Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Can India rival China?

In the midst of a global recession that many Asian countries were able to avoid, India has consistently proven itself to be an extremely dynamic economy. This year the growth rate is expected to fall short of 7%; only two percentage points under the record achieved in the years preceding the current financial crisis, and double the highest rate experienced in the 1980s.

The country is at the forefront of innovation in ICT, pharmaceuticals and in other sectors involving high technological components. It also has an excellent university system, with several schools capable of rivalling their more prestigious counterparts in America and Europe. In demographic terms, the current population of 1.2 billion is expected to overtake that of China in forthcoming years and will continue to provide the economy with a limitless supply of young people. The economy can also depend on the input of India's vast overseas diaspora, especially in the US, where 64% of the three million Indian-Americans hold degrees, some of which enjoy positions of considerable influence in that country's political and economic establishment. The most reliable sources estimate that India's diaspora consists of 20-30 million people, of which roughly a third is in possession of Indian passports. In recent years Delhi has learnt to consider these Indians as an essential resource, partly in recognition of the high value of remittances, which in 2009 were estimated at $40 billion, the majority of which came from the Persian Gulf.

India however finds itself in 134th place in the UN's Human Development Index. Illiterates constitute over one third of the population and 95% of the work force is employed in the underground economy. According to the World Bank 42% of Indians were surviving on less than $1 a day in 2004. Today, more than 80% of the country lives in extreme poverty and earns less than $2 a day.

Another considerable limitation to India's development is its infrastructure. Even though the government is investing heavily in the modernisation of its roads, ports, railways and airports in order to close the developmental gap with China, Indian infrastructure nevertheless remains far from reaching the standards seen in the West or the Far East. The shortage of electrical supplies to people's homes presents a serious limitation on the spread and use of mobile telephones and electrical goods, including the technologies that Indian industries currently excel at producing. Furthermore, hundreds of millions of Indians lack private toilets; a problem which itself accentuates other sanitary, environmental, social and economic issues caused by the scarcity of water.

Such social and economic hardships reflect the poor distribution of wealth and the even clearer ethno linguistic and cultural complexities throughout the country. Even so, the intensity of hostilities between Hindu nationalists and the Muslim minorities seem to have subsided contemporaneously to the decline of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the strongest proponent of the Hindutva ideology that defines India as a Hindu state.

Despite these difficulties, this heterogeneous state has not only avoided implosion, unlike Pakistan in 1971, but has also preserved its sui generis democracy. Whilst living standards are far from western, they are noticeably more evolved than at the country's inception in 1947. However, rampant corruption in public administration and the country's family-dominated political class, currently led by the Gandhi family, whose head, Sonia, enjoys greater authority as leader of the Congress Party than the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, prevents the Indian state from reaching its full potential.

India's relationship with America has also dramatically changed since the beginning of Obama's presidency. Previously the Bush government had identified India as a privileged strategic ally, who, along with Japan and Australia, would form a belt to contain the growing Chinese power. Such a stance culminated in the signing of nuclear agreements in 2008, thereby constituting an outward signal of mutual trust between the two powers. These events however are in marked contrast to the current situation, where the Indian elites have many reasons to distrust Obama. The United States' alliance with Pakistan in the war against Islamic terrorism appears to Indians as a contradiction in terms. Further discontent is caused by Obama's seeming fascination for China, the country regarded by Indians as the historic sponsor of Pakistan. Moreover, a perceived downgrade of the bilateral relationship by the US, whereby India is no longer regarded a strategic partner but one of several strategic regional actors capable of advancing American interests.

As such, is it feasible to assume that the G2 paradigm, composed solely of China and America, will need re-evaluating to take India's presence on the international scene into consideration? The Indian-American political analyst, Parag Khanna, suggests that India is a regional rather than a great, world power, as the country "is still not greater than the sum of its parts;" and neither will it be for the foreseeable future.

Friday, 30 October 2009

The BNP is a Far Left Wing Party

No other party is as heavily defined by its immigration policy as the British National Party. Its sensationally populist and xenophobic beliefs in this area should not distract from the rest of its policies, which are most certainly left wing. According to its manifesto the party is committed to establishing external trade tariffs, raising taxes, creating nationalised manufacturing industries and workers' councils to run them, increasing funding for the NHS, increasing state pensions, improving worker protection and placing key industries under the ownership of the state. Furthermore, it calls for “the selective exclusion of foreign-made goods from British markets and the reduction of foreign imports,” and promises to “restore our economy and land to British ownership” and “to give workers a stake in the success and prosperity of the enterprises whose profits their labour creates by encouraging worker shareholder and co-operative schemes”.

