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Garunar

 L’Université Orientale Royale

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Garunar according to Lord Buddha’s high philosophy means compassion that

humanity could learn to nurture, along with Metta, Muditar and Upikkhar, the noble virtues of Buddhist thought culture.   Garunar the University, personal and

 innovatively tutorial using textual, electronic and virtual technology, is based in

Asia and in international cities around the world.

A monk sips morning tea

it’s quiet,

the chrysanthemum’s flowering.

                                Matsuo Basho  

 
At the root of its foundation, the University is a liberal, empowering and open-minded royal lyceum on par with Tagore’s or Aristotle’s schools of thought.  Founded by passionate royal commissioners, Asian leaders and intellectuals, Garunar is a private university with a progressive mission to lead social, political and economic reform in Southeast Asia and the Orient in general.  The University is founded upon classical ideals of both Eastern, American and European higher education, the proper study of wo/mankind, in Sir Isaiah Berlin’s words.  Currently the university is affiliated with the Royal Institution, selective blue chip enterprises, business leaders and Asia Link academic institutions. 

The University welcomes applications from undergraduates wishing to study in innovative and progressive modern studies in which the faculties offer dynamic degrees, scholarship and research supervision affiliated with the quality of global human lives.    Undergraduate and Graduate Studies: 

 Faculty of Liberal Arts, B.A.       

 Faculty of Oriental Religions and Western Philosophy, B.Phil.

 Academy of Science, B.Sc., B.Res.

 Faculty of Business, Economics and Oriental Medicine, B.Sc.,BBA, MBA, M.Phil.

 Research Degrees and Consultancy, B.Res., M.Phil.

 Equal Opportunity scholarships for international students: Available upon

  application

 East Asia          ASEAN         European friends       Americas       Russia          

For academic matters please contact:

 garunar.universite@gmail.com                  

        

Admissions: High School diploma, TOEFL, IELTS, GCE, GMAT/ GRE transcripts, 3 letters of formal recommendation 

* HOT NEW PROGRAMMES:

BA – Consulting Management, English for HRD, Multinational Business communication Arts, Scientific Languages, Haute Joaillerie & Couture Design ; BA – Burmese Language and Culture; Digital Communication Technology, Universal Art and curating, Intellectual Design, Green Languages, literary discourse, Nature/Energy, Financial Markets, Stagflation in community, Eco-Design and Architecture, Behavioral Finance, Earthquake+Natural Disaster Science, Hyper Informational Systems, Nano Engineering, Cancer Immunology, Kundalini Yoga, Asian Design & Art, Equities & Protectionism, Business Deals, Guanxi Relationships, Business Informatics, Ethics of Business Leadership in Asia, Cool Social Networking, E-Waste in the 3rd World, Ethanol from non-Food, International Conflict Diplomacy, Personal Markets, Shakespeare & Business, Food/ Forestry Science, Prestigious Fashion, Philosophy, Ballet Choreography

BSc – Automotive Design & Technology, LDC Community Development Programmes, Civil Management of post Colonial LDCs,  Gene & DNA Engineering to cure Cancers, Alternative Pharmacy and Alcohol, Rural and Urban Civil Engineering, Petrochemicals and Polymer Technology, International Development, International Economics and Finance, Environmental Agriculture, Recession Economics, Preventive Medicine, Cloud+Classic Computing, Emerging Nations, Hi-Tech Healthcare, Nano Scientific Arts, Transport Infrastructure, Construction, Women Industrial Engineering, Nursing, Alternative Energy, Future Enterprises, Political Campaigning, Buddhist Law and Asian Geo-Politics, Creative Blogging, E-Design, Vinotherapie, Science de femmes, Recession, Sophisticated Higher Education, Multiculturalism, Ginseng, Sports ‘n’ Art Therapy, Mutual Funds, Vegetarianism, Detox, Discos, Human Safety

MBA –  Public-Private-Community Management,  Globalized Blue Chips,  Liberal & Classical Economics, State Monopolies, Post-privatisation of State Enterprises, Go Game+Corporate Management, Analytical Studies on Freedomfighters, Technology Finance, Intellect for Financially-challenged

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BA/BSc – Southeast Asian Business Management, Love and Passion, Disability, Life Metaphysics, Law Reform, Post-Modern Buddhism, M.Phil. in Emerging Markets/Cultures, Anti-Cancer/Alzheimer, Vipassana Meditation, Spa Lifestyle   

MBA – Solidarity Economics, Digital Enterprise, Politics and Arts for Princesses, Family Business, SIV-Superfund, Multinationals Management, EU, Business Empires, Energy, Asian Economics, Shipping, Airlines, Telecommunications, Cuisine, Hospitality, Boutique Banking, Stocks, Casino, Rock ‘n’ Roll

MPhil., BRes. – in customized field*

 BA, BPhil – Hospitality,   Monarchy, Tao te Ching, Pain and Happiness Research, Loneliness, Private & Public Policy, Film/Drama

Self-Awareness, EI, Spiritual Healthcare, Football, Orientalism, Kung Fu, Revolution, Statesmanship, Golf, Psychoanalysis, Botany  

B.Econ, MBA – India, Singapore, Indonesia, Korea, Myanmar, Japan, Thailand, Laos, Tibet, China, Arabia ; 

BSc, MBA – Innovation & Entrepreneurship, American History of Ideas, Sovereign Wealth, Free Trade Negotiation, Finance, Managing Dysfunctional Nations, Children/Youth/Transition Development, Wallstreet, Union-Management Relations, Labour & Energy Research;

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BA, BEngineering, BSc degrees in: Liberal Arts, IT, Asia-Europe Geopolitics, International Relations, Human Rights, Corporate Social Responsibility, Diplomatic, Political, Media Public Service, Personal Art of Politics, Musical Diplomacy  

Diamonds, Silk, Saohpa Affairs, Mogul Arts, Pure Sciences, Democracy, Healthcare, Novel writing, Directing film, Human Rights & Environmental Policy;  

BSc – Mathematics, Online Games, Physics, Chemical Engineering, Pharmaceutical Alkaloids, Sustainable Environment, Family Institutions, Avant Garde Sciences, Wisdom Economies, Gay, Lesbian Rights, Medical Tourism, Complex Negotiation, Financial Engineering, Senior Citizens, Fiber, Electronics, Virtual Earth, Bio-chemistry, Dengue, Malaria;   

M.D. in Oriental Medicine, Scientific Medicine, Spa, Diabetes, TCM, Heart Disease;  

BSc – Feminism, Internet Engineering, Journalism, Women’s Governance, Organic Thought and Farming, Alkaloids, Oxygen, Reforestation, Art of War and Peace, Political Turmoil, Breathing, Asian Finance;   

BA in Modern Languages, Harp, Ramayana, Renaissance Politics, Fashion/Architecture, Design, High-Yield Assets, Children, High Art, Singing, Managing Genius;  

BFA in Oriental Antiques, Dance, Comparative Classics, Inspiring Innovation, H2O, Human Welfare Finance, Modern Governance, Power Business Brokerage, Novels, Divinity, Songwriting, Silk Persian Textiles and carpets ;

*** Currently seeking brilliant student intellectuals, writers, professor scientists, artists, pennyless entrepreneurs, curators, creative & design revolutionaries, alternative senior citizens, cheer leaders, worldwide financiers

Equal Opportunity Scholarships and Recession-proof Microfinance worth euro 2700-3200 are available for eligible applicants in developing nations in Asia, EU, Africa, Americas ; 

Degree Programme Tuition and fees:  

Bachelor’s degree program euro 21999

MBA, MA, MSc euro 45000

MAIEF (Economics, Finance) euro 23900 

mini MBA, PGDIP, PGCERT certificate program  euro 15000

;”ONLINE 3-year program BA, MA, BSc, BEngr euro 9999 limited offer-

international BSc, M Res., MSc euro 27500
International MBA – euro 29900
Fast Track MBA, EMBA – euro 25900

BA, BCommerce RL – Civil, Financial Management and Trade & Investment  euro 18000

Executive, Continuing Education & Special Directed studies  euro  15000

BEcon in International Politics, trade and governments  euro 29000

MPHIL, MD, MSc, DLitt euro 49700

        ***** Empowered by education technology and energy of the Eastern Stars.          

All intellectual property rights reserved.

*** We are pleased to announce the establishment of the Medical Research Institute for Humanity at Garunar L’ Universite Orientale Royale focusing on the Heart, Cancer, HIV/AIDS, Diabetes.  Research papers can be submitted to the Faculty of Research and Academic Affairs.

Nobel Prizes and the Immune System

The Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine have rewarded several breakthroughs that revealed the way in which our bodies protect us against microscopic threats of almost any description. Each of these breakthroughs have provided us with a better understanding of how the immune system senses an attack, how it recognizes and deals with intruders without destroying its own cells and tissues, but also how it can malfunction and unleash its destructive forces upon itself. Click on each link to see a Speed Read, a brief summary of the breakthroughs for which each Nobel Prize was awarded.


Emil von Behring Passive Aggressive Treatment
Emil von Behring (1901)Von Behring identified factors in blood that neutralize the toxic products from tetanus and diphtheria bacteria, and he showed how these agents could be used to prevent illness and death caused by diphtheria microbes.

Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov and Paul Ehrlich Multiple Lines of Defence
Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov and Paul Ehrlich (1908)The immune system works through more than one mechanism: Mechnikov identified phagocyte cells that engulf and devour intruders, Ehrlich’s side-chain theory proposed how antibodies released in blood tackle invaders.

Charles Richet A Shock Response
Charles Richet (1913)Richet discovered anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction to toxins, which showed how the immune system can damage its host as well as provide protection against disease.

Jules Bordet Complementary Forces
Jules Bordet (1919)Factors in blood serum work with antibodies to destroy bacteria, and Bordet’s discovery of these complement proteins allowed the creation of tests that could diagnose many dangerous infectious diseases.

Karl Landsteiner Blood Relations
Karl Landsteiner (1930)Landsteiner’s discovery of human blood groups, and his system for typing blood, allowed blood transfusions to be carried out without the risk of adverse reactions.

Sir Frank MacFarlane Burnet and Peter Medawar Raising Self-Awareness
Sir Frank MacFarlane Burnet and Peter Medawar (1960)The concept of immunological tolerance showed how the body learns to recognize its own cells and tissues, which prevents the immune system from mounting a response against itself.

Gerald Edelman and Rodney Porter Anatomy of a Killer
Gerald Edelman and Rodney Porter (1972)The two scientists independently deciphered the structure of antibodies, which revealed how seemingly identical-looking molecules can target specifically any one of a countless number of invaders for destruction.

Baruj Benacerraf, Jean Dausset and George Snell Seeking Signs of Compatibility
Baruj Benacerraf, Jean Dausset and George Snell (1980)Breakthroughs from the three researchers helped to build a picture for how a specific set of proteins found on the surface of cells can regulate the immune response.

Nils Jerne, Georges Kohler and César Milstein Creating Supply on Demand
Nils Jerne, Georges Kohler and César Milstein (1984)Jerne’s theories provided a clearer image of how the immune system engages antibodies to fight invaders, Köhler and Milstein’s techniques for producing specific antibodies on demand helped to create better diagnostic tests and new treatments against diseases.

Susumu Tonegawa Assembly Instructions for Antibodies
Susumu Tonegawa (1987)By uncovering the genetic mechanism for the construction of antibodies, Tonegawa revealed how the body can generate millions and millions of antibody proteins from a much smaller number of genes.

Peter Doherty and Rolf Zinkernagel Double-Checking Cells
Peter Doherty and Rolf Zinkernagel (1996)Doherty and Zinkernagel’s discovery of how the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells uncovered the general mechanisms used by the cellular component of the immune system to distinguish foreign agents from its own cells and tissues.  Ref: http://nobelprize.org/

Benazir Bhutto’s life has been a rollercoaster of high political drama, acute personal loss, early triumph followed by downfall and charges of corruption. Ginny Dougary meets her in exile in Dubai, as she plans her return to power in Pakistan – Times OnlineBenazir Bhutto’s life has been a rollercoaster of high political drama, acute personal loss, early triumph followed by downfall and charges of corruption. Ginny Dougary meets her in exile in Dubai, as she plans her return to power in Pakistan – Times Online

It is very sad and tearful that Bhutto’s opponents have killed her.  She stood tall with democracy and stood fearlessly against extremists. She appeared to be listening to criticism, by basing her political manifesto on poverty and education which Pakistan’s uneducated direly need to bring about a stable and civil society.
I believe it is too early for democracy until a larger percentage of the population is educated enough to bring people into power who are not corrupt and nepotist.
However, this is all likely to be swept away
as democracy will be pushed through and we may end up with someone that again loots the treasury and pushes the country to bankruptcy like in the 90’s.
Perhaps this will be the lesser of two evils, the other… perhaps the West dare not worth thinking about.
                 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Abid, Shipley, UK

There are three most public parties in pakistan,in which one is Pakistan Peoples Party,headed by Benazir Bhutto,I know Ms Bhutto well as I am the resident of her native province.She ruled Pakistan very democratically .Now a days Pakistan needs a leader like her i think she must to come Pakistan and end her exile period now.on the otherhand corruption is now rooted in the society of Pakistan and no one ruler deny it.The reasons of corruption is a long story which starts from the begning of pakistan .

Aakash Santorai, Hyderabad, Pakistan

Breakthrough in Developing Super-Material Graphene

ScienceDaily (Jan. 19, 2010) — A collaborative research project has brought the world a step closer to producing a new material on which future nanotechnology could be based. Researchers across Europe, including the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), have demonstrated how an incredible material, graphene, could hold the key to the future of high-speed electronics, such as micro-chips and touchscreen technology.

Graphene has long shown potential, but has previously only been produced on a very small scale, limiting how well it could be measured, understood and developed. A paper published on the 17th January, in Nature Nanotechnology explains how researchers have, for the first time, produced graphene to a size and quality where it can be practically developed, and successfully measured its electrical characteristics. These significant breakthroughs overcome two of the biggest barriers to scaling up the technology.

 

Graphene is a relatively new form of carbon made up of a single layer of atoms arranged in a honeycomb shaped lattice. Despite being one atom thick and chemically simple, graphene’s is extremely strong and highly conductive, making it ideal for high-speed electronics, photonics and beyond.

Graphene is a strong candidate to replace semiconductor chips. Moore’s Law observes that the density of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years, but silicon and other existing transistor materials are thought to be close to the minimum size where they can remain effective. Graphene transistors can potentially run at faster speeds and cope with higher temperatures. Graphene could be the solution to ensuring computing technology to continue to grow in power whilst shrinking in size, extending the life of Moore’s law by many years.

Large microchip manufacturers such as IBM and Intel have openly expressed interest in the potential of graphene as a material on which future computing could be based.

Graphene also has potential for exciting new innovations such as touchscreen technology, LCD displays and solar cells. Its unparalleled strength and transparency make it perfect for these applications, and its conductivity would offers a dramatic increase in efficiency on existing materials.

 

Until now graphene of sufficient quality has only been produced in the form of small flakes of tiny fractions of a millimeter, using painstaking methods such as peeling layers off graphite crystals with sticky tape. Producing useable electronics requires much larger areas of material to be grown. This project saw researchers, for the first time, produce and successfully operate a large number of electronic devices from a sizable area of graphene layers (approximately 50 mm2).

The graphene sample, was produced epitaxially — a process of growing one crystal layer on another — on silicon carbide. Having such a significant sample not only proves that it can be done in a practical, scalable way, but also allowed the scientists to better understand important properties.

 

The second key breakthrough of the project was measuring graphene’s electrical characteristics with unprecedented precision, paving the way for convenient and accurate standards to be established. For products such as transistors in computers to work effectively and be commercially viable, manufacturers must be able to make such measurements with incredible accuracy against an agreed international standard.

The international standard for electrical resistance is provided by the Quantum Hall Effect, a phenomenon whereby electrical properties in 2D materials can be determined based only on fundamental constants of nature.

The effect has, until now, only been demonstrated with sufficient precision in a small number of conventional semiconductors. Furthermore, such measurements need temperatures close to absolute zero, combined with very strong magnetic fields, and only a few specialised laboratories in the world can achieve these conditions.

Graphene was long tipped to provide an even better standard, but samples were inadequate to prove this. By producing samples of sufficient size and quality, and accurately demonstrate Hall resistance, the team proved that graphene has the potential to supersede conventional semiconductors on a mass scale.

Furthermore graphene shows the Quantum Hall Effect at much higher temperatures. This means the graphene resistance standard could be used much more widely as more labs can achieve the conditions required for its use. In addition to its advantages of operating speed and durability, this would also speed the production and reduce costs of future electronics technology based on graphene

Prof Alexander Tzalenchuk from NPL’s Quantum Detection Group and the lead author on the Nature Nanotechnology paper observes: “It is truly sensational that a large area of epitaxial graphene demonstrated not only structural continuity, but also the degree of perfection required for precise electrical measurements on par with conventional semiconductors with a much longer development history.”

 

The research team isn’t content to leave it there. They are hoping to go on to demonstrate even more precise measurement, as well as accurate measurement at even higher temperatures. They are currently seeking EU funding to drive this forward.

Dr JT Janssen, an NPL Fellow who worked on the project, said: “We’ve laid the groundwork for the future of graphene production, and will strive in our ongoing research to provide greater understanding of this exciting material. The challenge for industry in the coming years will be to scale the material up in a practical way to meet new technology demands. We have taken a huge step forward, and once the manufacturing processes are in place, we hope graphene will offer the world a faster and cheaper alternative to conventional semiconductors.”

The research was a joint project carried by the National Physical Laboratory; Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg, Sweden; Politecnico di Milano, Italy; Linköping University, Sweden and Lancaster University, UK. Measurement was carried out by the Quantum Detection Group at the UK’s at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, UK.

Technical detail

The sample was grown epitaxially by removing all silicon atoms in a controlled way from a single surface layer of silicon carbide and allowing the remaining carbon to form the nearly ideal graphene monolayer. The next step was to use standard microfabrication techniques, such as the electron beam lithography and reactive ion etching, to produce devices ranging in lateral size from a few micrometers (1 micrometer = 0.001 mm) to hundreds of micrometers and still only one carbon atom thick. All devices measured so far showed the desired electronic characteristics.

Where now?

Measuring resistance

Growing to a usable size while maintaining quality

A technology for the future

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Rabindranath Tagore

 The Gardener

When I go alone at night to my love-tryst,
birds do not sing, the wind does not stir,
the houses on both sides pf the street stand silent.

It is my own anklets that grow lous at
every step and I am ashamed.

When I sit on my balcony and listen to his footsteps,
leaves do not rustle on the trees, and the waster
is still in the river like the sword on the
knees of a sentry fallen asleep.

It is my own heart that beats wildly –
I do not know how to quiet it.

When my love comes and sits by my side,
when my body trembles and my eyelids droop,
the night darkens, the winds blow out the lamp,
and the clouds draw veils over the stars.

It is the jewel at my own breast that shines
and gives light. I do not know how to hide it.”

 

Gitanjali

 

“When thou commandest me to sing, it seems that my heart would break
with pride; and I look to thy face, and tears come to my eyes.
All that is harsh and dissonant in my life melts into one sweet
harmony- and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird on its flight
across the sea.
I know thou takest pleasure in my singing. I know that only as a singer
I come before thy presence.
I touch by the edge of the far-spreading wing of my song thy feet which
I could never aspire to reach.
Drunk with joy of singing I forget myself and call thee friend who art
my Lord”.

 

“Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This
frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with
fresh life.

This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales, and
hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.

At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in
joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.

Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.”

The Flower School

"When storm-clouds rumble in the sky and
 June showers come down,
 The moist east wind comes marching over the heath
 to blow its bagpipes amongst the bamboos.
 The crowds of flowers come out of a sudden,
 from nobody knows where,
 and dance upon the grass in wild glee.

 Mother, I really think the flowers go to school underground.
 They do their lessons with doors shut,
 and if they want to come out to play before it is time,
 their master makes them stand in a corner.
 When the rains come they have their holidays.

 Branches clash together in the forest,
 and the leaves rustle in  the wild wind,
 the thunder-clouds clap their giant hands and
 the flower children rush out i dresses of
 pink, yellow and white.

 Do you know, mother, their home is in the sky,
 where the stars are.
 Haven't you seen how eager they are to get there?
 Don't you know why they are in such a hurry?
 Of course, I can guess to whom they raise their arms,
 they have their mother as I have my own."

Women, Poverty & Economics

Women bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s poverty. Statistics indicate that women are more likely than men to be poor and at risk of hunger because of the systematic discrimination they face in education, health care, employment and control of assets. Poverty implications are widespread for women, leaving many without even basic rights such as access to clean drinking water, sanitation, medical care and decent employment. Being poor can also mean they have little protection from violence and have no role in decision making.

According to some estimates, women represent 70 percent of the world’s poor. They are often paid less than men for their work, with the average wage gap in 2008 being 17 percent. Women face persistent discrimination when they apply for credit for business or self-employment and are often concentrated in insecure, unsafe and low-wage work. Eight out of ten women workers are considered to be in vulnerable employment in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with global economic changes taking a huge toll on their livelihoods.

The current financial crisis is likely to affect women particularly severely. In many developing countries where women work in export-led factories, or in countries where migrant women workers are the backbone of service industries, women’s jobs have taken the greatest hit. The International Labour Organization estimates that the economic downturn could lead to 22 million more unemployed women in 2009, jeopardizing the gains made in the last few decades in women’s empowerment.

In many countries, however, the impact goes far beyond the loss of formal jobs, as the majority of women tend to work in the informal sector, for example as domestics in cities, and do not show up in official unemployment numbers. Economic policies and institutions still mostly fail to take gender disparities into account, from tax and budget systems to trade regimes. And with too few seats at the tables where economic decisions are made, women themselves have limited opportunity to influence policy.

Berlin, l’ours d’or et les vieux frères –    Berlinale 2012  E.U.

Je suis donc celui qui n’a pas vu l’Ours. Le jury présidé par Mike Leigh a décerné la récompense suprême de la Berlinale à Cesare deve morire de Paolo (80 ans) et Vittorio (82 ans) Taviani.

Ils ont tourné ce film dans une prison où les détenus, condamnés pour la plupart à des longues peines, ont monté une représentation du Jules César de Shakespeare. Trente cinq ans après leur triomphe à Cannes pour Padre padrone, les frères pourront décider de savoir qui garde l’Ours, qui garde la Palme.

Le reste du palmarès est un peu décevant. Il fait la part belle aux films à sujet, Just The Wind (ce n’est que le vent) de Bence Flieghauf qui décrit la persécutions des Roms en Hongrie et Rebelle, de Kim Nguyen, portrait d’une enfant soldat au Congo démocratique. Le premier a reçu le prix du jury et le second le prix d’interprétation féminine pour Rachel Mwanza.

L’Ours d’argent du meilleur réalisateur est allé à Christian Petzold. Barbara avait été accueilli avec un énorme enthousiasme pour la critique allemande, et c’est vrai qu’on y retrouve toutes les qualités du cinéma de Petzold: la rigueur, l’art de créer la tension qui à chaque fois se réincarne dans la même actrice, toujours égale à elle-même, toujours différente, Nina Hoss.

Le film danois, Une affaire royale de Nikolaj Arcel emporte deux trophées, meilleur acteur à Mikel Boe Folsgaard et meilleur scénario.

Les films les plus novateurs ont recueilli des récompenses mineures: une mention spéciale à L’Enfant d’en haut, d’Ursula Meier et le prix Alfred Bauer, qui récompense justement l’innovation, à Tabu, de Miguel Gomes.

En 2011, le jury présidé par Isabella Rossellini avait distingué Une séparation et Le Cheval de Turin dans un lot de films très inégal. Mike Leigh et ses collègues ont procédé inversement.

UN Women’s Approach

Advancing women’s economic security and rights has always been a core UN Women priority. UN Women supports women to reshape conditions at both ends of the economic spectrum — from boosting women’s participation in economic policy-making to supporting efforts to provide women and their communities with practical skills needed for securing sustainable livelihoods.

In more than 40 countries, for example, UN Women supports national and local initiatives to include gender perspectives in budgeting processes, and to collect and use sex-disaggregated data in public policy formulation to ensure that macro-economic policy frameworks address women’s priorities. UN Women also works to strengthen women’s rights to land and inheritance, increase their access to credit and decent work, and empower women migrant workers as well as home-based workers.

UN Women takes action

Reference: www.unifem.org

Buddhist  Economics

by Professor E.F. Schumacher (a friend of Prime Minister U Nu)

“Right Livelihood” is one of the requirements of the Buddha’s Noble
Eightfold Path. It is clear, therefore, that there must be such a thing as
Buddhist economics.

Buddhist countries have often stated that they wish to remain faithful to
their heritage. So Burma: “The New Burma sees no conflict between religious
values and economic progress. Spiritual health and material well-being are
not enemies: they are natural allies.”[1] Or: “We can blend successfully
the religious and spiritual values of our heritage with the benefits of
modern technology.”[2] Or: “We Burmans have a sacred duty to conform both
our dreams and our acts to our faith. This we shall ever do.”[3]

All the same, such countries invariably assume that they can model their
economic development plans in accordance with modern economics, and they
call upon modern economists from so-called advanced countries to advise
them, to formulate the policies to be pursued, and to construct the grand
design for development, the Five-Year Plan or whatever it may be called. No
one seems to think that a Buddhist way of life would call for Buddhist
economics, just as the modern materialist way of life has brought forth
modern economics.

Economists themselves, like most specialists, normally suffer from a kind
of metaphysical blindness, assuming that theirs is a science of absolute
and invariable truths, without any presuppositions. Some go as far as to
claim that economic laws are as free from “metaphysics” or “values” as the
law of gravitation. We need not, however, get involved in arguments of
methodology. Instead, let us take some fundamentals and see what they look
like when viewed by a modern economist and a Buddhist economist.

There is universal agreement that a fundamental source of wealth is human
labor. Now, the modern economist has been brought up to consider “labor” or
work as little more than a necessary evil. From the point of view of the
employer, it is in any case simply an item of cost, to be reduced to a
minimum if it cannot be eliminated altogether, say, by automation. From the
point of view of the workman, it is a “disutility”; to work is to make a
sacrifice of one’s leisure and comfort, and wages are a kind of
compensation for the sacrifice. Hence the ideal from the point of view of
the employer is to have output without employees, and the ideal from the
point of view of the employee is to have income without employment.

The consequences of these attitudes both in theory and in practice are, of
course, extremely far-reaching. If the ideal with regard to work is to get
rid of it, every method that “reduces the work load” is a good thing.

The most potent method, short of automation, is the so-called “division of
labor” and the classical example is the pin factory eulogized in Adam
Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Here it is not a matter of ordinary
specialization, which mankind has practiced from time immemorial, but of
dividing up every complete process of production into minute parts, so that
the final product can be produced at great speed without anyone having had
to contribute more than a totally insignificant and, in most cases,
unskilled movement of his limbs.

The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least
threefold: to give man a chance to utilize and develop his faculties; to
enable him to overcome his ego-centeredness by joining with other people in
a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a
becoming existence. Again, the consequences that flow from this view are
endless. To organize work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless,
boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short
of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with
people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of
attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally,
to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a
complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence,
namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living
process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the
bliss of leisure.

From the Buddhist point of view, there are therefore two types of
mechanization which must be clearly distinguished: one that enhances a
man’s skill and power and one that turns the work of man over to a
mechanical slave, leaving man in a position of having to serve the slave.
How to tell the one from the other? “The craftsman himself,” says Ananda
Coomaraswamy, a man equally competent to talk about the modern West as the
ancient East, “can always, if allowed to, draw the delicate distinction
between the machine and the tool. The carpet loom is a tool, a contrivance
for holding warp threads at a stretch for the pile to be woven round them
by the craftmen’s fingers; but the power loom is a machine, and its
significance as a destroyer of culture lies in the fact that it does the
essentially human part of the work. “[4] It is clear, therefore, that
Buddhist economics must be very different from the economics of modern
materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilization not in a
multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.
Character, at the same time, is formed primarily by a man’s work. And work,
properly conducted in conditions of human dignity and freedom, blesses
those who do it and equally their products. The Indian philosopher and
economist J. C. Kumarappa sums the matter up as follows:

If the nature of the work is properly appreciated and applied, it will
stand in the same relation to the higher faculties as food is to the
physical body. It nourishes and enlivens the higher man and urges him to
produce the best he is capable of. It directs his free will along the
proper course and disciplines the animal in him into progressive channels.
It furnishes an excellent background for man to display his scale of values
and develop his personality.[5]

If a man has no chance of obtaining work he is in a desperate position, not
simply because he lacks an income but because he lacks this nourishing and
enlivening factor of disciplined work which nothing can replace. A modern
economist may engage in highly sophisticated calculations on whether full
employment “pays” or whether it might be more “economic” to run an economy
at less than full employment so as to ensure a greater mobility of labor, a
better stability of wages, and so forth. His fundamental criterion of
success is simply the total quantity of goods produced during a given
period of time. “If the marginal urgency of goods is low,” says Professor
Galbraith in The Affluent Society, “then so is the urgency of employing the
last man or the last million men in the labor force.”[6] And again:

If . . . we can afford some unemployment in the interest of stability–a
proposition, incidentally, of impeccably conservative antecedents–then we
can afford to give those who are unemployed the goods that enable them to
sustain their accustomed standard of living.

From a Buddhist point of view, this is standing the truth on its head by
considering goods as more important than people and consumption as more
important than creative activity. It means shifting the emphasis from the
worker to the product of work, that is, from the human to the subhuman, a
surrender to the forces of evil. The very start of Buddhist economic
planning would be a planning for full employment, and the primary purpose
of this would in fact be employment for everyone who needs an “outside”
job: it would not be the maximization of employment nor the maximization of
production. Women, on the whole, do not need an “outside” job, and the
large-scale employment of women in offices or factories would be considered
a sign of serious economic failure. In particular, to let mothers of young
children work in factories while the children run wild would be as
uneconomic in the eyes of a Buddhist economist as the employment of a
skilled worker as a soldier in the eyes of a modern economist.

While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly
interested in liberation. But Buddhism is “The Middle Way” and therefore in
no way antagonistic to physical well-being. It is not wealth that stands in
the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of
pleasurable things but the craving for them. The keynote of Buddhist
economics, therefore, is simplicity and non-violence. From an economist’s
point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life is the utter
rationality of its pattern– amazingly small means leading to
extraordinarily satisfactory results.

For the modern economist this is very difficult to understand. He is used
to measuring the “standard of living” by the amount of annual consumption,
assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is “better off” than a
man who consumes less. A Buddhist economist would consider this approach
excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human
well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the
minimum of consumption. Thus, if the purpose of clothing is a certain
amount of temperature comfort and an attractive appearance, the task is to
attain this purpose with the smallest possible effort, that is, with the
smallest annual destruction of cloth and with the help of designs that
involve the smallest possible input of toil. The less toil there is, the
more time and strength is left for artistic creativity. It would be highly
uneconomic, for instance, to go in for complicated tailoring, like the
modem West, when a much more beautiful effect can be achieved by the
skillful draping of uncut material. It would be the height of folly to make
material so that it should wear out quickly and the height of barbarity to
make anything ugly, shabby, or mean. What has just been said about clothing
applies equally to all other human requirements. The ownership and the
consumption of goods is a means to an end, and Buddhist economics is the
systematic study of how to attain given ends with the minimum means.

Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the sole
end and purpose of all economic activity, taking the factors of
production–land, labor, and capital–as the means. The former, in short,
tries to maximize human satisfactions by the optimal pattern of
consumption, while the latter tries to maximize consumption by the optimal
pattern of productive effort. It is easy to see that the effort needed to
sustain a way of life which seeks to attain the optimal pattern of
consumption is likely to be much smaller than the effort needed to sustain
a drive for maximum consumption. We need not be surprised, therefore, that
the pressure and strain of living is very much less in, say, Burma than it
is in the United States, in spite of the fact that the amount of
labor-saving machinery used in the former country is only a minute fraction
of the amount used in the latter.

Simplicity and non-violence are obviously closely related. The optimal
pattern of consumption, producing a high degree of human satisfaction by
means of a relatively low rate of consumption, allows people to live
without great pressure and strain and to fulfill the primary injunction of
Buddhist teaching: “Cease to do evil; try to do good.” As physical
resources are everywhere limited, people satisfying their needs by means of
a modest use of resources are obviously less likely to be at each other’s
throats than people depending upon a high rate of use. Equally, people who
live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get
involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on
world-wide systems of trade.

From the point of view of Buddhist economics, therefore, production from
local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life,
while dependence on imports from afar and the consequent need to produce
for export to unknown and distant peoples is highly uneconomic and
justifiable only in exceptional cases and on a small scale. Just as the
modern economist would admit that a high rate of consumption of transport
services between a man’s home and his place of work signifies a misfortune
and not a high standard of life, so the Buddhist economist would hold that
to satisfy human wants from faraway sources rather than from sources nearby
signifies failure rather than success. The former tends to take statistics
showing an increase in the number of ton/miles per head of the population
carried by a country’s transport system as proof of economic progress,
while to the latter-the Buddhist economist–the same statistics would
indicate a highly undesirable deterioration in the pattern of consumption.

Another striking difference between modern economics and Buddhist economics
arises over the use of natural resources. Bertrand de Jouvenel, the eminent
French political philosopher, has characterized “Western man” in words
which may be taken as a fair description of the modern economist:

He tends to count nothing as an expenditure, other than human effort; he
does not seem to mind how much mineral matter he wastes and, far worse, how
much living matter he destroys. He does not seem to realize at all that
human life is a dependent part of an ecosystem of many different forms of
life. As the world is ruled from towns where men are cut off from any form
of life other than human, the feeling of belonging to an ecosystem is not
revived. This results in a harsh and improvident treatment of things upon
which we ultimately depend, such as water and trees. [7]

The teaching of the Buddha, on the other hand, enjoins a reverent and
non-violent attitude not only to all sentient beings but also, with great
emphasis, to trees. Every follower of the Buddha ought to plant a tree
every few years and look after it until it is safely established, and the
Buddhist economist can demonstrate without difficulty that the universal
observation of this rule would result in a high rate of genuine economic
development independent of any foreign aid. Much of the economic decay of
Southeast Asia (as of many other parts of the world) is undoubtedly due to
a heedless and shameful neglect of trees.

Modern economics does not distinguish between renewable and non-renewable
materials, as its very method is to equalize and quantify everything by
means of a money price. Thus, taking various alternative fuels, like coal,
oil, wood, or water-power: the only difference between them recognized by
modern economics is relative cost per equivalent unit. The cheapest is
automatically the one to be preferred, as to do otherwise would be
irrational and “uneconomic.” From a Buddhist point of view, of course, this
will not do; the essential difference between non-renewable fuels like coal
and oil on the one hand and renewable fuels like wood and water-power on
the other cannot be simply overlooked. Non-renewable goods must be used
only if they are indispensable, and then only with the greatest care and
the most meticulous concern for conservation. To use them heedlessly or
extravagantly is an act of violence, and while complete non-violence may
not be attainable on this earth, there is nonetheless an ineluctable duty
on man to aim at the ideal of non-violence in all he does.

Just as a modern European economist would not consider it a great economic
achievement if all European art treasures were sold to America at
attractive prices, so the Buddhist economist would insist that a population
basing its economic life on non-renewable fuels is living parasitically, on
capital instead of income. Such a way of life could have no permanence and
could therefore be justified only as a purely temporary expedient. As the
world’s resources of non-renewable fuels–coal, oil and natural gas–are
exceedingly unevenly distributed over the globe and undoubtedly limited in
quantity, it is clear that their exploitation at an ever-increasing rate is
an act of violence against nature which must almost inevitably lead to
violence between men.

This fact alone might give food for thought even to those people in
Buddhist countries who care nothing for the religious and spiritual values
of their heritage and ardently desire to embrace the materialism of modern
economics at the fastest possible speed. Before they dismiss Buddhist
economics as nothing better than a nostalgic dream, they might wish to
consider whether the path of economic development outlined by modern
economics is likely to lead them to places where they really want to be.
Towards the end of his courageous book The Challenge of Man’s Future,
Professor Harrison Brown of the California Institute of Technology gives
the following appraisal:

Thus we see that, just as industrial society is fundamentally unstable and
subject to reversion to agrarian existence, so within it the conditions
which offer individual freedom are unstable in their ability to avoid the
conditions which impose rigid organization and totalitarian control.
Indeed, when we examine all of the foreseeable difficulties which threaten
the survival of industrial civilization, it is difficult to see how the
achievement of stability and the maintenance of individual liberty can be
made compatible. [8]

Even if this were dismissed as a long-term view there is the immediate
question of whether “modernization,” as currently practiced without regard
to religious and spiritual values, is actually producing agreeable results.
As far as the masses are concerned, the results appear to be disastrous–a
collapse of the rural economy, a rising tide of unemployment in town and
country, and the growth of a city proletariat without nourishment for
either body or soul.

It is in the light of both immediate experience and long-term prospects
that the study of Buddhist economics could be recommended even to those who
believe that economic growth is more important than any spiritual or
religious values. For it is not a question of choosing between “modern
growth” and “traditional stagnation.” It is a question of finding the right
path of development, the Middle Way between materialist heedlessness and
traditionalist immobility, in short, of finding “Right Livelihood.”

NOTES.

 WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

‘If a powerful and benevolent spirit has shaped the destiny of this world, we can better gather that destiny through the words that have shaped the heart’s desire of the world.’ And that’s exactly what William Butler Yeats did: he caught the heart’s desire. He caught it in language which is beautiful and which is dripping in imagery – and, particularly in the early poems – mysticism. The Song of Wandering Aengus, The Stolen Child. Joyce said of him that he had a surrealist imagination few painters could match. He was born in 1865 to John Butler Yeats the son of a rector in the Church of Ireland and to Susan Pollexfen whose shipbuilding family came from Sligo- where Yeats at his request is buried, beneath Ben Bulben’s head. His epitaph? ‘Cast a cold eye/ On life, on death/ Horseman, pass by’. Yeats learned early that art is what matters. His father was a solicitor and he gave up his practice to study painting in London. Indeed Yeats later studied art in Dublin before in one of literature’s luckiest volte – face he decided on poetry. The publication in 1889 when Yeats was twenty-four of The Wanderings of Osian was a seminal moment, not only in Irish literary history, but also its political history. Yeats’s book, based on the Fenian cycle, brought Irish mythology to the Irish people in English -‘the language’ as he pointed out ‘in which modern Ireland thinks and does its business’. This was at a time in Ireland when there was a powerful movement to rescue the Gaelic language.

In Irish literature Yeats resembles a tidal wave. And the tide was not only poetical. In 1904 Yeats set up the National Theatre of Ireland – The Abbey Theatre with Lady Gregory and he worked unceasingly as playwright and director in its cause.  In his Nobel speech to the Swedish Academy he chose as his subject ‘The Irish Dramatic Movement ‘ I would not be here were I not the symbol of that movement…the nationalism we called up was both romantic and poetical.’ Well, up to a point. Yeats had a genius – a generous genius for discovering genius in others and amongst those he discovered were two of Ireland’s greatest, Synge and O’ Casey .Their plays were poetical certainly – romantic? not necessarily. The Abbey audience, probably the most hyper sensitive in history, rioted – enraged by the portrait of themselves in Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World and O’ Casey’s The Plough and the Stars. Yeats harangued them from the stage – ‘you have disgraced yourselves again’ – and he persevered. This strength of character and courage in the face of prejudice which was noted by Eliot is fundamental to his astonishing achievements. He once tried to get a ‘bill of divorcement’ through the Irish Senate. He failed. That he tried at all is remarkable. Finally he refused to allow himself to be destroyed by the agony of his unreciprocated, life-long obsession with Maud Gonne, an obsession that would have felled lesser men.

She exploded into his life in 1889 – just after the publication of The Wanderings of Osian. She was young, twenty-two, tall with flaming red hair but it was her passion that ‘began all the trouble of my life’. She took possession of his soul and when the soul is lost, all is lost. He had found the love of his life, she, an ardent republican, had perhaps found a poet for the cause. She was a magnificent creature – brave but dangerous. ‘She lived in storm and strife,/ Her soul had such desire/ For what proud death may bring/ That it could not endure /The common good of life’. And therein lies the pity. Her fanaticism swept away much that was good in her life. His enduring love, expressed in poems of genius, gave us the haunting poetry of the exultant yet broken heart – A Woman Homer Sung, No Second Troy, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, The Folly of Being Comforted and many, many more. She married the revolutionary Sean Mac Bride. The confirmation of their marriage was, Yeats said, ‘like lightning through me’. Yeats, in his fifties, finally married Georgie Hyde-Lees with whom he had two children.

Easter 1916, his greatest political poem, of which he wrote many (Parnell’s Funeral, September 1913, The Ghost of Roger Casement) was inspired by the tragic military failure of the rebellion led by Patrick Pearse who, with other leaders of the rebellion including Sean Mac Bride, was executed. The iconic line ‘A terrible beauty is born’ contains both a warning and a blessing. The rhythms and repetitions in this poem seem to keep pace with the destiny of the men: ‘Hearts to one purpose alone / Through summer and winter seem/ Enchanted to a stone/ To trouble the living stream’…Too long a sacrifice /Can make a stone of the heart/O when may it suffice?’ Yeats, uniquely amongst poets, wrote some of his greatest poetry in his sixties and seventies. Eliot wrote of this late work: ‘Maturing as a poet means maturing as a whole man… out of his intense experience he now expressed universal truths. An artist by serving his art with his entire integrity, is at the same time rendering the greatest service he can to his country and to the whole world.’ The late poems include the The Municipal Gallery Revisited, The Statues and The Circus Animals Desertion – a poem in which the thread is pulled taut between life and art ‘Maybe at last being but a broken man/ I must be satisfied with my heart’ and continues, ‘Now that my ladder’s gone/ I must lie down where all ladders start/ In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.’ Where else?  Reference: http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/poetryperformance/yeats/josephinehart/aboutyeats.html

IMF Concludes Mission to Burma

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation concluded a visit to Naypyidaw on Wednesday but has not yet determined whether the Burmese government will accept currency conditions regarding changing its monetary exchange system.

Ms Meral Karasulu, deputy division chief of the IMF Asian Pacific Department, led the mission team which was comprised of representatives of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. They met the Burmese minister for finance, officials from the Central Bank of Burma, the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and private banks during a lengthy visit which began on Oct. 19.

The mission came at the request of the Central Bank of Burma to discuss plans to unify the country’s multiple exchange rates as well as lifting restrictions on international payments and transfers. The hope was that Burma would accept the obligations of Article VIII of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement which deals with international payments and currency exchange rates.

According to a press statement issued by the IMF on Tuesday, the mission gave an initial diagnostic assessment of the legal framework and actual market practices governing the exchange rate system of Burma. This dealt, in particular, with the country’s existing exchange restrictions and multiple currency practices.

The IMF team will continue its work from its Tokyo headquarters in cooperation with the Burmese authorities as they formulate their policies towards accepting the obligations of Article VIII. The mission expects to visit Burma for a follow-up early in 2012, the statement said.

According to the official line of the Burmese government, part of its economic reform agenda involves seeking the technical assistance of the IMF regarding the country’s economic progress, foreign exchange rate, economic and monetary stability plus legal reforms.

The United States, a key player in the IMF, maintains sanctions against Burma that prohibit US support for lending or technical assistance by international financial institutions in Burma.

In 2001, IMF officials repeatedly failed to convince the Burmese government to undertake limited, incremental reform measures that would not require a large financial investment, according to a US diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks.

“The IMF’s suggestions for incremental economic reform fall on deaf ears here… The official line of the Burmese government has long been that no economic reforms will be possible without a large structural adjustment loan,” the cable said.

But now the US has apparently thrown its support behind the IMF giving technical assistance to the Burmese government in response to its recent moves towards political and economic liberalization.

Simultaneously, it has also increased its diplomatic exchanges with the Burmese government with US special envoy to Burma Derek Mitchell arriving in Naypyidaw on Wednesday for his third visit to the country. He will hold talks with the Burmese officials regarding further reforms.

Reference: The Irrawaddy

The Second Sex
by Simone de Beauvoir (1949)

Introduction
Woman as Other

The Second Sex

The Second Sex

FOR a long time I have hesitated to write a book on woman. The subject is irritating, especially to women; and it is not new. Enough ink has been spilled in quarrelling over feminism, and perhaps we should say no more about it. It is still talked about, however, for the voluminous nonsense uttered during the last century seems to have done little to illuminate the problem. After all, is there a problem? And if so, what is it? Are there women, really? Most assuredly the theory of the eternal feminine still has its adherents who will whisper in your ear: ‘Even in Russia women still are women’; and other erudite persons – sometimes the very same – say with a sigh: ‘Woman is losing her way, woman is lost.’ One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should, what place they occupy in this world, what their place should be. ‘What has become of women?’ was asked recently in an ephemeral magazine.

But first we must ask: what is a woman? ‘Tota mulier in utero’, says one, ‘woman is a womb’. But in speaking of certain women, connoisseurs declare that they are not women, although they are equipped with a uterus like the rest. All agree in recognising the fact that females exist in the human species; today as always they make up about one half of humanity. And yet we are told that femininity is in danger; we are exhorted to be women, remain women, become women. It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination? Is a rustling petticoat enough to bring it down to earth? Although some women try zealously to incarnate this essence, it is hardly patentable. It is frequently described in vague and dazzling terms that seem to have been borrowed from the vocabulary of the seers, and indeed in the times of St Thomas it was considered an essence as certainly defined as the somniferous virtue of the poppy

But conceptualism has lost ground. The biological and social sciences no longer admit the existence of unchangeably fixed entities that determine given characteristics, such as those ascribed to woman, the Jew, or the Negro. Science regards any characteristic as a reaction dependent in part upon a situation. If today femininity no longer exists, then it never existed. But does the word woman, then, have no specific content? This is stoutly affirmed by those who hold to the philosophy of the enlightenment, of rationalism, of nominalism; women, to them, are merely the human beings arbitrarily designated by the word woman. Many American women particularly are prepared to think that there is no longer any place for woman as such; if a backward individual still takes herself for a woman, her friends advise her to be psychoanalysed and thus get rid of this obsession. In regard to a work, Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, which in other respects has its irritating features, Dorothy Parker has written: ‘I cannot be just to books which treat of woman as woman … My idea is that all of us, men as well as women, should be regarded as human beings.’ But nominalism is a rather inadequate doctrine, and the antifeminists have had no trouble in showing that women simply are not men. Surely woman is, like man, a human being; but such a declaration is abstract. The fact is that every concrete human being is always a singular, separate individual. To decline to accept such notions as the eternal feminine, the black soul, the Jewish character, is not to deny that Jews, Negroes, women exist today – this denial does not represent a liberation for those concerned, but rather a flight from reality. Some years ago a well-known woman writer refused to permit her portrait to appear in a series of photographs especially devoted to women writers; she wished to be counted among the men. But in order to gain this privilege she made use of her husband’s influence! Women who assert that they are men lay claim none the less to masculine consideration and respect. I recall also a young Trotskyite standing on a platform at a boisterous meeting and getting ready to use her fists, in spite of her evident fragility. She was denying her feminine weakness; but it was for love of a militant male whose equal she wished to be. The attitude of defiance of many American women proves that they are haunted by a sense of their femininity. In truth, to go for a walk with one’s eyes open is enough to demonstrate that humanity is divided into two classes of individuals whose clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, gaits, interests, and occupations are manifestly different. Perhaps these differences are superficial, perhaps they are destined to disappear. What is certain is that they do most obviously exist.

If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question “what is a woman”?

To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never set out to write a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. But if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: ‘I am a woman’; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: ‘You think thus and so because you are a woman’; but I know that my only defence is to reply: ‘I think thus and so because it is true,’ thereby removing my subjective self from the argument. It would be out of the question to reply: ‘And you think the contrary because you are a man’, for it is understood that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity. A man is in the right in being a man; it is the woman who is in the wrong. It amounts to this: just as for the ancients there was an absolute vertical with reference to which the oblique was defined, so there is an absolute human type, the masculine. Woman has ovaries, a uterus: these peculiarities imprison her in her subjectivity, circumscribe her within the limits of her own nature. It is often said that she thinks with her glands. Man superbly ignores the fact that his anatomy also includes glands, such as the testicles, and that they secrete hormones. He thinks of his body as a direct and normal connection with the world, which he believes he apprehends objectively, whereas he regards the body of woman as a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it. ‘The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities,’ said Aristotle; ‘we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness.’ And St Thomas for his part pronounced woman to be an ‘imperfect man’, an ‘incidental’ being. This is symbolised in Genesis where Eve is depicted as made from what Bossuet called ‘a supernumerary bone’ of Adam.

Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being. Michelet writes: ‘Woman, the relative being …’ And Benda is most positive in his Rapport d’Uriel: ‘The body of man makes sense in itself quite apart from that of woman, whereas the latter seems wanting in significance by itself … Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man.’ And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called ‘the sex’, by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex – absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.’

The category of the Other is as primordial as consciousness itself. In the most primitive societies, in the most ancient mythologies, one finds the expression of a duality – that of the Self and the Other. This duality was not originally attached to the division of the sexes; it was not dependent upon any empirical facts. It is revealed in such works as that of Granet on Chinese thought and those of Dumézil on the East Indies and Rome. The feminine element was at first no more involved in such pairs as Varuna-Mitra, Uranus-Zeus, Sun-Moon, and Day-Night than it was in the contrasts between Good and Evil, lucky and unlucky auspices, right and left, God and Lucifer. Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought.

Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself. If three travellers chance to occupy the same compartment, that is enough to make vaguely hostile ‘others’ out of all the rest of the passengers on the train. In small-town eyes all persons not belonging to the village are ‘strangers’ and suspect; to the native of a country all who inhabit other countries are ‘foreigners’; Jews are ‘different’ for the anti-Semite, Negroes are ‘inferior’ for American racists, aborigines are ‘natives’ for colonists, proletarians are the ‘lower class’ for the privileged.

Lévi-Strauss, at the end of a profound work on the various forms of primitive societies, reaches the following conclusion: ‘Passage from the state of Nature to the state of Culture is marked by man’s ability to view biological relations as a series of contrasts; duality, alternation, opposition, and symmetry, whether under definite or vague forms, constitute not so much phenomena to be explained as fundamental and immediately given data of social reality.’ These phenomena would be incomprehensible if in fact human society were simply a Mitsein or fellowship based on solidarity and friendliness. Things become clear, on the contrary, if, following Hegel, we find in consciousness itself a fundamental hostility towards every other consciousness; the subject can be posed only in being opposed – he sets himself up as the essential, as opposed to the other, the inessential, the object.

But the other consciousness, the other ego, sets up a reciprocal claim. The native travelling abroad is shocked to find himself in turn regarded as a ‘stranger’ by the natives of neighbouring countries. As a matter of fact, wars, festivals, trading, treaties, and contests among tribes, nations, and classes tend to deprive the concept Other of its absolute sense and to make manifest its relativity; willy-nilly, individuals and groups are forced to realize the reciprocity of their relations. How is it, then, that this reciprocity has not been recognised between the sexes, that one of the contrasting terms is set up as the sole essential, denying any relativity in regard to its correlative and defining the latter as pure otherness? Why is it that women do not dispute male sovereignty? No subject will readily volunteer to become the object, the inessential; it is not the Other who, in defining himself as the Other, establishes the One. The Other is posed as such by the One in defining himself as the One. But if the Other is not to regain the status of being the One, he must be submissive enough to accept this alien point of view. Whence comes this submission in the case of woman?

There are, to be sure, other cases in which a certain category has been able to dominate another completely for a time. Very often this privilege depends upon inequality of numbers – the majority imposes its rule upon the minority or persecutes it. But women are not a minority, like the American Negroes or the Jews; there are as many women as men on earth. Again, the two groups concerned have often been originally independent; they may have been formerly unaware of each other’s existence, or perhaps they recognised each other’s autonomy. But a historical event has resulted in the subjugation of the weaker by the stronger. The scattering of the Jews, the introduction of slavery into America, the conquests of imperialism are examples in point. In these cases the oppressed retained at least the memory of former days; they possessed in common a past, a tradition, sometimes a religion or a culture.

The parallel drawn by Bebel between women and the proletariat is valid in that neither ever formed a minority or a separate collective unit of mankind. And instead of a single historical event it is in both cases a historical development that explains their status as a class and accounts for the membership of particular individuals in that class. But proletarians have not always existed, whereas there have always been women. They are women in virtue of their anatomy and physiology. Throughout history they have always been subordinated to men, and hence their dependency is not the result of a historical event or a social change – it was not something that occurred. The reason why otherness in this case seems to be an absolute is in part that it lacks the contingent or incidental nature of historical facts. A condition brought about at a certain time can be abolished at some other time, as the Negroes of Haiti and others have proved: but it might seem that natural condition is beyond the possibility of change. In truth, however, the nature of things is no more immutably given, once for all, than is historical reality. If woman seems to be the inessential which never becomes the essential, it is because she herself fails to bring about this change. Proletarians say ‘We’; Negroes also. Regarding themselves as subjects, they transform the bourgeois, the whites, into ‘others’. But women do not say ‘We’, except at some congress of feminists or similar formal demonstration; men say ‘women’, and women use the same word in referring to themselves. They do not authentically assume a subjective attitude. The proletarians have accomplished the revolution in Russia, the Negroes in Haiti, the Indo-Chinese are battling for it in Indo-China; but the women’s effort has never been anything more than a symbolic agitation. They have gained only what men have been willing to grant; they have taken nothing, they have only received.

The reason for this is that women lack concrete means for organising themselves into a unit which can stand face to face with the correlative unit. They have no past, no history, no religion of their own; and they have no such solidarity of work and interest as that of the proletariat. They are not even promiscuously herded together in the way that creates community feeling among the American Negroes, the ghetto Jews, the workers of Saint-Denis, or the factory hands of Renault. They live dispersed among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and social standing to certain men – fathers or husbands – more firmly than they are to other women. If they belong to the bourgeoisie, they feel solidarity with men of that class, not with proletarian women; if they are white, their allegiance is to white men, not to Negro women. The proletariat can propose to massacre the ruling class, and a sufficiently fanatical Jew or Negro might dream of getting sole possession of the atomic bomb and making humanity wholly Jewish or black; but woman cannot even dream of exterminating the males. The bond that unites her to her oppressors is not comparable to any other. The division of the sexes is a biological fact, not an event in human history. Male and female stand opposed within a primordial Mitsein, and woman has not broken it. The couple is a fundamental unity with its two halves riveted together, and the cleavage of society along the line of sex is impossible. Here is to be found the basic trait of woman: she is the Other in a totality of which the two components are necessary to one another.

One could suppose that this reciprocity might have facilitated the liberation of woman. When Hercules sat at the feet of Omphale and helped with her spinning, his desire for her held him captive; but why did she fail to gain a lasting power? To revenge herself on Jason, Medea killed their children; and this grim legend would seem to suggest that she might have obtained a formidable influence over him through his love for his offspring. In Lysistrata Aristophanes gaily depicts a band of women who joined forces to gain social ends through the sexual needs of their men; but this is only a play. In the legend of the Sabine women, the latter soon abandoned their plan of remaining sterile to punish their ravishers. In truth woman has not been socially emancipated through man’s need – sexual desire and the desire for offspring – which makes the male dependent for satisfaction upon the female.

Master and slave, also, are united by a reciprocal need, in this case economic, which does not liberate the slave. In the relation of master to slave the master does not make a point of the need that he has for the other; he has in his grasp the power of satisfying this need through his own action; whereas the slave, in his dependent condition, his hope and fear, is quite conscious of the need he has for his master. Even if the need is at bottom equally urgent for both, it always works in favour of the oppressor and against the oppressed. That is why the liberation of the working class, for example, has been slow.

Now, woman has always been man’s dependant, if not his slave; the two sexes have never shared the world in equality. And even today woman is heavily handicapped, though her situation is beginning to change. Almost nowhere is her legal status the same as man’s, and frequently it is much to her disadvantage. Even when her rights are legally recognised in the abstract, long-standing custom prevents their full expression in the mores. In the economic sphere men and women can almost be said to make up two castes; other things being equal, the former hold the better jobs, get higher wages, and have more opportunity for success than their new competitors. In industry and politics men have a great many more positions and they monopolise the most important posts. In addition to all this, they enjoy a traditional prestige that the education of children tends in every way to support, for the present enshrines the past – and in the past all history has been made by men. At the present time, when women are beginning to take part in the affairs of the world, it is still a world that belongs to men – they have no doubt of it at all and women have scarcely any. To decline to be the Other, to refuse to be a party to the deal – this would be for women to renounce all the advantages conferred upon them by their alliance with the superior caste. Man-the-sovereign will provide woman-the-liege with material protection and will undertake the moral justification of her existence; thus she can evade at once both economic risk and the metaphysical risk of a liberty in which ends and aims must be contrived without assistance. Indeed, along with the ethical urge of each individual to affirm his subjective existence, there is also the temptation to forgo liberty and become a thing. This is an inauspicious road, for he who takes it – passive, lost, ruined – becomes henceforth the creature of another’s will, frustrated in his transcendence and deprived of every value. But it is an easy road; on it one avoids the strain involved in undertaking an authentic existence. When man makes of woman the Other, he may, then, expect to manifest deep-seated tendencies towards complicity. Thus, woman may fail to lay claim to the status of subject because she lacks definite resources, because she feels the necessary bond that ties her to man regardless of reciprocity, and because she is often very well pleased with her role as the Other.

But it will be asked at once: how did all this begin? It is easy to see that the duality of the sexes, like any duality, gives rise to conflict. And doubtless the winner will assume the status of absolute. But why should man have won from the start? It seems possible that women could have won the victory; or that the outcome of the conflict might never have been decided. How is it that this world has always belonged to the men and that things have begun to change only recently? Is this change a good thing? Will it bring about an equal sharing of the world between men and women?

These questions are not new, and they have often been answered. But the very fact that woman is the Other tends to cast suspicion upon all the justifications that men have ever been able to provide for it. These have all too evidently been dictated by men’s interest. A little-known feminist of the seventeenth century, Poulain de la Barre, put it this way: ‘All that has been written about women by men should be suspect, for the men are at once judge and party to the lawsuit.’ Everywhere, at all times, the males have displayed their satisfaction in feeling that they are the lords of creation. ‘Blessed be God … that He did not make me a woman,’ say the Jews in their morning prayers, while their wives pray on a note of resignation: ‘Blessed be the Lord, who created me according to His will.’ The first among the blessings for which Plato thanked the gods was that he had been created free, not enslaved; the second, a man, not a woman. But the males could not enjoy this privilege fully unless they believed it to be founded on the absolute and the eternal; they sought to make the fact of their supremacy into a right. ‘Being men, those who have made and compiled the laws have favoured their own sex, and jurists have elevated these laws into principles’, to quote Poulain de la Barre once more.

Legislators, priests, philosophers, writers, and scientists have striven to show that the subordinate position of woman is willed in heaven and advantageous on earth. The religions invented by men reflect this wish for domination. In the legends of Eve and Pandora men have taken up arms against women. They have made use of philosophy and theology, as the quotations from Aristotle and St Thomas have shown. Since ancient times satirists and moralists have delighted in showing up the weaknesses of women. We are familiar with the savage indictments hurled against women throughout French literature. Montherlant, for example, follows the tradition of Jean de Meung, though with less gusto. This hostility may at times be well founded, often it is gratuitous; but in truth it more or less successfully conceals a desire for self-justification. As Montaigne says, ‘It is easier to accuse one sex than to excuse the other’. Sometimes what is going on is clear enough. For instance, the Roman law limiting the rights of woman cited ‘the imbecility, the instability of the sex’ just when the weakening of family ties seemed to threaten the interests of male heirs. And in the effort to keep the married woman under guardianship, appeal was made in the sixteenth century to the authority of St Augustine, who declared that ‘woman is a creature neither decisive nor constant’, at a time when the single woman was thought capable of managing her property. Montaigne understood clearly how arbitrary and unjust was woman’s appointed lot: ‘Women are not in the wrong when they decline to accept the rules laid down for them, since the men make these rules without consulting them. No wonder intrigue and strife abound.’ But he did not go so far as to champion their cause.

It was only later, in the eighteenth century, that genuinely democratic men began to view the matter objectively. Diderot, among others, strove to show that woman is, like man, a human being. Later John Stuart Mill came fervently to her defence. But these philosophers displayed unusual impartiality. In the nineteenth century the feminist quarrel became again a quarrel of partisans. One of the consequences of the industrial revolution was the entrance of women into productive labour, and it was just here that the claims of the feminists emerged from the realm of theory and acquired an economic basis, while their opponents became the more aggressive. Although landed property lost power to some extent, the bourgeoisie clung to the old morality that found the guarantee of private property in the solidity of the family. Woman was ordered back into the home the more harshly as her emancipation became a real menace. Even within the working class the men endeavoured to restrain woman’s liberation, because they began to see the women as dangerous competitors – the more so because they were accustomed to work for lower wages.

In proving woman’s inferiority, the anti-feminists then began to draw not only upon religion, philosophy, and theology, as before, but also upon science – biology, experimental psychology, etc. At most they were willing to grant ‘equality in difference’ to the other sex. That profitable formula is most significant; it is precisely like the ‘equal but separate’ formula of the Jim Crow laws aimed at the North American Negroes. As is well known, this so-called equalitarian segregation has resulted only in the most extreme discrimination. The similarity just noted is in no way due to chance, for whether it is a race, a caste, a class, or a sex that is reduced to a position of inferiority, the methods of justification are the same. ‘The eternal feminine’ corresponds to ‘the black soul’ and to ‘the Jewish character’. True, the Jewish problem is on the whole very different from the other two – to the anti-Semite the Jew is not so much an inferior as he is an enemy for whom there is to be granted no place on earth, for whom annihilation is the fate desired. But there are deep similarities between the situation of woman and that of the Negro. Both are being emancipated today from a like paternalism, and the former master class wishes to ‘keep them in their place’ – that is, the place chosen for them. In both cases the former masters lavish more or less sincere eulogies, either on the virtues of ‘the good Negro’ with his dormant, childish, merry soul – the submissive Negro – or on the merits of the woman who is ‘truly feminine’ – that is, frivolous, infantile, irresponsible the submissive woman. In both cases the dominant class bases its argument on a state of affairs that it has itself created. As George Bernard Shaw puts it, in substance, ‘The American white relegates the black to the rank of shoeshine boy; and he concludes from this that the black is good for nothing but shining shoes.’ This vicious circle is met with in all analogous circumstances; when an individual (or a group of individuals) is kept in a situation of inferiority, the fact is that he is inferior. But the significance of the verb to be must be rightly understood here; it is in bad faith to give it a static value when it really has the dynamic Hegelian sense of ‘to have become’. Yes, women on the whole are today inferior to men; that is, their situation affords them fewer possibilities. The question is: should that state of affairs continue?

Many men hope that it will continue; not all have given up the battle. The conservative bourgeoisie still see in the emancipation of women a menace to their morality and their interests. Some men dread feminine competition. Recently a male student wrote in the Hebdo-Latin: ‘Every woman student who goes into medicine or law robs us of a job.’ He never questioned his rights in this world. And economic interests are not the only ones concerned. One of the benefits that oppression confers upon the oppressors is that the most humble among them is made to feel superior; thus, a ‘poor white’ in the South can console himself with the thought that he is not a ‘dirty nigger’ – and the more prosperous whites cleverly exploit this pride.

Similarly, the most mediocre of males feels himself a demigod as compared with women. It was much easier for M. de Montherlant to think himself a hero when he faced women (and women chosen for his purpose) than when he was obliged to act the man among men – something many women have done better than he, for that matter. And in September 1948, in one of his articles in the Figaro littéraire, Claude Mauriac – whose great originality is admired by all – could write regarding woman: ‘We listen on a tone [sic!] of polite indifference … to the most brilliant among them, well knowing that her wit reflects more or less luminously ideas that come from us.’ Evidently the speaker referred to is not reflecting the ideas of Mauriac himself, for no one knows of his having any. It may be that she reflects ideas originating with men, but then, even among men there are those who have been known to appropriate ideas not their own; and one can well ask whether Claude Mauriac might not find more interesting a conversation reflecting Descartes, Marx, or Gide rather than himself. What is really remarkable is that by using the questionable we he identifies himself with St Paul, Hegel, Lenin, and Nietzsche, and from the lofty eminence of their grandeur looks down disdainfully upon the bevy of women who make bold to converse with him on a footing of equality. In truth, I know of more than one woman who would refuse to suffer with patience Mauriac’s ‘tone of polite indifference’.

I have lingered on this example because the masculine attitude is here displayed with disarming ingenuousness. But men profit in many more subtle ways from the otherness, the alterity of woman. Here is a miraculous balm for those afflicted with an inferiority complex, and indeed no one is more arrogant towards women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virility. Those who are not fear-ridden in the presence of their fellow men are much more disposed to recognise a fellow creature in woman; but even to these the myth of Woman, the Other, is precious for many reasons. They cannot be blamed for not cheerfully relinquishing all the benefits they derive from the myth, for they realize what they would lose in relinquishing woman as they fancy her to be, while they fail to realize what they have to gain from the woman of tomorrow. Refusal to pose oneself as the Subject, unique and absolute, requires great self-denial. Furthermore, the vast majority of men make no such claim explicitly. They do not postulate woman as inferior, for today they are too thoroughly imbued with the ideal of democracy not to recognise all human beings as equals.

In the bosom of the family, woman seems in the eyes of childhood and youth to be clothed in the same social dignity as the adult males. Later on, the young man, desiring and loving, experiences the resistance, the independence of the woman desired and loved; in marriage, he respects woman as wife and mother, and in the concrete events of conjugal life she stands there before him as a free being. He can therefore feel that social subordination as between the sexes no longer exists and that on the whole, in spite of differences, woman is an equal. As, however, he observes some points of inferiority – the most important being unfitness for the professions – he attributes these to natural causes. When he is in a co-operative and benevolent relation with woman, his theme is the principle of abstract equality, and he does not base his attitude upon such inequality as may exist. But when he is in conflict with her, the situation is reversed: his theme will be the existing inequality, and he will even take it as justification for denying abstract equality.

So it is that many men will affirm as if in good faith that women are the equals of man and that they have nothing to clamour for, while at the same time they will say that women can never be the equals of man and that their demands are in vain. It is, in point of fact, a difficult matter for man to realize the extreme importance of social discriminations which seem outwardly insignificant but which produce in woman moral and intellectual effects so profound that they appear to spring from her original nature. The most sympathetic of men never fully comprehend woman’s concrete situation. And there is no reason to put much trust in the men when they rush to the defence of privileges whose full extent they can hardly measure. We shall not, then, permit ourselves to be intimidated by the number and violence of the attacks launched against women, nor to be entrapped by the self-seeking eulogies bestowed on the ‘true woman’, nor to profit by the enthusiasm for woman’s destiny manifested by men who would not for the world have any part of it.

We should consider the arguments of the feminists with no less suspicion, however, for very often their controversial aim deprives them of all real value. If the ‘woman question’ seems trivial, it is because masculine arrogance has made of it a ‘quarrel’; and when quarrelling one no longer reasons well. People have tirelessly sought to prove that woman is superior, inferior, or equal to man. Some say that, having been created after Adam, she is evidently a secondary being: others say on the contrary that Adam was only a rough draft and that God succeeded in producing the human being in perfection when He created Eve. Woman’s brain is smaller; yes, but it is relatively larger. Christ was made a man; yes, but perhaps for his greater humility. Each argument at once suggests its opposite, and both are often fallacious. If we are to gain understanding, we must get out of these ruts; we must discard the vague notions of superiority, inferiority, equality which have hitherto corrupted every discussion of the subject and start afresh.

Very well, but just how shall we pose the question? And, to begin with, who are we to propound it at all? Man is at once judge and party to the case; but so is woman. What we need is an angel – neither man nor woman – but where shall we find one? Still, the angel would be poorly qualified to speak, for an angel is ignorant of all the basic facts involved in the problem. With a hermaphrodite we should be no better off, for here the situation is most peculiar; the hermaphrodite is not really the combination of a whole man and a whole woman, but consists of parts of each and thus is neither. It looks to me as if there are, after all, certain women who are best qualified to elucidate the situation of woman. Let us not be misled by the sophism that because Epimenides was a Cretan he was necessarily a liar; it is not a mysterious essence that compels men and women to act in good or in bad faith, it is their situation that inclines them more or less towards the search for truth. Many of today’s women, fortunate in the restoration of all the privileges pertaining to the estate of the human being, can afford the luxury of impartiality – we even recognise its necessity. We are no longer like our partisan elders; by and large we have won the game. In recent debates on the status of women the United Nations has persistently maintained that the equality of the sexes is now becoming a reality, and already some of us have never had to sense in our femininity an inconvenience or an obstacle. Many problems appear to us to be more pressing than those which concern us in particular, and this detachment even allows us to hope that our attitude will be objective. Still, we know the feminine world more intimately than do the men because we have our roots in it, we grasp more immediately than do men what it means to a human being to be feminine; and we are more concerned with such knowledge. I have said that there are more pressing problems, but this does not prevent us from seeing some importance in asking how the fact of being women will affect our lives. What opportunities precisely have been given us and what withheld? What fate awaits our younger sisters, and what directions should they take? It is significant that books by women on women are in general animated in our day less by a wish to demand our rights than by an effort towards clarity and understanding. As we emerge from an era of excessive controversy, this book is offered as one attempt among others to confirm that statement.

But it is doubtless impossible to approach any human problem with a mind free from bias. The way in which questions are put, the points of view assumed, presuppose a relativity of interest; all characteristics imply values, and every objective description, so called, implies an ethical background. Rather than attempt to conceal principles more or less definitely implied, it is better to state them openly, at the beginning. This will make it unnecessary to specify on every page in just what sense one uses such words as superior, inferior, better, worse, progress, reaction, and the like. If we survey some of the works on woman, we note that one of the points of view most frequently adopted is that of the public good, the general interest; and one always means by this the benefit of society as one wishes it to be maintained or established. For our part, we hold that the only public good is that which assures the private good of the citizens; we shall pass judgement on institutions according to their effectiveness in giving concrete opportunities to individuals. But we do not confuse the idea of private interest with that of happiness, although that is another common point of view. Are not women of the harem more happy than women voters? Is not the housekeeper happier than the working-woman? It is not too clear just what the word happy really means and still less what true values it may mask. There is no possibility of measuring the happiness of others, and it is always easy to describe as happy the situation in which one wishes to place them.

In particular those who are condemned to stagnation are often pronounced happy on the pretext that happiness consists in being at rest. This notion we reject, for our perspective is that of existentialist ethics. Every subject plays his part as such specifically through exploits or projects that serve as a mode of transcendence; he achieves liberty only through a continual reaching out towards other liberties. There is no justification for present existence other than its expansion into an indefinitely open future. Every time transcendence falls back into immanence, stagnation, there is a degradation of existence into the ‘en-sois’ – the brutish life of subjection to given conditions – and of liberty into constraint and contingence. This downfall represents a moral fault if the subject consents to it; if it is inflicted upon him, it spells frustration and oppression. In both cases it is an absolute evil. Every individual concerned to justify his existence feels that his existence involves an undefined need to transcend himself, to engage in freely chosen projects.

Now, what peculiarly signalises the situation of woman is that she – a free and autonomous being like all human creatures – nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other. They propose to stabilise her as object and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is to be overshadowed and for ever transcended by another ego (conscience) which is essential and sovereign. The drama of woman lies in this conflict between the fundamental aspirations of every subject (ego) – who always regards the self as the essential and the compulsions of a situation in which she is the inessential. How can a human being in woman’s situation attain fulfilment? What roads are open to her? Which are blocked? How can independence be recovered in a state of dependency? What circumstances limit woman’s liberty and how can they be overcome? These are the fundamental questions on which I would fain throw some light. This means that I am interested in the fortunes of the individual as defined not in terms of happiness but in terms of liberty.

Quite evidently this problem would be without significance if we were to believe that woman’s destiny is inevitably determined by physiological, psychological, or economic forces. Hence I shall discuss first of all the light in which woman is viewed by biology, psychoanalysis, and historical materialism. Next I shall try to show exactly how the concept of the ‘truly feminine’ has been fashioned – why woman has been defined as the Other – and what have been the consequences from man’s point of view. Then from woman’s point of view I shall describe the world in which women must live; and thus we shall be able to envisage the difficulties in their way as, endeavouring to make their escape from the sphere hitherto assigned them, they aspire to full membership in the human race.

Gao Xingjian 1940-

Playwright, critic, and novelist Gao was a prominent leader of the avant-garde movement in fiction and drama that emerged in the wake of the Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1976. In 2000 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature from the Swedish Academy, the first time the prize had been awarded for a body of writing in the Chinese language. Gao, a self-exiled dissident writer, emigrated from China to France in 1987 in order to escape government persecution for his controversial plays, prose, and essays. His novel La Montagne de l’âme (1995; translated in Chinese as Lingshan, translated in English as Soul Mountain) is considered by many critics to be Gao’s masterpiece, employing an experimental narrative voice to relate the story of a spiritual journey through remote China. His works typically address themes of the individual versus collective will and the search for self-identity. Despite his continual focus on topics and issues that are distinctive to Chinese culture, all of Gao’s writings have been banned in China since 1989.

Biographical Information

Gao Xingjian (pronounced gow shing-jen) was born on January 4, 1940, in Ganzhou, China. During Gao’s childhood, Ganzhou—also known as Republican China—was invaded by Japanese forces. In 1949, due to the revolution led by Mao Zedong, the nation became the People’s Republic of China. Gao grew up in a liberal family environment—his father was a banker and his mother was an amateur actress—and he had access to a sizable family library of Chinese literature as well as many volumes on Western Literature and art. He attended university at Beijing Foreign Languages Institute from 1957 to 1962, where he studied French language and literature. After graduating, Gao began working as a translator and editor of the French edition of China Reconstructs, a monthly magazine produced in all the major languages of the world to tout the successes of socialist reconstruction in China. During this period, Gao began secretly writing plays, stories, and essays, which he had to hide from the authorities due to Mao Zedong’s edict that all literature and arts should solely be used to serve the masses. Gao’s wife eventually denounced him to government officials. As a result, he was sent to rural China for cultural “re-education,” where he worked for six years as a farm laborer and teacher. Although he continued to write during his “re-education,” Gao either burned or buried all of his writings, including unpublished novels, plays, and essays, for fear of being further labelled as a subversive. Gao returned to Beijing in 1975 and began working for the Chinese Writers Association. Following the end of the Cultural Revolution, Gao’s writing began to appear regularly in Chinese publications and in 1981 he was assigned to work as a writer for the Beijing People’s Art Theater. His first play, Juedui xinhao (Absolute Signal), was produced in 1982 and became a popular success. That same year, Gao was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but two weeks later learned that he had been misdiagnosed and did not have cancer. His next play, Chezhan (1983; Bus Stop), was declared subversive by the Chinese government, and Gao decided to leave Beijing in order to escape a possible prison sentence. He spent the next five months on a fifteen thousand kilometer trek through rural China, an experience which later became the basis for his novel Soul Mountain. When the political climate in China changed in 1984, Gao returned to Beijing. His next plays received negative reactions from the Chinese government, causing Gao to emigrate to France in 1987 during a trip to Germany on an artistic fellowship. After the massacre during the student protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, Gao denounced the actions of the Chinese authorities to the media and applied for political asylum in France. In 1992 Gao wrote and produced a play—Taowang (1992; Fleeing)—about the Tiananmen Square massacre, resulting in the Chinese government banning all of Gao’s works in China. He became a naturalized French citizen in 1998 and was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Letters from the French government in 1992.

Major Works

Gao’s first play, Absolute Signal, follows an attempted train robbery that is thwarted when one of the villains decides not to go through with the crime. The play uses a variety of flashbacks and different perspectives to create an unique narrative voice. In Bus Stop, the thoughts and behaviors of seven characters—representing a cross-section of Chinese society—are rendered as they wait and watch buses pass without stopping. Western critics found the play reminiscent of the Theater of the Absurd movement and drew comparisons to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Chinese authorities, however, condemned the play, interpreting it as an analogy for ineffective communist government. Yeren (1985; Wildman) concerns an ecologist and a newspaper reporter who travel into the wilderness of modern China in search of a mythical “wildman,” who is said to be part human, part monkey. The play, defying conventional dramatic techniques, unfolds through a series of episodic scenes, interspersing traditional Chinese song, dance, and music with dialogue between the unnamed characters. In Bi’an (1986; The Other Shore)—the title refers to a term for Buddhist enlightenment—three characters, designated as The Crowd, Man, and Woman, engage in a symbolic struggle over the conflict between the individual and collective will. The Other Shore was the last play that Gao wrote in China before emigrating to France in 1987. His plays written in France include Fleeing, Dialogue-interloquer (1992; Dialogue and Rebuttal), Le Somnambule (1994; Nocturnal Wanderer), and Zhoumo sichongzou (1995; Weekend Quartet). Fleeing, set during the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests, takes place in an abandoned warehouse where two men and a young woman have taken refuge from the military tanks sent in to stop the demonstration. Dialogue and Rebuttal follows two strangers who have spent the night together, examining their inability to communicate and their individual relationships with language. Nocturnal Wanderer is a dream play where a character named Sleepwalker battles to escape his nightmare. The structure of Weekend Quartet is based on the composition of a musical quartet and examines the relationships between four different characters. Gao has also received considerable critical attention for his two novels, Soul Mountain and Le Livre d’un homme seul (2000; One Man’s Bible). Soul Mountain—a Buddhist term for heaven—is based on Gao’s experience of being misdiagnosed with terminal cancer and his fifteen thousand kilometer, five-month long journey to the eastern coast of China. The novel employs an experimental narrative style, which includes alternating narrative points of view, as well as a bifurcation of the main character into both male and female parts. Soul Mountain is divided into eighty-one short, episodic chapters, with each chapter alternating between first- and second-person narration. The plot follows an individual’s search for meaning by way of a spiritual journey. Through his/her encounters with the people and cultures of remote China, the main character explores the tensions between individual and collective identity. One Man’s Bible is a historical novel, set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. As in Soul Mountain, the narrative voice includes second- and third-person narration, but One Man’s Bible purposely excludes the first-person “I” in order to symbolize the suppression of individual identity by Chinese government forces.

