Sunday, December 30, 2007

Open Source Spying

Wired thinks it's a good idea, Apparently there is a congressional report out on the subject. After going through the report, the CIA has decided to start BPO operations in Bangalore, to get with the times. Ok I made that last part up, but the report is real.

The Lakota Nation secedes from the U.S.

I can't believe this didn't get any attention at all in the Mainstream media. According to the AFP,
The Lakota Indians, who gave the world legendary warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from treaties with the United States, leaders said Wednesday.

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us," long-time Indian rights activist Russell Means told a handful of reporters and a delegation from the Bolivian embassy, gathered in a church in a run-down neighborhood of Washington for a news conference.

A delegation of Lakota leaders delivered a message to the State Department on Monday, announcing they were unilaterally withdrawing from treaties they signed with the federal government of the United States, some of them more than 150 years old. [..]

The new country would issue its own passports and driving licences, and living there would be tax-free -- provided residents renounce their US citizenship, Means said.

The treaties signed with the United States are merely "worthless words on worthless paper," the Lakota freedom activists say on their website.

The treaties have been "repeatedly violated in order to steal our culture, our land and our ability to maintain our way of life," the reborn freedom movement says.
[link | More from Fox and USA Today]

Tax-free? nice. The Lakoites(?) will also distribute their own passport and driving licenses. Now possibly this is the work of a minority of activists (afterall they are descendants of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse) trying to declare independence on their own. But it never cease to amaze me how other countries treat the notion of secession than ours.

It's probably to do with the fact that the threat of secession is more real here than other places, but in this year alone the Scottish National Party ran on a platform of independence and won that election. Nobody got shot, abducted or got over-worked up over it. But when the British High commissioner to Sri Lanka made these comments,
Let me be clear. I am not saying that the political aspiration for Eelam is illegitimate, any more than I would argue that the Scottish National Party’s goal of an independent Scotland is illegitimate. Similarly, I see nothing illegitimate in some crackpot demanding that Yorkshire or some other English county should become an independent state. What is crucial, however, is what methods are used by the SNP or the LTTE to achieve their goals. And the LTTE’s methods are simply unacceptable.
The media, the JVP, and other self-described patriots were screaming their heads off.

Friday, December 28, 2007

No More "War on Terror" for Britain

I and a friend of mine was debating, as we often do, on the impact on the US War on Terror in Sri Lanka's conflict, among the things discussed was the use of the term "war on terror" or its Sinhalese equivalent used by the Rajapakse administration. Well, Britain it seems, have decided to drop the term "War on Terror", according to

Perhaps the best speech on the futility of the term was given by Ron Paul, when the the Iraq war resolution was passed in congress,
The catch-all phrase, “War on Terrorism”, in all honesty, has no more meaning than if one wants to wage a war against criminal gangsterism.Terrorism is a tactic, you can't have war against a tactic. It’s deliberately vague and non definable to justify and permit perpetual war anywhere, and under any circumstances. Don’t forget: the Iraqis and Saddam Hussein had absolutely nothing to do with any terrorist attack against us including that on 9/11.

Special interests and the demented philosophy of conquest have driven most wars throughout history. Rarely has the cause of liberty, as it was in our own revolution, been the driving force. In recent decades our policies have been driven by neo-conservative empire radicalism, profiteering in the military industrial complex, misplaced do-good internationalism, mercantilistic notions regarding the need to control natural resources, and blind loyalty to various governments in the Middle East.

For all the misinformation given the American people to justify our invasion, such as our need for national security, enforcing UN resolutions, removing a dictator, establishing a democracy, protecting our oil, the argument has been reduced to this: If we leave now Iraq will be left in a mess. Implying the implausible that if we stay, it won’t be a mess.

Since it could go badly when we leave, that blame must be placed on those who took us there, not on those of us who now insist that Americans no longer need be killed or maimed and that Americans no longer need to kill any more Iraqis. We’ve had enough of both! [link to speech | see it on You Tube ]

Ok so I quoted more than what was necessary, but its a great speech. If you are really adventurous, see the bad-ass version of the speech here, or below (wait till the end bit).

chick peas and green gram for the new year

That's what Bandula Gunawardene wants you to eat next year.
From the bottom-line,
With the price of flour shooting up by Rs. 9 per kilo with immediate effect, Minister of Trade and Consumer Affairs Bandula Gunawardena yesterday demanded Sri Lankans not to rely on wheat flour instead, cultivate and consume more chick peas and green gram as an alternative to flour Reacting to the announcement from Prima, the minister told The Bottom Line that there was no point in taking legal action against the flour company again.

“Already three cases are pending in courts with regard to Prima irregularly increasing flour prices, sans approval from the Consumer Affairs Authority,” he said.

