Quick thoughts about an old news. I had this in my drafts, and I think it is important enough to be said, though I have forgotten what I originally wanted to say. Publishing the fragment as it is.
I want to state here that I have nothing against Muslims, but that doesn't mean that I go out of my way to respect religious leaders (of any religion, actually, but in this case Islam) when they behave in ways that are, in my eyes totally unworthy of respect.
Recently (in Feb 2012 - this is an old post), the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia called for all the Churches in the Arabian Peninsula to be destroyed. This, in itself is not unprecedented. Islam is littered with the debris of religious monuments of other religions razed in its wake. I will not go into history, but a few quick examples off the top of my head include the Bamiyan statues of Buddha, Churches and temples in Pakistan, Churches in Egypt, Buddhist and Hindu temples and other relics in Maldives.... to name a few. Other than the Bamiyan statues, the rest are fairly recent incidents - within the last year or two. There is no need to go over the entire history of Islam, it is fairly clear that in places of Muslim rule, minority religious symbols live on borrowed life.
So the question that the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia ought to answer clearly is if he finds it acceptable that mosques are destroyed where Muslims are a minority. If yes, then he has to answer to the millions of Muslims whose beloved places of worship he puts on the line, and if not, he has to accept that Islam is unfairly tolerated by non-Muslims, because everyone likes their own religion or lack of it.
This is unacceptable, for instance. From
This is being proposed about churches. Not acceptable.
Muslims who claim peaceful coexistence and such stuff or blame Islamophobia for all that is wrong with how the Islamic world is perceived need to make a point of disowning these views. Whether it is protecting churches in the Arab Peninsula from this man's thugs, or it is refusing and rejecting his authority over them, wherever they are. While Muslims cannot be expected to make a point of denouncing every bigot that pops up with a new xenophobic idea, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia is a prominent enough figure for the religion that this is important.
Governments around the world should have a response to this, and a clear understanding about religious places of minorities should be openly negotiated. Unless the Grand Mufti is to retract his words and issue an apology, mosques affiliated with him should not be allowed in any country other than Saudi Arabia, in my view. Regardless of whether the government is Islamic or not. There has to be a clear denouncement and rejection of such intolerance to provide an alternative view of Muslims with a clear disassociation with such bigotry.
While freedom of worship should not be conditional, I think any sane government would be in its rights to evaluate if a dangerous cult may be parading within the religion that is harmful to the interests of its citizens.
Otherwise, it doesn't make sense to blame people for Islamophobia, because the Grand Mufti himself is speaking in a way that would terrify anyone in their senses. A phobia is irrational. Being very afraid of a religion that will not tolerate opposition to it and will destroy other religions where it is in power makes complete sense.
Please note that there is no religious obligation on Muslims to worship this joker. As far as I know. Or even to be polite to him after he has made their religion look like an enemy of the rest of mankind. The Quran doesn't care who they worship or don't worship beyond Allah and Mohammed must be respected - of whom the Grand Mufti is neither, so this should not be religiously offensive
As for me, I think the Grand Mufti is a xenophobic, religious chauvinist and downright dangerous bully. To me, he debunks the term Islamophobia itself by proving the fear extremely well founded.
Anonymous has always fascinated me. It was with great interest that I heard of Operation India being "engaged". I liked it that they were picking up on censorship to protest. I thought that DDoS attacks were a lot of trouble for little result beyond the time of the attack and illegal as well. Sites being defaced were outright scary illegal. But I liked the reasons. I realized that most people had no idea of Anonymous in any factual sense. I decided to find out. Yesterday, I went on their IRC channel to interview whoever was there to get an idea of the thinking and actions of Anonymous for India.
The first message on entering is automated.
Lulzboat- [#opIndia] "The Department of Telecom has ordered all internet service providers to block all file sharing websites, it's time for you to stand up and show that the corrupt government cannot stop you!"
I introduced myself on the #OpIndia channel and was immediately asked to return with a fake ID. I explained that i was not there to participate, but as a real person, blogger with a real identity wanting to find out more about them. I was quickly directed to another channel called #AnonymousINDIA - #OpIndia was not for chatting. Presenting snapshot quotes and answers gathered for some questions I asked them.
