French Guiana fights to save rainforest

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Obama decides to strike Syria, seeks congressional approval

President Barack Obama says he has decided the US should take military action against Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack that reportedly took over 1,400 lives. However, he will first seek authorization from Congress.

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Depravity & Hypocrisy Laid Bare: The Meaning of Syria


Who gassed 1,300 civilians in a suburb of Damascus one Summer morning?

The United States government says it was the government of Bashar al-Assad. The rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, and I heard an estimate this morning that there are as many as a thousand different rebel groups and factions, agree. The Russian government, which backs Assad, says it was done by the rebels, whom it calls terrorists. Others say it was done by Israeli intelligence agents waving the impossible to prove or disprove “false flag” that ends all arguments. Still others say nothing happened at all, a bunch of faked pictures and staged news reports. (A report this morning, as plausible or questionable as any other, claims the gas was Saudi-supplied and accidentally set off by inept rebel mishandling). The United Nations says it is investigating! The United States says it doesn’t really care what the UN says, it’s too late for facts.

President Obama says the U.S. must respond to what happened with as-yet-undefined military force. As he beats the drum for an attack on Syria, the American people don’t seem particularly interested in supporting a new war. And yet, for those voices that are beginning to speak out against the idea of a new war, there seems to be a lot more silence. I think we need to look into what is going on.

If anything is clear in the midst of this muddle (besides the fact that a lot of people seem to be dying), it’s that the reputation of the U.S. government for telling anything resembling the truth is completely in the shitter.

President Obama’s sudden drive for military retaliation against Assad can’t be heard without the reverberation of deafening echoes of the propaganda and disinformation campaign waged by President Bush and his neocon allies in their drive to attack Iraq just over a decade ago. Everyone knows, now, that Bush and his cronies were lying, and most people assume that Obama and his cronies are lying now.



This is a photo of Obama’s current secretary of state, John Kerry — then a Senator — and his billionaire wife having an intimate dinner for four with Mr. and Mrs. Assad at a classy Damascus restaurant a couple years ago. Secretary Kerry has just called the alleged chemical weapon attacks “a moral obscenity.” He went on to claim, “Our sense of basic humanity is offended.”

As happens so often lately, one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this imperialist politician’s words.

Basic sense of humanity? Is this the same basic sense of humanity that caused the U.S. to starve untold thousands in a decade-long blockade of Iraq, and when that didn’t seem to advance their agenda, to invade that country, unprovoked, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands? The basic sense of humanity that sends drones to assassinate thousands of people on all corners of the globe without trial or evidence, or apparently, even very good aim? Many avert their eyes and ears from the monstrous claims of these politicians, but few actually believe them.

But even as the politicians were crying “But, chemical weapons!,” long suspected news was confirmed that the CIA had no problem assisting Saddam Hussein back in the days when he was fighting U.S. Enemy Number One, Iran. Let’s quote the headline: “Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran. The U.S. knew Hussein was launching some of the worst chemical attacks in history — and still gave him a hand.” That water under the bridge is experiencing a bit of a backflow.

And, speaking of WMDs, chemical weapons and moral obscenities, a little bit of cursory historical research reminds us that it was the U.S. that was the first and only nation to use nukes against civilians. The U.S. blanketed Vietnam with the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, still causing birth defects generations later. The U.S. used depleted uranium weapons in both its wars against Iraq, again leaving a multi-generational legacy of of horrible birth defects. Then there’s white phosphorus munitions, shared with its Israeli client state, that turn mere explosives into toxic explosives. Or how about that tear gas used by repressive governments across the Mediterranean, made in U.S.A.? Or closer to home, is not the pepper spray that drenched the Occupy movement a chemical weapon? Indeed let’s discuss moral obscenities, shall we?

Occupy Wall Street veteran Mickey Z., in a great article detailing some of the government and media hypocrisy over Syria, wagged, “When I first read about a dictator unleashing chemical warfare upon “his own people,” I thought the media was finally discussing how President Obama appointed Michael Taylor (vice president for public policy at Monsanto) to the position of deputy commissioner for Foods at the FDA.” Mickey’s joke makes a serious point: who the fuck are these people to be lecturing anyone? They don’t actually care aboutpeople at all: they care about money, votes, power.



This is a picture of U.S. marines walking the streets of Fallujah, Iraq. Fallujah was levelled after its rebellious inhabitants killed and strung up some hired American mercenaries. You’ll need a strong stomach to follow up links on what vengeful Americans did to the people of that city. Now, these same masters of outrage say that Assad must be punished for using gas “against his own people.” They say they don’t want to invade Syria, they don’t want to take sides in the civil war, they don’t want regime change, they just want to lob a few missiles on the country to teach them a lesson. Would could possibly go wrong?

Remarkably, at least for now, the British parliament just voted down a motion by the Prime Minister to join the U.S. in retaliatory strikes against Syria. (Unsurprisingly for anyone who knows anything about the party obscenely calling itself “socialist” in France, the French President, Socialist Party leader Françoise Hollande has pledged full support to any U.S. attack. France is always eager to remind its former colonies, like Syria, who still wields the stick of imperialism.)

What is less good news is the apparent broad cynicism, apathy or resignation of the U.S. population.

A handful of demonstrations against the threat of a U.S. attack on Syria have already taken place, but they’ve been small, nothing like the huge demonstrations that met Bush’s drive to war. A call went out for local demonstrations at noontime on Saturday, August 31, but I expect these to attract mostly core activists and suspect they will be widely ignored by the media.

The liberal establishment and its media have fallen in lockstop behind the Democratic president Obama. It’s a subject for its own discussion elsewhere, but the repulsive liberal vilification of military and NSA whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden and heroic journalists like Glenn Greenwald, is a sad spectacle to behold. The New York Times, which shilled endlessly for the Iraq war, losing quite a bit of journalistic prestige and integrity in the process, has already run one grotesque OpEd piece entitled “Bomb Syria, Even If It Is Illegal.” Another creepy OpEd piece suggested that the best scenario for the U.S. and Israel (always the first concern of Times journalists) would be an extended civil war that drains the resources of all sides.