FARMERS DIG IN AS RACE FOR LAND HEATS UP – by Ravi Nessman

ROZAJALALPUR, India — The farmers of Rozajalalpur knew what was coming.

They saw others closer to India’s expanding capital city pushed off their land to make way for malls, apartments and offices. They saw billboards rise along nearby potholed roads and tiny sales offices sprout in the grassy medians to hawk homes in Leisure Park, Golf Homes and Dream Valley.

Then, in March, they saw the innocuous-looking announcement in the newspaper. In type so small it was nearly unreadable, the state government declared it was seizing their farms under an 1894 national law enacted by British colonists to acquire land for roads and railways. Their land was being taken for the “public purpose” of “planned development.”

India’s transformation from a largely agrarian nation into a global economic power hinges on a steady supply of land for new factories, call centers, power plants and homes. As cities like New Delhi spill over their seams with ever more people, the government is increasingly seizing the farms around them for private development.

The farmers east of the capital are fighting back ferociously, taking to the streets and to the courts – with some success. And the government is scrambling to appease them and prevent them from threatening India’s development dreams.

“We cannot live without land,” said 23-year-old Vivek Nagar of Rozajalalpur, a ramshackle village of muddy roads and 10,000 people about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Delhi.

The land protests erupted in violence in May, killing four people, including two police officers, in the nearby village of Battha Parsaul. Similar protests have hit at least 17 of India’s 28 states over the past three years, according to The Times of India newspaper.

In the spring, protesters fought to stall plans to take their land for a nuclear plant in Jaitapur, in southern India; in August three farmers were killed by police along a highway near Mumbai as they protested a water project they feared would lead to land confiscations.

Though Nagar and his neighbors were offered a small fortune by their standards for their land, it was far below market value. The money couldn’t compensate for the loss of the relatively secure, though tiny, source of income and food from their farms.

Many feared they would end up like Subhash Nagar, a 35-year-old one-time farmer who lived off his small plot in a nearby village until the government took it in 2009 for 1.5 million rupees ($30,500) and the promise of a job in the industrial area they said they would build.

He spent the money on his sister’s wedding and a new house. But the “industrial area” turned out to be a residential complex, and he was left scrounging to feed his wife and two young children off loans from relatives and the 3,000 rupees ($60) he makes a month at a tea stall, he said.

So thousands of area farmers took to the streets over the summer to fight the seizures that would turn their villages into the new development of Noida Extension. Rahul Gandhi, the all-but-anointed next leader of the ruling Congress Party, rode out on the back of a motorcycle and joined the protest as a way to embarass the opposition-led government in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

The farmers turned to the courts as well, in a case seen as one of the most formidable challenges to the government land acquisition program. They won a partial victory Oct. 21, when the High Court ruled that residents of three villages should get their land back, and those from 61 others, including Rozajalalpur, should get some more compensation. The farmers said the extra money was negligible and plan to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The farmers say the Uttar Pradesh government barred them from selling directly to the builders on the pretense it would spur an uncontrollable building frenzy. Instead, it paid them 850 rupees a square meter ($1.60 a square foot) for their land and then sold it to builders for as much as 15 times more. Officials involved in the deals also pocketed money on the side, the farmers said, charging that the corruption spurs officials to take more and more land.

“Bribery is happening on a large scale,” said Rupesh Verma, a lawyer for the farmers whose own farm was officially confiscated in 2007, though his family has refused to leave it. “All the players, the government, the politician, the bureaucrat, the builders are all getting some benefit. Only the farmers have been deprived.”

State officials say they are using the profits from the land sale to install roads, sewer and water lines and electricity hookups, justifying the higher price. Five officials from the embattled Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority, which is in charge of the land seizures and development in the area, did not answer or return dozens of phone calls from The Associated Press.

The farmers point to the nearby state of Haryana, where farmers made fortunes selling directly to builders, as proof their land is worth more than they are getting.

Their fight has inspired others. Those who lost their land 35 years ago, when the satellite city of Noida was first developed, are demanding extra compensation. Even those whose land in New Delhi was seized by the British a century ago to build the Parliament, the president’s house and the Supreme Court are suing.

Hoping to head off further conflict, the Congress Party rushed a quickly-drawn bill to Parliament to replace the 117-year-old land law with one that would make it far more difficult to seize land. Under the proposal, farmers would be paid four times the market rate for acquired land, and be given an annuity and a portion of the newly developed land.

The bill is an effort to end India’s long history of land disputes, which have displaced an estimated 50 to 60 million people since independence in 1947, many for public works such as dams. The seizures – and the confrontations – have grown more widespread with the economic liberalization that unleashed private development over the past two decades, said Harsh Mander, a member of the government’s National Advisory Council, which has proposed urgent reforms.

“When government starts acquiring land for private companies, using this colonial law, it’s something even the British never did. Then people got more and more angry,” he said.

Disputes over land seizures forced the relocation of a planned auto factory from West Bengal to the more business-friendly state of Gujarat in 2008. Land protests have also held up South Korean steel giant Posco’s plans to build a $12 billion plant in the eastern state of Orissa, as well as Reliance Power’s efforts to build a 7,500 megawatt power plant outside Delhi.

Indian industry says the current system has needlessly politicized land acquisitions and increased anger at business.

“As far as possible, the private sector should be allowed to directly purchase the land from the owners,” said Chetan Bijesure, an official at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The new protests are leaving would-be homeowners like Ravi Garg out in the cold.

The 31-year-old software engineer was lured to the Panscheel Greens 1 residential complex by the promise of a swimming pool, gym and cafe. For 2.4 million rupees ($49,000) he could get a three-bedroom apartment in the Noida Extension development that would cost him 7 million ($142,000) if it were in Noida itself.

He paid a 1 million rupee ($20,000) down payment and then saw his dreams crumble. Construction has stopped.

“Everything was purely approved by all the government agencies,” he said. “Suddenly when construction reached the fourth or fifth floor, we were told that the land does not belong to the government. It belongs to the farmers.”

He doesn’t blame the farmers, and they also sympathize with the homebuyers, whom they see as comrades fighting for a place to call home.

But the farmers bristle at the golf courses and the Formula One racetrack – which hosted India’s first F1 race last month – as a sign the government is more interested in entertaining the super-rich than helping those on the edge.

“We are a poor country. We need some necessities first. After this, all these things can be done,” said Verma, the farmers’ lawyer.

The farmers realize their way of life is ending. Dalchand Sharma’s ancestor was a wealthy man with 50 acres in Rozajalapur in the 1850s. Over the years, the farm has been divided between so many heirs that the 62-year-old Sharma struggles to survive on just three acres.

His two sons, who would split that small plot, have chosen a different path. One is studying for his MBA and the other to become an engineer.

Sharma wants significantly more compensation so he can buy a cheaper plot of land further from New Delhi, as well as pass some money to the next generation.

“If the land is taken away, and my children get enough money to be comfortable and have houses, than it will be all right,” he said. “If not, then I’m happy the way things are.”   AP

Excerpt from “Remembrance of Things Past”
by   Marcel Proust

I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognised their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and return to share our life.And so it is with our own past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory–this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing its magic. It is plain that the object of my quest, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The tea has called up in me, but does not itself understand, and can only repeat indefinitely with a gradual loss of strength, the same testimony; which I, too, cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call upon the tea for it again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my final enlightenment. I put down my cup and examine my own mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.And I begin again to ask myself what it could have been, this unremembered state which brought with it no logical proof of its existence, but only the sense that it was a happy, that it was a real state in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished. I decide to attempt to make it reappear. I retrace my thoughts to the moment at which I drank the first spoonful of tea. I find again the same state, illumined by no fresh light. I compel my mind to make one further effort, to follow and recapture once again the fleeting sensation. And that nothing may interrupt it in its course I shut out every obstacle, every extraneous idea, I stop my ears and inhibit all attention to the sounds which come from the next room. And then, feeling that my mind is growing fatigued without having any success to report, I compel it for a change to enjoy that distraction which I have just denied it, to think of other things, to rest and refresh itself before the supreme attempt. And then for the second time I clear an empty space in front of it. I place in position before my mind’s eye the still recent taste of that first mouthful, and I feel something start within me, something that leaves its resting-place and attempts to rise, something that has been embedded like an anchor at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces traversed.Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, has tried to follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too much confused; scarcely can I perceive the colourless reflection in which are blended the uncapturable whirling medley of radiant hues, and I cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the one possible interpreter, to translate to me the evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable paramour, the taste of cake soaked in tea; cannot ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in question, of what period in my past life.Will it ultimately reach the clear surface of my consciousness, this memory, this old, dead moment which the magnetism of an identical moment has travelled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up out of the very depths of my being? I cannot tell. Now that I feel nothing, it has stopped, has perhaps gone down again into its darkness, from which who can say whether it will ever rise? Ten times over I must essay the task, must lean down over the abyss. And each time the natural laziness which deters us from every difficult enterprise, every work of importance, has urged me to leave the thing alone, to drink my tea and to think merely of the worries of to-day and of my hopes for to-morrow, which let themselves be pondered over without effort or distress of mind.And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before church-time), when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the interval, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the forms of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden, which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated panel which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I was sent before luncheon, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognisable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea.

Baron de Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat

The Spirit of the Laws

Montesquieu’s aim in The Spirit of the Laws is to explain human laws and social institutions. This might seem like an impossible project: unlike physical laws, which are, according to Montesquieu, instituted and sustained by God, positive laws and social institutions are created by fallible human beings who are “subject … to ignorance and error, [and] hurried away by a thousand impetuous passions” (SL 1.1). One might therefore expect our laws and institutions to be no more comprehensible than any other catalog of human follies, an expectation which the extraordinary diversity of laws adopted by different societies would seem to confirm.

Nonetheless, Montesquieu believes that this apparent chaos is much more comprehensible than one might think. On his view, the key to understanding different laws and social systems is to recognize that they should be adapted to a variety of different factors, and cannot be properly understood unless one considers them in this light. Specifically, laws should be adapted “to the people for whom they are framed…, to the nature and principle of each government, … to the climate of each country, to the quality of its soil, to its situation and extent, to the principal occupation of the natives, whether husbandmen, huntsmen or shepherds: they should have relation to the degree of liberty which the constitution will bear; to the religion of the inhabitants, to their inclinations, riches, numbers, commerce, manners, and customs. In fine, they have relations to each other, as also to their origin, to the intent of the legislator, and to the order of things on which they are established; in all of which different lights they ought to be considered” (SL 1.3). When we consider legal and social systems in relation to these various factors, Montesquieu believes, we will find that many laws and institutions that had seemed puzzling or even perverse are in fact quite comprehensible.

Understanding why we have the laws we do is important in itself. However, it also serves practical purposes. Most importantly, it will discourage misguided attempts at reform. Montesquieu is not a utopian, either by temperament or conviction. He believes that to live under a stable, non-despotic government that leaves its law-abiding citizens more or less free to live their lives is a great good, and that no such government should be lightly tampered with. If we understand our system of government, and the ways in which it is adapted to the conditions of our country and its people, we will see that many of its apparently irrational features actually make sense, and that to ‘reform’ these features would actually weaken it. Thus, for instance, one might think that a monarchical government would be strengthened by weakening the nobility, thereby giving more power to the monarch. On Montesquieu’s view, this is false: to weaken those groups or institutions which check a monarch’s power is to risk transforming monarchy into despotism, a form of government that is both abhorrent and unstable.

Understanding our laws will also help us to see which aspects of them are genuinely in need of reform, and how these reforms might be accomplished. For instance, Montesquieu believes that the laws of many countries can be made be more liberal and more humane, and that they can often be applied less arbitrarily, with less scope for the unpredictable and oppressive use of state power. Likewise, religious persecution and slavery can be abolished, and commerce can be encouraged. These reforms would generally strengthen monarchical governments, since they enhance the freedom and dignity of citizens. If lawmakers understand the relations between laws on the one hand and conditions of their countries and the principles of their governments on the other, they will be in a better position to carry out such reforms without undermining the governments they seek to improve.

4.1 Forms of Government

Montesquieu holds that there are three types of governments: republican governments, which can take either democratic or aristocratic forms; monarchies; and despotisms. Unlike, for instance, Aristotle, Montesquieu does not distinguish forms of government on the basis of the virtue of the sovereign. The distinction between monarchy and despotism, for instance, depends not on the virtue of the monarch, but on whether or not he governs “by fixed and established laws” (SL 2.1). Each form of government has a principle, a set of “human passions which set it in motion” (SL 3.1); and each can be corrupted if its principle is undermined or destroyed.

In a democracy, the people are sovereign. They may govern through ministers, or be advised by a senate, but they must have the power of choosing their ministers and senators for themselves. The principle of democracy is political virtue, by which Montesquieu means “the love of the laws and of our country” (SL 4.5), including its democratic constitution. The form of a democratic government makes the laws governing suffrage and voting fundamental. The need to protect its principle, however, imposes far more extensive requirements. On Montesquieu’s view, the virtue required by a functioning democracy is not natural. It requires “a constant preference of public to private interest” (SL 4.5); it “limits ambition to the sole desire, to the sole happiness, of doing greater services to our country than the rest of our fellow citizens” (SL 5.3); and it “is a self-renunciation, which is ever arduous and painful” (SL 4.5). Montesquieu compares it to monks’ love for their order: “their rule debars them from all those things by which the ordinary passions are fed; there remains therefore only this passion for the very rule that torments them. … the more it curbs their inclinations, the more force it gives to the only passion left them” (SL 5.2). To produce this unnatural self-renunciation, “the whole power of education is required” (SL 4.5). A democracy must educate its citizens to identify their interests with the interests of their country, and should have censors to preserve its mores. It should seek to establish frugality by law, so as to prevent its citizens from being tempted to advance their own private interests at the expense of the public good; for the same reason, the laws by which property is transferred should aim to preserve an equal distribution of property among citizens. Its territory should be small, so that it is easy for citizens to identify with it, and more difficult for extensive private interests to emerge.

Democracies can be corrupted in two ways: by what Montesquieu calls “the spirit of inequality” and “the spirit of extreme equality” (SL 8.2). The spirit of inequality arises when citizens no longer identify their interests with the interests of their country, and therefore seek both to advance their own private interests at the expense of their fellow citizens, and to acquire political power over them. The spirit of extreme equality arises when the people are no longer content to be equal as citizens, but want to be equal in every respect. In a functioning democracy, the people choose magistrates to exercise executive power, and they respect and obey the magistrates they have chosen. If those magistrates forfeit their respect, they replace them. When the spirit of extreme equality takes root, however, the citizens neither respect nor obey any magistrate. They “want to manage everything themselves, to debate for the senate, to execute for the magistrate, and to decide for the judges” (SL 8.2). Eventually the government will cease to function, the last remnants of virtue will disappear, and democracy will be replaced by despotism.

In an aristocracy, one part of the people governs the rest. The principle of an aristocratic government is moderation, the virtue which leads those who govern in an aristocracy to restrain themselves both from oppressing the people and from trying to acquire excessive power over one another. In an aristocracy, the laws should be designed to instill and protect this spirit of moderation. To do so, they must do three things. First, the laws must prevent the nobility from abusing the people. The power of the nobility makes such abuse a standing temptation in an aristocracy; to avoid it, the laws should deny the nobility some powers, like the power to tax, which would make this temptation all but irresistible, and should try to foster responsible and moderate administration. Second, the laws should disguise as much as possible the difference between the nobility and the people, so that the people feel their lack of power as little as possible. Thus the nobility should have modest and simple manners, since if they do not attempt to distinguish themselves from the people “the people are apt to forget their subjection and weakness” (SL 5.8). Finally, the laws should try to ensure equality among the nobles themselves, and among noble families. When they fail to do so, the nobility will lose its spirit of moderation, and the government will be corrupted.

In a monarchy, one person governs “by fixed and established laws” (SL 2.1). According to Montesquieu, these laws “necessarily suppose the intermediate channels through which (the monarch’s) power flows: for if there be only the momentary and capricious will of a single person to govern the state, nothing can be fixed, and, of course, there is no fundamental law” (SL 2.4). These ‘intermediate channels’ are such subordinate institutions as the nobility and an independent judiciary; and the laws of a monarchy should therefore be designed to preserve their power. The principle of monarchical government is honor. Unlike the virtue required by republican governments, the desire to win honor and distinction comes naturally to us. For this reason education has a less difficult task in a monarchy than in a republic: it need only heighten our ambitions and our sense of our own worth, provide us with an ideal of honor worth aspiring to, and cultivate in us the politeness needed to live with others whose sense of their worth matches our own. The chief task of the laws in a monarchy is to protect the subordinate institutions that distinguish monarchy from despotism. To this end, they should make it easy to preserve large estates undivided, protect the rights and privileges of the nobility, and promote the rule of law. They should also encourage the proliferation of distinctions and of rewards for honorable conduct, including luxuries.

A monarchy is corrupted when the monarch either destroys the subordinate institutions that constrain his will, or decides to rule arbitrarily, without regard to the basic laws of his country, or debases the honors at which his citizens might aim, so that “men are capable of being loaded at the very same time with infamy and with dignities” (SL 8.7). The first two forms of corruption destroy the checks on the sovereign’s will that separate monarchy from despotism; the third severs the connection between honorable conduct and its proper rewards. In a functioning monarchy, personal ambition and a sense of honor work together. This is monarchy’s great strength and the source of its extraordinary stability: whether its citizens act from genuine virtue, a sense of their own worth, a desire to serve their king, or personal ambition, they will be led to act in ways that serve their country. A monarch who rules arbitrarily, or who rewards servility and ignoble conduct instead of genuine honor, severs this connection and corrupts his government.

In despotic states “a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice” (SL 2.1). Without laws to check him, and with no need to attend to anyone who does not agree with him, a despot can do whatever he likes, however ill-advised or reprehensible. His subjects are no better than slaves, and he can dispose of them as he sees fit. The principle of despotism is fear. This fear is easily maintained, since the situation of a despot’s subjects is genuinely terrifying. Education is unnecessary in a despotism; if it exists at all, it should be designed to debase the mind and break the spirit. Such ideas as honor and virtue should not occur to a despot’s subjects, since “persons capable of setting a value on themselves would be likely to create disturbances. Fear must therefore depress their spirits, and extinguish even the least sense of ambition” (SL 3.9). Their “portion here, like that of beasts, is instinct, compliance, and punishment” (SL 3.10), and any higher aspirations should be brutally discouraged.

Montesquieu writes that “the principle of despotic government is subject to a continual corruption, because it is even in its nature corrupt” (SL 8.10). This is true in several senses. First, despotic governments undermine themselves. Because property is not secure in a despotic state, commerce will not flourish, and the state will be poor. The people must be kept in a state of fear by the threat of punishment; however, over time the punishments needed to keep them in line will tend to become more and more severe, until further threats lose their force. Most importantly, however, the despot’s character is likely to prevent him from ruling effectively. Since a despot’s every whim is granted, he “has no occasion to deliberate, to doubt, to reason; he has only to will” (SL 4.3). For this reason he is never forced to develop anything like intelligence, character, or resolution. Instead, he is “naturally lazy, voluptuous, and ignorant” (SL 2.5), and has no interest in actually governing his people. He will therefore choose a vizier to govern for him, and retire to his seraglio to pursue pleasure. In his absence, however, intrigues against him will multiply, especially since his rule is necessarily odious to his subjects, and since they have so little to lose if their plots against him fail. He cannot rely on his army to protect him, since the more power they have, the greater the likelihood that his generals will themselves try to seize power. For this reason the ruler in a despotic state has no more security than his people.

Second, monarchical and republican governments involve specific governmental structures, and require that their citizens have specific sorts of motivation. When these structures crumble, or these motivations fail, monarchical and republican governments are corrupted, and the result of their corruption is that they fall into despotism. But when a particular despotic government falls, it is not generally replaced by a monarchy or a republic. The creation of a stable monarchy or republic is extremely difficult: “a masterpiece of legislation, rarely produced by hazard, and seldom attained by prudence” (SL 5.14). It is particularly difficult when those who would have both to frame the laws of such a government and to live by them have previously been brutalized and degraded by despotism. Producing a despotic government, by contrast, is relatively straightforward. A despotism requires no powers to be carefully balanced against one another, no institutions to be created and maintained in existence, no complicated motivations to be fostered, and no restraints on power to be kept in place. One need only terrify one’s fellow citizens enough to allow one to impose one’s will on them; and this, Montesquieu claims, “is what every capacity may reach” (SL 5.14). For these reasons despotism necessarily stands in a different relation to corruption than other forms of government: while they are liable to corruption, despotism is its embodiment.

4.2 Liberty

Montesquieu is among the greatest philosophers of liberalism, but his is what Shklar has called “a liberalism of fear” (Shklar, Montesquieu, p. 89). According to Montesquieu, political liberty is “a tranquillity of mind arising from the opinion each person has of his safety” (SL 11.6). Liberty is not the freedom to do whatever we want: if we have the freedom to harm others, for instance, others will also have the freedom to harm us, and we will have no confidence in our own safety. Liberty involves living under laws that protect us from harm while leaving us free to do as much as possible, and that enable us to feel the greatest possible confidence that if we obey those laws, the power of the state will not be directed against us.

If it is to provide its citizens with the greatest possible liberty, a government must have certain features. First, since “constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it … it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check to power” (SL 11.4). This is achieved through the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers of government. If different persons or bodies exercise these powers, then each can check the others if they try to abuse their powers. But if one person or body holds several or all of these powers, then nothing prevents that person or body from acting tyrannically; and the people will have no confidence in their own security.

Certain arrangements make it easier for the three powers to check one another. Montesquieu argues that the legislative power alone should have the power to tax, since it can then deprive the executive of funding if the latter attempts to impose its will arbitrarily. Likewise, the executive power should have the right to veto acts of the legislature, and the legislature should be composed of two houses, each of which can prevent acts of the other from becoming law. The judiciary should be independent of both the legislature and the executive, and should restrict itself to applying the laws to particular cases in a fixed and consistent manner, so that “the judicial power, so terrible to mankind, … becomes, as it were, invisible”, and people “fear the office, but not the magistrate” (SL 11.6).

Liberty also requires that the laws concern only threats to public order and security, since such laws will protect us from harm while leaving us free to do as many other things as possible. Thus, for instance, the laws should not concern offenses against God, since He does not require their protection. They should not prohibit what they do not need to prohibit: “all punishment which is not derived from necessity is tyrannical. The law is not a mere act of power; things in their own nature indifferent are not within its province” (SL 19.14). The laws should be constructed to make it as easy as possible for citizens to protect themselves from punishment by not committing crimes. They should not be vague, since if they were, we might never be sure whether or not some particular action was a crime. Nor should they prohibit things we might do inadvertently, like bumping into a statue of the emperor, or involuntarily, like doubting the wisdom of one of his decrees; if such actions were crimes, no amount of effort to abide by the laws of our country would justify confidence that we would succeed, and therefore we could never feel safe from criminal prosecution. Finally, the laws should make it as easy as possible for an innocent person to prove his or her innocence. They should concern outward conduct, not (for instance) our thoughts and dreams, since while we can try to prove that we did not perform some action, we cannot prove that we never had some thought. The laws should not criminalize conduct that is inherently hard to prove, like witchcraft; and lawmakers should be cautious when dealing with crimes like sodomy, which are typically not carried out in the presence of several witnesses, lest they “open a very wide door to calumny” (SL 12.6).

Montesquieu’s emphasis on the connection between liberty and the details of the criminal law were unusual among his contemporaries, and inspired such later legal reformers as Cesare Beccaria.

MERRY CHRISTMAS

& A Happy, healthy, auspicious  New Year  2012 to you, family   and friends 

fr us at Garunar L’ Universite Orientale Royale community

…well please drive carefully, drink wisely and be safe (a personal advice fr the Chancellor) there are so many accidents I see.  Cheers..

NEWS:

On January 9, 2012 AD we are indeed proud to plan the academic action plan to establish the Childrens’ University Programme – Southeast ASIA where most of young, bright minds in rural  Asia, Americas and EU will have access to multilateral International Development, community engineering and Education studies, friendship and research.

The Director of the programme will be Mr. Palat M. Yommaha.

Opinion

After Egypt’s Revolution, Christians Are Living in Fear …

Khaled Elfiqi/European Pressphoto Agency

Coptic Christians, carrying a symbolic coffin with photos of people killed in clashes, marched from the Coptic Cathedral in the Abbasiya section of Cairo earlier this month.

By ANDRÉ ACIMAN
Published: November 19, 2011

THE images streaming from Cairo’s streets last month were not as horrifying as those of the capture and brutal death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, but they were savage all the same. They were a sobering reminder that popular movements in some parts of the world, however euphorically they begin, can take disquieting and ugly turns.

Related in Opinion

When liberal Muslims joined Coptic Christians as they marched through Cairo’s Maspero area on Oct. 9 to protest the burning of a Coptic church, bands of conservative Muslim hooligans wielding sticks and swords began attacking the protesters. Egyptian security forces who had apparently intervened to break up the violence deliberately rammed their armed vehicles into the Coptic crowd and fired live ammunition indiscriminately.

Egyptian military authorities soon shut down live news coverage of the event, and evidence of chaos was quickly cleared from the scene. But the massacre, in which at least 24 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded, was the worst instance of sectarian violence in Egypt in 60 years.

Confusion and conflicting narratives abound. Some claim to have overheard an announcer on television encourage “honorable Egyptians” to come to the rescue of soldiers under attack by a mob of Copts. Others heard a Muslim shouting that he had killed a Christian.

Unable to explain exactly why events turned violent, Egypt’s interim prime minister, Essam Sharaf, claimed that the wholesale slaughter of civilians was not the product of sectarian violence but proof that there were “hidden hands” involved.

I grew up in an Egypt that was inventing hidden hands wherever you looked. Because of my family’s increasingly precarious status as Jews living in Nasser’s Egypt, my parents forbade me to flash my flashlight several times at night or to write invisible messages with lemon ink in middle school. These were a spymaster’s tricks, and Jews were forever regarded as spies after the 1954 “Lavon Affair,” in which Israeli intelligence recruited Egyptian Jews to bomb targets in Egypt.

Sadly, the phrase “hidden hands” remains a part of Egypt’s political rhetoric more than 50 years later — an invitation for every Egyptian to write in the name of his or her favorite bugaboo. Rather than see things for what they are, Egyptians, from their leaders on down, have always preferred the blame game — and with good reason. Blaming some insidious clandestine villain for anything invariably works in a country where hearsay passes for truth and paranoia for knowledge.

Sometimes those hidden hands are called Langley, or the West, or, all else failing, of course, the Mossad. Sometimes “hidden hands” stands for any number of foreign or local conspiracies carried out by corrupt or disgruntled apparatchiks of one stripe or another who are forever eager to tarnish and discredit the public trust.

The problem with Egypt is that there is no public trust. There is no trust, period. False rumor, which is the opiate of the Egyptian masses and the bread and butter of political discourse in the Arab world, trumps clarity, reason and the will to tolerate a different opinion, let alone a different religion or the spirit of open discourse.

“Hidden hands” stands for Satan. And with Satan you don’t use judgment; you use cunning and paranoia. Cunning, after all, is poor man’s fare, a way of cobbling together a credible enough narrative that is at once easy to digest, to swear by, and pass around. Bugaboos keep you focused. And nothing in the Middle East can keep you as focused (or as unfocused) as the archvillain of them all: Israel.

Say “Israel” and you’ve galvanized everyone. Say Israel and you have a movement, a cause, a purpose. Say “Israel” and all of Islam huddles. Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and now Turkey.

What is good about the episode in Maspero is that, in the exhilarating and unusual spirit of the events of last spring in Tahrir Square, Muslims joined the Coptic demonstrators who were eager to exercise the right to build churches — a right that has always been grudgingly granted to Egypt’s Copts.

What is terrible about the episode, however, is the inability of the government to take the blame for the slaughter of the Copts. Similarly, in September, it failed to intervene in good time when a large mob attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo, broke down its walls and nearly slaughtered those inside.

The friendly army that Copts embraced during the Arab spring has turned its guns on those who embraced it. Your pal today, your killer tomorrow.

There are no rules and there is no trust. The poor man on the street, if he is to think for himself — which is a tall order in a country that has no history of free speech — must either wear warped lenses to see through wholesale agitprop or surrender to blind fanaticism.

COPTS represent approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population and are the direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians. Yet, sensing danger while everyone else in Egypt and in the West was busy celebrating the fall of Mr. Mubarak during the much-heralded Arab Spring, 93,000 Copts have already fled Egypt since March. In light of the events in Maspero, it is thought that another 150,000 Copts may leave their ancestral homeland by the end of 2011.

When Mr. Mubarak was in power, the Copts were frequently the victims of violent attacks and official discrimination — the New Year’s bombing of a Coptic Church in Alexandria that left 21 dead is the most recent instance. Now, with Mr. Mubarak gone, Copts fear that an elected Muslim majority is likely to prove far less tolerant than a military dictatorship.

Conditions were by no means good for the Copts when Mr. Mubarak was at the helm. The most risible instance occurred in 2009 when, in an absurd effort to prevent the spread of swine flu, the government decided to slaughter all pigs in Egypt.

But since neither contact with pigs nor eating pork spreads swine flu, why kill the poor pigs? The answer is very simple. Slaughtering the pigs, as it turns out, was probably meant to inconvenience the Copts who farmed them and ate them. This constituted another of those petty measures intended to harm the Copts financially.

Today, Egypt is doing the same with Israel. Under the pretext of preserving its national agricultural patrimony, it has forbidden the sale of palm fronds to Israel. Palm fronds are used ceremonially by Jews during the holiday of Sukkot, and since Israel doesn’t grow enough palm trees, it imports the fronds from Egypt. Whom did the ban hurt? The Egyptians who grow palm trees. Whom did the slaughter of pigs hurt? None other than the Cairenes themselves, because pigs, which eat tons of organic waste, used to play an important role in clearing trash from the streets of Cairo.

What doesn’t occur to most Egyptians is that the Copts represent a significant business community in Egypt and that their flight may further damage an economy saddled with a ballooning deficit.

But this is nothing new for Egypt. The Egyptians have yet to learn the very hard lesson of the post-1956 departure of its nearly 100,000 Jews, who, at the time, constituted one of the wealthiest Jewish communities in the Mediterranean region.

The Egyptian economy never recovered from this loss. While blaming Zionism and the creation of Israel or turning to Islamic leadership may take many people’s minds off the very real financial debacle confronting Egypt and help assuage feelings of powerlessness, the hard lesson has not been learned yet.

The Arab Spring was a luminous instance of democratic euphoria in a country that had no history of democracy or euphoria. What happened to the Copts this fall cast a dark cloud, which the interim government, whatever its true convictions, would do well to dispel.

Egypt should not lose its Copts. For if that is what autumn brings, then, to paraphrase Shelley, winter may not be far behind.

André Aciman is a professor of comparative literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center and the author of “Out of Egypt” and “Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere.”

Polluting  Burma

Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding with Italian-Thai Development , ITD do Dawei deal

The plan is to build a coal-fired power plant in Dawei, Burma.  As the project company holds stakes in coal mines in Indonesia and Australia, it is expected that it will import coal and generate power likely for Burma, with possibility of selling back to Thailand.

Burma already has abundant gas which is suitable for clean energy.  (But are there welfare, pension, central provident funds for citizens ?)

It is very disturbing to know that Burma’ll have to import coal (a dirty energy source) while selling gas (a clean energy source). On the other hand we remember there were protests in Thailand against coal-fired plant in Mae Moh and against another project in the upper South. (most of the mines in Burma are now owned by whom – of course one wonders?)

In the present case, that company is transferring pollution from Thailand to Burma.  I think this project should be scrapped right away.

written by – A CONCERNED BURMESE

Violence grows as Tibetans get angrier

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN Associated Press BEIJING January 28, 2012 (AP)

A young man posts his photo with a leaflet demanding freedom for Tibet and telling Chinese police, come and get me. Protesters rise up to defend him, and demonstrations break out in two other Tibetan areas of western China to support the same cause. Each time, police respond with bullets. The three clashes, all in the past week, killed several Tibetans and injured dozens. They mark an escalation of a protest movement that for months expressed itself mainly through scattered individual self-immolations. It’s the result of growing desperation among Tibetans and a harsh crackdown by security forces that scholars and pro-Tibet activists contend only breeds more rage and despair. That leaves authorities with the stark choice of either cracking down even harder or meeting Tibetan demands for greater freedom and a return of their Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama — something Beijing has shown zero willingness to do. AP FILE – In this file photo taken Wednesday,… View Full Caption FILE – In this file photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, Tibetan Buddhist monks hold pictures of Tibetans they claim were allegedly shot by Chinese security forces earlier this week, during a candlelight vigil in Dharamsala, India. Three deadly clashes with Chinese security forces in January mark an escalation of a Tibetan protest movement that had expressed itself through scattered individual self-immolations, reflecting both the growing desperation of Tibetans and the harsh response by police. (AP Photo/Angus McDonald, File) Close”By not responding constructively when it was faced with peaceful one-person protests, the (Communist) party has created the conditions for violent, large-scale protests,” said Robbie Barnett, head of modern Tibetan studies at New York’s Columbia University. This is the region’s most violent period since 2008, when deadly rioting in Tibet’s capital Lhasa spread to Tibetan areas in adjoining provinces. China responded by flooding the area with troops and closing Tibetan regions entirely to foreigners for about a year. Special permission is still required for non-Chinese visitors to Tibet, and the Himalayan region remains closed off entirely for the weeks surrounding the March 14 anniversary of the riots that left 22 people dead. Video smuggled out by activists shows paramilitary troops equipped with assault rifles and armored cars making pre-dawn arrests. Huge convoys of heavily armored troops are seen driving along mountain roads and monks accused of sedition being frog-marched to waiting trucks. For the past year, self-immolations have become a striking form of protest in the region. At least 16 monks, nuns and former clergy set themselves on fire after chanting for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. China, fiercely critical of the Dalai Lama, says Tibet has been under its rule for centuries, but many Tibetans say the region was functionally independent for most of that time. Anger over cultural and religious restrictions is deepened by a sense that Tibetans have been marginalized economically by an influx of migrants from elsewhere in China. In a change from the individual protests, several thousand Tibetans marched to government offices Monday in Ganzi prefecture in Sichuan province. Police opened fire into the crowd, killing up to three people, witnesses and activist groups said. On Tuesday, security forces opened fire on a crowd of protesters in another area of Ganzi, killing two Tibetans and wounding several more, according to the group Free Tibet. On Thursday in southwestern Sichuan province’s Aba prefecture, a youth named Tarpa posted a leaflet saying that self-immolations wouldn’t stop until Tibet is free, the London-based International Campaign for Tibet said. He wrote his name on the leaflet and included a photo of himself, saying that Chinese authorities could come and arrest him if they wished, group spokeswoman Kate Saunders said in an email. Security forces did so about two hours later. Area residents blocked their way, shouting slogans and warning of bigger protests if Tarpa wasn’t released, Saunders said. Police then fired into the crowd, killing a a 20-year-old friend of Tarpa’s, a student named Urgen, and wounding several others. The incident, as with most reported clashes in Tibetan areas, could not be independently verified and exact numbers of casualties were unclear because of the heavy security presence and lack of access. The topic is so sensitive that even government-backed scholars claim ignorance of it and refuse to comment. The government, however, acknowledged Tuesday’s unrest, saying that a “mob” charged a police station and injured 14 officers, forcing police to open fire on them. The official Xinhua News Agency said police killed one rioter and injured another. “The Chinese government will, as always, fight all crimes and be resolute in maintaining social order,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in comments on the incident. In a commentary Sunday, the nationalist tabloid Global Times repeated accusations that the protests were inspired by Tibetan exile groups and their demands were out of step with the desire for economic development. Yet, it also conceded that the Dalai Lama retained considerable religious influence over Tibetans, warning this created a dangerous trend of “melding the political and relgious.” The harsh response points to a deep anxiety about the self-immolations, said Youdon Aukatsang, a New Delhi-based member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile. “They’re worried that there is an underground movement in Tibet that is coming to the surface,” she said. Tibetan desperation has been fed both by the harsh crackdown — security agents reportedly outnumber monks in some monasteries — along with a deep fear that the Dalai Lama, probably the most potent symbol of Tibet’s separate identity, will never return. The 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate handed his political powers to an elected assembly last year. That was intended to ensure the Tibetan cause would live on after him, but was met with considerable anxiety among many Tibetans who saw it as a sign he was giving up his role as leader of their struggle. Dibyesh Anand, a Tibet expert at London’s University of Westminster, said resistance to Chinese rule is likely to grow more fierce. “Protests will get more radicalized since the Tibetans in the region see no concession, no offer of compromise, no flexibility coming from the government,” he said.

Les Nations unies ont essayé de

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Money flows from poor to rich

by Keyu Jin

What a country produces determines its capital needs and how much of its savings it exports

AT first, it seems difficult to grasp: global capital is flowing from poor to rich countries. Emerging market countries run current account surpluses, while advanced economies have deficits.

One would expect fast-growing, capital-scarce (and young) developing countries to be importing capital from the rest of world to finance consumption and investment. So, why are they sending capital to richer countries, instead?

China is a case in point. With its current account surplus averaging 5.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product from  2000 to 2008, China has become one of the world’s largest lenders. Despite its rapid growth and promising investment opportunities, the country has persistently been sending a significant portion of its savings overseas.

And China is not alone. Other emerging markets — including Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico, Argentina, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and   Middle Eastern oil exporters — have all increased their current account surpluses significantly since the early 1990s.

Many observers believe that these global imbalances reflect developing economies’ financial integration, coupled with underdevelopment of domestic financial markets. According to this view, these countries’ demand for assets cannot be met — in terms of both quantity and quality — at home, so they deploy part of their savings to countries like the United States, which can offer a more diverse array of quality assets.

While plausible, this argument suggests that, as financial markets improve over time in developing countries, the global imbalances are bound to shrink. But such a reversal is nowhere in sight. Why?

A crucial dimension of globalisation has been trade liberalisation. For China, foreign trade as a percentage of GDP soared from 25 per cent in 1989 to 66 per cent in 2006, largely owing to its admission to the World Trade Organisation in 2001.

Most of what China and other developing countries produce and export are labour-intensive goods such as textiles and apparel. This has allowed advanced economies, in turn, to produce and export more capital-intensive, higher-value-added products. Globalisation of trade enabled countries to tap the efficiency gains that specialisation in their sectors of comparative advantage has brought about.

With a slight mental stretch, one can imagine that what a country produces and trades may affect its savings and investment decisions.

An economy in which the main productive activity is berry-picking, for example, has little need for investment and capital accumulation. Its labourers earn wages, consume and save part of that income. Since the production process requires little capital, there is no demand for domestic investment — and thus no savings vehicles. Instead, the only way to save is by purchasing capital abroad — in economies with capital-intensive production and demand for investment. This economy will always export its savings.

That may be an extreme example, but it illustrates a more general point about how merchandise trade can influence financial flows.

Countries that produce and export more labour-intensive goods — perhaps because of increased trade openness or faster labour-force and productivity growth, all of which are true of China — may experience a rise in savings, but a less-than-equivalent increase in demand for capital.

Rich countries, by contrast, are able to export more capital-intensive goods, and thus have a greater need for investment. So they may be importing more capital — resulting in a greater current-account deficit — simply because they are producing more capital-intensive goods.

With developing countries — in particular, China, India and the ex-Soviet bloc — bringing almost 1.5 billion workers into the world economy since the early 1990s, it is not difficult to understand the potential impact of this effect.

After all, much of this labour force was absorbed by labour-intensive industries that eventually churned out products exported to the rest of the world. Indeed, that massive addition of labour helped to drive down the relative price of labour-intensive goods, which fell by roughly 15 per cent between 1989 and 2008.

As developing countries increased their labour-intensive production and exports, their current account surpluses rose — by almost 3.6 percentage points, on average, between 1989 and 1993, and 2002 and 2006. China’s current account surplus increased by almost 11 percentage points over the same period, India’s by 2.5 percentage points, and Russia’s by 7 percentage points. These countries, as well as other large surplus economies, such as Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Iran, all experienced a simultaneous increase in the labour content of exports.

This pattern contrasts with that of the United States and many other advanced countries, which have experienced a deterioration of their current account balances as their production and exports have become more capital-intensive.

Many might doubt the view that China is exporting more labour-intensive goods, rather than upgrading its exports on the capital- and skill-intensity ladder. But trade data suggest the opposite, perhaps because China’s accession to the WTO led to tariff reductions that released more labour-intensive production.

In fact, trade data may underestimate the true extent of China’s labour intensity and overstate the capital and skill intensity of China’s exports.

China has witnessed rapid growth in the processing trade: assembling intermediate inputs — imported from countries like the US and Japan — that have high capital and skill content. So, while the exports of these final goods may count towards China’s own capital and skill content, the country’s real role was only in the labour-intensive process of assembly.

A country’s production structure may very well determine how much capital it supplies and how much it needs. So, the fact that capital may flow towards rich countries that produce and export more capital-intensive goods should not be so puzzling, after all.

Potemkin politics   

By Kyi May Kaung

Are the Burmese reforms for real?
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Photo: Carey L Biron

18 November was a big day for Burma watchers, at least for those in favour of detente with the regime. On that day, President Barack Obama, apparently deciding to give the Burmese government the benefit of the doubt with regard to its ‘reforms’ process, called democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from Air Force One as he was on his way to Bali, Indonesia, to attend the annual ASEAN Summit. They talked for 20 minutes, with Suu Kyi reportedly inquiring about the president’s entire family, even his dog, Bo. Soon after, President Obama announced that he would send his secretary of state, Hilary Clinton to Burma on 1 December, to test whether the validity of the new reforms put in place by the government. It is yet unclear whether Clinton will be able to see the political prisoners still in jail, especially the 2007 ‘Saffron Revolution’ leader U Gambira and Min Ko Naing, the political activist made famous during the 1988 uprisings.

Since November 2009, the United States has been pursuing a twin-pronged approach with respect to Burma, on the one hand keeping sanctions in place and on the other trying a more direct approach of face-to-face talks with Suu Kyi, encouraging the government to talk meaningfully with her and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party. After a ‘pilgrimage’ that Suu Kyi and her son made to the ancient city of Bagan in central Burma this spring, things moved quickly, with the Nobel laureate attending a workshop on economics in Naypyidaw, the new capital city. As Himal goes to press, she has talked to the government’s official liaison on four occasions.

It was also on 18 November, a Friday, that ASEAN announced that it would accept Burma as chair of the regional bloc starting in 2014, a key victory for the regime. The same day, Suu Kyi announced that the NLD would re-register, reversing the official ban on the party put in place in the run-up to the November 2010 election; Suu Kyi herself would also be standing for by-elections slated for December. The news did not stop there: Three days later, the following Monday, representatives of five armed ethnic groups met in Naypyidaw with the minister of railways, Aung Min, acting as President Thein Sein’s representative. At that meeting, two groups, the Karen National Union and the Shan State Army, agreed to informal ceasefires.

This flurry of activity capped months of changes in Burma – changes that remain highly debated. Commentators, representatives of the US State Department and even The Irrawaddy magazine, based in Thailand, have been seeing signs of true reform in Burma. These observers have particularly latched onto such recent events as the suspension of construction on the Chinese-backed Myitsone dam, in northern Burma, ostensibly ‘in response to the people’s wishes’, according to President (and former General) Thein Sein; Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Naypyidaw; the release of 208 political prisoners; and the appearance of portraits of Aung San – national hero, father of the nation and of Suu Kyi – on the wall of an official meeting room in Naypyidaw. Yet in order to properly address the true reach of these changes, we need to go back farther than the past few months: We need to examine what has really changed, in contrast to what we would like to see in Burma as advocates of democracy and an open market economy.

Open season
During the Japanese Occupation and World War II, Aung San was the commander of the Burmese army’s predecessor, the Burma Defence Army, later called the Burma Independence Army. At that time, Ne Win was a junior officer under Aung San. Those who started the Burma Independence Army have since come to be known as the Thirty Comrades, those who went to Hainan Island for Japanese military training. After the war, these figures became living legends, partly due to the grandstanding of Ne Win himself. On their return from Hainan, the Comrades filled a silver bowl with their own blood and drank it symbolically, swearing an oath of allegiance to one another and to Burmese independence.

After the coup of 1962, Ne Win, then the head of government, tried to gain legitimacy by presenting himself as the true heir to Aung San. He appointed a scholar named Ko Ko Maung (U Chit Hlaing) to write a tract called A Burmese Way to Socialism, an obscure philosophical statement that combined socialism with Buddhist terminology. Ne Win asked Maung Maung, another scholar friendly with him, to return from Yale and frame a new constitution, and to write a biography of Aung San. (Eventually the junta’s public embrace of Aung San reversed course dramatically; images of the general were banned from 1988 to 2011, as his daughter, Suu Kyi,emerged as her father’s true heir.) Ne Win also put Ba Nyein, a Soviet-influenced economist, in charge of a swift mass nationalisation process and the setting up of a planned economy. This top-down approach, with no input whatsoever from the people or their elected representatives, is typical of the military government’s constitution-writing process. The most recent Constitution, passed in 2010, was created through a similar process, and is widely seen as a document meant only to provide cover for the military.

Major government acts of the past half-century have been built around consolidating military rule. Ne Win was the primary architect of the top-down command economy and the totalitarian system that exists in Burma to this day. His Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) ruled from 1962 to 1988, during which time the government carried out three major demonetisations. The first of these, which declared 50 and 100 kyat notes to be no longer legal tender, wiped out many of the old rich families – who might have opposed his rule. On 7 July 1962, Ne Win’s soldiers shot students at Rangoon University and dynamited its Students’ Union building. Another clampdown took place in 1974, after the students hijacked the remains of the late UN Secretary-General U Thant, taking them to the grassy space where the Students’ Union had stood. Ne Win is said to have harboured personal resentment towards U Thant, who had been close to Prime Minister U Nu before becoming UN secretary-general.

When Thant’s daughter brought his remains back from New York, only two cars came out to meet the cortege – a far cry from the grandiose official welcome one might expect. The students, meanwhile, were evidently hoping to make the world ‘stand up and take notice’, according to a conversation I overheard at the time. The carnival-like atmosphere on campus, with fleeting moments of freedom of expression and impromptu soapbox speeches, continued till the final clampdown about two weeks later. Eventually, however, the sounds of the students giving speeches died down. At the end, they sang the old national anthem of 1948, ‘Kaba ma kyei’ (The world is not crushed), which faded into an eerie silence. From a mile and a half away, thuds could be heard over the public-address system, as the students were beaten.

After the mass country-wide demonstrations of 1988 and the clampdown that began on 18 September of that year (and is arguably still continuing), an important new decision was taken. Ne Win had officially retired by that time, yet he and Saw Maung, then the head of the new State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC, the official name of the regime at the time), decided to open up Burma for foreign investment, declaring an ‘open economy’. In fact, this was open only to the junta leaders and their families, who combined with crony capitalists to form holding companies. From this period onwards, the total size of the Burmese economy became far larger than it had ever been in the previous quarter-century, thus vastly expanding opportunities for skimming or outright theft.

In 1990, Suu Kyi’s party won a national election, despite its leader being under house arrest. In the run-up to the polls, SLORC officials had reportedly carried out a survey asking the public their voting preferences; many respondents lied, leading the government to become overconfident and call an election that it ultimately lost badly. However, the military government refused to transfer power. Many elected MPs, fearing arrest or violence, fled, mostly to the Burma-Thai border; there, they formed an exile government called the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.

Shields and bargaining chips
In 2008-09, I helped a group of Burma experts to formulate a plan for democracy and development for the exile government. This encompassed issues such as a progressive, democratic constitution, the economy, the agricultural sector, electoral laws and international monitors, the displaced persons issue, money and banking, and other critical concerns.

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Man and his shield: Cartoonist Harn Lay, 2010
Photo: Platon/Human Rights Watch

Today, a year into the new Parliament’s tenure, offers a potent moment to compare the ideals suggested by the expert committee with what has actually happened on the ground. The experts, which included a civil-military-relations specialist, suggested that the army return to its barracks and re-organise as a professional force; and that the curriculum used for its officer-training programme be changed to reflect the values of an army devoted to protecting the people and democracy and subject to control by a true civilian government. This plan was drafted before 2010, as the exile government’s input and response to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC, the name of the regime since 1997).

Since the new Parliament was constituted in January 2011, it has been largely unable to discuss the many critical issues facing the country. What role, for instance, will Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD play in this new government? How will the new members of Parliament represent the true wishes of their constituents? How will the widespread corruption be handled? When will the bombardment of the Kachin be stopped? When will real privatisation – not just moving money into the pockets of military-aligned oligarchs – finally take place? When will all of the remaining political prisoners be released? What will be done to truly safeguard people’s rights? How will we deal with the estimated million internally displaced persons, or the additional million refugees forced to live in other countries? What about the refugees who have lived in Thai camps their entire lives? Or the thousands of farmers who have lost their lands to the crony capitalists – what kind of land reforms will be put in place to allow them to get their properties back? What kind of truth-and-reconciliation process will there be to allow the country’s nearly 50 million people to move on with their traumatised lives? How will Burma’s ravaged environment be healed? And how will the generals’ disciplineflourishing democracy’ become a real, functional democracy?

Instead of discussing these massively important issues, today the showpiece Parliament in Naypyidaw is discussing such relatively mundane subjects as Rangoon’s water supply. (Indeed, even a motion to strengthen regulation to ensure that water supply lost by a large margin.) Meanwhile, the ‘reforms’ that have been enacted thus far barely scratch the surface of the deep structural changes required. For instance, the recent changes have made no mention whatsoever of overhauling Burma’s archaic banking system, despite previous warnings such as the 2003 run on the bank, as panicked people rushed en masse to withdraw their deposits.

Let us take a brief look at some of the outstanding issues not being dealt with by the new government:

Exchange rates desperately need to be unified, with licenses given to money changers. Some money changers have been regularised, but there remain strict limits on how much money each citizen is allowed to change. Two exchange rates continue to exist, with a vast difference between the official and black-market rates (around seven kyat to the dollar versus 1000-1200 kyat to the dollar, respectively); this offers well-connected individuals an opportunity to reap vast profits from the price gap. Since the early 1980s, the black-market exchange rate has gone from 20 kyat to the dollar to the current rates, an almost 60-fold increase – a situation of hyperinflation that explains why Burmese are walking around with wads of money just to buy daily food. Senior generals are all said to have vast foreign-exchange reserves, held in euros since the sanctions, kept in Singapore, Dubai and China.

What about the internally displaced and orphans within Burma, or the migrant labourers now forced to work in Thailand, India, in the West and in Asia? President Thein Sein has invited exiles to return, but so far few have done so. Most exiles do not trust the military, having left due to some kind of political or personal harassment. By now, middle-class exiles have established lives overseas; most others continue to be scared off due to the ongoing lack of jobs within Burma and government control. However, some prominent exiles, such as Zaw Oo of the Vahu Development Institute and Harn Yawngwe of the Euro-Burma Office, have gone back recently, though not to relocate. Zaw Oo did so to be part of the recent Naypyidaw economics workshop, while Harn Yawngwe went on a ‘private visit’, his first in a half-century. Harn Yawngwe – rumoured to have been trying to work out a peace accord between the central government and the various ethnic groups – expressed his surprise that Rangoon and the Shan states appeared to be more open than he had anticipated, though he was followed during his trip by the Special Branch. Harn Yawngwe may be cautiously optimistic; but what works out with the forces on the ground, which have much more at stake, remains doubtful.

While one of the most highly touted moves of recent months came with the release of 208 political prisoners, more than 1800 such prisoners remain behind bars. This was a release, then, of just 10 percent of the total – and, in fact, some suggest that the number of political prisoners, sometimes including whole families, could be far higher. The International Committee of the Red Cross made its last Burmese prison visit in 2005, and was only recently allowed in again to ‘inspect sites for tube wells and toilets in Moulmein prison’ – one of about 40 pris- ons and 90 labour camps inside Burma.

There is a vast, ongoing gap in recent estimates of the number of political prisoners. Suu Kyi and the NLD say there are 691 remaining in prison, but she admits they could only record those they could reach. According to Harn Yawngwe, in an interview with The Irrawaddy after his recent Burma visit, the Association for Assistance of Political Prisoners (Burma) now estimates the number to be 1300. However, in recent interviews with the Voice of America, the Burmese information minister, Kyaw Hsan, in effect denied there were political prisoners at all. ‘Today people who are serving prison terms in our jails are people who broke the existing laws of the country,’ he said. He failed to explain why some of these prisoners have received sentences of a minimum of 30 years and as long as 64 years and how laws such as the Electronics Act were decided on in the first place.

One of those released in the government’s first prisoner amnesty was the well-known comedian Zarganar, said to have been arrested for giving alms to monks during the popular uprising in 2007 and helping the victims of Cyclone Nargis is 2008. Su Su Nway, a labour activist, has also been released. But many other activists – Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Mi Mi and U Gambira – as well as some high-profile bloggers remain behind bars, and the government of Thein Sein has had nothing to say of when, or whether, it plans to release them. Several observers suggest that the political prisoners are seen as important bargaining chips for the regime.

Perhaps most notably, President Thein Sein’s administration has yet to publicly discuss the ethnic issue. There have been armed insurrections (mainly the Karen) since 1947 and only brief periods of ceasefire deals, often violated by the junta. Before the 2010 election, Naypyidaw tried to get armed groups such as the Kachin, the Shan and the Wa to lay down their arms and be absorbed into a Border Guard Force; but after the ethnic groups refused, some have suggested that civil war has become inevitable (see accompanying article by Maung Zarni).

Currently, the state army is bombarding the Kachin. The military has been accused of using chemical weapons as well as rape as a weapon of war, and many suggest that the hardliners in the government, led by the retired General Than Shwe, could be pulling strings in the background. In a poignant visual summary of some reactions to government moves, Harn Lay, the Irrawaddy cartoonist, has published a drawing of President Thein Sein using Suu Kyi as a shield.

What’s real?
The fact of the matter is that Burma does not have a civilian government just because the generals now wear civilian clothes. Ne Win did something similar in 1988, literally changing his clothes to show that he had ‘retired’ and also changing his formal prefix from General to U, meaning uncle. This was immediately before the mass demonstrations erupted. It can be argued that many of the Burmese generals learned how to play the great game from Ne Win; at that time, the day the 1988 clampdown began, a BBC reporter said, ‘The new generals are just like Ne Win, only more so.’

Likewise, Naypyidaw is not a real capital city just because government departments and bureaucrats were forced to move there – it is a Potemkin capital that does not even function as a real city, let alone as a capital city. The hluttaw or Parliament is today little more than an expensive scenic backdrop for photo-ops and publicrelations announcements to ‘prove’ that Burma is reforming. There is no real debate inside the building.

After her first visit to Naypyidaw, Aung San Suu Kyi said that there existed the potential for change, but that change itself had not yet arrived. As such, freedom lovers and democracy advocates need to continue their activism, while also waiting to see how the government responds to the need for an open society. What would be a meaningful indicator of true change on the ground? Let me suggest one – a truth-and-reconciliation process.

On this, I would like to quote from a published letter by David Williams, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Democracy at Indiana University. He was writing in response to claims by David Steinberg, a Burma specialist, that a United Nations commission of inquiry into war crimes in Burma would ‘only salve Western consciences and do the Burmese people no good’. Williams subsequently wrote:

A commission of inquiry would hinder relations with the ‘new’ governmentonly if that government is controlled by those accused. Mr. Steinberg is really saying that we should not offend the authors of the atrocities because then they won’t talk to us. But they won’t talk to us now; the United States decided to support the inquiry only after the junta refused repeatedly to meet with senior diplomats to talk about reform.

A commission of inquiry would help the people of Burma in several ways. First, it would cost the junta hard-liners some political support at home and abroad, making a transition to democracy more possible. Second, an inquiry into the conduct of higher-ranking officers would make lower-ranking officers think twice before committing atrocities themselves. Third, an inquiry might be the first step in bringing justice to the victims of the junta’s atrocities – victims who, sadly, make no appearance in Mr. Steinberg’s analysis. ~ Kyi May Kaung is an artist, poet and literary activist with a doctorate in political economy from the University of Pennsylvania. The views presented are her own.

Our condolences and love to mourn the passing away of a Pop Diva:

Whitney Elizabeth Houston (August 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012) was an American recording artist, actress, producer, and model. In 2009, the Guinness World Records cited her as the most-awarded female act of all time.[1] Her awards include two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards, among a total of 415 career awards in her lifetime. Houston was also one of the world’s best-selling music artists, having sold over 170 million albums, singles and videos worldwide.[2][3] Houston began singing with her New Jersey church’s junior gospel choir at age 11.[4] After she began performing alongside her mother in night clubs in the New York City area, she was discovered by Arista Records label head Clive Davis. Houston released seven studio albums and three movie soundtrack albums, all of which have diamond, multi-platinum, platinum or gold certification.

Houston is the only artist to chart seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits (“Saving All My Love for You“, “How Will I Know“, “Greatest Love of All“, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)“, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All“, “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go“). She is the second artist behind Elton John and the only female artist to have two number-one Billboard 200 Album awards (formerly “Top Pop Album”) on the Billboard magazine year-end charts (Whitney Houston and The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album). Houston’s 1985 debut album Whitney Houston became the best-selling debut album by a female act at the time of its release. The album was named Rolling Stone‘s best album of 1986, and was ranked at number 254 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[5] Her second studio album Whitney (1987) became the first album by a female artist to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart.[5] Houston’s crossover appeal on the popular music charts as well as her prominence on MTV, starting with her video for “How Will I Know”,[6] influenced several African-American female artists to follow in her footsteps.[7][8]

Houston’s first acting role was as the star of the feature film The Bodyguard (1992). The film’s original soundtrack won the 1994 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Its lead single “I Will Always Love You“, became the best-selling single by a female artist in music history. With the album, Houston became the first act (solo or group, male or female) to sell more than a million copies of an album within a single week period.[5] The album makes her the top female act in the top 10 list of the best-selling albums of all time, at number four. Houston continued to star in movies and contribute to their soundtracks, including the films Waiting to Exhale (1995) and The Preacher’s Wife (1996). The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack became the best-selling gospel album in history.[9] Three years after the release of her fourth studio album My Love Is Your Love (1998), she renewed her recording contract with Arista Records.[9] She released her fifth studio album Just Whitney in 2002, and the Christmas-themed One Wish: The Holiday Album in 2003. In 2009, Houston released her seventh studio album I Look to You.

On February 11, 2012, Houston was found dead in her guest room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, in Beverly Hills, California, of causes not immediately known.[10] News of her death, the day before the 2012 Grammy Awards, dominated American and international media.[11]

Could multivitamins raise breast cancer risk?

by Amy Norton

  • Health »

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Many people take multivitamins in the hopes of thwarting disease, but a new study finds that older women who use multivitamins may be more likely than non-users to develop breast cancer.

The study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, points only to an association between multivitamin use and breast cancer. It does not prove that the supplements directly contribute to the disease.

However, the researchers say, it’s biologically plausible that multivitamins could have such an effect, and the potential link “merits further investigation.”

The findings come from a decade-long study of more than 35,000 Swedish women who were between the ages of 49 and 83 and cancer-free at the outset. Over an average of 10 years, 974 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Researchers found that women who reported multivitamin use at the study’s start were 19 percent more likely than non-users to develop breast cancer. That was with factors like age, family history of breast cancer, weight, fruit and vegetable intake, and exercise, smoking and drinking habits taken into account.

Still, the large majority of multivitamin users did not develop breast cancer during the study period. Of 9,017 users, 293 were diagnosed with the disease, as were 681 women among the 26,000-plus who did not use multivitamins.

And while the study points to a generally higher risk of breast cancer among multivitamin users as a whole, the risks to any individual woman would likely be small.

“If the association is causal, using multivitamins would have a modest effect on breast cancer risk for any one woman,” lead researcher Dr. Susanna C. Larsson, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, told Reuters Health in an email.

But given the widespread use of multivitamins, any potential risks are of “great public health importance,” the researchers say.

In the U.S., for example, it’s estimated that half of adults routinely use a dietary supplement, often a multivitamin. And studies show that one of the primary motivations is the belief that supplements will protect them from chronic diseases.

But a recent study of more than 160,000 older U.S. women found that over eight years, those who took multivitamins were no less likely than non-users to die of heart disease or cancer, with all cancers lumped together in a group.

The current study included more than 35,000 women who were surveyed about their multivitamin use, as well as a number of other health and lifestyle factors. It’s possible, according to Larsson, that factors the study did not measure could explain the association between multivitamins and breast cancer.

On the other hand, there are biologically plausible reasons that multivitamins themselves could be to blame, the researcher said. A recent study found that among premenopausal women, multivitamin users tended to have greater breast density than non-users — meaning the breasts have relatively less fat and more glandular and connective tissue. Greater breast density is linked to a relatively higher risk of breast cancer.

It’s not clear from that study, however, whether multivitamins themselves somehow boost breast density.

Another possibility, according to Larsson’s team, could be the B vitamin folic acid, which animal research has linked to breast cancer. Human studies, however, have come to various conclusions; while one found a higher risk of breast cancer among women who took folic acid supplements, others have linked the vitamin to either no effect on breast cancer risk, or a decreased risk.

Since multivitamins are, by definition, a mix of vitamins and minerals, it is difficult to pinpoint which nutrient, of combination of nutrients, may be particularly tied to breast cancer risk, the researchers point out.

Until more is known, a woman’s best bet is to get her vitamins and minerals from a well-balanced diet rather than pills, Larsson advised.

“If you eat a healthy and varied diet,” she said, “there is no need to use multivitamins.”

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online March 24, 2010.

More Evidence Against Vitamin Use

By TARA PARKER-POPE

Two new studies add to the growing body of evidence that taking extra doses of vitamins can do more harm than good.

A study of vitamin E and selenium use among 35,000 men found that the vitamin users had a slightly higher risk of developing prostate cancer, according to a report published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. A separate study of 38,000 women in Iowa found a higher risk of dying during a 19-year period among older women who used multivitamins and other supplements compared with women who did not, according to a new report in The Archives of Internal Medicine.

The findings are the latest in a series of disappointing research results showing that high doses of vitamins are not helpful in warding off disease.

“You go back 15 or 20 years, and there were thoughts that antioxidants of all sorts might be useful,” said Dr. Eric Klein, a Cleveland Clinic physician and national study coordinator for the prostate cancer and vitamin E study. “There really is not any compelling evidence that taking these dietary supplements above and beyond a normal dietary intake is helpful in any way, and this is evidence that it could be harmful.”

The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial, known as the Select trial, was studying whether selenium and vitamin E, either alone or in combination, could lower a man’s risk for prostate cancer. It was stopped early in 2008 after a review of the data showed no benefit, although there was a suggestion of increased risk of prostate cancer and diabetes that wasn’t statistically significant. The latest data, based on longer-term follow-up of the men in the trial, found that users of vitamin E had a 17 percent higher risk of prostate cancer compared with men who didn’t take the vitamin, a level that was statistically significant. There was no increased risk of diabetes.

The dose being studied in the Select trial was 200 micrograms of selenium and 400 international units of vitamin E. By comparison, most multivitamins contain about 50 micrograms of selenium and 30 to 200 international units of vitamin E.

Among the women in the Iowa study, about 63 percent used supplements at the start of the study, but that number had grown to 85 percent by 2004. Use of multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper were all associated with increased risk of death. The findings translate to a 2.4 percent increase in absolute risk for multivitamin users, a 4 percent increase associated with vitamin B6, a 5.9 percent increase for folic acid, and increases of 3 to 4 percent in risk for those taking supplements of iron, folic acid, magnesium and zinc.

“Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements,” the authors wrote.

Everyone needs vitamins, which are essential nutrients that the body can’t produce on its own. But in the past few years, several high-quality studies have failed to show that high doses of vitamins, at least in pill form, help prevent chronic disease or prolong life.

A January 2009 editorial in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute noted that most studies of vitamins had shown no cancer benefits, but some had shown unexpected harms. Two studies of beta carotene found higher lung cancer rates, and another study suggested a higher risk of precancerous polyps among users of folic acid compared with those in a placebo group.

In 2007, The Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed mortality rates in randomized trials of antioxidant supplements. In 47 trials involving 181,000 participants, the rate of dying was 5 percent higher among the antioxidant users. The main culprits were vitamin A, beta carotene and vitamin E; vitamin C and selenium seemed to have no meaningful effect.

 

I.B.M.: Big Data, Bigger Patterns

By QUENTIN HARDY

| NYT

Similar algorithms can be used to analyze electric systems, traffic and the water supply.From

It’s not just about Big Data. For the big players in enterprise technology algorithms, it’s about finding big patterns beyond the data itself.

The explosion of online life and cheap computer hardware have made it possible to store immense amounts of unstructured information, like e-mails or Internet clickstreams, then search the stored information to find some trend that can be exploited. The real trick is to do this cost-effectively. Companies doing this at a large scale look for similarities between one field and another, hoping for a common means of analysis.

When it comes to algorithms, “if I can do a power grid, I can do water supply,” said Steve Mills, I.B.M.’s senior vice president for software and systems. Even traffic, which like water and electricity has value when it flows effectively, can reuse some of the same algorithms. Mr. Mills, speaking at a Goldman Sachs technology conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, called it “leveraging the cost structure of new mathematics.”

That kind of cross-pollination is reminiscent of the way Wall Street, starting in the 1990s, hired astrophysicists and theoretical mathematicians to design arcane financial products. Now the cost of computing has come down so much that it is useful to bring such talent to other industries. I.B.M., Mr. Mills said, is now the largest employer of Ph.D. mathematicians in the world, bringing their talents to things like oil exploration and medicine. “On the side we’re doing astrophysics, genomics, proteomics,” he said.

In the last five years, I.B.M. has spent some $14 billion purchasing analytics companies, in the service of its Big Data initiative. “We look for adjacencies” between one business and another, said Mr. Mills. “If we can’t get an adjacency, we’ll never get a return.”

The trend of looking for commonalities and overlapping interests is emerging in many parts of both academia and business. At the ultrasmall nanoscale examination of a cell, researchers say, the disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics begin to collapse in on each other. In a broader search for patterns, students of the statistical computing language known as R have used methods of counting algae blooms to prove patterns of genocide against native peoples in Central America. Online marketers look at your behavior in a number of contexts to sell you something you may not even know you wanted.

While it is attractive to contemplate the way everything may become connected to everything else, it presents a number of large challenges. The lab research model has been important for over a century in both scientific advancement and product development; soon it may also have to accommodate a search for truth based only on pattern-spotting. Nearer term, companies will have to make tough choices about where to invest and which signals to watch. Trying to do everything will still amount to doing nothing.

Africa : Order has returned to Nigeria after the fuel protests, but deep anger remains –  published in the Guardian

After the January unrest caused by fuel subsidy cuts and rising petrol prices, Nigerians are demanding fundamental change

Nigerian gasoline vendor

A gasoline vendor in Kano. Nigeria’s government is under pressure to deliver on development and governance after January’s fuel protests. Photograph: Reuters

One month after Nigerians ended their protests against a 120% rise in the price of petrol, a measure of calm has returned. But interviews with ordinary people in the commercial capital, Lagos, suggest there is now enormous pressure on President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to deliver measurable progress on development and good governance.

The protests were sparked when Nigeria – a member of the Organisation of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (Opec) and Africa‘s largest exporter of oil – heeded advice from the International Monetary Fund to end fuel subsidies. The sudden move, on 1 January, raised petrol pump prices from 65 naira to 141 (40 cents to 90) a litre. The government said scrapping the subsidy would save $8bn a year, much of which was falling into the hands of corrupt middlemen.

Trade unions said the sudden hike was too much for Nigerians to bear and declared a national strike. After an overwhelming show of popular anger, the government backed down, offering a compromise price of 97 naira a litre.

The fuel subsidy crisis came as Nigeria’s government battled an intensifying campaign of bombings in the north, spearheaded by Boko Haram, a sect that wants sharia law implemented across Nigeria. The two factors have combined to make Jonathan appear weak in the face of danger and clumsy in policy implementation.

Victoria Adekoya, 38, nurse

MDG: Nigeria, Victoria Adekoya

Nigeria is a major oil producer and the petrol subsidy is the only benefit we get for being Nigerians.

We, the masses, do not have trust in our politicians any more. When they said they were removing the petrol subsidy, it did not feel like that to us. It just felt like they were doubling the fuel price. As soon as petrol went up, the price of beans doubled. Rice, yams and meat have all become more expensive.

When the government announced we would pay 141 naira, we felt we would be subsidising more corruption by our politicians. Corruption is all they are good at. The 97 naira compromise just feels like we will be subsidising corruption slightly less.

The strike ended because we needed to get back to work, to eat. It did not end because we were happy with the 97 naira price.

Saheed Bayo, 38, unemployed community volunteer, Ajegunle slum

MDG: Nigeria, Saheed Bayo

In my slum, no one has a vehicle. There is not even a road. But we felt the impact of the price increase immediately. The price of sachets of water doubled from 5 to 10 naira overnight.

Nigeria is like Tunisia and Egypt. Our politicians do not have a sense of serving the population. They want to make money. They hang on to power by doing favours for people who will support them, even if the benefits granted to some are harmful to others. This divides us. In this sense, the Nigerian people are not like the Tunisians or the Egyptians. It is too easy to break our spirit because there will always be someone who is receiving favours and who will tell us to stop complaining.

Moses Ohiomokhare, 50, curator, Quintessence art gallery

The fuel price increase opened the eyes of people in the east of the country. They were paying 80 naira a litre already. When they were asked to go on strike for a lower price, they could not see why they should sacrifice their earnings so that people in Lagos and Abuja could pay less than they were spending already. This is Nigeria all over: every issue very quickly boils down to regionalism and calls for a break-up of the country, and frightening memories of the [1967-70] civil war.

We need state finances to be spent on development, but our first request is not even for that. If the government sent a signal of rigour – fewer ministries, fewer advisers and secretaries, a leaner and more efficient police – Nigerians would respond with enthusiasm. Instead, we are fed drop-in-the-ocean pledges, like the promise to spend 25% less on state banquets. We also hear our politicians calling for higher salaries and comparing their pay packets with those of US senators. How dare they?

Ayo Obebe, 27, unemployed political sciences graduate

MDG: Nigeria, Ayo Obebe

I voted for Goodluck Jonathan, but I am fed up. Given the amount of money going into the Treasury from oil, I don’t see his administration delivering. He is not moving fast enough. Just lately he has shown himself to be more decisive … it was good that he sacked the police chief to send the message that the bombings in the north of the country have to stop. But his administration needs to deliver on infrastructure development and employment so that people’s lives start improving.

Until people see the government delivering, they will question the government’s sincerity. The protests stopped because people needed to get back to work. During the strike, the black market price of fuel rose to 250 naira. Prices were going crazy.

Prince Oluwasola Olajubu, 45, self-employed printer, Ikorodu

MDG: Nigeria, Prince Oluwasola Olajubu

The government says the fuel price will come down again when we have our own working refineries. As it is, we just have one refinery that is limping along. It is shameful that a country like Nigeria does not have enough refineries to cover its needs.

If, indeed, the government delivers on its promise – to use the money it saves on fuel subsidies to build infrastructure – then I believe scrapping them was a good idea. But the policy was not properly explained. A couple of years ago they removed the subsidy on diesel and kerosene and we never saw that money being spent on infrastructure. Why would it be different this time?

Poor people spend a high proportion of their income on food and transport, and that share has just increased. So people are impatient for their lives to improve, and the government needs to demonstrate that it has heard the message that was sent during the strike.

Ngozi Ekwerike-Okoro, 42, child protection officer

MDG: Nigeria, Ngozi Ekwerike-Okoro

If it is true, as the government says, that fuel subsidies have been falling into the wrong hands, then it is right that they should be abolished. But that does not explain why the price of petrol at the pumps had to increase.

The government outlined the measure poorly. Last year, in April, I went to a town hall meeting at which the plan was explained. But most people had no idea or no understanding of the measure when it was implemented. The government should have given notice. The director-general of national orientation [Idi Farouk] was sacked because he did not explain the subsidy removal to the people. That was the right move. We need the government to be much closer to the people so that if painful policies are needed, we all understand.

European Union politics and Governance:   German MPs back human rights activist as candidate to be next president

Both left and right rally behind Joachim Gauck, 72, who grew up in East Germany and does not belong to any political party

Joachim Gauck, Germany, presidential candidate

Germany’s next president looks set to be former East German human rights activist Joachim Gauck. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Germany‘s government and the two major opposition parties have said they will jointly nominate Joachim Gauck, a human rights activist originally from East Germany, to be the country’s next president.

Angela Merkel said her coalition government, and the centre-left opposition had rallied behind Gauck, 72, who was initially proposed by the opposition Social Democrats and Greens.

He is not a member of a political party.

“What moves me the most, is that a man who was still born during the gloomy, dark war, who grew up and lived 50 years in a dictatorship … is now called to become the head of state,” Gauck said.

“This is of course a very special day in my life.”

Christian Wulff, 52, resigned as president on Friday after two months of allegations about receiving loans on favourable terms and hotel stays from friends when he was state governor of Lower Saxony.

He was Merkel’s candidate when elected less than two years ago, triumphing over Gauck in a messy election.

When Wulff resigned, Merkel immediately said she would work with the Social Democrats and Greens to find a consensus candidate to succeed him.

Merkel, who also grew up in East Germany, said her and Gauck’s life stories strongly connected them. “We have both spent a part of our life in the GDR and our dream of freedom became true in 1989.”

The chancellor said that clergymen such as Gauck – a former Lutheran priest – were at the forefront of the protests that eventually brought down the regime.

Claudia Roth, the Greens’ leader, said “Gauck will restore the respect for the office, will restore dignity,” to the presidency, which had become tainted by Wulff’s actions.

While his name widely circulated as the opposition’s favourite, it wasn’t clear until Sunday whether the governing coalition would rally behind Gauck. At a press conference, Gauck said he was still stunned by the nomination, but “very late tonight, I will also be happy.”

FINANCE, CITIZENS’ WELFARE, NEW POLITICS :

European debt crisis: better Merkozy than Bismarck and Daladier

National politics will play a key role for the German chancellor and French president in the runup to the EU winter summit but at least the nickname’s united

Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

We used to joke about the old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Not any more. As the EU’s vital winter summit looms on Thursday the weekend airwaves in France and beyond have been full of alarming chauvinistic language in which Angela Merkel is suddenly the bellicose and expansionist Prussian, Otto von Bismarck, and Nicolas Sarkozy is Edouard Daladier, the French Neville Chamberlain, who appeased Hitler.

Not that we are a great deal better on this side of the Channel. The tabloids always detect a “German plot” to take over the City of London’s financial dominance – not that Frankfurt actually could for a host of reasons. In the appeasing camp (as that paper was in the 1930s) one Times columnist seeks to reassure his readers that all Berlin’s austerity package seeks to do for the eurozone is what Margaret Thatcher did for Britain in the 1980s: to create a liberalised, entrepreneurial economy in which people pay their own way.

I suppose that implies that Mrs Thatcher’s medicine was a success, whereas it was only a success for some people and a serious failure for others – those who lost their jobs, their businesses, their pensions, sometimes as a direct consequence of her policies. It also implies that the Germans want to create an open market-orientated “Anglo-Saxon” economy, when they don’t.

That’s why they scuppered efforts to create a free market in EU services – such as financial services, at which the UK is good, as distinct from mere goods, like cars, at which German engineers are better – despite being committed to it under the 1986 Single European Act. With their history Germans value stability over capitalism’s urge to “creative destruction”.

I don’t blame them. But that’s why so many of the big German firms that worked for You-Know-Who in 1933-45 are still thriving concerns. Can you imagine being allowed to buy a German utility company as they buy ours? That’s why Frankfurt won’t become the City – for better and worse.

Steady on there. I’m aware I’m starting to sound like the people I’m complaining about, hurling abuse at the neighbours when what they all really need to do at the Brussels summit is work together for the common good. That’s not easy at the best of times, which these are not and, as Larry Elliott sets out very nicely in today’s paper, no one quite knows what to do.

Across the west most policymakers would say “get real” to the remedies offered by both great mid-century economists, Friedrich Hayek, the apostle of classical remedies (bankruptcy and creative destruction) and of his friend and rival (“the only truly great man I ever knew”, said Hayek), John Maynard Keynes, who would have slashed interest rates – as policymakers have – but also pumped up public sector debt and borrowing – the Ed Balls remedy – to inject demand into a flat economy.