Operation India was started by NetCak3 and Vlad. BitMentor is an experienced and active Anon,and consented to speak with me. Participating in it is strictly individual choice. Anons themselves as individuals under a collective identity and there is no leader deciding for everyone. More like whoever wants to lead starts walking and everyone finding it interesting walk along. I was interested in what made BitMentor start Operation India and other anons join in. Corruption, censorship, illegal silencing that powerful entities get away with and such seemed recurring themes. The block on websites which also were extensively used in legal ways. Examples included VIMEO being used for sharing videos that were owned by the uploader or "open licence" or softwares like OpenOffice having official torrents for distributing. "we would not have cared if they had found the unloaders and arrested them [on piracy, illegal content]"
They spoke of three kinds of blocks. The first was a block of sites that could potentially pirate content. The second was to block sites that can allow anonymous sharing of content - Pastebin, for example. The third was specific targets. A list of blocked sites they got off the Reliance servers had a lot of urls containing "Satish Seth", which they say they investigated because it seemed curious and found no court order for (it is possible that there may be one that is not online). Satish Seth was an employee of Reliance arrested in the course of the 2G scam investigations. Pages including those on major news sites like telegraphindia and moneycontrol were on the list. Blogs on blogspot, tumblr, profiles on twitter, linkedIn. These pages open without any problem for me from an MTNL connection, which would not have been the case if this was a ban from a court order or DOT.
At first sight, I thought the sites were spoofs or insulting in some way. Possibly some may have been, but others seemed to be fairly innocuous. For example, the page on moneycontrol.com is the fourth page of the search results for the term satish seth. This page would be changing with news being added. Also, why not the first, second or third? Very strange.
In #OpIndia, the blocking of 400+ sites is something that is cause for alarm about the state of free speech. It indicates presumption of guilt unless proved innocent. And they are fighting to force such blocks back. However, the question in my mind was "by what means?" What plans does Operation India have? Answers ranged from DDoS attacks and defacements to protests on the ground. There was a whole range of alternatives ranging from the fairly straightforward to the illegal.
I asked them what justified the breaking of laws as a method of protest. Some answers I got, I don't buy. Defacements being peaceful protests in the sense of them not harming the server beyond replacing the front page or that DDoS attacks were the equivalent of thousands of people walking into a restaurant with a capacity for only hundred. Still others asked "where is the proof that we did it?" or that they were fighting things that were illegal or oppressive to begin with. In my eyes, this doesn't wash. You take thousands into a restaurant with a capacity for a hundred people with the sole purpose of paralyzing it? Entering a privately owned server without authorization and through bypassing security or exploiting vulnerabilities? It would be the real life equivalent of a person breaking into a home or office saying he did no harm, only painted all doors and windows black.
They know the risks. Indeed, the top of the page makes it clear "Anonymous Is no game, You must be aware of the risks and yet be brave, because this is a revolution. Some may fall but oure cause wont." The confidence as well as the outrage is clear. "We create every technology they use, and they expect to use it to control us. That is an idea of fighting the creator with his creation."
There are blurred boundaries. "soon we will hack computer of all corrupt Indians" said one. Some thought he was over reaching. Yet, there was a question a reader wanted asked about if anonymous would hack and get details of corrupt politicians with money in Swiss banks. Inside Anonymous or outside, disillusioned, angry minds think similar. But there is always the question of actual ability as well as the difficulty balancing what is right and wrong. For example, not all politicians are necessarily corrupt.
Which brought me to the question of how they decided targets. By consensus/vote - as expected. By now, I understood a little of this band of virtual Merry Men. But what happens when some Anons go converse to the interests of others? An example being the #OpKashmir that ran a few days ago, targeting Indian sites. It claims to represent the people of Kashmir independently of either India or Pakistan, yet the Operation targets onlyIndian sites - specifically those of the J&K government and the Army. While OpKashmir seems to be announced from an Anonymous website, the operation itself is claimed by The Hackers Army and their earlier post makes no mention of Anonymous. They had also launched #OPfreePalestine in which they hacked thousands of Israeli websites.
Vidyut, you never know who is behind #opkashmir
Some people use name of Anonymous just for personal grudges
We will not only not hit it [Army website] we will do what it takes to protect it if required
While, to put it in their own words, they cannot stop anyone from being Anonymous, people on the #OpIndia were one voice on this. They see this as a political agenda which is not really what Anonymous is about. They have developed guidelines. They never target infrastructure. Which is how the websites for irctc, banks, BSE and media may up as suggestions, but are quickly negated as targets. This last - media - was particularly surprising, considering that there is a lot of bitterness about paid media (more on this in a bit), but they see the flow of information to people as infrastructure. However, these nuances (or eccentricities) are not very clear. For example, today, all day the RBI website has been solidly down. Is that because the common man doesn't interact with the RBI website? I don't know. We don't interact with the Army website either.
"Are the people on #OpIndia Indians?" Anonymous claims no nationality. However to "Are Indians on this channel?" the answer was a resounding yes. Actually, it was an unnecessary question by then. It was also clear from the chatter on the channel. This was a surprise when I first entered, because from all my reading of Anonymous, it had never occured to me that Indians were active in Anonymous. It had always seemed a Western phenomenon. But they operate as Anonymous and beyond nationality too and vice versa. Anons from Venezula defaced goodgov.in in support of Operation India. Still, "Many Indians are there on most Ops world wide." took me completely by surprise.
