Category Archives: India

Solidarity with Resistance to Extraction

People the world over are opposing fossil fuel extraction in an incalculable number of ways.  It is now clear that burning fossil fuels threatens millions of Life forms and could be laying the foundation for the extermination of Humanity.  But what about “alternative” energy?  As progressives stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those rejecting fossil fuels and nuclear power, should we despise, ignore, or commend those who challenge the menace to their homes and their communities from solar, wind and hydro-power (dams)?  The Green Party of St. Louis/Gateway Green Alliance gave its answer with unanimous approval of a version of the statement below in May, 2021.

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Global Conflicts Over Fossil Fuels, Nuclear and Alternative Energy

The monumental increase in the use of energy is provoking conflicts across the Earth.  We express our solidarity with those struggling against extraction, including these examples.

Standing Rock, North Dakota.  We stand in solidarity with the on-going Native American protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota protesting environmentally irresponsible and culturally damaging pipelines that transport crude oil extracted from tar sand, destroying their ancestral lands. So-called “clean” and “renewable” energies depend on the climate killer oil for their production.

Ogoni People vs. Shell.  We stand in solidarity with the Movement for Survival of Ogoni People against Shell. The Niger-Delta was devastated and traditional culture weakened by soil, surface and groundwater contamination that makes farming and fishing impossible.  Local communities still seek to receive denied compensation, clean-up, a share of the profits and a say in decision-making.

Coal extraction in India.  We stand in solidarity with the Centre for Policy Research in India as it opposes efforts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to open 41 new coal mines because burning coal is a major factor in climate change, leads to asthma, premature births, and spreads toxins (including mercury) by air, water and land.

Fracking in Pennsylvania.  We stand in solidarity with the Green Party of Pennsylvania which has opposed fracking since 2008 when it realized that use of volatile chemicals could harm local communities and waterways and contribute to climate instability. Local residents have become ill and major waterways and delicate ecosystems have been damaged.

Nuclear power and Olympic Games.  We stand in solidarity with the No Nukes Action Committee of the Bay Area who are demonstrating against the Olympic Games slated for Tokyo in order to raise awareness of the ongoing disaster of Fukushima nuclear power since nuclear power is deadly and intimately connected with the potential for nuclear war.

Uranium Mining in Africa.  We stand in solidarity with “Solidarity Action for the 21 Villages” in Faléa, Mali against the French multinational COGEMA/Orano. After years of struggle, this NGO defeated a uranium mine through community mobilizing.  Aware of the detrimental effects on health, environment, agricultural land, water sources and cultural heritage, they are still fighting to undo already done infrastructural damage.

Solar arrays in Washington State.  We stand in solidarity with rural Klickitat County, WA residents who are being invaded by industrial solar facilities which would exceed 12,000 acres and undermine wildlife/habitat, ecosystems, ground/water, and food production because solar panels and lithium ion batteries contain carcinogens with no method of disposal or re-cycling and could contribute to wildfires from electrical shortages.

Wind turbines in Broome County NY.  We stand in solidarity with the Broome Tioga Green Party’s fight against industrial wind turbine projects that would increase drilling and mining, dynamite 26 pristine mountain tops, and destroy 120,000 trees while requiring precious minerals and lithium for batteries and being dependent on fossil fuels for their manufacture, maintenance and operation.

Hydro-power in Honduras.  We stand in solidarity with the indigenous Lenca people opposing the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River in Honduras whose leader Berta Cáceres was murdered for uniting different movements to expose how dams destroy farmland, leave forests bare, disturb ancestral burial sites, and deprive communities of water for crops and livestock.

Lithium mining in Thacker Pass.  We stand in solidarity with activists aiming to stop Lithium Americas’ Thacker Pass open-pit mine (Nevada).  Essential for electronic devices including electric cars, the mine would destroy rare old-growth big sagebrush, harm wildlife including many endangered species and lower the water table. Its operation would require massive fossil fuel use and toxic waste ponds.

Cobalt Extraction in DR Congo.  We stand in solidarity with the child laborers slaving and dying in Democratic Republic of Congo cobalt mines.  Cobalt is an essential ingredient for some of the world’s fastest-growing industries—electric cars and electronic devices. It co-occurs with copper mining, used in construction, machinery, transportation and war technology worldwide.

Child Labour in Democratic Republic of Congo

Most of all, we stand in solidarity with thousands upon thousands of communities across the Earth opposing every form of extraction or transmission for energy which seeks to cover up human health and environmental dangers.

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The version adopted by the Gateway Green Alliance differs only by referring to its organizational name in the text.  If you would like to join those spreading the word regarding the need to challenge all forms of energy extraction because we can provide better lives for every society on Earth by reducing the global production of energy, please contact the author at the email below.

The post Solidarity with Resistance to Extraction first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Microsoft vs Indian Farmers: Agri-Stacking the System

In April, the Indian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Microsoft, allowing its local partner CropData to leverage a master database of farmers. The MoU seems to be part of the AgriStack policy initiative, which involves the roll out of ‘disruptive’ technologies and digital databases in the agricultural sector.

Based on press reports and government statements, Microsoft would help farmers with post- harvest management solutions by building a collaborative platform and capturing agriculture datasets such as crop yields, weather data, market demand and prices. In turn, this would create a farmer interface for ‘smart’ agriculture, including post-harvest management and distribution.