Vocal opposition to a strike on Syria seems to be coming more from the right wing of American politics. Republicans and Libertarians, ever eager to condemn Obama for anything at all, have seized the moment. Of course it helps these posers that they’re on summer break right now. I would be surprised, in the end, if the U.S. congress doesn’t acquiesce to whatever Obama chooses to actually do. He hasn’t yet formally asked Congress for authorization, and in any case he refused to do so when “backing” the NATO attack on Libya.




We were treated to the spectacle this week of watching President Obama interrupt his plans against Syria to make a speech lauding the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on the 50th anniversary of the civil rights March on Washington. While plenty of people in attendance remembered that Dr. King was vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War, suffice it to say that the liberal politicians speaking from the podium didn’t call out this dramatic contradiction. Obama’s speech seemed wooden and full of empty platitudes, and even liberals in the African-American community took notice: “Dr. King was a pacifist and anti-militarist who believed that America was the greatest single cause of violence in the world. Barack Obama, while giving his own March on Washington anniversary speech, has already, or soon will, order the United States military to attack Syria….In his soaring rhetoric, Barack Obama chose to return to an old trope, and what is for him, a comfortable narrative. He would speak about his dream of a post-racial America, one that is still a work in progress…..That Barack Obama would decide to lecture and scold Black America on the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s speech and the March on Washington is disturbing.” (Chauncey De Vega)

In the face of all of this it’s not surprising that people feel overwhelmed and anxious. People are worried and concerned about a new war, but disgusted at self-evident hypocrisy and politicians with a long history of lying. That doesn’t seem to be enough to coalesce an antiwar movement. The rampant spread of demoralizing conspiracy theories among young people disaffected with liberalism is not helping. Why bother protesting if there is always a hidden hand manipulating reality?

Frankly I think the fact that some remnants of the old anti-war movement have now tied themselves to support for Assad in the Syrian civil war doesn’t help, either. The Workers World Party’s International Action Center seems to have furnished an antiwar demo I attended in New York with Syrian government flags and portraits of Assad; the PSL’s ANSWER coalition seems to take a soft-peddled but similar approach.

There needs to be a real anti-war movement. People should be out in the street, angry and pissed off. It is absolutely incredible that this frayed worn script is being used to rationalize another war. It’s outrageous that there are so few strong public voices against it.




As a communist, as an activist in my community, I’m gonna go out on the street with folks I met during the Occupy movement and we’re gonna make some noise. I think there will be few of us. I think most people will pass us by. And the depravity of this situation is so horrible, so exhausting, I get that. If we don’t look, maybe what’s happening a million miles away won’t get closer. But I think we should talk for a minute about what we’re doing this for: what do we care?

For a hot minute Obama and Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator he eventually helped depose, were buds. In that same rarified world, the Kerrys and Assads can sit down to a gentile dinner or, as shown in another now classic photo, Donald Rumsfield and Saddam Hussein can share a hearty handshake. These photos reveal something profound about the world, the world that communists want to overturn.

It’s just not true that for every bad guy there’s a good guy. One of the great pieces of wisdom in Marxism is that people do things for material reasons: the world is not turned by a war between good and evil, or by black and white, but by material self interest. The actions of people with different class interests become predictable; and the key to changing the injustices of the world is understanding where the leverage lies, where the sources of power are.

Communists should oppose imperialism, this is absolutely true, and so very important.

The best thing we communists in the U.S. can do for all those who struggle around the world is to do what we can to defeat the monster in whose belly we live. But communists should also support the struggles of the people worldwide for liberation, for self-determination, for freedom. This means that while the Bushes and the Obamas and the Rumsfields and the Kerrys of this world are our enemies, the Qaddafis, the Saddams, the Assads, the Putins of this world, they are not our friends. That is not how the world is divided, not now. These are all, every last one of them, depraved, hypocritical, corrupt, capitalist politicians with a taste for the blood of the people.

Regardless of what the currently unknowable truth is behind the tragedy in that Damascus suburb, Assad and many of the rebel factions have committed easily documentable atrocities against regular people who want nothing more than their own right of self-determination. The western nations falsely posing as humanitarians have a documentable record of even worse atrocity. Communists must point to the horizon and say it doesn’t have to be like this. We can win the world for ourselves, for the global majority.

Oh it’s an idea not an exact number, but you remember, to coin a phrase, the 99%.

We must sweep away the clutter. Out with the bombs and missiles of imperialism. Out with the duplicitous false parties of capitalist politics. Out with the armies of sectarianism and division. Out with the self-serving, lying murderers who rule the nations of the world. Out with the lying mouthpieces of the mainstream media.

Stopping the war on Syria would be a very good start to making those things happen. Are you with us?


– See more at:

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5 GMO Myths Busted

Published on Aug 19, 2013

Every year, a greater and greater percentage of our food supply sources back to genetically modified ingredients. Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, DuPont and the other biotech giants have made GMOs into a multi-billion dollar industry and unsurprisingly have launched one of the largest pr campaigns in the history of the food industry to convince the public that their products are safe, healthy and beneficial. Let’s examine five of the main claims of this PR campaign and see how they stack up to reality.

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The Resident: Short-termism dooming humanity

Published on Aug 27, 2013
Climate change. Energy supply. Hunger. Our crashing economy. Our biggest issues need to be addressed with long-term solutions, as most experts agree. But in today’s modern society, we face issues with short-term solutions, over and over again. The Resident (aka Lori Harfenist) discusses.