That’s what Labour did before losing office. The coalition’s austerity package, even the Keynesian Vince Cable was on board, fearful of a Greek-style collapse, choked off incipient recovery and accompanying growth. Which is why George Osborne had to admit last week that he’ll be borrowing a lot more than he’s planned to borrow – to pay the bills for continuing gloom, here and beyond Calais.

The German austerity model – “Cut your spending. Raise and collect your taxes. Privatise assets to balance the books” – will impoverish Germany‘s neighbours and end up impoverishing Germany too. Who is going to buy its exports if its key export markets are in penury? And who foolishly loaned all that money to Greeks and Italians with which to buy those German cars? Why German (and French banks) who now want their money back from borrowers who can’t pay.

If we weren’t on our best behaviour I might call it “loan-sharking” – at the point where the loan company starts making threatening noises to the mug who took out the loan. Will the French buckle and accept the German plan for balanced budgets across the 17-nation eurozone, enforced by automatic sanctions and a centrally administered compliance regime?

Or does Sarkozy’s more expansionary vision – more power to the European Central Bank to buy up debt and a eurobond to sustain mutual solidarity but retain the Gaullist Europe des patries” model – stand a prayer? Not really. The eurozone exists to hide German strength and French weakness – that old brute, Bismarck, would have spotted that immediately – and Sarko will have to surrender on the best terms he can manage.

How will Mario Draghi, the Italian central banker now running the ECB, play his hand? He’s a technocrat and will therefore favour austerity just as his counterpart, Mario Monti, now PM in Rome, is imposing more of it on Italy and Enda Kenny, also speaking last night, is being forced to do in Dublin.

The issues to be resolved between here and Friday are highly technical and it is clear that the heavyweight policymakers and analysts do not agree on what should best be done. A big enough bailout to get Europe moving again is full of risk – not least that indisciplined countries will become indisciplined again – but the austerity model is beyond risk: it is certain to impoverish most of us, though not the central bankers.

Politics will play a crucial role, national politics, but an uncertain one. Merkel is secure at home but cautious. She has not been frank with German voters about their own country’s failures and indulged the misplaced sense of superiority that the creditor always enjoys for a while.

Sarkozy is fighting for re-election this spring and sees what has happened to neighbouring governments – including Britain – when voters have cast a verdict on their post-recession performance.

And Tory MPs are busy hustling for David Cameron to use this great crisis to repatriate social policies from Europe in return for helping Merkozy (it’s this week’s new joke) put the fire out in their blazing (copyright W Hague) building. Brilliant! As if EU social policies will count for much if this gets seriously worse – as it may be about to do.

May we not live in even more interesting times. And, as nicknames go, I prefer Merkozy to Bismarck and Daladier. At least the name’s united.   published in the Guardian

13 février 2012 <!– by internetactu –>

Comment nous arrive l’information ? Prendre la mesure des liens faibles . //www.lemonde.fr

Liens faibles, liens forts. Cette semaine le dossier d’InternetActu vous propose de revenir sur ce que sont les liens faibles, ce concept forgé par le sociologue américain Mark Granovetter permettant de distinguer nos relations selon selon leur proximité, mais aussi selon leur diversité et la richesse de ce qu’elles nous apportent. A l’heure des réseaux sociaux numériques, la compréhension de la structuration et du rôle de nos relations est devenu d’autant plus importante qu’elles forgent de plus en plus toutes nos actions en ligne. Quelle est la force des liens faibles, quelles sont leurs limites ? C’est le dossier d’InternetActu.

La lecture de la semaine, il s’agit – ça faisait longtemps -, de l’éditorial de Clive Thompson dans le magazine américain Wired. Il lance quelques pistes de réflexion pas inintéressantes au sujet une question souvent posée sur les réseaux : comment nous arrive l’information ? Le titre de son papier Buddy System, “le système pote”.

“Un des grands dangers d’Internet, commence Thompson, est ce phénomène très commenté qu’on appelle l’effet “chambre d’écho”. Les gens, s’inquiète-t-on, sont trop souvent en contact avec de gens qui leur ressemblent (phénomène qu’on appelle l’homophilie) et ne rencontrent donc que des informations et des opinions qui renforcent leur avis préalables. Et ça, sans aucun doute, c’est mauvais pour la société, n’est-ce pas ? Si nous voulons être des citoyens responsables – ou des travailleurs créatifs, ou même des interlocuteurs intéressants – nous nous devons d’être régulièrement exposés à des faits nouveaux et des opinions diverses.


Image : La différence entre liens faibles et liens forts illustrée par Joshua Porter.

Et si, demande Thompson, l’homophilie ne diminuait pas toujours la diversité de notre régime informatif ? Et si l’homophilie pouvait même améliorer cette diversité ? Cette hypothèse surprenante provient d’une étude récente dirigée par des économistes de l’information Sinan Aral et Marshall Van Alstyne. Dans un papier qui sera publié cet été, ils notent que notre perception négative de l’homophilie repose en partie sur les études comme celle, fameuse, que mena Mark Granovetter en 1973 sur les “liens faibles” (.pdf). Granovetter avait demandé à des centaines de gens comment ils avaient trouvé leur dernier emploi et avait découvert que c’était grâce à une tierce personne, une personne qui la plupart du temps était un contact “faible”, quelqu’un d’éloigné. Cela, concluait Granovetter, montre que les liens faibles sont les plus à même de nous apporter des informations nouvelles et des opportunités. Vos amis les plus proches vous ressemblent trop, dit la théorie, vous avez donc de grandes chances de savoir déjà ce qu’ils disent. Quelqu’un avec peu d’amis proches, mais un grand cercle de relations occasionnelles a plus de chances de réussir. Mais Aral et Van Alstyne pensent que ce raisonnement – qui a dominé pendant des décennies – a un grand défaut : il ne tient pas compte de la fréquence à laquelle on parle aux gens.

Leur argument est le suivant, explique Thompson : bien sûr, les liens faibles sont en meilleure position pour nous apporter des informations nouvelles. Mais ils ne le font pas souvent, parce qu’on n’interagit pas avec eux très fréquemment. Une personne relevant du lien faible aura, mettons, cinq fois plus de chance qu’un ami proche de vous surprendre dans une conversation. Mais si vous parlez 10 fois plus souvent avec cet ami proche, les chances qu’il devienne une source valable d’information dépassent soudainement celles du lien faible. En d’autres mots, reprend Thompson, “la bande passante importe”. De plus, vos amis les plus proches ont un avantage du point de vue du capital social : ils savent ce qui a le plus de chance d’être nouveau pour vous et comment formuler les choses pour que vous les écoutiez.

Pour évaluer l’avantage relatif des liens forts, Aral et Van Alstyne ont analysé pendant 10 mois les emails d’une société de recrutement de cadres. Les recruteurs, ont-ils reconnu, prospèrent s’ils sont alimentés par un flux régulier de nouveaux dirigeants, un flux provenant à la fois de collègues à l’intérieur de l’entreprise, et de contacts extérieurs. Les chercheurs ont appliqué au texte de chaque mail un niveau de nouveauté, niveau évalué en fonction de paramètres dont je vous passe les détails. Et de manière très certaine, ils ont découvert que les recruteurs qui étaient reliés à un réseau resserré de contacts relevant de l’homophilie recevaient plus d’informations nouvelles par unité de temps. Soit, comme Van Asltyne le dit lui-même : “Avoir un petit nombre de relations très fréquentes peut être bon pour vous”. Pour autant, il ne s’agit pas de dire que les relations très fréquentes sont forcément supérieures, ajoute Van Alstyne. Il y a des situations dans lesquelles les liens faibles sont plus utiles (pour suivre les relations internationales par exemple). Pour être un citoyen vraiment bien informé, la meilleure méthode est sans doute de cultiver des amitiés très proches provenant de différents milieux – vous bénéficierez alors à la fois de la diversité et du surprenant pouvoir des liens forts.

De toute façon, conclut Thompson, peut-être ne devriez pas vous inquiéter d’avoir autant d’amis qui vous ressemblent. “Ils peuvent encore vous surprendre”.

Voilà pour ce papier ce Clive Thompson qui encore fois nous rassure quant à l’endogamie de notre vie sociale, à la fois en ligne et hors ligne (je rappelle que la chercheuse Stefana Boradbent avait montré que même si nous avions beaucoup d’amis sur les réseaux, nous interagissions la plus grande partie du temps avec les 5 mêmes – dans Place de la Toile et sur InternetActu).

Xavier de la Porte

Xavier de la Porte, producteur de l’émission Place de la Toile sur France Culture, réalise chaque semaine une intéressante lecture d’un article de l’actualité dans le cadre de son émission.

Cette lecture était liée àl’émission du 15 mai 2011, consacrée à la piraterie et au capitalisme en compagnie de Rodolphe Durand, professeur à HEC Paris et coauteur avec Jean-Philippe Vergne de L’organisation pirate, essai sur l’évolution du capitalisme ainsi qu’aux sites de rencontres avec Marie Bergstrom doctorante à l’Observatoire sociologique du changement et auteur d’un article intitulé “La toile des sites de rencontre en France, topographie d’un nouvel espace social en ligne” dans le numéro d’avril-mai de la revue Réseaux.

Un mort et 23 blessés dans l’accident d’un car de Britanniques dans la Marne

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Le car, qui transportait 47 Britanniques, a eu un accident à Fagnières, près de Chalons-en-Champagne, le 19 février.

Le car, qui transportait 47 Britanniques, a eu un accident à Fagnières, près de Chalons-en-Champagne, le 19 février.AFP/FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI

Un homme est mort et 23 autres ont été blessés, dont six grièvement, dans l’accident d’un car transportant un groupe scolaire britannique qui regagnait Birmingham après un séjour au ski en Italie, dans la nuit de samedi à dimanche sur l’autoroute A26 près de Châlons-en-Champagne.

Le pronostic vital d’une adolescente de 13 ans, hospitalisée à Reims, était engagé, selon la préfecture. La personne décédée dans l’accident est un homme d’une soixantaine d’années, qui faisait partie de l’encadrement.

Légèrement blessé, le chauffeur du car a été placé en garde à vue pour homicide involontaire et blessures involontaires en fin de matinée après sa sortie de l’hôpital, selon une source judiciaire.

Vingt-cinq passagers sont indemnes mais choqués et ont fait l’objet d’une prise en charge psychologique, selon la même source. Ils ont été regroupés dans une salle à Fagnières, commune proche des lieux de l’accident. Les passagers indemnes et ceux pouvant quitter l’hôpital rapidement devaient être rapatriés dans la journée.

UNE ENQUÊTE OUVERTE EN GRANDE-BRETAGNE

Le car, qui circulait dans le sens Troyes-Calais, effectuait le trajet entre la vallée d’Aoste (Italie) et Birmingham (Grande-Bretagne), selon la préfecture. Selon les premiers témoignages recueillis dans le cadre de l’enquête, le car s’est déporté progressivement vers la droite, sans que le conducteur ne rectifie la trajectoire, avant de se coucher dans un fossé, peu avant 3 heures du matin.

Les données du chronotachygraphe, appareil qui enregistre la vitesse et les temps de conduite, doivent être examinés afin de déterminer si ces derniers ont été respectés. Selon le ministère des affaires étrangères britannique , qui a ouvert une enquête, des responsables consulaires se sont rendus sur place auprès des victimes.

La préfecture a déclenché le plan rouge permettant une mobilisation massive et urgente des secours, avec 100 pompiers, 20 gendarmes et quatre équipes du SAMU.

Outre les deux chauffeurs, 29 adolescents et 18 adultes se trouvaient à bord du car de la compagnie Solus Travel, basée à Tamworth, près de Birmingham. L’ambassadeur britannique en France, Sir Peter Ricketts et le numéro deux de la représentation diplomatique, le ministre plénipotentiaire Ajay Scharma, se sont rendus sur place en milieu de journée, selon l’ambassade.

WE CAN HELP BURMA  by Brian Palmer

The word “issue” — the Darfur issue, the Iraq issue, the homelessness issue — is kind of irksome, but it hints at a vital fact: As Americans of a certain economic status and social class, our “issues” are other people’s lives. As a journalist and as an American, I struggle to use my privilege, accorded me by birth and by experience, to unearth information and eyewitness testimony about such issues. But lately, with the Iraq occupation, Darfur, and the festering aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, this doesn’t feel like nearly enough.

For a few months in 2002, Burma was my issue, my story. The country was in the news because the military junta, the State Peace and Development Council, had decided to release from prison several hundred members of the National League for Democracy, the party of Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and usually imprisoned opposition figure. A United Nations special envoy, Razali Ismail, was due to visit Rangoon and have talks with the junta’s leaders, Senior General Than Shwe, General Maung Aye, and General Khin Nyunt.

I traveled to Burma, ostensibly as a tourist, but actually as a freelance reporter, since the regime doesn’t willingly host visits from journalists or others prone to scrutinizing its subjugation of its people. I knew that speaking directly to people — interviewing — might land them in jail. So I didn’t do much of that. Instead, I observed. I also showed up dutifully at the headquarters of the NLD several days in a row, hoping for an audience with Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Each day I would arrive, make my request, and wait.

One day, while I waited to speak to an NLD official, there was a free, weekly health screening going on for indigent mothers and children. The tiny headquarters was full of women and infants.
I mentioned to a young man who sat next to me, a new NLD member, that I was surprised how little surveillance there was of the headquarters — and of me. I had visited nearly a half a dozen times and never drawn any special scrutiny by police or other agents of the state. He smiled at me, then gestured with his head, almost imperceptibly, toward two casually dressed men lounging across the street and sipping tea. “Military intelligence,” he said.

Eventually, I was granted an interview with U Lwin, a party spokesman. He was circumspect. He told me that many NLD members had been released, but others had been quietly jailed, too. Suu Kyi was being permitted to make low-key — and heavily monitored — visits to NLD offices in other parts of the country, but she wasn’t allowed to speak with the press. So when The Lady, as Suu Kyi’s supporters call her, made an appearance at the office and I asked her for permission to photograph her, she declined my request, gently.

“If we make one mistake, this will finish us,” U Lwin told me. Indeed.

U Lwin and The Lady were right to be cautious. Nothing changed in 2002. UN envoy’s Ismail’s meeting with junta leaders lasted 15 minutes, “hardly long enough to sit down and pick up a cup of tea,” Josef Silverstein, a scholar on Burma, told me.

“Per capita income, reported months ago to be about $300, is in free fall,” I wrote in Newsweek International in November 2002. The UN had reported that Burma’s HIV rate was one of the world’s highest (1 in 50 adults infected). Human Rights Watch Report noted that an estimated 20% of active-duty soldiers in the army were under the age of 18. The price of rice had tripled outside Rangoon, according to the NLD.

The advocacy group Altsean was unequivocal about who was to blame for Burma’s abject condition: “The humanitarian situation is man-made; the junta is directly responsible on numerous levels for inadequate access to basic needs.” The junta’s response? Hire an American public relations firm, DCI Associates, to burnish its international image.

I published a story. Then, the US invaded Iraq. Burma receded for me. I stopped paying attention.

Last month, along with so many others around the world, I watched the Burmese stand up to the junta. They took to the streets and were crushed by the military, the Tatmadaw, and then intimidated into silence. For now. The world now wrings its hands. We apparently have little leverage over the already isolated and brutal SPDC. So Burma fades from front pages.

But our powerless is an illusion. Yes, there are petitions to sign. We can lobby Congress and protest at the UN. That’s not enough. I emailed a Burma activist and advocate for suggestions about concrete things to do.

She suggested donating to established organizations that provide aid and services to Burmese, inside and outside the country. She pointed me toward a number of groups working directly to alleviate the suffering of Burmese, particularly refugees. The Mae To Clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand, provides medical care to refugees and migrant workers. You can donate at www.maetaoclinic.org/donate.html

Global Health Access also runs health programs that keep Burmese healthy and alive. See what they do at www.ghap.org.

You can also contribute at: www.ghap.org/how_to_help/money/

All these groups accept — and need — volunteers, too.

You can also support Burmese women by shopping. WEAVE, Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment, was started in 1990 to provide sustainable work for Burmese refugee women, particularly those from ethnic groups that are discriminated against inside the country. Go to www.weave-women.org to see what they do — and to become a customer. WEAVE also runs an Early Childhood Development Program, a health education project, and other essential initiatives.

There are many advocacy, activist and media organizations focusing on Burma that one can visit online for information and suggestions for actions. The Women’s League of Burma is an umbrella group comprised of 12 leading organizations: www.womenofburma.org.

Altsean is a human rights group that monitors Burma, publishes periodic reports and briefings, and advocates for change. You can buy copies of their reports — and T-shirts — via Pay Pal, at www.altsean.org/Store/Store.php.

Altsean is also spearheading an effort to pressure the UN Security Council to take action on Burma, www.unscburma.org

Subscriptions to the Irrawaddy, the excellent, informative, and courageous news magazine about Burma written by exiles, can be ordered at www.irrawaddymedia.com/shop/.

Even if the Burma “issue” recedes from our popular news media, the nation’s people still need our support.

A royal Princess of old Burma, June  Daw Yadana Nat Mei :

Studio June Bellamy IN ITALY

The Associazione Culturale Arte e Gastronomia Orientale Studio June Bellamy is situated in the artisan quarter of San Frediano, in Florence, Italy. Since its foundation, it has been home to food, history and traditions of both the Oriental and Italian culinary arts.

When Studio June Bellamy was first created in Florence, in 1983 it was done to provide a home to the art of International Cooking;  its purpose was to provide a space where lovers of Oriental food and culture could meet and also attend cooking classes. Since that day, the  history of spices, recipes for steamed buns and coconut rice appear alongside the history and uses of Italian cheeses, olive oil and pasta in the reference files of the Studio.
Learning and teaching are but two sides of the same coin, both giving pleasure, a sense of discovery and satisfaction. June has  in fact, spent these many years discovering and collecting on that long trail of  the evolution of these rich and fascinating traditions of both worlds.
At her Studio in the heart of Florence, courses or single lessons are built around individual or group requirements, and are held in both Italian and English.
Today Via Camaldoli has become the seat of the new Cultural Association which not only holds cooking classes, but is also an attractive and characteristic place for lectures, meetings and private gatherings.

Ethics, transparency, fairness and greed-related corruption of politicians to be considered in Privatisation of state-owned enterprises (which belong to the common citizens of Burma). Will Burma sell-off all its little-left wealth, enterprises and proud public institutions, and natural resources like Gas, LPG, sea food, oil, rice, crops, jade, agriculture land  to greedy Asian superpowers and uncaring Asean states and beleaguered aggressive businessmen (so many of them) who will plunder the environment and natural raw materials for their own capitalist gains alas ? We are deeply concerned about this :

Sweeping privatisation in Burma continues

Feb 9, 2010 (DVB), Three major Rangoon shipping ports handling 90 percent of Burma’s imports and exports are to be privatised, the latest in a major overhaul of Burmese industry, the ruling junta has announced.

“Arrangements are under way to hand over ports under the Ministry of Transport, including three major ports in Yangon [Rangoon],” a senior official from the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce told Reuters. The ports are situated at Botataung, Bo Aung Kyaw and Sule.

A small sector of port operations in Burma is already run by private entities. The announcement follows a series of privatisations, including gas retailing, which was passed to junta-friendly hands.

The Ministry of Planning and Economic Development declined to elaborate on the reform when contacted by DVB, and said only that “this is a sensitive issue for Myanmar [Burma]”.

Speculation abounds that the move to privatise industry is related to this year’s controversial elections, rumoured to be in October.

Burmese political analyst Aung Thu Nyein said that the “firesale privatisations” were a way for the military government to “maintain economic control after the 2010 election…and gain some sought of supposed legitimacy.”

In the past economists have suggested that they would usually welcome privatisation in a one-party country like Burma. Aung Thu Nyein points out however that “Many of them [the companies taking control] are cronies of the military regime and many of them are blacklisted under US sanctions”.

“The privatisation should be transparent and at the same time it should be backed up by law and regulation,” he said. “There should be some sought of competition [over contracts].”

“Even in Russia the citizens got some sort of tokens,” he said. After the fall of communism, citizens were offered a proportional stake in state-owned enterprises as a means of fairly splitting up these entities.

The issue of concern for many in Burma however is the secrecy surrounding the privatisation, and questions over who will own and run the economy after the proposed elections.

Reporting by fabulous Joseph Allchin DVB Norway

HIV, TB Treatment Urgently Needed in Burma: MSF


By SAW YAN NAING/ THE IRRAWADDY Wednesday, February 22, 2012
US coordinator for policy on Burma, Derek Mitchell (blue shirt), meets with HIV positive patients during a visit to a private clinic on the outskirts of Rangoon on Sep.11 2011.
One of the world’s major humanitarian organizations, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), says there is a critical need for increased HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) treatment in Burma.

MSF, which is the largest provider of HIV/AIDS treatment in Burma, on Tuesday released a report titled, “Lives in the Balance,” highlighting the devastating effect that the cancellation of an entire round of funding from the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria will have on the country.

Peter Paul de Groote, the head of mission at MSF Burma, said in the report: “Yet again, donors have turned their backs on people living with HIV and TB in Myanmar. Everyday we at MSF are confronted with the tragic consequences of these decisions: desperately sick people and unnecessary deaths.”

The MSF report said that some 85,000 people in Burma are in urgent need of lifesaving anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and are unable to access it. Of an estimated 9,300 people newly infected over the past year with Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB), to date just over 300 have been receiving treatment.

“Without increased availability of treatment, HIV and TB will continue to spread unchecked in many areas. The time to treat is now,” said Khin Nyein Chan, a Burmese doctor who works with the MSF.

“There is a real opportunity here; HIV prevalence rates in Myanmar are relatively low. It is lack of access to treatment that makes it one of the most serious epidemics in Asia,” said the doctor.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 people living with HIV/ AIDS die every year in Burma because of lack of access to ART, says the report.

TB prevalence in Burma is more than three times the global average. Burma is among the 27 countries with the highest MDR-TB rates in the world. MDR-TB has the same airborne transmission as non-resistant TB, but it is far more complex and lengthy to treat, said the report.

In September last year, MSF ended its medical activities in Thailand after 35 years in the country due to what it termed as interference by the Thai government, leaving thousands of undocumented Burmese migrant workers without access to free medical treatment.

According to Denis Penoy, the former head of MSF’s mission in Thailand, more than 55,000 people have been affected by the closure of MSF’s projects in Samut Sakhon Province near Bangkok, and Three Pagodas Pass on the Thai-Burmese border.

Burma, the least developed country in Southeast Asia, suffers from an underfunded state healthcare system and is one of the lowest recipients of Official Development Aid in the world, according to MSF.

But with political reform being reciprocated by greater engagement from the international community, there is a real opportunity to put access to treatment for people living with HIV and TB at the top of donor priority lists, said the report.

Being Happy: Social and Natural Factors Are More Important than Money (Especially in Costa Rica)

By Mark Fischetti | February 22, 2012 |  <!–

–>

It’s easy to find an online test that will purportedly tell you how happy you are. But how happy are the people of an entire nation? And which nation’s people are happiest?

That’s hard to measure. So for decades world organizations like the United Nations that concern themselves with improving people’s well-being have used a single proxy for happiness: gross domestic product, or GDP. The loose logic is that as people attain a higher standard of living, they will feel less burdened by basic survival and have greater means for everything from decent food to recreation.

But new research indicates that two other factors are even better predictors of a nation’s well-being: According to Roly Russell, an interdisciplinary scientist at the Sandhill Institute for Sustainability and Complexity in Grand Forks, British Columbia, a nation’s human capital (social structures) and natural capital (nature) are more influential in determining happiness than financial capital (income). Russell presented his data over the weekend at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Vancouver.

Russell studied numerous studies about happiness in many nations, assessing 248 variables that the various investigations had relied on. The variables ultimately fell into three broad groups of factors: financial and infrastructure (traits such as GDP and gross domestic savings); human and social (years of schooling, freedom of choice); and natural (health of land on which people live, access to nature). He then correlated those factors with the degree to which people said they were happy. Preliminary results indicated that financial factors reflected only about half the variability in happiness across countries, but human and natural capital each accounted for about two thirds of the difference.

Costa Rica had the highest score for life satisfaction among the 123 countries that were represented, even though its GDP is in the world’s lowest third. The single leading factor determining people’s happiness there was a strong social support network.

As countries try to set policies to improve well-being, Russell concluded, they have to get away from using just GDP as the de facto predictor. “We can expand our vision of ‘development’ as more than just improving GDP,” he noted. Although measuring factors such as human and natural capital can be difficult, he added, “What’s difficult to count may be the most important. The path to becoming a happy country might well involve greater focus on maintaining or promoting healthy natural and social systems, and less on simply producing more ‘stuff.’”

To hear Russell explain his conclusions and why Costa Ricans win the happiness stakes, listen to our exclusive podcast with him.

And yes, if you want to test your own happiness and compare it with results from the U.S. and other countries, you can take our quiz.

Photo of happy girl in Costa Rica courtesy of canonsnapper on Flickr

Festival Returns to Burma’s Shwedagon Pagoda


By JOCELYN GECKER / AP WRITER Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Local volunteers sweep up on the eve of the Shwedagon Pagoda Festival in Rangoon. (PHOTO: AP)
RANGOON—Thousands of people gathered at Burma’s most sacred Buddhist shrine on Wednesday to celebrate an annual festival banned for more than 20 years under the former military government.

The celebrations at the gold-plated, diamond-studded Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon mark the 2,600-year anniversary of Buddha’s enlightenment. The fact that authorities are allowing it to be held at all this year is the latest sign of new freedoms trickling into this long-repressed country.

Shwedagon has been used before as a rallying point for anti-government protesters, and the former junta feared large groups gathering in the streets, even when they were not demonstrating.

“There is a hunger for the Shwedagon Pagoda festival. This was banned for 20 years and it’s starting again now,” said Khin Maung Aye, a Buddhist scholar and an organizer of the event. He expects a massive tide of pilgrims. “I have dreamed of this for many years, but I dared not think it would be so big.”

On Wednesday, gongs chimed as thousands of people dressed in ceremonial costumes walked barefoot in a procession through the temple’s marble walkways.

Perched on a hilltop, the Shwedagon Pagoda dominates the Rangoon skyline, and is especially prominent at night when floodlights make the golden temple glow brightly. According to legend, it was built more than 2,500 years ago and houses eight strands of the Buddha’s hair and other holy relics.

It was against the backdrop of Shwedagon’s towering golden spires that Aung San Suu Kyi electrified a crowd of half a million people in 1988 with a speech that launched her career as opposition leader and Burma’s icon of democracy.

After that, the ruling junta halted big pagoda festivals for what they called “security reasons,” said Khin Maung Aye. Among the regime’s many rules was a ban on gatherings of more than five people.

“My son is 22. He was born in 1989, and he has never witnessed the real Shwedagon Pagoda festival,” he said.

The festival on Wednesday at the sprawling temple compound opens with saffron-robed monks beginning a 15-day chant and a visit by government officials. Entertainment will include Burmese puppet shows and traditional dancers.

Smaller pagoda ceremonies that focused on religious rituals were allowed by the defunct military regime, but larger festivals, particularly at Shwedagon, were seen as holding potential for trouble in this devoutly Buddhist country, where religion and politics have often mixed.

Rangoon’s two most significant Buddhist shrines—Sule Pagoda and Shwedagon—were central gathering points for the monk-led pro-democracy uprising in 2007 that army quashed with deadly force.

For nearly half a century, the country was ruled by a reclusive, xenophobic military regime that cracked down on any perceived dissent. The junta ceded power last year to a nominally civilian government that has surprised critics with an unexpected wave of reforms—allowing Suu Kyi to run for parliament in April, freeing political prisoners and relaxing strict media censorship.

Associated Press writer Aye Aye Win contributed to this report.

Life at Burghley

By DAVID NETTO

You never know when you’re going to meet someone interesting. About 12 years ago in New York, I was introduced to Miranda and Orlando Rock, a charming British couple living in a loft in Tribeca. We hit it off and became fast friends, going to New Orleans together for Thanksgiving and road-tripping to Natchez, Mississippi. Miranda joined my fledgling design office, working part-time. It occurred to me as I watched her accessorize my clients’ apartments so beautifully—with the kind of style and instinct that are impossible to teach—that she seemed to know an awful lot about houses. I simply credited a proper English upbringing.

[Burghley2] Photograph by Alexia S | Styling by Sara Ruffin CostelloTeatime with Orlando and Miranda Rock and their children, (from left) Matilda, Cosmo, Lila and Jemima.

After the family moved back to England, I was invited to visit them at Burghley House, family seat of Miranda’s relatives, the Marquesses of Exeter, in the Lincolnshire countryside. When I saw Burghley, which is almost urban in scale and has a history as fabled as any of the great English country estates, it all fell into place. Her breadth of knowledge and abilities, not to mention estimable personal charm, had been formed by the experience of growing up in England’s grandest and largest Elizabethan house.

Photograph by Alexia SThe west front of Burghley House, with the stunning Tijou Gates, was originally intended to be the main entrance.

Burghley House is overseen by a preservation trust and every so often a new custodian is appointed to live there and take on the mammoth duties of maintaining the buildings and land. The context is magnificent, but so are the responsibilities. Welcome home: You have just been made steward of one of the world’s most prominent and stunning monuments. There are many eyes on you and many needs to attend to, with both a staff and the public to keep happy. It’s sort of like being made captain of an ocean liner and then trying to enjoy your cruise with four children tugging at you in need of a normal life.

Miranda was elected by the trustees to replace her mother, Lady Victoria, as director in 2007. Her family left their house in London and proximity to friends (and Orlando to his work at Christie’s, where he is an expert in European furniture). With brio and resolve, they are making a success of circumstances that are very unusual and very privileged—but not without challenges, particularly for young parents.

“The Heaven Room is covered entirely in murals by Antonio Verrio, whose leching among the kitchen girls made his time at the house a trial for them”

The 115-room estate was the creation of William Cecil, 1st Lord Burghley and Queen Elizabeth I’s Chief Minister, Secretary of State and Lord High Treasurer (played by Richard Attenborough in the film “Elizabeth”); was home to Miranda’s track-star grandfather, the 6th Marquess of Exeter (played by Nigel Havers in “Chariots of Fire”—remember the hurdles with champagne glasses?); and an object of desire to oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, who wanted to buy it but had to settle for the lesser charms of Sutton Place in Surrey (we are still waiting for this movie). Filmmaking is, in fact, a significant revenue source for the estate: Burghley was the house occupied by Nick Nolte in the 2000 film adaptation of Henry James’s “The Golden Bowl.”

Photograph by Alexia S | Styling by Sara Ruffin CostelloOrlando and Miranda hanging out in the Blue Drawing Room. Paintings by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland, Sir Thomas Lawrence and Angelica Kauffmann line the walls. The Buhl cabinet was made in Antwerp in the late 17th century.

The history of Burghley, which was built between 1555 and 1587, is fascinating from both a social and art-historical perspective. Perhaps the most famous interiors are Hell Staircase and the Heaven Room to which it ascends. Both spaces are covered entirely in murals considered to be the greatest work of 17th-century Neapolitan master Antonio Verrio, whose leching among the kitchen girls made his time at the house a trial for them and everyone else.

The contents of the house include wonders large and small: the biggest solid silver wine cistern in Europe, weighing 253 pounds, and a smattering of jewel-like perfume bottles from India’s Mughal Empire. There is a fabulous marble mantel designed by Piranesi, and more than 400 paintings adorn the walls of the 35 state rooms.

Collecting among the British nobility between the 16th and the 20th centuries was rarely exceeded by anyone else in any period, but I am happy to report that the collecting continues today. The Rocks’ eldest child, Matilda, now 10, has a “museum” in a secret space overlooking the Aviary, between the second and third floors, stuffed full of precious specimens she has culled from all over the estate. If Matilda’s museum has a focus, it is on partially intact early Japanese audio technology, and her collection of 1980s Sony Walkmans, likely plundered from closets left untouched since the adolescence of Miranda’s brother, is one of the finest in private hands. Next to it you will find microscope slides, a fragment of a bird skull, a single Converse sneaker.

Photograph by Alexia S | Styling by Sara Ruffin CostelloTwo-year-old Lila

These are good kids who will gladly share with you the worlds they have carved out for themselves amidst five centuries of masterpieces with as much pride as the 5th Earl would show you his Vanderbank tapestries. But don’t expect this on the tour.

The structure itself dazzles as only Elizabethan architecture can, equal parts stately and bizarre. This is the house they all want to be, an opera in architecture. If you travel to England and can visit only one ancestral home, you would do well to make it Burghley. (Oh fine, go to Chatsworth too, but anybody could tell you to do that.)

Houses of this magnitude come with gardens, and in this department Burghley is no slouch (the estate encompasses more than 12,500 acres). In the 18th century, the 9th Earl retained Lancelot “Capability” Brown as landscape architect to redesign the Elizabethan formal gardens in a naturalistic style, and his work, for the most part, is what you see today. Burghley House was originally built with a footprint in the shape of an “E” to flatter you-know-who, but Brown tore down the northwest arm to allow more sunlight into the entrance court.

Photograph by Alexia S | Styling by Sara Ruffin CostelloMiranda and Orlando on the roof — the Elizabethans used the turrets as dining pavilions.

Maintaining Burghley for the enjoyment of the public is a full-time job. And no matter how this house is lived in, it is essentially like running a business. Efficiencies are hard-won against the age and scale of everything. The heat loss through the single-pane glass of hundreds of windows is staggering to contemplate. I have never seen such diligence about turning out lights in any household. Putting the house to bed every night, with security rituals, takes almost an hour. Wondering where your children are located between the bottom and the top of Burghley would give any parent moments of anxiety. But any house will have its problems, whether they be street noise in Tribeca or a surge in the deer population as the gardens have here.

Private life straddles the state rooms on the second floor. This is the main part of the house open to the public. The family kitchen and reception rooms are on the ground floor, while the bedrooms are tucked under nearly two acres of lead roof on the third. A lot of climbing up and down stairs is involved, but it’s well worth it for the view of the park from above.

One of the charming compensations of a life shared in this way is that you can mingle or even dine (at the Orangery tea room) with the crowds at any moment. Though it is a funny feeling to walk out of one room and into the next and be in public. It reminded me of the giddy sensation you get when you walk into a stadium from the corridor and see the oceans of people.

After taking her children to school in the village each morning, Miranda returns to oversee the operations of the estate from her ground-floor office overlooking the courtyard. From her desk she can hear footsteps and it is a welcome sound, for a house like this needs visitors to come to life. Burghley had nearly 100,000 of them last year. And let’s face it, the less alone one is in a place this size, the better. For the Rocks, normal people in an extraordinary situation, life at Burghley goes on as it always has, almost 500 years after Queen Elizabeth’s most trusted counselor devised a house the size of a small town to honor the Virgin Queen.

Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704364004576132493230774026.html#ixzz1nB37TBWF

French Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy On Style and Why People Hate Him

[mag311_soap1] Ben HoffmannLE PENSEUR Bernard-Henri Lévy, photographed in the living room of his suite at New York’s Carlyle hotel.

BHL, as he is affectionately and not so affectionately called in France, is a philosopher, writer, publisher, filmmaker, provocateur and general lightning rod. It’s hard to imagine his equivalent in America, an intellectual with a movie star’s celebrity and cachet: We don’t grow them here. But in France, he is everywhere, adored, attacked, derided, applauded; so famous that his fame itself has become the subject of any discussion of him.

A splendid-looking man, he is known for his style: his white shirts, unbuttoned, a black jacket made by Charvet, sweeping leonine hair, dark eyes. He also exudes the brooding thinky je ne sais quoi of French philosophers from time immemorial. Suffice it to say that if you are looking for him in a hotel lobby you will not have trouble spotting him.

He has homes in Paris and Morocco, and is married to the actress Arielle Dombasle. His most recent book, “Public Enemies,” is a spirited exchange of letters between him and the equally infamous novelist Michel Houellebecq. Their debate covers subjects from Kant to drugs, Baudelaire to their fathers, along with speculation on why people hate them, and whether or not they care.

—Katie Roiphe

“I have worn the same white shirts, the same person has made my jackets, for thirty years. I get older, but I have the same size hair. I am a man of habits”

I am not writing to be loved. There is as much pleasure to being hated as being loved. I write in order to convince. In order to win. In order to change, even just a little, the world. I recently launched an appeal on Twitter supporting those attacking the official websites of the Tunisian regime. An intellectual calling for hacking doesn’t happen very frequently, and there is a stir. I am happy that it succeeded. I care about being heard.

Ben Hoffmann             Lévy

In the war of ideas, you have to know where your enemies are, where your friends are. You have to know where you are weak and where you are strong. Sometimes a strong attack reveals a weak point. So I always read what is written about me. I take it into account in one way or another. But it does not affect me in a sentimental way.

In France nine or ten books have been written against me in the past four or five years. Nine or ten! The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan speaks about énamoré, which is being in love, seduced. But you can also say it like this: haineamorée, a hatred that is filled with love. Lacan writes it both ways; it is a mix of love and hate.

Why am I different from writers, like Houellebecq, who suffer from being hated? I am loved by those who are important to me. When you have that, you don’t need the other kind of love. Those who are affected are those who, as we say in French, fall from high places.

They believe that they are going to be loved and are disappointed when they are not. It’s Freud who says that what links humanity is not love, but hatred; the bond, the tough stuff is made of hate. I covered wars. I saw societies, whole worlds sometimes, being completely torn apart by hatred. I know how hatred works. I don’t believe in peace and love. The first relationship between men, before the law is given, is automatic murder: Cain and Abel. Why should it be different today, frankly?

mag311_soap3

Reuters/STR NewLévy in 1978 after a meeting with then-President Valery Giscard d’Estaing at Paris’ Palais de l’Elysee

I know a writer builds three things of unequal importance: He builds a persona, a life, a work. The three are linked, of course, and linked in conflict. For myself, I am not conscious of creating a persona. I think a little more about building a life, though it is not crucial. All my strength, all my energy, all my love is on the third table, which is the books.

I don’t care much about style or appearance. I have always dressed the same way. No eccentricity. No surprise. Somebody who cares about fashion changes; somebody who cares makes an event of his own style. I have worn the same white shirts, the same person has made my jackets, for 30 years. I get older, but I have the same size hair. I am a man of habits.

I care about physical things. When in New York, I live at the Carlyle hotel, which is not the worst place in the city. I know the difference between beautiful furniture and not. But I can do without. As long as I have my books, a few shirts, my paper to write on and my favorite pens, all is OK. I am a very adaptable person. When I do reporting in Darfur or shoot a movie or documentary on the war in Sarajevo, I can live for days and weeks in conditions where the problem of surroundings does not exist; I can live in very precarious conditions. I don’t feel especially uneasy.

Fashion is a language, and what is interesting about fashion today is that there is no longer fashion. That is, there is an appropriation of fashion by people in the street. There was a time when you saw a woman who was a high-fashion model, who was a caricature, a cartoon of real life. But now people are more free with their fashion. The most interesting people make their own fashion out of what designers offer them. Women on the street have become hackers of the fashion world. They break the code; they undo and redo. It is the democratization of fashion today that interests me.

Fashion communicates a relationship to the world, to one’s body. What is the reply to the old philosophical inquiry between soul and body: Are they at war? Are they in harmony? Are they friends or enemies? There are moments in life, in the day, where the two are at war, moments where they are in harmony, days when you feel at war with your body, and days your body is your friend. Fashion says that. Style says that.

If I were compelled to describe what my own style means, I would probably say: a sense of freedom. At the same time, a mixture of internal freedom and a freedom of movement. If my style says something it is that. But I am not sure.

—Edited from Katie Roiphe’s interview with Lévy

Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704364004576132202535791500.html#ixzz1nB3zdnLe

innovative  se asia       society
Inequality

Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.

By Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz
THE FAT AND THE FURIOUS The top 1 percent may have the best houses, educations, and lifestyles, says the author, but “their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.”

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.

First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.

Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

Economists are not sure how to fully explain the growing inequality in America. The ordinary dynamics of supply and demand have certainly played a role: laborsaving technologies have reduced the demand for many “good” middle-class, blue-collar jobs. Globalization has created a worldwide marketplace, pitting expensive unskilled workers in America against cheap unskilled workers overseas. Social changes have also played a role—for instance, the decline of unions, which once represented a third of American workers and now represent about 12 percent.

But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way. The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride. Monopolies and near monopolies have always been a source of economic power—from John D. Rockefeller at the beginning of the last century to Bill Gates at the end. Lax enforcement of anti-trust laws, especially during Republican administrations, has been a godsend to the top 1 percent. Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself—one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0 percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest.

When you look at the sheer volume of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent in this country, it’s tempting to see our growing inequality as a quintessentially American achievement—we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level. And it looks as if we’ll be building on this achievement for years to come, because what made it possible is self-reinforcing. Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth. During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s—a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint—the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. “I certainly hope so,” he replied. The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.

America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect—people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.

Or, more accurately, they think they don’t. Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.

In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses—will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.

As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.

Alexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.                Ref: Vanity Fair

Running Around in High Circles


Others might play hard to get; Marietta Tree, this biography shows, was genuinely unattainable.


NO REGRETS
The Life of Marietta Tree.
By Caroline Seebohm.
Illustrated. 447 pp. New York:
Simon & Schuster. $27.50.


Marietta Tree’s high-WASP background had all the makings of the glamorous fantasy that Ralph Lauren has burnished to a high gloss: a New England pedigree that predates the Revolution (she was born Mary Endicott Peabody, the granddaughter of the founder of the Groton School), a prep-school adolescence, with summers in Northeast Harbor, Me., and the full complement of fizzy coming-out parties in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Transplanted to England in the early years of her second marriage, to Ronald Tree, she presided over Ditchley, the stately home he had refurbished with his former wife (who, as Nancy Lancaster, went on to great renown as a decorator). In Europe and America, Marietta traveled in what used to be called ”the highest circles.” Indeed, the surface of her life remained impeccable until her death, in 1991, at 74. But this book cannot sustain the fairy tale, if only because in the long run neither could she.

Caroline Seebohm (also the author of a biography of Conde Nast) depicts Tree as the high-minded product of her upbringing at the hands of a parsimonious mother (who once professed indignation at a guest’s request for two lumps of sugar) and a severe father, an Episcopal clergyman. The God of the Peabodys was, it seems, remote and joyless, punitive, without compassion — not unlike the Peabodys themselves. When, at the age of 30, Marietta decided to divorce Desmond FitzGerald, a lawyer in New York, to marry Ronald Tree, her mother rebuked her: ”You have let down your family and your society and your God.” It was the Peabody sense of duty — a Puritanical noblesse oblige — coupled with her considerable ambition that in time propelled Marietta into the realm of politics and public service.

Her political views were often at odds with her social circumstances. A fact checker at Life magazine and a shop steward for the union, she frequently dined out with Henry R. Luce, the magazine’s founder and editor in chief. Making the acquaintance of Winston Churchill and the Marquess of Salisbury, she took them to task over the state of affairs in postwar England. Isaiah Berlin characterized her as ”a progressive, liberal figure who was mixed up with a lot of naive left-wing sympathizers.” Her later friendship with the Kissingers and her attendance at parties for the Reagans were seen in some quarters as a betrayal of her Democratic principles.

It is tempting to think that, had Tree been born a mere 20 years later, she might have fulfilled her childhood ambition to be a senator. At 21, she announced to an audience of friends, ”I intend to get power through connection with a man.” As it happened, she became the lover of Adlai Stevenson, accompanying him on the campaign trail, consoling him in defeat. It was Stevenson who, in 1961, as the American Ambassador to the United Nations, recommended that she be appointed United States representative to the Human Rights Commission there.

Though Marietta, like Pamela Harriman, attained through men what women of her time were forbidden to attain for themselves, Seebohm makes no attempt to nominate her as a martyr for the feminist cause. In fact, Marietta repeatedly distanced herself from it. In 1967, she angered her fellow female delegates to the New York state constitutional convention, by refusing to sign three resolutions pertaining to women’s rights.

If Marietta was unconcerned with women’s lack of political and economic power, surely it was because she recognized in herself an alternative power, the power of attraction. Boy-crazy at an early age, she was by all accounts irresistible to the opposite sex. On visits to her grandparents at Groton, she commanded the hungry gaze of 180 boys at once. Seebohm paints a picture of her at 17, departing for a year at school in Florence, on a boat pulling away from a dock lined with ”stricken male admirers.” Men leave love notes in her handbag; they kiss her, though she knows their wives. After Ronald Tree began spending more of his time at their house in Barbados, Marietta was free to entertain the attentions of other men, among them Stevenson and, later, a British architect and urban planner by the name of Richard Llewelyn-Davies. In her 70’s she found love yet again, with a debonair widower — and Groton alumnus — by the name of Eben Pyne.

We can only begin to imagine the desire this long-legged blonde, 5 feet 10, with patrician features and a 39-inch bustline, must have inspired. And yet, for all that her relationships were intensely romantic, they seem to have been sexually tepid. Another woman in a position to know reported that for Adlai sex was ”not urgent.” Ronnie proved to be bisexual. Someone close to Llewelyn-Davies confided to Seebohm that sex was ”not Richard’s thing.” And Eben, by his own admission, was unaware that Marietta had had a mastectomy. Her own squeamishness when it came to sex is corroborated by a friend’s recollection that she walked out on movies the minute the action took a carnal turn.

The only instance of white-hot passion in her life appears to have been her affair with John Huston, the film director, in 1945, just before her husband, Desie, returned from the war. Spending the weekend at a friend’s house in the country, she and Huston made such vigorous love that the bed collapsed. With Desie back, John retreated to California — at Marietta’s request — where he waited for her to arrange a divorce. Meanwhile she and Desie went with some friends to Barbados, to stay with Nancy and Ronald Tree; it was there, with the memory of sexual ecstasy still fresh in her mind, that Marietta fell in love with her host and embarked on a romance more in keeping with her penchant for chastity.

A few weeks before Huston died, Marietta went to visit him in a hospital in Newport, where, Seebohm reports, his electrocardiogram ”started jumping with excitement as soon as she entered the room.” She was, his friends maintained, the only woman he ever really loved. She was also the woman who walked away. Where others played hard to get, Marietta was genuinely unattainable — needing men’s approval and all the while disdaining sex. ”She flirted with that cunning mixture of promise and denial that kept them permanently on edge,” Seebohm writes.

The contradictions in her character are staggering, and the author, to her credit, has let them stand. Marietta protests being called a socialite, but given the choice between a boring dinner party and an evening at home with a good book, she picks the dinner party. Her humanitarianism is offset to some degree by her refusal to give her daughter Frankie any dolls. Both of her daughters — Frances FitzGerald, now a distinguished journalist, and Penelope Tree, who rose to fame as a fashion model in the late 60’s — cooperated with Seebohm on this book, and it is largely thanks to their candor that this portrayal is so subtle and persuasive.

In the end, however, the reader comes away considerably less enchanted with Marietta than her countless friends and admirers (with the possible exception of her second husband, whose memoirs stop in 1945 and never mention her). She lacked a sense of humor, we are told. Nor, we gather, was she much of a wit. ”All women should go to Marietta Tree School,” proclaimed George W. Goodman, the economist. If only he had elaborated on the curriculum.

But Tree’s charms evaporate on the page through no fault of her own. When Seebohm refers to Huston as a ”stronghold of testosterone,” or to Saratoga and its environs as a ”culturally challenged region,” her ready embrace of the cliche nearest to hand does not inspire confidence in her ability to articulate what, for those who knew Marietta, evidently went without saying.

Threaded throughout her story is a litany of rules by which to live — many of them handed down from her parents: Be punctual; don’t be sarcastic or laugh too much; don’t be direct. And Marietta’s advice to a school friend: ”Always look as if you’re having a wonderful time!” Virtue consisted above all in keeping up appearances.

Dying of breast cancer, she told her friends she had the flu. In this era of 12-step talk shows and secrets for sale, her reticence is at first glance dignified and striking. But as the discrepancy between her performance and her experience becomes apparent, we see the sacrifice her dissembling required and the toll it took, as well. Her actions and reactions were dictated by an image of herself, and, even among those closest to her, she insisted on it — in the name of duty or honor, at the expense of the truth. Would that we could regard her stoicism as heroic. Holly Brubach is the style editor of The New York Times Magazine.

Révolution Française:  Dominique de Villepin announces bid for 2012 French presidency

Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin on Sunday night announced that he will stand for the presidency in next year’s election.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's Gaullist arch rival, Dominique de Villepin, outlined his political manifesto on Thursday ahead of his expected run for the French presidency.

Mr Villepin is best remembered on the international stage for his 2003 speech at the United Nations arguing against the US-led invasion of Iraq Photo: AFP

By Devorah Lauter in Paris

The conservative long-time rival of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has not yet formally announced his expected re-election bid, made the announcement during an interview on France’s TF1 television channel.

Mr Villepin said he planned to defend, “a certain vision of France,” that includes less dependence on market speculation.

“I worry, that I see France is being humiliated by the law of the markets, this law that imposes austerity,” he said, adding that he “wants to unite all the French, those on the left, the right, the centre.”

His announcement was a surprise blow to Mr Sarkozy, and his UMP Party, who had hoped Mr Villepin would rally behind them in what is already expected to be a tough race for the French president. Mr Sarkozy’s popularity ratings are low, despite having risen in recent weeks. A Journal du Dimanche poll last month showed 34 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the president.

Mr Villepin said he had no intention of an alliance with Sarkozy, his long time political opponent, explaining that the two had met recently in order to smooth over past differences, but not to forge political ties.

“I’ve put the grudges aside. What interests me are the interests of France,” said Mr Villepin.

French commentators were quick to express their “surprise” after hearing the announcement, because Villepin has been attributed with only 1 per cent or 2 per cent of voting intentions in the first round of elections scheduled for April, 2012. He has also lost several key members of his République Solidaire right-leaning party, to the Sarkozy camp.

“We had the impression Villepin was finished, in a way,” said Frédérique Delpech, political reporter for LCI French television.

Mr Villepin’s name has also been linked to a recent corruption scandal under investigation, involving the Relais & Chateaux hotel and restaurant group. Mr Villepin has denied any knowledge of the group’s alleged embezzlement of 1.6 million euros (£1.4 million) pocketed from sales of its guidebooks.

Jean-Pierre Grand, president of Mr Villepin’s République Solidaire party, said there was no reason to be surprised by the announcement. Speaking on French LCI television, he said, “I suggest you follow him on the streets, and see how the French talk to him, you’ll see. He’s not alone.”

 FDI – MYANMAR

Srithai Superware Plc, the world’s leading melamine producer, is looking to Myanmar as a production base in the near future.

President Sanan Ungubolkul will visit the country soon to look for potential locations to set up a new factory.

Srithai has about 700 workers from Myanmar at its factory in Thailand and operates its SNatur direct-sales business in Myanmar, achieving a positive response. It plans to set up a branch office for direct sales in that country this year.

Mr Sanan said if the company does build a new plant in Myanmar, it will invest 50 million baht and use it as a production base for exports.

Srithai exports melamine products to over 100 countries.

“We can’t expand our production capacity in Thailand due to the labour shortage and higher wages. Myanmar and Vietnam are alternative bases,” said Mr Sanan.

The planned hike in the daily minimum wage means Srithai plans to raise its product prices in April.

The embargo on Iranian oil has driven up oil prices and thus costs, another factor in the company’s decision.

Apart from Myanmar, the company will spend almost 300 million baht to produce closure products at its factory in Vietnam.

Registered capital of Srithai Vietnam will go up to 335 million baht this year from 270 million.

The closure products will serve a giant soft drink firm in Vietnam as part of a three-year contract. The first delivery will start in August.

This will push sales in Vietnam this year to 540 million baht, up from 340 million last year, before rising to 600 million in 2013.

In Thailand, the firm is poised to spend one billion baht on investment this year.

Some 100 million baht will be used to expand its melamine business at its factory in Nakhon Ratchasima province, 600 million will be used for its plastic products and the remaining 300 million is for expanding its direct sales business and overseas investment.

For SNatur direct sales, it plans to expand to Cambodia and Indonesia before reaching 10 countries in a few years. Sales of SNatur are expected to reach 460 million baht this year, up from 353 million last year.

Srithai’s total sales this year are projected to reach 7.8 billon baht, up from 6.65 billion last year.

SITHAI shares closed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand at 8.70 baht, down 10 satang, in trade worth 1.23 million baht.

Historian Prof Charnvit Kasetsiri and his team will lead a trip to Myanmar from April 6-10.
The programme, “Myanmar & Ramanya Desa”, or Muang Mon Muang Man features a visit to remarkable temples and pagodas, including Shwemawdaw in Pegu, Shwedagon in Yangon, Shwezigon in Pagan and Maha Muni or Rakhine Pagoda in Mandalay.

Other sites to be covered in the programme are Gubyaukkyi Temple, which is well known for the reclining Buddha; Kuthodaw Pagoda, which houses tripitaka engraved on 279 slabs of marble; old markets, and other attractions.

The fee is 38,500 baht (twin sharing), with an additional 5,500 baht for a single room. Part of the proceeds will go to the Art and Culture Fund of Thammasat University’s Southeast Asian Studies Programme.
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Call 02-424-5768, 02-433-8713, 089-457-8657 or email: kitsunee_tai@yahoo.com for reservations.

Sea Tribunal Ruling: Bangladesh’s Gain, Burma’s Paying


By WILLIAM BOOT / THE IRRAWADDY magazine

Burma’s silence in response to a UN tribunal ruling on the decades-old sea territories dispute with Bangladesh perhaps underlines the fact that the country has lost out on what could be a rich vein of natural gas.

Exploration licenses awarded by the state Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) in 2008 to companies from China and South Korea will now have to be abandoned because the beneath-the-sea territory they were licensed to exploit has been awarded to Bangladesh.

It means ConocoPhillips Inc of the United States and not Daewoo International Corporation of South Korea can now legally drill for gas off the south coast of St Martin’s Island, which is only 20 km or so from the mainland where the Naaf River flowing into the bay forms the land border between the two countries.

The island is about 70 km south of Cox’s Bazar.

Daewoo was at the center of a naval confrontation between the two countries in November 2008 which finally led to the dispute going before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, Germany.

The South Koreans, under Burmese navy guard, went ahead with an expensive drilling operation in the area designated Block AD-7 by MOGE, but they were forced to withdraw after Bangladesh sent its navy to challenge the work.

The sovereignty of St. Martin’s, a coral island that is home to several dozen fishing families, has never been in doubt. It belongs to Bangladesh. But the two countries have long argued over ownership of the seas around it.

In its arbitration on March 14, the ITLOS extended Bangladesh’s sea territorial boundary south of the island in what it termed a delimiting judgment in line with standard offshore rights.

This and other adjustments mean that Bangladesh has acquired about 4,000 square kilometers more sea territory that it had before.

“The tribunal said it had reached a compromise but the fact is that Bangladesh gains access to potentially rich gas stock,” Bangkok energy industries consultant Collin Reynolds told The Irrawaddy on March 17.

“The Burmese energy authority [MOGE] had awarded exploration licenses to Daewoo and Kogas, another Korean operator, and other firms for zones now legally established as Bangladeshi territory. It extends the area which ConocoPhillips had been licensed by Bangladesh to explore.

“What this [tribunal] ruling does achieve, however, is stability through legal certainties which will benefit both countries because there will be no hesitation now by reputable big oil and gas companies to take on new exploration licenses. The territorial dispute had deterred a number of potential investors because of the uncertainty of ownership and legality.

“Burma can count itself lucky in so far as this ruling plus the political reforms at home will make the country much more attractive to investors keen to search for offshore oil and gas in the Bay.”

A pointer to that potential is the rich vein of gas already found and about to be tapped in Burma’s Shwe field, which is only a few kilometers south of the new international boundary. Several more blocks of the Shwe field inside Burmese territorial waters have still to be explored.

Just two blocks of the Shwe field, being developed by Daewoo and two Indian state-owned partners, GAIL Limited and onGC Videsh, have confirmed gas reserves of at least 200 billion cubic meters. Most of this gas is to be exported to China via a new pipeline being built in a controversial deal made in secret by the former military regime. Its value to Burma’s state coffers remains unknown.

Meanwhile, Singapore energy firm MPRL disclosed last week that it has begun drilling in the A-6 Block in Burmese waters of the Bay about 200 km south of the Shwe field. MPRL is a consortium of private investors, including the US firm Baker Hughes Solutions Inc, in partnership with MOGE.

ConocoPhillips is now expected to be awarded extra territory around St. Martin’s Island by Bangladesh’s state-owned oil firm PetroBangla as a result of the tribunal ruling, said the international energy magazine Platts. In addition, two or three new deep-water exploration sites could be offered in the April licensing round.

The Bangladeshi Energy Ministry has ruled that any gas or oil found by ConocoPhillips must not be exported, said Platts.

Bangladesh’s main energy source is gas but limited supplies have caused severe power shortages which have seriously damaged the country’s garment manufacturing industry.

Burma similarly suffers from an inadequate electricity supply, despite being rich in energy resources.

Burma’s Radio Myanmar said briefly last week that the Burmese government accepted the UN tribunal’s ruling but the authorities have otherwise remained silent—unlike Bangladesh, which has trumpeted what it sees as a triumph.

The tribunal ruling is binding and there is no opportunity for appeal.

“We see this [ruling] as cause for great satisfaction,” said German Foreign Minister of State Cornelia Pieper, whose country hosted the tribunal. “Disputes over maritime boundaries can cause perennial strain in relations between neighboring countries. The compromise found yesterday gives both countries legal certainty.”

The final settlement of the long-running maritime dispute comes as reports are emerging of a major relaxation of laws controlling foreign investment in Burma which, if correct, would make it much more attractive than at present for potential offshore oil and gas explorers.

New foreign investment regulations tipped to go before Parliament before the end of this month would permit 100 percent foreign ownership of a project, a five year tax-free period, and a promise of no nationalization, the New York Times and Reuters reported.

“The draft law goes some way to reassuring investors worried about a reversal of the reforms and the possible seizure of assets,” says the Oslo-based energy magazine Upstream. “Western companies shied away from the largest Burmese [oil and gas licensing] exploration round in years last November.”

What many observers are waiting to see, however, is whether Burma’s government will introduce rules ensuring that a large proportion, if not all, of new oil and gas discoveries remain inside the country rather than being sold abroad as at present.

Gas, Energy Engineering – for the future of Burm

Reference News24

Qatar to convert gas to liquid fuel

Doha – Qatar has made a fortune on liquefied natural gas exports along with heavyweights ExxonMobil, Shell and Total, but the emirate is now setting its sights on diversifying investments by converting gas fuels.

State-owned Qatar Petroleum and Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell aim to complete in 2012 the Pearl gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant at Ras Laffan Industrial City, north of the capital Doha.

The plant – the world’s largest facility of its kind which has taken up to 52 000 people to build – delivered its first cargo of synthetic fuels in June.

Pearl will help Qatar make use of its abundance of gas reserves to produce a resource more scarce in the Gulf state – oil.

The process is expensive and a high-CO2 emitter, however, as it consumes around 40% of the gas to achieve liquid form.

Gas reserves

But Shell has shown confidence in the method, which was developed in the US, and has not hesitated to invest billions of dollars in the project.

“Over the last five years, Shell has invested almost $20bn in Qatar,” said Shell chief executive Peter Voser.

“It is a reflection of this nation’s business climate that we feel confident to make such a large commitment,” he said in Doha at the World Petroleum Congress, a forum for energy ministers and oil company executives.

This year the event is being hosted for the first time in the region which sits on 50% of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves.

Paradoxically, it is being held in the tiny emirate of Qatar which is home to an estimated 750 000 inhabitants – most of them foreigners.

Qatar has grown rapidly over the past few years as dozens of skyscrapers have risen in the Gulf state thanks to its gas reserves – the third-largest in the world after Iran and Russia.

In the 1990s, Qatar opened the door to American energy giant ExxonMobil – which has the lion’s share among international companies.

French counterpart Total also operates in the country, in addition to Shell and ConocoPhillips.

Agreements

Qatar, a member of oil cartel Opec, in 2010 celebrated raising its production capacity for LNG to 77 million tons annually, boosting its position as the world’s largest producer.

The Gulf emirate is, however, looking to diversify its resources with the US turning to shale gas after it stopped importing LNG.

The US is also considering exporting the gas trapped in underground rocks. Australia is also taking similar steps to serve Asian markets.

State-owned Qatar Petroleum and Shell on Sunday signed an agreement to build a petrochemical complex in the Gulf state valued at $6.4bn.

The scope under consideration includes a world-scale steam cracker, with feedstock coming from natural gas projects in Qatar, in addition to a mono-ethylene glycol plant of up to 1.5 million tons per annum, 300 kilotons per annum of linear alpha olefins, and another olefin derivative, a joint statement said.

LNG revenues will pave the way for Qatar to become a major player in international financial, an aim proved by the Gulf state’s shares in European giants such as Barclays Bank, Germany’s Volkswagen, and Spain’s Iberdrola.
AFP

Read more on:      |  environment
Clinton launches child HIV drugs

Bill Clinton (centre) meets a HIV-positive child in Delhi
Bill Clinton met some of India’s child sufferers of HIV/Aids

A foundation headed by Bill Clinton has negotiated a deal to make HIV/Aids treatment cheaper for children, the former US president has announced.Mr Clinton outlined the deal in a speech at a children’s hospital in the Indian capital, Delhi.

Under the deal, two Indian companies will supply 19 antiretroviral drugs and their cost will be reduced by 45%, a statement by the foundation says.

More than 40m people worldwide are infected with HIV/Aids, the UN says.

The cheap drugs, according to the statement, will be available in 62 developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin American and the Caribbean.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I highly appreciate the efforts made by Bill Clinton and also Bill Gate to tackle the HIV/Aids epidemic
Sunita Mishra

One of the drugs, made by leading Indian pharmaceutical companies, Cipla and Ranbaxy, is described as a “new child-friendly product” and will cost less than $60 per year per child.

The international drug-buying facility, Unitaid, set up by France, Brazil, Chile, Norway and the UK, is subsidising the programme by $35m, the Clinton Foundation says.

‘Left behind’

“Though the world has made progress in expanding HIV/Aids treatment to adults, children have been left behind. Only one in 10 children who needs treatment is getting it,” Mr Clinton said in his speech at the Delhi hospital.

He was there to launch the federal government’s national programme to treat children with HIV.

The programme aims to increase the number of children on treatment in India from less than 2,000 in September to 10,000 by the end of March by making paediatric care available at all centres treating adults, the statement by the foundation says.

More than five million Indians are infected with HIV and the UN says India now has more people with the virus than any other country in the world.

The Clinton Foundation, set up in 2002, aims to provide technical and financial help to poorer countries struggling to stop the spread of HIV/Aids.

  36 Hours in Vientiane, Laos

David Hagerman for The New York Times

The Patuxai arch, where visitors climb five flights for a panoramic view of the city.  »

By NAOMI LINDT
NESTLED in a curve of the Mekong River, Vientiane, Laos, is a place where monks in orange robes outnumber tourists, and French colonial roofs and gilded temples form the skyline. Along the dusty streets of the capital of Laos, you’re more likely to spot a polished Volkswagen bug puttering along than a traffic jam. And in the town center, butterflies and birds flutter among the frangipanis. But with the recent introduction of more international flights, several ambitious infrastructural and commercial projects, and an increasingly cosmopolitan restaurant and cafe scene, Vientiane is quickly changing. Now is the time to explore the city’s small-town charms before it joins the modern world.

Friday

5 p.m.
1. BREW AND VIEW

Come dusk, you’ll find Vientiane’s residents flocking to the new Chao Anouvong Park, a 35-acre expanse of grass and concrete that lines the Mekong River. You can join those engaged in brisk walks and tai chi, or follow the mellower crowd: harem-pants-wearing, jewelry-laden backpackers mesmerized by the sunset and cheap cans of the delicious national brew, Beerlao, that are served at outdoor stalls. For a classier tipple, the Spirit House (09/093 Fa Ngum Road; 856-21-243-795; thespirithouselaos.com) mixes julep-strained gin martinis — stirred and made with a julep strainer — and pomelo Collinses (from 30,000 Lao kip, or $3.88 at 7,724 kip to the dollar) in a breezy Buddhism-inspired house with Mekong River views.

7:30 p.m.
2. FEEL-GOOD FOOD

Not only are the modern renditions of Laos cuisine at Makphet (Behind Wat Ong Teu; 856-21-260-587; friends-international.org) addictive, but proceeds at the vocational training restaurant, run by Friends-International, a nongovernmental organization, support programs for disadvantaged youth. In a cheerful brick-and-wood space with paintings by students hanging on the walls, tourists and development workers share dishes like Ancient Fish (75,000 kip), deep-fried local river fish topped with lemon grass, tamarind and shredded green mango; and a banana flower salad (50,000 kip) accompanied by garlicky grilled pork and sesame seeds. Don’t skip the sesame and peanut-encrusted dumplings with hibiscus syrup (35,000 kip) for dessert.

9:30 p.m.
3. TEN-PIN PARTY

Vientiane might appear to be snoozing after dinner, but things are in full swing at the Lao Bowling Center (Khounboulom Road; 856-21-218-661; 12,000 kip per game), which stays open till the wee hours on weekends. The lanes are warped, the balls dented and the pinsetters have a mind of their own, but the atmosphere can’t be beat. Enthusiastic locals applaud when any pins are knocked over, no matter if they tumble across the foul line during the approach. The young women in silk sinh, or wrapped sarongs, are particularly impressive while downing cans of Beerlao and outplaying their boyfriends.

Saturday

9 a.m.
4. STYLISH TRADITIONS

Spend the morning admiring Laos’s wealth of handmade products. An essential first stop is American Carol Cassidy’s Lao Textiles (84-86 Nokeokoummane Street; 856-21-212-123; laotextiles.com) which stocks gorgeous brocade and ikat pieces. Wander the grounds and watch the team of 50 weavers work their magic. T’Shop Laï Gallery (Vat Inpeng Street; 856-21-223-178; laococo.com/tshoplai.htm), a French-run, retro-apothecary-meets-home-décor shop, is a haven for local goods, with trays made of flecked, dark coconut palm wood and massage oils, soaps, and shampoos crafted from Kaffir lime and white tea. At fair-trade Camacrafts (Nokeokoummane Street, 856-21-241-217; camacrafts.org), you’ll find brightly embroidered travel wallets and batiked satchels and place mats made by the ethnic Hmong people.

12:30 p.m.
5. ZEN APPEAL

Vientiane’s culinary scene is surprisingly international, with options that include Italian, Indian, Tex-Mex and Korean. There are also several Japanese spots, the best of which is homey YuLaLa Cafe (Hengboun Street; 856-20-5510-4050), run by a young couple from Kyoto, Hisaya and Aya Okada, who play Bach and Bob Dylan while cooking Japanese-inspired healthy treats. Diners sit on floor cushions sampling dishes like pork cutlets topped with sautéed shiitake and enoki mushrooms (48,000 kip) and a minced white radish and green-onion-and-soy-marinated chicken salad (42,000 kip).

2 p.m.
6. A DIFFICULT LEGACY

Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped over two million tons of ordnance over Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. About a third of the bombs failed to detonate and continue to add to the more than 50,000 casualties that have occurred in the last 50 years. Learn about efforts to provide victims with medical assistance at the new visitor center run by local Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, or COPE, where documentaries, art installations and interactive exhibits tell the troubling story of unexploded ordnance in Laos (Khouvieng Road; 856-21-218-427; copelaos.org).

4 p.m.
7. COFFEE TALK

Take advantage of Vientiane’s many chilled-out cafes, which rely on the coffee beans grown in Laos’s highlands. Pair a fair-trade, organic blend with a decadent pastry at the expat- and art-filled Joma Bakery Café (Setthathirat Street; 856-21-254-333; joma.biz). At Le Banneton (Nokeokoummane Road; 856-21-217-321), lattes and cappuccinos brewed from organic robusta beans are served with croissants in a French colonial-themed setting, while Zen-like Little House (Manthatourat Road; 856-20-5540-6036) roasts its own beans and sells pretty textiles.

5:30 p.m.
8. ROUGH AND READY

Tucked away in a residential area behind the Hotel Beau Rivage Mekong, Papaya Spa (west of town, across from Wat Xieng Veh; 856-20-216-550; papayaspa.com) is the capital’s best spot for a rejuvenating rubdown, Lao-style. In treatment rooms scattered around a garden filled with birds of paradise, frangipani and papaya trees, masseuses deliver an intense blend of stretching and pressure point therapy (140,000 kip, one hour).

8 p.m.
9. FRENCH FANFARE

The French left more than a half-century ago, but their legacy remains in the city’s stellar cuisine. An intriguing newcomer is the casual chic bistro L’Adresse de Tinay (behind Wat Ong Teu; 856-20-5691-3434), run by a Lao-French couple Tinay and Delphine Inthavong, where the seasonal menu might include goat’s cheese rolls with sun-dried tomatoes and cherry confiture (71,000 kip) or Grandma Lydie’s Special, duck confit served over a white bean and sausage cassoulet (130,000 kip). In a cozy, candlelit dining room at Le Silapa (17 Sihom Road; 856-21-219-689) a French-Canadian chef creates decadent dishes like terrine of foie gras with Laphroaig-perfumed minced mushrooms (170,000 kip) and Australian lamb paired with goat’s cheese and rosemary (160,000 kip).

10 p.m.
10. CREATIVE DRINKING

At Jazzy Brick (Setthathirat Street; 856-20-771-1138), popular among the city’s elite, the bar has an Old World feel with Moulin Rouge posters, leather and rattan bar stools, jazz and big-band tunes playing in the background, and a selection of cocktails (from 40,000 kip) and French digestifs (from 65,000 kip). Loft Lounge Bar (26 Khounboulom Road; 856-21-242-991) and its cozy couches are the city’s best spot to share a bottle of French wine with a D.J. spinning ambient tunes.

Sunday

8:30 a.m.
11. CRUISE, CRUISE, CRUISE

Explore Vientiane’s quiet lanes by bicycle, which can be rented around town for about $5 a day. Start by heading southeast on Setthathirat Street, with its regal colonial villas, before turning left on Lanexang Avenue, which leads to Patuxai arch, Vientiane’s somewhat shoddy version of the Arc de Triomphe. Climb the five flights to the top floor for a panoramic view of the city. Continue about two miles northeast on 23 Singha Road to Pha That Luang, a giant stupa lined in gold. Walk around it three times to stay in Buddha’s good graces, before looping back to tranquil, crumbling 190-year-old Wat Sisaket (corner of Lanexang and Setthathirat), one of the few temples to survive the Siamese razing of the city in 1828.

11:30 a.m.
12. TROPICAL BRUNCH

On a quiet lane, Kung’s Café Lao (Phiawat Village, across from the Ministry of Health; 856-21-219-101) is an iconic Vientiane experience. It’s hard to know what to love most about the place — the potent Lao coffee, best enjoyed with condensed milk and ice (7,000 kip); the sticky rice pancakes topped with fresh mango (12,000 kip); the Muzak-, plant- and basket-filled courtyard; or the family who runs the place and its eloquent patriarch, 70-year-old J. B., and his fantastic tales about the changing face of Vientiane through the decades.

IF YOU GO

The colonial-chic Ansara Hotel (Quai Fa Ngum; 856-21-213-514/8; ansarahotel.com) has 14 rooms with rosewood floors, rattan furniture and private balconies facing a tropical garden. Doubles from $125.

Family-run Hôtel Khamvongsa (Khun Bu Lom Road; 856-21-223-257; hotelkhamvongsa.com), with 26 atmospheric rooms, is a Vientiane gem. The antiques-filled sunny breakfast area is a lovely spot to begin the day. Starting at $35, rooms, with four-poster beds, are a steal.

People, Politics, National Patriotism

First Lady Biography: Pat Nixon

THELMA CATHERINE “PAT” RYAN NIXON

Born:  
Ely, Nevada
16 March, 1912

*Although she was born as Thelma Catherine Ryan Nixon, she assumed the name of “Patricia,” or “Pat” upon the death of her father; of Irish parentage, he had first called her “St. Patrick’s babe in the morn,” because she was born at night, just hours before St. Patrick’s Day

Father:
William Ryan, Sr., born 1866, Ridgefield, Connecticut, sailor, miner, truck farmer; died May 1930, Artesia, California

Mother:
Katherine “Kate” Halberstadt, born 1879, Essen County, near Frankfurt, Germany, Germany; married secondly to Will Ryan, 1909; died, 18 January, 1926, Artesia, California

Kate Halberstadt‘s first husband Matthew Bender Jr. was born in Chicago, Cook County IL in 1874 to parents Matthew Bender and Walgura Hoffman.  He drowned  in a flash flood in South Dakota.  He is buried in the South Lead Cemetery in South Dakota.   His son Matthew (mother was Kate) was raised by his Bender grandparents after that incident.   Matthew and Walburga and family then moved to Los Angeles arou 1904-1905.

Ancestry:
Irish, German; Pat Nixon’s mother immigrated from the Ober Rosbach region of Germany; her father was Irish and his parents immigrated to the U.S. from County Mayo, Ireland, date unknown

Birth Order and Siblings:
One half-brother, one half-sister; [half-brother] Matthew Bender (1907 – ?); [half-sister] Neva Bender Ryan Renter (1909 – ?); William “Bill” Ryan, Jr. (1910-1997), Thomas Ryan (1911-1992)

Physical Appearance:
5′ 5 1/2″ height, sandy blonde hair, hazel eyes

Religious Affiliation:
Father was Roman Catholic, mother affiliated with Christian Scientist, husband was Quaker, the faith in which she married, but Pat Nixon was not formally affiliated with a sect

Education:
Pioneer Boulevard Grammar School, 1918 – 1925, Artesia (now Cerritos), California, while in grammar school, Pat Ryan was an oration on the political merits of Progressive Party leader Robert LaFollette; Excelsior High School, 1925 – 1929,Norwalk, California, a member of the drama club, playing the leads in The Romantic Age and The Rise of Silas Lapham and the Filibuster Club debating team, also involved in student government, elected as secretary of the student body in her junior and senior years; Woodbury College, Orange County, California, summer 1929, Pat Ryan took a night course in shorthand;  Fullerton Junior College, Fullerton, California, 1931 – 1932, performed in Broken Dishes as the lead; Columbia University New York, New York, summer 1933 – took a course in radiology; University of Southern California, 1934 -1937, education and student training classes, B.S. Merchandising, with a certificate to teach at the high school level which USC gave the equivalence of a Master’s degree.

With superior grades, Pat Ryan Nixon skipped the second grade; she graduated cum laude from University of Southern California
 
*Pat Nixon was the first First Lady to earn a graduate degree

Occupation before Marriage:
Few, if any First Ladies worked as consistently before their marriage as did Pat Nixon. She was only one year old when her parents relocated to the dairy and farming community of Artesia, California (about 12 miles southwest of Los Angeles) and purchased a ten and a half acre “truck farm” where they grew produce that was then sold from the back of the Ryan family truck in larger nearby towns and cities. From an early age she joined the rest of her family in planting and harvesting peppers, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes, corn, and barley. When her mother became debilitated with a liver ailment and cancer (1924-1925), Pat Ryan Nixon assumed the household chores of cooking, cleaning and laundering for her brothers and father, as well as the seasonal farm workers that were hired for the farm, in addition to her farming responsibilities. When her father began to fail because of his terminal tuberculosis (1929-1930), she continued with the household chores, farm chores and to meet his medical bills, also took a job at the farmers and dairymen Artesia First National Bank, rising early to clean the floors as a janitor, then returning after high school to work as a bookkeeper.

In 1932, Pat Ryan drove an elderly couple across the country, a return bus ticket to California being her recompense. At Seton Hospital for the Tubercular run by the Catholic Sisters of Charity, Pat Ryan worked in a capacity of jobs, including x-ray technician, pharmacy manager, typist, laboratory assistant, and lived with the nuns at the hospital (1932-1934).

Admitted to USC on a research scholarship that covered her $240 tuition and living expenses, Pat Ryan worked for a psychology professor, helping to grade student papers and doing research for a book on orientation he was writing. Requiring further income, she also worked as assistant in the office of the university’s vice president, cafeteria waitress, librarian, preparing graduate survey questionnaires, testing beauty products in salons, movie extra and assistant buyer at Bullock’s Wilshire Department Store. She worked an average of 40 hours a week, beyond her classes. (1934-1937)

Hired as a teacher at Whittier Union High School, she taught commercial classes in typing, bookkeeping, business principles, stenography and adult night classes in typing. She served as faculty advisor to the “Pep” Committee, which organized social outings for students, helped organize student rallies, attended all high school sports events and every PTA meeting, and served as director for school plays. She earned an annual salary of $1,800.00 and continued to work as a teacher a year after she married. (1937-1941)

Marriage:
21 June, 1940 at Mission Inn, Riverside, California to Richard Milhous Nixon (born 13 January 1913, Yorba Linda, California, lawyer, died 23 April, 1994, New York, New York); they had met while both were performing in a production of The Dark Tower staged by the Whittier Community Players, a local theater group; after a honeymoon to Laredo and Mexico City, Mexico, they settled in an apartment in Whittier.

Children:
Two daughters; Patricia “Tricia” Nixon Cox (born 21 February 1946); Julie Nixon Eisenhower (born 25 July 1948)

*On 22 December 1968, Julie Nixon married David Eisenhower, the grandson of President Dwight Eisenhower, under whom her father had served as Vice President from 1953 to 1961.