CropData will be granted access to a government database of 50 million farmers and their land records. As the database is developed, it will include farmers’ personal details, profile of land held (cadastral maps, farm size, land titles, local climatic and geographical conditions), production details (crops grown, production history, input history, quality of output, machinery in possession) and financial details (input costs, average return, credit history).

The stated aim is to use digital technology to improve financing, inputs, cultivation and supply and distribution.

It seems that the blueprint for AgriStack is in an advanced stage despite the lack of consultation with or involvement of farmers themselves. Technology could certainly improve the sector but handing control over to powerful private concerns will merely facilitate what they require in terms of market capture and farmer dependency.

Such ‘data-driven agriculture’ is integral to the recent farm legislation which includes a proposal to create a digital profile of cultivators, their farm holdings, climatic conditions in an area, what is grown and average output.

Of course, many concerns have been raised about this, ranging from farmer displacement, the further exploitation of farmers through microfinance and the misuse of farmer’s data and increased algorithmic decision-making without accountability.

The displacement of farmers is not lost on the Research Unit for Political Economy (RUPE) which, in a three-part series of articles, explains how neoliberal capitalism has removed peasant farmers from their land to facilitate an active land market for corporate interests. The Indian government is trying to establish a system of ‘conclusive titling’ of all land in the country, so that ownership can be identified and land can then be bought or taken away.

Taking Mexico as an example, RUPE says:

Unlike Mexico, India never underwent significant land reform. Nevertheless, its current programme of ‘conclusive titling’ of land bears clear resemblances to Mexico’s post-1992 drive to hand over property rights… The Indian rulers are closely following the script followed by Mexico, written in Washington.

The plan is that, as farmers lose access to land or can be identified as legal owners, predatory institutional investors and large agribusinesses will buy up and amalgamate holdings, facilitating the further roll out of high-input, corporate-dependent industrial agriculture – which has already helped fuel wide-scale financial distress among farmers and a deep-rooted agrarian and environmental crisis.

By harvesting (pirating) information – under the benign-sounding policy of data-driven agriculture – private corporations will be better placed to exploit farmers’ situations for their own ends: they will know more about their incomes and businesses than individual farmers themselves.

Open letter

Some 55 civil society groups and organisations have written to the government expressing these and various other concerns, not least the perceived policy vacuum with respect to the data privacy of farmers and the exclusion of farmers themselves in current policy initiatives.

In an open letter, they state:

At a time when ‘data has become the new oil’ and the industry is looking at it as the next source of profits, there is a need to ensure the interest of farmers. It will not be surprising that corporations will approach this as one more profit-making possibility, as a market for so-called ‘solutions’ which lead to sale of unsustainable agri-inputs combined with greater loans and indebtedness of farmers for this through fintech, as well as the increased threat of dispossession by private corporations.

They add that any proposal which seeks to tackle the issues that plague Indian agriculture must address the fundamental causes of these issues. The current model relies on ‘tech-solutionism’ which emphasises using technology to solve structural issues.

There is also the issue of reduced transparency on the part of the government through algorithm-based decision-making.

The 55 signatories request the government holds consultations with all stakeholders, especially farmers’ organisations, on the direction of its digital push as well as the basis of partnerships, and put out a policy document in this regard after giving due consideration to feedback from farmers and farmer organisations. As agriculture is a state subject, the central government should consult the state governments also.

They state that all initiatives that the government has begun with private entities to integrate and/or share multiple databases with private/personal information about individual farmers or their farms be put on hold till an inclusive policy framework is put in place and a data protection law is passed.

It is also advocated that the development of AgriStack, both as a policy framework and its execution, should take the concerns and experiences of farmers as the prime starting point.

The letter states that if the new farm laws are closely examined, it will be evident that unregulated digitalisation is an important aspect of them.

There is the strong possibility that monopolistic corporate owned e-commerce ‘platforms’ will eventually control much of India’s economy given the current policy trajectory. From retail and logistics to cultivation, data certainly will be the ‘new oil’, giving power to platforms to dictate what needs to be manufactured and in what quantities.

Those farmers who remain in the system will be tied to contracts and told how much production is expected, how much rain is anticipated, what type of soil quality there is, what type of inputs are required and when the produce needs to be ready – and how much money they will receive.

Handing over all information about the sector to Microsoft and others places power in their hands – the power to shape the sector in their own image.

The data giants and e-commerce companies will not only control data about consumption but also hold data on production, logistics, who needs what, when they need it, who should produce it, who should move it and when it should be moved.

Bayer, Corteva, Syngenta and traditional agribusiness will work with Microsoft, Google and the big-tech giants to facilitate AI-driven farmerless farms and e-commerce retail dominated by the likes of Amazon and Walmart. A cartel of data owners, proprietary input suppliers and retail concerns at the commanding heights of the economy, peddling toxic industrial food and the devastating health impacts associated with it.

And elected representatives? Their role will be highly limited to technocratic overseers of these platforms and the artificial intelligence tools that plan and determine all of the above.

As for farmers, many, if not most, will be forced to leave the sector. Tens of millions unemployed and underemployed ‘collateral damage’ stripped of their means of production.