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Amazing rescue: Bears evacuated by helicopter in flood-hit Russia

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The Reality of Media in India by Analytical Monthly Review

Analytical Monthly Review, published in Kharagpur, West Bengal, India, is a sister edition of Monthly Review.  The text below is based on the editorial in its July-August 2013 issue. — Ed.

In the by now tedious cliché, India, with a population of 1.22 billion (122 crores) and with an elected parliament, is supposed to be the largest democracy in the world.  The relation between democracy and size is problematic.  In small communities, voters can be presumed to have some personal knowledge of both candidates and issues arising from their life experience.  But democracy in such communities in India is, to put it very mildly, slight.  The various Panchayat systems set up to implement the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments are deprived of either significant jurisdiction or even minimal resources, and in most cases both.  The sole exception is in West Bengal, where the Panchayat system was created fifteen years before the 73rd Amendment, and developed into real — if flawed — organs of local self-government.  In consequence panchayat elections in West Bengal alone in all of India are truly serious matters and, as we are at the time of writing painfully aware, reflect a democracy increasingly overshadowed by gangsterism and force.  But, for the rest, “democracy” amounts to periodical electoral exercises where the electors choose among candidates and programmes not on the basis of their personal knowledge or life experience but on information received from the media.  If such democracy is to be meaningful, the first condition is that reasonably accurate information must be available.

But the ground realities show that the ingredients of meaningful democracy are in very poor shape.  To be sure, official documents do not admit this.  For example, in the case of literacy — a relevant element if is to be assumed that electors are making informed choices based on print sources — the Census figure for literacy is 65.4 per cent of the population aged seven and above.  However, this figure merely reflects the replies given by households to the question “How many persons in the household are literate?”  It does not reflect whether they actually are able to read.  A study by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, carried out in four Hindi-speaking states (Rajasthan, U.P., M.P., and Bihar) compared the responses to queries using the Census approach with the results of a reading test.  By the Census approach literacy of the 20,000 sample was 68.7 per cent; but by the reading test only 26 per cent could read properly.  Another 27 per cent could read only parts of the test material, or took recourse to sounding syllables before putting together words.  The remaining 47 per cent could not read at all.  This qualifies the importance of the raw number of publications, which is indeed by world standards substantial.  As per the Registrar of Newspapers for India, the total number of registered publications as on 31st March 2011 was 82,222, which includes 14,508 newspapers.  From a geographical perspective, the largest number of publications — 13,065 — were registered in the state of Uttar Pradesh followed by 10,606 in Delhi.

Increasingly critical are radio and television.  Radio blankets the nation.  In case of TV channels, MIB has, as of 20.12.2012, permitted 848 TV channels.  As per an industry report, total TV households in India were estimated to be 15.5 Crore at the end of year 2012.  Assuming that each household consists of 4 adult members, the reach of television is around 62 Crore.  Thus, the reach of the television media in the total population of the country — in view of the literacy figures set out above — now exceeds print.  Digital media as a source of information is still limited to a relatively privileged minority, and primarily reflects information generated by print and television.

The crude total number of publications, radio stations and television channels might give an impression that the mass media do fulfill the preliminary conditions for democracy.  But in fact it is reasonable to say that the mass media is dominated by less than a hundred large groups or conglomerates, which exercise considerable influence on what is read, heard, and watched.  The propaganda power of media barons is the crucial fact that confronts all justifications of our political reality on grounds of “democracy”.  In addition, a large section of people believe that journalists can not only highlight their problems, but can also redress them.  In the struggle for social justice, we must therefore face the problem of the media right from the start.

Robert W. McChesney has rightly said:

The problem of the media exists in all societies, regardless of their structure. A society does not approach the problem with a blank page, but the range of options is influenced by the political economic structure, cultural traditions, and the available communication technologies, among other things. . . .  Media are at the center of struggles for power and control in any society, and this is arguably even more the case in democratic nations, where the issue is more up for grabs.

This central problem of the media, especially after adoption of neo-liberal policies by the ruling clique, cannot be understood if delinked from political economy.

In this context, of importance is the report submitted by the Standing Committee on Information Technology to the Parliament in May 2013 on “Paid News”.  The introduction sets out that “[t]he trend of presenting the advertising content, that is paid for, as ‘News’ is a serious and damaging fraud on the innocent audiences/readers/viewers/public.  It not only undermines/threatens the democratic process but also affects financial/stock/real estate market[s], health, industry and is also a tax fraud.  However, according to the News Broadcasters Association it is just a question of ethics.”  Quoting from the Press Council of India (PCI) Sub-Committee Report outlining the genesis of “Medianet” and “Private Treaties” phenomena:

In the 1980s . . . the rules of the Indian media game began to change.  Besides initiating cut-throat cover-price competition, marketing was used creatively to make Bennett, Coleman Company Limited (BCCL) one of the most profitable media conglomerates in the country. . . .  The media phenomenon that has caused considerable outrage of late has been BCCL’s 2003 decision to start a “paid content” service called Medianet, which, for a price, openly offers to send journalists to cover product launches or personality-related events. . . .  Besides Medianet, BCCL devised another “innovative‟ marketing and PR strategy.  “The Private Treaties” scheme pioneered in the Indian media by BCCL involves giving advertising space to private corporate entities/advertisers in exchange for equity investment — the company officially denies that it also provides favourable editorial coverage to its “private treaty” clients and/or blacks out adverse comment against its clients.

