society worldwide to keep its eyes open for the Next Big Thing because its sure to violate every single known norm of human rights.

30 March, 2014

THE BANK OF INTERNATIONAL SETTLEMENTS


According to Reuters’s 29th March article titled “Dollar reserve role secure but set to shrink: BIS:

The dollar's share of central bank reserves may fall by as much as 10-15 percentage points in coming years without threatening its role as the world's main reserve currency, a senior official from the Bank of International Settlements said on Saturday.

Always fascinating to find out the machinations and webs of finance. These institutions that regulate currency, drive its prices up and down, buy and sell currency, enrich and bankrupt countries are always so obscure so its always a curiosity when you find out about one.

According to Wikipedia, the “Bank of International Settlements” is:
The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) (in French,Banque des règlements internationaux (BRI)) is aninternational organization of central banks which "fosters international monetary and financial cooperation and serves as a bank for central banks".[2]
The BIS carries out its work through subcommittees, the secretariats it hosts and through an annual general meeting of all member banks. It also provides banking services, but only to central banks and other international organizations. It is based in Basel, Switzerland, with representative offices inHong Kong and Mexico City.

According to BIS’s website:
The BIS offers a wide range of financial services specifically designed to assist central banks and other official monetary institutions in the management of their foreign exchange reserves. Some 140 customers, including various international financial institutions, currently make use of these services and on average, over the last few years, some 4% of global foreign exchange reserves have been invested by central banks with the BIS. BIS financial services are provided out of two linked trading rooms: one at its Basel head office and one at its office in Hong Kong SAR.

 Incidentally, I was present when Dr. Mahathir, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, gave a delightful and thoughtful speech at the Kathmandu Hyatt hotel last Sunday. And one thing he mentioned is that he doesn’t approve of the sale and speculation of foreign currency. “Currency is just currency, pushing up the prices, bringing it down just to make a profit is not good,” he said (I am paraphrasing here, his exact words may have been different.)

So what are foreign exchange reserves? According to Wikipedia, my favourite source of unbiased information:
Foreign-exchange reserves (also called forex reserves or FX reserves) are assets held by central banks and monetary authorities, usually in different reserve currencies, mostly the United States dollar, and to a lesser extent the Euro, the Pound sterling, and the Japanese yen, and used to back its liabilities, e.g., the local currency issued, and the various bank reserves deposited with the central bank, by the government or financial institutions.

So basically countries are holding on to dollars because it is seen as the “world’s main reserve currency.” Now why is that—considering the fact the US economy is in major doldrums, and their debt runs in the trillions?

Now lets forget that for a moment to go to a cybercafé in Nepal, where I am typing this article. About ten minutes ago, I happened to be sitting next to an Italian commodities trader, and an Indian options trader. The Italian couldn’t print his Excel sheet-the Indian offered to help. Soon they were in a riproaring conversation about stocks and gold and commodities. The Italian said his gold was down but he was going to hold on to it, since he would recover its value even if it took 20 years. The Indian said gold wasn’t good-India didn’t produce its own gold, it was made in China, so therefore gold become an import which became a net liability on the balance sheet. While all of this was going on, it occurred to me that large swathes of the world’s population now survives in this manner—by trading on commodities, stocks and options with very little interaction with the people who actually produce these commodities.

How did such a state of affairs come about? How did large populations of Asia and Africa who actually dig this stuff out of the ground become irrelevant, while those who buy and sell these virtually became millionaires? Clearly a big hand lies in these institutions like BIS which set the tone for currency trading, which has now replaced the trading of real goods in the world market.

An interesting historical tidbid about BIS, also from Wiki:
Between 1933 and 1945 the BIS board of directors included Walther Funk, a prominent Nazi official, and Emil Puhl, who were both convicted of war crimes at the Nuremberg trials after World War II, as well as Hermann Schmitz, the director of IG Farben, and Baron von Schroeder, the owner of the J.H.Stein Bank, which held the deposits of the Gestapo. There were allegations that the BIS had helped the Germans loot assets from occupied countries during World War II.
As a result of these allegations, at the Bretton Woods Conference held in July 1944, Norway proposed the "liquidation of the Bank for International Settlements at the earliest possible moment". 
Clearly an interesting history. As the linkages between international companies and bonded labor and slavery in the contemporary moment become clearer, it is clear that institutions like the BIS either have to do some “international settlements” against present day workers who have seen the most egregious labor violations by TNCs. BIS is, indeed, not yet in the clear regarding crimes against humanity.