Centuries’ old knowledge of cultivation and cultural practices passed on down the generations – gone. The links between humans and the land reduced to an AI-driven technocratic dystopia in compliance with the tenets of neoliberal capitalism.

As it currently stands, AgriStack will help facilitate this end game.

The open letter referred to can be read on the website of the Alliance For Holistic and Sustaibable Agriculture. For a summary of the recent farm legislation and the implications see this segment by Colin Todhunter on UK-based KTV.

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Anthony Fauci “has no clue and no authority to lecture on what is good for India”

In light of the current COVID-related situation in India, Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US adviser on COVID, has called for India to implement a hard lockdown and for the mass roll-out of vaccines.

However, Fauci has no clue and no authority to lecture on what is good for India.

That is the view of journalist Ratna Chakraborty. Writing on the Empire Diaries website, she argues that the US is a rich nation, prints the world’s reserve currency, has robust financial coverage for the jobless and its population is spread out.

On the other hand, India is finance-strained, has a brittle economy that lives on the brink of disaster, does not have any financial coverage for the jobless, is densely populated and its people mostly live in congested clusters.

Given the government’s incompetence and the callousness demonstrated towards poorer sections of Indian society the first time around, Chakraborty says any new lockdown would again result in disaster. She adds that nothing has been learnt, with no attempt to upgrade the healthcare set-up nationwide.

It is worth recalling what renowned academic and activist Noam Chomsky said about India’s first lockdown.

During an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! back in May 2020, Chomsky said:

… you can almost describe it as genocidal. Modi gave, I think, a four-hour warning before a total lockdown. That’s (affected) over a billion people. Some of them have nowhere to go.

He added:

People in the informal economy, which is a huge number of people, are just cast out. Go walk back to your village, which may be a thousand miles away. Die on the roadside. This is a huge catastrophe in the making…

During the first lockdown in India, rural affairs commentator P Sainath painted a dreary picture of the impacts, not least the desperate plight of migrant workers, a shortage of cash to buy food and a potential shortage of food as farmers were unable to complete their harvests.

Sainath also reported the views of Dr. Sundararaman, a former executive director of the National Health Systems Resources Centre, who argued that there was a desperate need to:

identify and act on the reverse migrations problem and the loss of livelihoods. Failing that, deaths from diseases that have long tormented mostly poor Indians could outstrip those brought about by the corona virus.

Regardless of the destructive impact of the first lockdown in India and the questionable efficacy of lockdowns in terms of what they are supposed to achieve, another one would further push hundreds of millions towards poverty and hunger. It would merely fuel and accelerate the impoverishment caused by the first lockdown.

A new report prepared by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University (APU) has highlighted how employment and income had not recovered to pre-pandemic levels even by late 2020.

The report, ‘State of Working India 2021 – One year of Covid-19’ highlights how almost half of formal salaried workers moved into the informal sector and that 230 million people fell below the national minimum wage poverty line.

Even before COVID, India was experiencing its longest economic slowdown since 1991 with weak employment generation, uneven development and a largely informal economy. A recent article by the Research Unit for Political Economy highlights the structural weaknesses of the economy and the often desperate plight of ordinary people.

The study also found that there was a loss in monthly earnings for all types of workers: 13% for casual workers, 18% for the self-employed, 17% for those with temporary salaries, 5% for the permanent salaried and 17% overall.

The poorest 25% of households borrowed 3.8 times their median income, as against 1.4 times for the top 25%. The study noted the implications for debt traps.

Six months later, it was also noted that food intake was still at lockdown levels for 20% of vulnerable households.

How bad is COVID?

Given this impact, before listening to prominent individuals with apparent conflicts of interest related to vaccine roll-outs (see the editorial in the British Medical Journal ‘Covid-19, Politicisation, Corruption, and Suppression of Science’), the current COVID-related situation in India must be contextualised. The sensationalism needs to be put to one side.

According to Yohan Tengra, a Mumbai-based political analyst and healthcare specialist, the true number of infection rates can only be known by testing symptomatic people who have tested positive with either a virus culture test or PCR test that uses 24 cycles or less.

The PCR test has been used as the gold standard for COVID cases around the world. But it has been sharply criticised for being inaccurate, inappropriate, for using cycles in excess of 40 (thereby inflating the numbers) and for producing ‘false positives’.

It seems that even the Swedish Ministry of Health now thinks that it is not fit for purpose:

The PCR technology used in tests to detect viruses cannot distinguish between viruses capable of infecting cells and viruses that have been neutralised by the immune system and therefore these tests cannot be used to determine whether someone is contagious or not. RNA from viruses can often be detected for weeks (sometimes months) after the illness but does not mean that you are still contagious.

We also need to be reminded what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated about the PCR in December 2020. It is especially important to focus on PCR testing because these tests are the entire basis for restrictions and lockdowns (and vaccination); even when deaths were within normal annual ranges, ‘case’ levels were high and restrictions and ‘tiered lockdowns’ were still being imposed in places like the UK.

The following extract can be found on page 39 of the report from the CDC 2010-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel:

Detection of viral RNA may not indicate the presence of infectious virus or that 2019-nCoV is the causative agent for clinical symptoms. This test cannot rule out diseases caused by other bacterial or viral pathogens.