We also talked about security. The lack of reporting of the defacing of the Big Cinemas Website ("if people suffer from these attacks, and they can't see movie 1 weekend, they would understand") was something that raised anger on behalf of people. As proof, the "hacktivists" had copied ticket booking details. According to BitMentor, this is a serious security breach. This ought to have been reported. While he says that their team did not take any Credit Card information, the fact that the vulnerability is there makes it within the realm of possibility that someone else could [or already did]. "BlackHats who wanted the data would have found it years ago." I don't know how easy or possible it is to retrieve or hack such information or to use it once they get it. I am simply reporting the conversation.
Anonymous had been bringing down government sites for a week without a word from the government - either acknowledgment or admonishment. However, the day after the attack on the Reliance website, the accounts for Operation India on both Facebook and Twitter were deleted. This cannot be an action by the social media service providers themselves because hundreds of anonymous accounts exist on both without any problem unless they are reported for child pornography or such from a very small and specific list of reasons. Incidentally, this would do nothing to secure the sites that got hacked.
Another thing that came up was the quality of CERTand Cyber Cell:
BitMentor: Then we have CERT - Computer Emergency Response Team and the Cyber Cell - both these in India are over glorified. The reason they could solve many crimes is because the criminals were not good at it. Not because they were Shelock and Watson.
Me: What exactly would you say is wrong with them?
BitMentor: The problem with this idea is that you are never safe. Nothing wrong with them, the truth is that no one can do better, but that better is useless.
Me: So what should they do? There are cyber crimes happening
BitMentor: Educate people, and make laws to control the companies and not the internet. Eg: if law exist that a company can't store Credit Card data, no one can take it easily.
Had Anonymous been able to change policy or governments before? "SOPA and PIPA have been dropped". The government in Egypt changed. What did they plan for India? They want to get the blocks on sharing sites reversed to earlier method of blocking urls instead of entire sites used by millions of people - many of whom didn't even watch films of the type being protected from piracy. However, there were idealistic long term visions too. The resolve was firm that any eroding of human freedoms would be fought with all means at their disposal.
When I shared the supportive messages and appreciation for their fight for freedoms, their reply was simple. "Tell them they are our power, help us fight". I remarked that while many may be angry over the same things they were fighting, most people would hesitate to cross legal lines or lack technical knowledge. "All of us are not techies. Ask them to spread message, to organize protests." "Speak up.""Tell them to do it before protesting is banned too" "They need to wake up, No country or place was ever saved by the government while the people slept."
They have a date - 9th June - by which they expect the government to reverse the blocks, or they have protests planned on the ground. Beyond that? It is anybody's guess. What is clear is that the Anonymous are in India and they are here to stay.
In 1999, Egypt came under the structural reforms regime of the World Bank and IMF, but for some reason, they didn't push it. Maybe because the ministers of that time were a little smarter.
2004 - Mubarak sacks most of his cabinet, brings in guys, trained - where else? - land of the free, home of the brave. Brings them in, and they ruthlessly implement the economic reforms and you've got chaos. You've got 80% of those below 30-35 unemployed.
Ya, so democracy is a very important issue. Unlike in say, India, they did not have the option of voting out governments. Please know this, just so that you understand this, how important the food issue is. Election after election in India, many elections in India, I can't even count for you how many, the price of bread has been the price of power.
In 2009 elections, all those governments that provided cheaper rice to their public won those elections. Whether the BJP in Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, BJD in Orissa under Navin Patnaik, the DMK in Tamil Nadu... it made a huge difference, because the public were reeling under food prices.
Understand how important. In Egypt or Yemen, the public did not have the option of using the electoral route of protest.
So yes, the democracy thing was an important driver, but incredibly important was the food issue.
Here we are.
Let's take each one of these countries. So I've given you the Egyptian stats. In the 6 years between 2004 and 2010 the rate of accumulation and concentration of wealth in Egypt is even higher than in between 1999 and 2004. Inequality is a theme. Deepening inequality is a huge driver.
And we come to the United States. Egypt IS the world's biggest importer of wheat. Take Yemen.
According to the World Food Programme... Yeme is by the way one of the very poor countries of the world. 15.7% of Yemen's population lives on less than a dollar a day. 43% live on less than 2 dollars a day. And in three months this year, in three months of 2011 , 6% of Yemen's population went below the poverty line, driven by food prices and drought.
Are we beginning to get the idea that food matters? 6% of Yemen's entire population in the first three months of this year. January, February, March. That's the estimate of the World Food Programme, which has declared that they are broke, because the budget that they had made for Yemen was destroyed by the price rise.
They had a very large budget for Yemen and now estimate they are 28 million dollars short. Those 28 million dollars measure for you the rise in food prices. So they're saying, we are going to have to drop from our list more than 300 thousand hungry people if we are to continue in the same budget.