Branding the BNP as a right wing party is undoubtedly an attempt by the Left to exploit the confusion between libertarian, right wing ideologies and fascism, a national socialist movement. Such a tactic is typical of the Left, which uses its perceived moral superiority to vilify the Right and guilt their own voters into remaining loyal.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

A Lesson In Free Universal Healthcare

This was posted a few months ago but news of recent times has made it more pertinent.

America beware. Under the stewardship of President Obama, it has been suggested that this may be a route that needs pursuing - free universal healthcare. In Britain, we have the National Health Service (NHS), which was established over 60 years ago in 1948. Before this people were generally forced to pay for their healthcare, although free treatment was available from some teaching and charity hospitals. It was common to pay money into friendly societies that operated insurance schemes and from 1911 onwards, National Insurance contributions paid by employees and employers led covered treatment but not medications, in some ways this is comparable to the NHS now refusing to pay for the most expensive of drugs purely on a cost basis. Furthermore, prescription charges must be paid even if the medicine costs less without a prescription.

Time to crunch some numbers. The NHS employs 1.3 million staff. You probably now have the image of doctors and nurses running around in white coats, but you are sadly mistaken. These are mostly middle managers and administrators. The NHS is the 3rd biggest employer in the entire world. Shockingly, Britain is ranked 55th in the world when it comes to number of people per doctor, with 2.2 per 1000 - even Mongolia has more! It costs the tax payer on average £2000 per year to run the NHS. This is a staggering sum of money. Great, you say, this should comprehensively take care of me. Try getting an NHS dentist; due to the lack of willingness to upgrade equipment and improve working conditions, you have got more chance of witnessing an apology from Gordon Brown for his economic mismanagement than you do of finding an NHS dentist. Since 1997 the current regime has increased NHS spending by 80%. This is massive injection of cash, yet has it honestly gone to the right places? There are now less General Practitioner working hours than before this regime, largely due to the fact they were given a major pay rise (this is not a criticism in any way of GP's, I feel they are underpaid for performing a difficult job) however, due to the large hours they were forced to work they naturally can keep the same money and go part time and have a better lifestyle. This is an inherent problem with socialist principles; simply throwing money at a problem in an uncontrolled manner does not make it go away. If you visit an NHS hospital and compare it to a private hospital the differences are staggering. The private hospital will have private en-suite rooms with three decent (well, maybe not Gordon Ramsay-esque) meals a day. The main difference is the cleanliness. By going into an NHS hospital for a minor procedure you run the risk of catching a super bug, such as MRSA. Even then you have been lucky to have made it that far. The waiting lists for minor procedures are massive. Only if you are seriously ill will NHS treat you quickly. A recent visit to an accident and emergency room showed firsthand how the service is clogged up by dealing with drunkards who are on first name terms with staff that treat everybody with contempt as they are solely concerned with shifting numbers, leading to poor, impersonal service. It was obvious that there was a lack of hygiene at the hospital, and it was surprising to see so many uniformed staff just stood around doing nothing. Strangely the staff was keen for you to choose your ethnicity from a list. Does this really have any bearing on your treatment?

You may think, “Private medical insurance must cost the earth if the service is infinitely better.” You will be pleased and surprised to know that is not the case. For an average person, £1000 a year will get you the top level of cover. This is arguably essential as your health is your most important asset. It is fair to categorise the NHS not as a healthcare system, it never has cared for you when you are in good health, but rather a fairer term would be 'illness care', as that is the time it actually kicks into effect. Even then you may not have access to the latest cutting edge drugs that private cover could get you as they are regarded as too expensive. With the increased funding provided by the Labour regime it is interesting to note that according to a BBC report in March 2008, the average waiting time for treatment on the NHS had risen from 41 days in 1997-1998 to 49 days in 2007, once again proof that a huge injection of cash in the system has not improved matters.

