Wednesday, December 5, 2007

“Sorry” is not in George Bush’s lexicon

After the joint report of US intelligence agencies reported that Iran had stopped its nuclear program in 2003, the most appropriate approach for US President George Bush would have been to say “ Sorry, but we goofed”.

If he wanted to pass the buck, Bush could have of course blamed the 2005 intelligence report that said that Iran’s leaders were working tirelessly to acquire a nuclear bomb.

Instead, the US President on Tuesday warned that Iran was still a threat – referring to Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which the Middle East country claims is for its civilian program. All this is reminiscent of the hysteria the Bush administration successfully whipped up about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) ahead of the US invasion of Iraq.

This time over it may not be so easy, unless the US totally disregards public opinion both within the country and abroad. There are a number of inconsistencies in Bush’s stand.

Why should the community of nations, led by the US and its allies, impose sanctions on Iran if it is now believed that Iran is enriching uranium for its civilian programs ? How does this approach of the US and its allies sit with its bonhomie with Pakistan’s generals, who have lots of nuclear bombs, which may be used against Pakistan’s enemies like India, and are in far greater risk of falling into terrorist hands ?

This “ my buddy can do no wrong” approach with Pakistan flies in the face of common sense, and only goes to show that the US is harassing Iran, and trying to trigger a war there, because Iran will not toe the US line.

As the US uses this one-sided policy to expand its sphere of influence, and threaten nations that don’t toe its line, countries around the world are unabashedly backing its policies on Iran, as they did earlier in Iraq. Iran is the menace – that is the agreed point of view – though there have only been differences on how to tackle a country that has been prejudged a “menace”.

To be sure, Iran’s human rights record is abominable, but so is the record of many countries the US will not go to war with, and still continues to do business with, like China, like Pakistan. So frankly, what is the justification now to harass Iran with sanctions, and even military action ?

After WMDs, Bush is now talking about WW III

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Grapes of Wrath redux in South Florida

If you thought that John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath described a period long past in the history of labor in the US, then you should check out this Opinion column by Eric Schlosser in The New York Times.

The migrant farm workers who harvest tomatoes in South Florida have one of the nation’s most backbreaking jobs, working for 10 to 12 hours a day, picking tomatoes by hand, and earning a piece-rate of about 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket, according to Schlosser. “During a typical day each migrant picks, carries and unloads two tons of tomatoes. For their efforts, this holiday season many of them are about to get a 40 percent pay cut,” says Schlosser.

The Grapes of Wrath, you will recall, is the story of the Joads of Oklahoma, who after defaulting on loans back during the Great Depression, are lured into joining the ranks of laborers picking fruit in California. On arrival in California, they find hordes of applicants for jobs, and little hope of getting a decent wage, because of the oversupply of labor, lack of rights, and the collusion of the big corporate farmers.

In South Florida today, the place of the “Okies” in The Grapes of Wrath have been taken by illegal migrants with no rights, and exploited by the tomato farmers, working in collusion with the American fast food chains. Perhaps 80 percent of the migrants in Florida are illegal immigrants and thus especially vulnerable to abuse, according to Schlosser.

This is not a crisis of capitalism. On the contrary capitalism has worked too well, with the invisible hand pushing down wages as labor is abundant and illegal. It is public policy and civil society that seems to have surrendered its role to big business.

In “Supercapitalism”, Robert Reich argues that corporations are trying to influence governments and public policy as a way to get competitive advantage. As long as people respond as consumers and investors, looking for the best deal and lowest price, they will abdicate their role as citizens in a democratic society, influencing public policy.

The answer to the problem of illegal migrants is evidently not to exploit them. The solution lies in regularizing their migration, after the US decides whether it needs more labor or not. There is already legislation aiming at regularizing illegal migrants, but that will not become law until the US Presidential elections are over, or maybe a lot later. In the meantime, capitalism will continue to deliver efficiently for big business, and very cruelly for the migrants.