Is it really necessary for the world to hold on to its dollar as “reserve currency”—or do we merely think we need to do this because BIS tells us so?

I have no answer to this. Perhaps time will tell if it is necessary.



28 March, 2014

THE DARK SIDE OF DARPA


I’m always happy when people from the Third World do well in the USA. But then there are those disturbing moments, like the time I learnt what my beautiful Ethiopian flatmate, who fed me ingera and had a lovely laugh, was doing in Brown University’s engineering laboratories. One day she told me she was designing a bullet that could go through bulletproof material.

Granted, to be doing research in your early twenties is a triumph—but at what cost, I often thought. As I get more immersed in Buddhist philosophy, and the “Do No Harm” secular counterpart of the Dharmic “Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie” continues to resonate in my head, it is clear that the right livelihood is as important as one’s career triumphs or the salary one draws in one’s job.

So when I read about Arati Prabhakar, it was with a mixture of scepticism and unease. Aarati is Obama’s handpicked chief of DARPA, the US’s defence research agency. A profile at WIRED magazine gives her background-she’s a techie and a geek with a Silicon Valley background, not a defence head honcho. It looks like President Obama wanted to turn the talent and the money from the geek world into the defence world. Also the “double benefit” of hiring a woman and a minority is well documented-and especially in the defence sector, its a smart move because it could mute criticism.

The only problem, of course, that DARPA’s projects are hardly transparent to the public. The poster girl is pretty but the dark sides of the DARPA world is not.

Ms. Prabhakar is asking for a raise in the budget of DARPA for 2015.  Amongst others, she says:
By seeking out scalable approaches for dynamically controlling the electromagnetic spectrum or distributed cooperative efforts to achieving air dominance, DARPA can help reduce the cost of future systems. 
The above from defence.gov, DARPA’s Role to ‘Change What’s Possible,’ Director Says, By Claudette Roulo of the American Forces Press Service. 


So the Americans want to control the electromagnetic spectrum. Why, we should ask. And we should ask this seriously, because there’s a lot of things that can be done with the electromagnetic spectrum that may not yet be known to the public yet. Including methods of torture invisible and undetectable to the human eye.


And this seems to be paired with (Below quote from same article):


Prabhakar said DARPA also looks for research areas that are "bubbling." One of those areas is biology, she said, which is beginning to intersect with engineering.
"In that research, we're seeing the seeds of technological surprise," the director noted.


So what exactly is DARPA up to? Does the  US Congress know? I doubt they’ve asked, or even if they have, I doubt  they have gotten a honest answer. And even if they have, I doubt this information is in the public domain. It is entirely possible, however, that these enthusiastic, proactive gentlemen and ladies have already started to implement their new found scientific marvels onto people without their consent or knowledge.

 In fact, looking at the US’s punitive regime of punishment to selected minorities, and selected targets thought to be “enemies,” it is highly likely that agencies of this sort have already started to experiment with new technologies for the purpose of control and repression. The international world needs to step up and investigate what is going on in these laboratories. Ban Ki Moon shaking hands with Obama is not going to override the fact the international community is responsible for finding out what is going on in these laboratories of darkness.

The American defence empire has operated outside of moral or ethical guidelines since its inception. It doesn’t follow any international or human rights norms except its own-which in many cases is non-existent. Anything goes, as long as it can be defended for national defence purposes.

This has worked fine, for as long as there’s the required trillions to fund such activities. Apparently there’s also a nice market for these goodies to  autocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia, which just bought 45 billion in defence technology from the USA this year. Slavery continues unabated in Saudi and the Gulf-labor is cheap and dead bodies easily disposed of. But now it appears the USA’s trillions are coming under greater scrutiny. As is the bond program which gave the US unlimited largesse to run up massive debts to fund indiscriminate attacks on sovereign countries worldwide.