Let's get to Syria. You know, Assad. President Assad, drew a quick lesson from what was happening in Egypt, drew a quick lesson from what was happening in Tunisia and immediately declared that he would bring down the prices of the staples. But you know what, it didn't work. The crowds are getting bigger.
But it is interesting to me that he recognized it, as always too late. Mubarak also. Too late.
In Yemen, it did not start with Twitter or Facebook, it started in the south with a bunch of students bringing out a public declaration against high food prices. School students. High school students. They took out a protest against... and they were astonished by the number of people who joined them.
When they went out to... because their meals in the canteen, everything was cut by these extremely high prices. That's so much for Yemen.
Take You know, in Syria, immediately after the crisis started, Syria lowered taxes on olive oil by 53% , on taxes on sugar by 25%, lowered taxes across the board on foodstuffs, but the price increase is so high, that it's not having that much of an impact. In fact, the announcement that they would do it, led to rapid hoarding and speculation of food grain, and that has also bitten into the crisis very severely.
The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that in the year 2008 64 million people went below the poverty line, driven by food prices. The FAO has a food insecurity atlas that you can look at. 2008 was 64 million people. When they bring out their 2011 issue, you will find that it was exceeded in 2010 because much much greater stress on pricess came up in 2010.
Here's an interesting thing. As always, after the horse has bolted the stable the IMF comes out with the study saying that there is a serious link between food prices and political unrest. Gee! We needed to know that. And only the IMF could tell us. They did a study between 1970 and 2007 which said that a 10% increase.... I haven't quite understood ... very written in the jargon of the economists. But what it basically says is that it adds a factor of 0.5 in a given year, in the next year of raising the prices in political unrest. In terms of the average political unrest, that is an increase of 100% - that's basically what they're trying to say is what I understand.
Often, this seems to unfold against not just food price increase, but double digit inflation overall. In India, food price inflation has been ranging between 13 and 18 percent for the last year, year and a half. And overall inflation has been close to double digit, but it's up and down, within a band of 2%.
Now let's take a look at my favorite magazine and website - Forbes.
Was all this an issue of demand and supply? Was all this chaos over riots and food was it entirely an issue of demand and supply? Yes, those were factors. The collapse of the Russian harvest, the drought in Australia had an impact, but nothing like the impact that speculation on commodities is having on world food prices.
Do you remember in 2008 the price of petrol went from 40 dollars a barrel to 170 dollars a barrel and then came down to 120? production didn't change so fast, did it? Food prices if you remember shot up in 2008 and toward the end of 2008 fell dramatically.
Why does that happen?
It's called futures trading. It's called speculation in food grain. The difference about speculating in food grain and.... see now some of the wealthiest investors... I've got to read you a quote from Wall Street Journal on this. What are they...? They are not even acquiring a physical commodity. They are not acquiring so many tons of rice. They are just betting on the price of rice.
They are just betting and they have a very simple bet. Food price goes ... up.
So its driving the prices of food way beyond what the public of many, many nations can afford. That's what's happening. Okay?
So it's really going dramatically up, and Fortune advises its investors ... it says "this is a bet worth dipping into." It's going up.
So I... today I looked at Fortune's list of fastest growing industries of 2009. What was number 1? Food Production. Fastest growing in revenues, food production. Number 2 is Energy, number 3 is petroleum refining, but Number 1 is food production.
In the top 20 there are two other food related... food processing is number 15, and another food related item is in the top 20, but food production is the number 1 in revenues, and in terms of growth of profit, the fourth most profitable industry in the world.
According to Fortune 500, whom I trust implicitly, because they tell me correctly how many billionaires we have each year.
And it's very... Fortune's 2009 results are very important. In a way they tell us what happened and what follows in 2010. When we look at those numbers today, we get a much better understanding of the food crisis.
Here are some of the biggest beneficiaries of that boom. Number 1 company in the world. Profiting from the largest expansion. Number 1 industry in the world and the fourth highest profit making industry in the world is Archer Daniels Midland - ADM.
If you look at it in terms of percentage change in profits, the food industry 2008-09 48% increase 42.8% increase. The next highest is some 14% behind and that is energy.
Here is how Archer Daniels Midland - an American company did. I'm quoting from Wall Street Journal "It not only reported record third quarter profits and windfall as all other food companies including Monsanto did, in the seeds sector, but Archer Daniel's profits included a seven-fold increase - a net increase in its unit that stores transports and trades in grain. Not produces grain.
The highest profits were in the units in those companies storing grain. You can the enhance speculation. You're not producing one morsel of grain. You are trading in it, you are hoarding in it, you're speculating in it, you're storing it and that unit has the highest profits of the fastest growing industry in the world.
Tells you how important food is.
Welcome to the ultimate profit zone. I'm surprised Warren hasn't found it yet or maybe he has investments we don't know about. It's called food and water. You know, if the world has to do without petroleum, it will. Humanity lived without it for millenia, but you can't live without food and water.
The countries that control food grain in the next twenty years will run the world.