The Sub-Committee Report said:

At the end of 2007, the media company boasted of investments in 140 companies in aviation, media, retail and entertainment, among other sectors, valued at an estimated Rs 1,500 crore.  According to an interview given by a senior BCCL representative to a website ( in July 2008, the company had between 175 and 200 private treaty clients with an average deal size of between Rs 15 crore and Rs 20 crore implying an aggregate investment that could vary between Rs 2,600 crore and Rs 4,000 crore. . . .  In advertisements published in the Economic Times and the Times of Indiacelebrating the success of the group’s private treaties, on December 4, 2009, the Mumbai edition of the newspapers published a half-page colour advertisement titled — “How to perform the Great Indian Rope Trick” and cited the case of Pantaloon.  What was being referred was how Pantaloon’s strategic partnership with the TOI group had paid off.  The advertisement read: “. . . with the added advantage of being a media house, Times Private Treaties, went beyond the usual role of an investor by not straining the partner’s cash flows.  It was because of the unparalleled advertising muscle of India’s leading media conglomerate.  As Pantaloon furiously expanded, Times Private Treaties (TPT) ensured that (it) was never short on demand.  The TPT has a better phrase for it — business sense.” . . .   On July 15, 2009, Shri S. Ramann, Officer on Special Duty, Integrated Surveillance Department of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) wrote to the Chairman, Press Council of India, Justice G.N. Ray, observing that many media companies were entering into agreements called “private treaties” with companies whose equity shares are listed on stock exchanges or companies that were coming out with a public offer of their shares.  The media companies were picking up stakes in such companies and in return, were proving coverage through advertisements, news reports and editorials.

The PCI is a quasi-judicial body with no punitive powers.

TRAI’s “Consultation Paper on Issues relating to Media Ownership”noted that “a number of corporate sector entities are entering the media sector.  Corporates can use media to bias views and influence policy making in a manner so as to promote their vested interests while generating business revenues for themselves.  This has led to emergence of large media conglomerates where single entities/groups have strong presence across different media segments.”  The groups listed are Sun TV, Essel Group, Star India, Ushodaya (Eenadu), India Today, The Times Group, HT Media, ABP Group, Bhaskar Group, Jagran Prakashan, Sakkal Media, Malayala, Manorama Group, D.B. Corporation Group, Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group and Asianet Communications.

Some recent deals documented by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta merit attention:

On January 3 2012, the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) — India’s biggest privately-owned corporate entity with a turnover of Rs. 2,58,651 crore in the financial year that ended on March 31, 2011 — announced that it was entering into a complex, multi-layered financial arrangement that involved selling of its interests in the Andhra Pradesh-based Eenadu group founded by Ramoji Rao to the Network 18 group headed by Raghav Bahl and also funding the latter through a rights issue of shares.  The deal will make the combined conglomerate India’s biggest media group, according to Bahl — bigger than media groups such as STAR controlled by Rupert Murdoch, and BCCL controlled by the Jain family.

On May 19, 2012, the Aditya Birla group announced that it had acquired a 27.5 per cent stake in Living Media India Limited, a company headed by Aroon Purie.  Living Media acts as a holding company and also owns 57.46 per cent in TV Today Network, the listed company that controls the group’s television channels (Aaj Tak and Headlines Today) and a host of publications (including India Today).

On December 21, 2012, Oswal Green Tech, formerly Oswal Chemicals & Fertilizers, acquired a 14.17 per cent shareholding in New Delhi Television in two separate block deals from the investment arms of Merrill Lynch and Nomura Capital.

According to research conducted by Dilip Mandal and R. Anuradha, published in Media Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2011), the boards of directors of a number of media companies now include (or have included in the past) representatives of big corporate entities that are advertisers.  The board of Jagran Publications has had the managing director (MD) of Pantaloon Retail, Kishore Biyani, McDonald India’s MD Vikram Bakshi, and leather-maker Mirza International’s MD Rashid Mirza, and also the CEO of media consulting firm Lodestar Universal India, Shashidhar Sinha, and the chairman of the real estate firm JLL Meghraj, Anuj Puri.  The board of directors of HT Media, publishers of Hindustan Times and Hindustan, has included the former chairman of Ernst & Young K. N. Memani and the chairman of ITC Ltd Y C Deveshwar.  Joint MD of Bharti Enterprise Rajan Bharti and MD of Anika International Anil Vig are a part of the TV Today‘s Board of Directors. The board of directors of DB Corp (that publishes Dainik Bhaskar) includes the head of Piramal Enterprises Group, Ajay Piramal, the MD of Warburg Pincus, Nitin Malhan, and the executive chairman of advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, Piyush Pandey.  NDTV’s Board of Directors has Pramod Bhasin, President & CEO of the country’s biggest BPO company GenPact as a member of its board of directors.

Regarding content, separate study is needed but a few points may be noted.  In the case of India, media empires have had to adjust their strategies to suit the Indian context.  The Murdoch STAR TV realized that its mainly American oriented programming was only reaching a tiny, although wealthy, urban audience.  It therefore started adding Hindi subtitles to Hollywood films broadcast on its 24-hour channel and dubbing popular U.S. soaps into Hindi.  In October 1996, STAR Plus began telecasting programs in English and Hindi.  In 1999, it claimed 19 million viewers in India and it has grown greatly since then.  United States multinationals McDonalds, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, Coca Cola and the like have extensively used the information and communication technologies to promote their junk food culture, using popular personalities in India.  Most of the Indian television space is now occupied by U.S. soap operas, reality shows and cartoons.

This grim reality of control of all but marginal media by a small group of corporate plutocrats, combined with programming in which the superiority of U.S. cultural imperialism is an ever present tacit assumption, is presented as freedom of press.  We also want freedom of press but in a totally opposite and higher sense.  To quote Marx:

The free press is the omnipresent open eye of the spirit of the people, the embodied confidence of a people in itself, the articulate bond that ties the individual to the state and the world, the incorporated culture which transfigures material struggles into intellectual struggles and idealizes its raw material shape.  It is the ruthless confession of a people to itself, and self-viewing is the first condition of wisdom.  It is the mind of the state that can be peddled in every cottage, cheaper than natural gas.  It is universal, omnipresent, omniscient.  It is the ideal world, which constantly gushes from the real one and streams back to it ever richer and animated anew.