Can we rely on European leaders and others to come through in this crucial moment? Are they asking the right questions and connecting the right dots? Or will they let this let it slide past, leading us into another century of violence, torture, wars and sinister scientific usage?

27 March, 2014

THE FOURTH REICH



With the USA re-inserting itself centerstage with the sanctions against Russia, you could almost think the drama has shifted elsewhere. Did you hear Edward Snowden sliding out of the news, obfuscated in the noise and confusion of the Ukraine/Crimea moment?

These distractions are useful. They make us think the richest country in the world is still the one with the trillions to do whatever it wants, wherever--whether it is unprovoked attacks on Iraq and Afganisthan; or torture of its own and other countries ‘ citizens; or worldwide surveillance of phones, computers and other shady downloads of personal information that is still to be revealed ;  or stealing/hacking of worldwide data with the absolute assurance that it is completely above the law in doing this. Not to mention what appears to be an increasingly blanket check it has given itself to install and operate technologies of torture (which include sleep deprivation targeted towards minorities) in not just in own, but also other countries. And of course, the widespread use of drones in murder of civilians.

The European Union, which consists of a group of nations whose histories include Nazism,  Italian Fascism, Spanish Fascism, French collaboration, Dutch collaboration and others, are of course completely behind the United States. Expecting them somehow to control the USA is obviously an overrated hope that the world should not place any more in Europe.  

With the Europeans and the USA controlling all mechanisms of finance--the wild fluctuation of currency in the last year has made it abundantly clear that people are just pushing the prices up and down to make giant profits,  and that this by itself can make or break entire nation states (Witness George Soros and his little meddling in 1998 that completely crashed Thailand, for one)—it is clear that finance and its associated apparatuses (money, money, money) should come under careful  scrutiny when any business transaction is held.

 This state of affairs can continue indefinitely. In fact, there is no reason why the military-industrial complex and its torture business shouldn’t grow and prosper from shore to shore in the coming decades, since almost all international mechanism of control and regulation are in the pockets of the EU and the USA.

The end of the Third Reich did not come about easily. Hitler ruled and flourished for twelve years, killing 11 million people (6 million Jews, and 5 million Romanis, homosexuals, the disabled, and mentally retarded people)  before the Allies and Russia finally came together to defeat them.  And while people may take offense at the analogy, saying that America could never be compared to the Third Reich, it is becoming increasingly clear that the elected leaders of the US Congress may themselves not be aware of the total scope of activities of the US’s secret national security state themselves. What are they doing, besides hacking into computers? What is the scope and scale of their torture and killings? In fact, if you ask the US Congress, they don’t really know.

It is clear America’s death count has been as high as Hitler, Stalin or Mao, if you add up causalities from all its wars. In both the Second World War, when the excessive use of force against a civilian population in Japan was clearly motivated by racism and racial superiority, to the many other wars that followed, the USA has not been moral, or ethical, about its usage of force. 

It is clear an accounting of some sort has to happen, coincidentally, 12 years after the set up of the homeland  security state in the USA. But to expect the US Congress to regulate and account for the activities of the CIA and the NSA and all the associated agencies may be naive. It is clear there is deep complicity between the Congress and these agencies-witness Diane Feinstein and her years of support for the NSA’s surveillance. The big attention and calls of the “bring the torture report out in the open” may end with the disappointment of what the world already knows-namely, that the USA was torturing inmates in Guantanamo.