Occupation after Marriage:
With World War II, Nixon worked as an attorney in the Office of Emergency Management in Washington, D.C. while Pat Nixon worked as clerk for the Red Cross. Nixon volunteered for and was commissioned as a naval lieutenant (junior grade) and received his first active duty assignment to Ottumwa, Iowa, while Pat Nixon worked in a bank there. When Nixon was assigned to duty in the South Pacific, she moved to San Francisco, California, where she worked as an economist for the Office of Price Administration.

In 1946 Nixon won a seat in the U.S. Congress; four years later he was elected to the U.S. Senate and two years after that, in 1952 he was elected Vice President of the United States under Dwight D. Eisenhower and both were re-elected in 1956. Although she later declared that politics was not a life she would have chosen for herself, Pat Nixon had already taken an interest in politics. Although she had voted for Independent and Democratic candidates, she had not committed to a political party until she declared herself a Republican, in line with Nixon’s affiliation. During his first campaign, she researched stacks of congressional records to familiarize herself with the record of his opponent, incumbent Jerry Voorhis; wrote and edited campaign literature, typed and printed, and then hand-distributed them. Throughout the nine national political campaigns of Nixon’s career, Pat Nixon played a vital, albeit subtle role. She often attended or reviewed the speeches of his opponents and took shorthand transcriptions of their exact words. She never held back her criticism of his speeches. She could appear tireless in daily rounds of public appearances whether they were outdoor rallies or fundraising dinners or teas with Republican women, focusing on one individual after another with an animation that humanized the candidate. She even began to give informal speeches. She did not like the world of politics, however, particularly the level of viciousness it tended to draw and the intrusion it caused in her family’s private life. On the other hand, she was steadfastly loyal to Nixon: when press reports of an alleged secret fund broke after his vice presidential nomination, it was Pat Nixon who advised him to ignore the advice to step aside and instead to fight the charges. He did so in a famous televised “Checkers Speech” (in reference to the name of the dog given as a gift to his daughters) with Pat Nixon on screen, and made reference to her fighting Irish spirit, her respectable “cloth” coat and the fact that she wasn’t on his Senate payroll as many other such spouses were.

As the wife of the Vice President for eight years, Pat Nixon assumed numerous roles, besides raising her two young daughters through adolescence. She often substituted at events for First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. She accompanied her husband to 53 countries around the world, and while she couldn’t avoid formal events she minimized luncheons and teas during her daily public schedule to instead visit hospitals, schools, orphanages, senior citizen homes, and even a leper colony in Panama. She was so effective a goodwill ambassador that President Eisenhower always sent the Nixons as a team to foreign nations. Pat Nixon continued to work behind the scenes as well, drafting the Vice President’s public correspondence, organizing his schedule and editing his speeches. She also had strong political views; she personally mistrusted Senator Joseph McCarthy, for example, although she believed that his investigation into State Department employees who might be communist sympathizers was warranted. Although she viewed the vice presidency as a dead end political post, she also successfully urged Nixon to fight those Republicans who sought to remove him from the 1956 ticket. In an era of world travel and the increasing influence of television in the American culture, Pat Nixon helped to create the public role of “Second Lady” from being merely a Vice President’s wife.

After Nixon barely lost the 1960 election (see below) and ran unsuccessfully for the Governorship of California in 1962, against Pat Nixon’s personal wishes and political advice, the Nixons moved to New York City. There he practiced law, and Pat Nixon sometimes volunteered as an administrative assistant in his office.

Presidential Campaign and Inauguration:
Vice President Nixon’s 1960 race for the presidency drew upon Pat Nixon’s public recognition. An entire ad campaign was built around the slogan of “Pat For First Lady,” a message carried on buttons, bumper stickers and antenna, all marketed to the demographic of housewives – like Pat Nixon – who were heavily courted by the Republican Party during the 1950’s. She also publicly advocated that women should become more involved in the political process as volunteers for their parties. The press briefly attempted to create a “race” for First Lady between her and the Democratic candidate’s wife Jacqueline Kennedy based on their clothing costs and styles.

The razor-thin loss for her husband and the disputed win by Kennedy permanently dimmed Pat Nixon’s view of politics. Thus she was less eager when Nixon ran again in 1968. Her responses to the media were more rote and controlled as a means of protecting her privacy. Her role in the President’s re-election campaign was more enthused as she made thousands of appearances on her own by jet plane, often flying from one corner of the nation to the other in a day. She addressed controversial and substantive questions when the press posed them to her.

In 1972, Pat Nixon became the first Republican First Lady to address the national convention that was nominating her husband for the presidency. Her efforts in the 1972 campaign became something of a formula copied by future candidates’ spouses.

Pat Nixon did not alter either any elements of the 1969 or the 1973 Inaugurations of her husband. Reflecting the sense of liberation for women at the time, however, she broke what was at least a 108 year custom when she appeared at both swearing-in ceremonies without wearing a hat.

First Lady:
20 January 1969 – 9 August, 1974

If the public expects a First Lady to reflect the “average” American woman, Pat Nixon faced a challenge when she assumed the post in 1969 – a time when the role of women in American society was being dramatically redefined in both perception and reality. Pat Nixon became the first incumbent First Lady to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment. She was the first to disclose publicly her pro-choice view on abortion in reaction to questions on the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. Before she even began unrelentingly to lobby her husband to name a woman to the Supreme Court, she called for such an appointment publicly. She even became the first First Lady to appear publicly in pants and model them for a national magazine, reflecting the radical change in women’s attire that critics derided as masculine. Still, Pat Nixon valued her identity as a middle-class homemaker, supportive wife and devoted mother and was often depicted as the quintessential traditionalist in relief to the popular persona of the “liberated woman.”

Recalling her own first contact with the Franklin Roosevelts, Pat Nixon understood how the average citizen and “common man” appreciated a gesture of support for them or their local efforts. She made a conscious effort to emphasize the value of the individual American, an effort that the media often overlooked because of larger, national priorities or derided in an age when previously-held values were being questioned. Her most tangible and immediate response to the individual was through management of her own correspondence. She instructed her correspondence director to send her several hundred of the letters sent weekly by the public to the First Lady, and she spent up to five hours a day either dictating or hand-writing her responses. If a person wrote her requesting federal assistance of some kind, she not only directed the letter to the proper agency but responded through her own office staff, making it function much as a congressional office did in meeting the needs of its constituency.

On February 18, 1969, she announced that she would encourage a “national recruitment program” to enlist thousands of volunteers to carry out a wide variety of community services. Her initial domestic solo mission was to inspect ten “Vest Pockets of Volunteerism” programs that addressed pressing social problems that fell outside of purview of legislation. Touring what she called the “small, splendid efforts” in local towns and villages brought national press attention to the programs. Often the First Lady and her staff scanned newspapers for such efforts and sent unsolicited commendations letters, which were usually printed in local newspapers. She also honored such organizations that had formed to respond to a local problem with a White House reception. Pat Nixon became closely aligned with the partially-federally-funded National Center for Voluntary Action, attending their annual award ceremonies, conferring with its leaders at the Washington headquarters and joining a briefing on the center’s objectives. She advocated passage of the Domestic Services Volunteer Act of 1970, although she did not testify before Congress on its behalf.

Pat Nixon also used her role to make tangible the Administration’s domestic agenda by “going into the field” and inspecting public works projects that illustrated issues that the President was simultaneously addressing. When Nixon attended a Chicago environmental meeting, she spent the day visiting a land reclamation center, an example of thermal pollution, and several conservation projects in that city. While in Denver to meet with law enforcement officials, she was there to visit a rehabilitation center for juvenile delinquents. Pat Nixon also sponsored a program known as “Legacy of the Parks,” which turned federally developed, protected and maintained lands over for community recreation; she transferred some 50,000 acres of such federal lands over to state and local control. She had personally pushed to establish new recreational areas in or near big cities for those who could not afford to visit distant national parks.

In line with the Administration’s public health and education initiatives, Pat Nixon was a member of the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, and honorary chair of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s “Right to Read” program. Finally, she also initiated efforts in her own community, of Washington, D.C. such as the “Evenings in the Park,” a series of local summer concerts for inner-city youths, hosting one program on the White House lawn, and attending another on the Washington Monument grounds, amid a large number of anti-war and “Black Power” protesters at a simultaneous rally there. Pat Nixon also visited several local day camps for underprivileged children that the private sector supported, and took groups of the children on afternoon voyages on the presidential yacht. For groups of local, disadvantaged children she hosted the first annual Halloween parties in the mansion.

She carried her theme of honoring the “common man” with several efforts to make the White House itself more accessible to those with special needs who had previously been ignored. In the spring and the autumn, Pat Nixon made the gardens and grounds of the Executive Mansion accessible to the public for the first time in nearly a century, hosting seasonal tours there. For the working-class families unable to tour the mansion during the daytime hours, she opened the White House at the holiday season for evening “Candlelight Tours” to see the annual decorations. For visually, hearing and physically impaired people, she created special tours that gave them full access to the rooms and the history of the White House, also making it handicapped-accessible. For those tourists and visitors who did not speak or write English, Pat Nixon had brochures written, published and made available in a variety of languages, explaining the history of each of the White House rooms which they could carry with them as they walked through. To relieve the burden of those summer visitors who often had to wait in line for hours to get into the White House, she had a recorded history of the mansion placed at intervals along the fence in boxes.  For those shuffling through the long ground floor lobby, there were  illustrated panels and display cases placed along and against the walls.

She  made all the arrangements to have the White House lit by floodlights at night, as Washington’s other monuments were – so those driving by on Pennsylvania Avenue or flying into or out of the nearby National Airport could glimpse it clearly. She invited hundreds of average American families to nondenominational Sunday services in the East Room, mixing with Cabinet, Congressional and other Washington officials. As hostess, she instituted a “Evenings at the White House” series of performances by artists in varied American traditions–from opera to bluegrass to Broadway musical. For the White House itself, and thus for the American people, Pat Nixon also decided to accelerate the collection process of fine antiques as well as historically associative pieces, adding some 600 paintings and antiques to the White House Collection. It was the single greatest collecting during any Administration.

As recently discovered by the NFLL from a private collector, on 11 Oct 1971 Mrs. Nixon was the first incumbent First Lady to toss out a baseball for a major league team, being at game two of the 1971 World Series. She made the ceremonial ‘first pitch’ at Baltimore Memorial Stadium.

Pat Nixon held the record as the most world-traveled First Lady until Hillary Clinton and was given the unique diplomatic status of “Personal Representative of the President.” She made an important January 1972 trip on her own to Africa, visiting Liberia, Ghana and The Ivory Coast, not only touring those nations and meeting a cross-section of their societies as a goodwill ambassador, but also addressing their congresses and meeting with those nations’ leaders to discuss U.S. policy on Rhodesia and human rights issues in South Africa. In June 1970, Pat Nixon decided within a few short hours to fly to Peru and lead a major international humanitarian effort. She flew along with some ten tons of donated food, clothing and medical supplies gathered by volunteers and relief organizations that she had solicited for the Peruvian people, reeling from a devastating earthquake that took 80,000 lives and left another 80,000 homeless. The Peruvian Government gave Pat. Nixon the highest decoration their country can bestow, and the oldest decoration in the Americas – The Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun; she became the first North American woman to receive this award. One Lima newspaper declared that she had radically improved previously strained U.S.-Peruvian relations with the trip. In 1974 she made a triumphant visit to Venezuela to attend that nation’s new president’s inauguration; it was particularly gratifying in light of the fact that some twenty years earlier she and her husband, then Vice President, had been dangerously attacked by anti-American protestors in their car.

Pat Nixon also made news on those foreign trips she took along with the President. In Yugoslavia, she remarked that both its parliament and the U.S. Congress should have more women members among their representatives. She encouraged women to run for office and even stated that she would support a qualified woman candidate regardless of her political party affiliation. Famously, she toured the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China with the President during his historic 1972 trips to those communist nations and became a living symbol of the U.S. government. For example, while Nixon was in closed-door meetings most of the time with officials in China, the international media followed Pat Nixon in her bright red coat as she met with workers, students, dancers, farmers and others living everyday lives. Joining the President in his 1969 trip to South Vietnam, she became the first First Lady to visit a combat zone, flying just 18 miles from Saigon in an open helicopter and accompanied by Secret Service agents draped with bandoleers.

The Vietnam War dominated the first part of the Administration and Americans who either supported or opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam shadowed many of Pat Nixon’s public appearances. Pat Nixon stated that the actual servicemen who were in Vietnam or who had returned home from the war knew the situation better than anyone else at home; the statement seemed to underline the conflict many Americans felt about the Vietnam War, supporting the concept and the actual troops, if not the devastation of war itself. Vigorously supporting her husband’s running of the war and defense of freedom there and saying she would give her own life for the effort, she voiced her support of amnesty for those men who had left the U.S. to avoid the draft. She was also “appalled” at the killing of four antiwar protestors at Kent State University by Ohio National Guardsmen.

While she continued to feel a deep ambivalence about the cost of politics to her personal life, Pat Nixon enthusiastically supported the President’s run for a second term in 1972 because she hoped to see congressional action on his welfare reform, environmental and health care reform proposals. She regularly read and marked the Congressional Record, Administration issue papers, studies and reports. Pat Nixon attended the first Nixon Cabinet meeting and at least one domestic briefing given to presidential advisors. In private, she could often offer devastating and pointed critical advice to the President; she did not seek to unravel or resolve a specific political issue but rather to offer a strategic approach to problems he faced. She did not believe, for example, that it had been a wise decision to have the Vice President Spiro Agnew so bluntly attack the national media.

Pat Nixon first learned about the criminal actions that came to be cumulatively known as the Watergate scandal and soon come to engulf the Administration only from the media. She and her daughter had been specifically left uniformed by the President and his advisors of the details of their actions and decisions as they were in the midst of it all. When the First Lady first comprehended the potential damage that the secret tape recordings made by the President could create, she offered the unsolicited advice that he destroy them while they were still legally considered private property – advice he did not follow. While she fully believed her husband was innocent and telling the truth to the American people, she became deeply disturbed by how isolated he became within a small circle of advisors. She had never had a good working relationship with his Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, and his aide, John Ehrlichman, who had both, at times, sought to overrule decisions of Pat Nixon and her staff; she was relieved when they both resigned in the spring of 1973. When the threat of impeachment became real in late July of 1974, Pat Nixon advised her husband not to resign because of the blanket criminal indictment that might ensue, suggesting instead that he fight each individual article of impeachment. Once he decided to resign, however, she began packing their possessions and making the immediate arrangements for their return to California. He resigned on August 9, 1974.

Post-Presidential Life:
The immediate years following Nixon’s resignation and his and Pat Nixon’s return to their San Clemente, California estate “La Casa Pacifica” were difficult. Pat Nixon helped to maintain the former president through a series of traumas, ranging from legal wrangling resulting from his resignation to physical disability. In late 1974, he nearly died from phlebitis and other complications resulting from it, and then suffered through a depression.

In July 1976, Pat Nixon suffered a stroke, resulting in the temporary loss of speech and use of her left side. Through a rigorous physical therapy routine, she was able to rehabilitate full use of her motor and speaking skills, but her strength would remain uncertain. She most enjoyed the years following 1980 when she and the former president relocated to the East Coast where they were able to spend time with their children and grandchildren. Pat Nixon only rarely permitted the use of her name for various projects, including a San Clemente historical celebration, a fundraising effort to renovate and re-interpret the Smithsonian Institution’s First Lady’s exhibit, and a Carter Center conference on women and the U.S. Constitution. As a former First Lady, she only appeared at three public events, the dedication of Pat Nixon School (1975) in the Los Angeles area, named for her; the dedication of the Richard Nixon Birthplace and Museum (1990) in Yorba Linda, California and the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum (1991). She accompanied her husband back to China during his first of several return visits to that nation, but never joined him on the four trips he made back to the White House.

Death:
22 June, 1993
Park Ridge, New Jersey

Burial:
Richard Nixon Birthplace and Museum
Yorba Linda, California

Asia’s New Great Game

China and India are both hungry for Burma’s vast natural riches. But will Burma’s people pay the price or can this Southeast Asian backwater finally enter the 21st century?

by Professor  U THANT MYINT-U | Reference: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/

When geography changes — as when the Suez Canal joined Europe to the Indian Ocean, or when the railroads transformed the American West and the Russian East — old patterns of contact disappear and new ones take hold, turning strangers into neighbors and transforming backwaters into zones of new strategic significance. Entire groups decline or vanish; others rise in importance.

Over these next few years, Asia’s geography will see a fundamental reorientation, bringing China and India together as never before across what was once a vast and neglected frontier stretching over a thousand miles from Kolkata to the Yangtze River basin. And Burma, long seen in Western policy circles as little more than an intractable human rights conundrum, may soon sit astride one of the world’s newest and most strategically significant crossroads. Mammoth infrastructure projects are taming a once inhospitable landscape. More importantly, Burma and adjacent areas, which had long acted as a barrier between the two ancient civilizations, are reaching demographic and environmental as well as political watersheds. Ancient barriers are being broken, and the map of Asia is being redone.

For millennia, India and China have been separated by near impenetrable jungle, deadly malaria, and fearsome animals, as well as the Himalayas and the high wastelands of the Tibetan plateau. They have taken shape as entirely distinct civilizations, strikingly dissimilar in race, language, and customs. To reach India from China or vice versa, monks, missionaries, traders, and diplomats had to travel by camel and horse thousands of miles across the oasis towns and deserts of Central Asia and Afghanistan, or by ship over the Bay of Bengal and then through the Strait of Malacca to the South China Sea.

But as global economic power shifts to the East, the configuration of the East is changing, too. The continent’s last great frontier is disappearing, and Asia will soon be woven together as never before.

At the heart of the changes is Burma. Burma is not a small country; it is as big in size as France and Britain combined, but its population of 60 million is tiny compared with the 2.5 billion combined populations of its two massive neighbors. It is the missing link between China and India.

It is an unlikely 21st-century nexus. Burma is one of the world’s poorest countries, wracked by a series of seemingly unending armed conflicts, and ruled for nearly five decades by one military or military-dominated regime after another. In 1988, following the brutal suppression of a pro-democracy uprising, a new junta took power, agreeing to cease fires with former communist and ethnic insurgents and seeking to unwind years of self-imposed isolation. But its repressive policies soon led to Western sanctions and this, together with growing corruption and continued mismanagement, meant that any hope of even economic improvement quickly dimmed.

By the mid-1990s the view of Burma in the West became fairly set — a timeless backwater, brutal and bankrupt, the realm of juntas and drug lords, as well as courageous pro-democracy activists, led by Aung San Suu Kyi. A place worthy of humanitarian attention, but unconnected to the much bigger story of Asia’s global rise. China, however, viewed things differently. Where the West saw a problem and offered mainly platitudes and a little aid, China recognized an opportunity and began changing facts on the ground.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, China began unveiling plans to join its interior to the shores of the Indian Ocean. By the mid-2000s, these plans were being turned into reality. New highways are starting to slice through the highlands of Burma, linking the Chinese hinterland directly to both India and the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal. One highway will lead to a brand-new, multi-billion-dollar port, facilitating the export of manufactured goods from China’s western provinces while bringing in Persian Gulf and African oil, oil that will be transported along a new 1,000-mile-long pipeline to refineries in China’s hitherto landlocked Yunnan province. Another, parallel pipeline will carry Burma’s newfound offshore natural gas to light up the fast-growing cities of Kunming and Chongqing. And more than $20 billion will be invested in a high-speed rail line. Soon, journeys that once took months to make may soon be completed in less than a day. By 2016, Chinese planners have declared, it will be possible to travel by train all the way from Rangoon to Beijing, part of a grand route they say will one day extend to Delhi and from there to Europe.

Burma could become China’s California. Chinese authorities have long been vexed by the soaring gap in income between its prosperous eastern cities and provinces and the many poor and backward areas to the west. What China is lacking is another coast to provide its remote interior with an outlet to the sea and to its growing markets around the world. Chinese academics have written about a “Two Oceans” policy. The first is the Pacific. The second would be the Indian Ocean. In this vision, Burma becomes a new bridge to the Bay of Bengal and the seas beyond.

China’s leadership has also written about its “Malacca dilemma.” China is heavily dependent on foreign oil, and approximately 80 percent of these oil imports currently pass through the Strait of Malacca, near Singapore, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and just 1.7 miles across at its narrowest point. For Chinese strategists, the strait is a natural choke point where future enemies could cut off foreign energy supplies. An alternative route needed to be found. Again, access across Burma would be advantageous, lessening dependence on the strait and at the same time dramatically reducing the distance from China’s factories to markets in Europe and around the Indian Ocean. That Burma itself is rich in the raw materials needed to power industrial development in China’s southwest is an added plus.

Meanwhile, India has its own ambitions. With the “Look East” policy, successive Indian governments since the 1990s have sought to revive and strengthen age-old ties to the Far East, across the sea and overland across Burma, creating new connections over once impassable mountains and jungle barriers. Just north of where China is building its pipeline, along the Burmese coast, India is starting work to revive another seaport with a special road and waterway to link to Assam and India’s other isolated and conflict-ridden northeastern states. There is even a proposal to reopen the Stilwell Road, built by the Allies at epic cost during World War II and then abandoned, a road that would tie the easternmost reaches of India with China’s Yunnan province. Indian government officials speak of Burma’s importance for the security and future development of their country’s northeast — while also keeping a cautious eye on China’s dynamic push into and across Burma.

Watching these developments, some have warned of a new Great Game, leading to conflict between the world’s largest emerging powers. But others predict instead the making of a new Silk Road, like the one in ancient and medieval times that coupled China to Central Asia and Europe. It’s important to remember that this geographic shift comes at a very special moment in Asia’s history: a moment of growing peace and prosperity at the conclusion of a century of tremendous violence and armed conflict and centuries more of Western colonial domination. The happier scenario is far from impossible.

The generation now coming of age is the first to grow up in an Asia that is both post-colonial and (with a few small exceptions) postwar. New rivalries may yet fuel 21st-century nationalisms and lead to a new Great Game, but there is great optimism nearly everywhere, at least among the middle classes and the elites that drive policy: a sense that history is on Asia’s side and a desire to focus on future wealth, not hark back to the dark times that have only recently been left behind.

And a crossroads through Burma would not be a simple joining up of countries. The parts of China and India that are being drawn together over Burma are among the most far-flung parts of the two giant states, regions of unparalleled ethnic and linguistic diversity where people speak literally hundreds of mutually unintelligible languages, of forgotten kingdoms like Manipur and Dali, and of isolated upland societies that were, until recently, beyond the control of Delhi or Beijing. They are also places where ballooning populations have only now filled out a once very sparsely peopled and densely forested landscape. New countries are finding new neighbors. Whereas the fall of the Berlin Wall reopened contacts that had only temporarily been suspended, the transformations under way are enabling entirely new encounters. There is the possibility of a cosmopolitan nexus at the heart of Asia.

But is a modern-day Silk Road really in the making? Until earlier this year, it was difficult to be optimistic, with Burma at the heart of the transformations and the news from Burma remaining so bad.Ordinary people were as poor as ever, political repression was the order of the day, and the Chinese projects under way seemed to be doing more to fuel corruption and devastate the environment than anything else. Fresh elections were held late last year, but they were widely condemned as fraudulent.

Over the past several months, however, there have been increasing signs that better days might lie ahead.

This March, the junta was formally dissolved and power handed over to a quasi-civilian government headed by a retired general, U Thein Sein. President Thein Sein quickly began to exceed (admittedly low) expectations, speaking out against graft, stressing the need for political reconciliation, appointing technocrats and businessmen to key positions, inviting exiles to return home, announcing fresh peace talks with rebel groups, and even reaching out to Aung San Suu Kyi, not long before released from house arrest. Poverty reduction strategies have been formulated, taxes lowered, trade liberalized, and a slew of new laws on everything from banking reform to environmental regulation prepared for legislative approval. Parliament, after a shaky start, began to take on a life of its own. Media censorship has been significantly relaxed, and opposition parties and Burma’s burgeoning NGO community have been allowed a degree of freedom not seen in half a century.

It’s a fragile opening. The president seems determined to push ahead, but his is not the only voice. There are other powerful ex-generals in parliament and in the cabinet, and the structures of repression remain intact. Burma is at a critical turning point.

And now, for the first time, Burma’s politics matter beyond its immediate borders. If this opportunity for positive change is lost, Burma may remain a miserably run place — but it will no longer be an isolated backwater. The great infrastructure projects under way will continue, as will the much longer-term processes of change. Asia’s frontier will close and a new but dangerous crossroads will be the result.

But if Burma indeed takes a turn for the better and we see an end to decades of armed conflict, a lifting of Western sanctions, democratic government, and broad-based economic growth, the impact could be dramatic. China’s hinterland will suddenly border a vibrant and young democracy, and India’s northeast will be transformed from a dead end into its bridge to the Far East. What happens next in Burma could be a game-changer for all Asia.

Thant Myint-U has served on three U.N. peacekeeping operations, as well as with the U.N. Department of Political Affairs, and is a former fellow at Cambridge University, where he taught history. He is the author of Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia, from which this essay is adapted.


March 29, 2012, 12:01 am

Life, Interrupted: Facing Cancer in Your 20s

By SULEIKA JAOUAD
Suleika JaouadEmma Dodge HansonSuleika Jaouad

I was so excited for what lay ahead, I nearly forgot to wave goodbye to my parents. Armed with a college diploma, my first job offer, a one-way ticket to Paris and a new pair of heels, I was ready to take on anything. Little did I know, I would be back in New York seven short months later. But my parents would not be taking pictures at the airport or chatting about my future plans. I would be in a wheelchair, too weak to walk.

In Paris, the doctors had struggled to make sense of my symptoms — anemia, fatigue and persistent infections. They ran test after test — I was even hospitalized for a week — but the results were inconclusive. I was just 22, but the doctors released me with a diagnosis of “burnout syndrome” and orders to rest for a month.

Rest didn’t help. Desperate for an answer, I Googled my symptoms. It seemed I could have anything from the mumps to diabetes to something called cat-scratch fever. The word “cancer” also caught my eye. The first doctors I saw in the United States thought I was depressed and suggested antidepressants. I said no and insisted they keep looking.

A week later, my worst fears were confirmed. “Leukemia,” the doctor said, dropping the word like a bomb. Soon enough I would learn the specific diagnosis: myelodysplastic syndrome, a disorder of the bone marrow. In my case, the disease growing inside me had morphed into acute myeloid leukemia. I would need intensive chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant to save my life.

The long-awaited answer reverberated in my head, and I found myself slowly pronouncing the syllables: loo-KEEM-ee-ah.

Where cancer is concerned, it’s safe to say there’s no such thing as good timing. But having a life-threatening disease in your 20s carries a special set of psychological and social challenges. It defies our very definition of what ought to be. Youth and health are supposed to be synonymous. If only I could sue my body for breach of contract with the natural order of things.

Cancer magnifies the in-betweenness of young adulthood: You’re not a child anymore, yet you’re not fully ready to live in the adult world, either. After my diagnosis, I moved back into my childhood bedroom. And as I get sicker, I increasingly rely on my parents to take care of me. But at the same time, I’ve had no choice but to grow up fast. Daunting questions that most of my peers won’t have to consider for many more years have become my urgent, everyday concerns: How will I hold onto health insurance if I’m unable to work? Will I be able to have children? How long will I live?

Even inside the hospital’s oncology ward, being a young adult with cancer can make a person feel like a misfit. I’m usually the youngest patient on the floor. In fact, I’m the youngest person my doctor has ever treated with this disease. (A vast majority of patients with my form of leukemia are over 60).

Young adults might just be oncology’s “tweens” — too old for the pediatric cancer floor but equally out of place in an adult oncology unit. I’m not suggesting that it’s worse to be young and sick, but rather that young adults with cancer are a less visible demographic, swept up in the mix of adult cancer statistics.

A 2006 report from the United States Department of Health and Human Services presents a shocking reality: Despite great strides in treatment for most cancer patients, adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 39 have seen little or no improvement in cancer survival rates for decades. The report describes how survival rates have “been hampered because cancer risk and adverse cancer outcomes have been under-recognized in this population.” It points to the fact that health care providers are often not on the lookout for cancer in this age group and, as in my case, misdiagnose symptoms — or miss them altogether.

Nine months, eight hospitalizations and seven chemotherapy treatments later, I’m realizing that age is an inextricable component of how we experience cancer.

Cancer has forced me to pause my life at a time when my peers are just beginning theirs. For my friends, most of them young adults in their 20s, this is an exciting time as they look forward to starting new jobs, traveling the world, going to parties, dating and finding love, and all the rest of the small and big milestones that are part of early adulthood.

Like my peers, I have yet to fully define who I want to become. But as a young cancer patient, it’s difficult to see ahead when I’m fighting for my life. I don’t know what the future holds. I just know I want to be there.


Suleika Jaouad (pronounced su-LAKE-uh ja-WAD) is a 23-year-old writer from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

U.S. and China Joust for Influence in Myanmar

By

HSIPAW, Myanmar — As Chinese workers in hard hats and red overalls bulldoze deep trenches into the orange soil across northern Myanmar for gas and oil pipelines to China, China’s largest energy conglomerate is paying cash for land and trees in the pipelines’ path, and building schools and health clinics for some of the poorest people on earth.

The compensation offered by the China National Petroleum Corporation reflects a bitter lesson China learned about doing business in the new, more democratic Myanmar when construction on a major Chinese hydroelectric dam there was suspended last year after a groundswell of outrage erupted over what was seen as China’s imperious attitude toward Myanmar’s people and its environment.

The gentler approach also reflects hard calculations in an escalating battle with the United States for regional influence. As Myanmar loosens the grip of decades of military dictatorship and improves ties with the United States, China fears a threat to a strategic partnership that offers access to the Indian Ocean and a long-sought shortcut for oil deliveries from the Middle East.

With the United States reasserting itself in Asia, and an emboldened China projecting military and economic power as never before, each side is doing whatever it can to gain the favor of economically struggling, strategically placed Myanmar.

The Obama administration would like a swift foreign policy success in an election year. Having another country move from dictatorship toward democracy on Mr. Obama’s watch would be a political achievement; having a friendly country on China’s border would be a strategic one.

But the United States is handicapped in delivering meaningful assistance by economic sanctions that Congress is reluctant to lift. Myanmar must conduct fair parliamentary elections on Sunday, settle conflicts with ethnic minorities and release more political prisoners before more than two decades of harsh sanctions can be removed, administration officials say.

China, Myanmar’s chief patron for decades, wants to maintain a relationship that will allow unfettered access to Myanmar’s energy resources. But the Chinese, accustomed to unwavering loyalty from Myanmar at the United Nations and other diplomatic forums, are faced with a new government led by President Thein Sein that has shown signs of wanting to be less dependent on its old friend and more responsive to the concerns of its citizens.

In perhaps the most visible symbol of Myanmar’s new openness to the West, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited in December, the first secretary of state to do so in more than 50 years. Photographs of her shaking hands with the revered opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, women of similar age in white jackets, their hair drawn back in ponytails, radiant smiles on their faces, now hang in cafes and homes, an impossibility six months ago.

Mrs. Clinton tempered her visit with warnings that economic sanctions would not be lifted as fast as Myanmar would like. Even so, the United States restored full diplomatic relations, a reward for Myanmar’s political and economic changes so far.

In a counterpunch, Chinese officials blamed American meddling for the suspension of the $3.6 billion dam project last September, and said the American diplomatic foray was a direct challenge in its backyard.

“It is hard for the Chinese to see the United States push into Myanmar as not about China,” said Yun Sun, a Chinese foreign policy expert based in Washington. “The United States is a global power. It’s natural it would want a relationship with Myanmar. But China had a monopoly, and if you have to share it, it makes it difficult to swallow. That’s why the Chinese are angry.”

A prominent Chinese historian, Qin Hui of Tsinghua University in Beijing, warned his government that blaming the West meddling for the dam rebuff missed the point. The people of Myanmar had expressed “exceedingly broad-based opposition” to building a dam at the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River, the nation’s biggest waterway, he wrote.

China still enjoys a strong position in Myanmar.

The two authoritarian governments have known how to do business in closed-door deals on arms sales and megaprojects that critics say are laced with corruption. While Myanmar was isolated by international sanctions, China was its main foreign investor, and has the advantage of proximity over a long border. Beijing has plowed billions of dollars into the country, and the United States cannot compete with that, American officials say.

Washington is limited under the sanctions to offering about $30 million a year in humanitarian aid, an American official said, even as the United States Agency for International Development seeks to establish a presence.

Sandwiched between the United States and China are some Myanmar businessmen who see American-backed reforms as the best solution to the chronically weak economy and fear that the slow easing of American sanctions could work in China’s favor.

One businessman, who declined to be quoted by name because free speech can still be an uncertain proposition in Myanmar, said that if the United States insisted on maintaining sanctions and the economy failed to take off, China would come to the rescue with the old-style cronyism of big loans and huge infrastructure projects. The new gas pipeline alone, scheduled to open next year, will bring billions of dollars in royalties and transit fees. The oil pipeline to be completed after that will also offer sizable revenue.

For that reason, Washington needs to take a more pragmatic approach, said Aung Naing Oo, the Burmese deputy director of the Vahu Development Institute, a Thailand-based organization set up by Burmese refugees. “They should do more than talking,” he said of the Obama administration. “By continuing the sanctions, the United States is inadvertently helping those who want to take us back to the old ways.”

For now, China feels burned by Myanmar on the dam project.

The dam had provoked an outpouring of nationwide opposition, backed by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, and brought into the open a nascent antipathy to China, as well as to the ethnic Chinese population.

The dam on the Irrawaddy River, which has near mythic significance in Burmese culture, was being built by one of China’s biggest state-run power companies, China Power Investment. About 90 percent of the dam’s power was destined for Yunnan Province in China although, according to the World Bank, less than 20 percent of households in Myanmar have electricity.

Thousands of villagers were forcibly resettled by the military. They were given some compensation, including 21-inch television sets.

Opposition to the dam remains strong near the site at Myitsone. Some residents of the nearby village of Tanghpre tried to return home this month from a relocation camp. At the red-brick Roman Catholic Church of the Columbine Mission, Sister Lydia sobbed as she told how the police had detained her when she helped some of her congregation return.

On March 17, Sister Lydia lost her battle. The villagers she had assisted were bundled up by the military and taken back to their Chinese-built homes in the relocation camp. A sign planted in Tanghpre said: government property.

In a sign that the company has not given up, Lu Qizhou, the head of China Power Investment, said at a news conference in Beijing this month that mistakes had been made and that the company would try to take better care of the local population. Whether the Myanmar government succumbs to Chinese displeasure and allows the dam construction to resume remains unclear.

Meanwhile, the pipeline project — which starts at a deep-sea port on the Bay of Bengal and is being built by China National Petroleum, operators of projects in nearly a dozen countries — proceeds at an urgent pace. Trucks laden with pipes trundle through villages around the clock. Bulldozers dig trenches 12 hours a day.

The company is making relatively generous payments to cash-starved farmers to move off the rich soil that grew luxuriant crops of watermelons, castor beans and mangoes.

A quarter-acre farm fetches about $10,000, a large mango tree about $400, according to local businessmen in Hsipaw. In a flash of the kind of corporate responsibility increasingly practiced by Western natural resource companies, the Chinese corporation recently built a health clinic in one of the villages close to the pipeline, a sturdy concrete structure that contrasts with the flimsy bamboo houses.

About six miles north east of Mandalay, the second biggest city, the company donated a new school.

“They built a pipeline near here for their own economy,” said Daw Swe Oo, a math teacher. “They take a lot of our resources and donate back a little here and there. But I am just happy and excited to have a nice new school to teach in.”

Ref: Bree Feng – NY Times

www.efinancialnews.com

WEALTH PRESS DIGEST

WEALTH

SWITZERLAND SIGNS AMENDED TAX DEAL WITH GERMANY OVER OFFSHORE FUNDS
(The Wall Street Journal)
German and Swiss government officials, in an effort to end a long-running dispute between the two neighbouring countries over tax evasion and bank secrecy, signed a deal on Thursday that would tax wealthy German citizens’ investment income in Switzerland.
Under the pact, unreported savings of rich Germans will be taxed at 21% to 41%, up from the previously planned 19% to 34%, while future capital gains will be taxed at 26.4%. In addition, those Germans inheriting bank accounts in Switzerland can choose between reporting their new assets and paying the respective individual tax rate or paying a tax rate of more than 50% and retaining anonymity.  The deal will need to be ratified by lawmakers in both countries if it is to be implemented by 2013.

http://mail.efnmail.co.uk/r/599662937/NDg2MzA5OjYyMA==/

HINDUJA PRIVATE BANK TO RAMP UP COMMODITIES TRADE FINANCE DESK
(Reuters)
Hinduja Bank, the Geneva-based private banking arm of the eponymous Indian family-owned conglomerate, intends to recruit five employees to double its commodities trade finance desk, chief executive Charles de Boissezon told Reuters on Thursday.
The Swiss-based wealth manager, with $3bn in client assets, also said that it plans to expand into India and South America, and begin financing oil deals.

http://mail.efnmail.co.uk/r/599662938/NDg2MzA5OjYyMA==/

UBS FINDS SURGE IN FIXED INCOME TRADING AMONG PRIVATE CLIENTS
(Bloomberg)
UBS’ two-year-old Investment Products and Services arm, which daily circulates research ideas among almost 4,200 client advisers at its private banking business, posted a jump in client trading this year as fixed-income sales increased, unit head William Kennedy told Bloomberg.
The Zurich-based division, which helps UBS target ultra-high net worth individuals with minimum investable assets worth Sfr50m (€41.6m), has seen “significantly” higher transaction volume this year in fixed income, compared with 2011, Kennedy said.  The Swiss bank’s foreign exchange business “also remains robust with client activity levels at historic highs”, he added.

http://mail.efnmail.co.uk/r/599662939/NDg2MzA5OjYyMA==/

RATHBONE ARM SNAPS UP LONDON WEALTH MANAGER
(Investment Week)
London-based wealth manager RM Walkden & Company has accepted a £948,393 takeover bid from Rathbone Investment Management.
The move marks the latest step by the subsidiary of FTSE 250-listed Rathbone Brothers to expand operations, following a string of recent recruitments.

http://mail.efnmail.co.uk/r/599662940/NDg2MzA5OjYyMA==/

SWISS CENTRAL BANK MAKES FRESH INTERVENTION IN CURRENCY MARKETS
(The Daily Telegraph)
The Swiss National Bank on Thursday intervened again in currency markets, following a euro sell-off amid fresh concerns over the eurozone debt crisis that triggered panic buying of the Swiss franc.
The euro fell below the SNB’s franc ceiling of Sfr1.20 for the first time since the central bank stepped in last September, with the “Swissie” appreciating to Sfr1.1992 before falling back to Sfr 1.2020 against the euro.

http://mail.efnmail.co.uk/r/599662941/NDg2MzA5OjYyMA==/

MORGAN STANLEY WIDENS ‘CLAWBACK’ PROVISIONS FOR BONUSES
(Financial Times)
Morgan Stanley, which has been reducing salaries and awarding more bonuses to its bankers in the form of “deferred compensation”, on Thursday outlined another round of tweaking to its compensation structure, broadening “clawback” provisions for bonus payouts to top executives.
In a bid to better align staff pay with organisational performance, the Wall Street bank said in a proxy filing that the cancellation of bonuses “can be triggered” in situations “ranging from substantial losses to ethical lapses and include failure to appropriately supervise or manage an employee”.  Morgan Stanley also revealed a 25% decline in the annual remuneration package for chief executive James Gorman last year, to $10.5m.

http://mail.efnmail.co.uk/r/599662942/NDg2MzA5OjYyMA==/

BREVAN HOWARD PARTNER PAYS $8M FOR OPRAH PENTHOUSE
(New York Post)
Mark Hillery, a London-based partner of Brevan Howard, and his wife Melissa have purchased Oprah’s penthouse in New York for $7.9m, broker Anjollie Feradov, who represented the couple, revealed.
Oprah paid $7.1m to acquire the 2,530-square-foot condo four years ago.

http://mail.efnmail.co.uk/r/599662943/NDg2MzA5OjYyMA==/

REF:  THE ECONOMIST  :

The proposed takeover by the London Stock Exchange of LCH.Clearnet, through the acquisition of a 60% stake, was approved by shareholders of both companies. The offer will give the London bourse access to the growing market for central clearing. Regulators are keen to push as much of the $700 trillion over-the-counter derivates market on to clearing houses as possible. See article»


Exuberance all round

» Investors toasted a prosperous first quarter for stockmarkets. In the first three months of 2012 the S&P 500 index rose by 12%, its best first-quarter performance since 1998. Japan’s Nikkei 225 had its strongest first quarter for 24 years, recouping nearly all the ground it lost in 2011. Emerging markets also bounced back: India’s Sensex was up by 13%, while the main Hong Kong index grew by 12%. Europe’s stockmarkets fared well. Germany’s Dax 30 rose by 18% and even Greece’s main index was up by 7%; last year half its value was wiped out.

» Finance ministers in the euro zone agreed to raise the combined ceiling of the currency block’s temporary and permanent bail-out facilities to €700 billion ($930 billion). Some argue the rescue pot should be bigger still.

» Sino-Forest filed for bankruptcy protection. The company was one of China’s biggest wood producers until it was accused last year of fraud by Muddy Waters, a short-seller that has made a name for itself by investigating the accounts of Chinese companies. It is now being sued by Sino-Forest for defamation.

» More questions were raised about the auditing of quick-spurt technology companies after Groupon revised down its quarterly sales. The online discounter had not accounted in its earnings for the high level of refunds it had to pay. This comes shortly after Congress passed the JOBS Act, which eases regulatory burdens on firms like Groupon that seek to capitalise on their dynamism through a speedy IPO.

» Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, criticised China’s big banks for acting like a “monopoly” and said private capital should be allowed “to flow into the finance sector”. Mr Wen’s comments could hasten reforms in the financial sector. On the same day that he spoke China’s securities regulator almost tripled the amount of money that foreign funds can invest in capital markets, to $80 billion.

» The price of carbon permits in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme plummeted to another record low, after data suggested that Europe had produced a smaller amount of polluting emissions last year than had been thought. The underlying reason why carbon prices have tanked is that the market is oversupplied with permits.


Workers’ increasing clout

» Apple supported the recommendations of a report by the Fair Labour Association into conditions at the factories in China that assemble its products. Foxconn, which runs the factories, reportedly said it would try to comply with FLA standards on working hours by July 2013. See article»

Click Here!

» Research In Motion, the Canadian maker of BlackBerry smartphones, announced its first quarterly loss in seven years. Jim Balsillie, one of its former bosses, stepped down from the board and both the chief operating officer and the head of technology announced their departures. Thorsten Heins, the new chief executive, hopes to turn things around by focusing on BlackBerry’s strengths among corporate customers, rather than slogging it out with its rivals in the mass market.

» James Murdoch stepped down as chairman of BSkyB, a television broadcaster, further reducing his responsibilities at News Corporation’s British businesses. Mr Murdoch, son of Rupert, has been heavily criticised for his handling of last summer’s phone-hacking scandal at News Corp’s British newspapers.

» The soaring cost of petrol in America did not deter people from buying new cars in March. Chrysler sold more cars and small trucks than in any month since March 2008 and Nissan had its best month yet. Sales were up by 12% compared with a year ago at General Motors and by 5% at Ford.

» Molson Coors agreed to buy StarBev, a brewer in central and eastern Europe, in a €2.7 billion ($3.5 billion) deal.


This could turn ugly

» Avon, a pioneer in the beauty business, rejected a $10 billion takeover from Coty, a supplier of perfumes including the David Beckham and Celine Dion brands. Avon’s attractiveness lies in emerging markets, where it rakes in most of its income, but it has financial and legal woes and is searching for a new boss to replace Andrea Jung, one of America’s best-known female executives. Avon immediately slapped down Coty’s approach, describing it as “opportunistic”.

Aung San Suu Kyi entre au Parlement birman

lundi 2 avril 2012

Il suffit de voir les images de liesse à l’annonce de l’élection de Mme Aung San Suu Kyi pour comprendre le changement qui marque la Birmanie. Il y a à peine plus d’un an, Mme Suu Kyi était encore assignée à résidence et n’avait pu se présenter aux élections. Avec son parti, la Ligue nationale pour la démocratie, elle a gagné 43 sièges (au deux chambres et dans les régions). C’est dire le chemin parcouru.

Certes un bulletin de vote ne fait pas la démocratie – les élections ne concernaient que 48 sièges sur les 664 que comptent les deux chambres, et l’ex-général Thein Sein devenu président garde une grande partie des cartes politiques et économiques en main. Et la question des minorités toujours en guerre n’est toujours pas réglée. Mais une étape est franchie.

Le Monde diplomatique

  • « Une relation ambiguë avec la Chine » (aperçu), André et Louis Boucaud, janvier 2012.
    En décembre 2011, le président Thein Sein a donné l’ordre à l’armée de stopper les combats contre les groupes indépendantistes shans et kachins. Mais le calme reste précaire.
  • « Accélération de l’histoire en Birmanie » (aperçu), Elizabeth Rush, janvier 2012.
    Depuis que le pouvoir birman se donne des allures de gouvernement civil, tout se précipite : légalisation du parti de l’opposante Aung San Suu Kyi, libération de prisonniers politiques, visite d’un dirigeant américain pour la première fois depuis un demi-siècle…
  • « Junte birmane cherche habits civils », Renaud Egreteau, décembre 2010.
    Le 13 novembre dernier, sa peine d’emprisonnement effectuée, Mme Aung San Suu Kyi était libérée par les généraux au pouvoir. Par ce geste, la junte espère engager des négociations pour lever l’embargo occidental.
  • Ref. Le Monde

Social Issues of Myanmar:

Burma has always been a natural-resource rich nations considering the fact that its sino- Maoist dictator Ne Win pretty much channelled and isolated the financial wealth away from ordinary Burmese citizens leaving them very impoverished.  Finance and budgets are not transparent.

Now there is privatisation of national assets to local oligarchs, corrupt politicians, Asean sharks from neighbour nations who broker with greed, and also rapid industrialization of rural land and communities which should be questioned.  We should not accept capitalist Asean industrialists polluting the environment and taking advantage of modern Myanmar peoples’ assets, right ?  A point to contemplate.


Myanmar activists warily test new right to protest
Writer:  TODD PITMAN, Associated Press

DAWEI, Myanmar (AP) — When 200 activists in green T-Shirts marched along a pristine Myanmar beach to protest plans for a coal plant, they expected a long, tough struggle against the powers that be. But then, something bizarre happened.

A deputy Cabinet minister asked for a meeting. He listened patiently to their concerns about pollution. And then he told them the government agreed: It would halt construction of the controversial 4,000-megawatt plant on Myanmar’s southern panhandle.

In a long-repressed country whose people have grown accustomed to living in fear of government authority, it all seemed too good to be true. Just last year, anyone who dared even demonstrate in public would have likely have been beaten or detained by security forces.

“We were shocked,” said Aung Zaw Hein of the activist group, the Dawei Development Association, which staged the protest last month. “He asked us, ‘do you love your region?’ Then he said, ‘We love it, too. We just need to work together.'”

Hein’s group takes no credit for the decision to halt the plant, though, and remains suspicious of government motives. But the fact that President Thein Sein’s administration would even sit down and listen to any protesters at all is a testament to the dramatic reforms now under way here.

It’s also a sign that Myanmar’s civil society is beginning to stir in ways that would have been unthinkable before.

For almost half a century, the country was ruled by a reclusive, xenophobic clique of army officers who cracked down hard on any perceived dissent. The junta finally ceded power last year to a nominally civilian government which has embarked on an unexpected wave of reforms — freeing political prisoners, allowing democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to run for parliament, opening the way for exiles to return.

Myanmar’s most vocal activist groups have traditionally been based abroad in places where they can speak freely without fear of arrest. But there are around 800 registered non-governmental organizations and some 20,000 community groups working inside the country on charity, health and development issues, said Thant Myint-U, a prominent Myanmar historian and author.

These local civil society groups have quietly pushed for reform for years, and are responsible for “a big part of the changes that have taken place in Myanmar,” he said.

Today, they are speaking up more than ever before, because “the political environment is far more open,” the historian added.

In December, Thein Sein lifted a ban on demonstrations — allowing environmental groups like the Dawei Development Association to protest legally.

The group was formed around the same time, and shortly afterward sent an open letter to the presidency calling for the coal project to be canceled.

On Jan. 4, the activists staged a peaceful march along Maungmakan beach just outside Dawei, a rundown town south of the commercial capital, Yangon. They wore T-shirts that said “No Coal” and “Only Green Development.” They took photos of themselves and posted them on the group’s nascent Facebook page. They handed out pamphlets explaining how the plant could taint Myanmar’s air and water.

A few days later, Deputy Railways Minister U Thaung Lwin asked to meet them. The official, who is chairman of a government committee managing a mass seaport project in Dawei that would include the coal plant, asked them “not to create a panic” by protesting the project, Hein recalled. Then he took them out to eat at a local guesthouse, and paid the tab.

Despite the apparent victory, the environmentalists still wonder how it happened.

“We’re grateful the government did what they did, but … we don’t trust them 100 percent yet,” Hein said.

Myo Aung, a local freelance journalist who also volunteers for the group, shared the sentiment. “There must be an ulterior motive,” he said.

While the government may have had concerns over pollution, it’s also possible a lack of funding played a part. The plant is an integral part of a behemoth $50 billion deep sea port project undertaken by Thailand’s Italian-Thai Development construction company, which has been slow to attract investors.

The military-backed government may also be trying to boost its popularity among a skeptical populace ahead of April 1 by-elections in which Suu Kyi will run for parliament for the first time. Thein Sein is eager to show democratic progress to get crippling Western sanctions lifted.

Sean Turnell, an expert on Myanmar’s economy at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, said there was growing national resentment over the sell-off of the country’s natural resources abroad.

Much of the electricity the coal plant would have generated was destined for neighboring Thailand, and “in this case, the efforts of such (environmental) groups nicely coincided with the interests of the government,” Turnell said.

Authorities here have made at least one similar about-face before.

In late September, Thein Sein abruptly suspended a controversial Chinese-backed hydroelectric dam in the country’s north, the $3.6 billion Myitsone dam project.

Local activists praised that decision, too, but suspected it had more to do with the government’s desire to assert independence from China or squash an issue that could unite political opponents than to curb environmental damage.

Dawei’s environmentalists know they face plenty of challenges ahead.

A much smaller, 400-megawatt coal plant is still on the drawing board. It is needed for the seaport and a vast industrial complex which will link Myanmar’s Indian Ocean coast to the rest of Southeast Asia with railways, highways and oil and gas pipelines. Industrial estates will house refineries, a steel mill, a fertilizer plant and a petrochemical complex. Some 20,000 villagers will be evicted from their homes.

Hein said his group’s objective was not to stop the mega-project, which could help an undeveloped region where jobs are scarce, but rather to “make sure this is done responsibly, with transparency.”

That goal will be especially crucial as international investors increasingly rush in to tap into a country widely considered one of Asia’s last unspoiled frontiers.

U Tin Maung Swe, who chairs a government body helping oversee the Dawei project, said experts were studying other ways to fuel the still-hoped for 4,000 megawatt power plant.

He spoke of environment-friendly possibilities like hydropower, solar power, wind power — just the kind of “green” options the Dawei Development Association would like them to explore.

But if none of that works, Swe said, “at last, we will choose coal-fire power.”

Ref:    http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Myanmar-activists-warily-test-new-right-to-protest-3321065.php#ixzz1reCK5ing

Burma’s Frontier Appeal Lures Shadowy Oil Firms  –    Ref: The Irrawaddy

While the major non-American Western oil companies adopt and wait-and-see policy and US firms remain barred by Washington’s sanctions, shadowy oil enterprises are gaining footholds in Burma.

Among firms which have recently won licenses to explore for oil and gas are little-known businesses based in Panama, Nigeria and Azerbaijan—countries where corporate accountability can be murky.

Not only does the bidding process remain opaque, the pedigree of some of the participants is too.

CIS Nobel Oil Company claims to be London based, but on investigation its only contact address is in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, a former republic of the Soviet Union on the Caspian Sea.

A map showing oil and gas blocks in Burma. (Source: Burma’s Ministry of Energy)

Nobel is to prospect for oil and gas on an unnamed onshore block awarded by the Burmese Ministry of Energy. Virtually nothing is known about Nobel other than that it does some prospecting in the Caspian Sea and has links with Azerbaijan’s state oil company.

Nobel and a clutch of other little known firms bid for licenses when the ministry put forward 18 onshore blocks for development last year.

A firm registered in the Central American country of Panama called Geopetrol International Holdings secured a license for another block which it will operate with Burmese partner A-1 Mining Company.

Panama is notorious for providing so-called flags of convenience for murky shipping companies which do not comply with international safety standards and regulations.

Burma’s Energy Ministry has also awarded a license to a firm called Tianjin New Highland, which appears to be Chinese but has links in the unstable African state of Nigeria, noted for its “black gold curse”—the political and business corruption around its oil wealth which has left millions of Nigerians in poverty.

Tianjin New Highland appears to have begun life in Hong Kong but is registered in the money laundering tax haven of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. It also operates under the name Tianjin Energy Resources.

“These are by no means mainstream oil businesses and the ownership of some of them is rather lost in the web of addresses and registrations,” said an industry analyst in Hong Kong who did not wish to be identified.

“Take Geopetrol International as an example. It gives the impression sometimes of being based in Switzerland or France and with business links in India, but it is formally registered in Panama.”

Geopetrol already operates some form of joint venture with Goldpetrol, a subsidiary of Interra Resources of Singapore, which actually has links with Indonesia.

Confused? These webs can be extensive, leaving anyone seeking information on ownership confused and bemused.

Another little known Indonesian firm, Istech Resources Asia, has been named by the Burmese Energy Ministry as being successful in obtaining an onshore license, although it appears a local partner is still being arranged.

Under new rules, all foreign oil and gas firms starting up in Burma from now on must take on a Burmese partner.

Istech has an address in Jakarta and according to the Bloomberg Business Week companies guide specializes in oilfield support services. However, Bloomberg says on its website that the firm “does not have any key executives recorded.”

For reasons that have not been explained, only nine of the 18 onshore blocks offered last year have been awarded, and only four of those had, up to last week, completed development agreements.

Local firms named in these partnerships so far are Aye Myint Khine Company, A-1 Mining Company, and UNOG.

UNOG Pte Ltd is registered in Singapore but is run from Burma. Oil industry data names Win Kyaing as managing director. He is also linked to another firm called IGE.

Some equally obscure foreign firms are already in operation in onshore blocks in Burma, with names such as Silver Wave Sputnik Petroleum and Zarubezhnet Itera, with vaguely Russian connections.

Sputnik Petroleum says it is registered in Singapore, while its sister company Silver Wave Energy leads back to the small Russian republic of Kalmykia on the Caspian Sea. Zarubezhnet Itera has links with the Russian state in Moscow.

Only two major international oil firms took up offers in the last license bidding round. These are Petronas of Malaysia and PTTEP of Thailand, both state owned and both already engaged in Burma’s oil and gas industry.

“The apparent lack of interest from major players was surprising, although last year’s bidding round took place before big changes like Aung San Suu Kyi being elected to Parliament and the EU suspending its sanctions,” analyst Collin Reynolds in Bangkok told The Irrawaddy on May 8.

“It will be interesting to see if the next round attracts any big Western companies. However, I think many of them are waiting to see how the reforms pan out and whether they are going to be permanent. US oil firms are of course still excluded from any active participation.”

Another batch of onshore development blocks will be put up for sale in August, the Energy Ministry’s director general of planning Htin Aung said last week. A batch of offshore licenses will be offered by the end of this year, he said.

Industry giants such as Chevron, Total, Shell, Nippon, CNOOC and Mitsubishi sent representatives to the March trade show in Rangoon organized by the Ministry of Energy to promote development.

The ministry’s Htin Aung told the show’s participants that Burma has “proven” oil reserves of almost 140 million barrels and 322 billion cubic meters of gas.

Raising that volume of hydrocarbons from beneath land and sea is going to require large and long-term investment—much more than the likes of Silver Wave Sputnik Petroleum, Nobel Oil and GeoPetrol can muster.

MASSIVE LAND CONFISCATION FOR COPPER MINE IN BURMA :  Why can’t we stop the human greed ??

Over 7,800 acres of farmland in Salingyi Township, Sagaing Division, has been confiscated for a copper mine project with landowners forced out of their villages, according to local sources.

A number of concerned residents told The Irrawaddy that grabbed lands belong to people in Salingyi’s Hse Te, Zee Daw, Wet Hmay and Kan Taw villages and authorities ordered residents to leave the area earlier this year. Most of the villagers do not want to relocate but some have already left, they claim.

Farmers also said that they were only given a small amount of compensation for their property as, according to company officials and local authorities, their lands are actually owned by the state and the confiscation was carried out by presidential order.

“Copper produced from this project can be fixed with a price but our farmlands are priceless. Those lands can exist forever so I don’t want any compensation no matter how much it is,” said Khin Maung Win, one of the victims.

Locals also told The Irrawaddy that farmers have submitted an appeal to President Thein Sein, the chief minister of Sagaing Division and other relevant authorities in order to get their lands returned, but no measures have been taken in response so far.

Led by the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and two Chinese companies, copper mining in Kyaysintaung and Letpantaung areas of Salingyi reportedly began in late 2011.

A similar project is also operating in Monywa, the capital of Sagaing Division, in which a Chinese company is reportedly involved.

The copper project in Monywa is one of the largest in Burma. It was initiated by the Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Company Ltd (MICCL)—a joint venture between the former Burmese Ministry of Mines-1 and the Canada-based Ivanhoe Mines.

The US Treasury Department put the MICCL onto its sanctions list in 2009.      Reference.  The Irrawaddy

FIRMS LOOK ABROAD TO PLUNDER SE ASIAN RIVERS –

China’s Three Gorges Dam project has been beset with environmental and logistical problems. (Photo: Christoph Filnkl)

Corporations owned by governments are at the heart of a relentless push to build hydro-electric dam systems in Southeast Asia.

These corporations are driven by a combination of political pressure for energy security and to justify their existence and growth.

The dams―in Burma, China’s Yunnan Province, Laos and Cambodia―jeopardise farmland, fisheries, forests, natural irrigation and rare wildlife and threaten to force many thousands of people from their homes, say environmental protection groups.

Three of the biggest corporations involved are China’s Sinohydro Corporation, the China Power Investment Corporation and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT).

Between them, they are building or have plans to build enough electricity generating capacity from hydro dams to fuel the whole of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore on present power consumption in those countries.

Blueprints for hydro dam construction projects in Laos alone, a country of only six million people, would create an installed electricity generating capacity of 40,000 megawatts―enough to keep the lights, air conditioners and factories operating in Thailand and Malaysia.

Such targets include controversial dams on the Irrawaddy and Salween rivers in Burma, the Mekong where it runs through Laos, and some of the region’s last animal and plant wilderness areas in Cambodia.

And despite stop orders at present on two major projects―the Myitsone on the Irrawaddy and the Xayaburi on the Mekong―campaigners are not hopeful they will be permanently halted.
The American NGO International Rivers thinks dams planned for the Irrawaddy, the Salween, the Mekong and forested areas of Laos and Cambodia will “probably” go ahead finally because public accountability in the region remains weak.

“These dams have been pushed in the name of development, for prosperity and happiness of the people,” Pianporn Deetes, a spokeswoman for International Rivers, told The Irrawaddy.
“Any scientific and local knowledge evidence [against the dams] would not mean anything for such decisions,” she added.

The Chinese state-owned and controlled Sinohydro Corporation, possibly the world’s biggest hydro-electric developer, claims the Three Gorges system in China and the Bakun Dam in Malaysian Borneo among its dubious credits.

The colossal Three Gorges can in theory generate 12 times Burma’s present electricity producing capacity, but is beset with problems ranging from water shortages to environmental degradation.
The Bakun Dam in Malaysia’s Sarawak State is a white elephant which has been under construction for 15 years, has cost taxpayers over US$2 billion and is still not fully operational. In the process it has despoiled an area of tropical forest the size of Singapore.

Two large unfinished projects, one in Burma the other in Laos, underline how determined these state corporations are to build their dams regardless of the opposition.

In Burma, the victory celebrations by opponents of the 6,000-megawatt Myitsone project on the Irrawaddy have been short lived. Only seven months after President Thein Sein decreed that the unpopular dam was suspended indefinitely, evidence is growing that its Chinese developers, led by Sinohydro, are still active on the site.

In Laos, despite an unequivocal call by the Mekong Rivers Commission (MRC) to halt all construction on the 1,300-megawatt Xayaburi project pending a new environmental impact study, there is evidence of continuing site work, claims International Rivers.

The main backer of the $3.7 billion Xayaburi dam is EGAT which will buy most of the electricity generated by the project.

Thailand is a member of the four-country MRC which agreed at a ministerial-level meeting last December to stop work on the dam. The Vietnamese and Cambodian governments are concerned that the dam will reduce water flow and stop fish swimming upstream to spawning grounds. The lower Mekong provides food for millions of people living alongside its route from Laos to the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam.

“Until recently, many of us hoped that the MRC would resolve regional crises such as these,” says California-based International Rivers. “The past year, however, has revealed glaring holes in the ability of the MRC to make decisions. In the case of the Xayaburi Dam, for example, Laos and Thailand have defied the regional process and proceeded with preliminary construction.”

In Burma’s Kachin State, reports as recent as April 6 indicate that preparations are in progress around the Myitsone site near the confluence of the N’mai and Mali rivers where scores of Chinese workers remain.

In Shan State near the border with Thailand, Chinese surveyors have been reported working in the vicinity of an even bigger hydro-electric dam, the 7,300-megawatt Tasang scheme on the Salween River. Sinohydro is also the main contractor here, and one of the chief backers and likely main recipient of any electricity generated is, once again, EGAT.

The Chinese have also dammed their own upper reaches of the Salween and Mekong rivers, but why do the Thais not build dams in their own backyard?

“Thai companies often feel there are too many obstacles within Thailand and prefer the benefits of working in unregulated environments where projects can be maximized without the need to comply with all of the laws and regulations investors face inside Thailand,” Pianporn explained.

“In Thailand, civil society can at least raise environmental concerns to the companies and government for better standards and good governance.”

A statement published by the Burma Rivers Network NGO on behalf of dozens of community groups alleged last week that despite recent reforms which have wooed senior Western politicians, major energy-related development projects in Burma continue to trigger “human rights abuses against local villagers, particularly ethnic communities.”

“These projects have been started without standards to prevent harmful environmental and social impacts, and will therefore cause more refugees,” the statement said. “Large-scale development projects should not be implemented in areas of Burma where conflict remains unresolved, as this will simply fuel further conflict.”

International Rivers says the next decade is critical for the future of major regional rivers, notably the Mekong, but warns that “the region’s governments and greedy foreign interests” seem intent on constructing scores of dams which will have “devastating impacts on downstream communities.”

IN THIS ISSUE

From the editor: Thematic investing: the neverending story
The popularity of hedge funds and high yield investments will rise and fall, but the thematic approach appears to be a trend with staying power
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Investment strategies: Thematic thinking enters mainstream
Investment strategies following themes such as the rise of emerging markets or the development of sustainable energy may be gaining traction, but critics claim they are little more than a marketing ploy
MORE…

The Big Interview: Schroders reaps rewards of forays into the East
Schroders’ distribution chief, Massimo Tosato, evaluates the growing threat of ETFs to the funds industry and how it intends to cope with increasing European regulation
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Business Models: Bringing the digital revolution to private banking
Today’s wealthy investors are fully in tune with the digital revolution and the spectacular rise of social networking, but private bankers are not keeping up
MORE…

The Great Debate: Do hedge funds have a place in client portfolios?
At the most basic level, there are typically only two ways to potentially generate a return on an investment in a financial instrument. First, one can passively collect a risk premium (beta). Second, one can actively extract money from other market participants (alpha).
MORE…

Islamic Finance: Time to show faith in Islamic finance
Private banks have been slow to explore the opportunities that Islamic finance could offer, but there are signs this is starting to change
MORE…

EVENTS

Hedge Fund Insights 2012
Sharing industry, market and strategy insights from hedge fund expertsAfter a successful start to Hedge Fund Insights 2012, we are pleased to announce that the global series will visit Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo this May.Lyxor’s team of senior economists, hedge fund managers and their investors will analyse trends in emerging and developed markets, evaluate the effects of global economic turmoil and political unrest and, discuss their impact on inflation, oil prices and currency instability.For more information and to book your place, please go to; www.ftbusiness.com/insights2012.
New Fund Solutions
European answers to global questionsWednesday 13th June 2012
08:30 to 12:30, followed by a networking lunch
Allen & Overy office, Bishopsgate, LondonProfessional Wealth Management (PWM), in association with the Association Française de la Gestion financière (AFG), presents ‘New Fund Solutions’, an event utilising Paris fund industry expertise to help optimise your future investment strategies.Register now to join a host of high-ranking management companies, French boutiques, institutional investors and data providers as we seek to provide European answers to global questions.
Videos

Managing family affairs

Yuri Bender talks to Adam Wethered, founder of private investment office Lord North Street, about the shift of assets by wealthy clients from European private banks to family offices.

Tax attack on Swiss private banks

Swiss banking lawyer Shelby du Pasquier talks to Yuri Bender about the challenges faced by Switzerland’s private banks following sustained pressure from US authorities.

The Financial Times Ltd, Registered no. 227590 Registered office Number One
Southwark Bridge, London SE1 9HL, England


McKinsey Quarterly

McKinsey Classics Newsletter
Articles of enduring interest
May 2012To view on the Web: http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/newsletters/2012_05cl.htm

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Are stock markets rational?

Behavioral finance offers valuable insights—particularly the idea that rational investors can’t always correct for mispricing by irrational ones. But as a team of McKinsey authors argued in 2005, in “Do fundamentals—or emotions—drive the stock market?”, the critical question for executives is how often these deviations arise and whether they are so common and important that they should influence the financial decisions of companies. In fact, the authors claim, significant deviations from intrinsic value are unusual; despite transitory booms and busts, markets generally soon revert to share prices reflecting economic fundamentals.

March 2005
Do fundamentals—or emotions—drive the stock market? [includes audio]

Related readingSeptember 2007
Market fundamentals: 2000 versus 2007 [includes audio]

July 2006
The irrational component of your stock price [includes audio]

October 2005
Measuring stock market performance [includes audio]

March 2005
Don’t expect too much of your share price

March 2005
Measuring long-term performance [includes audio]

Did you miss the last Classics Newsletter?Companies that live beyond the law
Especially in low-income nations, many companies avoid taxes and regulations, underreport employment, and even fail to register. Policy makers tend to see this informal economy as a source of work for the unskilled. Yet the McKinsey Global Institute found that such businesses prevent more productive formal ones from gaining market share.
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ADB sees Myanmar adding 6%

Published at Bangkok Post on 12/04/2012at 02:19 AMEconomic growth in Myanmar is expected to jump sharply thanks to higher investment following the political and economic developments in the country over the past several months, says Asian Development Bank.

Craig Steffensen, ADB country director for Thailand, said both the success of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar’s by-election and the announcement that the official exchange rate would utilise a managed float system starting on April 1 would serve as catalysts for economic development.

The Thai economy stands to gain from tremendous opportunities in investment and transportation linkage.

The ADB, in its latest forecasts for regional economic growth, said Myanmar is expected to post 6% growth this year and 6.3% in 2013. The bank projects 5.5% growth for Thailand this year and next.

Mr Steffensen said growth could be higher if the EU and US ease sanctions imposed during the past two decades.

Myanmar has amended some key laws to facilitate foreign direct investment. Among them are a land ownership law that allows farmers to own land and places it with banks as collateral, and a foreign direct investment code that offers corporate income tax breaks for firms.

But Mr Steffensen said problems with macroeconomic stability were reflected by high inflation and a current account deficit, immediate challenges that Myanmar must still overcome.

Myanmar announced the reference rate of the kyat was 818 to a dollar on April 1, weakening from the unofficial market rate of about 800 to a dollar in 2011.

The ADB expects the move will cause imports to widen the current account deficit to 5% of gross domestic product this year and next. Unifying the several unofficial currency markets will also expose losses in state enterprises.

Rapid economic growth could raise inflation in Myanmar to 6% over the next two years.

Mr Steffensen said over the long term, more comprehensive improvements are needed in Myanmar to lift its overall development status, particularly investment in health care and education.

Myanmar has the lowest income per capita in Asean, with ADB estimating one-fourth of its population is in poverty.

Meanwhile, in Thailand income inequality has shown signs of improvement, said ADB economist Luxmon Attapich.

But she cautioned that the gap between Thailand’s richest and poorest remains wider than in many other countries in the region.

“We found the country’s wealthiest 10% earned 40% of the country’s income, while the poorest 10% earned just 1.7%,” she said.

Thailand’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, fell to 0.42 in 2010 from 0.48 in 2009. In contrast, the average for the region rose to 0.46 in 2010 from 0.39 the prior year. Under the gauge, a coefficient of zero means perfect equality while one means maximum inequality.

Burma: democracy’s edge

<!–Thursday 12 April 2012[, by –>

Exclusive 12 April, Le Monde – by Elizabeth Rush

Two years ago, before Burma began to make international headlines, the then military-run government started auctioning off 90% of the country’s state-owned enterprises — everything from petrol stations, to rice mills, cinemas, soy sauce factories and turn-of-the-century apartment buildings went under the gavel. While the government ran advertisements in the state-run newspaper inviting tenders, prohibitive participation fees were levied and 25% of the total payment was due up front for successful bids.

Winning a cinema in Rangoon meant that you would pay $625,000 at the signing and fork out the remaining $1.9m over the next six months. A TV station cost you $15m. And the port of Rangoon? A military-run company, the Myanmar Economic Corporation, purchased a slice in 2010 (1). By international standards, the price tag on these potential cash cows was low. But in Burma, the cost coupled with the favoritism required to secure a winning bid made acquiring these assets near impossible for most. Burma’s state-owned properties ended up in the hands of the select few who had billions of Kyat to toss around at the end of a military dictatorship that was, for the silent majority, beyond crippling.

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A man-powered Ferris wheel at the Thadingyut festival in Yangon’s Pazundaung township.
This year marked the first time in a decade that this particular public celebration was allowed to take place. Photo © Elizabeth Rush

For much of the previous half century, a single dollar would get you upwards of 800 Kyat on the black market. The currency was officially pegged to an absurdly low 6.4 Kyat to the dollar. But only state-run companies actually had access to dollars at the official and unbelievably strong ratio, restricting any involvement in international development to those linked with government enterprises. Those who have benefited from the junta’s longstanding punitive economic restrictions are precisely those who purchased most of the country’s assets on the eve of this ever more exciting new era.  An era that is probably less about democracy than attracting international investment.

Large-scale privatization is not uncommon, especially for Asian countries transitioning away from state-controlled economies, and non-democratic regimes towards free-market models and the political pluralism inherent therein. Vietnam did it. South Korea did it too. But international investment is only as progressive as the environmental protections, land ownership regulations and mandatory development of both skill-based and intellectual economies that ought to accompany the influx of new capital. Shouldn’t these be the demands we make of Burma’s government before declaring an end to sanctions? Yet, as the recent elections have turned attention to Burma, little has been said about this internationally.

In Burma, rumors have long been as credible as the military-controlled media (if not more so). So both outsiders and the people of Burma ought to be more cautious about taking their cues from the well-designed popular narrative of the day. The reforms taking place in Burma are strong public statements of political transformation, but their scope is limited.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to just one of 640 seats in the parliament. And while her party, the NLD, swept the by-elections, we need to remember that only about 7% of the parliamentary seats were contested. The constitution, as it stands, reserves 25% of parliamentary positions for the military. This makes future NLD control close to impossible when you consider the country’s diverse ethnic makeup and the government’s execution of the previous election. The 2010 elections — in which all of the parliament’s non-reserved seats were contested, and the election that would produce the president of the country — were both unfree and unfair. Not only was Aung San Suu Kyi unable to participate (she was under house arrest) but election monitors were forbidden. Still, reports flooded in of fearful voters, ballet box stuffing, and pre-ticked ballets.

At the same time, the alacrity with which Burma has performed much of the work needed to disentangle itself from historic appearances is astounding. Over the last year, the country sought to change international perceptions: from seeming remote and brutal, it now presented a shining example of how, in US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s words, “even the most repressive regime can reform and even the most closed society can open.” Just last week, the US announced further easing of sanctions, inappropriately linking a single, well executed yet minimally important election with the entire country’s economic development. Many of the sectors that will expand as a result of the lifting of sanctions are precisely those bought and sold in last year’s inherently corrupt fire-sale of state assets.

It is easy to get swept up by the images of Burmese people rejoicing in the streets of Rangoon. But those of us outside of Burma ought to contextualize these images carefully. A public discussion of privatization in Burma is a necessary component to securing a bright future for those people so ebulliently celebrating their country’s willingness to reform.

The longstanding military dictatorship aside, there is an innocence to Burma. This is because it has been held at an arm’s length from the whirlwind of globalization and development. And it deserves better that what it is currently in line to get — all of capitalism’s gravest challenges from sweat shops to resource off-loading.

Though the political changes taking place are fantastic, those of us whose investment, both direct and indirect, is destined to transform Burma should not forget from where these changes originated and what their true aim might be — more money for the same select few. The West needs to ensure that with its increased investment, the Burmese people are guaranteed more than a decent wage and imported soda pop. An end to sanctions should mean nothing short of the mandatory development of both intellectual and skill-based economies and regulations to guarantee that the teak is not demolished, the gas not all siphoned overseas, and that the land is not ruined by industrial processes we refuse to carry out in our own backyards.

Breaking the cycle of colonization under the auspices of globalization is possible in Burma precisely because this is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. The future is, as the generals have now so graciously granted, as much ours to decide as it is theirs. The West ought to consider the privilege of both celebrating Burma’s reforms and investing in its future with the gravitas its long-suffering people deserve.

Aung San Suu Kyi entre au Parlement birman

lundi 2 avril 2012

Il suffit de voir les images de liesse à l’annonce de l’élection de Mme Aung San Suu Kyi pour comprendre le changement qui marque la Birmanie. Il y a à peine plus d’un an, Mme Suu Kyi était encore assignée à résidence et n’avait pu se présenter aux élections. Avec son parti, la Ligue nationale pour la démocratie, elle a gagné 43 sièges (au deux chambres et dans les régions). C’est dire le chemin parcouru.

Certes un bulletin de vote ne fait pas la démocratie – les élections ne concernaient que 48 sièges sur les 664 que comptent les deux chambres, et l’ex-général Thein Sein devenu président garde une grande partie des cartes politiques et économiques en main. Et la question des minorités toujours en guerre n’est toujours pas réglée. Mais une étape est franchie.

Le Monde diplomatique

  • « Une relation ambiguë avec la Chine » (aperçu), André et Louis Boucaud, janvier 2012.
    En décembre 2011, le président Thein Sein a donné l’ordre à l’armée de stopper les combats contre les groupes indépendantistes shans et kachins. Mais le calme reste précaire.
  • « Accélération de l’histoire en Birmanie » (aperçu), Elizabeth Rush, janvier 2012.
    Depuis que le pouvoir birman se donne des allures de gouvernement civil, tout se précipite : légalisation du parti de l’opposante Aung San Suu Kyi, libération de prisonniers politiques, visite d’un dirigeant américain pour la première fois depuis un demi-siècle…
  • « Junte birmane cherche habits civils », Renaud Egreteau, décembre 2010.
    Le 13 novembre dernier, sa peine d’emprisonnement effectuée, Mme Aung San Suu Kyi était libérée par les généraux au pouvoir. Par ce geste, la junte espère engager des négociations pour lever l’embargo occidental.

En Grèce, succès de la gauche radicale, impasse institutionnelle

par Valia Kaimaki, mardi 8 mai 2012

Le camarade Staline peut reposer tranquillement dans sa tombe, le Parti communiste (PC) grec veille, bien décidé à poursuivre sa mission éternelle : servir la révolution ouvrière, guetter son arrivée, préparer les troupes, et surtout ne pas permettre aux sirènes de faire entendre le chant d’une victoire de la gauche. Pendant la courte campagne électorale, en Grèce, tous les invités communistes des plateaux de télévision insistaient sur une chose : nous sommes le PC, pas la gauche.

Après l’annonce des résultats, ils se disaient ravis d’avoir gardé l’essentiel de leur puissance électorale (8,48 %)… en attendant la révolution. Une blague qui faisait le tour des journalistes depuis des années est désormais sur toutes les lèvres : la chef du parti, Mme Papariga, reste complètement inactive, comme une vieille bigote qui attend le jugement dernier. Un résumé de la politique du PC en Grèce : pas question d’alliance avec la gauche et surtout avec Syriza, ce « parti bourgeois ».

Issu de multiples divisions et réunions (à partir de 1968) de la gauche réformatrice et progressiste, Syriza a fait la plus importante percée de ces élections décisives. A lui seul, ce résultat pourrait sonner le glas du bipartisme.