As McChesney observes,

Marx opposed state censorship categorically.  Concurrently, Marx was aware from the outset that the existence of a free press under the regime of private property was in jeopardy as a result of its being turned into a business.   “The first freedom of the press consists in it not being a trade. . .  But is the press true to its nature, does it act according to the nobility of its nature, is it free, if it is degraded to a trade?  The writer, to be sure, must earn a living in order to exist and be able to write, but he must in no way exist and write in order to earn a living.”

News media markets have invariably tended toward concentration in the hands of the largest owners of capital as is the present trend in India, have afforded the owners tremendous political power, and tended to marginalize the voices and interests of the poor and working class.  The life and death struggle of the poorest, of tribals, of desperate indebted small owners, of brave but propertyless community activists against the imperialist corporate rape of the environment in which they live such as the POSCO struggle, are near absent.  What is most relevant to the lives of the majority does not appear.  Under these circumstances the claim to be the “largest democracy” amounts to fraud.

To curb the corruption in Indian media, the Parliamentary report has recommended a number of steps but the question of free press has not been addressed.  This is a vital question which needs to be immediately debated and discussed.  McChesney in the concluding paragraph of his paper “A Real Media Utopia”, presented at the 2012 Annual Conference of the American Sociological Association usefully sets out:

Nations without a quality free press are prone to what has been termed “crony capitalism”. . . [I]n the realm of really existing capitalism the highest priority appears to be the protection and promotion of profit-maximization (and those who immediately benefit from profit maximization) … [above] all else, crony-style or not.  At any rate, media struggles will be inextricably linked with battles over the nature of the economy going forward.

Both for those who believe that Indian democracy can yet be brought back from terminal decay, and those who believe the struggle must move on to new and higher forms of democracy, understanding, confronting, and changing the reality of media in India is an immediate necessity.

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Drones help track rhino poachers in S Africa

Published on Aug 18, 2013
The rhinoceros is one of the world’s most endangered animals. More than 400 have been killed for their horns already this year alone in South Africa. But what if rhino poachers could be tracked from the air? Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa reports from Johannesburg.

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Poverty in India : Line, Level and Trend


August 10, 2013


by Deepankar Basu

The Planning Commission’s latest estimates of the incidence of poverty in India – measured by the head count ratio – have been met with incredulity in most quarters where reason still holds sway and evidence still matters. Using a poverty line of Rs. 816 per capita per month for rural areas and Rs. 1000 for urban areas, the Planning Commission has estimated the that 25.7 and 13.7 percent of the population are poor in rural and urban India, respectively, in 2011-12. The corresponding proportion of the poor was 41.8 percent in rural India and 25.7 percent in urban India in 2004-05. Therefore the new estimates show stunning 16.1 and 12 percentage points decline in poverty in rural and urban India over the past 7 years. No wonder, pro-reforms economists and commentators are ecstatic, falling over each other in highlighting the wonders of economic growth.

The Destitution Line

The outrageously low poverty lines, which deliver these flattering poverty levels, have been rightly called “kutta-billi” (dog-cat) poverty lines by N. C. Saxena, member of the National Advisory Council. Any familiarity with life in contemporary Indiais enough to drive home the point that such low levels of expenditure can only support a sub-human condition of existence. While hidebound conservatives, using arguments bordering on the ridiculous, are willing to defend the measly poverty lines used by the Planning Commission, even simple back-of-the-envelope calculations are enough to show them for what they are: destitution lines.(Economic and Political Weekly, 2008).

Let us take one of the cheaper metros, Kolkata, and do some rough and ready computations to arrive at an approximate amount of expenditure that would be required for a decent, but frugal, life today. For a family of 4, the following quantities of food would be needed for a decent life over the period of a week: 10 kgs of rice, 3 kgs of dal, 1 litre of cooking oil, 5 kgs of potato, 3.5 kgs of green vegetables, 1 litre of milk, 4 eggs, ½ kgs of chicken, ½ kgs of fish, and 1 litre of kerosene (fuel). Notice that the quantities of milk, eggs, chicken, fish and kerosene (fuel) have been deliberately assumed to be far lower thanwhat a decent standard of living would demand. Notice also that I have not added any expenditure on fruits and nuts.

How much would the above food basket – with deliberately chosen low quantities for several items – cost? A simple survey of prices prevailing in the market today suggests that the above quantities of food items can be purchased for Rs. 840 a week or Rs 120 a day. Thus, food expenditure would need Rs. 3600 per month.

Let us add to this the following monthly nonfood expenditures: Rs. 400 for education, Rs. 500 for healthcare, Rs. 500 for conveyance & clothing, Rs. 1000 for rent, and Rs. 500 for miscellaneous expenses (including footwear, mobile phones, consumer services, entertainment, etc.).The total expenditure comes out at Rs. 6500.

Thus, even with unrealistically low levels of expenditures devoted to many food items (like milk, eggs, fish, meat and fruits), and to education, healthcare and rent, the minimum expenditure required in Kolkata for a family of 4 is Rs. 2500 more than what the Planning Commission uses as a “poverty line” (recall that the Planning Commission’s poverty line is Rs. 1000 per capita per month in urban India).

Given that the Planning Commission adjusts poverty lines across regions to account for price variations across states and regions, the poverty line in Kolkata would have likely been lower than the all-India average. On the other hand, the poverty line of Rs. 1000 is for the year 2011-12, so that inflation since then would push up the poverty line. Hence, these two opposing forces might lead to a deficit over the poverty line which is only approximately Rs. 2500. But it seems difficult to deny that, no matter how we adjust the poverty line, there would in fact be a substantial deficit. (Note that a similar back-of-the-envelope calculation by S. Subramanian for Madras in 2004-05 came out with an equally large deficit; see Subramanian (2012) for details).