This doesn’t take into account all the secret ways in which the USA is torturing people all over the world NOW,  with the authorization of the Obama administration.  While the torture may have started with Bush, it clearly hasn’t ended with Obama. And then there’s all the secret research, like the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, also referred to as the Brain Activity Map Project, which the White House itself announced and endorsed. The partners include DARPA. What usages do you think this research has, knowing the US’s history of aggression against its perceived enemies and its punitive regime against minorities?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BRAIN_Initiative

It is clear that the scope and scale of “Torture”-and the definition of torture itself—has to be revised and expanded to include new ways in which nation states may be acting against their critics and opponents. The USA, with its extensive and well documented history of scientific experimentation on people without  consent, along with its deep rooted historical script of slavery, is perfectly capable of coming up with a secret program of torture which includes brain hacking for the purpose of stealing data, drones in all shapes and sizes, secret torture during sleep, and concentration camps that don’t fit the 1940s model. Concentration camps these days have moved onto the brain and digital realm.

Is the world ready to come to an accounting? Or will they end this at: “The Bush administration waterboarded people in Guantanamo” level of accountability?











































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































26 March, 2014

GROUPS OF 8 AND 20 DISTRACT FROM HAGUE NUCLEAR SUMMIT


The schoolyard bullies have thrown Russia out of their little gang.

Seems like Russia doesn’t need to be worried about being ousted by the Richie Rich Club. Even the New Yorker says the G8 was a washout. Don’t cry for the G8: It was mostly a waste of time, says the venerable institution.

Of course these days if you get out of one Rich Man’s Club, there’s another one right around the corner to join. These are democratic days, and there are choices. The other club is even Bigger and Better—with 20 members and I’m sure flashier red leather sofas and Cartier watches on display.

The Group of 20, however, seems to have gotten infected by the Group of 8 exclusivity virus. Julie Bishop, of Australia, has apparently suggested Russia should be booted out of the next summit.

No, no, no, say the BRICS. You can’t make unilateral decisions like this, Australia, say the BRICS.

Russia’s of course a popular country (Mr Putin has been out and about shaking hands and drinking vodka with people for a few decades now) and popular countries immediately get statements of support from their buddies. As in:

BRICS countries extend statement of support for Russian participation in G20

Now with all this excitement about Russia being thrown in and out of these exclusive institutions and networks, it’s almost easy to forget that the most important thing happening at the moment is not Crimea and the Ukranian drama, but the Hague Nuclear Summit.

All these Groups of 8s and 20s are of course prime owners of thousands of megatons of radioactive fissionable materials which they have fashioned into weapons of war. In other words, you have in the Hague a club of the most radioactive and dangerous countries on the planet. Nuclear terrorism is definitely a worry for the world—and if you own the bulk of these missiles and bombs, you want to make sure attention is safely distracted from your own dirty radioactive historical usage record, and deposited firmly into some other drama.

So what exactly is nuclear security? Apparently for the Rich Man’s Club, nuclear security is keeping fissionable materials out of the hands of “terrorists” and presumably in the hands of “responsible people” (we’ll overlook those news reports of nuclear bunkers being guarded by tired and dispirited USA soldiers, for the moment. Not to mention that little matter of the counterfeit gambling chips at a casino which lost the Number 2 Nuclear Commander Tim Giardina his job.)

Seems the US is not the only one struggling with low morale and dispirited officers. This from the Daily Mail of the UK on 22 October 2013:
Twice this year alone, Air Force officers entrusted with the launch keys to nuclear-tipped missiles have been caught leaving open a blast door that is intended to help prevent a terrorist or other intruder from entering their underground command post.

Clearly something's wrong with the way nuclear material is guarded in the rich countries. And these folks are telling us they are responsible people we can trust to guard thousands of megatons of fissionable materials.

According to the New York Daily News:
Obama says he's more worried about the possibility of ‘nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan’ than Russian threat
The President says the Russians ‘don't pose the No. 1 national security threat to the United States,’ despite the Kremlin's land grab of Crimea.


Now its clearly a hypothetical risk the President is posing, and I really hope nothing happens to Manhattan since it is one of the coolest and most global cities of the world. Having done my graduate studies there, I have a special fondness for the Big Apple. But because the image of Manhattan being nuked has been put out into the world’s imagination, we have to ask:

Who on earth would have the capacity to do this?