Perfectly healthy people are being tested and small often insignificant fragments of flu, common cold or some other virus can be detected. People are then labelled as a COVID ‘case’.

But that is not all. In their recent article ‘The Nuremberg Doctors Trial and Modern Medicine’s Panic Promotion of the FDA’s Experimental and Unapproved COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines’, Dr Gary G Kohls and Professor Michel Chossudovsky state that – with regard to the so-called ‘emergency use authorization’ (EUA) of COVID-19 vaccines – it is now established and confirmed by the WHO (January 20, 2021) that the entire data base pertaining to tabulation of confirmed positive cases (RT-PCR test) (since early February 2020 in 193 member states of the UN) is invalid.

The two authors note that this flawed methodology cannot be used to confirm the existence of an emergency situation. EUA criterion is therefore not only invalid but illegal.

Furthermore, there is currently decent scientific evidence to indicate asymptomatic transmission may not be significant.

According to Tengra, the case numbers being reported in India are mainly asymptomatic cases. The directors of the All India Institute of Medical Science and the India Council of Medical Research both say that there are many more asymptomatic cases this time than in the so-called ‘first wave’.

As these ‘cases’ comprise most of India’s case numbers, we should therefore be questioning the data as well as the PCR tests being used to detect the virus.

Tengra says the case fatality rate for COVID-19 in India was over 3% last year but has now dropped to below 1.5%. The infection fatality rate is even lower, with serosurvey results showing them to be between 0.05% to 0.1%.

As has occurred in many other countries, Tengra notes the way that death certificate guidelines are structured in India makes it easy for someone to be labelled as a COVID death just based on a positive PCR test or general symptoms. It is therefore often difficult to say who has died from the virus and who has been misdiagnosed.

We should also bear in mind that respiratory diseases like TB and respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis leading to pneumonia are major killers in India. These conditions are severely aggravated by air pollution and often require oxygen which can be in short supply during air pollution crises in places like Delhi at this time of the year.

Therefore, the current harrowing scenes we see in the media might not necessarily be due to the lethality of the virus but by the numbers who are ending up in hospital.

Vaccines

If the pandemic narrative has been constructed on the house of (statistical) cards outlined thus far, then we should be questioning the need for a mass vaccination campaign, which could actually lead to aggravating the current situation.

This is not lost on Dr Geert Vanden Bossche, a virologist who has held positions at several vaccine companies, carrying out vaccine research and development. He has also been involved with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has worked with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). Not an ‘anti-vaxxer’ in any sense of the term.

He offers insight into why it is quite possible that mass vaccine rollouts will actually lead to very disturbing levels of deaths directly related to COVID-19. Far from reducing the numbers and facilitating immunity, he anticipates ‘vaccine assisted immune escape’.

Vanden Bossche warns that mass infection prevention and mass vaccination with Covid-19 vaccines in the midst of the pandemic can only breed highly infectious variants. He offers a truly worrying scenario. Of course, not everyone might agree with his analysis but it is certainly a cause for concern.

There is also the entire issue regarding the necessity, efficacy and safety of the vaccines now being rolled out. The group ‘Doctors for COVID Ethics’ has recently raised serious doubts in all of these areas (its concerns have been published on the UK-based OffGuardian website).

In finishing, there are two questions we should ask.

Can we have confidence in science and evidence-based health and social policy where COVID-19 is concerned? And can we just assume – as governments and the media imply we should – that Anthony Fauci and the pharmaceutical corporations have ordinary people’s interests at heart?

In response to the first question, not much. In response to the second, certain interests have been riding and fuelling a wave of sensationalism and duplicity throughout.

The post Anthony Fauci “has no clue and no authority to lecture on what is good for India” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Financialized Capitalism in India

India — gripped by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic — has been endlessly witnessing desperate scrambles for hospital beds, the dire need for oxygen and mass cremation. Amid all this, the stock market is booming. In fact, Mumbai Sensex has signaled that bullish trends have been on the rise. Over the year ending April 1, 2021, while benchmark composite indices rose by 19% in the Philippines, 35% in Indonesia and 48% in Thailand, the rise was a staggering 77% in India, which experienced one of the sharpest real economy contractions in economic activity over that period. Moreover, India — unlike other Southeast Asian countries — has witnessed increased speculative investments at the expense of portfolio investments in bonds.

RBI’s Support for the Super-rich

Thriving stock market amid a general slowdown is a direct result of the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) over-friendly attitude. During the years, investors have been assured that if any kind of instability visits upon them, the authorities will immediately arrive to offer moratoriums, state-guaranteed loans and other liquidity-enhancing measures to make up for disappearing cash flows. Their expectations are entirely accurate. On May 5, 2021, RBI announced repayment relief, as well as $6.8 billion in three-year funding at its policy rate of 4% for banks. These liquidity infusion measures gave Indian equities a booster shot, lifting the benchmark indices 0.88% higher on the same day.

RBI’s supportive stance toward the stock market has proven to be extremely beneficial for the ruling class. When the stock market was entering a bear phase in 2020 — with crony capitalists like Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani suffering losses — the central bank instantaneously began its policy of regular credit injections and quantitative easing. Refilled coffers directly aided the concentration and centralization of capital, allowing businesses to begin a new round of speculation with less competition and higher profit margins.