The absurdity of the Planning Commission’s poverty lines is so pronounced that even the Central Government has distanced itself from them. In the context of its welfare schemes, especially the recently approved National Food Security Ordinance, the government has chosen to effectively use a poverty line that is 85 percent higher than the Planning Commission’s absurdity. The more realistic poverty line used by the government would lead to a head count ratio of 65 percent for the country in 2011-12, about 3 times higher than the Planning Commission’s estimate of 22 percent.

Poverty Line and Trend

A close reading of the Press Note of the Planning Commission for poverty estimates in 2011-12 suggests that even the Delhi mandarins were uneasy about using such a low poverty line. But the Planning Commission’s defense is that the value of the poverty line does not have any impact on the estimation of the trend of poverty. According to the Planning Commission, even if a more realistic poverty line (like the one sketched above) is chosen, it will not change the picture of rapid poverty decline over the last 7 years. This, as we will see shortly, is a widely accepted but erroneous proposition. But first let us carefully read what the Planning Commission has to say on this.

After highlighting the remarkable speed of poverty decline during the 7 year period from 2004-05 to 2011-12, the Planning Commission’s note hastens to assure us that even though a more realistic, and hence higher, poverty line would translate into a higher level of poverty, it would not affect the trend of rapid poverty decline.

“It is important to note that although the trend decline documented above is based on the Tendulkar poverty line which is being reviewed and may be revised by the Rangarajan Committee, an increase in the poverty line will not alter the fact of a decline. While the absolute levels of poverty would be higher, the rate of decline would be similar.” (page 3, Press Note on Poverty Estimates, 2011-12, Government of India, Planning Commission, July 2013)

The proposition that the trend of poverty is independent of the poverty line is, in fact, incorrect (we will see the reason for this below). The choice of poverty lines impacts both the level and trend of poverty. This has been highlighted by the work of several economists, including S. Subramanian (2012) in India. Despite this well-known result in development economics, the fallacious idea has surprisingly wide currency. It has been referred to many times in the past, explicitly or implicitly, by pro-reforms commentators like Jagdish Bhagwati, Surjit Bhalla, Arvind Panagariya, Swaminathan A. Aiyar, and others. Even economists in good standing seem to have fallen for this fallacy: in a recent piece in the Indian Express(“What the poverty numbers don’t say”), the point has been repeated by economist Bhaskar Dutta.

“It is, of course, a tautology that a higher poverty line will imply a greater level of poverty. However, this is a criticism about the estimated level of poverty in 2011-12, and is completely silent about the trend in the incidence of poverty… Unless the change in the distribution of consumption expenditure has been extremely perverse, the dramatic reduction in poverty according to the Planning Commission estimate also guarantees that there would be a sizeable reduction even if the poverty line were set [at] a higher level.”

A Brief Detour into Poverty Line History

To see the fallacy underlying the claim of poverty line independence ofpoverty trends, it would be useful to recall how the Planning Commission computes the poverty line. Following the recommendations of the 2009 Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Estimation of Poverty a.k.a. Tendulkar Committee, the Planning Commission now computes the poverty line by adjusting the 2004-05 urban poverty line of Rs. 578.8 per capita per month (at 2004-05 prices) with price indexes – constructed from quantity and value data collected in the household consumer expenditure surveys conducted by the NSSO– totake account of temporal and spatial variation in prices.

The 2004-05 urban poverty line of Rs. 578.8, in turn, is the price-updated version of the 1973-74 all-India urban poverty line, which is the expenditure level (Rs. 56.56 at 1973-74 prices) that ensured fulfillment of the calorie norm of 2100 Kcal per capita per day in urban India in 1973-74.

At the time when the Tendulkar Committee was formed, the Planning Commission had been using the method recommended by the 1993 Expert Group, one of the many Expert Groups and committees that have been formed over the years for studying these issues in India. The 1993 Expert Group method rested on using the 1973-74 commodity bundle as a “reference bundle” and updating the expenditure required to purchase such a bundle with relevant consumer price indexes. Thus, the Tendulkar Committee applied the 1993 Expert Group methodology to the 1973-74 urban poverty line to arrive at the figure of Rs. 578.8 per capita per month.

“The latest official estimates of poverty following broadly the Expert Group (1993) method and using the uniform reference period (URP) of 30 days indicate that below poverty line (BPL for short) population was 28.3 per cent of the rural population (described as headcount ratio or poverty ratio) and 25.7 per cent of the urban population in 2004-05. These official estimates released by the Planning Commission are based on (a) the 1973-74 rural and urban poverty line baskets originally at 1973-74 prices adjusted for price changes between 1973-74 and 2004-05 (b) a uniform reference period (URP for short) of 30-days for canvassing consumption of all items of current household consumption in NSS and (c) rural and urban size distributions of per capita total consumer expenditure (PCTE for short) data collected during the 61st (quinquennial large sample) round (July 2004 to June 2005) on household consumer expenditure of the National Sample Surveys (NSS).” (Government of India, 2009, page 5).

Having arrived at the urban poverty line, i.e., an expenditure of Rs. 578.8, in 2004-05, the Tendulkar Committee then uses the commodity bundle – including both food and nonfood items – corresponding to an expenditure level of Rs. 578.8 in urban India in 2004-05 as the “reference bundle” to compute poverty lines in rural areas and in different states.

“In the interest of continuity as well as in view of the consistency with broad external validity checks with respect to nutritional, educational and health outcomes, it was decided to recommend MRP‐equivalent of urban PLB [i.e., poverty line basket] corresponding to 25.7 per cent urban headcount ratio as the new reference PLB to be provided to rural as well as urban population in all the states after adjusting it for within‐state urban‐relative‐to‐rural and rural and urban state‐relative‐to‐all‐India price differentials.” (Government of India, 2009, pages 1-2).