L’un des trois enjeux majeurs du scrutin consistait précisément à déterminer si l’une des forces de gauche parviendrait à s’assurer une position dominante. Question tranchée : avec 16,8 % des suffrages, Syriza obtient incontestablement ce statut de leader, se hissant même au rang de deuxième force politique du pays – derrière Nouvelle Démocratie (ND, droite), avec seulement deux points d’écart. Chez les jeunes qui ont voté pour la première fois, chez les sans-emploi, et dans toute la région d’Athènes, Syriza arrive en tête.

Cela a déplu aux grands médias et à leurs chiens de garde. Tout au long de la soirée électorale, devant les caméras et derrière les micros, ils se sont montrés étonnement agressifs avec les invités de Syriza : « Vous proposez de former un gouvernement, mais comment allez-vous y parvenir ? Comment ? COMMENT ? » Beaucoup plus indulgente, leur attitude à l’égard du chef du parti néonazi Aube dorée, qui, sur le point de prononcer son discours, a exigé : « Levez-vous », dans un grec ancien mal décliné. Certains se sont exécutés.

Deuxième enjeu, justement, le pourcentage de l’extrême droite. Un résultat nettement moins réjouissant. Avec presque 7 % des suffrages, les néonazis ont emporté la sixième place et fait une entrée spectaculaire au Parlement. 7,5 % des électeurs ayant voté pour Nouvelle Démocratie en 2009 ont préféré Aube Dorée, de même que 4,5 % des électeurs en provenance du Parti socialiste (Pasok), arrivé troisième avec 13,18 % des suffrages (moins que son tout premier score, en 1974, sous Andreas Papandreou).

Le troisième enjeu, « qui gouvernera le pays ? », reste la grande inconnue. Trois sièges seulement manquent aux grands partis de jadis pour former un nouveau gouvernement pro-mémorandum (1) c’est-à-dire, pour continuer comme avant les élections. Ils ont pensé convaincre trois députés, des « Grecs indépendants » (nouveau parti, cession de la ND, fortement anti-mémorandum et nationaliste, arrivé en quatrième position), de donner leur vote, avec la promesse d’un ministère. Sauf que le souvenir de juillet 1965 – quand le gouvernement de Papandreou (grand-père) fut destitué par ses propres députés, ce qui avait accentué l’instabilité politique et ouvert la voie au coup d’état de 1967 – marque encore la vie politique du pays. On ne devient pas facilement un « traître » : ce scénario a été invalidé au lendemain des élections.

Ce mardi 8 mai, après que le leader de Nouvelle démocratie s’en est déclaré incapable, M. Alexis Tsipras a été chargé par le président de la République de former un gouvernement. Ce jeune homme charismatique de 38 ans a su s’affirmer comme un personnage politique incontournable, d’abord au sein de la mosaïque de Syriza, puis dans la société toute entière. Ses adversaires l’accusent de populisme, lui reprochent un style un peu « macho », mais nul ne conteste qu’il fut le seul dirigeant politique capable d’assurer une place à l’opposition dans le Parlement pendant cette dernière période, marquée par une politique d’austérité extrême. Il a su également mener une campagne électorale brillante et imposer son agenda. Au point que tous les discours des dirigeants des autres partis ont fait référence aux propositions de Syriza : la renégociation du mémorandum imposé par la troïka et l’effacement d’une partie de la dette grecque, sans pour autant sortir de l’Union européenne ou de la zone Euro.

Néanmoins, les chiffres ne sont pas au rendez-vous. Même si le PC acceptait de donner son accord – ce qui relève de la science-fiction –, même avec l’appui du troisième parti de la gauche (la Dimar – « Alliance Démocratique » –, scission de Syriza, qui défend une politique plus proche de celle du Pasok), et enfin même avec l’aide du Pasok dont le chef a déclaré qu’il va soutenir un gouvernement de gauche, il ne serait pas possible de former un gouvernement.

La faute à la loi électorale, taillée sur mesure pour maintenir le bipartisme : la formation qui arrive en tête du scrutin remporte cinquante sièges supplémentaires au Parlement (sur un total de trois cents), afin de pouvoir facilement former un gouvernement. C’est ainsi que ND a vu ses effectifs parlementaires presque doubler, « volant » des sièges qui, sinon, seraient revenus à Syriza dans la région d’Attique.

M. Tsipras va conserver le plus longtemps possible le mandat qu’il reçoit ce 8 mai. Pendant ces trois jours, il va répéter inlassablement son message d’unité de la gauche, que le PC et la Dimar ont formellement rejeté avant les élections. Cette fois, il va aller plus loin, proposer des congrès communs, tendre la main aux écologistes (qui n’ont pas pu franchir le seuil de 3 %), aux maoïstes, aux léninistes, aux trotskistes, aux dissidents du PC, à toute la galaxie des partis de la gauche. But inavoué et vœu cher à tous les Grecs de gauche : faire imploser le PC pour le reformer sur de nouvelles bases et donner à la gauche grecque sa juste position dans la société.

Puis ce sera au tour des autres partis de recevoir un mandat pour former un gouvernement, la perspective d’une coalition majoritaire s’éloignant toujours un peu plus à chaque fois.

Quelles perspectives s’offrent alors ? Probablement le retour aux urnes. Néanmoins, les partis du centre (ND et Pasok) ne souhaitent pas de nouvelles élections, car c’est surtout Syriza qui en bénéficierait.

La Grèce se trouve donc dans une impasse : il n’est possible de former un gouvernement ni avec ni sans Syriza. Le scénario le plus cauchemardesque serait que Nouvelle Démocratie et le Pasok donnent à M. Tsipras leur appui sans participer à son gouvernement, sacrifice qu’ils accepteraient pour sauver les règles qui fondent le bipartisme. M. Tsipras serait ainsi obligé de diriger la Grèce sans disposer de véritable pouvoir ni, d’ailleurs, de cadres formés. Sans leviers, sans filet…

(1) L’accord de prêt signé par l’ancien gouvernement avec la troïka (Union européenne, Banque centrale européenne, Fonds monétaire International), qui impose une sévère austérité.

Ref: Le Monde diplomatique

Argentina’s critics are wrong again about renationalising oil

In taking back oil and gas company YPF, Argentina’s state is reversing past mistakes. Europe is in no position to be outraged

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Argentinia’s president, Cristina Kirchner, announces that the oil company YPF is subject to expropriation. Photograph: Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

The Argentinian government’s decision to renationalise the oil and gas company YPF has been greeted with howls of outrage, threats, forecasts of rage and ruin, and a rude bit of name-calling in the international press. We have heard all this before.

When the government defaulted on its debt at the end of 2001 and then devalued its currency a few weeks later, it was all doom-mongering in the media. The devaluation would cause inflation to spin out of control, the country would face balance of payments crises from not being able to borrow, the economy would spiral downward into deeper recession. Then, between 2002 and 2011, Argentina’s real GDP grew by about 90%, the fastest in the hemisphere. Employment is now at record levels, and both poverty and extreme poverty have been reduced by two-thirds. Social spending, adjusted for inflation, has nearly tripled. All this is probably why Cristina Kirchner was re-elected last October in a landslide victory.

Of course this success story is rarely told, mostly because it involved reversing many of the failed neoliberal policies – that were backed by Washington and its International Monetary Fund – that brought the country to ruin in its worst recession of 1998-2002. Now the government is reversing another failed neoliberal policy of the 1990s: the privatisation of its oil and gas industry, which should never have happened in the first place.

There are sound reasons for this move, and the government will most likely be proved right once again. Repsol, the Spanish oil company that currently owns 57% of Argentina’s YPF, hasn’t produced enough to keep up with Argentina’s rapidly growing economy. From 2004 to 2011, Argentina’s oil production has actually declined by almost 20% and gas by 13%, with YPF accounting for much of this. And the company’s proven reserves of oil and gas have also fallen substantially over the past few years.

The lagging production is not only a problem for meeting the needs of consumers and businesses, it is also a serious macroeconomic problem. The shortfall in oil and gas production has led to a rapid rise in imports. In 2011 these doubled from the previous year to $9.4bn, thus cancelling out a large part of Argentina’s trade surplus. A favourable balance of trade has been very important to Argentina since its default in 2001. Because the government is mostly shut out of borrowing from international financial markets, it needs to be careful about having enough foreign exchange to avoid a balance of payments crisis. This is another reason that it can no longer afford to leave energy production and management to the private sector.

So why the outrage against Argentina’s decision to take – through a forced purchase – a controlling interest in what for most of the enterprise’s history was the national oil company? Mexico nationalised its oil in 1938, and, like a number of Opec countries, doesn’t even allow foreign investment in oil. Most of the world’s oil and gas producers, from Saudi Arabia to Norway, have state-owned companies. The privatisations of oil and gas in the 1990s were an aberration; neoliberalism gone wild. Even when Brazil privatised $100bn of state enterprises in the 1990s, the government kept majority control over energy corporation Petrobras.

As Latin America has achieved its “second independence” over the past decade-and-a-half, sovereign control over energy resources has been an important part of the region’s economic comeback. Bolivia renationalised its hydrocarbons industry in 2006, and increased hydrocarbon revenue from less than 10% to more than 20% of GDP (the difference would be about two-thirds of current government revenue in the US). Ecuador under Rafael Correa greatly increased its control over oil and its share of private companies’ production.

So Argentina is catching up with its neighbours and the world, and reversing past mistakes in this area. As for their detractors, they are in a weak position to be throwing stones. The ratings agencies threatening to downgrade Argentina – should anyone take them seriously after they gave AAA ratings to worthless mortgage-backed junk during the housing bubble, and then pretended that the US government could actually default? And as for the threats from the European Union and the rightwing government of Spain – what have they done right lately, with Europe caught in its second recession in three years, nearly halfway through a lost decade, and with 24% unemployment in Spain?

It is interesting that Argentina has had such remarkable economic success over the past nine years while receiving very little foreign direct investment, and being mostly shunned by international financial markets. According to most of the business press, these are the two most important constituencies that any government should make sure to please. But the Argentinian government has had other priorities. Maybe that’s another reason why Argentina gets so much flak.

What is the real legacy of colonialism?

Atrocities committed as Britain’s imperial rule ended have been revealed in newly published documents. Writers Kwasi Kwarteng and Richard Gott discuss the history’s legacy

Richard Gott and Kwasi Kwarteng

Failures of the empire … Richard Gott and Kwasi Kwarteng. Photograph by Felix Clay.

This week, the Foreign Office released thousands of lost – or hidden – colonial-era documents, but it is unknown how many more, which recorded atrocities at the end of the British empire, were destroyed. Tory MP Kwasi Kwarteng and writer Richard Gott meet to discuss this latest chapter in Britain’s imperial history. Emine Saner listens in.

Kwasi Kwarteng: It’s shocking that these documents were destroyed. I’m surprised there wasn’t a 50- or 100-year ban on seeing these – to sanction the destruction of documents is terrible.

Richard Gott: It makes one feel that the Foreign Office is not really fit for purpose. Not only did it destroy them, but also lost them. Last year, it had an internal inquiry into what went wrong and the report was public, but redacted.

KK: I can’t condone it, but to give some context this happened in the 1960s, at the height of the cold war when governments did that sort of thing.

RG: Everybody in parliament knew what was going on – they knew about torture, castration, these dreadful things happening. It wasn’t just radicals such as Barbara Castle and Fenner Brockway – the Labour party was far more radical then than it is today on colonial issues, and actually the Conservative government as well, because eventually it was Iain Macleod [Secretary of State for the Colonies under Macmillan] who was responsible for decolonising the empire.

KK: I think [the decision to destroy documents] is a revealing episode in decolonisation, which is one of the themes I’m interested in – the chaos, lack of organisation, arbitrariness of many of the decisions leading to, in some cases, human rights abuses. This shows the desperation of the unwinding of empire.

RG: You feel everything was accelerating and people were beginning to wonder what on Earth they were doing. After 1945 the imperial idea was disappearing down the plughole, but nobody expected it to happen as quickly as it did.

KK: The collapse of the empire is something that needs to be looked at again because it was dramatic. In my research, looking at India, I remembered someone saying it took the British 300 years to establish rule in India, but it only took 70 days for them to leave.

Emine Saner: Do you get the sense there is a strong revisionist movement?

RG: There was a brief moment with the publication of the book [Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World] by Niall Ferguson, where he tried to portray the empire in a better light, but I think that’s disappeared, curiously enough.

KK: That was published around the time of the second Gulf war and he was a cheerleader for US neocons. Like all good history, it was really about the present. That was the high-water mark of the neocon idea – that we could export democracy, free trade – and that’s what the British empire was about, that was Niall’s argument. You and I have different political outlooks, but we both reject that naive neocon view of the empire. You stress the violence; I stress the incompetence and the consequences.

RG: He wrote his book before two important books appeared about Kenya and the Mau Mau [by David Anderson and Caroline Elkins] that were fundamental in revealing the extent to which the end of empire ended in war crimes. Kenya saw 10 years of violence – the British hanged 1,000 people. They now think 100,000, even 300,000 people, died during the Mau Mau campaign.

KK: My problem with Niall’s book was that it was deterministic; that the empire was a necessary precursor to modern American hegemony. But to many now, the British empire is as antique as the Roman, even though its consequences are still being felt. We need to understand the empire on its own terms.

RG: It’s still with us. Whenever I open the newspaper, anywhere you look, whether it’s Burma, Afghanistan or Sierra Leone, the British were there.

KK: The title of my book is Ghosts of Empire and it’s alive in that sense, you can see the eerie echoes.

RG: I’d go further – I think people like Tony Blair tried to revive the empire.

KK: I’m not sure I’d go that far. The only empire that is relevant is the American empire, and you could argue that Blair was trying to ally Britain to that, but there’s no sense in which he was acting unilaterally in the way a British imperial thinker such as Disraeli or even Churchill would try to act. Empire is a mixed legacy. There were terrible things, but I don’t think it was an appalling catalogue of complete woe. Some good things came of it – a sense of the rule of law, some penetration of parliamentary democracy, the English language, [which has] facilitated a more globalised world. But it didn’t set out to do those things.

RG: I have a much darker picture of the empire. A huge amount of extermination went on, seizure of land – it’s a very bleak picture.

KK: That’s fuelled, if I may say, by your ideology – you’re one of the few self-avowed Marxists left in public life. That class struggle and violence and power …

RG: Well, it was there.

KK: I’m not saying it wasn’t, but I think to describe it all in those terms is too one-sided. The one element that your analysis misses is the extent to which native rulers co-operated. If it had just been pure force, the thing wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did.

RG: Then we’re back to class. The British cleverly allied themselves with power.

ES: Where do you stand on reparations?

KK: I think it’s all nonsense. It’s something that happened so long ago, where would you draw the line? I think it’s a mad route to go down.

RG: I’m not in favour of reparations either, but politicians, when they visit old parts of the empire, ought to display a degree of humility about the past, which they rarely do.

ES: How should empire be taught?

KK: I would not take the view that it should be entirely negative. We must never think that these countries were utopias before the British came.

RG: I’m not sure Michael Gove wants much nuance [shortly after the election in 2010, Gove asked Ferguson to help rewrite the history curriculum].

KK: What Gove wants is a sense of narrative understanding of what happened.

RG: Empire and Britain should be taught together – the history of both are intertwined. We should emphasise the downside as well as the upside – if you can find any upsides.

KK: The only way to understand how Britain has evolved in the last 30 years as a multiracial society is to understand empire. So it’s even more important now, to understand Britain as it is today.

Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World (Bloomsbury) by Kwasi Kwarteng and Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt (Verso) by Richard Gott are both available for £20 at guardianbookshop.co.uk

The direction we're headed... and<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> how you can profit.


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It’s a Win-Win for Natural Gas Investors
By Keith Kohl | Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Keith KohlIf you haven’t noticed by now, true energy independence is at the end of a long and winding road of broken promises and wordy speeches.We know the song and dance all too well.It begins with a few notes about eliminating U.S. dependence on foreign oil entirely, followed by a two-step over renewables alleviating a very serious decades-long addiction to crude.It’s been done eight times since Nixon took the oath of office in 1969 — and with every repeat performance, we nod our heads and clap along.It should be noted that the presidential dedication to energy independence doesn’t come without a bit of humor…The 32 solar panels that Carter installed on the White House were promptly taken down as soon as Reagan took a seat in the Oval Office. In fact, it was one of his first executive decisions.So where are we today, 36 years into listening to the same broken record?It appears the next 25 won’t be much different:aeo fossil fuels

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So what’s the solution to our energy independence that the last eight U.S. leaders have missed?

It’s so simple, it’s complicated: access to cheap energy.

Granted, our move away from oil won’t happen overnight (and I wouldn’t pay much heed to anyone saying it will)… but it will happen.

Over the last year, investors have been successful banking on future LNG exports.

LNG exports 5-17

U.S. LNG is the bandwagon everyone’s jumping on — and the same place they could end up getting burned.

So far, our Commander in Chief has been supportive of LNG exporting projects.

(Were you expecting anything different during an election year?)

I, for one, am not expecting our future flood of shale gas to hit foreign shores just yet.

The uproar we talked about last week still hasn’t been felt.

Here’s the catch: Obama doesn’t have to openly oppose it.

Because buried deep in the government’s archives is a particular piece of legislation that’s been tucked away for decades…

The Export Administration Act of 1969 effectively gave the president the authority to limit or suspend exports of U.S. commodities (among other things) in the interest of national security, short supply, and foreign policy.

I can think of a few individuals who consider our domestic energy supplies — specifically, our cheap natural gas — an interest to national security.

Right now, natural gas costs roughly the same as a $15 barrel of oil.

A best-case scenario wouldn’t collapse current oil prices that low.

When the first shipments of LNG depart from Gulf Coast facilities, the inevitable outcome would be rising domestic natural gas prices.

When that happens, how long until political pressure reaches a boiling point for the current president?

More importantly, is there a way for us to properly prepare for the upcoming shift to natural gas?

On the one hand, low prices have been crushing North American gas producers; on the other, future LNG exports could be nipped in the bud by pushing the right political buttons.

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Prepare Your Portfolio for the Flood

There’s a better way to invest in natural gas — and it isn’t from potential exporters whose shipments could be cut with the snap of presidential fingers.

Just as we saw in the early days of the U.S. petroleum industry, the real investment potential lies with infrastructure.

According to EIA data, there are more than 210 natural gas pipeline systems and over 300,000 miles of transmission pipelines across the United States:

u.s. gas pipeAdd to that 1,400 compressor stations, 11,000 delivery points, 24 market hubs, and over 400 underground storage facilities… and we’re still not prepared for the transition from oil.

Though we’ve covered several of these infrastructure plays recently, the real money here is in supplanting oil’s domination in the transportation sector.

When millionaires are filling up their trucks for $1 a gallon, it’s a no-brainer to hop aboard.

That’s the direction we’re headed. This is how you can prepare for it.

Until next time,

Keith Kohl Signature

Keith Kohl

follow basic@KeithKohl1 on Twitter

A true insider in the energy markets, Keith is one of few financial reporters to have visited the Alberta oil sands. His research has helped thousands of investors capitalize from the rapidly changing face of energy. Keith connects with hundreds of thousands of readers as the Managing Editor of Energy & Capital as well as Investment Director of Angel Publishing’s Energy Investor. For years, Keith has been providing in-depth coverage of the Bakken, the Haynesville Shale, and the Marcellus natural gas formations — all ahead of the mainstream media. For more on Keith, go to his editor’s page.

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The Bottom Line

Even if reforms don’t produce miracles overnight, Myanmar will attract steady interest from investors.

As Aung San Suu Kyi, new passport in hand, prepares for her first trip out of Myanmar in nearly a quarter century, investors and analysts are flocking in, hoping that recent gestures of democratic reform will prevail.

There are still many voices arguing for a cautious approach, with concerns that this recent wave of optimism about prospects for a change in Myanmar’s political order is premature, the Economic Intelligence Unit wrote in a recent report on the country.

The EIU, like most other agencies, says that the vast untapped natural resources coupled with the population of more than 60 million are all the positive for the country. Investors agree that with an abundance of minerals, metals and fossil fuels, and a tourism sector left in ruins by sanctions, Myanmar sparkles with opportunity.

Sanctions are falling away after April byelections that brought the National League for Democracy (NLD) into parliament for the first time. Optimistic observers believe there is now no turning back on the path to democracy.

“The reality is that no one can afford to ignore Myanmar’s potential,” said Jeremy Kloiser-Jones, head of the Hong Kong-based investment firm Bagan Capital, in an interview with AFP.

Tokyo announced last month that it would forgive about $3.7 billion of Myanmar’s debt and resume suspended aid.

“Now that the government has waived debts and yen-denominated loans will resume, huge business chances are ahead for us,” said a spokeswoman for the trading house Marubeni.

Marubeni, which has opened an office in the capital Nay Pyi Daw to complement the one it operates in Yangon, is looking at electricity and transport infrastructure projects, she said.

Rival Itochu is on the lookout for “information on mining rare metals such as molybdenum and tungsten”, a spokesman said, describing the country as the region’s “last frontier”.

Other countries have followed suit. When Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak visited Myanmar in March, he said he was looking to stimulate trade that jumped by a third in 2011 to be worth $792.7 million.

Khoo Kay Peng, a director of the Malaysian marketing company GFW Urban Youth, said he and his partners aimed to raise $2 million to open a business hotel in Yangon, which he says has only around 3,000 usable rooms.

Countries such as Thailand and China are ahead of the pack in Myanmar, with combined investments of $9.4 billion in 2010, according to EU figures. China, long immune to the international opprobrium of dealing with distasteful regimes, has bought up vast amounts of oil, gas and timber.

Meanwhile, South Korean companies have also been active in Myanmar for years, notably in energy, with Daewoo International and the Korea Gas Corporation signing deals while Suu Kyi was still a prisoner in her own home.

The EIU has set out various scenarios for Myanmar. The first, ongoing reform but with limited real structural changes, has a 60% probability, it believes.

Under this scenario the reforms continue in order to secure international legitimacy and reduce China’s influence, which is already happening to some small extent.

The short-term goal is to ensure there will be no objections to Myanmar chairing Asean in 2014, as scheduled, but not much real political change will occur.

Under this scenario, a lot of the sanctions and restrictions on business are lifted and multilateral agencies such as the IMF and World Bank start to provide much-needed help to build infrastructure and spur domestic consumption.

Under this scenario, the EIU believes GDP growth would be around 5% this year and 5.3% next year, 5,9% in 2014, 6.5% in 2015 and would average 7.7% in 2016-20.

The major risks, it says, are:

– structural imbalance with weak policymaking and low-quality institutions;

– a rapid rise in current account deficit;

– pressure on foreign exchange reserves and the currency;

– weakness in public finances with the state budget remaining in the red;

– the possibility of social unrest.

The second scenario, albeit with only a 25% likelihood according to the EIU, is a “Golden Era” of rapid political and economic reforms.

Under this scenario, sanctions and other restrictions are lifted, but the NLD is unlikely to form the government in the next parliamentary elections in 2015.

This would lead to an influx of foreign direct investment and capital for development that could lift GDP by 5% this year and 6.3% next year, 7.2% in 2014, 8.1% in 2015 and 8.5% in 2016-20.

The risk here, though, is that supporters of incumbent President Thein Sein would not allow the reforms to continue at such a rapid pace.

The last scenario, with a 15% probability, is one in which the reform process is rolled back and the military reasserts itself. Under such a scenario, GDP growth would be 4-5% from this year until 2020.

The EIU said that given a GDP per capita of $900 against $5,000 in Thailand, Myanmar clearly has a lot of potential for growth.

Products such as motorcycles, television sets, refrigerators, air-conditioners and other consumer goods have a bright future, as do mobile phones in a country with a penetration rate of less than 10%.

Apart from this industries such as healthcare and education hold great interest. Myanmar has said it would quadruple the budget for healthcare this year and would focus on building new hospitals, educating doctors and also securing medical supplies.Apart from this, the EIU sees potential for Myanmar as a low-cost manufacturing hub although a clearer policy is necessary. It notes that a previous shift of investments by foreign companies in the garment industry ran aground in 2003 the United States and European Union banned clothing imports from Myanmar. The impact was severe on manufacturers who were at that time supplying to major brands including Levi Strauss and Reebok.

Other areas such as construction, banking and finance, retailing, telecoms, and tourism all need to be upgraded and could require huge investments.

Myanmar could boom if it sticks to reforms: IMF

AFPBy Paul Handley | AFP – Tue, May 8, 2012

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  • Construction labourers are seen working on a building site in Yangon, in April. The International Monetary Fund said on Monday that Myanmar could be Asia's next boom economy if the country sticks to its new path of political and economic reformsConstruction labourers are seen …
  • This file photo shows a money changer exchanging Myanmar kyat bank notes into US dollars, in Yangon. The International Monetary Fund says that Myanmar has taken major steps to reform its currency system and could fully reform the distorted, multiple-rate system by the end of 2013This file photo shows a money changer …

The International Monetary Fund said Monday that Myanmar could be Asia’s next boom economy if the country sticks to its new path of political and economic reforms.

In its first-ever “Article IV” review of the economy, the IMF praised the initial moves to free up its currency in recent months and encouraged the government, politically isolated for a quarter-century, to stick to the path of reform.

“Myanmar’s new government faces a historic opportunity to jump-start development and lift living standards,” the Fund said in the milestone report.

“Myanmar could become the next economic frontier in Asia if, with appropriate reforms, it can turn its rich natural resources, young labor force, and proximity to some of the most dynamic economies, to its advantage.”

But the Fund cautioned the government, now starting to enjoy a gush of foreign investment as it opens up, to take each step carefully with a focus on maintaining economic stability.

“IMF economists believe that any rapid reforms on a large scale could make any potential mistakes very costly. Although planned reforms will take time to implement, prioritization is essential to deliver tangible benefits to the majority of the population,” it said in a note accompanying the review.

“We see certainly a strong reform momentum coming out of Myanmar,” said Meral Karasulu, IMF mission chief for the country.

“Over the past two years, the progress is very tangible.”

Karasulu said the Myanmar government’s move to put the kyat currency on a managed float at the beginning of April was a key beginning.

For years the currency has been tightly controlled, with multiple rates used by the government and various markets, and has served as a deterrence to trade and investment in the country.

Now, says Karasulu, the government is committed to unifying the rates under a managed float by the time it hosts the Southeast Asian games at the end of 2013.

“There are still many informal market exchange rates,” Karasulu said.

But, she added, “I do not find it unrealistic” to aim for complete currency reform by the end of 2013.

“Others took… up to two years” as well.

Karasulu said the government has moved away from simply printing money to fund its deficits, which together with distorted exchange rates has fuelled extreme inflation in recent years.

The IMF has seen a “significant decline” in so-called deficit monetization, by “about half,” she said.

That has helped calm price rises: inflation that averaged nearly 33 percent in the fiscal year that ended in March 2008 was down to 8.2 percent in fiscal 2010-11, and 4.2 percent in the year just ended.

Karasulu said the government could easily further cut the practice by allowing the state banks and insurance companies to invest more of their reserves in state bonds. Currently both groups face tight restrictions on such purchases.

While the country still owes several billion dollars to bilateral and development lenders it defaulted on years ago, the IMF said the government’s finances are fairly stable and show promise in the macroeconomic environment.

The economy grew an estimated 5.5 percent last year and will pick up pace to about 6.0 percent in the current year, with inflation rising to 5.8 percent on average.

With a surge in foreign investment sparking a rise in imports, the country’s current account shortfall is expected to widen.

Even so, Myanmar’s reserves were $7.1 billion in September 2011, and “are expected to remain comfortable” this year.

Army procurement switch puts boot into Afghan dream

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A frail economy boosted by Western cash inflows, the procurement decision taken by the Afghan government will deal a blow once again to local manufacturers, which will also push a lot of workers to revert back to work for the Taliban. – Reuters photo

KABUL: Gazing glumly over millions of dollars worth of machinery which used to churn out thousands of police and army boots each day but now sits wreathed in plastic sheeting, Farhad Saffi fears he is seeing the death of an Afghan dream.

Saffi’s Milli Boot Factory, in Kabul’s sprawling industrial hinterland, was a model for Afghanistan, showcasing local manufacturing while giving jobs to hundreds of people who may have otherwise have picked up insurgent guns.

But a US decision to hand procurement to the Afghan government has left Saffi with something of a developed world problem – local officials opted for cheaper boots made in China and Pakistan, killing off Milli’s contracts after a year.

“The US government told me when I started I would have contracts for five years, until at least 2014,” he told Reuters.

“The Afghan government gave me only three months notice of cancellation and now I have $30 million worth of raw material I can’t use.”

When it opened, inside huge white sheds that once held PVC piping machinery but is now home to high-tech German injection moulding and boot-making equipment, Afghan and US generals were keen to be photographed alongside a local success story.

US Navy Rear Admiral Kathleen Dussault toured in 2010 to present Saffi, just 23, with a quality certificate for the plant to supply fledgling Afghan National Security Forces with top-quality boots under contracts worth up to $40 million a year.

Saffi sold his leather boots, which underwent a rigorous quality testing process in the United States, for $62 a pair, while Chinese-made boots with imitation leather cost the Afghan government $22 in a contract for up to 700,000 pairs a year.

“The Afghan government is just looking for the lowest price,” he said, surveying a room piled high with rolls of leather and raw material bought from Taiwan.

“They asked me to sell for $15 a pair, but the leather alone cost me $40. The Chinese boots use fake leather and quickly fall apart, but they are cheap.”

From 2002 until the end of 2011, $85.5 billion was spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan, according to US government figures, while international aid worth $57 billion has flooded into the country.

NATO-led forces, who have mostly handled purchasing for the Afghan security forces in the decade-long war, have since 2010 operated under “Afghan First” rules requiring them to buy where possible from local companies, boosting the economy and employment while underpinning anti-insurgent strategies.

Contracts for Afghan businesses included 100 percent of Afghan uniforms and boots, textiles, furniture, tents, software and transformers, according to NATO data.

Those contracts spawned 15,000 jobs, while making savings on imports for combat-related spending worth $650 million – still a fraction of the estimated $200 million spent on the war a day.

THE $10-A-DAY TALIB

The Afghan First Policy backs anti-insurgency efforts by ensuring that people employed locally with better jobs and incomes aren’t tempted to join the estimated 25,000 Afghan Taliban fighters in the country, often called the ‘$10-a-day Talib’, referring to the payment offered to would-be fighters.

Some of the 700 workers laid off from Saffi’s factory are now thinking of doing just that, seeing no other future as Western nations and NGOs look to leave the country with the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.

“The factory must be reopened. If it doesn’t we will have to join the Taliban for a job. What else can we do? We have families to feed,” said Ares Khan, 23, as he packed some of the last boots Milli will produce without a government change of heart.

Workers at the factory earned between $400 and $900 a month, well over the average wage in a country where up to a third of the 30 million population live under the poverty line.

But many businessmen and workers fear security will evaporate with the Western exodus, taking job opportunities and investment dollars with them to safer havens elsewhere, as Afghanistan’s moneyed elite have done for decades.

Khan’s friend, Khair Mohammad, who came to Kabul from Ghazni province where NATO forces are engaged now in one of the last large offensives of the war, also sees no future outside the insurgency if the Afghan government closes off jobs.

“There are sixteen people in my family and there is no bread winner except me. When I go back to Ghazni I will have to join the Taliban,” Mohammad said.

More than $12 billion a year spent on the war has driven up prices in Afghanistan, and wages for an internationalised few. Mohammad said his living costs were already high.

AFGHAN ABILITY

US military officials say the decision to hand a large slice of procurement to the Afghans was made in March, with responsibility handed over to the Defence and Interior Ministries.

“The decision was part of the transition process to Afghan security and control,” said US Navy Lieutenant Aaron Kakiel, a logistics officer for the 130,000-strong NATO-led coalition in the country.

Afghan companies, Kakiel said, had supplied everything from boots to uniforms and sleeping bags, construction and even IT services for the country’s security forces, which will eventually number around 352,000.

Milli is not the only company to fall foul of the switch to local procurement, with several uniform and equipment suppliers either nervously eyeing soon-to-expire contracts, or having already lost orders to cross-border competitors.

A rival company executive, who asked not to be named because his firm fears retribution from Afghan military buyers, said, like Milli, he had invested millions of dollars into his business, but his supply contracts were now in limbo.

“The term of our contracts in some fields has ended. It’s not clear if the government will contract with us again, or with some other companies in other countries,” the executive said.

“My company has imported material from the US for products which get manufactured in Kabul and that will be useless if we don’t get contracts back. We will have to sack people.”

Lieutenant-General Abdul Basir Asafzari, who heads logistics and procurement in the Ministry of Defence, said only 30 per cent of supply currently was coming from Afghan companies, and President Hamid Karzai had also ordered the military to choose local firms where possible.

The reason Milli had contracts cancelled was because it was importing low-quality boots from China and other countries and relabelling them, he said.

“Milli boot company did not fulfil its commitments. There were some complaints from soldiers about the quality,” Asafzari said.

But Mohammad Akbar Ahmadzai, from the NGO Building Markets, which helps build jobs and investment in developing countries by supporting entrepreneurs, said Milli’s boots had been genuine and met US-based quality tests.

Other business experts, who would only comment anonymously, said Milli and others may have fallen foul of Afghanistan’s labyrinth of bribe and patronage payments, with better-connected competitors manoeuvring to kill them off.

NATO’s Kakiel said Milli and others may also have misunderstood complex contract provisions which stipulated only one year of guaranteed sales.

In 2011, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan saw US agencies contract out over $4 billion, out of a total of $17.3 billion, with Afghan companies.

More than 90 percent of that was spent on products bought from Afghan sellers (49 per cent), construction (28 per cent), support services (11 per cent) and transportation (6 per cent).

But an audit by the US government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, released in January, said the Afghan First Initiative (AFI) had been marred by inadequate contract solicitation and vetting, while data on claimed employment benefits had been limited.

BUSINESS CONFIDENCE

Saffi, whose family fled under Taliban rule and returned in 2002 to find everything destroyed, said his experience had shaken his faith in both the US government and the future promised by Karzai.

“We tried to do a good job here in this factory, but right now this has happened,” he said. “The only judgment we can make is that my company and the country are going the same way.”

Most people in Kabul’s business world, he said, were nervous about the unpredictable investment climate and deteriorating security, a sentiment reinforced by an audacious Taliban attack on the city centre and nearby provinces in mid-April.

Saffi said he now had to employ 30 personal bodyguards just to ensure his children can attend school, without insurgent harm or kidnap, while police snipers were based on the roof above his home.

“When my company is closing and also going down, the same way you can think of the country. I am president of my company and Karzai is president of the country,” he said.

“I am managing my company, and now my workers are leaving. The same will be happening to the country. The president must manage his country.”

Land Grabs Intensify as Burma ‘Reform’ Races Ahead of Law

By | May 15, 2012 | RECOMMEND:

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Burmese farmers protest the confiscation of their land at a rally in downtown Rangoon on Oct. 27, 2011. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Burmese farmers protest the confiscation of their land at a rally in downtown Rangoon on Oct. 27, 2011. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

While foreign governments heap praise on the Burmese government’s liberal tilt, land theft appears to be increasing as state agencies and powerfully placed domestic firms position themselves to welcome foreign investment.

Farmers across the country are being muscled out of their fields with little hope of appeal to the law. This is because despite all the trumpeting in the West about President Thein Sein’s “reforms,” the rule of law in Burma is closer to 12th Century Europe than the 21st Century.

In medieval Europe, land ownership was determined by sharp swords and private armies. In present-day Burma, powerful businesses linked to the army do much the same.

Land confiscation is being reported near the south coast, in the Rangoon region, around Mandalay and in northern areas close to the border with China.

Farmers and their families are being forcibly moved for major projects, such as the oil and gas pipelines being built through the country from the Bay of Bengal to the Chinese border, and for smaller industrial projects by firms with long crony links to the military.

Even where the local authorities have sided with expelled farmers, big businesses feel confident enough to ignore them. Just last week, The Irrawaddy reported how industrial firm Zay Kabar has continued to bulldoze snatched land despite a stop order issued by the administrative office of the Rangoon area’s Mingaladon Township.

Zay Kabar is owned by Khin Shwe, a member of Parliament for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party.

“[Burma] faces new challenges, notably as former military personnel move into new roles in other sectors including industry, carrying with them their previous authority,” the Asian Human Rights Commission said in a recent submission to United Nations Human Rights Council.

“The convergence of the military, government agents and business is an enormously dangerous development, as can been seen in the increasingly grave problem of land-grabbing.”

The commission alleged that 70 percent of court cases in Burma are “decided in part or whole by the payment of money. As economic boom increases the money within the system, the effect of corruption will only grow.”

Business investment risk assessor Maplecroft, based in Britain, says that despite the widespread praise for supposed political reforms, Burma continues to come to the top of its poor rule of law index. It says the government continues to dictate judicial decisions.

“Tangible improvements in the rule of law, including increased judicial independence and greater transparency in the regulatory system, will be required before the long-term potential of the economy can be realized,” Maplecroft says.

Claiming ownership of a slice of land, especially in potential development areas around the bigger conurbations or tourist attractions, will enhance Burmese businesses looking to attract wealthier foreign investment partners.

Land ownership has been vague since the 1960s when most of it was nationalized during the socialist reign of Ne Win. Successive military rules have eroded the rule of law so that questions of ownership depend more on political influence or money than any historic right.

A new land law is supposed to be under debate in the Burmese Parliament but it has been subject to very little open analysis and some observers think it will merely strengthen the ability of military-linked businesses to claim they are acting within the law when they decide they want a piece of land.

“Existing laws do little to prevent confiscation by government-aligned figures, and that looks set to continue if a bill currently being debated in Parliament comes into force,” said a report by the Democratic Voice of Burma. “The Land Act will effectively allow powerful tycoons to monopolize arable land and force off small-scale farmers,” it concluded.

One of the biggest land grabs has occurred in recent weeks in Sagaing Division, where scores of people in three villages have been ordered to leave their homes in a bid to take over 7,500 acres, reportedly for copper mining projects.

The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH), run by the military in various guises, and Chinese businesses are involved in these land confiscations.

“These incidents mirror what has gone on in China over the past 20 or more years as the economic boom has demanded more and more agricultural land for projects ranging from coal mines to hydroelectric dam systems,” Hong Kong energy industries analyst Jeff mead told The Irrawaddy. “The absence of a proper rule of law has made it difficult for people to resist but today in China there is a more emboldened public prepared to make protests heard.”

One positive consequence of the current reformed-minded government is that aggrieved people in Burma are less frightened of publicly objecting to injustice. This is illustrated by the legal action being taken this month by several farmers who had land confiscated from them last year in the Mandalay area.

About 40 acres of the farmers’ land was taken by yet another military body, the Bureau of Air Defense, in cahoots with a firm called High Tech Concrete, which is owned by noted army-linked businessman Aik Tun.

Such bold action is not without serious risks though. Five farmers in the Magwe Division who sued UMEH and the Htoo Trading Company last year over land confiscation ended in prison.

The farmers’ land was taken to build a caustic soda factory. The farmers were jailed for allegedly offensive comments, trespass and “violation” of the law.

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific warned last week that although Burma seems to be on the brink of “tremendous opportunity,” there remained a danger that the chief beneficiaries would be the well-placed business cronies of the military establishment.

All the signs are that without the rule of law and an independent judiciary, this is exactly what’s happening.

Who Lost Russia?

April 13, 2000

George Soros

The collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 and the Soviet Union in 1991 offered a historic opportunity to transform that part of the world into open societies; but the Western democracies failed to rise to the occasion and the entire world has to suffer the consequences. The Soviet Union and later Russia needed outside help because an open society is a more sophisticated form of social organization than a closed society. In a closed society there is only one concept of how society should be organized, the authorized version, which is imposed by force. In an open society citizens are not only allowed but required to think for themselves, and there are institutional arrangements that allow people with different interests, different backgrounds, and different opinions to live together in peace.The Soviet system was probably the most comprehensive form of closed society ever invented by man. It penetrated into practically all aspects of existence: not only the political and military but also the economic and the intellectual. At its most aggressive, it even tried to invade natural science—as the case of Lysenko showed. To make the transition to an open society required a revolutionary change in regime which could not be accomplished without outside help. It was this insight that prompted me to rush in and establish open society foundations in one country after another in the former Soviet empire.But the open societies of the West lacked this insight. After the end of the Second World War, the United States launched the Marshall Plan; after the collapse of the Soviet system the idea of a similar initiative was unthinkable. I proposed something like it at a conference in the spring of 1989 in Potsdam, which was then still in East Germany, and I was literally laughed at. The laughter was led by William Waldegrave, a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s foreign office. Margaret Thatcher was a staunch defender of freedom—when she visited Communist countries she insisted on meeting with dissidents—but the idea that an open society needs to be constructed and that the construction may require—and deserve—outside help was apparently beyond her understanding. As a market fundamentalist, she did not believe in government intervention. In fact, the formerly Communist countries were left largely to fend for themselves. Some made the grade; others did not.

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There is much soul-searching and finger-pointing going on with regard to Russia. Articles are being written asking, Who lost Russia? I am convinced that we, the Western democracies, are largely responsible, and that the sins of omission were committed by the Bush and Thatcher administrations. The record of Chancellor Kohl’s Germany is more mixed. Both in extending credits and in making grants, Germany was the largest financial contributor to the Soviet Union and later to Russia, but Kohl was motivated more by the desire to buy Russian acquiescence in German reunification than to help transform Russia.

I contend that if the Western democracies had really engaged themselves, Russia …

By Jennifer Glasse in on Wed, 2012-05-09 12:33.

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Farhad Saffi, manager of Milli Boot company which faces closure [Jennifer Glasse]

I first met the Saffi family in 2010  I was in Afghanistan doing a series on building the Afghan military and NATO’s training mission was keen to show off the Milli boot factory.

Colonel John Ferrari, then the deputy commander for programmes of the training mission, said supporting the Milli boot factory was part of their Afghan First programme.

“One of our goals is to make the Afghan security forces sustainable over time, and that means that the Afghan economy and the Afghan people can support their security forces,” Ferrari said.

Family patriarch Ihsan Saffi agreed.

He first started making boots in Afghanistan in 1979.

He and his family fled Afghanistan when the Taliban took over and they returned in 2002. His equipment and factories were destroyed.

But, he decided to rebuild, and in 2010, he told me the reason was simple.

“Afghanistan is our own country, I want to help my own country, I want to help my own people, there are many poor people I want to bring them here and give them jobs.”

It was an encouraging story. Saffi was already employing about 500 workers and paying their salaries even though the factory was not fully up and running.

He wanted to be ready as soon as NATO approved the boot quality.

Ihsan Saffi saw it as an investment in security and stability.

“If every businessman invested here and opened a factory,” he said, “people would have work.

“Everyone knows if people had jobs, there wouldn’t be fighting.  Everyone would be busy earning money for their children, they wouldn’t fight.”

Saffi had just purchased a $6m machine to make molded boot soles. He was certain this would ensure high quality for years to come and make him the official bootmaker for the Afghan army and police.

In 2009, NATO had promised the Milli Boot Company a five-year IDIQ contract. That is indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity, but with NATO’s aim to increase the size of the Afghan security forces to exceed 300,000, the Saffis were confident they had a secure market for their boots.

A new reality

When I returned to the boot factory this week, the mood was not so optimistic.

Ihsan’s son Farhad manages the business. He says he was shocked to learn in February, that NATO was transferring procurement responsibilities to the Afghan government and that they would no longer be buying his boots.

“They will be buying boots for them from China, the lowest quality and the lowest price,” he said.

The Afghan military, however, denies it is in control of the contract.

Spokesman Major General Zahir Azimi told me that the contract might be transferred in six months. NATO’s training mission says they turned over control in March.

Caught in the middle, is Farhad Saffi.

He has laid of 70 per cent of his 150 workers.

The remaining few dozen continue to make boots, because otherwise the expensive chemicals needed to mold the boot soles would expire.

Farhad Saffi says he will have to fire the remaining workers when the chemicals run out in about a month. Saffi points out his stockpiles of leather and cloth, enough to make 700 000 pairs of boots, in a storeroom welders two years ago were specially building for this purpose.

He imported so much raw material because transporting supplies into the country has been difficult since November 2011, when NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post and Pakistan closed its border to NATO supply trucks.

Saffi said if he knew the contract was going to be cancelled, he would not have brought the millions of dollars of supplies into Afghanistan.

“Surely we are disappointed why this has happened, and so suddenly,” Farhad Saffi said. “They should have informed us six months ago. The US government should have told us that this transition would be happening in the very near future so that we would know what to do.”

From promise to uncertainty

Now Saffi says he does not know what to do. He has more than 120 000 boots sitting in boxes.

He says he can not match the price of the cheaper Chinese boots he may have to compete with.

But, he insists the quality of his boots is better, because they are made with real leather that is two millimeters thick, and heavy duty cloth. Saffi says they will last far longer than the less expensive, poorly made Chinese boots.

If the government only goes with the lowest price, Saffi will loose the bid.

Azimi, at the Afghan ministry of defence, says when the contract does come up for bid, the government will want high quality and a low price.

“Afghanistan has an open trade policy,” Azimi explained. “It will be up to the company to bid and it needs to be able to compete with other companies.”

Saffi is confident that he makes the best boots in Afghanistan.

He is hoping the competition will be fair, but Azrakahsh Hafizi, the chairman of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry says the biggest challenge the Milli Boot company will face is corruption.

“In every government office, the corruption is huge,” says Hafizi. “If you are not corrupt, they are thinking that, you are crazy. It’s the mentality of the government of Afghanistan.”

Whatever happens ultimately to the Milli Boot Factory, it is a cautionary tale.

One of the workers, Mohammed Nasim, told me there is not another factory like it in Kabul and that if this busines fails, after so much investment by the Saffi family and years of support from NATO, it will discourage other businesspeople from investing in Afghanistan.

That would be another setback for this country.

NATO forces are heading for the exit, taking with them not only soldiers and equipment, but billions of dollars of potential business when they depart by the end of 2014.

In the meantime Afghanistan must learn to stand on its own feet, both militarily and economically.

Privatising Margaret Thatcher’s funeral would be a fitting tribute to her legacy

The Iron Lady herself would surely agree that poor taxpayers should not be further burdened in these times of austerity; Ref: http://www.guardian.co.uk/

Margaret Thatcher funeral

An e-petition has called for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral to be funded and managed by the private sector. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/EPA

Margaret Thatcher’s close ideological ally Ronald Reagan famously said the 10 most dangerous words in the English language were: “Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

Neither Thatcher nor Reagan were enamoured with the state and its role in society. They wanted private companies to be able to reach into every party of our lives. So why not extend this privatisation experiment into the after-life?

Now someone by the name of Scott Morgan has launched this e-petition:

“In keeping with the great lady’s legacy, Margaret Thatcher’s state funeral should be funded and managed by the private sector to offer the best value and choice for end users and other stakeholders. The undersigned believe that the legacy of the former PM deserves nothing less and that offering this unique opportunity is an ideal way to cut government expense and further prove the merits of liberalised economics Baroness Thatcher spearheaded.”

This is a brilliant idea, and surely one even Thatcher will approve of. It can be a fitting tribute to her ideological legacy.

Let me be clear: it’s isn’t nice to wish death on most people, and I’m not doing that here for Thatcher. She deserves a degree of respect like other people, in my view, despite what she did as prime minister.

Surely the serious point behind this petition is to ask how far ideologues are willing go. Wouldn’t Thatcher prefer the first privatised funeral instead of a state one? After all, why go out on a state subsidy?

Consider the endless possibilities, for die-hard Thatcherites, of privatising the event. I think we can agree it should be ticketed so it can turn a profit. Perhaps an IT company (let’s call them Crapita for example), could sell tickets via the internet. You may have to wait a couple of months to get the system off the ground but at least it’ll work … eventually. If it’s anything like the privatisation of the railways, none of the funeral services would run on time and you’d end up with 500 people in a church meant for 200.

But there could be optional extras otherwise denied by the state. You could pay to have an opportunity to wail, as North Koreans seem to have perfected. Wailing while stabbing a picture of Arthur Scargill should obviously cost much more. Opportunities to sell Thatcher memorabilia (a picture of her with Pinochet, sir?) would be endless. It could even boost our sagging economy.

The television rights to the event should be auctioned off, perhaps for a private library dedicated to Thatcher (with John Maynard Keynes banned from the economics section of course).

Surely Thatcher herself would agree that poor taxpayers should not be further burdened in these times of austerity.

And, in the interests of balance, I think it’s only right to say I’d be happy to repeat the call when the time comes for Tony Blair.

Critical Thinking: Well, in Myanmar the government has done similar aggressive privatisation of citizens’ public assets, institutions and resources, very much like

Thatcher’s Britain.  Intellectuals, economists and communities of local citizenry should question and form an inquiry into the impact of such privatisation and incurring impacts. Many thanks dear,

Professors of Garunar L’ Universite Orientale Royale

A whole world sold on sell-offs

Ten years after the fall of its great exponent, privatisation has become the common currency of political parties

Special report: the Thatcher era

Love her or loathe her, Margaret Thatcher changed the industrial landscape of Britain. It is 10 years to the day since she was ousted in a palace coup. But the main legacy of her time in Downing Street lives on, not just in Britain but across the world.

The shorthand version of the Thatcher years, as retold in the Iron Lady’s memoirs, and on the after-dinner circuit – where she earns an estimated £1.5m a year – is that Britain was changed from the land of Red Robbo and wildcat strikes to the land of “Sid” and the share-owning democracy. In one stroke, the dead hand of the state was removed from the economy, unleashing a new spirit of enterprise and derring do.

But memoirs, like memory, can play tricks. By the time the usually steely-eyed Lady Thatcher made her tearful departure in November 1990, one in four of the population owned shares and more than 40 former state-owned businesses had been privatised, a process which affected more than 600,000 workers in former nationalised industries.

Privatisation was, however, no overnight revolution; rather it was a slow-burn process that only really began in Mrs Thatcher’s second term. In fact Jim Callahan sold a chunk of BP in the 1970s to to keep the International Monetary Fund happy. What is more, the record of some companies that were denationalised looks different today from the late 80s, when tycoons like Lord King at British Airways were members of the prime minister’s inner court.

Mad dash for shares

The truth is that privatisation hardly featured at all between 1979 and 1983, when Mrs Thatcher was preoccupied by three struggles – the fight against inflation, the fight against the unions and the fight against the Argentines. Even during the second term, from 1983 to 1987 – easily the most radical of the four successive Conservative terms in office – there was no real conception of how a scheme to make money for the Treasury could be used as a weapon to win votes.

It was only after the mad dash for shares in British Telecom in 1984 that the penny dropped in Downing Street. Privatisation was not just about ownership and industrial organisation, it was also about politics. As such, the BT sell off was followed by the privatisation of British Gas in 1986 and of Rolls-Royce, British Airways and the British Airports Authority in 1987.

Apart from the unions and the Labour party, everybody seemed happy. The government had extra cash to spend on tax cuts, voters had shares which were going up in value and those running the companies had freedom to act and much fat ter pay packets. But how much has really changed? To be sure, many of those working in the old nationalised industries have lost their jobs as the newly cost-conscious companies responded to shareholder demands to boost productivity and profits. But BT is still seen as flabby and staid, BA is struggling to compete in the global airlines business, and Railtrack – a company sold off long after Mrs Thatcher was ousted – is dogged by controversy about whether privatisation is to blame for the state of the nation’s railways. The tough regulation to prevent the privatised utilities exploiting their natural monopolies has made some of them hanker after giving up their PLC status.

In her memoirs, the former prime minister evocatively described the sale of state assets as essential to “eroding the corro sive and corrupting effects of socialism”. Yet five years after she left office, a star was created out of a 30-stone pink and black pig named Cedric, who was to come to symbolise corporate excess with its snout buried in the “trough of privatisation”. Ironically, though, the level of pay being protested about then – a 75% rise for chief executive Cedric Brown, to £475,000 and potential performance-related bonus of £594,000 – would now barely cause even a raised eyebrow.

Unsurprisingly, Lady Thatcher and her teams of politicial and financial advisers prefer not to dwell on the boardroom self-enrichment that followed privatisation, arguing instead that there were beneficial effects for the wider economy.

Tony Carlisle, a City public relations adviser involved in 90% of the privatisations, acknowledges: “One of the key accusations of privatisations is that it works for the bosses and the shareholders, but … pity about the poor consumer.”

But he argues that privatisation actually served the consumer well. Through deregulation and increased competition, there is more choice about which company gas, electricity and telephone services can be bought.

Without privatisation, companies such as Vodafone and Energis might never have been created. A senior corporate finance executive closely involved in the privatisation says: “You may argue about the pricing, the public policy and the structure of the deals but if it had not been done you would not have the competition we now see across all industries”.

The more cynical take the view that privatisation demonstrated that being British was not best. One highly regarded City analyst says: “In general, companies with British in their names haven’t done very well. Being British quickly became too parochial.”

Words such as “globalisation” have quickly eclipsed “privatisation” in the City’s lexicon of catchphrases. The big, national monopolies that were privatised increasingly drew their customers outside national boundaries.

“British” is now eradicated from British Steel, after merging with Hoogovens of Holland to form Corus; from British Gas, now three separate companies, only one of which refers to itself as BG. British Petroleum has long been BP and now BP Amoco after its multi-billion dollar takeover of the US company.

Another frequent criticism is that the companies were sold off too cheaply. Another City analyst warns this can be a too simple conclusion drawn from the way in which many of the share sales were overscribed. Not all the share sales were successful. BP, for instance, hit the market in the midst of a stock market crash, leaving many banks licking their wounds.

Tell Sid

Yet, an analysis of the companies which were privatised during the Thatcher years shows that the privatisation portfolio, constructed for the Guardian by investment bank ING Barings, outperformed the benchmark FTSE 100 for most of the period. An indication that investors were sold the companies too cheaply, or a reflection of sound management which outpaced the rest of the industry?

To one City analyst it is almost irrelevant whether the privatisation portfolio outperformed the market. “The ‘Tell Sid’ campaign sticks in people’s minds. It made people more aware that the equity market could be a form of saving for the future just as it became the state could no longer provide for old age,” the analyst said.

Tony Alt, a corporate financier at investment Rothschild who was involved in many of the major privatisations, regards the most important legacy as creating “a platform for privatisations around the globe”.

More than £400bn of assets have now been privatised in countries as diverse as the Czech republic and New Zealand, and a word which gained currency during Lady Thatcher’s government is now internationally recognised.

But the real political impact of privatisation has not been in Prague or Wellington but in London. In 1983 when he first became an MP, Tony Blair fought on a Labour manifesto committed to an extension of state ownership. The strength of Mrs Thatcher’s enduring legacy is that Labour has not only turned its back on nationalisation, but now has privatisation plans of its own.

When the family silver was sold

Cable & Wireless: Oct 81

Amersham International: Feb 82

Britoil: Nov 82

Associated British Ports: Feb 83

Enterprise Oil: Feb 84

Jaguar: July 84

British Telecom: Nov 84

British Gas: Dec 86

British Airways: Feb 87

Rolls-Royce: May 87

BAA: July 87

British Steel: Dec 88

Regional water companies: Dec 89

Electricity distribution companies: Dec 90

AIDS Research Alliance currently seeks volunteers for the following clinical trials:

1.  GeoVax – Therapeutic Vaccine

geovax

You may be eligible, if you are:
•  Between the ages of 18 and 50
•  On antiretroviral therapy or planning to begin antiretroviral therapy
•  Started antiretroviral therapy within 18 months of last HIV test

2.  GSK – Treatment-Resistant HIV Study

You may be eligible, if you are:
•  18 years or older
•  HIV-positive
•  Resistant to some antiretroviral therapies

3.  HVTN – HIV Vaccine 505

hvtn

You may be eligible, if you are:
•  Between the ages of 18 and 50
•  HIV-negative
•  Had sex with a man recently

4.  Hoffman LaRoche – HIV & Influenza

You may be eligible, if you are:
•  At least 18 years old
•  HIV-positive
•  Have symptoms of influenza

5.  Tobira Therapeutics – HIV Treatment-Naïve Study

You may be eligible, if you are:
•  At least 18 years old
•  HIV-positive
•  Have not started any antiretroviral therapy


For more information on the above studies:

Call:      310-358-2429
Email:    studyinfo@aidsresearch.org

Join our Priority Notification List, if you are:

•  Interested in joining a future clinical trial
•  Interested in helping us recruit study volunteers, or
•  A former research volunteer, who wants to stay involved

EUROPE :

HIV/AIDS, Malaria
and Tuberculosis

HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS research under FP7

Research on HIV/AIDS is a top priority for the European Commission. The constant commitment of the Commission in this field has allowed us to finance the best European researchers in this field, in order to better develop new preventive and treatment tools. Projects financed under the last Framework programmes are progressing through the development of new vaccines, microbicides, drugs and therapeutic options. In addition, to better organise EU research in this field, we have created two big networks of excellence, one for HIV prevention, and the other one for HIV treatment, with the participation of most of the top European HIV researchers and clinicians. Moreover, in order to allow further development of successful products, we have created the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), to finance capacity building and clinical trials in sub-Saharan Africa.

Under FP7 the Commission will continue the efforts started in previous years in HIV research. New discovery projects willbe funded on HIV drugs, vaccine and microbicides, without forgetting the further development of successful ones into clinical trials. New treatment options will also be an important focus of research, as HIV/AIDS drug resistance. Under FP7, for the first time the Commission will invest in health systems research. Continuing with the efforts initiated in FP6 to better structure European research on HIV/AIDS, an ERANET will be created to coordinate the HIV research activities of European governments and funding agencies.

Cheese and Wine Pairing

How about some wine to go with that cheese? Here are our recommendations.


The Cheese Plate

Choosing cheeses for a tasting platter is a great opportunity to explore varied textures, ages, or milk types. But like most pleasures in life, you should set limits. Three different varieties are more than enough and more than five gets confusing. After all, taste is what you’re after.

Choose one spectacular cheese:

  • Serve Pierre Robert, a French triple-crème brie, with salty nuts and champagne.
  • Try Stilton, the great English farmhouse blue, with port, an inky Shiraz, or a Muscat.
  • Serve Montgomery’s Cheddar with chutney and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Choose by country of origin (we chose Spain as an example):

  • Manchego (aged sheep). Pour a Rioja from Spain or a Washington Merlot.
  • Cabrales (Sheep, goat, and cow; creamy blue). Serve with sherry, dry or sweet.
  • Garrotxa (aged goat). Try with a Riesling or Spanish red from Ribera del Duero.

Choose different milks:

  • Humboldt Fog (Goat). Pair with Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre, for example) or California Chardonnay.
  • Pecorino Toscano (Sheep). Excellent with a Tuscan red like Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino.
  • Bleu des Causses (Cow). Fine with a tawny port or oloroso sherry.
  • Mozzarella di Bufala (Buffalo). Pour a Chianti.

Choose one milk type, different processes:

  • Provolone (Pasta filata or stretched cheese). Serve with Chardonnay or Italian reds.
  • Gruyere (Hard cheese). Pour Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.
  • Brick (Semi-hard cheese.) Nice with a white wine like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Pinot Gris.
  • Brie (Soft-ripened cheese). Surprise guests with sparkling wine or an oloroso sherry.
  • Talleggio (Washed rind, semi-soft cheese). You can’t go wrong with an Italian red wine.

Choose by season:

Three early summer cheeses, three different milks:

  • Fresh mozzarella (cow): Great with a Chianti or other Sangiovese-based wine.
  • Fresh chevre (goat). Wonderful with Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Pecorino fresco (sheep). Pour Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino.

Serving Suggestions

  • To start or end a meal:plan on about 2 total ounces per person.
  • As a main course: plan on 4 ounces per person. You might want to adjust amounts according to how many other accompaniments you plan to serve.

Take cheese out of the refrigerator about an hour before serving. Present it on a flat surface–a board, slate, or a lovely tile will do–and give each cheese its own knife.

Fancy tools, like cheese planes, are not necessary. And, if your goal is really to taste the cheese, plain baguettes or very plain crackers are perfect.

Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung Logo The Globalization of Knowledge
and the Principles of Governance in Higher Education and Research

5th Forum on the Internationalization of Sciences and Humanities

13 – 14 November 2011, Berlin

With global competition being so dynamic, higher education and research systems around the world are under pressure to change. Like other countries with a strong tradition in research, Germany has to respond to the challenges posed by huge research markets developing in other regions of the world: while the tasks of universities and research institutions differentiate depending on their source of funding and their economic and cultural environment, increasingly tight budgets exert their pressure for better efficiency. Fierce competition for the world’s most accomplished and creative scientific talents makes it necessary, however, to not only offer competitive working conditions with an utmost degree of freedom and flexibility, excellent infrastructure, and attractive financial remuneration, but also to ensure that the wider environment for innovative research and scientific endeavor is sound. This includes institutional structures suitable to do integrative, innovative, and transformative research, as well as motivating legal and administrative frameworks and support from an academic network that allows for productive cooperation across borders.

Participants at the Fourth Forum on the Internationalization of Sciences and Humanities
5th Forum on the Internationalization of Sciences and Humanities,
Academy of Art, Berlin

Photo: Humboldt Foundation/David Ausserhofer

With the internationalization of higher education and research as a backdrop, participants at the 5th Forum on the Internationalization of Sciences and Humanities discussed how politics could contribute to supporting universities and research institutions in their endeavors to offer attractive general conditions to globally mobile researchers and to fulfill their various tasks in the national framework. The participants agreed that the increasing commercialization of universities across the world was leading to a reduction in the scope for independent research, while the interest in drawing universities closer to industry and seeing them as engines for economic development was continuing to increase. In the U.S., market-oriented ideas already had such an enormous influence on the structure of university research that the balance between the disciplines was in danger and students were looked upon solely as consumers rather than knowledge-producers. Consequently, more than ever before, universities now found themselves doing a balancing act between serving regional (national and local) economic interests on the one hand and being forced to line up with global competition on the other. Although there was no argument about the significance of universities in the modern knowledge society, efforts to create top universities were often set against austerity measures – to the detriment of science and research. The participants also discussed how the differing academic cultures and value systems in Europe, Africa, America and Asia could be harmonized sufficiently to ensure that science and research continued to enjoy the necessary freedom to produce new knowledge and be beneficial to development worldwide.

Sixty high-ranking representatives from science and science policy, research funding and administration, and leading international experts accepted the invitation from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s International Advisory Board to share their knowledge on the impact of globalization on research structures and principles of governance in higher education and research. As a special guest of honor, the Forum welcomed the spokeswoman for science and research policy of the parliamentary group Bündnis 90/Die Grünen in the German Bundestag, Krista Sager. In her opening speech, Krista Sager emphasized the need for an open society as basic condition for international research cooperation. Politicians as well as society as a whole should have the courage to stand up for and, if necessary, defend an open and tolerant society, and help create the political conditions necessary for global student and researcher mobility. Thereby, international research cooperation could flourish and form the basis of science as a diplomacy of trust.

The most important points of discussion of the Forum will again be published. Documentation of the events held in previous years are already available online or can be obtained in printed form from the Foundation directly.

Min Thu Wun, died 15 August 2004, Rangoon
Poet turned politician gave a rare voice to Burma
Myint Zan
The Australian, Wed 6 Oct 2004

October 5: Minthuwun: Poet. Born Kungyangon, Burma, February 10, 1909. Died Rangoon, August 15, aged 95.

Minthuwun was one of Burma’s foremost poets of the 20th century. His literary output spanned 75 years, an achievement without parallel in the country.

Minthuwun graduated in 1933 from Rangoon University with a bachelor of arts. He won a scholarship to Oxford University, where he studied Sanskrit, Pali and Tibetan languages and linguistics.

Back in Burma before World War II broke out, he started work on a Burmese dictionary, a task that lasted 30 years. In 1952 Minthuwun was a visiting scholar of linguistics at Yale University in the US.

Starting from the early 1930s, Minthuwun, with Zaw Gyi and Theikpan Maung Wa, spearheaded the khitsan Burmese literary movement — khitsan means “testing the age”. This movement made a shift from the florid style of writing that had been the norm in Burmese literature. It was a shift in style and substance. Instead of dwelling mainly on sentimental, romantic and religious themes, the poems, essays and short stories written by these three writers began to cover wider humanistic themes and concerns.

In one of his poems first published in February 1982 (when he was 73) Minthuwun acknowledged that he was perceived by the Burmese public as a romantic writer-poet. In one poem he drew attention to when he was growing up during British colonial rule and many — especially the rural poor – were in debt. During the winter season, he wrote, the plague was rampant. In the dry season cholera regularly ran its course. In the rainy season, malaria played havoc in the villages.

“Besieged by these multiple troubles, I might have become eccentric. To allay my mental despair and tiredness, I might have grasped whatever comes my way,” he wrote.

As a human being with foibles, wrote Minthuwun, his explanations for being a romantic poet might amount to a deception, for which he craved forgiveness. He exhorted readers to search for the truth for themselves.

Minthuwun was also a marvellous human being in his life and rich contributions to Burmese literature.

It would be wrong to box in Minthuwun’s contributions to Burmese literature as mainly, or even partly, that of a romantic poet. In January 1938, while studying in England, he wrote a poem that was undoubtedly political and prophetic. The last lines of the poem include the phrase “while the rooster crows in the early morning, and the dawn’s red rays appear over the horizon, and the drums are played in triumph, let us rejoice in the wide fields” (for the independence of Burma).

Ten years to the day after Minthuwun composed the poem, Burma regained independence on January 4, 1948. The independence ceremony was — in accordance with astrological advice — held just before dawn.

During the ceremonies there was also the ringing of drums as the red rays of dawn appeared over the horizon.

In 1973, Minthuwun embarked on a Burmese translation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. It took him 10 years before it was published in 1984. It won Burma’s national literary prize.

He served as professor of Burmese language and literature at Rangoon University in the early ’50s and from 1975 to 1979 he was professor of Burmese at the Institute of Foreign Languages in Osaka, Japan.

Even a romantic poet such as Minthuwun could become entangled in the political affairs of Burma. In 1971, in a rambling speech at the congress of the ruling socialist party, chairman and strongman general Ne Win said that he was not satisfied with the work of the Burmese Dictionary Commission, including some lecturers in Burmese.

These people, Ne Win said, were like “half-baked loaves of bread” who thought much of themselves just because they had degrees. Though Minthuwun was not named in the speech, broadcast nationwide over radio and reproduced on the front pages of all of Burma’s state-controlled newspapers, it was clear that he was the target. In August that year, Ne Win apologised to those who were more “learned than him” and “greater in age and prestige”.

Minthuwun was nominated and elected as an MP in May 1990, representing the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy. However, the parliament was never convened by the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council.

After Minthuwun was elected, some references to him in the Burmese media came under scrutiny. Indeed, in July 1995 the now defunct Sarpay Journal was about to publish a commemorative issue devoted to Minthuwun’s literary
works with a photograph of him on the cover. After initial approval was given to publish, the literary censors withdrew permission.

In a poem Minthuwun composed in November 1961 entitled The Cyclical Continuity of Regrets, he wrote that “while pining whether and when I will reach the peaceful bliss in which there will be no regrets, the majestic sun has gone down and I grope and falter in the dark”. Indeed, one of the great suns of Burmese literature is no more with us but Minthuwun’s rich, majestic and continuing legacy will endure and thrive.

All Burmese literati recognised not only his vision and literary gifts but also his humility and humanity. Though all of us are impoverished by his passing, we can take solace in the fact that his life and vision have also enriched us “as wide as the sky”.

The author is a lecturer at the University of the South Pacific in Vanuatu.

Intel: Health Research and Innovation

Intel’s Health Research and Innovation team is committed to delivering research-based innovation for healthcare. Informed by nearly a decade of ethnographic studies, we share a vision with healthcare leaders of using innovative technologies to transform healthcare, improve chronic disease management, and enhance wellness and independence. We develop new health technologies for individuals who are at home or on the go, and collaborate with healthcare professionals to enable seamless interaction and information exchange. We help to connect people and information in new ways that increase patient care and safety, reduce healthcare costs, and improve quality of life across the continuum of care.

Health Research and Innovation in Europe
The Health Research and Innovation team Europe (HRIe) based in Leixlip, Co Kildare, was initiated in 2006 and is a part of the Health Research and Innovation team (HRI) based in Oregon, USA. HRIe research is focused on understanding ageing in European culture and how technology can be used to help older people remain independent wherever they chose to live. With the global population of older people set to almost quadruple to over 2 billion within the next 50 years, it’s predicted that demographic ageing and its impact on inadequate healthcare systems will be one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.

At Intel we believe that new technologies, designed with an explicit focus on the needs of older adults and their clinicians and care providers, can help to meet these challenges, easing the burden on strained health care systems and providing peace of mind and meaningful engagement for the ageing. The interdisciplinary HRIe team, comprising social scientists, hardware and software engineers and interaction design researchers, has been working on various projects in support of that goal.

Global Ageing Experience
This project provides a global, cross cultural understanding of the reality of ageing in countries undergoing marked demographic changes. Using ethnographic techniques such as open-ended interviews, observations and multi-day visits to households in seven European and one Asian country, thousands of images, stories and insights have been gathered illustrating what it really means to grow old from the perspective of the elderly themselves. This helps to understand the myriad social and cultural differences in people’s experiences of ageing and health and helps to identify strategic opportunities for appropriate technologies and services for the aged.

Rural Transport
There is growing recognition of the relationship between social engagement (of the type enabled by mobility and transportation initiatives) and physical and mental health.
This project, a collaboration with the Rural Transport Programme (RTP), explores the role transportation plays in people’s lives as they age, particularly in rural Ireland.

Community Supports for Ageing
This project builds upon a range of studies including the Global Ageing Experience. It provides information on the demographic profile of Europe’s older people, a basic overview of the main welfare models that exist in the EU and detail on individual projects organised around the key contexts – home, community and national/policy.

TRIL Centre
The Technology Research for Independent Living (TRIL) Centre is an international research centre set up to define and profile the ageing process, in order to develop technologies to allow more successful ageing. Founded in 2007, it has succeeded in raising the agenda for ageing research both nationally and internationally. TRIL is a collaboration between Intel, GE Healthcare, University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin and National University of Ireland, Galway. TRIL seeks to enable people to live independently at any age by advancing the understanding of behavioural markers of disease, and how technology can be applied to produce positive interventions

TRIL’s achievements to date include:

• setting up a good clinical practice (GCP) standard assessment clinic within St. James’s Hospital, Dublin

• generating a portfolio of technology prototypes charaterised in a clinical setting

• deployment of those technologies into over 250 homes

• a worldwide network of technology & academic collaborators

• a leading international academic-industry collaborative research centre in the ageing field

This has been achieved by utilising a multi-disciplinary team approach of clinical consultants, social scientists, engineers and industry. By using this model, TRIL has established a research infrastructure and a portfolio of core research programmes that all share the data from a patient cohort of over 600 older people.

TRIL is now positioned with a premier biopsychosocial dataset that is sure to improve our understanding of the ageing process and to develop meaningful solutions to enhance the lives of older people. Ageing is now a high priority on the agenda of developed countries, as a result developing technologies to assist in successful ageing worldwide has never been more urgent.

TRIL now seeks to utilise the knowledge generated by analysing outcomes from the first phase of TRIL’s activities to a wider audience, with a view to universal acceptance by the wellness and healthcare sectors.

Find out more about research at the TRIL Centre*

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 Instituts de recherche en sante du Canada

Plan stratégique quinquennal des IRSC

Les IRSC vont de l’avant avec leur plan stratégique

Depuis 2000, les IRSC ont revigoré le milieu de la recherche en santé, stimulé de nouvelles collaborations entre les disciplines et les régions et engendré de nouveaux partenariats entre ceux qui exécutent la recherche et ceux qui en appliquent les résultats.

Les IRSC produisent leur deuxième plan stratégique. Le plan stratégique, intitulé L’innovation au service de la santé – De meilleurs soins et services par la recherche, est le fruit de vastes consultations auprès des membres du milieu de la recherche en santé, d’une évaluation soignée des forces et des faiblesses des IRSC, de discussions sur ce que souhaitent devenir les IRSC d’ici cinq ans et d’une évaluation réaliste des ressources que nous avons à notre disposition. Notre plan stratégique expose une vision qui assurera la place du Canada pour des années à venir sur la scène mondiale de la recherche en santé.

Le Plan établit quatre orientations stratégiques qui aideront les IRSC à atteindre leurs buts. Ces orientations stratégiques permettront aux IRSC de réaliser l’ensemble de leur mandat dans toute sa complexité, d’exercer leur leadership dans le milieu de la recherche en santé, de rendre des comptes aux Canadiens et de leur montrer des résultats.

Je tiens à remercier tous ceux qui ont contribué à l’élaboration de notre plan stratégique et je me réjouis à l’avance de travailler à sa mise en oeuvre avec tous les membres du milieu de la recherche en santé au Canada.

Alain Beaudet, M.D., Ph.D.
Président

Le 22 octobre 2009, les Instituts de recherche en santé du Canada (IRSC) ont lancé officiellement leur nouveau plan stratégique lors d’un événement qui a eu lieu à l’Institut de recherche de l’Hôpital d’Ottawa (IRHO). Fruit de vastes consultations auprès des membres du milieu de la recherche en santé, ce plan expose la vision à long terme pour la recherche en santé au Canada.

Sur la photo, de gauche à droite : M. Ken Newport, président du conseil de l'IRHO, le Dr Alain Beaudet, président des IRSC, et le Dr Duncan Stewart, PDG et directeur scientifique de l'IRHO.

Sur la photo, de gauche à droite : M. Ken Newport, président du conseil de l’IRHO, le Dr Alain Beaudet, président des IRSC, et le Dr Duncan Stewart, PDG et directeur scientifique de l’IRHO.

Le Dr Beaudet, président des Instituts de recherche en santé du Canada (IRSC), lors du lancement du nouveau plan stratégique des IRSC.

Le Dr Beaudet, président des Instituts de recherche en santé du Canada (IRSC), lors du lancement du nouveau plan stratégique des IRSC.

The Volatile Viking Drills Again –

Norwegian shipping tycoon John Fredriksen, pictured in Oslo in 2006. (PHOTO: Reuters)

The West Callisto, an offshore drilling rig owned and operated by the Norwegian-Bermudian firm Seadrill, arrived in Burmese waters earlier this month to carry out work for French multinational oil firm Total, confirmed a spokesperson at Seadrill’s Oslo headquarters.

While previously the Norwegian government publicly discouraged Norwegian companies from doing business in Burma, it reversed its policy earlier this year and now encourages firms to do business in Burma, officially known as Myanmar.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Wong Aung, the director of the Shwe Gas Movement, a coalition group which follows Burma’s growing offshore gas sector, said, “I am very concerned that the Norwegian government is encouraging businesses to go to Burma when there is no transparency or accountability in the extractive sector,” said the Arakan native. “Everything is still controlled by military cronies, and massive corruption is still everywhere.”

Seadrill most recently operated in Burma last year when its rig, the West Juno, conducted drilling work in an offshore block jointly owned by UNOG, a firm controlled by the family of former Industry Minister–1Aung Thaung and Rimbunan Petrogas, a Malaysian-owned British Virgin Islands-registered company.

Former general-turned-parliamentarian Aung Thaung stands accused of being one of the masterminds behind the 2003 Depayin massacre in which dozens of NLD activists were killed while his sons, who were targets of EU sanctions, have become rich and are heavily invested in timber, construction, electricity, banking and hotels, in addition to oil and gas exploration.

Seadrill’s Fleet Status Update for May shows that the West Callisto will operate on a three-month contract for Total beginning May 12, at a day rate of US $134,900, netting the firm more than $12 million for the full 90-day contract.

Seadrill’s second largest shareholder is the Norwegian national pension fund whose 5.6 percent stake is managed by state firm Folketrygdfondet. It is unclear however how much of a role Folketrygdfondet plays in monitoring Seadrill’s overseas activities, or whether the pension fund was even aware that Seadrill’s operations in Burma were benefiting Aung Thaung’s family business. Folketrygdfondet’s spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Last year Seadrill also conducted drilling work in Burmese waters for Thailand’s PTTEP. In 2010, Seadrill’s West Triton was hired by Australian oil firm Twinza to fulfill a 30-day contract in an offshore Burmese block.

In 2009, the West Atlas, a Seadrill rig hired by PTTEP, caught fire in the Timor Sea between Indonesia and Australia. The resulting leak continued for two months and spilled huge amounts of oil into the sea, causing one of Australia’s worst environmental disasters. Wong Aung said he worries a similar situation could occur in Burma in the near future.

Seadrill’s patron in this case, Total, for years came under continued criticism for its close cooperation with former dictator Than Shwe’s military regime. The French multinational company’s partner UNOCAL (later taken over by Chevron) were sued by displaced Karen villagers both in France and in the US for profiting from the Burmese army’s use of forced labor, torture and murder during the construction of the Yadana pipeline in the Andaman Sea.

Documents from Total’s correspondence with UNOCAL were disclosed during the US court case—papers the villagers’ lawyers called the “smoking gun memo.” A Feb. 1, 1996, memo from Total Business Development Manager Hervé Chagnoux to his counterparts at UNOCAL substantiates the claim that Total paid the Burmese military to provide security. It also suggests that Total was well aware of the use of forced labor.

The memo stated: “As far as forced labour used by the soldiers in charge of security on our gas pipeline project is concerned, we must admit between ourselves, TOTAL and Unocal, that we’re probably in a grey area.”