When stock prices were falling in February-March 2020, powerful investors — rather than offloading their stocks — used the state’s money to buy up stocks from smaller owners who were busy panic-selling. Therefore, when stock prices increased after April, they got enormous capital gains. In spite of occasional ups-and-downs, the stock market scaled new heights in 2020, leading to an astronomic increase in wealth appropriation by the speculative super-rich class. The ranks of Indian dollar billionaires swelled from 102 to 140 in 12 months, their combined wealth doubling to $596 billion in 2020, when the oppressed masses of India were bearing the entire burden of the first wave of the pandemic. These 140 billionaires now eat up 22.7% of India’s GDP of $2.62 trillion.

Global Conditions

The situation of India’s financial sector is a part of the wider global conditions which have evolved since the 1990s. With low profit rates in the productive sectors of the economy, endemic overproduction and weak demand, investments decreased. Corporations turned to the financial sector and the stock exchange. The vast sums of capital that could not be profitably invested in the real economy produced a growing market for high-risk, high-reward investments. In other words, the expansion of the financial system, of the whole debt and credit apparatus, has been a way of utilizing the economic surplus which is not utilized in productive investment.  It is instead poured into speculation, and that creates a wealth effect that has a secondary stimulus to the underlying economy, because as people who benefit from asset price increases get wealthier, they spend more on consumption, and that stimulates the economy. Finance also provides some jobs, although not as much as other sectors of the economy.

While stock values represent future expected streams of earnings arising primarily from production, finance has become increasingly autonomous from production or the real economy, relying on financial bubbles and unsustainable explosions of credit/debt. This means that the speculative process depends for its very continuation on the piling up of greater and greater amounts of debt, and in order to do this, it needs to have constant cash infusions from the real economy to provide additional capital that can be leveraged. But as the underlying system remains stagnant, the bubble eventually bursts — typically after a speculative mania in which the rapid rise in quantity of debt leads to a marked decline in its quality.

At this point of time — when the liquidity has dried up — the monetary authorities intervene to keep the whole house of cards from collapsing. This serves to reduce the risk to speculators, thereby keeping the value of stocks and other financial assets rising on a long-term basis, along with the overall wealth/income ratio. In these circumstances, asset accumulation by speculative means has replaced actual accumulation or productive investment as a route to the increase of wealth, generating a condition which Costas Lapavistas calls “profits without production.” The recent actions of India’s central bank are structurally situated in this new global regime of profiteering which is geared toward irrational profit-making for the few.

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India, COVID and the Need for Scientific Integrity not Sensationalism

Western media outlets are currently paying a great deal of attention to India and the apparent impact of COVID-19. The narrative is that the coronavirus is ripping through the country – people are dying, cases are spiralling out of control and hospitals are unable to cope.

There does indeed seem to be a major problem in parts of the country. However, we need to differentiate between the effects of COVID-19 and the impacts of other factors. We must also be very weary of sensationalist media reporting which misrepresents the situation.

For instance, in late April, the New York Post ran a story about the COVID ‘surge’ in India with the headline saying, “footage shows people dead in the streets”. Next to it was an image of a woman lying dead. But the image was of a woman lying on the floor from a May 2020 story about a gas leak in Andhra Pradesh.

To try to shed some light on the situation and move beyond panic and media sensationalism, I recently spoke with Yohan Tengra, a political analyst and healthcare specialist based in Mumbai.

Tengra has carried out a good deal of research into COVID-19 and the global response to it. He is the co-author of a new report: ‘How the Unscientific Interpretation of RT-PCR & Rapid Antigen Test Results is Causing Misleading Spikes in Cases & Deaths’.

For India, he says:

We will never know statistically if the infections have really increased. To be certain, we would need data of symptomatic people who have tested positive with either a virus culture test or PCR that uses 24 cycles or less, ideally under 20.

He adds that India is experiencing mainly asymptomatic cases:

For example, in Mumbai, they declared two days back that of total cases in the city, 85 per cent were asymptomatic. In Bangalore, over 95 per cent of cases were asymptomatic!

In his report, Tengra offers scientific evidence that strongly indicates asymptomatic transmission is not significant. He asserts that as these cases comprise most of India’s case numbers, we should be questioning the data as well as the PCR tests and the cycles being used to detect the virus instead of accepting the figures at face value.

As in many countries across the globe, Tengra says people in India have been made to fear the virus endlessly. Moreover, they are generally under the impression that they need to intervene early in order to pass through the infection successfully.

He notes:

The medical system itself works to boost the number of positive cases. Even with a negative PCR test, they are using CAT scans and diagnosing people with COVID. These scans are not specific to SARS-CoV-2 at all. I personally know of people who have been asked to be hospitalised by their doctors just based on a positive test (doctors can get a cut of the total bill made when they refer a patient to a hospital). This also happened to a Bollywood celebrity, who was asked to be admitted by his doctors with no symptoms and just a positive PCR.

Faulty PCR testing and misdiagnosis, says Tengra, combined with people who want to intervene early with the mildest symptoms, have been filling up the beds, preventing access to those who really need them.