The problems seem to be more deep rooted than simply a lack of funds; it seems there is a complete lack of structure. I believe that the true purpose of the NHS at government level may now be simply to provide even more public sector jobs, which have now swollen to such an incomprehensible size that it would be nearly impossible to streamline in one swoop due to the large increase in unemployment. But is this seriously a good reason to stick with a second rate health system? A better alternative would be to take the control completely out of the incompetent hands of the government and to have compulsory medical insurance either provided by the employer, with a tax break as an incentive, or paid for by the employee, tax free, unlike the present system, whereby you have to pay tax on this cover because you are helping the government by removing a burden – how generous of them! The Institute of Employment Studies in 2001 stated, “The majority of companies are spending between 2% and 16% of their annual budget on sickness absence alone. Private Medical Insurance will probably only cost around 1% of payroll and could save the employer thousands of pounds of down time.” Robertson Cooper Ltd, in conjunction with 87 major companies, in 2001 found, “The full impact of absence costs UK private sector employers about £1,550 per employee per year - or around 9% of their annual payroll.” For those genuinely unable to work as well as the retired the government should pay the cost of the private cover as this would work out more cost effective, while providing much better facilities, equipment and services than are on offer at present. The more people who have the private cover, the cheaper it will become (think of it as bulk buying). It would be necessary to regulate the profit margins allowed by the provider, or maybe better still, to make sure there is genuine competition in order to keep prices low and quality high, which is the inverse of the current system. Who knows, with these savings, maybe the spare money could be used to shorten the 23 years predicted to dig Britain out of its masses of debt or even to provide the workforce with a tax reduction?

America, if you need a lesson in how not to provide universal healthcare, then the NHS is your role model. President Obama is probably aware that free, universal healthcare in America is unlikely to ever be introduced. America is a country where the government is small and thankfully trusts the individual; it is unlikely that the people would trust government to run such an organisation.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Conversations between Berlusconi and his Prostitute

What follows are short extracts from recordings taken by Berlusconi's prostitute, Patrizia D'Addario and published by L'espresso.

PDA: A young man would have come in a second. You know, I mean, he would have come... Young men are under a lot of pressure...
SB: But, if you will allow me... I believe the trouble lies with the family
PDA: What trouble?
SB: Having an orgasm
PDA: Do you know how long it's been since I last had sex like I had with you tonight? Many months, not since I left my man... Is that normal?
SB: Can I say something? You should have sex with yourself... You should touch yourself often

The following conversation between Patrizia D'Addario and Gianpaolo Tarantini discusses a forthcoming evening at Berlusconi's Roman residence, Palazzo Grazioli in October 2008.

GT: So...
PDA: Did you want to talk to me?
GT: I didn't want to talk, I wanted to tell you... that at 21:15 I'll send you the driver and we'll go there...
Girl: We'll go there... then if he decides to stay there...
PDA: ...a thousand for the night.
GT: I've already given you a thousand... then if you stay with him... he'll give you a present... ah... so you know, he doesn't use condoms... eh
PDA: But it's not possible that he doesn't use condoms... how can I trust him?
GT: Well... it's Berlusconi...
PDA: And who are you? Look... You know how many people are left...
GT: Do you know how many tests he has done?
PDA: I know, but... you know... for us women it's also nicer... I mean... hearing something like this...
GT: You can decide, but he won't take you as an escort, understand? He'll take you as a friend of mine that I've brought along...

The following took place between Berlusconi and Patrizia on the morning of 5th November 2008 over breakfast in Palazzo Grazioli.

PDA: What pain, at the start you gave me such terrible pain
SB: Oh come on! That's not true!
PDA: I swear, a terrible pain at the start
SB: Will you tell me your surname?
PDA: Yes, it's a famous surname. There's a big advertising agency and a big gynecologist with it
SB: (Reads a card) D'Addario?
PDA: Yes, it's not that common....
SB: D'Addario...

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Homegrown Imams in Switzerland - An effective obstacle to Wahhabism and Salafism

Swiss Muslims, the authorities, universities and legal experts have agreed that in the future, imams and Islamic religious teachers in Switzerland will have to be educated in a Swiss university. Researchers at the University of Zurich conducted a survey on 100 representatives of the Muslim community and 40 representatives of other religions, political parties and authorities, which asked various questions about the current state of Islam in Switzerland. The results were presented in a report in Bern entitled, "Religious Communities, State and Society", by the Swiss National Fund for Scientific Research, and will form the basis for legislative proposals to the Swiss Federal Council.

In the future imams will be required to have a good knowledge of at least one of the national languages, of the Swiss legal and political system, and the ability to enter into dialogue with other religious leaders. With 350,000 members, or 5% of the Swiss population, Muslims constitute the third largest religious group after Catholics and Protestants. Currently, all imams, who act as moral and spiritual guides for the community and mediators with the authorities and media, are educated abroad. The study confirmed that Swiss Muslims found this to be unsatisfactory. Linguistic problems are believed to prevent the imams from correctly undertaking their work within the community and also impede their religious teaching and contact with the Swiss Muslim youth. The Muslims surveyed also said they wanted imams that better understood the Swiss socio-cultural context in order to bridge the Islamic community with Swiss society. The institutional actors that were consulted expect imams to retransmit Swiss values and norms to their congregation.