So, until the court decides, we ask the public to cultivate grains and to eat chick peas and green gram,” Gunawardena said. (emphasis added) [link]
Sigh. There's a reminder that we haven't progressed much from the days when the government dictated what we have for lunch. So much for the "Open Economy". I wonder why the bright heads at the Ministry haven't figured out why there is a monopoly in the first place, here's a pointer - get rid of the consumer affairs authority. But wait, no wonder they wont figure that out, nobody likes being unemployed.

SEZs for Sri Lanka?

I was in India when the Nandigram incidents took place, it was around March and I was traveling all over North India. At the centre of the disputew were land acquisitions meant for a Special Economic Zone(SEZ), initiated by the West Bengal State Government (controlled by the Communist Party of India - Marxist, no less) for a chemical hub by a private company. The SEZ required the acquisition of 14,000 acres (57 km²) of land mostly from Nandigram. On this particular day (March 14, 2007) there was a standoff between policemen (some of whom were CPI(M) cadres in police uniform) and the villagers, ultimately resulting in 14 people being killed from police gunfire.

My work in India required me to be away from the TV most of the time, but I did manage to catch glimpses of the unfolding story and ever since I've kept a close-eye on news about SEZs.

Now, "Export Processing Zones" is hardly anything new , even Sri Lanka has what’s known as Free Trade Zones (FTZs). They are basically a designated area where the trade barriers are relaxed – tariffs lowered, duty slashed, etc. The area generally benefits from good infrastructure and what’s called an 'enabling environment' to promote exports and attract Foreign Direct Investment.

However SEZs, experimented quite extensively in India, China and elsewhere is a bit of a different animal. First of all they tend to be huge. Shenzhen – China’s first SEZ – spreads over a land area of about 334 km², that’s roughly about 9 times the city of Colombo. India, which now has approved nearly 400 SEZs in all of its states, has allowed for sites the size of 50km² for SEZs . So I repeat, they are HUGE, often covering the size of modern day cities. SEZs, like Free Trade Zones have relaxed trade rules, except they are more relaxed...much more relaxed. SEZs in India have been declared "foreign territory" for purposes of trade, duties and tariffs. They are exempt from customs, excise, service, Sales and local taxes. Most of them are run by private companies, including some foreign-owned ones. They have duty concessions on some imports, relaxed labor laws and the state government provides such services as electricity and water. I've seen some of them, they do look really pretty. So much so that Sri Lankan companies such as Brandix have invested in some of them.

On paper SEZs looks perfect - it would increase employment, help exports, encourage investment and provide a way for companies to escape illogical tariffs and taxes imposed on them and step into the world of free enteprise. Everything is great, except for the fact that setting up a SEZ involves land acquisitions, often forced on people not willing to move out from their property. This is where it gets messy, forcible land acquisitions creates a whole host of problems - displacement, inadequate compensation, loss of livelihood for the people involved to mention a few.

These issues have made SEZs a subject of much criticism from across the political spectrum. For the people on the left, this is part of the latest Capitalist conspiracy to satisfy their greedy lust for money at the expense of the poor. For the people to the right, its a violation of private property rights (see Shruti Rajgopalan's excellent critique here)- the one thing that's so critical to the effective function of the free-market system, that people like Hernando De Soto have written books about it.

Being a student of the subject I have met many people falling into both these camps, with one the one unified conclusion - SEZs are just bad. Except of course many people I've not met, including the Times of India columnist, Swaminathan Aiyar who has argued (here and elsewhere) that SEZs could be good thing, if handled properly. He recommends leaving the residential areas intact when developing the SEZs, and making affected people equity holders of the new projects, making the villagers landlords and companies their tenants. Quite a transformation.

Although, I'd principally defend property rights, I can back Aiyar's suggestions. So can the model be replicated in Sri Lanka ? Absolutely. Especially for a president, who like to harp on development and seems to want (genuinely or not I don't know) to develop both the South (primarily Hambantota) and the Eastern province, SEZs should definitely be a development tool which needs to be explored. Both provinces have natural ports and certainly the Eastern province can use a bit of accelerated growth.

Personally, I'd prefer Free Economic Zones, that is large designated areas with much like the rules of SEZs but not necessarily a privately managed chunk of land, a Hong-Kong experiment of sorts. Designated SEZs can still exist, of course. The East (in a world where a degree of rule of law is established) would be a perfect candidate for something like this. Trincomalee port can be made into a privately owned freeport. But now I'm just taking it a bit too far.. or is it?

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Everybody Loves Ron Paul

If the world elected, the US president. it would be ron paul. Including 15 people from Sri Lanka, awesome!. Maybe I'll create a meetup group. How I wish elections are held online..