Related articles:

Free markets do not necessarily mean democracy or quality of life

Thoughts on Che Guevara and the cruelty of capitalism

Friday, November 30, 2007

Google bidding for spectrum – not entirely a blessing

Google is really trying hard to get its applications and services into mobile phones. But in the bargain it could be encroaching into every part of our Internet lives from its core business in search, to the Android operating system and applications on phones, to now owning spectrum for mobile telephony and data.

Google announced today that it will apply to participate in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) upcoming auction of wireless spectrum in the 700 megahertz (MHz) band.

As part of the nationally mandated transition to digital television, the 700 MHz spectrum auction -- which begins January 24, 2008 -- will free up spectrum airwaves for more efficient wireless Internet service for consumers. Advocacy by public interest groups and Google earlier this year helped ensure that regardless of which bidders win a key portion of the spectrum up for auction (the so-called "C Block"), they will be required to allow their users to download any software application they want on their mobile device, and to use any mobile devices they would like on that wireless network, Google said. The winner must ensure these rights for consumers if the reserve price of $4.6 billion for the C Block is met at auction, it added.

Google’s moves in the last few months have been aimed to get its services into mobile phones, thus opening up a new advertising revenue stream for the company. Mobile operators however want to control what applications users download, because they are also beginning to see special services as large potential revenue streams, including from advertising. If Google wants to get into the phones of these mobile operators, it can only do so through generous revenue sharing deals with the operators.

The search giant has hence been pushing for opening up the networks, to further its business interests. The 700 MHz spectrum auction was an opportunity for Google and other groups to advocate to the FCC that at least this part of the spectrum should be kept open by bid winners.

Google has been at the same time pushing the open source Android platform for mobile devices, which will again support third-party applications, including Google’s. However the big players like Nokia are not backing this initiative. Having seen the control and commoditization of the PC platform by Intel and Microsoft, they don’t want something similar in the mobile phone market.

It is not clear at this point whether Google really plans to win the auction, or just meet the reserve price for the auction. Also not clear is whether Google, if it bids seriously and wins, will get into actual network operation. If it decides to do so, not only other service providers and mobile phone makers, but also users should be worried. Google will be playing in too many inter-related markets from mobile networks to mobile devices to applications such as search, giving it a lot of opportunity to control.

Related articles:

Google wants an equal chance to get into your mobile phone

Google builds its own virtual machine for Android

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More promises on Palestine, but this time Bush has his reputation on the block

The meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and US President George Bush have yielded the promise of immediate talks on a Palestinian nation between Israel and Palestinian leaders, with a final treaty before the end of next year.

"We meet to lay the foundations for the establishment of a new nation, a democratic Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security," Bush said at a news conference in Annapolis, Md., according to this report in the Los Angeles Times.

Abbas will not be taking a damp squib to his fellow Palestinians back in Palestine. Nor will Hamas be able to say that Abbas was taken down the garden path by Olmert and Bush. The prospects for peace in the Middle East are very real.

Unfortunately the chances that the peace talks may be grounded on one of the myriad disputes surrounding the Middle East issue are still high.

The Annapolis agreement is about deciding to talk and make peace, but did not cover any of the substantive issues that divide Palestinians and Israelis. In this sense it is not a lot different from previous confidence building exercises, mediated by the Americans.

There are the issues of boundaries to be discussed, and fought over both at the negotiating table and on the ground. Will Jerusalem be partitioned or stay with Israel ? What will happen to the Israeli settlements once the new nation is formed ? Will Palestine be allowed to run its own defense ? Will Israel be recognized as a Jewish state or will the Palestinian diaspora demand the right to return ?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that he will not back down on his demand that East Jerusalem be named the capital of any future Palestinian state. Nor will he relent on his calls for Israel to dismantle its outposts in the West Bank, he said, according to this report in CNN.

These irksome issues have been pushed under the carpet for the grand-standing this week. For President Bush this is perhaps his last chance as President to prove his statesmanship, and win a Nobel Prize, as some wags put it. For Abbas it could be a matter of his own and Fatah’s survival that the negotiations succeed without him seeing to concede too much. As for the Israelis, they have to start delivering, rather than look for excuses to delay a resolution. There is a lot of hard work, and tough decisions for all three leaders in the days ahead.