Thus, for all its criticisms of the 1993 Expert Group methodology for using an outdated commodity bundle, the Tendulkar Committee also ends up using a fixed commodity bundle. The only difference arises from the specific commodity bundle chosen as the reference bundle and the price indexes used for the process of “updating”.

First,the 1993 Expert Group methodology would recommendusing the 1973-74 poverty line commodity bundle as the “reference bundle”, the Tendulkar Committee instead uses the commodity bundle corresponding to an expenditure level of Rs. 578.8 in urban India in 2004-05 as the “reference bundle”.Second, the 1993 Expert Group used relevant consumer price indexes (CPI), the Tendulkar Committee uses prices indexes constructed from consumption expenditure data collected by the NSSO during its consumer expenditure surveys.

Thus, it is important to note that the Planning Commission’s current methodology, following the recommendation of the Tendulkar Committee, is notvery different from its earlier methodology, which was based on the recommendations of the 1993 Expert Group, in that both use fixed commodity bundles to compute poverty lines. [1]

Problems of Fixing and Variable Poverty Trends

The method of using a fixed commodity bundle, either the 1973-74 poverty line commodity bundle (PLCB)used by the 1993 Expert Group or the 2004-05 urban poverty line basket (PLB) used by the Tendulkar Committee, to compute poverty lines over time is fraught with serious conceptual problems. Changes in tastes and preferences, movements in relative prices and income, changes in public provisioning of education and health care and decline in access to nonmarket sources of food and fuel, will lead consumers to opt for very different consumption bundles at different points in time. Hence, it makes little sense to compute the poverty line as the expenditure required, in currently prevailing prices, to purchase a fixed commodity bundle, the bundle that was chosen in some previous year under very different price, taste and income configurations.

Let us step back a little and recall that the 1973-74 commodity bundle was chosen from actually observed data on consumption expenditure.

“In deriving the poverty lines, it was recognised that human existence required more than just food, and provision for other goods and services also needed to be made. Since there are no a priori norms for these, and in order to avoid arbitrariness, it was felt that the actual expenditure of households shouldform the basis for estimating the necessary expenditure on these goods and services. In order to do so, the NSS household consumption expenditure data for 1972-73 was used.” (Sen, 2005)

This has an important implication with regard to consistency of the method used to construct poverty lines: just as the poverty line for 1973-74 was based on a commodity bundle actually chosen by households in that year, it should be based for other years also on choices that consumers actually make in those years. This simple and intuitive idea can give us a powerful critique of the 1993 Expert Group methodology and also show us how the choice of poverty lines can impact the level and trend of the incidence of poverty.

Following excellent recent workby S. Subramanian (2012), let us choose 1983, 1993-94 and 1999-00 as three comparison years and compute three different series of head count ratios (HCR) for rural India. The first series – with the HCR at 65, 63 and 60 percent for the three comparison years respectively – uses 1983 as the “base year” and “updates” the poverty lines for 1993-94 and 1999-00 with the consumer price index for agricultural labourers (CPIAL); in Table 1, this series appears in the column “Method 1”. The second series uses 1993-94 as the “base year” (coupled with relevant CPIAL updating) and gives 75, 74 and 68 percent as the HCR for the three comparison years; in Table 1, this series is given in the column “Method 2”. The third method uses 1999-00 as the “base year” and results in 80, 80, and 74 percent as the HCR series; in Table 1 this series is collected under the column “Method 3”.

Table 1: Poverty Estimates (Head Count Ratio) for Rural India Using Alternative Methods

  Method 1 Method 2 Method 3 Consistent Method
1983 65% 75% 80% 65%
1993-94 64% 74% 80% 74%
1999-00 60% 68% 74% 74%

Source: Subramanian (2012)

Clearly then the choice of the poverty line, governed here by the choice of the base year, has an impact on both the level and trend of the incidence of poverty. The fact that the level of poverty declines in all three computations might be read as evidence in support of the idea that the choice of the poverty line is irrelevant to understanding trends in poverty. That is not true.

But before we see why, let us briefly look at the main problems of the Tendulkar Committee poverty line.

Tendulkar Committee Falls Short

The Tendulkar Committee has rightly criticized the 1993 Expert Group methodology for using an outdated bundle for computing the poverty line in years after 1973-74. But its antipathy to using nutritional norms stops the Tendulkar Committee from going all the way and adopting the consistent method of computing the poverty line.

What do I mean by a consistent method in this context? The consistent method of computing poverty lines, as I have already indicated, is to use each comparison year as its own base year. For each year, NSS data provides a relationship of per capita expenditure and calorie intake. The consistent method would use this empirically observed relationship to choose the poverty line as the expenditure level that allows a household to meet the calorie norm in that particular year. Instead of mechanically using a fixed commodity bundle, this method allows consumers in every year to choose optimal commodity bundles given prices, incomes and preferences prevailing in that year, and also to meet a scientifically determined nutritional norm (like 2100 Kcal per capita per day for urban India).

The Tendulkar Committee does not adopt this consistent method, which, in fact been recommended by the 1984 Report of the Study Group on the Concepts and Estimation of Poverty Line, but instead replicates the 1993 Expert Group methodology with a different reference bundle. Thus, the Tendulkar Committee poverty line falls short of the very potential that was opened up by its own critique of the 1993 Expert Group methodology.

Can We Please Be Consistent?

Returning to the issue of the putative independence of poverty trends from poverty lines, we can show that the consistent methodology gives a very different trend in the incidence of poverty in India. Using the consistent method for computing the poverty line, the HCR comes out as 65, 74, and 74 percent for 1983, 1993-94 and 1999-00 respectively (see the series that appears under the column “Consistent Method” in Table 1). Thus, while the first three methods used above – with 1983, 1993-94 and 1999-00 as base years, respectively, and price-updated poverty lines for other years – throw up a declining trend in poverty, the consistent method – with each year treated as its own reference year – gives us an increasing trend in the incidence of poverty.