The countries that control food grain or the food grain trade, they have the world by its belly. It's literally having the world by its belly. Now if that was Archer Daniel's profits, you know, I won't go into the whole list. the profits became so much, that the United States Senate set up a commission.... what was it called... the commodity futures trading commission. It held a session in Washington with Congressmen participating, I think, because of the kind of damage it was doing.
Today, the point of it is that hedge funds and index funds control between an estimated 50-60 percent of wheat traded on the world's largest commodity markets. So hedge funds and index funds are driving food prices. In India, the volume of futures trade - it's not possible to calculate how many percent it has increased in 18 to 24 months. The percentage and level it has increased in a very, very brief time.
So that's what's happening.
By the way the food production industry increase - I said 42.8% - I'm wrong, it is 48.8%.
Now the fast growing investment is coming. It is moving to another area. Farmland. How many of the Indians sitting in this - or the people of Indian origin sitting in this audience are aware that India is buying vast tracts of farmland in Kenya and Ethiopia. Are you aware of this? [inaudible audience response] Two people. Not bad. That's about the National average.
We're locked in a race with China and we're damned irritated because they've bought more land than us. And what are we buying this land for? To grow food in India. Having destroyed India's food production capabilities over 20 years of neo-liberal economics.
And we're buying... we're going to be buying hundreds and thousands of acres - we've invested 4.3 billion dollars in Ethiopia as a country. We're going to be buying tens of thousands of farmland in Ethiopia - for God's sake, don't you think they have enough problems without us landing up there?
(includes some of the end of part 1 for continuity)
It never looked back. That was the breach point. The Composite Share Index of the Colombo Stock Exchange - the CSE - reached within 16 points of the highest - which was the year of its founding. Indonesia - the worst affected nation - quarter of a million people dead, the Stock Exchange is rocked by the earthquake and Tsunami but you know as the neo-liberal economists say: The building rocked, but the fundamentals were sound.
So the Stock exchange reached its great... every day it broke the earlier records for a week. Thailand and Malasia couldn't do that, because they had already reached their historic highs at that point, but they reached the highest within those five years when they had come to a top.
You know something guys, about unique buying opportunities, let me tell you, let me present to you a non-financial way of looking at this if you will. Here's something about unique buying opportunities: When there is incredible misery in the countryside, when hundreds and thousands of people go into bondage because of debt and many of them of course, take their lives in indebtedness, do you realize there is a unique buying opportunity for money lenders in the countryside to buy more young girls and cheaper for the flesh trade and trafficking that goes on in the world. It's a unique buying opportunity.
Try looking at it in terms of food in the same way. As the distress in the countryside has gone up, human trafficking has gone up all around the world. As the distress... I can see with my... you know...
In my own job, I'm a rural reporter. I spend between 270 and 300 days a year in India's villages. My home is in Mumbai, which is also home to one of the largest red light districts in the world. In the red light district called Kamatipura, you can see where the children have come from. The girls are really children. They are 12-13 years old. They have come because some granddad or father had gone into debt some years ago, and they are there.
The more the distress, the greater the drivers, pushing them from Kalahandi, from Telangana, from Rayalaseema, from Vidarbha... into the sex trade. Why don't you look at that as a unique buying opportunity? If you can look at the unique buying opportunity created by radioactive fallout in Fukushima as something nice, try... for me, morally, it's in the same club. It's not very different. Just look at the morality of this economics - that is the dominant economics of our time.
Back to the media.
You know the most expensive branch of the media... I've been a journalist for Last September I completed 30 years as a professional journalist. I've always noticed - in the last 15 years particularly, that the branch of the media - whether in television or in print, on which we spend the maximum money are the financial journalists.
My contemporary in Times of India, all he does is cover... you know there's a guy... in several papers ... He covers futures. That's all he does. Must be a wretched, miserable life, but he earns eight times of what I do, so I guess he's ok.
Now here is the most pampered, most highly paid branch of journalism. Did any of them give you an inkling of what was to happen in 2008. We have scrutinized the banks. We have scrutinized the insurance companies. We have scrutinized the government. We have scrutinized Congress. Have you scrutinized the financial media and how they helped you put your money down the tube. Telling you that things were never so good. Go back to 2008 before the meltdown. Three to four months before the meltdown, and read how well the world economy was doing.
No critical analysis. No introspection. After the meltdown, the same clowns are trotted out onto your television screens to tell you exactly what went wrong. After your money is down the tube. I think that programme has a nice name. Mad Money. It is completely insane. The star anchor of it and the conclusions. These were the guys telling you that the economy was doing better than it ever did!
Remember. Did the great world of financial journalism ever tell you that ENRON was as big a crock of shit as you could imagine in your worst nightmare? Did they? No, because Wall Street Journal and other columnists were writing speeches for Kinley at 25k a shot.