Addressing the much-publicised shortage of oxygen, Tengra implies this too is a result of inept policies, with exports of oxygen having increased in recent times, resulting in inadequate back-up supplies when faced with a surge in demand.

According to Tengra, the case fatality rate for COVID-19 in India was over three per cent last year but has now dropped to below 1.5 per cent. The infection fatality rate is even lower, with serosurvey results showing them to be between 0.05 per cent to 0.1 per cent.

The directors of the All India Institute of Medical Science and the India Council of Medical Research have both come out and said that there is not much difference between the first and second wave and that there are many more asymptomatic cases this time than in the so-called ‘first wave’.

Tengra argues that the principle is the same for all infectious agents: they infect people, most can fight it off without even developing symptoms, some develop mild symptoms, a smaller number develop serious symptoms and an even smaller number die.

Although lives can be saved with the right prevention plus treatment strategies, Tengra notes that most of the doctors in India are using ineffective and unsafe drugs. As a result, he claims that mortality rates could increase due to inappropriate treatments.

As has occurred in many other countries, Tengra notes the way that death certificate guidelines are structured in India makes it easy for someone to be labelled as a COVID death just based on a positive PCR test or general symptoms. It is therefore often difficult to say who has died from the virus and who has been misdiagnosed.

And the issue of misdiagnosis should not be brushed aside lightly. In a recent article by long-term resident of India Jo Nash, ‘India’s Current ‘COVID Crisis’ in Context’, it is noted that the focus of the media’s messaging and the source of many of the horrifying scenes of suffering – Delhi – is among the most toxic cities in the world which often leads to the city having to close down due to the widespread effects on respiratory health.

Nash also argues that respiratory diseases like TB and respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis leading to pneumonia are always among the top ten killers in India. These conditions are severely aggravated by air pollution and often require oxygen which can be in short supply during air pollution crises as happens at this time of the year.

As a result, it is reasonable to state that all is not what it might seem to be with regard to media reporting on the current situation.

It is interesting that this ‘second wave’ has correlated with the vaccine rollout (Nash provides official sources to support this claim). Tengra feels this might not be coincidental. He says that the ‘aefi’ (adverse events following immunisation) data vastly underestimates how many vaccine adverse reactions are taking place in the country.

Tengra says that, based on ground surveys and data collected by himself, there is a tremendous number of people who have fallen ill post vaccination, many of them then testing positive for COVID and becoming hospitalised.

The financial incentive for doctors to diagnose people with COVID could also mean many of the people who are ill with other conditions are being placed as COVID patients, while beds are under occupied for people for non-COVID health issues.

Two months ago, there was a lot of vaccine hesitancy in India and many people were not taking the jabs. Tengra notes that the government has had to up the ante in order to get people scared.

He argues:

We are at a crossroads right now in terms of deciding the fate of our country and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Tengra is working with lawyers and other concerned citizens to file legal cases to challenge the idea of asymptomatic transmission and the testing of healthy people. The aim is to also improve the testing in line with evidence-based protocols.

But that is not all:

We will also be challenging the current vaccine rollout, highlighting the issues with trials that have been conducted, adverse events, deaths, vaccine passports and other issues surrounding the subject.

Tengra is not alone in challenging the mainstream narrative.

A recent article in India’s National Herald newspaper by clinical epidemiologist Professor Dr Amitav Banerjee argues that the current situation in India is not due to the lethality of the virus but by the numbers who are ending up in hospital, which are exposing cracks in India’s public health infrastructure and the inequitable distribution of health services. Even at the best of times, he argues, there is a mismatch of supply and demand. Little wonder, therefore, that we now see an emergency – not squarely due to COVID.

Like Yohan Tengra, Bannerjee questions the scientific integrity of the responses to COVID and this includes the rollout of vaccines and the problems which this in itself could bring:

Going all out for mass vaccination with uncertain input on effectiveness is a big gambit. We have a vaccine against tuberculosis for decades which has zero effectiveness in preventing tuberculosis in the Indian population. Moreover, there are concerns that haphazard and incomplete vaccination of the population can trigger mutant strains.

Referring to an editorial in the British Medical Journal by K. Abbasi (‘Covid-19, Politicisation, Corruption, and Suppression of Science’), Bannerjee raises concerns about the suppression of science by politicians and governments and the conflicts of interest of academics, researchers and commercial lobbies.

He says:

In a global disaster, world leaders, their scientific advisers, including career scientists, are under tremendous pressure. They have to give the impression of being in control and may resort to authoritarian ways to camouflage their uncertainties. Such tactics deviate from the scientific approach. The present pandemic is full of such uncertainties and therefore a vicious cycle of repression has set in when the authorities and their advisers are faced with rising case numbers.

None of what has been presented here is meant to deny the existence or impact of COVID-19. People in India are dying – some from the virus, others ‘with’ the virus but most likely mainly due to their pre-existing underlying conditions, and there are others who are being misdiagnosed.

Although excess mortality figures are currently unavailable, Yohan Tengra notes the average age of those who died in the first wave was 50. This time it is 49.

Professor Bannerjee says that there is opacity and obfuscation instead of transparency. He calls for moral courage among scientists in advisory positions to the Indian government: scientific integrity is the need of the hour.

In finishing, let us place COVID and the global media reporting of the situation in India in context by returning to Jo Nash.