The same conclusion holds when we extend the analysis to 2011-12 (the latest year for which we have data from a large scale consumer expenditure survey conducted by the NSSO). Even as the Planning Commission’s fixed commodity bundle method shows that the HCR has declined from 50 to 26 percent in rural India between 1993-94 and 2011-12, consistently computed poverty lines throw up an increasing trend in the incidence of poverty over the same period, rising from 71 percent in 1993-94 to even above 90 percent in 2011-12!

Thus, if the Planning Commission and other conservative economists were to compute poverty lines consistently for every year using the method that was used to compute the poverty line in 1973-74, and not just use some price index to inflate a fixed commodity bundle, then the declining trend in poverty would give place to an increasing one, and all the triumphalism and euphoria surrounding poverty trends in India would melt into thin air.

(I would like to thanks Debarshi Das and S. Subramanian for helpful comments and suggestions).



Economic and Political Weekly, 2008. “How Many Poor in the World?”, Editorial, Economic and Political Weekly, 25-31 October.

Government of India. 2009. Report of the Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Estimation of Poverty.Government of India, Planning Commission. Available for download here:

Sen, P. 2005. “Of Calories and Things: Reflections on Nutritional Norms, Poverty Lines and Consumption Behavior in India,” Economic and Political Weekly, October 22, pp. 4611-4618.

Subramanian, S. 2012. The Poverty Line. Oxford India Short Introductions. Oxford University Press: New Delhi.


[1] There is considerable confusion among policy makers, economists and media persons about the details of the Tendulkar Committee poverty line. Part of the reason for this, no doubt, is that the report has not been able to explain its methods very clearly, but part of the reason is that different commentators have read their own beliefs into the Report.

For instance, many commentators, including a member of the Planning Commission, believe that the Tendulkar Committee poverty line has been expressly derived to be equivalent to the international poverty line used by the World Bank, and this international equivalence makes it a correct poverty line. This is incorrect. The Tendulkar Committee itself notes that the international equivalence is only happenstance. “…the new poverty line happens to be close to, but less than, the 2005 PPP $1.25 per day poverty norm used by the World Bank in its latest world poverty estimates.” The important phrase here is “happens to be” (Government of India, 2009, page 8).

Again, another strident pro-reforms commentator believes that “…the Tendulkar committee raised the original 1973-74 rural poverty line by 25.9 per cent and the urban line by 6.4 per cent.” The last part of this sentence is obviously false: the Tendulkar Committee poverty line for urban India in 2004-05, as we have seen, is exactly the 1973-74 urban poverty line “updated” for price increase. In real terms the two are the same.

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Smithsonian unearths a new species of carnivore: The olinguito—the-olinguito/2013/08/15/2fb13b6c-051a-11e3-a07f-49ddc7417125_story.html

Mark Gurney/AP – This undated handout photo provided by Mark Gurney shows a olinguito.

By Meeri Kim, Thursday, August 15, 8:24 PM E-mail the writer

After years of sleuthing, Smithsonian scientists have come up with a new species of mammal — the olinguito.

The rust-colored, furry mammal lives in the treetops of the Andes Mountains and weighs two pounds, making it the most petite member of the raccoon family. It dines on fruits such as figs but also enjoys insects and plant nectar, according to the Smithsonian Institution, which announced the discovery Thursday.

The olinguito is the first new species of carnivore found in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years. Finding a new mammal, especially a carnivore, is rare.

The discovery corrects a long-running case of mistaken identity. For decades, scientists thought the mammal was an olingo, a larger member of the raccoon family, or another mammal. The animals had been observed in the wild, tucked away in museum collections and even exhibited at zoos — including the National Zoo.

No one realized it was a new species until further investigation and DNA testing.

“In some ways, this animal was hiding in plain sight,” said zoologist Roland Kays of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, who helped discover the olinguito. Its pelts and bones were found stashed away in dusty museum drawers, either mislabeled or not labeled at all.

The animal puzzled zookeepers because it oddly refused to breed or mingle with other olingos.

“They thought it was just a fussy olingo, but turns out it was completely the wrong species,” said Smithsonian zoologist Kristofer M. Helgen, who spearheaded the sleuthing on the olinguito, which is Spanish for “little olingo.”

“Getting a new scientific name out there is really fun,” he said. “It’s almost like giving birth.”

Although olinguitos have been spotted in the cloud forests of the northern Andes — in rain forests at elevations of 5,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level — scientists speculate the animals also might live elsewhere in Central and South America.

Finding the species was sort of an accident. Helgen initially went museum-digging because he was determined to find out how many species of the olingo existed. At the Field Museum of Chicago, what he found in a drawer stopped him dead in his tracks.

The reddish-orange pelts he saw were nothing like the skins of the olingos. Searching further, he learned that the anatomy of the skull was different — shorter snout, dissimilar teeth.

“I knew at that point it was a new species, but I also knew I needed to be sure,” Helgen said. For years, he toiled away to confirm that the olinguito was a new species with thorough investigation and DNA testing, always afraid that another scientist would beat him to the punch.

Finally, he called upon Kays, the world’s resident olingo expert, to help him track down a wild olinguito in its natural habitat. The researchers, along with Ecuadorian zoologist Miguel Pinto, set off on a weeks-long field expedition to the Andean cloud forests.

Amid the misty treetops and giant tomato-sized figs, the team spotted one the first night.

“It sort of bounced around the trees almost like a monkey,” Kays said, “doing its thing, eating the figs.”

Zoologist DeeAnn M. Reeder of Bucknell University, co-curator of a scientific database of mammals, finds the olinguito to be an “extraordinarily beautiful animal” and says that to describe a new carnivore in the 21st century is “special and amazing.”

“This gets people excited about science and museum work, and about the things you can discover,” she said.

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