Imams will need to acquire an understanding of Swiss history, law, politics and economics. It is also expected that they will need to complete a course in religious science and interreligious dialogue. Both Swiss Muslims and the institutions agreed that the form of Islam to be followed should be one based on the Swiss context, rather than one imported from abroad, whilst Islamic associations believe the state should not try to educate imams according to its own wishes. These measures constitute the most effective opposition to the spread of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism and Salafism, a form of Islam which rejects capitalism, constitutions, economics and political parties, and should be implemented by all Western societies to safeguard democracy.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Ten more questions for Silvio Berlusconi

1. When did you first meet Noemi Letizia? How many times did you meet her and where? Have you frequented other minors and do you still do so?

2. What is the reason that forced you to not tell the truth for two months, instead giving four different versions of your acquaintance with Noemi before making two belated admissions?

3. Do you not find it a serious matter for Italian democracy and for your leadership that you paid the girls that call you "papi" (daddy) with candidatures and promises of political responsibilities?

4. You stayed with a prostitute the night of 4 November 2008, and, according to judicial investigations, dozens of call girls have been taken to your residences. Were you aware that they were prostitutes? If not, are you able to guarantee that those encounters have not made you vulnerable to blackmail?

5. Have any "official government flights" without you on board ever been used to take female party guests to your residences?

6. Can you say without fear of contradiction that the people with whom you keep company have not caused prejudice to the affairs of the Italian State? Can you reassure the country and its allies that no female guests of yours possess arms of blackmail that diminish your political independence?

7. Your conduct contradicts your policies: would you be able today to attend a Family Day demonstration or sign a law punishing the clients of prostitutes?

8. Do you still consider yourself eligible for the office of President of the Republic? If not, do you think that a person that common opinion considers unfit for the Quirinal presidential palace can fulfil his duties as prime minister?

9. You have spoken of a "subversive plan" that threatens you. Can you guarantee not having used and not wanting to use intelligence and the police force against witnesses, magistrates and journalists?

10. In light of what has emerged in the last two months, what is the state of your health?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Why Tony Blair should never be President of the European Council

If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by Ireland, the current system of six-month rotating presidencies will be replaced by a president that can be elected for a maximum of two terms of two and a half years. The former French president, Valérie Giscard d'Estaing, believes that the president of the European Council should be chosen from a member state that fully participates in and respects the commitments of the European Union. It is also hoped that the figure will be someone that can strengthen the diplomatic and military independence of Europe. During his ten years as British prime minister, Blair did nothing to abolish the country's various opt-outs, nor did he pursue British membership of the euro or the Schengen Area. It is also widely suspected that Blair would exploit the post to publicise himself, rather than the EU. Furthermore, his servile compliance with America throughout his mandate casts doubt on his capacity to enhance European diplomatic and military independence. The former French prime minister, Édouard Balladur, asks,
"If the presidents of the United States and of Europe were called upon to hold regular meetings to discuss questions of mutual interest, how could an EU president from a country that intends to keep its monetary independence negotiate the co-ordination that is indispensable between the euro and the American dollar? It is difficult to see how Mr Blair could qualify as a spokesman for Europe in these circumstances."

The president will be appointed by the European heads of state or government and the largely undefined nature of the post will allow the first incumbent to determine its future character. Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish prime minister, has already stated his concern over electing Blair, believing that he will cause friction between the smaller and larger member states. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, are also opposed. With Sweden and Spain holding the rotating presidency of the EU for the next year, these governments could complicate Blair's bid with their agenda-setting powers. Nicolas Sarkozy originally supported Blair, but now it is believed that he favours the former Spanish prime minister, Felipe González. Other potential challengers for the role include Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg's prime minister; Wolfgang Schussel, Austria's former chancellor; Bertie Ahern, former prime minister of Ireland; and Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister.

Glenys Kinnock's announcement that "the UK government is supporting Tony Blair's candidature for President of the Council", made in Strasbourg yesterday, clearly shows that he has the support of his old rival, Gordon Brown. Many in Westminster accept that this support was secured in a deal that Brown and Blair made months ago which ensured that Blair would use Lord Mandelson to quell the growing rebellion in the Parliamentary Labour Party against Brown's leadership.

More important, however, is Blair's obsession with money and how readily he will succumb to its attraction. Blair was recently awarded a $1million prize by the Dan David Foundation of Tel Aviv for "his exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict." There's also the £2million annual fee from JP Morgan Chase and the $250,000 for a 45-minute speech on the US lecture circuit. These prestigious rewards evidently demonstrate to members of the European political elite the potential financial benefits that they are likely to enjoy if they subserviently act in America's interests. Tony Blair is unmistakably unfit for this position - not to mention that some believe he should be on trial for war crimes.