In October 1999 a French parliamentary committee investigating the Yadana project concluded: “The mission judges that the link between the military presence, the acts of violence against the populations, and the forced labor is established as a fact. Total had to be aware of that fact.”

Over the course of a lengthy career, Seadrill’s chairman and owner, the billionaire shipping tycoon John Fredriksen, has endured what the Financial Times termed a “lifetime of controversies.” This includes being held for more than three months of pre-trial detention in 1986 after Norwegian authorities accused him and a tanker firm he owned of tax evasion, fraud and illegally siphoning off fuel from tankers to power them, a dangerous practice that could cause an explosion.

After a lengthy court battle that lasted four years, the most serious charges were dropped and Fredriksen paid a $333,000 fine for the “level of inflammability” used in the fuel storage areas of his tankers.

Gunnar Stavrum, the editor of Norway’s Nettavisen newsite, has written two unauthorized biographies on the world’s largest shipping tycoon. He calls Fredriksen “a rough businessman.” Fredriksen earned the nickname the “Big Wolf” in 1980′s for shipping oil out of Iran at the height of the Iran-Iraq war and at a time when Saddam Hussein was regularly bombing Iranian shipping lanes. His critics charged that Fredriksen’s dealing with Iran made him “the lifeline to the Ayatollah.”

Other descriptions aimed at him include “a modern-day Onassis,” and—in the words of The Guardian—the “Volatile Viking of Shipping.”

In 1996 the Sea Empressan, an oil tanker owned by one of Fredriksen’s firm’s, spilled an estimated 70,000 tons of oil off the Welsh coast, causing one of the worst environmental catastrophes in British history.

Then Fredriksen made headlines again last year when US regulators announced they were suing two other companies owned by the Scandinavian shipping magnate (who now holds Cypriot residence to avoid paying tax in Norway) for manipulating oil prices.

The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) launched suits against Arcadia Petroleum Ltd and Parnon Energy Inc. The CFTC alleges that the firms and their employees ran a “scheme in 2008 involving accumulation and sell-off of a substantial position in physical crude oil to manipulate futures prices, yielding in excess of $50 million in unlawful profits.”

In an interview with Reuters last year Fredriksen claimed that he was unaware of anything improper occurring at either firm. “I did not know a thing about it—I have about 50 companies, how can I follow everything?” he said.

A leaked 2009 US diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks claimed Arcadia and its representative in Yemen sought to corner the local oil market by buying “Yemeni crude at below-market value and scared away potentially more competitive bidders by threatening to kidnap their representatives.”

When Reuters first revealed the cable’s contents last year Arcadia dismissed the allegations as “ludicrous.”

Fredriksen is estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of more than $10 billion, and was considered to be Norway’s richest man before 2006 when he took Cypriot citizenship. He remains the largest shareholder in Seadrill with 23 percent of the company’s shares, down from the 28 percent he owned earlier this year.

Burma’s Looming Oil/ Gas Auction Could Pit Energy Giants Against Suu Kyi

A boy exercises on a beach outside Pyar Pon Township as ships involved in the construction of a Yadana underwater gas pipeline project are moored in the background, May 2010. (PHOTO: Reuters)

RANGOON—With Western sanctions suspended or removed in response to recent government reforms, Burma’s lucrative oil and gas sectors could soon see a rush of bids from Western companies, despite warnings from opposition MP Aung San Suu Kyi about graft in Burma’s state-run energy firms.

The international bidding process for 25 offshore oil and gas blocks will take place “in two or three months time,” according to Aung Kyaw Htoo, the assistant director of the Energy Planning Dept. at the Ministry of Energy.

However the auction could pit Western energy companies against National League for Democracy (NLD) head and de facto parliamentary opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who, though calling for greater Western investment in Burma, last week issued a prohibitive-sounding warning about Burma’s state energy company MOGE, with which Western investors in oil and gas will have to do business in Burma, likely through joint ventures.

Speaking at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) annual conference in Geneva, Suu Kyi said, “The Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise [MOGE] … with which all foreign participation in the energy sector takes place through joint venture arrangements, lacks both transparency and accountability at present.”

Saying that Suu Kyi could try reforming MOGE through Burma’s legislature, some US lawmakers are trying to prevent US companies from investing in Burma’s oil and gas sectors—for now at least—despite the US suspending sanctions on Burma on May 17.

“I urge the [US] administration to refrain from issuing waivers at this time for new US investment in Burma’s oil and gas industry until Aung San Suu Kyi’s concerns with MOGE [Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise] are sufficiently addressed,” said Arizona Republican Senator John McCain last week.

In recent years, Burma’s government has relied heavily on the energy sector for hard cash, funding the country’s army. Investment has come largely from Asian firms, though US-based Chevron and France’s Total have stakes that pre-date sanctions in the Yadana gas project sending gas to Thailand. Competition for Burma’s oil and gas reserves is expected to intensify as foreign companies move in on a sector long closed-off due to Western governments imposing economic restrictions on the Burmese government in response to human rights abuses in Burma.

Asked his views on Aung San Suu Kyi’s comments about MOGE, Aung Kyaw Htoo in turn refused to take the bait, saying, “I am not a mandated person for the Ministry of Energy regarding the political aspect.” He was speaking to around 300 local and foreign business people attending the New Myanmar Investment Summit 2012, organized by Singapore-based CMT and taking place in Rangoon on June 20-21.

“There are quite a number of places both not so explored or unexplored,” said the official who outlined that joint venture opportunities would arise not only in oil and gas extraction, but in related work such as shipping, recruitment and machinery. “There will be opportunities for cooperation across the Myanmar petroleum sector,” he said, using the short form for the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, the government’s name for the country.

However, tying in to Suu Kyi’s concerns about MOGE, oil and gas investment in Burma has long been blighted by concerns about human rights abuses and corruption. NGOs allege that unknown billions of dollars in earnings from oil and gas have been siphoned off into foreign banks—a process abetted by Burma’s old dual exchange rate, which meant that the government could downplay real earnings and hide any embezzlement.

But that old dual system has been scrapped, one of numerous key reforms needed to spur economic growth and attract foreign investment. A new foreign investment bill is due to be debated in parliament over the summer and is expected to be passed into law before autumn.

“I think it is going to be finalized next month,” said Than Lwin, the deputy chairman of Burma’s Kanbawza Bank, referring to the draft investment code.

The law, when it comes into being, will be part of Burma President Thein Sein’s “second wave” of reforms which he says will be enacted over the coming year and which the government hopes will triple the size of the country’s economy by 2016.

Part of the plan, it seems, involves a move away from energy-based investment and toward other job-intensive sectors in manufacturing and tourism. Burma’s energy minister Than Htay told the World Economic Forum in Bangkok on June 2 that “the government wants to replace resource-based foreign investment with production based investment,” a plan that Aung San Suu Kyi has since backed in various public addresses during her trip to Europe.

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A Lesson in poverty


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Children of Block 19, South Dagon. (Photo: STEVE TICKNER/ THE IRRAWADDY)

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Historically speaking, Burma’s educational institutions have taken quite a battering, in some cases quite literally. As far back as 1962, in the aftermath of student unrest and on the orders of President Ne Win, Burmese government troops used dynamite to reduce the Rangoon University Student Union to a pile of rubble.

A generation later, following the 1988 student uprising, the military junta ordered the arbitrary closure of many schools at all levels. They remained under bolt and key for a number of years; some never reopened.

The teaching of English was forbidden, and higher education facilities were relocated a distance from the then capital, Rangoon, in an attempt to stifle further student unrest.

Since then, the entire education system has suffered from inadequate budgets and a severe lack of resources at every level.

Burma’s government-sponsored schools today compete for funding estimated by some sources at only 1.2 percent of the country’s annual budget. The Australian government this year announced an 80 million dollar package specifically aimed at improving the nation’s access to quality education.

At a grass-roots level, one of the greatest obstacles to children’s education in Burma is the depth of poverty in many sectors of Burmese society. While primary school education is officially compulsory, many low-income families simply cannot meet even the basic costs of compulsory uniforms or educational materials and their children continue to slip through the cracks.

It is also widely accepted that many teachers and schools in the government system solicit additional funds from parents to supplement their meager salaries and resources.

The children from poverty-stricken backgrounds typically do not attend school at all, and many spend their days looking for plastic and other materials for recycling to supplement the family income.

The May Suu Children’s Center, a small and independent community group in South Dagon Township in the outskirts of Rangoon, is one example of motivated Burmese attempting to bridge this gap by providing educational and health services to underprivileged families.

Not unlike the government schools, the community center has continuously struggled with a lack of financial resources. The center is staffed by 10 permanent volunteer staff plus its principal, Mr Nyi Nyi. It receives no governmental funding or support, and survives on limited local donor funding. The staff are clearly intelligent, highly motivated, conscientious and dedicated to assisting their students.

May Suu currently functions as a vocational skills center, offering technical training in computers, hairdressing and tailoring skills, an effective community blood donor registration and co-ordination center, and a grade one to four educational center for local children living in impoverished circumstances.

A visit to the homes of students in the nearby Block 19 area of South Dagon illustrates why these children rarely attend school. Homes are squalid, nestled together on unpaved narrow streets, and mostly constructed with bits and pieces of assorted “recycled” materials. In the rainy season, hygiene is a major concern as waste and monsoonal rain create a toxic breeding ground for any number of diseases; the conditions can be severely debilitating to young children.

Many local kids spend their days searching through local waste for anything which can be used by their family or recycled for a few pennies.

Principal Nyi Nyi says about 70 students currently make use of the center on a rotational basis. The classrooms are cramped and insufficient, and in the future, he says, they would like to build an extension to create more space for classrooms.

Those who attend May Suu Children’s Center are given a period of meditation from a young local monk before class, and the Band of Brothers NGO, which has recently offered financial support, is currently considering a plan to introduce school dinners for students.

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch—and sponsors will of course be expecting results. Staff hope these innovations will increase the children’s learning capacity and their ability to focus, as well as improve overall health and offer the kids not only an incentive to continue attending, but hopefully the chance of a brighter future.

Norway- Myanmar International Affairs

When Aung San Suu Kyi visited Norway earlier this month to belatedly receive her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and other awards, she was given a hero’s welcome. During her trip, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also announced that he would now encourage Norwegian companies to invest in Burma. This comes as Norway takes a leading role in “The Myanmar Peace Support Initiative,” an effort to end Burma’s decades of civil strife.

Harald Bøckman, a senior researcher at the Centre for Environment and Development at the University of Oslo, has been the chairperson of the Norwegian Burma Committee (NBC) since the death of his  predecessor Hallvard Kuloy in 2001. As one of the founding members of the NBC, which was formed in 1992, Bøckman has long been a close observer of Burma-Norway relations. He spoke with The Irrawaddy recently about his views on recent developments in Burma and Norway’s role in encouraging the country’s transition toward peace and democracy.

Question: Aung Sann Suu Kyi has finally had a chance to come to Norway to receive her Nobel Peace Prize and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has said that Norwegian companies should invest in Burma. Do you think the Norwegian government’s involvement in Burma has been positive? How much confidence do you have in current developments?

Answer: Basically speaking, Norway is following the EU. For the past three years or so, since Cyclone Nargis [in May 2008], there have been some initiatives that the Norwegian development minister has been very active in. But I felt that they were more interested in talking with the generals than with the opposition. So our advice was that if you want to have change in Burma, you have to talk with the generals but you must not forget the opposition.

I think there was a period internationally where a number of diplomats expressed that perhaps Daw Suu didn’t have support among the people anymore. I see that as a type of what I call Burma fatigue. Politicians and diplomats were getting kind of tired of waiting because nothing happened. In the case of the Norwegian minister of development, I think it went too far.

Norway now feels that it wants to be a little ahead of others by presenting a peace initiative aimed at  getting negotiations with ethnic groups started. I think the intention is good, but I’m not convinced that the execution will be very good. We Norwegians have very good intentions, we are very righteous, but we are not always very well informed and we don’t always understand the complexity of other parts of the world. For example, the Sri Lankan peace process commissioned by Norad [the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation] was largely a failure in terms of bringing an end to the civil war there. I won’t say that the result in Sri Lanka was due to the Norwegians, but it shows very well the complexity of the situation there.

Q: Norwegian businesses have very high ethical standards. So what obstacles will they face if they choose to invest in Burma?

A: Again, the main challenge is to understand what kind of political and economic landscape they are moving into. You have to have regional knowledge but in addition you need specific knowledge about Burma’s political, economic and cultural conditions. So that will be a major challenge. On the other hand, as you said, [Norwegian companies] hold themselves to high ethical standards, and have departments dedicated to what they call corporate social responsibility.

I think that the first companies to go in will be big companies such as Statoil and Telenor, which have operations all over the world. In India, they are having some trouble at the moment. They are also in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. They have high ethical and operational standards and I think they are aware of the fact that they are going into a very demanding and difficult landscape. For example, the Norwegian oil industry has valuable experience in how to control multinationals. Some will say multinationals control the government—I mean if you look at Norwegian practice, we have lots of experience, 50 years of experience now on how to deal with multinationals.

But we have also been working in conjunction with other donors to Burma, international donors with whom we have been cooperating through what we call the Burma Donors’ Forum. We will also help the Burmese to build up competence and how to control and monitor the multinationals when they come into Burma. I think we can play a role here by monitoring companies and giving advice.

Currently, we are also in a process of discussing among ourselves what our role should be. Because until now it has been more or less advocacy and support work. Now, the conditions are becoming more positive. It parallels the Norwegian popular support for South Africa during the apartheid era. When  change came to South Africa, they were a little lost as to what to do because conditions had changed. So we have to figure out the situation and continue without political support under the new condition. That is a lot we can do, not necessarily at high levels, at the grassroots level.

Q: Aung San Suu Kyi mentioned “donor fatigue” in her Nobel lecture and appealed to donors not to cut funding. Norway is one of the biggest donors to the Burmese refugees and exiles. What is your comment to them?

A: As chairman of the board of the Democratic Voice of Burma since 2006, I can say that DVB is also facing the same sort of challenge, just like all Burmese exile media—you find yourself in a transition position, where everything is floating and funding is getting more insecure. So far, DVB has the same donors but we would like to negotiate with them how to facilitate the transition without jeopardizing the security of the radio and TV.

But when it comes to more official state donors, state-level donors and development aid donors, it is right what they say—they are being pushed by their respective governments to rush into Burma. And I guess the Norwegian Peace Initiative is part of that movement into Burma. So we and many others have been voicing concerns that one should not just cut down what has been built up and rush into a situation where you don’t really know how efficient you can be.

I think one aspect which has not been brought up very much is that through having to live in exile on the Thai-Burmese border, many Burmese intellectuals have now had 20 years of experience in interacting with people from other ethnic groups and I think that it is very important that one has this deep experience or understanding about complex ethnic relations in Burma.

Q: Recently the British government announced that President Thein Sein has been invited to visit the UK. Would you agree with the Norwegian government if it also invited him?

A: Definitely. In fact, there has been a series of visits to Norway by Burmese delegations. [Lower House Speaker] Thura Shwe Mann has been here already. There has also been another delegation of parliamentarians, and officials from the ministries of industry and information have been here, touring Scandinavia to study public broadcasting service principles. The whole idea is if you want to negotiate you should talk to the government. I think it will be very useful if Thein Sein came.

I am sure that most Burmese politicians and bureaucrats would be happy to be able to travel since they haven’t been able to do so for a long time. But it must not end there. For example, during her travels, Daw Suu has responded to people’s concerns and sought European help to improve Burma. I know that the reception Daw Suu has been given will make Naypyidaw very unhappy. But it has basically been good for Burma.

When Aung San Suu Kyi visited Norway earlier this month to belatedly receive her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and other awards, she was given a hero’s welcome. During her trip, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also announced that he would now encourage Norwegian companies to invest in Burma. This comes as Norway takes a leading role in “The Myanmar Peace Support Initiative,” an effort to end Burma’s decades of civil strife.

Harald Bøckman, a senior researcher at the Centre for Environment and Development at the University of Oslo, has been the chairperson of the Norwegian Burma Committee (NBC) since the death of his  predecessor Hallvard Kuloy in 2001. As one of the founding members of the NBC, which was formed in 1992, Bøckman has long been a close observer of Burma-Norway relations. He spoke with The Irrawaddy recently about his views on recent developments in Burma and Norway’s role in encouraging the country’s transition toward peace and democracy.

Question: Aung Sann Suu Kyi has finally had a chance to come to Norway to receive her Nobel Peace Prize and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has said that Norwegian companies should invest in Burma. Do you think the Norwegian government’s involvement in Burma has been positive? How much confidence do you have in current developments?

Answer: Basically speaking, Norway is following the EU. For the past three years or so, since Cyclone Nargis [in May 2008], there have been some initiatives that the Norwegian development minister has been very active in. But I felt that they were more interested in talking with the generals than with the opposition. So our advice was that if you want to have change in Burma, you have to talk with the generals but you must not forget the opposition.

I think there was a period internationally where a number of diplomats expressed that perhaps Daw Suu didn’t have support among the people anymore. I see that as a type of what I call Burma fatigue. Politicians and diplomats were getting kind of tired of waiting because nothing happened. In the case of the Norwegian minister of development, I think it went too far.

Norway now feels that it wants to be a little ahead of others by presenting a peace initiative aimed at  getting negotiations with ethnic groups started. I think the intention is good, but I’m not convinced that the execution will be very good. We Norwegians have very good intentions, we are very righteous, but we are not always very well informed and we don’t always understand the complexity of other parts of the world. For example, the Sri Lankan peace process commissioned by Norad [the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation] was largely a failure in terms of bringing an end to the civil war there. I won’t say that the result in Sri Lanka was due to the Norwegians, but it shows very well the complexity of the situation there.

Q: Norwegian businesses have very high ethical standards. So what obstacles will they face if they choose to invest in Burma?

A: Again, the main challenge is to understand what kind of political and economic landscape they are moving into. You have to have regional knowledge but in addition you need specific knowledge about Burma’s political, economic and cultural conditions. So that will be a major challenge. On the other hand, as you said, [Norwegian companies] hold themselves to high ethical standards, and have departments dedicated to what they call corporate social responsibility.

I think that the first companies to go in will be big companies such as Statoil and Telenor, which have operations all over the world. In India, they are having some trouble at the moment. They are also in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. They have high ethical and operational standards and I think they are aware of the fact that they are going into a very demanding and difficult landscape. For example, the Norwegian oil industry has valuable experience in how to control multinationals. Some will say multinationals control the government—I mean if you look at Norwegian practice, we have lots of experience, 50 years of experience now on how to deal with multinationals.

But we have also been working in conjunction with other donors to Burma, international donors with whom we have been cooperating through what we call the Burma Donors’ Forum. We will also help the Burmese to build up competence and how to control and monitor the multinationals when they come into Burma. I think we can play a role here by monitoring companies and giving advice.

Currently, we are also in a process of discussing among ourselves what our role should be. Because until now it has been more or less advocacy and support work. Now, the conditions are becoming more positive. It parallels the Norwegian popular support for South Africa during the apartheid era. When  change came to South Africa, they were a little lost as to what to do because conditions had changed. So we have to figure out the situation and continue without political support under the new condition. That is a lot we can do, not necessarily at high levels, at the grassroots level.

Q: Aung San Suu Kyi mentioned “donor fatigue” in her Nobel lecture and appealed to donors not to cut funding. Norway is one of the biggest donors to the Burmese refugees and exiles. What is your comment to them?

A: As chairman of the board of the Democratic Voice of Burma since 2006, I can say that DVB is also facing the same sort of challenge, just like all Burmese exile media—you find yourself in a transition position, where everything is floating and funding is getting more insecure. So far, DVB has the same donors but we would like to negotiate with them how to facilitate the transition without jeopardizing the security of the radio and TV.

But when it comes to more official state donors, state-level donors and development aid donors, it is right what they say—they are being pushed by their respective governments to rush into Burma. And I guess the Norwegian Peace Initiative is part of that movement into Burma. So we and many others have been voicing concerns that one should not just cut down what has been built up and rush into a situation where you don’t really know how efficient you can be.

I think one aspect which has not been brought up very much is that through having to live in exile on the Thai-Burmese border, many Burmese intellectuals have now had 20 years of experience in interacting with people from other ethnic groups and I think that it is very important that one has this deep experience or understanding about complex ethnic relations in Burma.

Q: Recently the British government announced that President Thein Sein has been invited to visit the UK. Would you agree with the Norwegian government if it also invited him?

A: Definitely. In fact, there has been a series of visits to Norway by Burmese delegations. [Lower House Speaker] Thura Shwe Mann has been here already. There has also been another delegation of parliamentarians, and officials from the ministries of industry and information have been here, touring Scandinavia to study public broadcasting service principles. The whole idea is if you want to negotiate you should talk to the government. I think it will be very useful if Thein Sein came.

I am sure that most Burmese politicians and bureaucrats would be happy to be able to travel since they haven’t been able to do so for a long time. But it must not end there. For example, during her travels, Daw Suu has responded to people’s concerns and sought European help to improve Burma. I know that the reception Daw Suu has been given will make Naypyidaw very unhappy. But it has basically been good for Burma.

Workshop on Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation
in Myanmar, Naypyitaw

Reducing Poverty in Myanmar: the Way Forward

By Dr.  U Myint1

Introduction

1. To reduce poverty in Myanmar, it may be useful to give consideration to the following five issues:

2. First, in order to go forward with poverty reduction, or more generally to go anywhere, we must know where we are at present. Hence, to improve the lot of the poor people in Myanmar we should start by having a clearer idea of who these poor people are, to find out what is their situation at present, and to listen to them about their needs and desires and what they feel should be done to help reduce their state of poverty. In addition, to get a better understanding of the situation of the poor people and to improve their well-being we must draw upon the vast experience of many of our compatriots in civil society organizations and NGOs, government officials, business people, scholars, academics and foreign experts and organizations that have done a lot of work related to poverty alleviation in the country, especially in rural and border areas and also with respect to meeting special needs of disadvantaged ethnic nationalities and other distressed communities in our society.

3. Second, after finding out where we are at present and where we want to go, the next step will be to think of how to get there. This means we must have a strategy to get us to where we want to go. In other words, to reduce poverty in a systematic and effective way we should have a Poverty Alleviation Strategy. Naturally, such a Strategy will be based on what the poor people tell us and insights gained from those that have dealt with poverty related issues in the country. Moreover, useful inputs for the strategy can be obtained from the experience of Myanmar’s neighbours, and other countries both developed and developing throughout the world, that have embarked on poverty alleviation measures and programmes for many years. Likewise, we can benefit from the vast literature and store of knowledge on the subject available at the United Nations and other international organizations. As we all know, the United Nations has embarked on a major international initiative on poverty alleviation through its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)2 and to which Myanmar has given support and commitment. In light of all these, it is appropriate that we are now drawing up a new Poverty Alleviation Strategy for Myanmar, that will take advantage of new opportunities and respond to new challenges that are now emerging in Myanmar as well as in the world around us – a new Strategy that we believe will make a significant contribution to lift the poor people in the country out of poverty.
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1Chief, Economic Advisory Unit, President’s Office, Naypyitaw.
2United Nations, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 (New York: United Nations, 2010).

4. Third, after finding out where we want to go, and how to get there, the next step is to come up with what must be done to get to where we want to go. That is, the Poverty Alleviation Strategy will need to be put into operation by drawing up an implementation programme for the Strategy. Usually, such an implementation programme is referred to as an Action Programme. The Action Programme will have numerous projects that deal with specific issues and recommendations set out in the Strategy. The projects should have clearly defined objectives and targets, will be time bound, and must deliver outputs that are measurable or give clear indication that the poor people are indeed made better off. Time bound means the targets will have to be met within a specified time period. For example, a target can be set up such as the number of school age children not attending school in a certain village must be reduced by half within a certain period, say three years.

5. Fourth, there has to be Monitoring and Review of the implementation of the Action Programme. This is to make sure that the Programme is achieving its objectives, and if not, then why not, and what must be done so that the objectives are achieved. Hence, the implementation of the Action Programme will be monitored and kept under constant review and immediate steps will be taken to determine the underlying causes if divergences occur between planned targets and outcomes. Divergences may be due to shortcomings in policies, implementation difficulties, or targets may have lost relevance to the needs of the country due to changed circumstances with passage of time. Those undertaking the review will report their findings and recommendations to the appropriate authorities of Myanmar for corrective action as required.

6. Finally, there is the question of what arrangements or mechanisms should be set up to take care of the four tasks outlined above. At present, a small Unit composed of a team of economists attached to the President’s office, in close consultation with the relevant authorities of the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, will undertake these tasks. However, for a more comprehensive and effective response to the poverty issue, as well as to undertake economic reforms to get Myanmar back onto the mainstream of regional development, it is proposed that an independent, non-political, and legal institute of excellence – we can call it the Myanmar Development Resource Institute (MDRI) – be established. Like in other countries in the Asia and Pacific region, MDRI will have a Board of Directors and a Management and Executive Team headed by an Executive Director. We envisage MDRI to undertake policy research and to help plan and implement programmes and projects that will spearhead the economic and social reform process in Myanmar aimed at broad-based economic development, fueled primarily by the private sector, with the state playing a facilitating and support role, that makes efficient and sustainable use of the country’s resources to substantially improve the standard of living and quality of life of all the people in the country.

7. The purpose of this paper is to provide some preliminary thoughts on concepts, ideas and issues brought out in the areas mentioned above for consideration and further action. The paper is organized as follows. After this introduction, section (I) gives a brief review concerning poverty and its measurement. Thoughts on a poverty alleviation strategy for Myanmar is presented in section (II). This is followed by ideas for an action programme for the Strategy in section (III). Finally, monitoring and review of the action programme and proposal for the establishment of the Myanmar Development Resource Institute (MDRI) are discussed in section (IV).

I. Poverty and its Measurement

(a) Defining poverty

8. To help people move out of poverty, we must know who these people are. And for that, we will need to have a definition of poverty. Many definitions exist. We will have to choose those that we believe are suitable for our country.3

9. In terms of what might be appropriate for Myanmar, and in fact for most developing countries, there are two ways to define poverty. The first is to find out if a household or a person has enough resources (money) to meet their basic needs. To do that the income or consumption of the household or the person is compared with some defined poverty threshold (or poverty line) below which they are considered to be poor. In this case, poverty is measured in money terms.
10. The second approach is to go beyond the money measure and to think of poverty in terms of specific goods and services that are considered necessary to meet basic needs. So we can ask: do households or individuals in the country have enough food? Enough shelter? Enough clothing? Enough safe drinking water? Enough health care? Enough education? And so on.

11. Then some measures or indicators can be adopted to determine what we mean by “enough”. For food it could be for each person to have at least 2,100 calories from food consumed per day – the intake necessary to sustain life. With regard to shelter some people say it will not be enough for four people to live in a small room, in a hut with a thatched roof and a dirt floor. So a more appropriate dwelling is defined for a family depending on conditions prevailing in the country. Likewise with respect to clothing. Obviously, clothing appropriate for the tropics will not be appropriate for someone living in Alaska or the North Pole. A shirt on the back, a sarong or a longyi and a pair of sandals may perhaps be adequate for a person in Southeast Asia. As for drinking water, it is often recommended that the source of water should not be more than 15 minutes walking distance from the house to be considered adequate. On health, there are many indicators – percentage of underweight or malnourished children; infant mortality rate; access to clinics, hospitals and medical facilities; availability of doctors, nurses and midwives; incidence of major diseases such as HIV/Aids, Malaria, TB,  etc;. The same is true of education, many indicators can be set up here as well – percentage of children dropping out after completing primary school; education level of head of household; whether schools and teachers are available in the village, and so on.

12. After setting up these indicators, how are those in poverty identified? One suggestion, specifically for youth, has been made by David Gorden, Professor of Social Justice at Bristol University in England. In this suggestion, seven operational indicators are defined. Then any young person living under conditions that are not able to satisfy any two or more of the indicators is considered to be poor.4
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3For a good review of definitions and indicators of poverty – their strengths and weaknesses – as well as conceptual and statistical problems associated with their measurement, please see Haughton and Khandker, Handbook on Poverty and Inequality (Washington, D.C: World Bank, 2009).
4David Gorden, “Indicators of Poverty and Hunger”, Expert Group Meeting on Youth Development Indicators (New York: United Nations, December 2005). Two sets of 7 indicators, one set each for Deprivation and Severe Deprivation are set up for (1) Food; (2) Water; (3) Sanitation facilities; (4) Health; (5) Shelter; (6) Education;

(b) Measuring poverty

13. After deciding upon a definition or indicator of poverty there is a need to measure it. There are three steps in the poverty measuring process.

14. The first step is to undertake a household survey, as all measures of poverty rely on such a survey. In addition to adopting appropriate statistical techniques in conducting the survey, the World Bank has a Living Standards Measurement Survey (LSMS) method that is widely used. The LSMS has three components. The household questionnaire asks about the household composition; consumption patterns; ownership of assets; landholding; income and employment; education and health status; etc. The community questionnaire asks community leaders (village elders and officials, teachers, health workers) for information about the whole community such as number of health clinics; access to schools; taxes collected; agricultural patterns; and so on. Finally, the price questionnaire collects information on prices of the relevant commodities and services.

15. After getting information from the household survey, the next step is to construct a poverty line. Such a poverty line can be obtained by specifying a bundle or basket of food and non-food items that are considered necessary to meet the basic consumption needs and to estimate their cost. This cost estimate gives the poverty line.

16. There can be several poverty lines. For example, it is more costly to live in the cities and towns than in the villages, so most countries have one poverty line for urban areas and another for rural areas. Since food forms the major component in the consumption expenditure for the poor, a food poverty line is often calculated in addition to the overall poverty line that includes both food and non-food items. The poverty line will have to be adjusted as time passes. Inflation is one reason. The second reason is that as a country develops, the standard of living of the average person rises, and consequently the composition of good and services in the basket to determine the poverty line should also be adjusted to reflect this change.

17. Finally, after the poverty line is established, the extent of poverty in the country can be obtained by finding out the percentage of population with incomes or consumption expenditures below the poverty line. This is referred to as the headcount poverty index or headcount poverty rate and is a commonly used measure because it is easy to understand and to calculate. The result of measuring poverty is this way is also referred to as giving an indicator of absolute poverty in the country.

18. However, the poor can also be defined by comparing their income with a certain income level prevailing in society. For example, in the European Union, a household below 50 per cent of the median (or average) income in a country is considered to be poor. This is referred to as relative poverty.


and (7) Information. For example, in the case of information – having no access to radio or television (i.e. broadcast media) at home would fall into category of Deprivation. But having no access to newspapers, radio, television, computers or phones at home (i.e. no information sources) would be considered as falling into the category of Severe Deprivation.

19. For completeness, we should also at this point, make brief mention of inequality – a concept that is often referred to in discussing the poverty issue. However, inequality is a broader concept than poverty as it is defined over the entire population, and does not only focus on poverty.

20. The simplest and most common way to look at inequality is to sort out the population from the poorest to the richest and show the percentage of expenditure or income that can be attributed to each fifth (quintile) or each tenth (decile) of the population. Usually, the poorest quintile accounts for 6 to 10 percent of all expenditure, while the top quintile accounts for 35 to 50 percent.

21. A popular measure of inequality is the Gini coefficient. It can be calculated after obtaining the percentage of income or expenditure attributed to each quintile or decile as noted above. For example, the Gini coefficient can be calculated to measure the inequality of income distribution in a country. This coefficient can vary from zero, indicating perfect equality with every household earning exactly the same income, and one, where there is perfect inequality with a single household earning the entire income of the country. Regions in the world with the most uneven income distributions have Gini coefficient of around 0.5. In rich countries the coefficient is about 0.3. 5

22. After a brief review of defining and measuring poverty, it will be useful to give a few examples of poverty lines. These are given below.

23. In the USA in 2009 the poverty line for a single person under age 65 years was set by its Census Bureau at US$11,161 per year; while the poverty line for a family of four, including 2 children, was set at US$21,756. 6 These result in a poverty rate of 14.3% for the country which in turns means 43.6 million people were in poverty in that year – the largest number of poor people in 51 years for which poverty estimates have been published in the United States.7

24. How about income inequality in the United States? Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out that in the USA at present 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income. Twenty five years ago, their share was 12%. Moreover, while the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall and all the growth in recent decades has gone to those at the top.8
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5The Gini coefficient is derived from the Lorenz curve, which sorts the population from poorest to richest, and shows the cumulative proportion of the population on the horizontal axis and the cumulative proportion of expenditure (or income) on the vertical axis.
6US Census Bureau, Poverty Thresholds for 2009 by Size of Family and Number of Related Children Under 18 Years.
[http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/threshld/thresh09.html]
7USA Today, “Number of people in poverty reaches highest level in 51 years,” 16 September 2010.
[http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/census/2010-09-16-poverty-rate-income-numbers_N.htm]
8Joseph Stiglitz, “Inequality: Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”, Vanity Fair, May 2011.
[http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent]

25. China, like other countries, has been making upward adjustments to its poverty line as the economy grows and living standards improve. However, there has been criticism that these adjustments have not kept pace with the rise in the average standard of living or are in conformity with international practice. For example in 2006, the poverty line was set at 680 yuan (US$85) per person per year. This results in 23.65 million people living below the poverty line. But if the internationally accepted practice at that time of “a dollar a day” was used to define poverty, the poverty line will rise to (US$365) per year, which in turn will cause 120 million to 130 million of the Chinese population to fall below the line. So the conclusion is drawn that “the 23.65 million below the Chinese poverty line are actually people living in abject poverty and even food, clothing and shelter are a problem for them, and the remaining 100 million poor not categorized as poor will not get the help they need.”9

26. The controversy over the poverty line rose again in China recently. In 2011, the line was raised from 1,169 yuan to 1,500 yuan (US$175 to 230) per year. This tripled the number of poor people from 26.88 million to about 100 million. Nevertheless, scholars and politicians criticized the poverty line increase as too small and felt it should at least be raised to 2,400 yuan – double the prevailing figure. It was noted that over the period 1985 to 2010, China’s GDP increased 50 times while the poverty line rose by only 5 times.

27. The poverty line demarcation has been a sensitive issue in China. The central government prefers a modest increase in the poverty line as a large increase will mean there will be an embarrassingly large rise in the number of poor people in the country. On the other hand, local authorities want a large increase, leading to a larger number of people falling below the poverty line and hence an increased inflow of subsidies and other assistance into their area. As for ordinary people, they also want the poverty line to rise quickly and sharply as that would increase their chance of being designated as poor and thereby qualify them to receive benefits from the poverty alleviation programme on which from 1980 to 2007, China is reported to have spent 160 billion yuan (US$23.9 billion).10

28. In Vietnam the government has announced new poverty standards for coming five years (2011 to 2015). The new poverty lines, used to decide eligibility for social welfare benefits, have now been set at VND400,000 (US$20.5) per person per month for rural households and VND500,000 ($25.05) per person per month for urban households. The government’s report also stated that the number of families living below poverty lines fell from 22 percent in 2005 to 9.45 percent in 2010.11 Under the new poverty standard, Hanoi is forecast to have 114,636 poor households in 2011, accounting for 9.6% of the total population in the city. The city will spend VND5 trillion ($256.41 million) from the municipal budget to support the poor and near-poor people during 2011 – 2015 with the aim to cut its poverty rate to 2% by 2015.12

29. Aside from national poverty lines, there is an international poverty line that has received a lot of publicity. In the past it was set at “a dollar a day” for each person. Then in 2008, it was revised and the new measure of world poverty was set at US$1.25 (in 2005 purchasing power parity US dollars).13 By this standard, it has been estimated that there were 1.38 billion poor people in the world in 2005.
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9China Daily News, “Official: China’s poverty line too low”, 23 August 2006.
[http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2006-08/23/content_672510.htm]
10Global Times, “Poverty line seen as too low” [http://english.sina.com/china/p/2011/0303/362572.html].
11 [ http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20110204174748.aspx%5D
12 [http://www.ngocentre.org.vn/news/vietnam-hanoi-announces-new-poverty-line-2011-2015]
13The purchasing power parity (PPP$) of a country’s currency is the number of units of that currency required to purchase the same representative basket of goods and services (or a similar basket of goods and services) that a US dollar would buy in the United States. See UNDP, Human Development Report 1997, p. 239. To give an illustrative example in simple terms, suppose a basket of 6 commodities and services consisting of a liter of petrol, a kilogramme of rice, a liter of cooking oil, a kilogramme of chicken, a haircut at the barbershop and bus fare for city travel for a distance of one kilometer costs a total of Kyats 20,000 in Myanmar and the same or similar basket of 6 commodities and services costs $40 in the United States, then PPP$1= 20,000/40 = Kyats 500. For technical details involved in establishing the PPP$, see World Bank, International Comparisons Program, ICP 2003 – 2006 Handbook.

(c) Why measure poverty?

30.    A lot of time, effort and money are required to get a reasonably good and credible measure of poverty. Many difficult conceptual and statistical problems will have to be dealt with in the process. So why measure poverty? There are four reasons.
31. First, a poverty measure helps focus attention of policy makers on the conditions of the poor and thereby keep these poor people on the development agenda. For instance, saying “18 million people which form 21% of the population are in abject poverty and are having great difficulty in making ends meet” will send a powerful signal to the policy makers that something has to be done about them.

32. Second, a poverty measure helps to identify the poor that needs help. A poverty profile is useful in this regard. The profile provides information on the pattern of poverty and how it varies with respect to geography (such as rural/urban), community aspects (whether the community has a school or a clinic) and household characteristics (such as its size, and educational level of the head of household). Having such information enables better targeting of aid and especially to ensure aid is given to those who need it most.

33. Third, a poverty measure is needed to monitor and evaluate outcomes of projects and policy interventions undertaken to reduce poverty. This is important. There must be a measure or an indicator to show how, in what way, and to what extent, the projects and policy reforms that have been undertaken to reduce poverty have actually improved the well-being of the poor.
34. Finally, a poverty measure is required to evaluate the effectiveness of initiatives undertaken by institutions to reduce poverty. For example, the Cooperative Ministry may set up farmer organizations to provide rural credit or the Ministry may help poor village people to form consumer societies to enable them to buy essential commodities at reasonable prices. Success of these ventures can be demonstrated by coming up with credible and believable evidence that rural credit provided by the farmer organizations and bringing cheaper food and other essentials by forming consumer societies have enabled a certain percentage of farm households to rise above the established poverty line. Such evidence will restore faith and confidence in the cooperative movement and enable it to play an important role in addressing the poverty issue in the country.

II. Thoughts on a Poverty Alleviation Strategy for Myanmar

35. Significant departure from past: Poverty can be politically sensitive for a country as mentioned above. In Myanmar it has not received the attention it deserves for some time. The fact that the new government is taking up the problem of the country’s poor in its first important venture in the economic sphere represents a significant departure from the past. Stakeholders from a wide range of Myanmar society are taking part. These include high level policy-makers, government officials, representatives from local civil society organizations and NGOs, business people, academics, and members of the mass media. Such a gathering of participants to review, exchange views and recommend action to address the poverty issue, which is a matter of deep concern to the people of Myanmar, provides a good opportunity to show that the country is adopting a fresh approach in dealing with its economic and social problems.

36. Basic principles: We are undertaking this fresh approach with respect to the poverty alleviation strategy for Myanmar in accordance with the President’s policy statements made in his inaugural address to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw on 30 March; his address to the members of the Union Government, and heads of Union level organizations on 31 March; and the speech he delivered to members of Union level organizations, Chief Ministers of Regions and States and Union Deputy Ministers on 6 April 2011.14 In these statements, the President emphasized transparency, accountability, good governance, rule of law, as well as the need to deal with corruption, cronyism and widening gap between the rich and poor. These are critical issues facing Myanmar at present and the declared intent to deal with them is a fresh outlook and a good beginning not only in respect of addressing the poverty alleviation issue but for other important initiatives in the nation building task that the government will be embarking on in the months and years to come.

37. These positive policy announcements from the President immediately upon assuming his duties have raised hopes and expectations. Naturally, while there has been cautious optimism, doubts and concerns have also been expressed regarding the political will and capacity required to implement the new policy measures. These are valid concerns. Hence, there is a clear need to follow up with concrete action to dispel the doubts. Poverty alleviation is one area where there are good prospects to take on such a challenge. The plight of the poor in the country is getting wider recognition. Political will to do something about it is growing. Myanmar’s favourable resource base, especially the country’s agriculture, food, fishery, and animal husbandry potential, has the capacity to cater to the basic needs of the poor. These provide a good basis to draw up a poverty alleviation strategy and an action programme for the strategy.

38. Greater transparency and accountability: In order to get good results from a poverty alleviation strategy, or for that matter, in undertaking any economic reform measure, there is an obvious need for greater transparency and accountability. This applies particularly to economic advisors.

39. In the past, there is a tendency for academics and researchers to engage in self- censorship in preparing studies and in expressing views and comments about economic and social issues in the country. Now that prospects for greater openness and transparency are much brighter with the presidential policy announcements, academics can be expected to become more honest with themselves. Honesty and transparency are essential to gain trust and confidence of the people in the country. And winning the trust and confidence of the people, and to have their understanding, cooperation, and support in whatever we do, is a vital first step and is crucial for success of anti-poverty and other economic reform measures.

40. The desirability for more openness and transparency in our approach to poverty alleviation can be further illustrated by taking note that even the United States, the most powerful and one of the richest nations and with the biggest economy in the world is now saying according to poverty standards it has set up, 43 million people in the country are poor and one percent at the top owns a quarter of the country’s income.15 Keeping this in view, there should be no reservation or uneasiness in saying Myanmar also has poor people and their problems need to be fixed.
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14New Light of Myanmar, “President U Thein Sein delivers inaugural address to Pyidaungsu Hluttaw”, (Naypyitaw, 31 March 2011); New Light of Myanmar, “President U Thein Sein speaks to members of Union Government, heads of Union level organizations”, (Naypyitaw, 1 April, 2011); and New Light of Myanmar, “With every citizen being able to work, they will earn income, thereby contributing to the growth of GDP”; (Naypyitaw, 6 April 2011).
15Please see paragraphs (23) and (24) on page 5 above.

41. Inclusive approach: In trying to fix the problems of the poor in Myanmar, most of them are in the rural sector and a pro-poor agricultural development strategy will go a long way in meeting the needs of the poor in the country. However, as we all know, there are non-rural poor in any country. In Myanmar, aside from urban poor, there are geographically disadvantaged poor, ethnic nationality related poor, and poverty and distressed communities due to unsettled conditions like in some border areas. These people need help and special programmes to meet their specific needs should form an integral part of the poverty alleviation strategy.

42. In this regard, the urban poor raises interesting issues. Most of them come from poor farm families to seek a better life in cities and towns. However, they maintain strong links with their village. The meager incomes they earn go largely to meet their living costs in the city but whatever little savings they have are sent back to support their families in the village. So creating better employment and earning opportunities for the urban poor could also be helping the rural poor as well.

43. Pragmatic way: The pragmatic way of doing things is recommended for the poverty alleviation strategy. The pragmatic way goes something like this: What’s the problem? Let’s solve it. How do we do it? Let’s do what works. How hard are we working for the good of the people? That’s not important. What’s important? What’s important is what we have actually delivered to the people.

44. Useful insights regarding the pragmatic way can be obtained by looking at China’s experience. In China, agricultural reforms such as setting up private plots and selling products in the market were initiated by farmers themselves. Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s economic reforms, said he only gave official OK to what was already happening in the countryside. Similarly, another key move to deal with rural poverty was the setting up of town and village enterprises (TVEs). The process was described as “leave farmland but stay in countryside.” Hundreds of thousands of TVEs, owned by towns and villages, were set up. They consisted of small enterprises in processing, construction, transport, repair, catering, and other services which created jobs for millions of people no longer needed on the farm. Reforms started in 1979 and by 1986 TVEs employed 21 percent of the rural labour force and produced over half the value of rural output.

45. Deng was amazed at the ability and resourcefulness of farmers and villagers who were able to fund, set up, manage and run these enterprises so effectively. Deng admitted he never expected TVEs to take-off the way they did. Lesson from this: we should not underestimate what our people can do. Instead of interfering and telling them what to do, more attention, time and effort should be devoted  to help them do what they know is in their own best interest. That is believed to be a good way to proceed with the poverty reduction strategy.

46. Nature and causes of poverty: The nature and causes of poverty are complex and diverse but very important in drawing up a poverty alleviation strategy. Thus, people may be poor because: (a) they have not been able to acquire essential assets and capabilities as they live in remote or conflict-prone, or resource-poor areas; (b) they are vulnerable because of age, ill health, unhealthy living environment, and poor working conditions; (c) economic stagnation has limited their opportunities for productive employment; (d) they are denied access to assets or services because they belong to an ethnic minority group, or simply because they are female, disabled, or just different; and (e) the country faces a situation of gross inequality as a result of vested interests and poor governance.

47. Growth and poverty: Experience of East Asian economies that reduced incidence of poverty by half in two decades has often been pointed out that robust growth can reduce poverty.16 This is because growth increased demand for labour. As employment rose, wages and incomes increased. In the East Asian case, a large number of women also joined the labour force. This not only raised their status but had important consequences for poverty reduction. In fact, the relationship between growth and poverty in a rapidly growing economy is a two way street. High growth increases labor demand and wages, which reduces poverty. On the other hand, reduced poverty and better earnings lead to increased labor productivity, which promotes growth. Growth also improves public revenues. This enables the government to spend more on physical and social infrastructure, which helps reduce poverty and at the same time improves the country’s productive potential.

48. Sound macroeconomic policies: While high growth can be good for poverty reduction, broad-based, labour-utilizing growth is even better. This type of pro-poor growth requires sound macroeconomic management and policies that encourage steady growth in employment. Thus, sound macroeconomic management encourages productive domestic investment and by keeping inflation low protects real incomes of the poor. It also helps prevent interest and exchange rate maladjustments that reduce the cost of capital and discourage the use of labour. Moreover, good public expenditure management is necessary for fiscal discipline, economic growth, and equity. More equitable growth that promotes the welfare of the poor can be achieved through an effective, progressive tax system and adequate allocations for basic education, primary health care, and other public services. Proper regulation and supervision of the financial sector is needed to protect depositors, enhance competition, increase efficiency, and expand availability of financial resources for all members of society. In short, a sound macroeconomic system will require getting rid of “market-distorting interventions”, especially overvalued official exchange rates, and import and export licenses that restrict trade.17

49. Good Governance: Good governance is extremely important for poverty reduction. It not only helps establish sound macroeconomic management but ensures these policies are implemented. More specifically, it enables the transparent use of public funds, encourages growth of the private sector, promotes effective delivery of public services, and helps to establish the rule of law. It has been noted that public sector inefficiency, corruption, and waste leave insufficient resources to support public services and targeted antipoverty programmes. However, denial of basic services to the poor is not just a matter of lack of investment. Often, it is the result of (a) institutional structures that lack accountability;

(b) domination by local elites; (c) widespread corruption; (d) culturally determined inequality; and (e) lack of participation by the
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16These are the Asian Newly Industrializing Economies or the Asian Tiger Economies consisting of Hongkong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.
17Asian Development Bank, Fighting Poverty in Asia and the Pacific: The Poverty Reduction Strategy (Manila: Asian Development Bank, 2004). [http://www.adb.org/Documents/Policies/Poverty_Reduction/Poverty_Policy.pdf]

poor. Where such problems exist, systemic changes are needed to move from poor governance to government accountable to the poor. However, such changes are usually difficult to bring about, since existing arrangements that exclude the poor reflect prevailing economic and power inequalities. Yet unless these issues of inequality are tackled, it will be difficult to raise living standards of the poor.18

50. Social development: Economic growth must have a wide-ranging social development programme to reduce poverty. Several key areas have received emphasis. Among them human capital development tops the list. Human capital is the main asset of the poor and its development is crucial for poverty reduction. Hence every person must have access to basic education, primary health care, and other essential services. Without these, the poor and their children will have little opportunity to improve their economic status or even to participate fully in society. Another key component is social capital development that increases the opportunities of the poor to participate in the various activities of society. The promotion of community-based groups to undertake microfinance, health, and natural resource management is a useful way to develop social capital. Finally, social protection is another area that has received considerable attention to reduce poverty. As the poor form the most vulnerable segments of society, social protection programmes that provides assistance to better manage risks and ensure economic security are of special relevance for them. Such programmes include old age pensions; unemployment and disability insurance; and social safety nets to cushion the adverse impacts of disasters, economic crises, or civil strife.

51. State of poverty and its indicators: Like in other countries, household income and expenditures surveys have been conducted in Myanmar over the years. From these several poverty indicators have been estimated. As stated in section (I) of this paper, such indicators help draw attention and to highlight the needs of the poor in the development agenda. As the incidence of poverty varies markedly in terms of geography, ethnic nationality, and cultural and social backgrounds of various communities in any country, well designed and reliable poverty indicators will help target assistance to the poor people who need it most. These will be discussed more fully in the next section on the Action Programme.

52. Decentralization: As incidence of poverty varies markedly across the country (and even within an area or a community) the State and Region governments established under the provisions of the new constitution offer fresh opportunities for a more decentralized approach in dealing with the problems of the poor. In this context, the President has stated:

“The system has changed and so has the era. … Instead of using the centralized system, a system should be adopted in which organizations at the lower level are responsible to upper level organizations at every stage.” 19

53. Since local conditions vary across the nation and have a large impact on poverty, such a mandate for a more decentralized approach would be very useful for the poverty reduction strategy. This is because local authorities have an intimate knowledge about conditions in their areas. So their insights and perceptions of the needs and desires of the poor people in their society would help ensure a poverty alleviation strategy that meets the priority concerns of such people.
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18Ibid;.
19New Light of Myanmar, “Having been entrusted with tasks and vested with powers, Union level ministries and Region/State ministries need to work with initiative, dynamism and conviction without waiting for any exhortation”, (Yangon, 7 April, 2011).

54. Role of local civil society organizations, NGOs, INGOs and foreign experts and international organizations: Their role in poverty reduction has already been briefly highlighted in the introduction to this paper. We would like to reiterate here that their expertise, experience and commitment to meet the needs of the poor, regardless of who these poor people are, and where they live, mean their support and cooperation will be crucial not only in designing a poverty alleviation strategy, but more importantly, in implementing the action programme for the strategy. Some preliminary thoughts on a few specific areas where their involvement and assistance will have a good impact are touched upon in the next section.

55. Multidimensional nature of poverty: Poverty has many dimensions. According to OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), poverty is stated to encompass:

“different dimensions of deprivation that relate to human capabilities including consumption and food security, health, education, rights, voice, security, dignity and decent work. Poverty must be reduced in the context of environmental sustainability. Reducing gender inequality is key to all dimensions of poverty.”20

56. In the presentation of thoughts on drawing up a poverty reduction strategy for Myanmar in the paragraphs above, a number of issues that may need to be taken into consideration have been listed. The list is not exhaustive. Many more could be added. However, for the purpose of the current workshop, with a time limit of two days, it is obviously not possible to take up all the dimensions of poverty that have been listed. Priorities therefore will need to be set, and a decision has to be made on what should be discussed in this workshop. The choice made and mandate given is to take up the subject of agriculture and rural development and its importance in poverty reduction. This is a good choice. After all, the majority of the people of Myanmar are in the rural sector and most of the poor are also in that sector. However, although this workshop will take up agriculture and rural development, a series of workshops and seminars will follow on a range of topics where poverty alleviation will continue to receive considerable attention. These include workshops in the fields of education, health, macroeconomic reforms, social development, industrialization, trade and financial sector development, and environmental issues. With the understanding that such a series of workshops will follow the present one, as well as to fulfil the mandate that has been given, ideas on a programme of action for poverty reduction with respect to agriculture and rural development in Myanmar, is presented in section (III) below.
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20OECD, Development Assistance Committee (DAC), “Guidelines on poverty reduction” (Paris: OECD, April 2001).

III. Ideas on a Programme of Action for Poverty Reduction with Special
Reference to Agriculture and Rural Development

57. Objectives: There are two:

First, in taking up agriculture and rural development for the purpose of the poverty alleviation action programme, effort must be devoted to looking at the state of agriculture and how it has progressed over the years. This is certainly important. Agricultural is the mainstay of the economy of Myanmar, and a good agriculture performance is good for the country. But it has long been recognized that in addition to looking at state of agriculture, there is a need to look at the state of farmers as well. The programme of action will attempt to fulfil this need.
The second objective is to draw up and implement the action programme in line with the new policy guidelines announced by the President. This is to show that concrete action can be taken to follow-up on the President’s new policy measures, as well as to get an idea about the extent to which these can be pursued, the constraints that may emerge, and the capacity and political will required to overcome them. The people of Myanmar and the international community have a keen interest on these issues and it is the aim of this workshop to take up these issues and to try to shed some light on them.

58. State of poverty in Myanmar: The desirability of having a properly defined concept of poverty and its measurement has been presented in section (I) of this paper. Central Statistical Organization (CSO) of the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development has conducted household income and expenditure surveys for a very long time. The Planning Department of CSO in cooperation with UNDP has also undertaken several useful studies on Integrated Household Living Conditions Assessment (IHLCA). The data on the conditions of the poor and the poverty profiles for the whole country and the states and regions contained in these reports will provide a good basis in formulating and implementing a poverty alleviation strategy for Myanmar. However, these are technical reports, and those completed recently have yet to be launched. Hence, at this time we merely wish to mention that in keeping with international practice, poverty indicators have been established for Myanmar and they will be used as appropriate in the poverty reduction strategy. Due to their technical nature, care has to be exercised to make sure that the indicators are properly understood. It is best to leave the presentation and interpretation of the IHLCA results to the experts and the relevant Myanmar authorities that have prepared the reports.

59. Role of government ministries: Government ministries and departments will play the key role in implementing the action programme for poverty alleviation. In addition to giving a brief account of activities in the respective sectors in which they are engaged, the focus should be on what has been done to meet the needs of the poor in their spheres of work, achievements made, problems encountered, and suggestions and plans for the future. Considerable amount of thought and planning may be required to fulfil such as task. Hence, the ministries may wish to present some preliminary ideas on these questions at this workshop and then to follow up with plans for more concrete action in subsequent seminars and workshops in their respective sectors.

60. Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) process: One useful approach for ministries and departments for a more focused and effective way to reduce poverty is to adopt the PRSP process which is widely used in many countries. The process begins by key decision-makers and administrators in the country taking an active leadership role in preparing the PRSP. As such, the initiative to reduce poverty is local and not imposed from outside, which in turns helps ensure it is “need” rather than “donor” driven. Poverty is then measured, and is followed by an analysis of its dimensions and causes. Based on these findings, an extensive dialogue takes place about what needs to be done to reduce the number of poor people in the country. This enables the PRSP process to choose government actions and programmes that have the greatest impact on poverty, to identify indicators of progress and monitor change in a systematic manner. Many developing countries in Asia and Pacific region as well as in other parts of the world, in close cooperation and support of IMF, World Bank, ADB, UNDP and other international organizations have pursued this approach in a wide variety of areas to reduce poverty. It is recommended that Myanmar should join its neighbours in adopting the PRSP process to gain useful insights and to be more effective in implementing its poverty alleviation strategy.21

61. Rice issue and poverty: There are two issues concerning the role of rice in poverty alleviation in Myanmar. The first has to do with ensuring food security for the poor by making sure that there is sufficient rice on the local market that can be bought at prices they can afford. The second is to restore Myanmar’s traditional role as a major rice exporter in the world which can have a major impact on improving the well-being of the rural population. Hence, rice will be a key issue in the action programme for poverty reduction. Moreover, a serious effort to follow up the new policy measures announced by the President can be adopted in dealing with the rice issue. This will not only benefit the poor but will help initiate a process of economic reform that will benefit the whole nation. Hence the rice issue, for both domestic consumption and export, that can be taken up in the poverty reduction action programme, are presented below.

62. Rice and domestic food security: As we all know, rice is the staple food of the people of Myanmar. At this point, it will be useful to recall a generally accepted principle in economics, known as Engel’s Law, which states that for any country or society, a family at a lower level of income devotes a larger proportion of its expenditure to food. Then with rising incomes, the share of food declines while there is a corresponding increase in the share of other items such as housing, consumer durables, transport, education, health, recreation and family welfare services. According to surveys conducted by the Central Statistical Organization food takes up a very large share, amounting to 72% of total consumption expenditure of an average family in Myanmar. Of this total food expenditure, about a fifth is devoted to buying rice.22 In the countryside and villages, the share of food (and especially rice) in total consumption expenditure is higher. This is particularly so in the rural areas of Chin State where food accounted for 76% of total household consumption expenditure with the share of rice in total food expenditure coming to roughly a quarter.23 Compared to this, the proportion spent on food for an average household in a developed country like the USA is around 14%.24 Not only in a developed country, in no other country in the Asian region does an average family devotes such a high share of household consumption expenditure to food as in Myanmar. In Japan the share of household consumption on food is 23%, in Thailand it is 32% and in Malaysia, 37%. The share spent on food is lower in other least developed countries as well. For example, in Bangladesh the share is 52%, in Cambodia 57% and in Laos 61%. 25
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21The World Bank has undertaken PRSP related activities in 67 countries. See World Bank, Board Presentations of PRSP Documents (as of June 2, 2010) [http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPRS1/Resources/boardlist.pdf]
See also David Craig and Doug Porter, “Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers: A new convergence. What does it miss, and what can be done about it?”  Regional Conference on National Poverty Reduction Strategies, Organised by World Bank, UNDP, IMF and ADB. Hanoi, Vietnam, 4-6th December 2001.
22Central Statistical Organization, Statistical Yearbook 2002 (Yangon: CSO,2002), table 22.04, p. 423.
23Ibid.; table 22.05; p. 431.
24The distribution of household spending in the United States in 1995 was as follows: Housing (32.4%), Transportation (18.6%), Food (14%), Personal insurance and pensions (9.2%), Health care (5.4%), Apparel and services (5.3%), Entertainment (5%) and Other expenditures (10.1%). See United States, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Distribution of Household Spending, 1995 BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey [http://www.nnfr.org/econ/bls95.htm]. Three decades earlier in 1963, the share of food and beverages in the household consumption expenditure in the United States was 25.2% and the share fell to 17.5% in 1981. See Eugene A. Diulio, Money and Banking (New York: Schaum’s Outline Series, McGraw-Hill Book Company, International Editions, 1987), p. 19

63. The large percentage spent on food indicates a low level of income. The income level of the average household must be substantially increased so that the family has enough to spend on other items that are considered desirable in any modern developed society. Of the large share spent on food, the largest chunk of this, amounting to 20% to 25% is spent on rice. Hence, bringing rice on the domestic market at affordable prices will go some way in easing hardships of the poor people in Myanmar.

64. Restoring Myanmar’s traditional role as a major world rice exporter: The proposal for restoring Myanmar as a major rice exporter in the world received strong support at the Roundtable and Development Forum Meeting, held at Naypyitaw on 15 December 2009. The specific mandate charged for the meeting  was to suggest policies, programmes and projects that Myanmar may wish to give consideration and to pursue with respect to enhancing rural economy and poverty reduction.26 The participation of Professor Joseph Stiglitz, a world famous American economist, as a principal speaker and a member of the panel of experts, attracted a lot of local and international attention. The reasons for recommending Myanmar to regain its status as a major rice exporter by the meeting were as follows:

  • Rice is the mainstay of the agricultural economy and provides livelihood for the majority of farm families;
  • Reintegration of the rice farmer and the country’s rice industry into the world rice market will provide incentives to increase both the quantity and quality of rice and thereby leading to higher incomes and employment opportunities for the rural community;
  • Such reintegration of Myanmar’s rice industry into the world market will mean increased international competition for local participants in this industry. Veteran rice dealers in the country with vast knowledge and experience in the industry will survive and thrive in the competitive environment. Others, who know little about the rice business, but who are making huge fortunes based on special favours will have to mend their ways, or else they will not survive and will go out of business. This will level the playing field in the industry which is essential for its revitalization and growth;
  • Higher productivity, output, incomes and employment in the rice farming sector will contribute to alleviating rural poverty and enhance greater food security at home. At the same time, re-emergence on the international scene as a major rice exporter will restore rice as a important source of foreign exchange for the country and will also assist in addressing the rising food security concerns in the region and around the world;
  • In short, revitalization of the rice economy and rice exports presents one area where concrete action can be taken to improve the well-being of the rural poor and at the same time to initiate the process of national economic development. It is also an area that holds high promise for fruitful cooperation between the government, academics, business community, civil society organizations, and development partners.

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25For the latter half of the 1990s, the share of food and beverages in the household consumption expenditure of countries in the Asia and Pacific region were as follows: Singapore (14%), Japan (23%), Taiwan (24%), Hong Kong (26%), Republic of Korea (27%), Thailand (32%), Malaysia (37%), Sri Lanka (41%), China (44%), Mongolia (45%), Philippines (47%), Bangladesh (52%), India (54%), Pakistan (55%), Cambodia (57%), Indonesia (59%), Nepal (61%), Laos (61%), Viet Nam (62%), North Korea (65%), and Myanmar (71%) [ Source: SSII, Asian Agrifood Demand Trends to 2010].
26U Myint, “Professor Stiglitz and Roundtable and Development Forum Meeting, held at Naypyitaw, 15 December 2009: Comments and Follow-up Action”. This paper was presented at a press briefing at Myanmar Egress Capacity Development Centre, Thamada Hotel, Yangon, on 9 January 2010. Sixty-five representatives from 28 domestic and foreign media agencies and organizations attended the briefing. The paper is available at [http://www.irrawaddy.org/web_images/U-Myint- Stiglitz.pdf]

65.  Present status of Myanmar in the world rice market: To restore Myanmar as a major rice exporter, it will be useful to start with a brief account of where Myanmar stands at present in the world rice market. What is clear from official statistics is that the importance of rice in Myanmar’s total export earnings has been declining over the past years. In the colonial days, in fiscal year 1938/39, Myanmar exported 3.3 million tons of rice which contributed 46.7% to the country’s total export receipts. Myanmar was the number one rice exporter in the world at that time. Over the period 1990/91-1999/00, the volume of rice exports averaged 249,000 tons per year which amounted to 7.5% of the 3.3 million tons exported in 1938/39. Rice accounted for 6.6% of total export receipts during this period.

66. The importance of rice in Myanmar’s exports declined further in 2000/01-2007/08 period. It only contributed a yearly average of 1.6% of total export earnings during this period. Obviously, this also implies Myanmar’s well-known reputation as the “rice bowl” of Asia has lost much of its splendor. Thus, in 2007 the total world exports of rice amounted to 28.69 million tons. Thailand is now the number one rice exporter in the world. It exported 8.5 million tons in 2007 which accounted for 29.6% of total world exports of rice. Vietnam came in second, exported 4.6 million tons, accounting for 16.0% of total world exports. Other major players in the world rice export trade in 2007 were India with 4.0 million tons, USA (3.3 million tons), and Pakistan (3.0 million tons).27

67. How about Myanmar? According to official statistics, Myanmar exported a total of 358,500 tons of rice in fiscal year 2007/08. This represents 1.2% of total world exports of rice in that year. It may further be noted that Myanmar’s share of 1.2% represents the share in total volume of world rice exports. If instead, we consider the total value of world rice exports, Myanmar’s share would even fall further, as Myanmar exports mostly low quality rice that fetches a price per ton far below that of its neighbours. Moreover, Thailand exported as much as 10.1 million tons of rice in 2004. In contrast, there have been years when the volume of Myanmar’s rice exports sank into insignificance in the world rice market. For instance, official statistics indicate Myanmar exported only 14,500 tons in fiscal 2006/07.

68. The availability of adequate supply of rice for domestic consumption, to have a surplus for export to earn foreign exchange, and to tax rice production and trade to generate revenue have been a major preoccupation of successive governments in Myanmar. As stated earlier, rice cultivation is the main occupation of farmers who form the majority of the country’s population. In fact, rice growing for the Burmese farmer is not only a means of livelihood, but is a way of life. Hence, the rice issue has been, and continues to be, a politically sensitive matter in the country and it raises deep social and economic concerns.
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27United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service, Rice Situation and Outlook Yearbook/RCS-2007/November,  2008; Appendix table 25, p. 88.

69. Exportable surplus of rice: To increase rice exports there is need to increase the exportable surplus of rice. Exportable surplus consists of current production, plus available stocks, minus projected domestic consumption. To this some adjustments may have to be made for loss due to improper storage and pests and leakages resulting from illegal cross-border trade.

70. Thinking along these lines, it may be noted that in fiscal year 2008/09, according to official statistics, paddy (unhusked rice) output of Myanmar is estimated to be 35.8 million metric tons. Myanmar’s population is 58.4 million, and rice exports for the year are stated to be around 1 million metric tons. In the same year, Thailand estimates its paddy output is likely to be about 35 million metric tons, slightly less than Myanmar. Thai population for the year is estimated at 68.4 million, but its exports are estimated to be between 8 million to 10 million metric tons. Hence, the fact that Thailand with about the same level of paddy production as in Myanmar but with 10 million more people could export rice more than 8 to 10 times than that of Myanmar needs some explanation. A reason that has been given is that with rising incomes and higher living standards, the life styles and dietary patterns of the Thais have changed and they are eating less rice, which increases their rice exportable surplus and thereby their exports. This sounds reasonable and is certainly true, to some extent. In fact, our people in the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, estimate our per capita rice consumption at 8.5 baskets (637.5 lbs) per year, compared to 3.5 baskets (262.5 lbs) for the Thais. But of course there are also those who advocate a simpler explanation. They think the large discrepancy in the rice export performance between Myanmar and Thailand is purely a statistical phenomenon, arising out of our overly optimistic paddy output figures.

71. In any case, the option to reduce domestic consumption of rice to increase exportable surplus is not available for Myanmar. According to IMF, the per capita GDP of Myanmar in 2008 is estimated at $446 while the figure for Thailand came to $4,116. Hence, prospects for rising incomes and changing life styles to reduce the consumption of rice to have a significant impact on the exportable surplus are not in sight for Myanmar in the foreseeable future. Reliance to increase exports will have to be placed on increasing paddy output in real and not in statistical terms.

72. Giving farmers a better deal: To increase paddy production, the need to provide farmers with the required incentives is crucial. This was lacking in most of the post independence era. Explicit agricultural taxes, such as export taxes, and implicit taxes, such as government agencies paying farmers less than market prices, were adopted in Myanmar as they were easy to administer and extremely attractive for a country with a narrow tax base and limited administrative capability. Moreover, those who are desperately in need of cheap rice are the large masses of the urban poor. Their needs are met by making farmers sell a portion of their rice at much below the market price, and to resell this rice to the urban poor at a low subsidized price. Not only rice, but urban consumers usually get subsidized gasoline, electricity, public transport, housing, and other essential community services. These subsidies result in deficits in the government budget. When the deficits are met out of the government’s general budget, which includes taxes and other charges levied on farmers, it means the rural sector is subsidizing the consumption of these goods and services by the urban sector.

73. An important policy initiative was undertaken in April 2003 to give the long suffering farmers a better deal.28 The compulsory delivery of a quota of farm output was abolished and rice export trade was opened up to the private sector. The poverty alleviation action programme should follow up with specific measures on this policy initiative so that farmers get the better deal they deserve and they get the incentives and support that they need.

74. Specific measures and follow-up activities: But what specifically are the measures and follow-up activities to pursue to improve the lot of the farmers, to revitalize the rice economy and to restore Myanmar as a major rice exporter in the world market? These are listed below.

75. Getting agricultural statistics right: A good start is to improve the agricultural statistical base. A favourite method of agricultural survey is fondly referred to as the palm tree climber survey. Under this method the surveyor climbs a palm tree, looks at the rice fields below and estimates sown acreage, mature acreage, yield per acre, fertilizer requirement, etc;. Unfortunately, Nargis has wiped out most the palm trees at least in the delta area. So there is a need to come up with some other better methods. Our people in the Settlement and Land Records Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation know these methods and has the knowledge and competence to conduct surveys to improve the agricultural data base. All they need is the mandate to undertake the task and resources to do it.  We shall be pushing hard for them to get the mandate and the required resources.

76. Increasing rice yields: Aside from improving the agricultural statistical base, another obvious need is to boost rice yields. This can be done through increased and proper use of modern inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, proper water control, improved seeds, and farm mechanization. Moreover, there is a wide range of issues related to better pricing, distribution, storage, marketing, grading, processing, taxation and organization and management of agricultural production so that farmers’ incentives are not adversely affected, they get a fair reward for their efforts, and middlemen and others do not take unfair advantage of them.

77. Agricultural credit: A big issue that should receive major attention at present is agricultural credit. Nargis and the destruction it has wrought on infrastructure, natural and man-made capital, dwellings and means of livelihoods has dramatized the need for credit. But the credit crunch is a countrywide problem although its impact varies from region to region, from township to township, and even within a township.

78. In view of its seriousness, rural credit issue will be accorded top priority in the poverty reduction action programme. In doing so effort will be made to build on what has already been achieved and to take due account of on-going activities in this area by the public and private sectors, civil society organizations, and NGOs to avoid duplication and to enhance cooperation among various actors and stakeholders. UNDP has done a lot of work in this area and its experience will be useful in planning future activities. This also applies to the vast experience with regard to microcredit in the Asia and Pacific region from which valuable lessons can be drawn.
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28U Myint, “The rice issue”, (Unpublished paper, Yangon, 19 September 2003.)

79. One important activity that could be undertake right away with regard to following up on the rural credit issue is to conduct surveys of farm incomes and expenditures. In an unstable macroeconomic environment, costs and prices are changing all the time but there is a need to get reasonably accurate estimates of farm incomes and expenditures for specific rural communities in order to launch credit programmes for them. Without such information it will not be possible to determine the amount of credit per acre that will be required and terms and conditions at which it should be provided to ensure these do not impose an undue burden on the borrower, while at the same time prospects of repayment are also reasonably good so that the credit programme can continue on a sustainable basis.

80. Involving young people: These income and expenditure surveys can be undertaken by young people that have been trained by capacity building organizations both within and outside the country in techniques and methods of conducting such surveys. The dedication and hard work put in by these young people in undertaking post Nargis assessment surveys have been impressive and their involvement and support in undertaking surveys not only in the case of providing farm credit but also for follow-up activities in other areas concerned with enhancing rural economy and poverty reduction would be very welcome.

81. Reconciling producer and consumer interests: Another important issue is the need to reconcile the conflict of interest between the producer and consumer with regard to the rice price. As producers farmers would like to get a price of rice as high as possible. On the other hand, consumers would like to buy rice at a price as low as possible. How do you resolve this conflict? How do you go about establishing a price that is attractive for farmers to produce rice, while the price is also at a level that consumers can afford to buy? One way this can be done is by reducing “transaction costs.” For example, Dr Ikuko Okamoto of Institute of Developing Economies of Japan, a specialist on the rural economy of Myanmar, has estimated that of the rice price paid by the final consumer, farmers get 20%. The rest 80% goes to pay “transaction costs”, which are for transport, storage, marketing, grading, milling, port charges etc., along with tea money for small officials, and special gifts and donations for high officials. Now if these transactions costs can be lowered to 50% then price received by farmers could be increase by 15% and price charged to consumers can be lowered by 15% without disturbing the rice market.

82. Reducing transaction costs is a proposal that will be very interesting to follow-up. The business people will take it up with great relish. Aside from lack of a level playing field, chasing after transaction costs has made life utterly miserable for them.

83. Increasing export earnings through improved quality of rice: Thinking about transaction costs such as milling, storage and grading leads into another useful consideration, namely what is important is not the volume of exports but the money and revenue earned from exports, or the value of exports. Myanmar has not done well on this score. As stated earlier, our rice exports are of low quality and price we get are far below what our neighbours get. So another obvious area requiring attention is to improve the quality of rice, get higher prices and increase export earnings. IMF recommends that efforts should be made to export more high quality rice not only to increase earnings but also because low quality rice is consumed by most people at home and its export could disturb the local market.

84. Looking at past experience, during the era of mandatory delivery quotas, high quality rice exports was problematic for the government because farmers usually provide the poorest quality rice they produce to meet their quotas. Moreover, such deliveries were dumped together at the government’s buying depots so there was no uniformity with respect to the quality and variety of rice procured. However, with the lifting of the ban on private rice exports under the new policy adopted in 2003, prospects for high quality rice exports become much brighter. This is because when the rice export trade is opened to the private sector, the private business person who has contact with the foreign buyer and knows exactly what the foreigner wants will pay the price and provide the required inputs to the farmer to produce the quality and quantity of the rice that is required. He will also collect, transport, and mill and process the rice so as to meet the standard the foreign buyer has set. This is good for the farmer, the business person, and with increased exports and foreign exchange earnings, it is good for the country as well. But to obtain these advantages, there has to be a level playing field in the rice export business.

85. Land reform: Land reform played a big role in rural development and in initiating economic progress in many economies, such as in Taiwan and South Korea. In Myanmar farmers do not have land ownership rights, but only land user’s rights. Thus, in considering land reform in Myanmar under present circumstances, the aim is to come up with measures to protect the farmers from losing their land use rights as it is happening in some neighbouring countries. Another issue is that the land tax rates have been kept fixed at their level in the colonial days at a few kyats per acre which add next to nothing to revenue, which should therefore be reviewed. Some people also say farmers with land use rights should have right to use land as collateral to get loans.

86. Protecting the village commons: Another issue which has not received much attention is that something like the enclosure movement that took place in England just prior to the Industrial Revolution is taking place in the Myanmar countryside. Every village has what are called the village commons, such as forests where village people can fetch firewood, meadows where their cattle can graze, and streams, lakes and ponds where they can catch fish. Now these are being fenced off by some local authorities to generate revenue for themselves and the common rights are no longer available to the village folk. Similarly, fishing rights in streams, lakes and rivers near villages are often given as concessions to private individuals and farmers are denied rights to them. These are issues that deserve attention in the action programme for the poverty alleviation strategy.

87. Increasing resilience through non-farm activities: Nargis and global financial crisis were disasters that hit Myanmar which were beyond its control. When these natural and economic disasters strike, it is always the poor and livelihoods in the rural economy that are hit the hardest. However, the resilience of the rural economy can be strengthened to better withstand these misfortunes through creating non-farm employment opportunities. For example, a farm household or a village that not only grows rice but engages in other economic activities has better chance of coming to terms with these disastrous events. Non-farm activities in the countryside can take place by setting up small enterprises in processing, construction, transport, repair, catering, and other services. In China these town and village enterprises played a vital role in the agricultural reform process, by creating jobs for millions of people and increasing rural incomes and output.29 With climate change brought on by global warming, Myanmar like other countries will have to face more frequent and more violent natural disasters than before. Similarly, increased globalization will bring with it greater impact of economic disturbances originating outside its borders. Hence, there is a clear need to strengthen the resilience of the rural sector by promoting non-farm employment opportunities.
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29Please see paras. (44) and (45) above.

88. Reconciling domestic consumption needs and exports of rice: Concerns have been expressed that an over zealous rice export drive to become a major rice exporter, may divert resources into producing for the export market, with adverse consequences on availability of rice for domestic consumption, especially for poor consumers. This is a valid concern if a rice export drive is launched without undertaking reforms to overcome constraints all along the whole rice production and marketing chain. It is doubtful Myanmar can become a major player in the world rice market without making such an effort. To become a major player and to compete successfully on the international rice market, farmers in the country must be provided with incentives, inputs, and technical support to increase the yield and quality of rice output as well as with access to market at home and abroad. In addition, the business community engaged in the rice trade must operate in an environment of free and fair competition, on a level playing field, with trade licenses and special favours abolished. Finally, a serious effort must be made aimed at controlling inflation, unifying the exchange rate, undertaking the much needed reforms in the financial sector, taxation, public finance, trade, and generally to restore investor and business confidence in the economy and the way it is run – measures that are essential to transform Myanmar into a modern, developed nation. Hence, the emphasis placed on restoring Myanmar as a major rice exporter in the world market is not only to promote rural development and poverty reduction, but to initiate the reform process for more broad-based economic development of the country. A seminar focused on the rice issue that will propose concrete action along these lines will be held in Naypyitaw in late June 2011. This seminar represents the third session in the development partnership series, organized jointly by ESCAP and relevant economic ministries of the Government of Myanmar.

89. Building on what has been achieved: Over the past decades, Myanmar has devoted a lot of effort on building the physical infrastructure of the country – roads, railways, bridges, dams, airports, seaports, hydropower stations, hospitals, universities and schools. It is now an appropriate time to build on and make effective use of this physical infrastructure by directing more attention towards evolving better policies, institutional arrangements, and implementation programmes aimed especially at improving the ability, opportunity, desire, and incentive of people to perform their tasks in a more productive and efficient manner.

90. Focus of the poverty reduction action programme: The action programme will be people-oriented. To give a few examples, in addition to giving an account of the number of irrigation dams built over the years, it will be desirable to show concretely how much water has in fact gone to the fields of poor farmers in the villages and what difference this has made to improving their livelihoods. Similarly, in addition to providing information on the number of hydroelectric dams and power stations that have been built over the years, there is a need to find out how much access the poor actually have to electric power at present and how greater access to a reliable and good quality electric power supply could not only improve their living conditions but help establish small village industries and workshops that will increase incomes and off-farm employment opportunities for them. The same can be said about building roads and other infrastructure. Aside from providing statistics on roads constructed over the years, information should also be provided on access roads to villages that now exist, or that can and should be built, to enable poor farmers to bring their produce to the market as well as to transport the inputs they need for their farms. These are few examples of what the action plan for poverty reduction should be concentrating on, to move forward.