Financial journalists were writing speeches for ENRON executives. You can read the Columbia journalism review on that, on how many of these guys were making money writing for... there's too much cosiness between financial media and the corporate world.
Come to India for a moment. It is now perfectly normal in financial journalism that a guy who is an assistant editor in the Economic times, for instance, okay? He joins Burrows and Welcome as a Public Relations officer. A year later he comes back as the associate editor of the newspaper. Two years later he goes as senior PRO of Glaxosmithklyne. Then he is back as senior associate editor. Then he is chief PRO of Dabhol, which is ENRON and one day he is the resident editor of the newspaper.
This is seen as perfectly normal - the seamless transition between journalism and the corporate world, because journalism is ... because the media, not journalism, is... The media are not anymore pro-corporate or pro-business. The are corporations, they are big businesses. They are worth billions and billions of dollars and if you want, we can get into the numbers regarding India. What kind of investments the country has seen in the media in the last three to four years in a little while from now.
Now, if you look at the links between the media and giant corporations, the organic structural links. You know about twenty years ago, we used to talk about media monopolies. And there were monopolies in the media. That isn't the case anymore. There may be monopolies in the media, but they are small parts of much larger conglomerates. Much larger conglomerates, and they are perhaps the ideological arm.
It's one reason my dears, that NBC cannot play up the story that General Electric paid ZERO dollars in tax last year. How many of you knew that? Did you know it from NBC? NBC can't say it, because NBC ... Firstly, the original parent company of NBC is RCA - Radio Corporation of America. Seventh biggest contractor, super parent of that granddaddy of that is General Electric - one of the biggest military manufacturers on the planet... now NBC can't go around telling you "Hey, my parent company didn't pay any tax dollars last year!"
Zero tax dollars by one of the largest corporations in the world. Here's the point, guys. The point is: The media have a structural compulsion to lie on these critical issues. They are too heavily invested in the market to ever tell you the truth about it. I keep telling my whizkid friends in Mumbai, because many of my friends are also corporate... heavily into the corporate world. I said whatever you do, don't invest your life savings on the basis of what the bloody newspapers tell you. You'll be dead. Quite a few of them were, in 2008, but anyway...
They have been given a second life since then. Again with public money.
Now look at the media narrative of the large, large political process of your time. How did we begin this talk? We began this talk with me asking you if you were aware that Egypt was the largest wheat importer in the world, the food prices in Egypt had gone up way beyond the budget of ordinary people in a nation which has one of the highest expenditures of food per capita in terms of your monthly income. 40% in Egypt as against say 17% in Brazil.
But you told me that this was not reflected in your media. Let me tell you what was reflected in your media. Twitter made a revolution, right? And Facebook mopped it up. Right? Helped by a few brave bloggers. People make revolutions, not technologies.
When I hear this kind of nonsense ... you know? These are tools. They help you. Of course they help you. When I hear a piece telling me the Maldavian Twitter revolution and understand that Maldavia has something like 70 twitter accounts. You know? I don't know how many it has, but it has almost nothing.
When I hear that people are coming onto the streets of Tehran, because of messages on Twitter and Facebook, all of which are in English, and how many of those people in the streets of Tehran are English speakers or visit English websites? Talk sense. Just talk sense.
Uprisings and agitations and revolutions are made by people.
The second thing they didn't tell you was that Egypt for twelve days was in what was virtually a general strike. After thirty years of suppression, the trade unions were out on the street in very, very significant numbers. Workers were on those streets. Nor did they tell you that more than 30% of these countries of the unemployed ... more than 80% of the unemployed in Egypt were people below the age of 30.
Don't you think these were things that your media needed to tell you? Don't you think it would have given you something more of a perspective if you knew these facts? How come you don't know. It's a Twitter revolution.
It was vastly entertaining for me to read in the newspapers, all the big corporate media reproducing Hillary's call to Egypt to reform. Do you know why it was entertaining? Because 6 months ago, the United States had praised Egypt for being one of the most serious countries about reforms and economic reforms, and the World Bank in its report of 2010 - they bring out a report called "Doing Business 2008" "Doing business 2001" Its report, "Doing Business 2010" says Egypt and Columbia were among the best and topmost reformers in economies in four of the last seven years. And those were the four years that led to your collapse.
It says - I'm quoting: "Top global reformers in four of the past seven years."
The World Bank has a knack for these famous last words.
There's another from India which I like even more - on "Water Privatization". This report is published 2 years and it says water privatization can be a very popular thing. As Mr. Chandrababu naidu has shown, the report is published - eight months later he suffers the biggest electoral defeat in the history of Andhra Pradesh. And the next two editions of the report still contain that paragraph despite my having had fun at their expense on the Edit Page.