Manhattan was attacked once—I was there on 125th street when the Twin Towers fell. The scope and scale of the attack was unimaginable, but it happened. For many people around the world, it is clear it couldn’t have occurred with the complicity of the Bush administration, who benefited enormously from the 60 billion in war funding that poured out of the treasury shortly thereafter.

The USA is also the only country in the world which has actually used excessive force far beyond what was needed to make an already exhausted Japanese Army surrender on the eve of the Second World War. The two atom bombs that fell on Japan caused human casualties of a few million(once you add in all those who died of cancer in subsequent years.)

For any observer who’s following for what’s been happening in the USA for the past 14 years, it is pretty clear the greatest threat to the US’s security comes from within the US itself. The military-industrial complex in the USA is itching to get its hands on the next installtment of trillions for a new war that will replace the Cold War (1950s-1980s to the Iran/Iraq wars to the WTC bombings/Iraq/Afganisthan decade (2001-2013).

It is clear that the vigilance towards nuclear security will have to be directed towards institutions based in the US itself. There has to be massive transparency and compliance of international monitoring of the US’s nuclear holdings. And there needs to be a giant civilian inquiry into how exactly these nuclear weapons are being held.

It is pretty clear to most people living in New York City that they live surrounded by aging nuclear power plants which are more at risk of leaks and malfunctions than quite frankly a terrorist attack. India Point being a prime example.

The USA needs to step back and take a reality check of what it possesses-and mostly it possesses a deadly stash of dangerous weapons that need to be properly monitored and disposed of. And it possesses nuclear plants that should be properly maintained and eventually shut down when the time is right, because these aging plants are too close to dense settlements of human population.

I’m sure that applies equally well to China and Russia as well, and other countries that operate and run nuclear power energy plants, and keep a nice stash of aging nuclear missiles in their basements. Which hmmm...seem to be the G8 countries. Funny that.

Now that we have that out of the way... lets go back to Russia, the Ukraine and the Crimea. Distractions are always such a good way to take attention away from the real issues.

25 March, 2014

The New Cold War: A Figment of the neo-con imagination


According to the Financial Times:
Motivated by fierce nationalism and a deep sense of historic injustice, for which he blames the west, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been lashing out with little apparent regard for the consequences. If cornered, he will be tempted to use all the levers at his disposal to retaliate against western sanctions.

Where has Putin been lashing out? Maybe I missed the news. Mostly it appears to be the Americans lashing out to Putin.

Then there’s a lovely op-ed today, reprinted in the Kathmandu Post from “Project Syndicate,” about “The Post Russian World Order” by one Giles Merritt, who predicts a funeral for Russia, as well as a BRIC bloc without Russia. He also says:

“Russia is also set to sideline itself from the global economy, and by doing so it will usher in a new era in international relations. “

(A bit of Blah blah here…)

And then he says:
“…so the Russian economy will progressively be cut off from international trade and investment and consigned to a future of slow or no growth.”

He also condemns Russia’s “defiance of international law.”

Seriously, this takes the cake. First the Americans set off political disturbances in Ukraine, with the aim of getting Russia in trouble. Then when their actions backfire and a piece of Crimea falls back into Russia, they claim Russia is at fault. Then they slap on sanctions. Then they claim the Russians will sell radioactive weapons to Iran,and proclaim a new Cold War has started (you can see the saliva flowing at the thought of all those trillions they will get to fight this “war”). Then they get pissed off and claim BRIC will dissolve.

Well, nothing like an attack from outsiders to make a tepid arrangement like BRIC become suddenly a band of brothers. Have you noticed how people don’t really care about groups—until the group gets attacked, and then everyone sort of comes to their defense?

Also of course the Americans seem to miss the fact that the world is larger now than just America and Russia. There’s a lot more players on the world stage who are watching this unfold. And while this would have been a great strategy in the 50s to push America on to the global hegemonic stage, today the playing field is a bit more different.

First of all, Russia is seriously not a threat to anyone, least of all to America. That much is obvious.

Secondly, people like the Russians. There are long historic, economic and other ties that have developed between Russia and 150 plus countries that will be hard to erase with bombastic attacks by neo-cons in the USA.