IV. Monitoring and review and proposal for establishment of the Myanmar Development Resource Institute (MDRI)

91. The aims and functions of MDRI have already been briefly outlined in paragraph (6) of this paper. A few preliminary additional thoughts on the establishment of MDRI are given below.

92. To show its independence and close links with the business and academic community, MDRI will be located in Yangon. It will, however, have a branch office in Naypyitaw.

93. The Board of Directors of MDRI and the team of technical experts under the Executive Director will adopt their own work procedure. It is envisaged that deliberations and discussions in MDRI will be held in a free and frank manner, and in an informal, relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Any issue that the authorities of the Institute feel relevant to fulfill its mandate, and within its terms of reference, may be taken up for discussion and follow-up action.

94. The MDRI for its smooth functioning and efficient conduct of work, will have its headquarters in a building in a pleasant neighbourhood of Yangon. The building will have all the facilities associated with such institutes throughout the Asia and Pacific region. It will also be provided with secretarial support, telephone, fax, e-mail and Internet facilities, as well as with technical and administrative backstopping services.

95. The authorities at MDRI may call upon anyone, both within the country and outside, which they feel has the expertise and is appropriate to assist their work. Those within the country may be prominent professionals, business people, academics, administrators, members of political parties, nationalities as well as common people that have views to express for the success of MDRI in achieving its objectives.

96. As for those from outside, MDRI looks to active involvement and assistance of many talented and experienced Myanmar compatriots living abroad. There are dedicated young people of Myanmar in foreign lands who have acquired skills and knowledge in numerous fields whose contribution will be specially welcomed. Further, reliance will be placed on  Myanmar compatriots abroad to bring to the attention of the international community, and particularly to the major players on the world stage – the nature, aims, functions and work of the MDRI – to enhance international understanding and support for this initiative for Myanmar. This is important because the tasks and duties envisaged for MDRI will be greatly facilitated by having access to the vast store of knowledge, expertise and resources available in neighbouring countries, in the rest of the world, and in the United Nations and other international organizations.

97. To conclude, we feel reasonably confident that deliberations and work in the MDRI, and its findings, recommendations and activities, will lead to a successful outcome in attaining the aims of the new policy directions announced by the President, and will make a valuable contribution to the nation building and democratization process currently underway.

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PROFESSOR LARRY DIAMOND- STANFORD

With Burma’s reforms making media headlines around the world, many observers believe that the long-time former military dictatorship is on the road to real change. President Thein Sein recently announced a second year of reforms, focusing on the economy, after an initial year of mostly political change. But does that mean that Burma’s government has already laid the foundations for a democratic transition and can move on to the economy?

Stanford University democracy scholar Larry Diamond—formerly a consultant to and sometimes critic of US government policy overseas—recently spent time in Burma meeting political parties, government officials and civil society groups. Author, editor or co-editor of 36 books on democracy, Diamond spoke to The Irrawaddy Reporter Simon Roughneen about the current transition in Burma.

Question: Is the Burma government doing the right things, the right way, in the right order, in your view, to support a sustainable transition to democracy? Any indicators that the government is merely undertaking cosmetic changes, akin to the ‘electoral authoritarianism’ you’ve pointed out in places such as Venezuela and Russia?

Answer: I think that the transition is still very much in an early stage and it is not clear by any means at this point that electoral democracy will be the outcome of it or that electoral democracy is the intended outcome. The problems are numerous and there is much that needs to be done by both the regime and the opposition if a democratic transition is to be achieved.

The Constitution has a number of serious flaws that would means that democracy would not emerge even if the opposition wins a majority of seats in the 2015 election. There is a need for reform of the Constitution, reform of the federal system, there are massive needs for civic education, there are needs for reconciliation—not only between the government and the opposition but among the opposition groups.

So all of this is only incipient at best, it is exciting that the process has begun and encouraging that the by-elections were free and fair and there are many hopeful signs but it is important not to underestimate the challenges that lie ahead.

Q: What changes to date to you think are the most important in terms of driving democratic transition forward? And beyond those, what else needs to happen, what else needs to change?

A: There are opposition members in Parliament including the NLD [National League for Democracy], and the recent by-elections were free and fair enough to allow the NLD to win 43 seats. Aung San Suu Kyi is free and can move around the country and can take her place in Parliament. There is the possibility that the Parliament can become a locus for dialogue, one venue where discussions can happen about the future of the country.

There is a climate of freedom and openness that has not existed very much in the country in the last half century. Civil society groups and organizations are forming, people are reading seriously about democratic institutions. There is a fascination and enthusiasm among people for learning more about democracy that to me is reminiscent of other transitions around the world in recent decades, such as in Poland and South Africa and Latin America.

On the Constitution, I think it should be left up to people in Burma whether the Constitution should be amended or revised. However, if democracy is intended to be the ultimate result of this whole reform process, it is pretty obvious that some things need to change. Of the two most immediate that struck me, the first one is the most obvious one that the military appoints a quarter of seats in parliament—at a minimum that needs to be phased out.

Secondly, there is a provision in the Constitution that essentially legitimates a military coup in a state of emergency with the chief of the defense forces seizing political power. Simply to say that is undemocratic does not fully grasp how problematic that provision is. So this would need to change to make it clear that in a time of trouble the answer to political crisis is not for the military to seize power again.

There at least needs to be a plan for transition away from the degree of military domination that currently remains in the system, but constitutional reform could take the pragmatic view that the military needs these provisions as a confidence-building measure, over a period of time, but then the question arises, how long? Another five year period after 2015?

Q: What do you think of the state of political parties in Burma? Are they equipped to be harbingers of change? Do they, and civil society, have a good understanding of democracy and democratic change, in your view?

A: Speaking about the NLD first, it is my impression that it has tremendous support and grassroots presence and that is a very important foundation on which to build. But it seems to need some organizational renovation, and it is also very important for the political party that seeks to be the democratic voice of society to be more democratic itself and to build stronger democratic structures and hold more far-reaching consultative processes within the party that would renovate it and lead it to be better-prepared for the leadership role it is likely to have in a democratic system.

A number of other opposition parties are too new or small for me to assess them, but some of them have had elections and seem to be trying to build structures. The only way you can assess the strengths of parties is through elections, and it is very common in a situation like this where you have large numbers of parties emerging and trying to gain traction but many do not gain any leverage within society. It is important not to make assumptions about parties without some objective test ultimately.

With respect to the USDP [ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party] it is also difficult to assess, but its future will I think depend in part to what extent it separates itself from the military and to what extent it takes on the formal organizational character and leadership profile of a modern political party.

I was very impressed with the civil society organizations I met—they struck me as capable, professional, enthusiastic about learning about democratic change. Some of the ones I met were the Yangon School of Political Science, House of Media Entertainment, Myanmar Egress—the largest and most institutionalized, Myanmar Institute of Theology and Concord, and there were others. Everybody is doing training now, and building knowledge and capacity is very important. I was impressed with the energy and activity.

Q: Remembering that the 1962 coup in Burma was justified on fears that Burma’s ethnic minorities might try to secede, any sign of nervousness or cold feet among the former junta top brass about the transition?

A: The problem of violence and conflict in ethnic minority areas remains one of the biggest challenges for the transition in Burma and for democratic stability in the future. I think that several kinds of political pacts or agreements need to be negotiated during these three years leading up to the 2015 elections. One is between the regime and the opposition on the role of the military, the broad character of the state and the Constitution.

A second is between them on retrospective justice, transitional justice. It is probably going to need very clear assurances that if there is to be full democracy, that the incumbent authorities and those in power now might need to be told that there will not be a wave of prosecutions. I don’t see the prospect that the military, the people who control power at the moment, will give it up if they think there is a chance they will be prosecuted.

Thirdly, something needs to be done in a more comprehensive way to address the grievances of the non-Burman ethnic minority groups. I think it is clear from the resentments of minority groups that the existing vertical structures of power are not appealing. When you have got a multiplicity of groups with similar grievances and different identities, you cannot solve this problem with one-off deals with each separate group.

Q: What are your thoughts on US policy regarding Burma? Is the US government getting the sequencing right? What about green light for energy investment with the state-owned oil and gas company despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s warnings, and those of a number of US senators and congressmen and women?

A: I am concerned about that. When you look at why the regime is opening up it is hard to shake the interpretation that there is a strong desire after all these years of lost time and stalled development to shake free of sanctions and Burma’s isolation and join the international economy in a vigorous way.

So there is some leverage that the United States and the West have, that these sanctions were there for a reason, due to the lack of democracy and the abuses of human rights. So if you give everything away at the start when all of this is reversible and there are huge hurdles to be scaled in order for the country to emerge as a genuine electoral democracy, then what leverage do we have left?

I would praise Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration for engaging the regime—it is time to engage Burma with a much scaled-up support for institutions in government, the Parliament, judicial reform. I’d also like to see much scaled-up development assistance to help the economy. But some sanctions need to remain in place until it is clear that the country is moving toward democracy and not pseudo-democracy.

Q: You mentioned earlier how during the early years of transition, a plethora of parties sometimes emerges, but after a time these wither on the vine as things become more settled. Are there any other lessons, common threads, from transitions elsewhere that could be practically applied in Burma at this stage?

A: The electoral system needs to be looked at. If the current first-past-the-post system is retained without amendment it raises the prospect that the NLD will sweep most of the seats in 2015 but without perhaps having anything like countrywide unanimity in the vote.

It is not good for democracy to have any party, even one committed to democracy, to have a near-hegemonic presence. You want competition, you want opposition, you want pluralism. So the bottom line is not only that is not only is proportional representation intrinsically a fairer system but it may be more effective at giving a stake in the political system to a variety of forces, including the current ruling party, if those forces don’t do very well in the next election.

At the same there is a need in country like Burma that is still overwhelmingly-rural to have geographically-based representation, in which there are representatives that people can identify, each in their own constituency, to represent them and speak for them, that they can have access to express grievances and interests.

I think the answer is some kind of mixed electoral system, in which there is a substantial if not full proportionality in the distribution of votes into seats but at the same time that people can identify individual representatives that speak for them. One of the interesting things I found is growing interest in proportional representation and I think people in Burma are looking at it seriously and thinking about it now.  Ref. Irrawaddy

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World Bank to resume Myanmar lending

By Gwen Robinson  FT

The World Bank is set to resume lending to Myanmar for the first time in almost 25 years and has opened an office in Yangon in the latest sign of the international community’s embrace of the regime’s economic and political reforms.

The World Bank and its investment arm, the International Finance Corporation, as well as the Asian Development Bank all opened country offices in Yangon on Wednesday. The ADB also became the first international financial institution to open an office in Naypyidaw, the capital.

The return of leading international financial institutions to the country was facilitated in part by a Japanese plan to extend nearly $900m in bridging loans to Myanmar .

Tokyo’s move, following its April decision to forgive about $3.7bn in bilateral debt owed by Myanmar, underlines Japan’s concerted push to help the country’s emergence from decades of diplomatic and economic isolation.

Under the latest plan, a consortium of Japanese banks would provide a temporary loan to enable Myanmar to repay about $500m owed to the Asian Development Bank and $397m in interest and principal owed to the World Bank on outstanding debt of about $700m. The institutions would then provide low-interest loans to Myanmar to repay the bridging loans.

The ADB, World Bank and others ceased lending in the late 1980s after Myanmar suspended debt repayments.

Any new lending would require clearance of arrears and also a shift in the US position. As the World Bank’s biggest stakeholder, with 15 per cent of the vote, the US has cited Myanmar’s lowest ranking on the State department’s human trafficking index in its opposition to resuming World Bank assistance. The State department upgraded Myanmar’s status in its annual “trafficking in persons” rankings in June, citing government reforms.

Speaking at the World Bank’s new Myanmar office, Pamela Cox, the bank’s vice-president for East Asia and Pacific, announced $85m in development grants for community projects ahead of the arrears clearance. Japan’s proposed bridging loan was among possible solutions to facilitate that clearance, she said.

“We are not cancelling the debt. We are just clearing the back interest payments. Then they’ll start repaying it again,” she told the Financial Times.

In the first visits by senior World Bank and IFC executives since the reformist government of President Thein Sein came to power early last year, Ms Cox and Karin Finkelston, IFC vice-president for Asia Pacific, met the president and cabinet ministers, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders on Wednesday.

The two executives said the feedback from Ms Suu Kyi was “very positive” on the grant scheme and the prospect of fresh lending. Before winning a parliamentary seat in April 1 by-elections Ms Suu Kyi had strongly supported economic sanctions on Myanmar.

“We explained the World Bank programme and what we are intending to do, and we got some feedback on issues she feels are important, including agriculture, rural incomes and migrant workers,” Ms Cox said.

As for the government, she noted: “I think certainly the government is committed to reform, I said very clearly that for us to continue on the path of engagement, they need to continue on the reform path – that is the message we gave to the president and all the ministers.”

The IFC meanwhile, which has invested about $1bn in the Mekong region ex-Myanmar of its total $5bn budget for Asia in the past year, would focus initially on areas such as microfinance in Myanmar, Ms Finkelston noted. Myanmar owes no money to the IFC but as part of the World Bank group, the organisation would wait until arrears clearance before making investments, she said.

According to discussions between Japan, the ADB, World Bank and Myanmar’s government, arrears would be cleared by January and lending could resume shortly after. “There are many stages to clear arrears,” said Ms Cox. “We need to do a debt sustainability analysis, [Myanmar has] more than 200 bilateral loans. It takes a while to put all debt data together . . . a number of steps are needed.”

Separately, Kunio Senga, director-general of the ADB’s Southeast Asia department, expressed confidence that the resumption of ADB assistance was “just around the corner” following his discussions on the arrears issue with government leaders.

“If there is one theme we feel strongly about, it’s connectivity. Our priority area is to help Myanmar reconnect with the fastest growing region in the world, including India and . . . China. Connectivity along the border area is also essential for reconciliation of the different ethnic groups in the country,” he told the Financial Times.

World Bank offers grants, debt help for Burma

02-Aug-2012 Intellasia | AFP | 8:04 AM  Print This Post

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The World Bank on Wednesday pledged $85 million in development grants to Myanmar and assistance for the former pariah state to clear its arrears as part of efforts to support political reforms.

The announcement came as the World Bank and the Manila-based Asian Development Bank both opened offices in the impoverished country, which is emerging from decades of military rule under a new reformist government.

“We are committed to eradicating poverty and the new office opening in Myanmar will allow us to reach some of the poorest people in East Asia,” World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said in a statement.

“They have been cut off from the global economy for too long and it’s very important that they receive real benefits from the government’s reforms.”

The World Bank on Wednesday pledged $85 million in development grants to Myanmar and assistance for the former pariah state to clear its arrears as part of efforts to support political reforms. (AFP)

The World Bank froze its Yangon programme in 1987 after the country, then known as Burma, stopped making payments on its debt to the bank.

A hurdle for the resumption of aid had been how to deal with the unpaid money, including arrears of almost $400 million owed to the World Bank.

But the issue has been resolved and Myanmar will receive a bridging loan to help it to clear the arrears, a senior official at the Washington-based multilateral lender told a news conference in Yangon.

“I do want to emphasize we are not forgiving the debt to Myanmar,” said Pamela Cox, the World Bank’s vice president for East Asia and the Pacific.

The bank said that 397 million dollars in arrears include outstanding principle and interest, and the move will enable Myanmar to begin servicing its commitments again.

The new grants will go towards schemes that will allow communities to decide whether to invest in schools, roads, water or other projects, she said.

Myanmar also owes about $500 million to the Asian Development Bank, which is also returning to the country for the first time since 1988.

“We have been discussing with the government how to clear arrears. I think we are coming to a resolution. Once this arrangement is done, then we can start our operation,” Kunio Senga, ADB Southeast Asia director general, told AFP.

Myanmar President Thein Sein has overseen a series of dramatic reforms since taking office last year, including the release of political prisoners and the election of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

MULTIMEDIA

In Pictures—China’s Dream of Burmese Gas


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Route of the pipeline laid out in Kyaukme Town, northern Shan State. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

The controversial Shwe Gas pipeline project dissects Burma from the Bay of Bengal in western Arakan State through to the Chinese border in northeastern Shan State.

Civil society groups have fiercely criticized the humanitarian impact of the scheme which has seen numerous land evictions and associated human rights abuses, and so The Irrawaddy sent its own photographers to assess the situation.

Following the pipeline’s route in Mandalay Division and Shan State, they documented the current construction work and its impact on local people firsthand on June 5-6.

Building materials, excavation machinery, backhoes, cement mixers, trucks, bags of cement and piles of gas pipes were seen scattered around. The work is taking place in agricultural fields, farms and other property where the photographers passed by.

Workers have built makeshift shelters where they rest after their daily toil. The pipeline route is then cleaned up yet many local people claim to have had their lives devastated from being forced off their land.

The Shwe Gas Movement, an NGO that is monitoring the pipeline construction, has documented a raft of human rights violations related to the project.

Its recent report “Sold Out” claims the work has directly affected 80,000 people from 21 townships displaced along the 800-km (500-mile) pipeline route. A total of 33 Burmese army battalions are currently deployed along the corridor in Arakan and Shan states to provide security.

The rights group also expressed serious concerns to the United Nations regarding the social, economic and environmental impact attributed to the Burmese, Chinese, South Korean and Indian companies involved. Set to come online in 2013, the pipeline is touted to become Burma’s largest source of foreign revenue by generating an estimated US $29 billion over 30 years.

Another report titled “Burma’s resource curse: The case for revenue transparency in the oil and gas sector,” produced by the Arakan Oil Watch NGO, claims that Burma’s revenues are set to increase by 60 percent as new gas exports to China and Thailand begin next year. In addition, the report claims 41 oil and gas blocks are currently under exploration by various foreign companies.

However, nearly all gas involved will be exported to generate power in China despite roughly 75 percent of the Burmese population not having access to electricity from the national grid, according to Shwe Gas Movement.

Les Rohingyas “persécutés” par les autorités birmanes après les émeutes de juin

Le Monde.fr |

Manifestation hostile aux Rohingya à , le 24 juillet.
Manifestation hostile aux Rohingya à , le 24 juillet. | AP/Sakchai Lalit

Les forces de l’ordre birmanes ont tué, violé et procédé à des arrestations massives de musulmans Rohingya après les affrontements entre communautés religieuses survenus dans le nord-est de la Birmanie en juin, affirme l’organisation Human Rights Watch dans un rapport publié mercredi 1er août.

La minorité musulmane des Rohingyas a été tout particulièrement visée par la répression organisée par les autorités birmanes après une semaine d’affrontements très violents qui se sont déroulés en juin entre bouddhistes Rakhine et musulmans Rohingyas, dans l’Etat de Rakhine (Arakan), indique le rapport, rédigé à partir d’une soixantaine d’entretiens avec des membres des communautés Rakhine et Rohingya.

“Les forces de sécurité birmanes n’ont pas réussi à protéger les Arakan [Rakhine] et les Rohingya les uns des autres et ont ensuite concentré la répression contre les Rohingya”, a déclaré Brad Adams, directeur pour l’Asie de HumanRights Watch. “Le gouvernement affirme qu’il veut mettre fin aux querelles ethniques et aux violences, mais les récents événements dans l’Etat d’Arakan démontrent que la persécution et la discrimination couvertes par l’Etat existent encore.” La Birmanie compte au moins 800 000 Rohingyas, mais ils ne sont pas reconnus officiellement comme une des ethnies du pays. Le Bangladesh voisin ne les accepte pas et repousse vers la mer les “boat people” qui essaient de fuir les troubles.

“ENTRÉS ILLÉGALEMENT” EN BIRMANIE

Le président birman, Thein Sein, a déclaré en juin que son gouvernement n’était responsable que des Rohingyas de la troisième génération dont les familles sont arrivées avant l’indépendance en 1948 et qu’il ne pouvait pas accepter ceux “entrés illégalement” en Birmanie.

Lire : Le président birman ouvert aux ethnies mais pas aux Rohingyas

Deux drames ont précédé les émeutes dans l’Etat d’Arakan : le viol et le meurtre d’une femme Rakhine par trois hommes Rohingya le 28 mai – ils ont été condamnés à mort – suivi en représailles par le lynchage de dix musulmans non Rohingya qui voyageaient en car le 3 juin.

Human Rights Watch accuse la police et l’armée de n’être pas intervenues pour empêcher la foule de battre les musulmans à mort. Durant les émeutes qui ont suivi, certains Rohingyas qui tentaient de fuir ou de mettre le feu à leur domicile ont été abattus par les paramilitaires. Le rapport demande au gouvernement de mettre fin aux violences et d’autoriser la venue d’observateurs internationaux dans la région dont l’accès est restreint.

Selon un bilan fourni par le ministère des affaires étrangères, 77 personnes sont mortes et 109 ont été blessées durant les violences tandis que 5 000 habitations ont été détruites par le feu. Le ministre des affaires frontalières, Thein Htay, a indiqué que 858 personnes avaient été arrêtées pour leur participation aux violences, dont cinq membres du Haut Commissariat des Nations unies aux réfugiés (HCR) et un employé du programme alimentaire mondial (PAM).

The King in Exile by debutant writer Sudha Shah. (Photo: HarperCollins)

The King in Exile by Sudha Shah. (Photo: HarperCollins)

Not much has been written about the personal life of King Thibaw, the last king of Burma, after he was deposed by the British in 1885 to live in exile in Ratanagiri, a small and isolated town in India. And even less has been written, even in Burmese historical books, about the tragic lives of the four princesses.

For many Burmese people, Thibaw is known as the last king of Burma—a man of weak character who was easily manipulated by his strong-willed wife, Queen Supayalat. Despite being only the 41st son of King Mingdon, he was placed on the throne by Queen Supayalat’s mother and other influential ministers of the court who conspired to manipulate their “puppet.”

In Burma’s history, Thibaw’s rise to throne was marred by the massacre of a large number of royal family members, and his reign made infamous by marking the end of many centuries of monarchy due to British colonization.

Although “The King in Exile,” by debutant writer Sudha Shah, covers that part of Burma’s history to provide background context, it mainly focuses on the lives of the last Burmese royal family and its descendents. In particular, the book provides a comprehensive portrayal of their personal life, especially during exile in India and immediately afterwards.

The life of the royal family is divided into three parts—before, during and after exile. It starts with a background of Thibaw and Supayalat before detailing their rise to the throne and subsequent deposition by the British. This is followed by the royal family and Burma during the exile, and finally what happens to Queen Supayalat, the four princesses and their children with more detail given to the children of the fourth princess.

The first section gives readers a feel for the magnificent riches and power enjoyed by Thibaw and Supayalat in their palace as well as the intricacies and scheming alliances of the power struggle in court, and how it affected the future of the country.

The second and third parts highlight the impact British colonization had on Burma and Thibaw’s family personally. From being the sovereign of Burma, Thibaw was reduced to having to survive on a comparatively paltry allowance from the British government after his precious treasures and properties—much of his wealth subsequently unaccounted for—seized by the British.

Shah’s seven years of extensive historical research for this book is impressive. She made several trips to relevant cities—Ratnagiri and Kolkata in India as well as Rangoon, Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin) and Mandalay in Burma—where the royal family and their descendants spent various parts of their lives.

Shah conducted interviews with the royal family’s descendents, as well as carrying out research at the Maharashtra State Archives in Mumbai, National Archives of India in New Delhi, National Archives in Rangoon and the British and SOAS libraries in London.

Despite being a historical book, Shah’s writing style is readable and captivating yet concise. The third section on the lives of the four princesses and their children was the personal highlight as it is the first time anyone has written at length on the subject.

Throughout the book, Shah indicates whenever there is a lack of information on certain accounts—an appreciated demonstration of honesty. She also provides her analysis with very balanced views—giving the opposing perspectives of both the royal family and British government.

This is a true human story about the last Burmese royal family and their relationships—with their British controller, their social circle as well as among themselves. It has the elements of real life drama and tragedy.

On one hand, Thibaw and his family have to get approval from the British on every aspect of their lives—how much money they can spend per month, who they can meet, who they can hire and fire in their housing staff, who the princesses can marry, even what education the grandchildren receive.

Thibaw and Supayalat used to have the power of life and death over the Burmese people, and so life in exile, subjected to totalitarian control, must have been extremely strange and frustrating.

Conversely, the British government does not seem to have anticipated the nature of handling all affairs of the royal family, which was forced to live in total isolation and seclusion in a remote Indian town even though it was used to having all their wishes fulfilled.

The princesses grew up without any formal education and their peer group was principally limited to just staff—mostly uneducated Indians from the town and their Burmese “servants.” Would they have had better futures if properly schooled and exposed to other privileged societies?

The British government—in order to curb a possible rising of Burmese nationalistic spirit—did not allow the ashes of Thibaw, who died in exile in 1916, and his junior Queen Supayagalae to be brought back to Burma.

Was the British government being too severe on a family who had to live in exile in a foreign land for more than 31 years? These questions might surface in the reader’s mind upon finishing the book.

Shah acknowledges Amitav Ghosh’s novel “The Glass Palace“—set over three generations in Burma and with links to the royal family’s exiled life in India, and the winner of the Frankfurt eBook Award Grand Prize for Fiction—as having inspired her to research the history of Thibaw and his royal family. As much as “The Glass Palace” was a fascinating fictional read, “The King in Exile” is certainly its equal in the non-fiction genre.   Ref:  The Irrawaddy

Back to Burma

Our writer joins the steadily growing trickle of tourists into Burma and finds amid its fairytale Buddhist shrines and chaotic cities a nation desperate to talk to the outside world

Burma bagan

From under a cloud … Bagan, Burma’s answer to Angkor Wat. Photograph: Adrian Butler

It was when I found myself frantically ironing $50 bills, literally laundering money, that the oddity of the Union of Myanmar – as it was named by the military junta – sank in. Burma doesn’t do ATMs, and we’d been warned by Burmese friends to bring only new notes. The exchange rate set by the generals is a ridiculous seven kyat to the dollar. The true rate is closer to 850 kyat, so tourists have to use the black market, collecting bricks of cash. The slightest crease will see your dollars rejected by the money changers on the street or in your hotel – which was why I could be seen scurrying back to my room to do some last-minute housekeeping.

We had arrived in the former capital, Rangoon (renamed Yangon by the junta), the day before with little idea what to expect. Since the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi announced a tourism boycott back in 1992, few western tourists have entered the country. Travel supplements, magazines and guidebooks (apart from Lonely Planet) followed suit, so what information did come out of Burma was mostly desperate human rights reports and grim news stories.

But last November, after the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest – she had been detained for almost 15 of the 21 years from 1989 – and after extremely dubious elections leading to the pretence of a civilian government, the boycott was lifted. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, said visitors were once again welcome – so long as they eschewed large-scale package tours in favour of gaining “an insight into the cultural, political and social life of the country while enjoying a happy and fulfilling holiday in Burma”.

Tour agencies have responded, with companies such as Bales Worldwide and Wild Frontiers starting to operate, and readers of Wanderlust voted the country a “top emerging destination” last February – even though the magazine hasn’t covered the country since 1994.

Burma weddingAnna’s wedding blessing in RangoonFor me the timing could not have been better. My friend Anna had just announced that she was celebrating her wedding in Burma (the UK government refuses to use the name Myanmar, as it implies the unelected military regime has the right to change the country’s name), where much of the family of her fiancé, Sithu, still live. Afterwards, she promised, we could explore the country with the help of their local knowledge.

On the long flight over I read the autobiography of an uncle of mine, who had been born in Rangoon. It was filled with childhood memories of escaped pet monkeys, sprawling family houses and exorcisms by holy men. Yet the moment we touched down, any dreams of the country’s colonial past were quickly barged from our minds by the chaos of Rangoon. (This is by far the country’s biggest city, though the administrative capital is now Naypyidaw, to the north.)

The city’s pavements were so broken we could have been visiting in the aftermath of an earthquake. The streets teemed with men and women in traditional sarongs, or longyis, and hawkers selling fragrant noodle soup and pirated DVDs of Hollywood films. Elsewhere, stalls sold secondhand remote controls, out-of-date magazines and lurid posters of waterfalls, Buddha and Justin Bieber.

Outside one city-centre temple, palm readers touted for business under banyan trees. (One of our friends was told she would live to exactly 84.) And every so often we spotted little linoleum-topped occasional tables furnished with a doily and a 1970s-style telephone. We were charmed by these low-tech public phones until a Burmese friend told us that while the rest of Asia is flooded with cheap mobiles, in Burma their price is kept high to limit their spread and prevent uprisings. A mobile phone can cost as much as $500; the average wage is $3 or $4 a day.

When evening fell in the city, we followed the ochre-robed monks and shaven-headed nuns in spotless pink to the country’s most sacred site.

Burma nunsNuns at the Golden Rock. Photograph: Adrian ButlerIn a country where, the groom’s father told me, “they stick a stupa [a structure containing Buddhist relics] on every beauty spot”, the Shwedagon Pagoda is still the undisputed highlight. There are few tall buildings in Rangoon, so the pagoda’s golden spire dominates the skyline and calls pilgrims from across the country.

Climbing the broad marble stairs, we passed shops that shimmered with gold painted Buddhas, offerings and icons stacked from floor to ceiling. Stepping out into the courtyard we were confronted with a breathtaking forest of curved, delicate spires rising from the small temples and shrines that fill the site. Each houses one or scores of gold leaf-covered Buddhas. In the centre is the 98m Shwedagon dome itself – said to be covered in more gold than is contained in all the vaults of the Bank of England (presumably before our reserves were sold off) – and created to house eight hairs from the Buddha’s head.

Twilight is the perfect time to visit: as the sun sinks, the golden stupa seems to glow more brightly, and incense and the sound of chanting fill the air as barefoot pilgrims lay offerings of flowers, fruit and miniature silver and gold parasols. I watched worshippers carefully washing a small statue, while children took it in turns to bash the 23-tonne prayer bell, and families and monks posed for photographs. It was one of the most beautiful sites I have seen.

There are so few tourists here that our group of foreign wedding guests attracted smiles, waves and easy conversations. One woman kindly sat me down and tried to explain some decidedly esoteric points about Buddhism, and when we tentatively approached a huge seated Buddha, some amused locals laughingly handed us the rope stretching up to a huge ceiling fanand invited us to fan him.

burmamapOutside the city this friendliness only increased. While sightseeing is a foreign concept, pilgrimages are normal behaviour. So my husband and I squeezed into a local bus heading for the Golden Rock, a mountain-top shrine in Mon state, east of Rangoon, near the town of Kyaikto. Munching on fried prawn patties, corn on the cob (which our neighbours showed us how to eat in Burmese style – picking off each corn separately) and little packets of boiled quails’ eggs, we passed fishermen throwing their nets into ponds, and farmers tilling their fields with ox-drawn ploughs.

The next stage was an open-topped truck, with wooden boards for seats, on which were crammed an impossible number of people. We squeezed in with rural families, groups of teenagers from Rangoon and tribal women in black as the truck plunged through the bamboo forests. Then it was an hour’s climb – for the truly lazy, or those with mobility problems, there are sedan chairs – on a path crowded with gift shops. The buckets of local medicine in one shop were truly terrifying. When the owner explained that the brown fluid in which beetles, scorpions and even a goat skull floated was for rubbing on your legs if you were tired, we swiftly found a second wind.

It was late afternoon when we arrived at the shrine, but it was worth the wait. It is a huge gold-covered boulder teetering so precariously on Mount Kyaiktiyo that it seemed a passing breeze could set it rolling down the bamboo-covered hill. On top is a pagoda said to house yet more of the Buddha’s hairs. The magic, however, is not just the setting but the joyful, holiday atmosphere. The air was filled with incense, and thin strips of gold leaf that had come unstuck from the boulder fluttered in the breeze. In the evening we chatted to a sweet-faced nun taking a break from being a lawyer in the capital: she was spreading out her blankets to sleep in the open.

Not being quite as spiritual as her, we retired to the Mountain Top Inn, near the shrine entrance. It can be difficult to pick a hotel in Burma. Most used to be owned by the government, and the charity the Burma Campaign UK (burmacampaign.org.uk) issued dire warnings about tourist dollars funding the regime. Today almost all hotels are private – although there are likely to be generals on the make somewhere along the line.

Our local friends said the military rulers, who took over this country rich in natural resources in 1962, care little about tourist dollars, especially now China is helping them exploit their gas and oil fields. But tourists need to think carefully about minimising the amount of their money that could find its way to the brutal regime, and avoid anything that could be seen as legitimising the generals. NGOs and human rights groups suggest staying in family homes or small guest houses. We were too large a group for that but we did try to cross-check hotels in the Lonely Planet guidebook with those on a list kept by the Burma Campaign.

Back in Rangoon it was time for the wedding, and a shot of Burmese culture. Dressed in beautiful silk longyis, the couple had their marriage blessed by their grandparents while being serenaded by a traditional orchestra, including a boat-like Mandalay harp and a conch shell. After that came a singer, then another, then another – and then the karaoke.

Over dinner, teachers from the international school told us that karaoke is so popular that many of the generals have purpose-built karaoke rooms in their mansions. And it’s probably a better night out than a nightclub. After the wedding we headed to one of the city’s best: it was a seedy one-room affair with a few fed-up looking sex workers and some hard drinking men. Luckily the raucous and glamorous army of the groom’s cousins quickly filled the dance floor and lightened the atmosphere.

We started our tour the next day, heading north into central Burma. The historic sites are breathtaking, and the friendliness of the people is seductive. At Mount Popa you can commune with Nats – supernatural, pre-Buddhist spirits still worshipped alongside more orthodox religion, and protected by an aggressive monkey population. In the Pindaya caves you can get lost among more than 8,000 gold-painted Buddha statues in a natural cave.

Bagan, BurmaKingdom of the jungle … Bagan was the capital of several of Burma’s ancient kingdoms. The ruins cover 16 square miles. Photograph: Jonny BealbyBagan – the Angkor Wat of Burma – would be the highlight of any holiday, with more than 2,000 brick stupas from the 11th to 13th centuries in an area 16 miles across. As the sun sets, they look like fairytale kingdoms.

Lovely Inle Lake is busy by Burmese standards, but at 13 miles long and more than seven miles wide it is big enough for a boat ride to be a peaceful experience. You pass fishermen punting their boats in the traditional way, with one leg wrapped around a paddle, and their floating rice paddies – on bamboo-moored beds – are extraordinary. Here, too, there is some silly relief if you are templed out – a monastery where the monks have taught cats to jump through hoops.

Outside the capital there are so few foreigners that our group found ourselves posing for as many photographs as we took. In Rangoon some students from Mon treated my husband and me to a performance of their regional anthem.

En route to Bagan we passed a village festival celebrating a novice’s initiation into holy orders. (Almost everyone in the country spends some time as a monk or nun, many as children and often for as little as a week.) First came the parade: young girls carrying flowers. Then the tiny nuns-to-be, decked in silver headdresses and sitting in flower-strewn ox carts. Afterwards came the boys – some no more than toddlers, again dressed in amazing costumes, with made-up faces and some with unlit cigarettes in their mouths. Women with orange paste on their faces to protect from the sun passed us plates of food and made room for us to join them watching the musicians in a huge roadside tent.

We had heard that engaging local people in political debate could have serious consequences, but the Burmese are so desperate for change that even the most oblique expression of sympathy releases a torrent of repressed fury. A motorcycle taxi driver, seeing us looking at a sinister poster extolling the government, rode up and hissed, “Do you know who they are? It is not the government. It is the military government. And they are stupid. Our government is stupid!”

From others we heard about damage done to Inle Lake (through deforestation and the planting of thirsty rubber trees) and roads going unbuilt as army personnel lined their pockets with money from the oil fields, gas fields and ruby mines. One man said he had few qualms about talking to British tourists because he knew we’d be sympathetic. “Obviously we do not talk like this in front of the Chinese tourists,” he added, before talking at length about repressed ethnic communities and admitting proudly, albeit in a whisper, that he had refused to vote in the sham elections.

We’d also been warned not to ask taxis to take us to Aung San Suu Kyi’s lakeside house in case it put drivers in danger, so we asked to be set down 10 minutes’ walk away and pretended to stroll along the shore. The roadblock had been removed and we took a hurried but undisturbed walk beneath her high walls.

A man in a T-shirt bearing the face of the leader locals call The Lady proudly told us he cooked for Aung San Suu Kyi and showed us a picture of them together before handing us a laminated picture of her as a souvenir. Our next taxi driver said, “Don’t you want to see Aung San Suu Kyi’s house? She is nearby – you shouldn’t leave without seeing it. She’s our hero.”

The Moustache Brothers are also heroes: Amnesty International took up the cause of these satirical Burmese comedians after two of the trio were arrested and jailed. Banned from performing, they put on “rehearsals” for tourists while their mother keeps watch outside. They’re in their sixties, their English is terrible, and their jokes are as weak as their freedom, but it’s impossible not to be impressed with their refusal to be silenced.

“The government won’t let us perform so it’s dangerous for us, but we don’t care,” they tell me. “We need people to know what is happening. Tourists should come here, because they are like a Trojan horse – they will make the country more open.”      Ref:  The Guardian

Burmese Days

Christian Caryl

caryl_2-071212.jpgSakchai Lalit/AP ImagesBurmese migrant workers with a portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi during her visit to Samut Sakhon Province, Thailand, May 31, 2012

Burma is a changed country. A little over a year ago, Aung San Suu Kyi was still an unperson; merely mentioning her name was to invite trouble with the authorities. Today she is an officially acknowledged interlocutor of the president and a member of the country’s highest lawmaking body. She and her NLD colleagues took their seats in parliament on May 2. Her image is sold openly by vendors on the streets of Rangoon and newspapers breathlessly report her every move. Indeed, a few days before the April 1 election she invited journalists to a press conference on the lawn of the lakeside home where she has spent most of the past twenty-four years under house arrest; hundreds of us, both Burmese and foreign, showed up, marveling at the faint surrealism of an event that would have been unimaginable not so long before. One of my reporter colleagues recalled his previous trip to Burma early in 2011. He was able to get a visa only by posing as a businessman, and once inside the country resorted to a variety of conspiratorial measures in order to evade the security services and protect the identity of his sources. Now it all seems a bit absurd.

The implications of this shift are potentially as far-reaching as the democratic revolutions of 1989 or the more recent upheavals of the Arab Spring. As Thant Myint-U explains in his excellent political travelogue, WhereChina Meets India, Burma is a linchpin country in the evolving geopolitics of Asia. It shares borders with both China and India, and policymakers in Beijing and Delhi are feverishly planning ambitious infrastructure projects—pipelines, highways, and railroads—that will allow them to boost their trade between each other as well as with Burma itself, which has an extraordinary wealth of untapped natural resources. Though such plans antedate the current opening, they stand little chance of succeeding unless the Burmese government can find a way to calm the ethnic rebellions in its own borderlands—an aim that is likely to be furthered by liberalization. Meanwhile, an outbreak of democracy in Burma could also have a profound effect on its neighbors in Southeast Asia, where a rising middle class has already begun to challenge long-dominant authoritarian assumptions in some countries.

And yet caution is in order. Despite all the undeniable signs of progress, no one can yet claim that Burma is on an irresistible path to democracy. There are many reasons to be skeptical. It could well be that Thein Sein’s opening is nothing more than a tactical move aimed at getting the Western countries to lift sanctions, thus prolonging the survival of the entrenched elite behind a façade of liberalization. If so, the Burmese president is already well on his way to achieving that end; earlier this month, the Obama administration announced that it was suspending (though not eliminating) several financial sanctions against the regime.

While it makes sense to reward the Burmese government for positive actions, it is also true that the regime still holds all the cards that count. The president and his ministers may have put away their uniforms in accordance with the current constitution’s stipulation that only civilians can hold executive positions, but the reality is that the armed forces continue to exercise virtually unlimited power. In this respect, allowing a few dozen oppositionists into parliament does little to change the basic constellation of forces. Meanwhile, ex-generals or their cronies still control all of the country’s major economic assets.4

Burmese dissidents are quick to point out the limits of the new tolerance. The political prisoners released from jail are not the beneficiaries of an amnesty; under current law, they can be rearrested at any moment for offenses to be defined virtually at the whim of the government. According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of dissidents remain in prison. Censorship has been merely curtailed, not eliminated. And despite the cease-fires that Thein Sein’s administration has managed to conclude with most of the rebellious ethnic groups, the army actually appears to have stepped up its war against the Kachins in the remote north of the country5—an offensive that has continued despite several cease-and-desist orders from the president.

Some observers speculate that the army’s reluctance to comply has much to do with the fact that the Kachins control access to some of Burma’s most lucrative natural resources; in this reading, the continuation of the conflict is motivated less by patriotic opposition to separatism than the naked greed of the generals in charge. Indeed, it could well be that Burma’s new pseudo-civilian leaders are aiming less for checks-and-balances democracy than a modernized authoritarianism in which they continue to pull the strings—perhaps modeled on the prosperous but despotic nearby states of Malaysia or Singapore. Of course, one can argue that even this option would represent a huge advance for a country whose astonishingly incompetent military rulers have succeeded, in the course of their fifty years at the helm, in reducing one of Asia’s richest countries to one of its poorest.

2.

Even if one is willing to assume that the reformists in the government are sincere in their desire for democratization, the road ahead remains cloudy. What happens next depends to an extraordinary degree on the two central figures. Most of the positive moves made so far can be traced to the personal initiative of President Thein Sein; yet he is an elderly man whose health is clearly not the best. (He suffers from heart disease, and paid a visit to Singapore a few months ago to get his pacemaker replaced.) If he should suddenly vanish from the scene, it is possible that hard-liners will seize the opportunity to reassert themselves. The Burmese system remains opaque and it is extremely hard to assess the strength of the support for Thein Sein’s course within the regime. Few analysts are likely to claim that the president’s reforms are irreversible.

And then there is Aung San Suu Kyi herself. Peter Popham’s vivid new biography, The Lady and the Peacock, illuminates the qualities that have made her one of the twenty-first century’s great political personalities—even though so much of her life as a public figure has been spent in strict isolation from the outside world. There was little to suggest that she was destined for a prominent role in her home country until she was well into her forties. Having married the British academic Michael Aris, with whom she raised two boys, she seemed during her English years little more than a particularly diligent “North Oxford housewife” (a description the Burmese regime would later try to use against her, to little apparent effect).

As Popham shows, though, she was never allowed to forget her unique status as the daughter of modern Burma’s revered founder, and when she returned home in 1988 to tend to her sick mother, events pulled her into the struggle against dictatorship. The leaders of the student uprising pleaded with her to join the pro-democracy cause, and soon enough she was drawing huge crowds to her speeches denouncing the military leaders. In the aftermath of the bloody suppression of the protests, the junta leader resigned, promising new elections. The newly formed NLD duly won them by a landslide.

The generals, apparently jolted by the scale of their defeat, then responded with a new wave of repression. Thousands of activists were rounded up; some were used as pack animals or human mine detectors in the areas where the military continued its fight against ethnic minorities. Aung San Suu Kyi was dispatched into the netherworld of house arrest. The generals refused entry visas to her family while assuring her that she could leave whenever she liked—an offer she resolutely refused, knowing that she would not be allowed to return. She never saw her husband again; Aris died of cancer in 1999. It was only earlier this month, for the first time in twenty-four years, that she felt secure enough to hazard a trip outside of her country. (She went to Thailand, home to millions of Burmese migrant workers trying to escape the poverty of their homeland.)6

The resolve she has displayed along the way is nothing short of astonishing. At one point, during her election campaign in the spring of 1989, she faced a squad of soldiers who aimed their rifles at her and her colleagues. Calmly defying the commanding officer’s orders to vacate the area, she walked straight up to the soldiers and passed through their ranks. As Popham writes:

Word of what had happened and what had so nearly happened helped to consolidate Suu’s reputation among the deeply superstitious Burmese public, many of whom now began to consider her a female bodhisattva, an angel, a divine being. The fact that she had survived the army’s attempt to kill her was proof positive of her high spiritual attainment: only someone “invulnerable to attack,” “guarded by deities” and “subject to adoration” could have come through alive…. In January Suu had told the New York Times reporter, “I don’t want a personality cult; we’ve had enough dictators already.” But it didn’t really matter whether she wanted it or not. Now she would be stuck with it, forever.

Popham, refreshingly, does not treat his protagonist like the “democracy icon” of lazy journalistic copy. In his portrayal, she is at once deeply traditional and effortlessly cosmopolitan, whimsically witty and ferociously short-tempered. (In one revealing aside, Popham tells us that she and her husband had to give up playing Monopoly because of the fights that erupted during the game.) A friend from her school days in New Delhi in the early 1960s describes the reigning atmosphere at the time as “post-colonial Victorian,” and this seems to have left as much of an imprint as the traditional Buddhist values of her upbringing; adjectives like “prim,” “puritanical,” and “unbending” stud the biography at regular intervals. It is, of course, the resulting sense of “firmly rooted…moral certainties” (to use Popham’s words) that best explains her unstinting resistance to an equally uncompromising dictatorship. When one reporter at her pre-election press conference in Rangoon asked her about the legacy she hopes to leave to posterity, she answered simply: “I want to be remembered as someone who did her duty.” Gladstone could not have said it better.

This has certain implications for the road ahead. As Popham notes, Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle against the government at the end of the 1980s was characterized by a steely refusal to entertain the possibility of any compromise with a morally tainted regime. Today, it is precisely the path of compromise—messy, opaque, and morally fraught—that she has chosen to travel. The choices ahead will be tough, and they are likely to involve more pragmatism than principle. (Indeed, the NLD’s entry into parliament was briefly marred by the activists’ idealistic refusal to take an oath to the current constitution—a point they were soon forced to concede.) At the end of Popham’s book, Gene Sharp, the famous theoretician of nonviolent regime change, trenchantly observes that Aung San Suu Kyi “is not a strategist, she is a moral leader. That is not sufficient to plan a strategy.”

He may well be right. But this story is a long way from over. At age sixty-six, the post-Victorian bodhisattva now embarks on an entirely different form of political struggle. It is certain to be a tricky one, both for her and for the country at large.      Ref:  the New York Review of Books

       Diner en Blanc

Reuters
People attend the Diner en Blanc (White Dinner) event at Place des Vosges in the Marais district of Paris on June 14.

When Singapore was chosen to be the first Asian country to host the glamorous Diner en Blanc – a pop-up, invite-only picnic that has thrilled diners everywhere from New York to Kigali – local food enthusiasts cheered and thousands rushed to score invites to the exclusive evening. The now-famous events include large groups of people, all dressed in white, who only learn the location of the picnic from the organizers and assigned “group leaders” just before it occurs.

But the atmosphere around the upcoming Singapore version of the dinner has soured in recent days, after a local food blogger was told to remove a blogpost suggesting that diners bring local delicacies to the outdoor dinner.

Daniel Ang, who blogs at Daniel’s Food Diary, was told by the event’s organizers that the local foods – including the ubiquitous tau huay (soya bean pudding) and chicken rice – were not “in line with the image” of Diner en Blanc. Many in Singapore’s boisterous blogosphere deemed that judgment an insult to local cuisine, a source of pride for many in the city-state.

All versions of Diner en Blanc (Dinner in White) must adhere to strict rules true to the original event first held in Paris in 1988. Billed by organizers as a picnic that “recalls the elegance and glamour of court society,” guests must attend with another member of the opposite sex; men and women sit across from each other in a designated arrangement; and guests must bring their own white tables, chairs, fine china crockery and dress only in white.

Attendees to Singapore’s Diner en Blanc, which happens this Thursday, were told by organizers in an information letter in recent weeks to bring a “complete” meal of an appetizer, a cold main course, a “cheese or dessert” and bread.

In keeping with the event’s white theme, Mr. Ang recommended 12 local dishes – all primarily white – that attendees could bring along to the dinner, including tau huay (a pudding made out of smooth beancurd), buns filled with cream cheese and raisins, chwee kueh (steamed rice cake topped with radish relish) and kueh tutu (a white snack cake with peanut or coconut filling). The blogger, who was invited as a guest to the dinner, was told by the organizers of the Singapore leg to take down his post and subsequently uninvited.

Diner en Blanc’s central organizers sit in Paris, and work with locals to organize the dinner in cities around the world – in Singapore’s case, the primary organizer is Clemen Chiang, a private investor who contacted the French organizers about hosting the dinner in the city-state last year.

“You can disrespect me as a blogger, and disrespect my blog posts, but you do not disrespect my culture,” wrote Mr. Ang in a subsequent post last Friday, adding that “Singapore local delicacies are the classiest foods ever in our hearts.” His blogposts – which went viral – received so much traffic that his site was overloaded and inaccessible on Sunday evening.

Over the weekend, the Singapore organizers of the event, headed by Mr. Chiang, apologized for the incident and explained that the organizers had “misfortunes in communicating the right information” to diners and the media. Organizers have clarified that local food is more than welcome at the dinner, and are only encouraging attendees to “shy away from commercially prepared ‘junk’ or ‘fast’ food.” They additionally apologized to Mr. Ang, and have re-invited him to the dinner.

“The Diner en Blanc’s core values include respect and elegance. Our local organization fell short of exemplifying these in some ways, and we truly apologize for that,” said the statement from Mr. Chiang in Singapore and Aymeric Pasquier and Sandy Saif, organizers of Diner en Blanc events across the world.

Disquiet over the event, however, has not eased, with many prominent bloggers continuing to call for a boycott of this Thursday’s dinner. Others have taken to organizing their own rebel picnics on the same day, including “Makan Day” – the brainchild of widely popular blogger Mr. Brown – which advertises itself as a “non-exclusive” picnic where the “French [are] also welcome.” Other picnics including “It’s Super White” and “Diner en Singapour” have also been planned, all encouraging diners to bring and celebrate Singapore’s local delicacies.

Diner en Blanc has also suspended its Facebook page, which was flooded with messages accusing the foreign organizers of high-handedness and a lack of appreciation for Singapore culture. Singaporeans – who analysts say have been growing increasingly resentful of foreigners, who now make up almost 40% of the resident population – left vitriolic comments on the group’s Facebook page, with many believing that the organizers were guilty of colonial-era snootiness.

Others mocked the premise of the event, including the idea of carrying one’s own table “dressed like you came out of a Jane Austen novel,” according to a blogger who posts at everythingalsocomplain.com. Some also noted that the dress code – all white – was similar to the official uniform of the ruling People’s Action Party, saying it matched what they believe to be high-handedness shown by Singapore’s leaders towards the populace over the years.

Mr. Ang, whose blogpost was the initial source of the online furor over Diner en Blanc, said in his latest post that the incident should not incite any form of anger “towards the organizers or the French.” He said in comments to The Wall Street Journal that while he will not be attending the dinner, he considers the matter closed.

“Let us show to the rest of the world that we have class,” said Mr. Ang. “Food is meant to unite, not divide.”

Myanmar villagers test their right to protest

Bangkok Post Sep.26

In rural Myanmar determined farmers and villagers are risking the ire of authorities by standing up to big business in a litmus test of new rights unthinkable during decades of military rule.

A Myanmar farmer looks out from a monastery used as a protest camp, in Monywa in northern Sagaing division. In rural Myanmar determined farmers and villagers are risking the ire of authorities by standing up to big business in a litmus test of new rights unthinkable during decades of military rule.

Hundreds of people in the central town of Monywa, Sagaing division, have taken to the streets in recent months. They decried the confiscation of their land to make way for a Chinese-backed copper mine and expressed their fears over pollution in the area.

Four people were detained by police for rallying without permission but have since been released and locals have vowed to continue their fight.

“We have only dared to speak out about our suffering now because we heard that we can talk openly thanks to the change in government. We did not dare to complain… when they were soldiers,” 38-year-old farmer Myat Thaung told AFP.

For decades public protest was the preserve of the brave or desperate as the country’s junta did not flinch at meeting civilian demonstrations with army firepower.

But a new civilian regime, which came to power after the military officially loosened its grip on the country last year, has been keen to tout its reformist credentials, freeing veterans of past uprisings from prison and welcoming democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament.

President Thein Sein approved a bill allowing peaceful assembly in December last year, which was seen as a step in the right direction, although rights groups have criticised rules that mean demonstrators risk a year in jail if they do not seek permission five days in advance.

The Myanmar leader also suspended an unpopular Chinese-led mega-dam in September 2011 in a dramatic departure from the previous junta, which was notorious for backing projects that enriched generals and their cronies at the expense of local people.

In May hundreds of demonstrators flooded the streets of Rangoon for several days in defiance of police to rally against the power cuts that beset the impoverished-but-resource-rich country.

Pockets of protest have erupted all over the country, from wage strikes at Rangoon factories to land demonstrations in remote farmlands, as Myanmar’s long-suppressed population tests the limits of its freedoms with increasing enthusiasm.

“The Monywa copper mine protests represent a growing confidence amongst Myanmar citizens that the reforms entitle them to organise, protest, and defend their rights,” corporate advisory firm Vriens & Partners said this week in a report.

The copper mine, a joint venture between military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings and China’s Wanbao company, has led to 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) of land being confiscated from local farmers without consultation and in some cases without compensation, according to local activists.

Myat Thaung said he received around $4,000 for the loss of seven acres of farmland, but has since spent all the money on looking after his family.

He is now unemployed in an area where households are almost universally reliant on farming.

“We did not sell our land — why would we sell our children’s birthrights? They are the ones who lied to us by confiscating our farmlands,” said the father of four at his village near Monywa.

A few kilometres (miles) away in the village of Kankone Gyi, local residents are engaged in a separate fight against a sulphuric acid factory.

For five years the villagers bore the choking pollution in silence. Not anymore.

“Because of the smoke coming out of that factory, we cannot breath. Whenever it operates, we suffer,” said 67-year-old Khin San, one of about a hundred villagers who had gathered recently on a main road in the hope of discussing their plight with a representative of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

Party MP Phyo Min Thein said he had received 86 official complaints from his constituency alone. A board of inquiry has been set up to look at the cases.

“I have to say that this is the first time since 1962 that there is a parliamentary investigation on behalf of farmers and the public,” he said, referring to the year in which a military coup robbed Myanmar of democracy.

“We do not know what the result will be. But we have to try our best for the people.”

Educating people about their rights is a major priority so that they are not persuaded to sign unfavourable contracts, he said.

The renowned Generation 88 movement, born during huge 1988 student-led demonstrations that were brutally crushed by the military, has become a key advocate for ordinary people in land and worker disputes.

“They kept their pain in their hearts for years. Now the first stage of transparency has arrived and they are starting to know how to defend their rights,” said the group’s Kyaw Min Yu, alias Jimmy, who had travelled to Monywa to negotiate the release of detained protesters.

“Both sides have to be careful not to threaten each other. Those with power need to be particularly restrained,” he said.

It is not just citizens who need to learn how to operate in Myanmar’s new order — police, the armed forces and business are also faced with a major adjustment in the balance of power.

“Without the control of the rule of law, there could be anarchy,” said Phyo Min Thein, raising the spectre that the long-feared army could use it as a pretext to seize power once again.

“We all have to be careful to defend our rights properly, democratically.”

Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

Thwe Thwe Win, left, and Aye Net walked on the field near Wethmay in northwest Myanmar. The two women have gained national prominence for protesting a copper mining project on the edge of their village.

By , the New York Times
Published: September 26, 2012
  • WETHMAY, MYANMAR — They were trailed by plainclothes police officers and called “cows” by government officials. They spent four nights in prison until a public outcry prompted their release.
World Twitter Logo.
Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

The copper mine is run by the powerful Myanmar military and its partner, a subsidiary of a Chinese arms manufacturer.

Aye Net and Thwe Thwe Win, the daughters of farmers whose education stopped at primary school, have rocketed to national prominence in Myanmar for their defiance of a copper mining project run by the powerful Myanmar military and its partner, a subsidiary of a Chinese arms manufacturer.

“Whatever pressure they put on us, we won’t give up,” Ms. Thwe Thwe Win said in an interview in her village on the edge of the copper mine. “I want them to shut this project down completely.”

Myanmar’s new civilian government, led by President Thein Sein, is moving swiftly toward a less dictatorial society, releasing hundreds of political prisoners and abolishing media censorship. But those changes are a world away from the everyday realities of the impoverished countryside, where two-thirds of the population live. In the shadow of the massive copper mine in Wethmay, the authorities are following the old playbook of repression and harassment.

Wethmay is one of two dozen villages affected by the mine’s planned expansion. In December, the authorities tried to force inhabitants to move by attacking the local monastery with hammers, carting away Buddhist statues and removing all the furniture and equipment from the primary school. These and other incidents prompted a series of protests and clashes with the police, some of the largest demonstrations in Myanmar since the country’s civilian government came to power last year.

The police have been unbending. U Tint Aung, the chief of police of Monywa, the city where the two women were jailed, lashed out during an interview by telephone when asked why the women were being followed.

“Why should you care?” Mr. Tint Aung barked into the phone. “So what if we follow them?”

The authorities also appear eager to keep foreign eyes away. During a recent two-day visit, a reporter was constantly trailed by men on motorcycles, detained by the immigration police for an hour and told not to return to the area. His interpreter was threatened with arrest.

The case has been widely reported in privately owned publications in Myanmar, a measure of the country’s newfound freedoms. But the government has sought to curtail reporting of some its aspects. In March, a private weekly newspaper in Myanmar, The Voice , was sued by the Ministry of Mines after citing a report by the country’s auditor general that pointed to corruption in the sale of a stake in the project to the Chinese company.

At the heart of the case are environmental concerns — opposition to the copper mine is being championed by environmental groups that are concerned that surrounding farmlands will be contaminated by runoff from the mine — and more broadly the issue of land seizures.

Land grabs are a longstanding problem in Myanmar, and activists fear they may increase in the coming years in the rush to develop the country. Despite two laws passed last month that seek to clarify the land rights of farmers and policies governing vacant land, Parliament and opposition party offices have been flooded with complaints. A Land Investigation Committee, recently set up by Parliament, began traveling this week to several spots in the country to investigate reports of land seizures.

“There has been a failure to bring justice to farmers during the liberalization period — they are still marginalized,” said Tun Lin Oo, a co-founder of the Yangon School of Political Science, an organization that researches land rights, among other issues.

The copper mine controversy appears to have resonated in Myanmar because of the strong-arm tactics used against Ms. Aye Net, 34, and Ms. Thwe Thwe Win, 29. The two women are portrayed in weekly news magazines as being locked in a David-and-Goliath struggle, two unusually courageous villagers up against a constellation of powerful forces, including the military.

“The struggle made them into iron ladies,” said Ant Maung, a celebrated poet who lives in Monywa. “This is life or death for them — they will defend it at the cost of everything.”

Mr. Ant Maung calls the case “a good test for the democratization process” in Myanmar.

“Five years ago this would have been impossible — such a movement would have been cruelly crushed,” he said.

The troubles here began two years ago, when the government offered new housing and compensation equal to three months of annual income to villagers who agreed to move. Villagers complained to the authorities that the new housing was shabby and that they would lose their fields — and thus their ability to make a living. When only a handful of villagers took up the offer, the authorities called a meeting and told villagers that they must leave or be evicted.

“They shouted at us and called us animals,” Ms. Thwe Thwe Win said.

According to her account, the authorities tried to end the meeting, but she interjected.

“I said, ‘Now it’s my turn,”’ said Ms. Thwe Thwe Win, who dropped out of school when she was 12 years old and spent her childhood foraging for mushrooms and plants in the hills where the copper mine now operates. “I pointed my finger at the governor, ‘You are not a gentleman. Don’t call me again to this kind of discussion.”’

The governor, who has since been replaced, could not be reached for comment.

Villagers say they are even more determined to stay in their villages after seeing the relocation area, a collection of shoddily built houses in a treeless field.

Like the controversy over the Myitsone hydroelectric dam, another Chinese project that was suspended last year after a popular outcry, the case of the copper mine has undertones of anti-Chinese sentiment commonly heard in Myanmar. Two years ago, mining operations were taken over by a subsidiary of a Chinese arms and explosives manufacturer, Norinco , after a Canadian company, Ivanhoe, pulled out of the project. The mine is now jointly owned by the Chinese company and the business arm of the Myanmar military known as the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings.

Tempers flared in June when three Chinese employees of the mining company made rude gestures toward villagers as a local employee rolled a large rock toward them from atop a pile of mining debris. The villagers from Wethmay, which means “sleepy pig” in Burmese, were roused into action and began the series of protests.

Ms. Aye Net and Ms. Thwe Thwe Win were arrested earlier this month and released on Sept. 14 after the national news media covered their case. Prominent former political prisoners also traveled here to help negotiate their release.

Geng Yi, managing director of Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper, the company that operates the mine, denied in an e-mail that his employees had made rude gestures or rolled a rock toward them and said the company wanted “to get along with the local community harmoniously by communicating, understanding and supporting each other.”

The mine, he said, “can generate thousands of jobs and contribute to the development of the surrounding area.” The company has 2,000 local employees, a number that he said could double “in the near future.”

For now, the government appears to have put the plan to evict villagers on hold. “For the time being, we have no plan to do that,” said Zaw Moe Aung, the governor of Salin Gyi township, who was appointed six months ago.

But the women of Wethmay village are taking no chances.

After the raid on the monastery, Ms. Aye Net and Ms. Thwe Thwe Win traveled the old British road to Mandalay, a three-hour drive, and consulted with lawyers there about land rights. They bought a video camera to record any future incursions by the authorities.

Ms. Thwe Thwe Win said she was reading a copy of the country’s 2008 Constitution.

During military rule, generals ran the country by fiat, Ms. Thwe Thwe Win said. “Now we know there are rules,” she said.

Lawyers Protest Colonial Buildings’ Privatization

By| October 4, 2012 |

A fence has been erected around the Police Commissioner Office while it waits the renovation project that will convert it into a hotel. (PHOTO: JPaing)

A fence has been erected around the Police Commissioner Office while it waits the renovation project that will convert it into a hotel. (PHOTO: JPaing)

RANGOON—After their appeals to the government to preserve two colonial buildings fell on deaf ears, lawyers in Burma’s former capital are preparing to stage a protest to bring attention to their demands.

The Myanmar Lawyers Network said it is now seeking permission to hold a demonstration early next week to protest the sale of the 101-year-old High Court and the Police Commissioner Office in downtown Rangoon to a consortium of local and Chinese businessmen.

The Myanmar Lawyers Network said it had previously cited a 1988 preservation law that carries a five-year prison term for anyone who makes structural changes to landmark buildings as a legal means to nullify the sale of the buildings, which were auctioned off by the previous military government that ceded power in 2011.

“We have requested a halt to the privatization [of the buildings] and presented solid evidence three times to the president and speakers of both Houses of Parliament,” said Kyee Myint, one of the Network members. “However, we have had no response from them, so we are going to take to the streets.”

He explained that both buildings have long played important roles in the country’s judiciary system. However, when the military regime moved the capital to Naypyidaw in 2005, the High Court was downgraded to Rangoon Divisional Court while the Police Commissioner Office became a township court and legal offices. The township court was relocated in May this year and the building was abandoned. A fence was erected around the edifice while it waits the renovation project that will convert it into a hotel.

“It would be such a shame for these buildings to be turned into a hotel and museum,” Kyee Myint added. “We want them to remain as they are.”

Another reason to stop the move is that both buildings appear on the city’s National Heritage List, he said.

“We simply want to preserve our national heritage. It’s questionable whether handing over national heritage sites to the private sector is lawful,” said Ko Ni, another lawyer from Myanmar Lawyers Network.

He said next week’s protest would involve about 100 lawyers, but that they would not chant slogans for fear that they would be arrested for causing public disorder.

The call for the preservation of British colonial buildings comes amid sweeping changes in Burma, officially known as Myanmar, which has been described as a country frozen in time during its half-century of military rule. One of the only cities in Asia with its colonial heritage still intact, Burma is becoming a magnet for economic development as it opens to the outside world.

The former colonial-era Police Commissioner’s Office is a sprawling two-story structure that takes up a square block close to the famed Strand Hotel. In recent years it served as a court complex and is replete with courtrooms, judges’ chambers and other legal offices.

“A Chinese company is going to turn the old Police Commissioner’s Office into a hotel,” lawyer Aung Thein said. “We have to stop this before it goes any further. The Network will exhaust all legal means to stop this privatization deal.”

The lawyers also oppose the sale of the former High Court building to a developer who hopes to convert the red-brick clock-towered structure built in 1911 into a museum and restaurant.

Conservationists have launched a major effort to preserve Rangoon’s architecture and held an international conference in the city in June to draw attention to the cause.

Burma’s economic hub currently provides a measure of protection for 188 sites, but many conservationists fear that some will deteriorate beyond repair or be bought and demolished by developers.

François Marie Charles Fourier (born 7 April 1772 in Besançon, France; died 10 October 1837 in Paris, France) was a French philosopher. An influential thinker, some of Fourier’s social and moral views, held to be radical in his lifetime, have become main currents in modern society. Fourier is, for instance, credited with having originated the word feminism in 1837.[1]

Fourier’s views inspired the founding of the community Utopia in Clermont County, Ohio, as well as La Reunion near present-day Dallas, Texas and several other communities within the United States of America, including the North American Phalanx in New Jersey and the Community Place and Sodus Bay Phalanx in New York State.

[BiographyFourier was born in Besançon, France on April 7, 1772.[2] The son of a small businessman, Fourier was more interested in architecture than he was in his father’s trade.[2] He wanted to become an engineer, but the local Military Engineering School only accepted sons of noblemen.[2] Fourier later said he was grateful that he did not pursue engineering, because it would have consumed too much of his time and taken away from his true desire to help humanity.[3]

His father died in 1781, and Fourier received two-fifths of his father’s estate, valued at more than 200,000 francs.[4] This inheritance enabled Fourier to travel throughout Europe at his leisure. In 1791 he moved from Besançon to Lyon, where he was employed by the merchant M. Bousquet.[5] Fourier’s travels also brought him to Paris, where he worked as the head of the Office of Statistics for a few months.[2] Fourier was not satisfied with making journeys on behalf of others for their commercial benefit.[6] Having a desire to seek knowledge in everything he could, Fourier often would change business firms as well as residences in order to explore and experience new things. From 1791 to 1816 Fourier was employed in the cities of Paris, Rouen, Lyon, Marseille, and Bordeaux.[7] As a traveling salesman and correspondence clerk, his research and thought was time-limited: he complained of “serving the knavery of merchants” and the stupefaction of “deceitful and degrading duties”. He took up writing, and his first book was published in 1808.

Fourier died in Paris in 1837.[5][8]

[edit] Ideas
Perspective view of Fourier’s PhalanstèreFourier declared that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success. He believed that a society that cooperated would see an immense improvement in their productivity levels. Workers would be recompensed for their labors according to their contribution. Fourier saw such cooperation occurring in communities he called “phalanxes”, based around structures called Phalanstères or “grand hotels.” These buildings were four level apartment complexes where the richest had the uppermost apartments and the poorest enjoyed a ground floor residence. Wealth was determined by one’s job; jobs were assigned based on the interests and desires of the individual. There were incentives: jobs people might not enjoy doing would receive higher pay. Fourier considered trade, which he associated with Jews, to be the “source of all evil” and advocated that Jews be forced to perform farm work in the phalansteries.[9]

Fourier characterized poverty (not inequality) as the principal cause of disorder in society, and he proposed to eradicate it by sufficiently high wages and by a “decent minimum” for those who were not able to work.[10]

He believed that there were twelve common passions which resulted in 810 types of character, so the ideal phalanx would have exactly 1620 people. One day there would be six million of these, loosely ruled by a world “omniarch”, or (later) a World Congress of Phalanxes. He had a touching concern for the sexually rejected; jilted suitors would be led away by a corps of fairies who would soon cure them of their lovesickness, and visitors could consult the card-index of personality types for suitable partners for casual sex. He also defended homosexuality as a personal preference for some people. Anarchist Hakim Bey describes Fourier’s ideas as follows: “In Fourier’s system of Harmony all creative activity including industry, craft, agriculture, etc. will arise from liberated passion — this is the famous theory of “attractive labor.” Fourier sexualizes work itself — the life of the Phalanstery is a continual orgy of intense feeling, intellection, & activity, a society of lovers & wild enthusiasts.” [11]

Fourier was also a supporter of women’s rights in a time period when influences like Jean-Jacques Rousseau were prevalent. Fourier believed that all important jobs should be open to women on the basis of skill and aptitude rather than closed on account of gender. He spoke of women as individuals, not as half the human couple. Fourier saw that “traditional” marriage could potentially hurt woman’s rights as human beings and thus never married.[12]

Fourier’s concern was to liberate every human individual, man, woman, and child, in two senses: Education and the liberation of human passion.[13]

On Education, Fourier felt that “civilized” parents and teachers saw children as little idlers.[14] Fourier felt that this way of thinking was wrong. He felt that children as early as age two and three were very industrious. He listed the dominant tastes in all children to include, but not limited to:

1.Rummaging or inclination to handle everything, examine everything, look through everything, to constantly change occupations;
2.Industrial commotion, taste for noisy occupations;
3.Aping or imitative mania.
4.Industrial miniature, a taste for miniature workshops.
5.Progressive attraction of the weak toward the strong.[14]
Fourier was deeply disturbed by the disorder of his time and wanted to stabilize the course of events which surrounded him. Fourier saw his fellow human beings living in a world full of strife, chaos, and disorder.[15]

Fourier is best remembered for his writings on a new world order based on unity of action and harmonious collaboration.[2] He is also known for certain Utopian pronouncements, such as that the seas would lose their salinity and turn to lemonade, and a coincidental view of climate change, that the North Pole would be milder than the Mediterranean in a future phase of Perfect Harmony.[14]

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The influence of Fourier’s ideas in French politics was carried forward into the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune by followers such as Victor Considérant.

Numerous references to Fourierism appear in Dostoevsky’s political novel The Possessed first published in 1872. In it Fourierism is used by the revolutionary faithful as something of an insult to their brethren and those within the circle are quick to defend themselves from being labeled a Fourierist. Whether this is because it is a foreign ideology or because they believe it to be archaic is never made entirely clear.

Fourier’s ideas also took root in America, with his followers starting phalanxes throughout the country, including one of the most famous, Utopia, Ohio.

Kent Bromley, in his preface to Peter Kropotkin’s book The Conquest of Bread, considered Fourier to be the founder of the libertarian branch of socialist thought, as opposed to the authoritarian socialist ideas of Babeuf and Buonarroti.[16]

In the mid-20th century, Fourier’s influence began to rise again among writers reappraising socialist ideas outside the Marxist mainstream. After the Surrealists had broken with the French Communist Party, André Breton returned to Fourier, writing Ode à Charles Fourier in 1947.

Walter Benjamin considered Fourier crucial enough to devote an entire “konvolut” of his massive, projected book on the Paris arcades, the Passagenwerk, to Fourier’s thought and influence. He writes: “To have instituted play as the canon of a labor no longer rooted in exploitation is one of the great merits of Fourier”, and notes that “Only in the summery middle of the nineteenth century, only under its sun, can one conceive of Fourier’s fantasy materialized.”

In 1969, Raoul Vaneigem quoted and adapted Fourier’s Avis aux civilisés relativement à la prochaine métamorphose sociale in his text Avis aux civilisés relativement à l’autogestion généralisée.[17]

North American Phalanx building in New JerseyFourier’s work has significantly influenced the writings of Gustav Wyneken, Guy Davenport (in his work of fiction Apples and Pears), Peter Lamborn Wilson, and Paul Goodman.

In Whit Stillman’s film Metropolitan, the idealistic Tom Townsend describes himself as a Fourierist, and debates the success of social experiment Brook Farm with another of the characters. Bidding him goodnight, Sally Fowler says, “Good luck with your furrierism.” [sic]

David Harvey, in the appendix to his book Spaces of Hope, offers a personal utopian vision of the future much like Fourier’s ideas.

Nathaniel Hawthorne in chapter 7 of his novel The Blithedale Romance gently mocks Fourier saying

“When, as a consequence of human improvement”, said I, “the globe shall arrive at its final perfection, the great ocean is to be converted into a particular kind of lemonade, such as was fashionable at Paris in Fourier’s time. He calls it limonade a cedre. It is positively a fact! Just imagine the city docks filled, every day, with a flood tide of this delectable beverage!”
— [18]
Writers of the post-left anarchy tendency have praised the writings of Fourier. Bob Black in his work The Abolition of Work advocates Fourier´s idea of attractive work as a solution to his criticisms of work conditions in contemporary society.[19] Hakim Bey manifested that Fourier “lived at the same time as De Sade & (William) Blake, & deserves to be remembered as their equal or even superior. Those other two apostles of freedom & desire had no political disciples, but in the middle of the 19th century literally hundreds of communes (phalansteries) were founded on fourierist principles”.[20]

Hermeneutics (/hɜrməˈnjuːtɪks/), broadly, is the art and science of text interpretation. Traditional hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of written texts, especially texts in the areas of literature, religion and law. A type of traditional hermeneutic is biblical hermeneutics which concerns the study of the interpretation of the Bible. In religious studies and social philosophy, hermeneutics is the study of the theory and practice of interpretation. Modern hermeneutics encompasses everything in the interpretative process including verbal and nonverbal forms of communication as well as prior aspects that affect communication, such as presuppositions, preunderstandings, the meaning and philosophy of language, and semiotics.[1]

The terms exegesis and hermeneutics have been used interchangeably. However, hermeneutics is a more widely defined discipline of interpretation theory, because it includes the entire framework of the interpretive process, encompassing written, verbal, and nonverbal communication. Exegesis, on the other hand, focuses primarily on written text.

Philosophical hermeneutics refers primarily to the theory of knowledge initiated by Martin Heidegger and developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer in Truth and Method, and sometimes to the theories of Paul Ricoeur.[2]

Etymology
Hermes, messenger of the gods, the inspiration of the name Hermeneutics.The folk etymology places the origin (Greek: hermeneutike) with Hermes, the mythological Greek deity whose role is that of messenger of the Gods.[3] Besides being mediator between the gods themselves, and between the gods and humanity, he leads souls to the underworld upon death. He is also considered the inventor of language and speech, an interpreter, a liar, a thief and a trickster.[3] These multiple roles make Hermes an ideal representative figure for hermeneutics. As Socrates notes, words have the power to reveal or conceal, thus promoting the message in an ambiguous way.[3] The Greek view of language as consisting of signs that could lead to truth or falsehood is the very essence of Hermes, who is said to relish the uneasiness of the recipients.

Early use of “hermeneutics” places it within the boundaries of the sacred.[4] The divine message can only be understood on its own terms, received with implicit uncertainty regarding its truth or falsehood. This ambiguity of message is an irrationality, a sort of madness inflicted upon the receiver. Only one who possesses a rational method of interpretation—an early hermeneutic—could define the truth or falsehood (thus the sanity) of a statement.[5]

The traditional etymology of hermeneutics is derived from the Greek word ἑρμηνεύω (hermeneuō, “translate”, or “interpret”), and is of uncertain origin.[6] It was introduced into philosophy mainly through the title of Aristotle’s work Περὶ Ἑρμηνείας (Peri Hermeneias, ‘On Interpretation’, more commonly referred by its Latin title De Interpretatione). It is one of the earliest (c. 360 BC) extant philosophical works in the Western tradition to deal with the relationship between language and logic in a comprehensive, explicit, and formal way.

[edit] History[edit] AncientIn Περὶ Ἑρμηνείας, Aristotle offers an early understanding that lays the groundwork for many contemporary theories of interpretation and semiotics:

Words spoken are symbols or signs (symbola) of affections or impressions (pathemata) of the soul (psyche); written words are the signs of words spoken.
As writing, so also is speech not the same for all races of men.

But the mental affections themselves, of which these words are primarily signs (semeia), are the same for the whole of mankind, as are also the objects (pragmata) of which those affections are representations or likenesses, images, copies (homoiomata).
—Aristotle, On Interpretation, 1.16a4
Equally important to later developments are texts on poetry, rhetoric, and sophistry, including many of Plato’s dialogues, such as Cratylus, Ion, Gorgias, Lesser Hippias, and Republic, along with Aristotle’s Poetics, Rhetoric, and On Sophistical Refutations. However, these texts deal more with the presentation and refutation of arguments, speeches and poems rather than the understanding of texts as texts. As Ramberg and Gjesdal note, “Only with the Stoics, and their reflections on the interpretation of myth, do we encounter something like a methodological awareness of the problems of textual understanding.”[7]

Some ancient Greek philosophers, particularly Plato, tended to vilify poets and poetry as harmful nonsense—Plato denies entry to poets in his ideal state in The Republic until they can prove their value. In the Ion, Plato famously portrays poets as possessed:

You know, none of the epic poets, if they’re good, are masters of their subject; they are inspired, possessed, and that is how they utter all those beautiful poems. The same goes for lyric poets if they’re good: just as the Corybantes are not in their right minds when they dance, lyric poets, too, are not in their right minds when they make those beautiful lyrics, but as soon as they sail into harmony and rhythm they are possessed by Bacchic frenzy.
—Plato, Ion, 533e–534a
The meaning of the poem thus becomes open to ridicule — whatever hints of the truth it may have, the truth is covered by madness. However, another line of thinking arose with Theagenes of Rhegium, who suggested that instead of taking poetry literally, what was expressed in poems were allegories of nature. Stoic philosophers further developed this idea, reading into the poets not only allegories of natural phenomena, but allegories of ethical behavior.