They still continued to repeat it. And the other person whose electoral popularity was boosted by.. Chandrababu Naidu was one, and the other was Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh, after whom the Congress has never been able to come back in Madhya Pradesh. Nor has the TDP been able to come back in Andhra Pradesh and it's very likely, those of you who are Telugu.. that the TDP will be third in teh next Andhra election. Third. If they're lucky. They'll be competing with the Congress for third place.
Now let's shift. This whole business of valorizing, lionizing those who undertake pro-corporate reforms and destroy the lives of ordinary people, how have you been reading what have you been reading, for instance about the European Union and the collapse there. These idiots in Spain and Greece, right? Lazy guys. They have these four hour siestas, they don't work.
Have you noticed how silent the ideologues are on the collapse of Ireland? Ireland was the star pupil of the neoliberal economic philosophy. The star pupil. Today, Ireland is down the tube. Very sad. that's a country I absolutely loved and have connections with. In 2007, when I was there, I was really frightened by the great joy and zest with which the Irish were celebrating their boom.
Now having seen 16 years of that in India, and having a good sense of what was to follow, I did try in the different talks I had in the universities to pour some cold water on that. In fact, their newspapers had the headlines - coming to age of the Celtic tiger. So in fact my talk at the Galloway university had been titled Asian tiger, Celtic kitten and... it didn't go down well. I wonder why.
Seeing so many students in the audience always provokes the teacher gene. So I'm going to begin with a question.
Who do you think is the world's biggest importer of wheat?
I'm not doing it as a test for you, it is a measure of your media. One of the most important processes is unfolding in Africa. How much of the discussion have you seen around the African uprisings that tells you that one of the big drivers of those uprisings is food prices.
The biggest importer of wheat in the world is Egypt. 20 million tons in the last twenty months 2 years. 20 million tons. So, when food prices soar, people pay an incredible price.
In Egypt, the average Egyptian citizen spends far more as a share of his or her income on food than people in comparable countries. For instance, in Brazil. If you were in Brazil, you would spend 17% of your income on an average - national average - on purchasing food. If you live in Egypt, you will spend much more than twice that. 40% of your income goes on food.
How important do you think has been the emphasis of the media on food prices as a major problem in these countries. Did you get that impression from your media? You can't. I don't blame you. But it is... don't you think it adds some perspective to what's going on? To know that that country is the biggest importer of wheat? That food prices have gone up 30.. 40.. 50% over a couple of years?
Also one of the last things Mubarak did in desperation, six weeks before he was ejected, was to reintroduce price controls, which he had removed under the orders of the structural adjustment programme put on him by the World Bank and the IMF with renewed vigor in 2004.
So there you are. Food prices were and are a major...
Have we forgotten already that in 2008... because I think the meltdown wiped out everybody's memories... 2008 was the year of food riots across the world. Remember? They were the highest.. First time you saw the Western middle classes worrying about the food prices in April to June 2008. Or have we forgotten that?
There were food riots in Kenya. There were food riots in Somalia. I think at least some of you might remember the food riots in Haiti.
2008 the food and agriculture organization of the United Nations tells us was the record highest price rise on the FAO food price index. But you know something? It got obliterated. In 2010, it was even higher. Midway through 2010, the food price index registered a 32% increase in a matter of months. And that was much higher.
2008 produced food riots. 2010 produced regime change.
It's not that these were the only factors. Not at all. There were many political factors, compelling internal factors, but they need a spark. They needed something.
Don't write off what food prices and the role of food is, and I'll explain why.
Incidentally another country... How many of you can name the African country that was completely self-sufficient in cereals in the 1970s and becomes one of the most major importers of food in the world?
1970s - completely self-sufficient in cereals. 2010 - one of the world's biggest importers of food.
I could name 20 countries like this and you'd see half of them in that situation you are seeing now in Africa. So it is not that... yes, democracy is very important, the politics of it is very important, but there was a major driver called hunger. Food prices.
If you look at the Arab streets, you will see people out on the streets who never ever stepped out in demonstrations and protests. Very conservative sections who never participated in protests and demos. They were there on the street. They still are on the street. Because the problem is not solved.
Ok, we'll come back to the food issue, because what's my.. this is titled as... Wages of inequality, food crisis, farm crisis and the media. We are already into two of those.
The media told you nothing about this... from what you are telling me. You did not glean from the media coverage that food prices were a major factor in what's going on.
You know, every year, the United Nations Development Programme ... and in fact, the UN has been doing this even before the UNDP became active... it's been for 30 years, the United Nations has been presenting us every year with a menu - a bill of fare. We don't see it as a consolidated menu, but we do see it in little bits and blobs.
Don't we... haven't you read somewhere, you vaguely remember... "The Secretary General of the United Nations said that if we spend 15 billion dollars a year additionally, additional expenditure on hunger, we could eliminate hunger. Have you read those sort of little items all over the newspapers? Ya... this you have.
Now what I do is, these different little items that appear, I add them up as a menu, and try figuring out what they come to.