Thirdly, the USA is seriously in need of a reality check about the state of the global economy. Which is much more complex than it was in the 50s, with a lot more players. This is not a bilateral world with two superpowers anymore. This is a world with hundreds of small players, and the US has to realize that diplomacy with these small players is as important as with the Supers. China being a prime example of a superpower. Where recently Michelle Obama was seen with her two beautiful daughters—admittedly, I like that kind of personal diplomacy, and I personally have a fondness for Michelle and her two girls, but the USA has acted with such impunity recently that I doubt even that visit is going to make any difference in China’s recent economic policies which has taken a step back from investing in the American dollar.

This is a new era in international relations, definitely. But whether Russia will be sidelined is moot. What is clear is that those who repeatedly attack other countries are not in a good position to buy and sell things, to maintain friendly trade relations, and to expect big shiploads of almost free goodies from Papa China. I guess the new era in international relations is also asking this question:

What’s the exchange value of the dollar and the euro?

And: And are the Asians really getting a fair deal for their goods? They are sending over shiploads of clothing, jewelry, leather boots, household items, tea strainers, machinery, computers and completely useless tchotzches in exchange for…Facebook? Not to mention the two stellar currencies, the euro and the dollar.

Now as to the “Post-Russian World Order”-what is that, anyways? A world without Russia? A world in which Russia doesn’t dominate? (but wait a minute, it never did dominate, anyways, despite it s best efforts.)

Anyways, clearly there’s going to be a post moment of some sorts. But its more likely going to be a massive disarmament moment for USA , Russia, and China, followed by the acknowledgement that in order to survive in this present moment, the acknowledgement of a world more complex than a Two Superpower model is necessary. And in order to do that, foreign policy may have to take a much different form than 1950s style neo-con war cries.


Seed failure is international failure


The maize crop has failed again in parts of Southern Nepal. Thousands of farmers are protesting and asking for compensation, but who's going to hear them?  

The seeds were imported hybrid seeds, brought from India. The Rajkumar variety of hybrid seeds, while impressively named and hinting to royal origins, could easily have been genetically modified seeds, sold by shadowy international companies whose stocks keep on rising in the stock market. The X-92 and Sandhya are equally well named—one hinting to scientific certitude, the other to some feminine quality nested in the seeds. The branding was great but the product was fake. Unfortunately, Nepal doesn’t have the investigative capacities to figure out where these seeds actually originate from.

Why are these seeds being sold publicly to farmers when it is clear, over and over, that “hybrid” seeds sold commercially are of questionable origins,  possibly of genetically modified backgrounds, and they continue to fail spectacularly on a yearly basis?

This doesn’t really impact those international companies who sell these seeds, who feel they are immune from prosecution or lawsuits. As long as the business community of low accountability countries like India and Nepal continue to sell these seeds, often openly and with great pride, the farmers will continue to suffer great economic damages, debts and despair.

Seed failure cannot be written off lightly in countries where people get into heavy debt to lease land, buy seeds and fertilizers and pesticides in order to grow food. Which is exactly what happened in the Nepal case-the Nepali farmers had leased the land they had sowed the maize seeds in at the rate of Rs.40,000 annually.

The governments of both countries have turned a blind eye to the plight and rights  of farmers, till now. But the time has come to set up a justice mechanism to investigate how exactly the government and the legal system should respond when seeds, which are the fundamental units of life, turn out to be bogus and fake. How should the companies that sold these seeds compensate the farmers? Because its not just the price of the seeds, but an entire season’s lost crops, that affect a farmer’s community when these events keep repeating themselves.

It is also clear that besides a national level investigation, an investigative panel of an international stature needs to be set up to investigate what is going on with seed failure of maize seeds, rice seeds, and other seeds fundamental to food security for billions of people globally. Until this becomes an international issue, there is sure to be no action against those selling these seeds.



22 March, 2014

"Better CIA": What is the US Congress monitoring?



The CIA has broken the law. And the USA Congress is pissed off.  Senator Harry Reid has ordered an investigation.