Even as the alleged COVID deaths reach their peak, more people die of diarrhoea every day in India and have done for years, mostly due to a lack of clean water and sanitation creating a terrain ripe for the flourishing of communicable disease.

Readers can access the report ‘How the Unscientific Interpretation of RT-PCR & Rapid Antigen Test Results is Causing Misleading Spikes in Cases & Deaths’ by Yohan Tengra and Ambar Koiri here

The post India, COVID and the Need for Scientific Integrity not Sensationalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Forgetting Citizenship: Australia Suspends Flights from India

As India is being devastated by COVID-19 cases that have now passed a daily rate of 400,000, affluent and callous Australia has taken the decision to suspend all flights coming into the country till mid-month.  The decision was reached by the Morrison government with the blessing of the State Premiers and the Labor opposition.

Not happy with banning flights from India, the Morrison government promises to be savage in punishing returnees who find ways to circumvent the ban (for instance, by travelling via a third country).  Citizens who breach the travel ban can face up to five years’ imprisonment and fines up to AU$66,000.  “We have taken drastic action to keep Australians safe,” explained the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.  The situation in India was “serious”; the decision had only been reached after considering the medical advice.

According to a statement from Health Minister Greg Hunt, it was “critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine is reduced to a manageable level.”

The decision fails to carry any weight.  It did not take long for more alert medical practitioners to wonder why the approach to India was being so selectively severe.  Health commentator and GP Vyom Sharma thought the decision “incredibly disproportionate to the threat that it posed”.  Sharma is certainly correct on this score in terms of international law, which requires the least restrictive or least intrusive way of protecting citizens.

Then there was the issue about the previous policies Canberra had adopted to countries suffering from galloping COVID-19 figures.  A baffled Sharma wondered, “Why is it that India has copped this ban and no people who have come from America?” Former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane seconds the suspicions.  “We didn’t see differential treatment being extended to countries such as the United States, the UK, and any other European country even though the rates of infection were very high and the danger of its arrivals from those countries was very high.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission has also asked the federal government to justify its actions. “The government must show that these measures are not discriminatory and the only suitable way of dealing with the threat to public health.”

In the face of such behaviour, aggrieved citizens are left with few legal measures.  Australia, among liberal democratic states, is idiosyncratic in refusing to adopt a charter of rights. Down Under, parliamentarians are supposedly wise and keen to uphold human rights till they think otherwise.  (Human rights, the argument goes, would become the fodder of lawyers and judges, interfering with the absolute will of Parliament and the electors.)  The Australian Constitution is hopelessly silent on the issue of citizenship.  Left at the mercy of legislative regulation, Parliament and the executive can be disdainful towards their citizens without consequences.

One avenue remains the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Committee.  On April 15, the UNHRC ruled on the case of two petitioners of FreeAndOpenAustralia.org (formerly StrandedAussies.org) that the Morrison government had to “facilitate and ensure their prompt return to Australia.”

Represented by the notable sage of international law Geoffrey Robertson QC, the petitioners argued that Australia was in breach of Articles 12(4) and 2(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The first article provides that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country; the second provides for “effective” remedies to be granted to those whose rights and freedoms have been breached under the ICCPR.  The petitioners also freely admitted that they had no issue with quarantining for 14 days on returning to Australia.

In the words of Free and Open Australia spokesperson Deb Tellis, the Commonwealth should “use its power to expand quarantine facilities, and end travel caps that are being dictated by the states.  There are thousands of our fellow citizens suffering loss of their relatives and loss of their jobs.”

The government has preferred a meaner, penny pinching approach in coping with quarantine, reducing flights when needed rather than expanding facilities to accommodate a greater number of infected arrivals.  The hotel quarantine system continues to receive effusive praise from the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as being 99.99 percent effective.  But it is impossible for him, and his ministers, to conceal the fact that they do not trust, and are unwilling, to use other facilities and expand existing ones.

Since last November, there have been 16 COVID-19 leaks across the cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth from quarantine hotels.  At this writing, another quarantine leak is being reported in Western Australia, involving the now customarily infected hotel security guard and the inevitable seepage into the community.  The problem of airborne transmission continues to plague, as does the uneven provision of Personal Protective Equipment.  No national standard of quarantine has been formulated through the country, with each state adopting its own approach.  Audits of the ventilation systems in many such hotels remain sketchy.

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, who recently imposed a lockdown of the Perth and Peel areas and may well do the same thing over the next few days, suggested that the Commonwealth be generous with some of its facilities.  Why not use the RAAF Curtin Air Base, or the immigration detention centres of Yongah Hill and Christmas Island?  “It’s kind of staring us in the face and there are things that could assist, it’s just that the Commonwealth doesn’t want to do it.”

The evidence so far is that facilities such as Howard Springs in the Northern Territory tend to work.  It features single-storey cabins, segregated air conditioning systems, outdoor veranda space and, in the vicinity, a fully functioning hospital.  No leaks have been recorded.  And location is everything: distant from densely populated areas.  This government, however, is miserly on the issue of quarantine, an obligation it has transferred without constitutional justification to State premiers who fear both the virus and its electoral consequences.