Aristotle differed with his predecessor, Plato, in the worth of poetry. Both saw art as an act of mimesis, but where Plato saw a pale, essentially false imitation in art of reality, Aristotle saw the possibility of truth in imitation. As critic David Richter points out, “for Aristotle, artists must disregard incidental facts to search for deeper universal truths”—instead of being essentially false, poetry may be universally true. (Richter, The Critical Tradition, 57.) In the Poetics, Aristotle called both the tragedy and the epic noble, with tragedy serving the essential function of purging strong emotions from the audience through katharsis.

[edit] Classical antiquity[edit] Talmudical hermeneuticsMain article: Talmudical hermeneutics
Rabbinical Eras
Chazal
Zugot
Tannaim
Amoraim
Savoraim
Geonim
Rishonim
Acharonim

A common use of the word hermeneutics refers to a process of scriptural interpretation. Its earliest example is however found not in the written texts, but in the Jewish Oral Tradition dated to the Second Temple era (515 BCE – 70 CE) that later became the Talmud.

Summaries of the principles by which Torah can be interpreted date back at least to Hillel the Elder, although the thirteen principles set forth in the Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael are perhaps the best known. These principles ranged from standard rules of logic (e.g., a fortiori argument (known in Hebrew as קל וחומר (kal v’chomer))), to more expansive ones, like the rule that a passage could be interpreted by reference to another passage in which the same word appears (Gezerah Shavah). The rabbis did not ascribe equal persuasive power to the various principles.[8]

Traditional Jewish hermeneutics differ from the Greek method in that the rabbis considered the Tanakh (the Jewish bibilical canon) to be without error. Any apparent inconsistencies needed to be understood by careful examination of a given text in the context of other texts. There were different levels of interpretation, some used to arrive at the plain meaning of the text, some that expounded the law given in the text, and others that found secret or mystical levels of understanding.

[edit] Biblical hermeneuticsMain article: Biblical hermeneutics
Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpretation concerning the books of the Bible. While Jewish and Christian Biblical hermeneutics have some overlap and dialogue, they have distinctly separate interpretative traditions. The early Patristic traditions of biblical exegesis have few unifying characteristics in the beginning but tend toward unification in schools of hermeneutical theory.

[edit] Apostolic AgeSee also: Apostolic Age
The earliest Christian period of biblical interpretation is the Apostolic Age. Traditionally it is the period of the Twelve Apostles, dating from the Great Commission until the death of John the Apostle (about 100 AD Since it is believed that John lived so long and was the last of the twelve to die, there is some overlap between the apostolic age and the first Apostolic Fathers.

The operative hermeneutical principle in the New Testament was prophecy fulfillment. The Gospels, particularly the Gospel of Matthew, make extensive use of the Old Testament for the purposes of demonstrating that Jesus was the Messiah. Examples include Matthew 1:23, 2:15–18, 3:3, 21:42, Mark 1:2–3, 4:12, Luke 3:4–6, 22:37, John 2:17, 12:15, and notably in Luke 4:18–21 and parallels where Jesus read extensively from Isaiah and makes the claim that the prophecy is fulfilled in the crowds hearing it. The Pauline epistles employ the same principle, as evidenced by 1 Corinthians 1:19 and Ephesians 4:8–10, as does Hebrews (see 8:7–13).

[edit] Apostolic FathersSee also: Apostolic Fathers and Christianity in the 2nd century
The Apostolic Fathers were students of the Apostles. This period is sometimes called the Sub-apostolic period.

The principle of prophecy fulfillment is carried over from the apostolic age and through the 2nd century. For example, Irenaeus dedicates an entire chapter in Against Heresies to the defense of Isaiah 7:14, one of the chief prophecies used to validate Jesus as the Messiah.[9] This is consistent with Irenaeus’ general usage. More so than even he, though, the second century apologists tended to interpret and utilize most scripture as being primarily for the purpose of showing prophecy fulfillment. Important among these was Justin Martyr, who made extensive use of scripture to this end. Examples of this usage may be seen in his Apology in which chapters 31–53 are specifically dedicated to proving Christ through prophecy. He uses scripture similarly in Dialogue with Trypho.

And when Herod succeeded Archelaus, having received the authority which had been allotted to him, Pilate sent to him by way of compliment Jesus bound; and God foreknowing that this would happen, had thus spoken: “And they brought Him to the Assyrian, a present to the king.”[10]
Here Justin demonstrates that prophecy fulfillment supersedes logical context in hermeneutics. He ignores the christological issues that arise from equating Jesus to the calf idol of Bethel which is the “him” being brought to the king in Hosea 10:6.

It is likely that the high view of prophecy fulfillment is a product of the circumstance of the early church. The primary goal of early authors was a defense of Christianity against attacks from paganism and Judaism as well as suppressing what were considered schismatic or heretical groups. To this end, Martin Jan Mulder suggests that prophecy fulfillment was the primary hermeneutical method because Roman society had a high view of both antiquity and oracles.[11] By using the Old Testament (a term linked with Supersessionism) to validate Jesus, Early Christians sought to tap into both the oracles of the prophets and the antiquity of the Jewish scriptures.

[edit] Late AntiquityTwo divergent schools of thought emerged during this period which spans from 200 A.D. to the medieval period. Historians however divide this period into the Ante-Nicene Period and First seven Ecumenical Councils).

[edit] Schools of Alexandria and AntiochSee also: Catechetical School of Alexandria and School of Antioch
Beginning as early as the third century, Christian hermeneutics began to split into two primary schools: Alexandria and Antioch. The Alexandrian Biblical interpretations stressed allegorical readings, frequently at the expense of the texts’ literal meaning. Primary figures in this school included Origen and Clement of Alexandria. The Antiochene school stressed instead the more literal and historical meaning of the text. Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsus were the primary figures in the Antiochene school.

[edit] Ante-Nicene PeriodSee also: Ante-Nicene Period
The Ante-Nicene Period (literally meaning “before Nicaea”), or Post-Apostolic Period, of the history of early Christianity spanned the late 1st century to the early 4th century, with the end marked by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Christianity during this time was extremely diverse, with many developments difficult to trace and follow. There is also a relative paucity of available material and this period is less studied than the preceding Apostolic Age and historical ages following it. Nevertheless, this portion of Christianity history is important, having a significant impact on the development of Christianity.

[edit] First seven Ecumenical CouncilsSee also: First seven Ecumenical Councils
This era begins with the First Council of Nicaea, which enunciated the Nicene Creed that in its original form and as modified by the First Council of Constantinople of 381 AD was seen as the touchstone of orthodoxy on the doctrine of the Trinity.

The first seven Ecumenical Councils, from the First Council of Nicaea (325) to the Second Council of Nicaea (787), represent an attempt to reach an orthodox consensus and to establish a unified Christendom.

The first scholar to consider this time period as a whole was Philip Schaff, who wrote The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, first published after his death in 1901. The topic is of particular interest to proponents of Paleo-orthodoxy who seek to recover the church before the schisms.

[edit] MedievalMedieval Christian interpretations of text incorporated exegesis into a fourfold mode that emphasized the distinction between the letter and the spirit of the text.

This schema was based on the various ways of interpreting the text utilized by the Patristic writers. The literal sense (sensus historicus) of Scripture denotes what the text states or reports directly. The allegorical sense (sensus allegoricus) explains the text with regard to the doctrinal content of church dogma, so that each literal element has a symbolic meaning; see also Typology (theology). The moral application of the text to the individual reader or hearer is the third sense, the sensus tropologicus or sensus moralis, while a fourth level of meaning, the sensus anagogicus, draws out of the text the implicit allusions it contains to secret metaphysical and eschatological knowledge, or gnosis.

The hermeneutical terminology used here is in part arbitrary. For almost all three interpretations which go beyond the literal explanations are in a general sense “allegorical”. The practical application of these three aspects of spiritual interpretation varied considerably. Most of the time, the fourfold sense of the Scriptures was used only partially, dependent upon the content of the text and the idea of the exegete…. We can easily notice that the basic structure is in fact a twofold sense of the Scriptures, that is, the distinction between the sensus literalis and the sensus spiritualis or mysticus, and that the number four was derived from a restrictive systematization of the numerous possibilities which existed for the sensus spiritualis into three interpretive dimensions.
—[12]
Hermeneutics in the Middle Ages witnessed the proliferation of non-literal interpretations of the Bible. Christian commentators could read Old Testament narratives simultaneously as prefigurations of analogous New Testament episodes, as symbolic lessons about Church institutions and current teachings, and as personally applicable allegories of the Spirit. In each case, the meaning of the signs was constrained by imputing a particular intention to the Bible, such as teaching morality, but these interpretive bases were posited by the religious tradition rather than suggested by a preliminary reading of the text.

The customary medieval exegetical technique commented on the text in glossae (“glosses” or annotations) written between the lines and at the side of the text which was left with wide margins for this very purpose. The text might be further commented on in scholia which are long, exegetical passages, often on a separate page.

A similar fourfold categorization is also found in Rabbinic writings. The fourfold categorizations are: Peshat (simple interpretation), Remez (allusion), Derash (interpretive), and Sod (secret/mystical). It is uncertain whether or not the Rabbinic division of interpretation pre-dates the Patristic version. The medieval period saw the growth of many new categories of Rabbinic interpretation and explanation of the Torah, including the emergence of Kabbalah and the writings of Maimonides.

[edit] ModernThe discipline of hermeneutics emerged with the new humanist education of the 15th century as a historical and critical methodology for analyzing texts. In a triumph of early modern hermeneutics, the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla proved in 1440 that the “Donation of Constantine” was a forgery, through intrinsic evidence of the text itself. Thus hermeneutics expanded from its medieval role explaining the correct analysis of the Bible.

However, Biblical hermeneutics did not die off. For example, the Protestant Reformation brought about a renewed interest in the interpretation of the Bible, which took a step away from the interpretive tradition developed during the Middle Ages back to the texts themselves. Martin Luther and John Calvin emphasized scriptura sui ipsius interpres. Especially Calvin used brevitas et facilitas as an aspect of theological hermeneutics.

The rationalist Enlightenment led hermeneuts, especially Protestant exegetes, to view Scriptural texts as secular Classical texts. Scripture thus was interpreted as responses to historical or social forces, so that apparent contradictions and difficult passages in the New Testament, for example, might be clarified by comparing their possible meanings with contemporaneous Christian practices.

[edit] SchleiermacherFriedrich Schleiermacher (November 21, 1768 – February 12, 1834) explored the nature of understanding in relation not just to the problem of deciphering sacred texts, but to all human texts and modes of communication. The interpretation of a text must proceed by framing the content asserted in terms of the overall organization of the work. He distinguishes between grammatical interpretation and psychological interpretation. The former studies how a work is composed from general ideas, the latter considers the peculiar combinations that characterize the work as a whole. Schleiermacher said that every problem of interpretation is a problem of understanding. He even defined hermeneutics as the art of avoiding misunderstanding. He provides a solution to avoidance of misunderstanding: knowledge of grammatical and psychological laws in trying to understand the text and the writer. There arose in his time a fundamental shift from understanding not only the exact words and their objective meaning to the individuality of the speaker or author.[13][7]

[edit] DiltheyWilhelm Dilthey broadened hermeneutics even more by relating interpretation to all historical objectifications. Understanding moves from the outer manifestations of human action and productivity to explore their inner meaning. In his last important essay “The Understanding of Other Persons and Their Manifestations of Life” (1910), Dilthey makes it clear that this move from outer to inner, from expression to what is expressed, is not based on empathy. Empathy involves a direct identification with the other. Interpretation involves an indirect or mediated understanding that can only be attained by placing human expressions in their historical context. Understanding is not a process of reconstructing the state of mind of the author, but one of articulating what is expressed in the work.

Dilthey divides the spiritual sciences into three structural levels: experience, expression, and comprehension. Experience means to feel the situation or thing personally. Dilthey suggests that we can always grasp the meaning of unknown thinking when we try to experience it. Dilthey’s understanding of experience is very similar to that of phenomenologist Edmund Husserl.

Expression converts experience into meaning because the discourse has an appeal to somebody outside of oneself. Every saying is an expression. Dilthey suggests that one can always return to an expression, especially its written form, and this practice has the same objective value as an experiment in sciences. The possibility of returning makes scientific analysis possible and therefore humanities may be labeled as science. Moreover, Dilthey assumes that expression may be “saying” more than the speaker intended because the expression brings forward meanings that the individual consciousness may not fully understand. The last structural level of spiritual sciences according to Dilthey is comprehension, which in Dilthey’s context is a dimension which contains both comprehension and incomprehension. Incomprehension means more or less wrong understanding. Dilthey presumes that comprehension produces coexistence: He who understands, understand others; he who does not understand stays alone. According to Gadamer, Dilthey thought that one should decode our historical past, but he did not think about personal history.

[edit] 20th Century[edit] HeideggerMain article: Martin Heidegger
Since Dilthey, the discipline of hermeneutics has detached itself from this central task and broadened its spectrum to all texts, including multimedia.[14] In the 20th century, Martin Heidegger’s philosophical hermeneutics shifted the focus from interpretation to existential understanding, which was treated more as a direct, non-mediated, thus in a sense more authentic way of being in the world than simply as a way of knowing.[15] For example, Heidegger called for a “special hermeneutic of empathy” to dissolve the classic philosophic issue of “other minds” by putting the issue in the context of the being-with of human relatedness; but then did not complete the inquiry.[16]

Advocates of this approach claim that such texts, and the people who produce them, cannot be studied using the same scientific methods as the natural sciences, thus use arguments similar to that of antipositivism. Moreover, they claim that such texts are conventionalized expressions of the experience of the author; thus, the interpretation of such texts will reveal something about the social context in which they were formed, but, more significantly, provide the reader with a means to share the experiences of the author. The reciprocity between text and context is part of what Heidegger called the hermeneutic circle. Among the key thinkers who elaborated this approach is the sociologist Max Weber.

[edit] ContemporaryHans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutics is a development of the hermeneutics of his teacher, Heidegger. Gadamer asserts that methodical contemplation is opposite to experience and reflection. We can reach the truth only by understanding or even mastering our experience. According to Gadamer, experience isn’t fixed but rather changing and always indicating new perspectives. The most important thing is to unfold what constitutes individual comprehension. Gadamer points out in this context that prejudice is a (nonfixed) reflection of that unfolding comprehension, and is not per se without value. Being alien to a particular tradition is a condition of understanding. Gadamer points out that we can never step outside of our tradition; all we can do is try to understand it. This further elaborates the idea of the hermeneutic circle.

Paul Ricoeur developed a hermeneutics based on Heidegger’s concepts, although his own work differs in many ways from that of Gadamer.

Andrés Ortíz-Osés has developed his Symbolic Hermeneutics as the Mediterranean response to north European Hermeneutics. His main statement regarding the symbolic understanding of the world is that the meaning is the symbolic healing of the real injury.

Bernard Lonergan’s hermeneutics is less well-known, but in a series of masterly articles, Fred Lawrence has outlined a case for considering his work as the culmination and achievement of the postmodern hermeneutical revolution that began with Heidegger.[17]

Karl-Otto Apel elaborated a hermeneutics based on American semiotics, and applies his model to discourse ethics with political motivations akin to critical theory. Mauricio Beuchot coined the term and discipline of “analogic hermeneutics”, to refer to a particular kind of hermeneutics based on interpretation that takes into account the plurality of aspects of meaning. He draws categories both from analytic and continental philosophy, as well as from the history of thought. Important hermeneutic scholars include Jean Grondin and Maurizio Ferraris

[edit] Critical theoryJürgen Habermas criticized the conservatism of previous hermeneutics, especially Gadamer, because the focus on tradition seemed to undermine possibilities for social criticism and transformation. Habermas also criticized Marxism and previous members of the Frankfurt School for missing the hermeneutical dimension of critical theory. Habermas incorporated the notion of the lifeworld and emphasized the importance of both interaction and communication as well as labor and production for social theory. For Habermas, hermeneutics is one dimension of critical social theory.

[edit] 21st Century[edit] Objective HermeneuticsIn one of the rare translated texts of this German grown school of hermeneutics its founders declared: “Our approach has grown out of the empirical study of family interactions as well as reflection upon the procedures of interpretation employed in our research. For the time being we shall refer to it as objective hermeneutics in order to distinguish it clearly from traditional hermeneutic techniques and orientations. The general significance for sociological analysis of objective hermeneutics issues from the fact that, in the social sciences, interpretive methods constitute the fundamental procedures of measurement and of the generation of research data relevant to theory. From our perspective, the standard, nonhermeneutic methods of quantitative social research can only be justified because they permit a shortcut in generating data (and research “economy” comes about under specific conditions). Whereas the conventional methodological attitude in the social sciences justifies qualitative approaches as exploratory or preparatory activities, to be succeeded by standardized approaches and techniques as the actual scientific procedures (assuring precision, validity, and objectivity), we regard hermeneutic procedures as the basic method for gaining precise and valid knowledge in the social sciences. However, we do not simply reject alternative approaches dogmatically. They are in fact useful wherever the loss in precision and objectivity necessitated by the requirement of research economy can be condoned and tolerated in the light of prior hermeneutically elucidated research experiences.”[18]

In 1992 the “Association for Objective Hermeneutics” (“Arbeitsgemeinschaft objektive Hermeneutik”, “AGOH”) was founded in Frankfurt am Main (Germany) by scholars of various disciplines, in the humanities and in the social sciences. Its goal is to provide all scholars using the methodology of objective hermeneutics with a means for steady and continual exchange and a platform spanning those disciplines in which the methodology is now being used.

Tricky Task of Resettling the Displaced

Charlie Campbell, The Irrawaddy

Katja Christina Nordgaard, Norwegian ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia and Burma, right, meets Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul in Bangkok. (Photo: Thai Foreign Ministry)

The Norwegian-led Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI) was launched earlier this year to prepare the ground for the eventual return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Burma’s border areas in the wake of government ceasefires with ethnic armed groups.

However, local non-governmental and community-based organizations (NGOs and CBOs) have criticized the scheme for supposedly cutting traditional cross-border funding and acting too hastily when Burma’s nascent political reforms appear fragile.

This culminated in a group of Shan CBOs calling for the postponement of a consultation meeting in Chiang Mai on Aug. 27 citing a lack of notice, and also protesting about a door-to-door survey of Koung Jor refugee camp, northwest Chiang Mai Province, which was apparently earmarked for a refugee return project.

Katja Christina Nordgaard, Norwegian ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia and Burma, talked to The Irrawaddy journalist Charlie Campbell about the MPSI and the recent concerns of local groups.

Question: Is the MPSI currently preparing for the return of refugees?

Answer: The repatriation of refugees is not going to happen. This is an ongoing consultation program and there has to be some changes and refinements in relation to what came up in the first discussions. There will not be any repatriation of refugees, it will be focused on IDPs.

Q: So there was no consultation in refugee camps in Thailand?

A: No, nothing like that. That comes much later with the return of refugees—that is not part of the MPSI at all. The repatriation of refugees is absolutely not on the agenda. It is a difficult issue that has to be handled in quite a different context and with other actors, of course.

It is all going on inside and it is about having pilot project interventions in the ceasefire areas in order to provide the ground opening up and building confidence and interaction between local actors to open up space for more aid to come. And the refugee repatriation is something that will come later and be quite different when that comes on the agenda. It will not be something that the MPSI will handle.

Q: What happened with the Chiang Mai meeting in September which Shan groups tried to call off?

A: That took place and maybe there was an issue with some groups being upset about the timeline before the meeting. We went ahead as we had so many different people coming along so we thought it was worthwhile having the meeting anyway. But that was not about refugees at all. MPSI is not about the returning of refugees. That is very important as that would be a misunderstanding.

The response [on our website] acknowledged that ideally we should have had more time in advance but because we brought along different groups and ourselves—we had groups talking about the peace centers and the ILO [International Labor Organization] there—so we decided to go along anyway and have more meetings at a later date.

Q: Is there much progress being made with the MPSI?

A: Absolutely, we are going out in the different states, of course, with different groups. So it is not like one big consultation process.

Q: Do you think that NGOs are objecting to the MPSI out of self-preservation?

A: I think that’s a natural thing and it is strange now but I think that everybody at this time has to be prepared to change and it’s about acknowledging that we are now facing a new situation and, of course, that goes for the groups on the border.

Again one of the misunderstandings is that Norway has tried to advocate that there shouldn’t be any more aid given to the groups and rumors like that. And, of course, we have not done that. And, of course, the groups that are there represent some expertise and knowledge and have been good players for many years.

There will be room for them also and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was resistance to that but the aim has to be part of a normal structure inside and that’s what we are working for. We are not there now but we are trying to open up space so it will be possible for NGOs and the international community to come in with aid for people from the inside.

There’s a lot of misinformation around but it’s important to try and actually look at what’s going on and it’s never been about kicking anyone out and we are still supporting the camps and everything. I would be surprised if these groups are not in favor of these areas opening up for aid and trust-building and a normal situation—it’s their people.

Q: How much consultation has there been with NGOs and groups established on the ground?

A: We have been going to Chiang Mai and meeting with [UN Envoy] Charles Petrie and his people and so trying as much as possible, but it is also important to see that the MPSI is not doing anything that has not been asked for or agreed by parties [on the ground]. Maybe one has to look into the amount of consultation going on between non-state armed groups and their civil society CBOs and NGOs.

Q: Are armed groups pushing for peace for economic gain?

A: I’m not sure about that actually. We also receive a lot of positive feedback from groups at the borders. There are some which are very critical but it would be good to speak to people on the inside. There are groups who have legitimate concerns and we are trying to accommodate and listen to everyone. I think it’s very important to sound out several stakeholders.

Q: Is there one area of the border region in which MPSI work seems the most promising?

A: I don’t think there is any area … they are so different—different faiths, different groups and the different circumstances on the ground with different dynamics and different roles. The situation is different from place to place but what we have done in the pilot area in Kyaukkyi [in Kachin State] is where the intervention has materialized the most.

In some of the other areas it is a lot about consultations. It’s being concentrated by the different actors, it’s not that you can say somewhere is more successful than somewhere else—it’s a continuous process going on. It’s possible to have concrete projects by the end of the year. There are different types of projects—the IDPs in Kyaukkyi are already receiving aid and some livelihood equipment and such.

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Will Burma’s forests survive as the country opens its doors to the world?

As the nation embraces democracy and encourages development, questions are being raised over the fate of biodiversity

Author: Charles Schmidt for Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 15 November 2012 17.40 GMT

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Burmese workers prepare teak logs in a wood yard in Yangon. Photograph: Barbara Walton/EPA

Allied soldiers and locals escaping the Japanese advance through northern Burma during World War II had to contend with dense jungles, scorching heat, leeches, insects, torrential rain, and 10,000-foot peaks dividing the country — now known as Burma — from India. Today, large swaths of that forbidding wilderness remain intact. The country’s Northern Forest Complex, a 12,000-square-mile tract that runs along the border from India to China in Burma’s Kachin State, is home to tigers, bears, elephants, and hundreds of bird species. The heart of that forest, at nearly 8,500 square miles, is Burma’s Hukaung Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, the largest tiger preserve in the world.

Now, as Burma cautiously embraces democracy and opens up to the world — President Obama will visit the country next week, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to do so — a key question is what impact an influx of outside capital and foreign expertise will have on the country’s wild lands, biodiversity, and natural resources. The sanctions imposed by Western governments in response to the military dictatorship’s brutal human rights record arguably helped to preserve Burma’s remote areas by denying access to credit and foreign investment that would have otherwise been used for road building in the northern jungles.

But with Western governments now lifting sanctions to reward the government’s democratic reforms, some experts warn that an influx of foreign capital might open the floodgates to development and cause significant environmental harm. In a bid to expand regional trade routes, for instance, both the Chinese and Japanese governments are making plans to open transportation corridors through some of Burma’s far-flung jungles, paving the way for resource exploitation. The economic might of China, just to the north, is ever-present. In the Hukaung wildlife sanctuary, only 50 tigers are thought to survive, the rest victimized by an illegal wildlife trade with Chinese merchants who pay up to $30,000 for a single animal, dried and packed in a box.

The harsh sanctions also took a toll on Burma’s environment, pushing the country into abject poverty and driving villagers toward poaching and slash-and-burn farming practices that deplete soils and turn landscapes into wastelands. On a drive through the Taung-nyo public protected forest in Rakhine State — near the west coast and way off the beaten tourist track — I saw ragtag bamboo settlements dotting the roadside and a patchwork of charred hillsides and scrubby growth. My host, U Myint Aung, an ex-forestry official who now runs a homegrown non-governmental organization called Friends of Wildlife (FOW), said that the settlements were illegal but tolerated by forest rangers who allow villagers to remain in exchange for small bribes.

So far, Western conservationists in Burma are generally heartened by the strong environmental stance Burma’s rulers appear to be taking in advance of an expected surge in economic development. “They seem to be taking a much more measured approach to environmental planning, even without international pressure, and that’s to be applauded,” says Joe Walston, executive director of the Asia program of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

In a well-publicized move last year, Burma postponed a massive China-sponsored dam that would have flooded more than 64,000 acres at the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River, citing environmental concerns. Mining along the country’s four major rivers has been banned. And during his inaugural speech in March 2011, President Thein Sein said, “We will pay serious attention to conservation of forests… and lay down a new policy in which we will work for economic development in parallel with environmental conservation.”

Alan Rabinowitz, chief executive officer of Panthera, a big-cat conservancy group based in New York City, believes that new money unleashed by the elimination of sanctions could go a long way toward shoring up the country’s chronically underfunded environmental sector. In 2003, when he was working for WCS — the only foreign conservation group to maintain a consistent presence in Burma during the years of dictatorship — Rabinowitz spearheaded the creation of the Hukaung Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.

“There’s never been enough money or expertise or people to help with the defense of Burma’s protected areas,” he says. “For years, the World Bank has told me that it wants to help but that it can’t because of the sanctions. So I see the opening as a huge step forward for Burma’s ecology.”

U Than Myint, the WCS’s country program director in Yangon, the former capital, agrees that the lifting of sanctions will benefit NGOs in Burma’s increasingly active civil society. WCS helps train and fund park rangers and offers training and financial support for communities to shift to sustainable agriculture. “It used to be that all of us in the civil society struggled with limited funding sources,” Than Myint says. “But now with the political opening, we’re seeing more funding agencies and organizations coming here and what we hope is that with their help we can expand our activities.”

NGOs and environmental officials in Burma’s government published a report last April detailing a rich diversity of wildlife in the country, but also many critically endangered species, including white-bellied herons, now limited to the most remote waterways in the eastern Himalaya; snub-nosed monkeys; black musk deer; pangolin; and Sumatran rhinoceros.

However, chronic data shortages make it exceedingly difficult to quantify Burma’s diversity and natural resources. Kevin Woods, a Yangon-based Ph.D. candidate in environmental science policy and management at the University of California, blames rebel activity in particular for the lack of scientific investigations on the borders, where some of the best-preserved ecosystems remain. “It’s not possible to do any sort of survey in Kachin State,” he says. “Apart from the war, the Northern Forest Complex is extremely remote, with almost no roads. Moreover, the government is severely understaffed, underfunded, and it’s difficult for NGOs to get into that area because of the suspicion locals have towards outsiders.”

Similarly, the full extent of Burma’s forest resources — including the famous golden teak that historically accounted for much of the country’s timber exports — is difficult to gauge. In a 2011 report, Woods wrote that Burma’s government doesn’t collect or publish data that would be necessary for a “deeper analysis and understanding of the forest industry.” The report did conclude, however, that the forest sector has become increasingly corrupt; that governance systems affecting the forest sector are poorly designed, opaque, and subject to manipulation by military regional commanders and ethnic leaders; that the actual source of exported timber is often unknown; and that the influence of Asian countries looking for a stake in Burma’s timber trade — including China, India, Thailand, and Bangladesh — has grown as that of the U.S. and the European Union has waned.

The most recent estimates published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicate that Burma’s primary forests occupy 10 percent of the country’s land area, mostly in the northern and eastern parts of the country. That’s a substantial amount, given Burma’s sheer size. (It’s the second-largest Southeast Asian country, after Indonesia.) According to the FAO, primary forest covers 35 percent of Thailand. But these figures do not tell the whole story: Thailand’s primary forests are more fragmented, and outside of strictly protected areas they are not as pristine as Burma’s, according to Jack Hurd, the deputy managing director for the Nature Conservancy’s Asia-Pacific program. Unlike other Southeast Asian nations, Burma also has not experienced the widespread conversion of primary forests to monoculture plantations of rubber, palm, and eucalyptus.

Hurd says that given the lack of infrastructure, particularly roads, Burma has been able to avoid the industrial deforestation that has occurred elsewhere in Southeast Asia. “What you see instead is lots of ad-hoc, opportunistic exploitation and deals cut among the Burma Timber Enterprise [a government body], state governments, and border logging interests,” he says. “So deforestation isn’t as widespread as it could have been if Burma’s borders were exposed to the forces of globalization.”

Jake Brunner, the Mekong program director with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, in Hanoi, says that Burma’s government needs to impose emergency measures to conserve highly threatened areas, including the Irawaddy River delta’s mangrove forests, which have been decimated by villagers making charcoal. But in the long run, he says, forest protections will depend on whether the country’s emerging governance structures can align national environmental goals with local interests.

Initial signs look promising, Hurd says. But as a country so poor and isolated that less than 2 percent of its 60 million people owns a cell phone, Burma faces many challenges. The main risk is that a Wild West mentality will take hold as companies emboldened by trade liberalization scramble to exploit the most valuable resources.

The experience of once-communist Cambodia is a cautionary tale. After free elections in 1993, much of the country was turned over to foreign timber interests. Within 10 years, 50 percent of Cambodia’s old-growth forests were gone. “Avoiding that is going to require political will, but it’s also going to require the necessary capacity and resources,” Hurd says. “The sooner the international community can help Burma’s government and civil society figure out how to implement a sustainable approach to resource management, the better.” Reference: Guardian
……………………………………..

2013 UNHCR country operations profile – Thailand

Working environment

The context

While Thailand is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the generosity of the Royal Thai Government in hosting refugees and asylum-seekers has spanned several decades. The country currently hosts some 84,900 registered refugees and an estimated 62,000 unregistered asylum-seekers from Myanmar in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border.
Thailand has been affected by events in neighbouring Myanmar, which saw unprecedented political developments in 2011 and 2012. Negotiations between the Government of Myanmar and ethnic armed groups have resulted in a series of ceasefire agreements that have brought relative calm to south-eastern Myanmar. The cessation of hostilities is significant for Myanmar refugees in Thailand: the vast majority of those registered and living in the Thai camps originate from areas in Myanmar where ceasefires have been announced. While the peace is fragile, it has increased the prospects for voluntary returns to Myanmar.
Admission to the refugee camps in Thailand is governed by Thailand’s Provincial Admissions Board, which has not been functional since 2006. However, in 2012 the Thai Government initiated a fast-track procedure that provides access to the Board for unregistered camp residents – if they are immediate family members of registered individuals already resettled or in the process of being so – to facilitate their eventual resettlement and reunion with family members.
UNHCR operates in a challenging environment in Thailand characterized by inadequate protection space for many persons of concern. Thailand is at the centre of ever-larger migratory movements in the region, and hosts an estimated 2 million migrants. Such numbers can lead to a blurring of the distinction between asylum-seekers and those coming predominantly for economic reasons. Refugees and asylum-seekers living outside the camps and in urban areas are regarded as illegal migrants under immigration law and are subject to arrest, detention and/or deportation. The number of people of concern to UNHCR in detention has declined recently, as many individuals have been released on bail with NGO assistance; however, arrests continue.
Although Thailand is not party to either of the statelessness conventions, amendments to the Civil Registration Act in 2008 provide for universal birth registration. This allows for the issuance of birth certificates to all children born in the country, regardless of the status of their parents, and will help prevent statelessness.
Meanwhile, Government data indicates that some 506,200 people were deemed to be without a nationality, or stateless, as of 31 December 2011. UNHCR will coordinate closely with national authorities to update these figures periodically and reflect Thailand’s progress in implementing the 2012 Comprehensive Strategy to Address Problems of Irregular Migrants, under which those without nationality would undergo verification and may acquire nationality and/or have their status regularized.
The needs

Refugees from Myanmar in Thailand have been confined to nine closed camps since they began arriving in the 1980s, and this constitutes one of the most protracted displacement situations in the world. The prolonged confinement of these refugees in camps has created many social, psychological and protection concerns. It has also resulted in a dependency among the refugees on assistance.
The recent developments in Myanmar have prompted discussions among refugees and concerned stakeholders about eventual voluntary repatriation. While this presents an opportunity for UNHCR to seek durable solutions other than resettlement, it also brings a number of challenges. There is a need to ensure that repatriation is voluntary, undertaken in safety and dignity, and takes place only when conditions are conducive. Meanwhile, UNHCR will continue to work with concerned stakeholders to ensure that the rights to access asylum and assistance in Thailand are respected.
The introduction of third-country resettlement in 2005 has provided solutions for more than 80,000 individuals. Since 2010, the number of registered Myanmar refugees in the camps has decreased by more than 20,000. Despite this remarkable burden-sharing effort, the camp population has not declined substantially: the number of unregistered people in the camps has grown to an estimated 62,000. In view of the substantial total figures of persons of concern, UNHCR will continue to cooperate closely with the Government in order to find durable solutions for refugees and ensure that asylum-seekers have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.
UNHCR conducts refugee status determinations (RSD) under its mandate for all urban asylum-seekers – with the exception of those from Myanmar, for whom a camp-based Government-led procedure is in place. There are some 2,100 urban refugees and asylum-seekers of 39 nationalities in Thailand. Fear of arrest due to immigration offences, lack of legal employment, poverty, possible intimidation or exploitation, little or no access to low-cost medical services, and a paucity of regular educational opportunities are some of their main concerns.
To mitigate these concerns, UNHCR makes protection interventions and lobbies for alternatives to detention and improvements in standards of treatment.
UNHCR 2013 planning figures for Thailand
TYPE OF POPULATION ORIGIN JAN 2013 DEC 2013
TOTAL IN COUNTRY OF WHOM ASSISTED
BY UNHCR TOTAL IN COUNTRY OF WHOM ASSISTED
BY UNHCR
Total 655,810 149,350 596,610 90,150
Refugees Myanmar 85,060 85,060 54,940 54,940
Various 1,180 1,180 1,200 1,200
Asylum-seekers Myanmar 11,400 11,140 10,400 10,140
Various 860 860 760 760
Stateless people Stateless 506,200 – 506,200 –
Others of concern Myanmar 51,110 51,110 23,110 23,110
Main objectives and targets for 2013

Favourable protection environment

Access to legal assistance and legal remedies is improved.
More than 300 people of concern have access to legal services in the nine camps.
Fair protection processes and documentation

Access to RSD procedures is improved and the efficiency of processing enhanced.
People who wish to seek asylum and/or those who may have international protection needs have access to status determination procedures.
Civil-registration and civil-status documentation are strengthened.
All children in the camps under 12 months of age are issued official birth certificates by the national authorities.
The identification of stateless individuals is improved.
The clarification of guidelines for the identification of stateless individuals helps in their accurate identification.
Security from violence and exploitation

The risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in camps is reduced and the timing and quality of the response to SGBV is improved.
All known survivors of SGBV receive support.
Basic needs and essential services

The health and well-being of refugees and asylum-seekers in urban areas is improved.
All refugees and asylum-seekers have access to primary health care.
Durable solutions

The potential for resettlement is realized.
All refugees deemed to be in need of resettlement are referred to resettlement countries.
The potential for voluntary return is realized.
All persons of concern in the nine camps have access to information on conditions in potential return areas in Myanmar and on basic protection standards regarding voluntary repatriation.
Strategy and activities in 2013

For Myanmar refugees in camps, UNHCR will promote international protection standards in areas such as access to national justice systems, monitoring of children at risk, and SGBV prevention and response. UNHCR will support State efforts on birth registration and the Provincial Admission Board screening mechanism for Myanmar asylum-seekers.
UNHCR will intensify its engagement with States and donors to find all possible durable solutions and increase protection space. It will prepare for eventual voluntary repatriation, for instance by providing accurate information on conditions in potential areas of return. The offices in Thailand and Myanmar will also work closely together on a strategic approach to Myanmar refugees.
Pending the establishment of a national framework for RSD of non-Myanmar asylum-seekers, UNHCR will register and undertake RSD in urban areas. It will monitor and advocate for the rights and well-being of refugees and asylum-seekers, and intervene with the authorities where required. UNHCR will enhance advocacy for alternatives to detention and strive to meet the basic needs of asylum-seekers and refugees, including medical care and educational support.
UNHCR will train national authorities and various other stakeholders to identify, prevent and reduce statelessness. It will work to protect stateless persons, assess their needs, and advocate for their rights, including to legal documentation.
Constraints

At the end of 2011, the newly-elected Thai Government had to respond to a flooding emergency that affected 15 of 77 provinces, including industrial areas of Bangkok. The disaster limited the political space for UNHCR to advocate for refugees’ rights. In 2013, Thailand’s refugee policies will likely continue to be influenced by security concerns and bilateral considerations.
The overall protection environment in Thailand will likely remain uncertain and be marked by limited asylum space, especially for refugees and asylum-seekers in urban areas. It is also assumed that mixed-migration flows of refugees and asylum-seekers moving together with economic migrants will continue. Though UNHCR will continue to advocate for them, there are no indications that opportunities for legal employment and higher education for refugees will be attained in the short-term.
Organization and implementation

Coordination

UNHCR relies on the cooperation and support of its international and local humanitarian partners in order to respond effectively to protection needs in Thailand.
The border operation, which provides for an estimated 150,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from Myanmar, is implemented by some 20 international and local NGOs who cooperate closely with UNHCR and operate largely under the umbrella of the Committee for Coordination of Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand.
Financial information

The budget for the Thailand operation grew steadily in the five years prior to 2011. As of 2012, the budgets for the Thailand country operation and the Thailand regional operation have been separated. The 2013 budget for Thailand is slightly greater than the 2012 budget, primarily because of provisional preparations for voluntary repatriation to Myanmar.
Source: UNHCR Global Appeal 2013 Update

Laurent Pordié
New book explores globalization of traditional medicine
LAURENT PORDIÉ, 2000 Laureate
August 15, 2013
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Fifteen years ago French anthropologist and pharmacologist, Laurent Pordié, set out to promote the use of Tibetan medicine in Ladakh, a remote region of Northern India that borders on Tibet.
“The people had nothing else,” he says. “And there was this system on their doorstep, using local plants.” Based on Tibetan Buddhist cosmology, and with roots in Asian medical traditions, this medical practice had been in decline for centuries, and Pordié, with colleagues in Nomad RSI, a French-based, international research and development agency that he set up in 1997, implemented a number of initiatives to revive and preserve it. For his work, he was awarded a Rolex Enterprise award in 2000.
Fifteen years later, practitioners of Tibetan medicine travel the world, lecturing and practising their craft, while demand for the roots and herbs of their pharmacopeia are in such demand that the government of Ladakh is considering ways to industrialize production. Put simply, Tibetan medicine has gone global.
Pordié has tracked this process with considerable interest, publishing several articles and books on the topic, notably the single-authored The Expression of Religion in Tibetan Medicine (FIP, 2003) and Tibetan Medicine in the Contemporary World. Global Politics of Medical Knowledge and Practice (Routledge, 2008), a collection of essays by anthropologists, including two by Pordié himself, which won the prestigious International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) book prize in 2009. More recently, working in collaboration with anthropologist Emmanuelle Simon, Pordié opened up his analysis of the phenomenon with, Les nouveaux guérisseurs. Biographies de thérapeutes au temps de la globalisation (“The New Healers. Biographies of Therapists in the Era of Globalization”), (Éditions de l’EHESS, April 2013), another collection of essays, this one focusing on ways in which the ‘new healers’ of the title interact with an increasingly globalized world, while striving to maintain connections with the cultures out of which they grew.
The healers are by no means limited to healing. “These people are entrepreneurs, inventors,” Pordié says. “They collaborate on clinical trials, specialize in environmental issues.” Nor are they the hieratic dogmatists one might expect. Indeed, one of the many surprises of the book is the extent to which the healers are open to other influences. “They actively combine different therapeutic cultures,” says Pordié, “and they are constantly re-examining their own orthodoxies.” But in all this combining isn’t something of the particularity of ancient traditions lost? Pordié frames the question in a different, more historically grounded way. “Inter-cultural exchanges have always happened. The only difference is that nowadays they are happening much faster,” he says.

His own written contribution to the book is an essay on the peregrinations of Dolma Tsering, a Ladakhi woman Pordié first encountered when Dolma entered the residential training school that Laurent had set up with funds from his Rolex Award and with assistance from Nomad RSI. A simple country girl back then, the daughter of nomadic goat and yak herders, Tsering has since become something of a celebrity, going global like the medicine she practises.
According to Pordié, Dolma’s success has not always been appreciated at home. “In Ladakh, as in Tibet, the rapid acquisition of status and wealth tends to be frowned upon,” he explains, noting that the status that comes with attracting the attention of international organizations can also provoke jealousy. But these days Dolma seems to be getting along better with her Ladakh peers, perhaps because they too have benefited as a result of Tibetan medicine gaining recognition. Notable is the fact that, since 2010, the Indian government has been employing Tibetan medical practitioners. “All of the students that we have trained now have government jobs,” says Pordié with some joy. Meanwhile India has set up a National Institute of Sowa Rigpa (the vernacular for this practice), and is about to establish a national pharmacopeia.
Does all this progress mean that Laurent’s work in Ladakh is done? “Not at all,” he says. “I just submitted a proposal for a research project to support the Ladakh government in its efforts to industrialize Tibetan medicinal products. The idea is not to conquer the world by selling medicine, but to do it in a sustainable way that generates income and jobs but also preserves the environment.”

– See more at: http://blog.rolexawards.com/2013/08/new-book-explores-globalization-of-amchi-medicine/#sthash.qGrBZcUg.dpuf

René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke
Poems: Buddha in Glory

Kernel of all kernels, heart of all hearts,
almond, that encloses itself and sweetens –
this universe as far as every star
is your ripening flesh: all hail.

Behold, you feel how nothing more clings to you:
your shell is in the unending,
and there the heavy juice halts and yearns.
And from beyond a brightness helps it,

for all above become your Suns,
full and glowing, turning round you.
But in you is already begun
what will outlast the Suns.

Requiem for a Friend
(Paula Modersohn-Becker 1876-1907)

I have dead ones, and I have let them go,
and was astonished to see them so peaceful,
so quickly at home in being dead, so just,
so other than their reputation. Only you, you turn
back: you brush against me, and go by, you try
to knock against something, so that it resounds
and betrays you. O don’t take from me what I
am slowly learning. I’m sure you err
when you deign to be homesick at all
for any Thing. We change them round:
they are not present, we reflect them here
out of our being, as soon as we see them.
I thought you were much further on. It disturbs me
that you especially err and return, who have
changed more than any other woman.
That we were frightened when you died, no, that
your harsh death broke in on us darkly,
tearing the until-then from the since-that:
it concerns us: that it become a unique order
is the task we must always be about.
But that even you were frightened, and now too
are in terror, where terror is no longer valid:
that you lose a little of your eternity, my friend,
and that you appear here, where nothing
yet is: that you, scattered for the first time,
scattered and split in the universe,
that you did not grasp the rise of events,
as here you grasped every Thing:
that from the cycle that has already received you
the silent gravity of some unrest
pulls you down to measured time –
this often wakes me at night like a thief breaking in.
And if only I might say that you deign to come
out of magnanimity, out of over-fullness,
because so certain, so within yourself,
that you wander about like a child, not anxious
in the face of anything one might do –
but no: you are asking. This enters so
into my bones, and cuts like a saw.
A reproach, which you might offer me, as a ghost,
impose on me, when I withdraw at night,
into my lungs, into the innards,
into the last poor chamber of my heart –
such a reproach would not be as cruel
as this asking is. What do you ask?
Say, shall I travel? Have you left some Thing
behind somewhere, that torments itself
and yearns for you? Shall I enter a land
you never saw, though it was close to you
like the other side of your senses?
I will travel its rivers: go ashore
and ask about its ancient customs:
speak to women in their doorways
and watch when they call their children.
I’ll note how they wrap the landscape
round them, going about their ancient work
in meadow and field: I’ll demand
to be led before their king, and I’ll
win their priests with bribes to place me
in front of their most powerful statues,
and leave, and close the temple gates.
Only then when I know enough, will I
simply look at creatures, so that something
of their manner will glide over my limbs:
and I will possess a limited being
in their eyes, which hold me and slowly
release me, calmly, without judgment.
I’ll let the gardeners recite many flowers
to me, so that I might bring back
in the fragments of their lovely names
a remnant of their hundred perfumes.
And I’ll buy fruits, fruits in which that land
exists once more, as far as the heavens.
That is what you understood: the ripe fruits.
You placed them in bowls there in front of you
and weighed out their heaviness with pigments.
And so you saw women as fruits too,
and saw the children likewise, driven
from inside into the forms of their being.
And you saw yourself in the end as a fruit,
removed yourself from your clothes, brought
yourself in front of the mirror, allowed yourself
within, as far as your gaze that stayed huge outside
and did not say: ‘I am that’: no, rather: ‘this is.’
So your gaze was finally free of curiosity
and so un-possessive, of such real poverty,
it no longer desired self: was sacred.
So I’ll remember you, as you placed yourself
within the mirror, deep within and far
from all. Why do you appear otherwise?
What do you countermand in yourself? Why
do you want me to believe that in the amber beads
at your throat there was still some heaviness
of that heaviness that never exists in the other-side
calm of paintings: why do you show me
an evil presentiment in your stance:
what do the contours of your body mean,
laid out like the lines on a hand,
so that I no longer see them except as fate?
Come here, to the candlelight. I’m not afraid
to look on the dead. When they come
they too have the right to hold themselves out
to our gaze, like other Things.
Come here: we’ll be still for a while.
See this rose, close by on my desk:
isn’t the light around it precisely as hesitant
as that over you: it too shouldn’t be here.
Outside in the garden, unmixed with me,
it should have remained or passed –
now it lives, so: what is my consciousness to it?
Don’t be afraid if I understand now, ah,
it climbs in me: I can do no other,
I must understand, even if I die of it.
Understand, that you are here. I understand.
Just as a blind man understands a Thing,
I feel your fate and do not know its name
Let us grieve together that someone drew you
out of your mirror. Can you still weep?
You cannot. You turned the force and pressure
of your tears into your ripe gaze,
and every juice in you besides
you added into a heavy reality,
that climbed and spun in balance blindly.
Then chance tore at you, a final chance
tore you back from your furthest advance,
back into a world where juices have will.
Not tearing you wholly: tore only a piece at first,
but when around this piece, day after day
reality grew, so that it became heavy,
you needed your whole self: you went
and broke yourself, in pieces, out of its control,
painfully, out, because you needed yourself. Then
you lifted yourself out, and dug the still green seeds
out of the night-warmed earth of your heart,
from which your death would rise: yours,
your own death for your own life.
And ate them, the kernels of your death,
like all the others, ate the kernels,
and found an aftertaste of sweetness
you did not expect, found sweetness on the lips,
you: who were already sweet within your senses.
O let us grieve. Do you know how your blood
hesitated in its unequalled gyre, and reluctantly
returned, when you called it back?
How confused it was to take up once more
the body’s narrow circulation: how full of mistrust
and amazement, entering into the placenta,
and suddenly tired by the long way back.
You drove it on: you pushed it along,
you dragged it to the fireplace, as one
drags a herd-animal to the sacrifice:
and still wished that it would be happy too.
And you finally forced it: it was happy
and ran over to you and gave itself up. You thought
because you’d grown used to other rules,
it was only for a while: but
now you were within Time, and Time is long.
And Time runs on, and Time takes away, and Time
is like a relapse in a lengthy illness.
How short your life was, if you compare it
with those hours where you sat and bent
the varied powers of your varied future
silently into the bud of the child,
that was fate once more. O painful task.
O task beyond all strength. You did it
from day to day, you dragged yourself to it,
and drew the lovely weft through the loom,
and used up all the threads in another way.
And finally you still had courage to celebrate.
When it was done, you wanted to be rewarded,
like a child when it has drunk the bittersweet
tea that might perhaps make it well.
So you rewarded yourself: you were still so far
from other people, even then: no one was able
to think through, what gift would please you.
You knew. You sat up in childbed,
and in front of you stood a mirror, that returned
the whole thing to you. This everything was you,
and wholly before, and within was only illusion,
the sweet illusion of every woman, who gladly
takes up her jewelry, and combs, and alters her hair.
So you died, as women used to die, you died,
in the old-fashioned way, in the warm house,
the death of women who have given birth, who wish
to shut themselves again and no longer can,
because that darkness, that they have borne,
returns once more, and thrusts, and enters.
Still, shouldn’t a wailing of women have been raised?
Where women would have lamented, for gold,
and one could pay for them to howl
through the night, when all becomes silent.
A custom once! We have too few customs.
They all vanish and become disowned.
So you had to come, in death, and, here with me,
retrieve the lament. Can you hear that I lament?
I wish that my voice were a cloth thrown down
over the broken fragments of your death
and pulled about until it were torn to pieces,
and all that I say would have to walk around,
ragged, in that voice, and shiver:
what remains belongs to lament. But now I lament,
not the man who pulled you back out of yourself,
(I don’t discover him: he’s like everyone)
but I lament all in him: mankind.
When, somewhere, from deep within me, a sense
of having been a child rises, which I still don’t understand,
perhaps the pure being-a-child of my childhood:
I don’t wish to understand. I wish to form
an angel from it, without addition,
and wish to hurl him into the front rank
of the screaming angels who remind God.
Because this suffering’s lasted far too long,
and no one can bear it: it’s too heavy for us,
this confused suffering of false love,
that builds on limitation, like a custom,
calls itself right and makes profit out of wrong.
Where is the man who has the right of possession?
Who can possess what cannot hold its own self,
what only from time to time catches itself happily,
and throws itself down again, as a child does a ball.
No more than the captain of the ship can grasp
the Nike jutting outwards from the prow
when the secret lightness of her divinity
lifts her suddenly into the bright ocean-wind:
no more can one of us call back the woman
who walks on, no longer seeing us,
along a small strip of her being
as if by a miracle, without disaster:
unless his desire and trade is in crime.
For this is a crime, if anything’s a crime:
not to increase the freedom of a Love
with all the freedom we can summon in ourselves.
We have, indeed, when we love, only this one thing:
to loose one another: because holding on to ourselves
comes easily to us, and does not first have to be learned.

Are you still there? Are you in some corner? –
You understood all of this so well
and used it so well, as you passed through
open to everything, like the dawn of a day.
Women do suffer: love means being alone,
and artists sometimes suspect in their work
that they must transform where they love.
You began both: both are in that
which now fame disfigures, and takes from you.
Oh you were far beyond any fame. You were
barely apparent: you’d withdrawn your beauty
as a man takes down a flag
on the grey morning of a working day,
and wished for nothing, except the long work –
which is unfinished: and yet is not finished.
If you are still here, if in this darkness
there is still a place where your sensitive spirit
resonates on the shallow waves
of a voice, isolated in the night,
vibrating in the high room’s current:
then hear me: help me. See, we can slip back so
unknowingly, out of our forward stride,
into something we didn’t intend: find
that we’re trapped there as if in dream
and we die there, without waking.
No one is far from it. Anyone who has fired
their blood through work that endures,
may find that they can no longer sustain it
and that it falls according to its weight, worthless.
For somewhere there is an ancient enmity
between life and the great work.
Help me, so that I might see it and know it.
Come no more. If you can bear it so, be
dead among the dead. The dead are occupied.
But help me like this, so you are not scattered,
as the furthest things sometimes help me: within.

Terrorism and muslim riots :

Bush’s Amazing AchievementJonathan Freedland
Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic
by Chalmers Johnson Metropolitan, 354 pp., $26.00
Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower by Zbigniew Brzezinski
Statecraft and How to Restore America’s Standing in the World
by Dennis Ross, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

1.
One of the few foreign policy achievements of the Bush administration has been the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker. This new consensus holds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a calamity, that the presidency of George W. Bush has reduced America’s standing in the world and made the United States less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated. Paid-up members of the nation’s foreign policy establishment, those who have held some of the most senior offices in the land, speak in a language once confined to the T-shirts of placard-wielding demonstrators. They rail against deception and dishonesty, imperialism and corruption. The only dispute between them is over the size and depth of the hole into which Bush has led the country he pledged to serve.

Last December’s Baker-Hamilton report, drawn up by a bipartisan panel of ten Washington eminences with perhaps a couple of centuries of national security experience between them and not a radical bone in their collective body, described the mess the Bush team had left in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating.” The seventy-nine recommendations they made amounted to a demand that the administration repudiate its entire policy and start again. In the words of former congressman Lee Hamilton, James Baker’s co-chair and a rock-solid establishment figure, “Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward.”1

So it comes as less of a surprise than once it might have to see Dennis Ross and Zbigniew Brzezinski—two further fixtures of the national security elite—step forward to slam the administration in terms that would, in an earlier era, have seemed uncouth for men of their rank. Neither Ross, who served as Middle East envoy for both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, nor Brzezinski, a conservative Democrat and cold war hawk, could be dismissed as Nation-reading, Howard Dean types. Yet in withering new books they both eviscerate the Bush record, writing in the tone of exasperated elders who handed over the family business to a new generation, only to see their successors drive the firm into bankruptcy. Both books offer rescue plans for a US foreign policy they consider to be in tatters.

Accordingly, their arguments are less striking than the fact that it is Ross and Brzezinski who are making them. Those who have been listening to the antiwar movement since 2002 will nod along at this assessment of the Iraq adventure:

It is hard to exaggerate the Bush administration’s fundamental miscalculations on Iraq, including but not limited to unrealistic policy objectives; fundamental intelligence failures; catastrophically poor understanding of what would characterize the post-Saddam period, and completely unrealistic planning as a result; denial of the existence of an insurgency for several months; and the absence of a consistent explanation to the American people or the international community about the reasons for the war.

Small wonder that after nearly four years of warfare, Iraq has been a disaster, costing thousands of lives, requiring the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, stretching our forces and reserve system to the breaking point, and becoming a magnet for terrorists and hostility toward the United States throughout the Muslim world.

But they should marvel that it comes from Dennis Ross, a loyal former lieutenant of Baker’s who writes glowingly of Bush père and who was as comfortable in a Republican administration as a Democratic one. If they do not, then it is only because Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith, Scowcroft, and even the late Gerald Ford have made Republican attacks on the Bush record since 2001 seem normal.

Similarly, a sentence like this has been uttered in European chancelleries every week for five years:

The Iraq War in all its aspects has turned into a calamity—in the way it was internally decided, externally promoted, and has been conducted—and it has already stamped the Bush presidency as a historical failure.

Yet that verdict comes not from some Venusian in Paris or Berlin but from Brzezinksi, that hardheaded Martian creature of Washington. Lest there be any doubt, the former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter issues a report card on the three presidencies since the end of the cold war. George H.W. Bush gets a B, praised for his calm management of the expiration of the Soviet Union and the united international front he constructed for his own desert confrontation with Saddam. Clinton manages a C, credited for effective championing of globalization and oversight of NATO enlargement, but debited for allowing too many important matters, especially nuclear proliferation, to drift. Bush’s son is slapped with an unambiguous F.

That verdict is rooted in the administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, which can’t help but form the heart of both books. Judged even by the lights of Bush’s own “war on terror” it has been a spectacular failure. It took a country that had been free of jihadist militants and turned it into their most fecund breeding ground; it took a country that posed no threat to the United States and made it into a place where thousands of Americans, not to mention many tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis, have been killed. And it diverted resources from the task that should have been uppermost after September 11, namely the hunting down of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, allowing them to slip out of reach.

What’s more, Bush’s “war on terror” did bin Laden’s work for him. Brzezinksi is not alone in suggesting that it was a mistake to treat September 11 as an act of war, rather than as an outrageous crime; in so doing, the administration endowed al-Qaeda with the status it craved. What followed was a series of missteps that seemed bent on vindicating the jihadists’ claim of a war of the West against Islam. Whether it was the invasion of Iraq or the early talk of a “crusade” or the abuses at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration fed violent Islamism all it needed to recruit young men the world over. What began as a fringe sect has become, thanks in no small measure to the Bush administration, a global movement able to draw on deep wells of support.

There were ancillary effects. North Korea and Iran, in addition to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq the other two charter members of the axis of evil, became more dangerous in the Bush years, advancing further down the nuclear road. That was partly because, with the US tied down in Iraq, they were given a free hand; and partly because the thumping of Saddam had taught would-be nuclear powers a crucial lesson. As Ross puts it, “We attacked Iraq, which did not have nuclear weapons, but have avoided doing the same with the North Koreans, who may have as many as twelve.” The 2003 invasion served as a glossy advertisement for the protective power of nuclear arms.

Both Ross and Brzezinski reserve special contempt for Bush’s handling of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, shifting the US position from that of an honest broker, albeit one sympathetic to one side, to a partisan ready to indulge whatever course Israel chose to adopt. Here Ross draws on his experience as Middle East envoy during the years of the Oslo peace process, explaining how disengagement by the Bush administration has not only prevented progress but also actively aggravated the conflict. Both authors lay out how the administration’s refusal to undertake the hard work of peacemaking has deprived the Palestinians of the state they have craved so long, denied Israel the long-term security it needs, and allowed the sore that most poisons Muslim attitudes toward the West to fester.

For those with the stamina to face it, there are further indictments in both books of every aspect of US foreign policy, from the failure to take a lead on dealing with climate change to the distracted inattention to the rise of China. Some of these strategic blunders relate once again to the invasion of Iraq, whether it be the needless estrangement of European allies or the avoidable driving into a corner of Iran, whose influence from Baghdad to Beirut has self-evidently increased.

The accumulated result has been a plunge in global esteem for the United States. A survey in January 2007 for the BBC World Service found that only 29 percent of those polled in eighteen countries believed the US was playing a “mainly positive role in the world,” a fall of eleven points in two years.2 As Brzezinski writes,

Because of Bush’s self-righteously unilateral conduct of US foreign policy after 9/11, the evocative symbol of America in the eyes of much of the world ceased to be the Statue of Liberty and instead became the Guantánamo prison camp.

It’s hard to read Ross and Brzezinksi without coming to share their nostalgia for the steady, realistic, and grounded statecraft of George H.W. Bush in contrast with the faith-based pursuit of neoconservative fantasy that has passed for international affairs under his son.

2.

Scathing as they are, these books are mere slaps on the wrist compared to Nemesis, the third volume in Chalmers Johnson’s blistering trilogy, which stands as the centerpiece of the American Empire Project, a series of works published by Metropolitan Books examining recent changes in America’s strategic thinking, particularly under the Bush administration, and the consequences of those changes at home and abroad. The first in Johnson’s series, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, argued that the United States had, particularly through the covert activities of the Central Intelligence Agency, spilled so much blood and caused so much damage in other people’s countries that it was only a matter of time before it felt the wrath of those nations’ vengeance. (The term “blowback,” Johnson concedes, was not his own coinage: the CIA used it following its involvement in the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, an event that, according to Johnson, led to the blowback of the 1979 revolution and the installation by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of the anti-American theocracy which has ruled ever since.) Blowback was published in March 2000, making little impact. It took only eighteen months, however, for Blowback suddenly to look chillingly prescient, winning an audience for Johnson he might otherwise have lacked.

For while Brzezinski in particular edges up to the outer limits of the Washington foreign policy consensus, Johnson unabashedly stands far outside it. Ross and Brzezinski, as former security officials, take as their premise the belief that the United States should be the dominant force in international relations; Brzezinski goes so far as to dub Bush, Clinton, and Bush as “Global Leader” I, II, and III. The chief complaint of both Brzezinski and Ross is that the current president has fumbled this designated role. Johnson’s starting point is quite different: he brands as imperial arrogance the very assumption that America should extend its reach across the planet (and beyond, into the heavens).

The clue is in the subtitle: “The Last Days of the American Republic.” Johnson joins those who urge Americans, despite their anti-imperial origins in ejecting King George, to see that they have succeeded both ancient Rome and nineteenth-century Britain in becoming the empire of their age. This impulse became fashionable in the post–September 11 period, including among those who saw the imperial mission in a benign light.3 Johnson’s perspective is very different. He wants the scales to fall from American eyes so that the nation can see the truth about its role in the world, a truth he finds ugly.

Scholars can make a parlor game of compare and contrast between Washington and Rome, and the parallels are indeed striking.4 Both rank as the predominant military powers of their time, Rome brooking no competition, while, by Johnson’s reckoning, US military spending exceeds that of all the other defense budgets on earth combined. In each case, military strength both fosters and is fostered by technological prowess: while Roman armies built the straight roads that served as the arteries of their conquered lands, so the US Department of Defense incubated the information superhighway, the Internet that now girdles the globe.

The Romans often preferred to exercise power through friendly client regimes, rather than direct rule: until Jay Garner and L. Paul Bremer became US proconsuls in Baghdad, that was the American method too. Rome even took in the scions of their defeated peoples’ leading families, the better to prepare them for their future as Rome’s puppets; perhaps comparable are Washington’s elite private schools, full of the “pro-Western” Arab kings, South American presidents, and African leaders of the future. Sometimes the approach backfired, then and now. Several of those who rebelled against Rome had earlier been sponsored as pliant allies; their contemporary counterparts would surely be Saddam Hussein, a former US ally against Iran, and the one-time CIA-funded “freedom fighter,” Osama bin Laden.

Still, Johnson is in deadly earnest when he draws a parallel with Rome. He swats aside the conventional objection that, in contrast with both Romans and Britons, Americans have never constructed colonies abroad. Oh, but they have, he says; it’s just that Americans are blind to them. America is an “empire of bases,” he writes, with a network of vast, hardened military encampments across the earth, each one a match for any Roman or Raj outpost. Official figures speak of 737 US military bases in foreign countries, adding up to an armed American presence, whether large or small, in 132 of the 190 member states of the United Nations.

Johnson reckons the number is actually higher, if one includes those bases about which the Pentagon is coy. The 2005 Base Structure Report omits to mention, for example, garrisons in Kosovo, as well as bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, even though it is well known that the US established a vast presence in both the Persian Gulf and Central Asia after September 11. (Admittedly, the US was evicted from its base in Uzbekistan in 2005.) Nor does the Pentagon ledger include the extensive military and espionage installations it maintains in Britain, estimated to be worth some $5 billion, since these are nominally facilities of the Royal Air Force. “If there were an honest account, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas, but no-one—possibly not even the Pentagon—knows the exact number for sure,” writes Johnson. Intriguingly, he notes that the thirty-eight large and medium-sized US facilities around the world, mostly air and naval bases, match almost exactly both the thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons Britain maintained at its imperial peak in 1898 and the thirty-seven major sites used by the Romans to police the empire from Britannia to Egypt, Hispania to Armenia in 117 AD. “Perhaps,” muses Johnson, “the optimum number of major citadels and fortresses for an imperialist aspiring to dominate the world is somewhere between thirty-five and forty.”

Precise figures are hard to come by, but there are an estimated 325,000 US military personnel deployed abroad, often alongside dependents and large numbers of civilians, most of them living in sealed compounds, each one a little island of America. As Johnson showed in his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire, this is a parallel world that has its own airline, the Air Mobility Command, connecting one base to another, and an elaborate system, known as Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR), dedicated to ensuring that America’s imperial servants feel they have never left home. They can be entertained in their own multiplexes playing the latest blockbusters, amused by satellite television airing American shows, and fed by fully stocked branches of Burger King. Johnson spares no detail:

Some of the “rest-and-recreation” facilities include the armed forces ski center at Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps, over two hundred military golf courses around the world, some seventy-one Learjets and other luxury aircraft to fly admirals and generals to such watering holes, and luxury hotels for our troops and their families in Tokyo, Seoul, on the Italian Riviera, at Florida’s Disney World, and many other places.

The most recent addition to the empire is perhaps the most arresting. The new US embassy in Baghdad is, despite its name, a base. It is set inside a 104-acre compound, making it “six times larger than the UN, as big as Vatican City, and costing $592 million to build.” It will be defended by blast walls and ground-to-air missiles, and have its own apartment buildings, along with its own electricity, water supply, and sewage system. (In a dry aside, Johnson notes that “like the former American embassy in Saigon, the Baghdad embassy will have one or more helipads on the roofs.”) Life will continue here as it already goes on in the US-enforced Green Zone, complete with its swimming pools, dry-cleaning outlets, and around-the-clock availability of pork in the mess canteen, as cosseted and disconnected from the surrounding reality as Happy Valley was from the rest of Kenya.5

Johnson argues this point in the same way he presents his entire case, through the accumulation of cold numbers and hard facts. Little of his material is drawn from primary research; rather Johnson scours published sources and draws facts together to form a picture few others are willing to see. He doesn’t labor the imperial analogies, but the similarities are clear. While Rome used to tax its colonies, the US expects those who host American bases to do their bit for “burden sharing,” paying for their own protection, as it were. Japan pays up most: $4.4 billion in 2002. These arrangements are presented as voluntary, but Johnson is skillful at showing how, stage by stage, the host countries have little hope of showing their American guests the door.

In some respects, the parallel with the British Empire is the more striking, with the defeated and therefore reliable nations of Japan and Germany playing the role Britain once assigned to its dominions in South Africa or New Zealand. More importantly, the British told themselves to the very end that they were only ruling other parts of the world, painting the map pink, from the noblest of intentions. Their goal was to bring civilization to the dark continents, their rhetorical fervor no less than the Americans of today who swear their sole purpose is the export of democracy.

Some, even among American foreign policy’s sternest critics, accept that self-description. William Pfaff has recently written that today’s Americans, like the British before them, are engaged in something other than crude, acquisitive imperialism. If that was their goal, if Iraq really was all about oil, as many in the antiwar movement have long insisted, then the US could simply have annexed the relevant areas and installed a dictator. But Pfaff argues that the American purpose is of a different order. While “empires usually leave their subjects as they find them,” he wrote, “colonizers want to teach new values, convert the hearts and—so to speak—save the souls of the colonized.” Iraq has been, wrote Pfaff, an exercise in “value conversion,” seeking to win the country for Western-style government and market capitalism.6

I suspect that Chalmers Johnson would snort at the notion that Americans are well-meaning colonizers, set only on saving the souls of their subject peoples. For Johnson, the talk of value conversion is only so much fluff, designed to win the public support that would be absent for a naked smash-and-grab raid on a sovereign state. All imperial adventures have disguised themselves as civilizing missions; even the Spanish conquistadors of the sixteenth century claimed to be freeing from superstition and backwardness the Aztec, Mayan, and Inca peoples they crushed. In this reading, the rhetoric is only rhetoric. America’s purpose is the same as imperialism’s ever was, to allow the foreign power safe and unimpeded access to whatever pickings the plundered nation has to offer.

What complicates the picture is the sincerity, naive as it may be, of so many of those neoconservative dreamers, perhaps extending to the President himself. Clearly they, no less than their British predecessors, believe, or believed, that they are engaged in the work of liberation rather than conquest. Are they themselves deceived by shadowy forces who use the veneer of spreading democracy to conceal a more base purpose? Or is it instead that imperialism, once in motion, exerts a momentum of its own?

3.

While they often converge on the same point, Johnson enters this discussion from an angle different from that of Noam Chomsky and the traditional anti-imperialist left. He certainly has sympathy for those who have found themselves on the receiving end of America’s sense of manifest destiny, including the luckless Japanese who have had to endure the boorishness and sometimes outright brutality of the 50,000 US troops, military-related civilians, and their dependents stationed in Okinawa. But his is a patriot’s passion: his motive is to save the American republic he loves. While Chomsky argues that American guilt can be traced back to the Constitution—he disapprovingly quotes James Madison’s insistence that the new Republic should “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority”7—Johnson reveres that document and the careful balance of powers it constructed. His fear is that America’s steady descent into imperialism renders those arrangements unsustainable, just as the rise of the Roman Empire ensured the slow death of the Roman Republic.

This is the core of his argument, that by extending its reach in the world America is not only endangering itself physically, by increasing the risk of blowback, but bankrupting itself, financially, constitutionally, and morally. The economic evidence is devastating, a succession of numbers each more stark than the last. The annual Pentagon budget, which falls short of $500 billion, is far from the whole story. There are also the separately accounted costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which stood in 2006 at approximately $450 billion since their inception. When those sums are combined with military spending by agencies other than the Pentagon, the national defense outlay for 2007 reaches $622 billion. Johnson would have us add to that figure the ongoing costs of wars past, including the lifetime care of the seriously wounded ($68 billion) and widows’ pensions, as well as State Department subsidies paid to foreign countries to encourage their purchase of US-made weapons ($23 billion). That would still exclude the interest paid on the share of the national debt incurred by military spending, for which Johnson cites one estimate of $138.7 billion. Even on the most conservative reckoning, the US is spending more in real terms on defense now than at any time since the Second World War. If it accounts for a relatively modest share of GDP, perhaps less than 5 percent, that is only because the US economy is now so much bigger than it was.8

What’s driving this is a nexus of military, political, and financial interests, all of whom benefit from ever-increasing military spending. Johnson provides an anatomy of one particularly egregious example, the expansion into space weaponry represented by the so-called National Missile Defense program (NMD). Patiently he demonstrates why a system aimed at intercepting nuclear bombs before they can land on America does not and could not work. For one thing, no one has yet worked out how to identify a hostile launch and no interceptor has yet been designed that can tell the difference between an incoming warhead and a decoy. The result is that NMD is nothing more than a boondoggle in the sky, at last count pulling in $130 billion of American taxpayers’ money, a figure which on current plans would reach $1.2 trillion by 2015.

But the NMD pork-in-space project is far from exceptional. Seeking fat contracts, the big defense companies give donations to those politicians who will pay them back by commissioning expensive defense projects; the contractors then reward the politicians by locating their firms in their districts; finally the voters, glad of the jobs, reward the politicians by reelecting them. Johnson offers dozens of examples, including Florida’s Democratic senator Bill Nelson, a member of the Armed Services Committee, who in the 2006 federal budget “obtained $916 million for defense projects, about two-thirds of which went to the Florida-based plants of Boeing, Honeywell, General Dynamics, Armor Holdings, and other munitions makers.” Since 2003, Nelson has received $108,750 in campaign contributions from thirteen companies for which he arranged contracts. It’s a cycle perpetuated by everyone involved: contractors, politicians, voters. Everyone benefits from this untamed form of military Keynesianism—except the next generations of Americans who can be expected to drown in a debt that now measures $9 trillion and grows daily.

Yet even this does not pose the greatest danger to the republic. Johnson looks to Rome and to Caesar to demonstrate how the powers required to maintain an empire are incompatible with the checks and balances of a republic. His attempts to argue this theoretically are weaker than his practical case studies. He describes in detail the CIA’s transformation from Harry Truman’s provider of reliable intelligence into an outfit that performs covert military operations—such as the toppling of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende in the 1973 coup which installed the murderous regime of Augusto Pinochet. The CIA, writes Johnson, has long been beyond the reach of meaningful democratic oversight; it has become a presidential private army, an American counterpart to Rome’s praetorian guard.

Tellingly, however, his most powerful evidence is drawn from the Bush years since 2001. Johnson may argue that these are trends that have been in evidence for decades, but it is the current administration which has illuminated them. By declaring the nation at war and himself a wartime president, Bush has grabbed powers to himself that America’s founders never intended him to have. As the infamous “torture memo” made clear, Bush’s legal team has constructed something it calls the “unitary executive theory of the presidency” to place the Oval Office outside the law, arguing that there can be no infringement on his “ultimate authority” as commander in chief in the conduct of war. Because practically any measures taken, at home or abroad, since September 11, 2001, can be construed as the conduct of war, this doctrine is nothing less than a claim of absolute power. Whether it be treaties signed and ratified by the US, like the Geneva Conventions, or the laws of the land passed in Congress, nothing can touch him. He is Caesar.

There was a time when such claims would have sounded overheated (and some, like Johnson’s comparison of Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld to Adolf Eichmann, still do). Yet now Johnson finds mainstream allies for at least part of his case, Brzezinski among them. Not only is Brzezinski unafraid to describe US activities as imperial, he has joined those who believe the current administration is “propagating fear and paranoia” and is engaged in “the deliberate manipulation of public anxiety.” Once again, this was the sort of argument previously marshaled chiefly by those outside the United States and a world away from its governing circles.9 It testifies to Bush’s recklessness that he has now placed a man of Brzezinski’s stature alongside them.

With the license granted by the “war on terror,” and the acquiescence of both Congress (until January 2007) and much of the US press and television, as well as several federal judges, the administration has been able to trample on the Constitution and the once-cherished liberties it contains. The pattern is clear, whether it involves eavesdropping without a warrant by the National Security Agency; the denial of habeas corpus to inmates of Guantánamo Bay; the deliberate obstruction of the Freedom of Information Act; the constant use of presidential “signing statements” usually to nullify legislation passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President himself; or the torture at Abu Ghraib and Camp X-Ray. As Johnson writes:

Over any fairly lengthy period of time, successful imperialism requires that a domestic republic or a domestic democracy change into a domestic tyranny…. The United States today, like the Roman Republic in the first century BC, is threatened by an out-of-control military-industrial complex and a huge secret government controlled exclusively by the president. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, cynical and short-sighted political leaders of the United States began to enlarge the powers of the president at the expense of the elected representatives of the people and the courts.

The public went along, accepting the excuse that a little tyranny was necessary to protect the population. But, as Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1759, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

4.

What can be done? For Ross and Brzezinski, the solutions are arduous, but at least imaginable. Ross urges a return to statecraft, to the painstaking work of diplomacy and alliance building. Indeed, of the three books, his is the one that would be of most direct use to the next administration taking office in 2009. Condoleezza Rice’s successor could do worse than sit down with Ross’s “Negotiation: Twelve Rules to Follow,” followed by his “Eleven Rules for Mediation.” (A canny publisher might try to publish those sections on their own, aiming them at the CEO market; inside Ross’s foreign policy monograph there may be a business best-seller crying to get out.)

Among his concrete tips is the suggestion that the US back a new nongovernmental body to perform, under international direction and in secular fashion, the popular tasks now undertaken by the Islamists of Hamas or Hezbollah, namely providing social services and building civic institutions like hospitals and schools. Ross surely sees the danger of such an approach: that any agency known to be US-backed would instantly be deemed suspect by much of the Palestinian street. His answer might be to seek Saudi, rather than American, patronage, exploiting Riyadh’s palpable anxiety over the rise of Iran and its Islamist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon. The Saudis, Ross argues, could be persuaded to bankroll anti-Islamist forces, including the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, if that would weaken Hamas.

Ross is right to see the opportunity presented by Sunni concern over the rise of Iran, an opportunity to form an alliance against aggressive Islamism that the Bush administration has squandered. Still, one cannot help but detect a bad, even imperialist habit here: the desire to pick other nations’ representatives for them. Rather than devising clever ruses to marginalize Hamas, would not US energies be better spent encouraging Hamas toward a political, rather than armed, pursuit of its goals, dangling before the organization the rewards that would come if it changed course?

Ross has some imaginative ideas for Iran, too, including an alternative to full-scale military action. He floats the notion of a covert operation to sabotage Iran’s delicate nuclear machinery. Such a step, he writes cheerfully, would “prove very costly for the Iranians to overcome, and yet would be completely deniable.” Unlike Bush’s former UN ambassador John Bolton, who said, “I don’t do carrots,” Ross is keen to show he would use both the carrots of “soft power” and the sticks of physical force as well. One wonders, though, how “deniable” such force could be in today’s world and if such a covert plan could be efficiently executed in the first place.

Brzezinski is equally brimming with advice, calling, like Ross, for a Washington that shows more respect to the world and one that would shore up the Euro-Atlantic area of nations, lest it lose its influence to East Asia. Most radically, he advocates for a shift in the American social model, away from excess consumption and income inequality toward a more ecologically sustainable pattern that would appeal internationally. One of Brzezinski’s most striking observations is that an “awakening” is underway around the world, a stirring, if vague, sense of injustice—and that the United States can only succeed if it is held to be on the right side of the divide. “In today’s restless world, America needs to identify itself with the quest for universal human dignity,” he writes. What that will take, he adds provocatively, is both “a cultural revolution and regime change.”

Necessarily, it is Johnson, who has diagnosed a more radical problem, who has to come up with a more radical solution. He cannot merely call for greater powers for Congress, because by his own lights, “the legislative branch of our government is broken,” reduced to the supine creature of large corporations, the defense contractors first among them. Instead, he urges a surge in direct democracy, “a grassroots movement to abolish the CIA, break the hold of the military-industrial complex, and establish public financing of elections”—but he has the grace to recognize how unlikely such a development is.

So he is left offering not an eleven- or twelve-step program, but rather a historical choice. Either the United States can follow the lead of the Romans, who chose to keep their empire and so lost their republic. Or “we could, like the British Empire after World War II, keep our democracy by giving up our empire.” That choice was neither smooth nor executed heroically, but it was the right one. Now much of the world watches the offspring of that empire, nearly two and a half centuries later—hoping it makes the same choice, and trembling at the prospect that it might not.

Letters

Bin Laden and the CIA August 16, 2007; NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, USA.

*While being a peaceful Thereveda Buddhist country, Myanmar must protect and conserve Buddhism against violent terrorism, attacks, economic colonialism of wealthy Muslims who invade the local Buddhist communities and towns.

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