Guess what the CIA answered?

"We are a far better organization because of congressional oversight, and we will do whatever we can to be responsive to the elected representatives of the American people," CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said.

Does that seem odd to you? The first line of that paragraph, I mean?

We are far better looking because we use Dove soap. And L’Oreal shampoo too. But that’s not the relationship between the Congress and the CIA, is it?

Isn’t there something called “checks and balances”, in which the CIA has to directly report to, and be legally accountable to, the US Congress? Surely the Congressional oversight is not just so the CIA can be “better”? If they wanted to be better, they could hire McKinsey and Company, or some management consultants to do the job, surely. Or they could go to church and confess their crimes.

Unfortunately for the CIA and fortunately for the American people (plus all the internationals who have, and are, being secretly tortured, subjected to illegal surveillance, and otherwise having their human rights violated by this good organization), there appears to be a larger accountability mechanism ingrained in the US democracy apparatus. Which has admittedly been dysfunctional (or probably completely co-opted) by the shadow government since the 1950s, but still, vestiges of US democracy sometimes show feeble signs of life.

As in, senate leader ordering investigation into the CIA hacking.

However, do not be unduly impressed by all this, since its clear even from the CIA that they view the Senate as a benign force that makes them “better”—and whose advice and oversight is nice, but not unduly something to  be worried about if they’ve been bad boys.

Of course, it is clear to 99% of the world that the CIA’s human rights violations have taken on the scale of crimes against humanity. The feeble US Congress and even feeble institutions of democracy and oversight (witness the “Donald Rumsfield is a charming man” documentary that Errol “Fog of War” Flynn has just come out with) point to institutions and individuals who are probably under enormous pressure and intimidation. Whether this intimidation is overt or covert, only the people themselves can say.

As Harry Reid himself said:
"The CIA has not only interfered with the lawful congressional oversight of its activities, but has also seemingly attempted to intimidate its overseers by subjecting them to criminal investigation," Reid said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder obtained by Reuters.

"These developments strike at the heart of the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches," Reid, a Nevada Democrat, added.

It is clear that the international community needs to step up and start documenting what is surely some of the most egregious crimes of this century. It is also clear that the torture report itself is not the final world on what these good gentlemen have been up to. There are plenty of testimonies and evidence on the Web and elsewhere that the scale of their crimes are far deeper and graver than torture at Guantanamo (although that admittedly is bad enough.)

The Europeans continue to follow the Americans, even going so far as to imitate their bond program to bail out Greece. There was that little matter of rapping Vladimir Putin and his friends with sanctions—surely, you think, sanctions are a little passé, especially when it is clear that the poor benign dictator came into an unexpected windfall with the pro-active actions of the Americans, who instigated the disturbances in the Ukraine. A piece of Crimea just fell through the chimney in a nice Christmas stocking for Mr. Putin-and anybody watching this knows he owes this pleasantly unexpected windfall to his nemesis America.

Clearly at this point the whole capitalistic framework is suspect, if rich countries are blithely printing money in the hope that their symbolic clout and infallible value of the “Greenback” will continue to bring them giant returns in the form of international trade and exchange fees. And it is also clear that as long as this complicity of finance continues, the human rights violations, which grow larger and more unstoppable every day, will continue to spread throughout the world.

Will the Europeans react in any way? Not with them busy slapping sanctions on Russia and issuing bonds to bail out their weaker economic partners. As long as the webs of finance has wrapped itself around Europe’s head, it appears the Europeans will continue to have amnesia regarding their histories of fighting fascism.
But don’t be surprised—Europe after all is the continent that has seen the most virulent expressions of fascism, more than any other continent. Why  should we be surprised if they don’t protest the 21st century’s manifestations? They may be as deeply complicit in the USA's violations, as sporadic information regarding their ties to the USA's fascism-industry complex suggests.

Lets see how the US Congress takes on the CIA. Don’t be surprised if USA democracy has already breathed its last in the 9/11 moment. But lets give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps there is a blip of life left in the good ole USA democratic mechanism of accountability.