Just for kicks, check this out.

No Virgins in India

I love India, partly because its the only country i know of which is probably (yes, probably) more F'd up than ours. Just recently, Sushmita Sen has been issued a notice by a Madras(chennai) High court on comments about "pre-martial sex". From IndiaFM :
The actress, in a T.V. interview, had commented that “No Indian has chastity or virginity anymore” which didn’t go down well with the legal authorities and the moral police, who felt that such comments could affect the moral fabric of India.

A notice has been issued to the Tamil daily as well, which published the transcripts of the television interview.

In the past, actresses like Khushboo, Reema Sen and Shilpa Shetty have also faced similar petitions in the past for their ‘controversial’ comments. (emphasis added) [link]

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

We are screwed

I knew diplomacy in Sri Lanka was always an afterthought, but boy ..
MR arrived in London and was received by the SL HC (Kshenuka). MR was quick to take a shot at the lucky lady who is to soon move around in the comfort of a super luxury Jaguar by chipping in “Anna Times ekay thibba, may oyata shoke car ekak hamba wenawa kiyala…” [Heard you are getting a nice car] The Lady just giggled with her customary ‘aney sir…’ but didn’t waste anytime in breaking some bad news to the Prez, i.e. the Chilcott statement at the Dudley Senanayake lecture in Colombo with some ‘lunu ambul’ thrown in. The smiling Prez turned angry in a matter of seconds, “Ganda oyage amathiya”… [Phone that minister of yours] When told that he couldn’t be reached as RB was lost in Singapore on a routine stopover, MR quipped, “Aiyo may miniha koi loakay yanavada man da…ganda ara Kohonayawa.mang minihawa thiyala giye may wage pissu ewa nathara karanna.” [Aiyo, I don’t know where on earth this bugger goes, now take that Kohanaya fellow, I kept the man there to stop this sort of stupid things] While waiting for the call to go through, he added “Dan ithin apey foreign ministry ekata fighting acting ministry kiyalai kiyanna wenne; ai? Wedak wunahama mama ke gahanawa, ethakota okkomalla nagitala diplomat la ekka gahaganna yanawa…eetapasse aigolla weerayo wage act karala kiyanawa onna api dunna unta wetenna…” He also noted that despite our big hue & cry, the UNESCO statement is yet to be withdrawn. A protocol officer in the vicinity whispered, ‘at this rate we will be able to fight the whole world pretty soon.’ (Read more from the Sunday Times, it’s a true story)
Oh well, At least it makes for good week end comedy. Too bad if you don't know Sinhala.

6 Million for the REVOLUTION

The Boston Tea Party "Money bomb" brought in Paul 6.1 Million USD yesterday, beating the previous record of 4.2 Million on Guy Fawkes day. Now Paul stands at nearly 20 million raised for the quarter. The Story is covered in NYTimes, ThePost, Politico, Forbes and 100s more. CNN early coverage is on you tube. To top it off, Andrew Sullivan has endorsed Paul.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

President, Pissing his Pants

or Sarong I should have said.. I just watched (mostly out of circumstance) the news on ITN (a government-owned TV channel), which dedicated a good 15 minutes on their main news bulletin showing various people (mostly those Jhathika-Chintana morons and other clergy types) speak on "how government cant loose the budget" tomrrow, and how it would be "helpful for the terrorists" if they did.. it looks as if His Excellency is more than a bit nervous about tomorrow.

I don't see why though, JVP is unlikely to vote against it even if there are more cross-overs. oh well, relax mahinda machang... there's some more time to party.

Privatized Government

This story from India made my day. A fully-functional fake government office has been found in Uttar Pradesh - collecting taxes, giving out birth certificates and even employing 20 "street sweepers" . More from the Times of India,
The racket was unearthed when some of the sweepers appointed by Valmiki went to senior JNN officials to complain that their salaries were being released by the branch office.

"We were shocked to hear this as we ourselves weren't aware that our department had a branch office in Jhansi," says Senior Swasthya Adhikari (SSA) Dr R Kulshreshtra. [..]

Police believe the racket was initially confined to fake appointment of sweepers. Valmiki's idea, according to the police, would have primarily been to pocket Rs 40 lakh in the name of ensuring their appointment and then disappear.

"But he later seems to have decided to carry on with the office as it didn't appear to be a loss-making proposition. And when he tried to change his decision, things went out of hand," said a police officer. [..]