Hunger - 15 billion dollars a year the Secretary General tells us will eliminate the extremes of hunger.
10 billion dollars additional expenditure a year, and ever person on the planet has got sanitation.
15 billion dollars a year and every child... additional expenditure. We're talking about additional expenditure, ok? 15 billion dollars additional expenditure a year, and every child on the planet will be in school.
12 billion dollars additional expenditure a year, or something like that, and everyone's got access to basics like water.
You put these together and you get something like between 60 billion and 80 billion dollars. Right? So what is the UN telling you? It is telling you that 60 to 80 billion dollars additional expenditure you can solve the most pressing problems of the human race.
Its never happened in all those 30 years. Why?
What did the government say? No money. There's no money, we can't solve this problem. Where's the money? You put up the money. But we can't do it. You know? Let charitable foundations and the UN and philanthropic... let Gates and Buffett do it and all that stuff. But we can't do it, because we don't have any money.
So for 30 years, this amount of 60 to 80 billion dollars the governments could not find.
Then, 2008 September, Wall Street hits the fan. And the guys and the governments who couldn't find 60 to 80 billion dollars for 30 years find a trillion dollars inside of a week. Along with their friends in Europe, they find 3 trillion dollars in the next three or four months and God knows how much more since then, and what do they find it for? They find it to give it to the very guys who tanked the world economy.
Who wrote your bailout plan? Goldman Sachs.
You collect trillions of dollars, public dollars to give it to the very guys who tanked the world economy, and you have the money!
All these years you didn't have 60... you didn't have 8% of that money, to solve the basic problems of the human race, but you have twelve times that money to hand over to the banks and the trusts and the corporations that completely destroyed the global economy.
Incidentally, a little piece of statistical trivia, if you will: In 2008 - the year they blew the global economy, American CEOs took home 18 billion dollars in bonuses - for that fiscal. For the fiscal in which they blew the global economy.
Well, I suppose it was very modest, because the previous year, it was 34 billion, but they still took home 18 billion dollars in reward. And remember where those dollars came from. It came from a public dollar bailout. It came from public tax dollars which bailed them out.
Giant corporations, having brought the world economy to its knees, in a drama scripted for the last two or three decades by neo-liberal economists and corporations have benefited massively from the ruins and the wreckage. As I said, you destroy the world economy, you take home 18 billion dollars in bonuses. But remember this, in the world we live in, and the economics we follow, and the moral philosophy of that economics, every misery is an opportunity. I assert. Every misery is an opportunity.
Let me quote for you, the sage of Omaha - Warren Buffett. Whose reaction to the Tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan is that it provides a unique buying opportunity of Japanese stocks. This is Reuters quoting Warren Buffett. Here he is "Immediately after the nightmare... after Japan's tragedy, he said, if I owned Japanese stocks, I would certainly not be selling them. frequently something out of the blue like this an extraordinary event creates a buying opportunity." And he advised his friends to invest, because the Japanese companies are on their knees, the stock prices are down, this is the time to buy!
Actually, he's right. I don't know... I think six years ago, Bob, when I spoke here, soon after the Tsunami, I pointed out... I don't know if any of you were here. You look too young to have been around then... Ever since the Tsunami - struck me then, and ever since then, in every natural calamity, I - a non-financial journalist - follow the stock markets when something terrible happens, because they start doing very well after a week.
Buffett was right. One week after the Tsunami, as the damage was really unfolding. We knew for instance, that Indonesia had lost nearly a quarter of a million people... you know 11 countries were devastated by the tsunami - eleven. Out of those 11 countries, 5 have significant stock exchanges - India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia.
Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia.
Now what happens? One week, everything is devastated and at a standstill. Then these very stock exchanges register the highest gains of stock exchanges anywhere. Why?
The smell of reconstruction dollars. The smell of the money that comes out of the misery. When Warren Buffett says invest in Japanese stocks, he knows what he is talking about. He's talking about that pace of rapid reconstruction that's going to take place. Millions and billions of dollars in contracts.
So if you are smart, you're going to put money where the Japanese stocks are, because the reconstruction will be beginning and we all know that the Japanese are very good at it, they are very efficient people. When the reconstruction starts, it will be massive. So he says, buy those shares now.
In 2004 December 26th, the Tsunami hit those 11 countries. Those 5 countries were devastated. And you know what happened after the devastation? From the first week after the devastation, the sensex, which had never broken out of the 4 thousand bracket - the Sensitive Index of the Bombay Stock Exchange, which had never broken out of the four thousand bracket crossed six thousand and never looked back. Today scaling around twenty thousand.
It never looked back. That was the breach point. The Composite Share Index of the Colombo Stock Exchange - the CSE - reached within 16 points of the highest - which was the year of its founding. Indonesia - the worst affected nation - quarter of a million people dead, the Stock Exchange is rocked by the earthquake and Tsunami.... [contd in part 2]