The office had been set up 7 km from the city and a huge signboard of Jhansi Nagar Nigam was placed there. [Link]
Privatized government? too radical you think? come on now.. think about it.. we already pay extra for one-day Passport/ID-card delivery services, we bribe our policemen just so that we can skip the lengthy court ordeal, we have companies handling our Visas to some countries, so why cant just companies provide other so called, civic services? They'll be quicker, more reliable and much more likely to have pretty girls working for them. so again, why not?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Buy a Beetle leaf and Get a condom free

A Beetle leaf vendor (paanwala) in India is giving away a condom with every purchase of beetle leaves to promote Safe Sex, near a red light district. See it on NDTV

Kesavan on Sanath

Mukul Kesavan has a lovely piece on Sanath,
When Sanath Jayasuriya announced his retirement from Test cricket in the course of the first Test against England, the way he signed off was nicely representative of his extraordinary career. He failed in the first innings with the bat, then hit a quick 78 in the second innings. As a bonus in the second innings, Jayasuriya took a wicket with his slow left-arm spin.

A fifty and a wicket: useful but not remarkable figures…unless you know that 24 of those 78 runs had been scored in a single over off that blameless swing bowler, James Anderson. Jayasuriya's career statistics—his aggregates, his averages, his centuries, the number of wickets he took—give the same impression: they suggest a more than useful player, not a remarkable one. They lie.

Read More Journey man and the genuuis

I met Kesavan (who has a day job as a professor of History) on a visit to Delhi once, when he ran a session with us on Secularism (i wrote a post based on the stuff he talked about later). The man is an engaging personality and an avid fan of Sri Lankan Cricket, he talked enthusiastically about Sanga and Murali, didnt mention Sanath that much. Guess he forgot.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Q : Dude, What's your oil Policy?

A : Why don't you ask what my Cellphone Policy is?.

Great answers. The latest Ron Paul Interview. See part 1 and 2 on Youtube. .

If it rains, it's global warming

and if it doesn't, it's still Global Warming.

See, Global Warming causes everything. Including disasters like brothel-struggles, banana destruction, unfashionable cloths, sex changes, Whale-weight loss, Crocodile sex, moose-eating wolves, smaller brains and perhaps more disturbingly, lawyer incomes increase.

Well, at least the beer gets better. Check out the 600+ list of everything caused by global warming. Funny, cant find John Howard anywhere on the list.

Sigh.. Ultimately, the climate-change hysteria will cost us more than the actual climate risks.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Will ‘they’ follow them home?

I was watching the Republican CNN/YouTube debate the other day, couldn’t help but be amused by this view that unless the US is in Iraq, the ‘terrorists follow us home’ subscribed to by almost all GOP candidates.

First of all, are the terrorists lost or something? They can’t find the way perhaps now? They have to wait till the US troops go home to follow them? That’s kind of idea people would have got they encountered the argument for the first time in that debate, the idea however is slightly (note slightly) more sophisticated. It’s this notion that if ‘extremists’ get hold of Iraq, they can use it as a base for attacking the US and other ‘moderate’ leadership in the region.

This is the dominant view among the Republican presidential candidates, all of them – except Ron Paul. Paul (of whom I’m a huge fan) advocates a strict non-interventionist foreign policy for the United States, and calls for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. He claims that the extremists in the Arab (and the Muslim) world are motivated to attack the US because of its interventionist foreign policy towards the region, and particularly because of its troop deployments in the region.

Now, I don’t think that US should employ a strict by-the-book foreign policy, but I find it extraordinary that the NeoCons in media in the US and the rest of his colleagues running for president considers Paul’s views as some sort of a discredited conspiracy theory, when it's clearly not.

The 9/11 commission report for example, comprising of testimonies from experts on terrorism, the middle east and intelligence articulated exactly what Paul says.

Further the follow-home theory doesn’t have much currency from the experts either, the Foreign Policy Magazine reporting on its “terrorism index” which measures opinion of intelligence experts, military persons, and other academics as well as national security advisers, etc. on the US performance on the ‘War on Terror’ reports that experts find it unlikely.
Only 12 percent believe that terrorist attacks would occur in the United States as a direct result of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Eighty-eight percent of the experts said that either such a scenario was unlikely or that they see no connection between a troop withdrawal from Iraq and terrorist attacks inside the United States. This line of thinking was consistent across party lines, with 58 percent of conservatives saying they did not believe terrorist attacks would occur at home as a result of a military drawdown in Iraq. [Link]
It has also long being established that what’s going on Iraq now is more of an internal sectarian power struggle, and not an attack on the US or ‘American Values’.

Paul has surprised many with the success of his candidacy, partly because he’s right on many of the issues. Its highly unlikely though he’ll actually get the nomination (not that I’d have believed he could raise 4.3 million a day either) But if republicans are to win a anti-war majority who's just fed up of Iraq, I think its high time they start moderating a bit.

NeoCons aren’t cool anymore and besides whatever the mistakes Americans have made, no country deserves a Rodham presidency. Paul Save America.