The post Forgetting Citizenship: Australia Suspends Flights from India first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Four Words Gates and His Pals Despise: Democracy and Minimum Support Price

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an assortment of high-profile figures and policy makers are pushing for unregulated gene-editing technologies, the rollout of bio-synthetic food created in laboratories, the expanded use of patented seeds and the roll back of subsidies and support for farmers in places like India.

These neoliberal evangelists despise democracy and believe that state machinery and public money should only facilitate the ambitions of their unaccountable mega-corporations.

Corporations are jumping on the ‘sustainability’ bandwagon by undermining traditional agriculture and genuine sustainable agrifood systems and packaging this corporate takeover of food as some kind of humanitarian endeavour.

The watchdog organisation Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) notes that the European Commission has committed to a fundamental shift away from industrial agriculture. With a 50 percent pesticide reduction target and a 25 percent organic agriculture goal by 2030, CEO argues that business as usual is no longer an option. In effect, this creates an existential crisis for corporate seed suppliers and pesticide manufacturers like Bayer, BASF, Corteva (DowDupont) and Syngenta (ChemChina).

However, these corporations are fighting back on various fronts, not least by waging an ongoing battle to get their new generation of genetic engineering techniques excluded from European regulations. They do not want plants, animals and micro-organisms created with gene-editing techniques like CRISPR-Cas to be subject to safety checks, monitoring or consumer labelling. This is concerning given the real dangers that these techniques pose.

For example, a new paper published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe, authored by Dr Katharina Kawall, indicates the negative effects on ecosystems that can result from the release of gene-edited plants. These unintended effects come from the intended changes induced by genome editing, which can affect various metabolic processes in the plants.

The new paper adds to a growing body of peer-reviewed research that calls into question industry claims about the ‘precision’, safety and benefits of gene-edited organisms.

Recent research by the Greens and the European Free Alliance in the European Parliament indicates that 86 percent of Europeans who have heard of genetically engineered (GE) food want products containing GE organisms to be labelled as such. Some 68 per cent of respondents that have heard of new genetic engineering methods demand that food produced with these techniques, such as CRISPR, to be labelled as GE. Only three percent agreed with the industry’s proposal to exempt these products from safety testing and labelling.

Regardless, with the help of 1.3 million euros from the Gates Foundation, the industry is paving the way for deregulation by widespread lobbying of policy makers and promoting these technologies on the basis of them protecting the climate and ‘sustainability’. Through greenwashing, the industry hopes its ‘save-the-planet’ products can dodge regulation and gain public acceptance in an era of ‘climate emergency’.

Not for the first time, the lobbying that the Gates Foundation is engaging in displays complete contempt for democratic processes or public opinion. In 2018, The European Court of Justice ruled that new genetic engineering technologies should be regulated. As described by Marie Astier and Magali Reinert in the French publication Reporterre, Gates is very much at the centre of trying to bypass this ruling.

Of course, it is not just the European agrifood sector that is being targeted by Bill Gates and global agrifood players. India has very much been in the news in recent months due to the ongoing mass protest involving farmers who want three recent farm acts repealed.

Environmentalist Vandana Shiva has described on numerous occasions how the Gates Foundation through its ‘Ag One’ initiative is pushing for one type of agriculture for the whole world. A top-down approach regardless of what farmers or the public need or want. The strategy includes digital farming, in which farmers are monitored and mined for their agricultural data, which is then repackaged and sold back to them.

Along with Bill Gates, this is very much the agrifood model that Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Bayer, Syngenta, Corteva and Cargill have in mind. The tech giants recent entry into the sector will increasingly lead to a mutually beneficial integration between the companies that supply products to farmers (pesticides, seeds, fertilisers, tractors, drones, etc) and those that control the flow of data (on soil, weather, pests, weeds, land use, consumer preferences, etc) and have access to digital (cloud) infrastructure. A system based on corporate concentration and centralisation.

Those farmers who remain in the system will become passive recipients of corporate directives and products on farms owned by the Gates Foundation (now one of the largest owners of farmland in the US), agribusiness and financial institutions/speculators.

The three pieces of farm legislation in India (passed by parliament but on hold) are essential for laying the foundation for this model of agriculture. The legislation is The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.

The foreign and home-grown (Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani) billionaires who have pushed for these laws require a system of contract farming dominated by their big tech, big agribusiness and big retail interests. Smallholder peasant agriculture is regarded as an impediment to what they require:  industrial-scale farms where driver-less tractors, drones and genetically engineered seeds are the norm and all data pertaining to land, water, weather, seeds and soils is controlled by them.

It is unfortunate that prominent journalists and media outlets in India are celebrating the legislation and have attempted to unjustifiably discredit farmers who are protesting. It is also worrying that key figures like Dr Ramesh Chand, a member of NITI (National Institute for Transforming India) Ayog, recently stated that the legislation is necessary.

When these figures attack farmers or promote the farm acts, what they are really doing is cheerleading for the destruction of local markets and independent small-scale enterprises, whether farmers, hawkers, food processers or mom and pop corner stores. And by implication, they are helping to ensure that India is surrendering control over its food.

They are doing the bidding of the Gates Foundation and the global agrifood corporations which also want India to eradicate its buffer food stocks. Some of the very corporations which will then control stocks that India would purchase with foreign exchange holdings. At that stage, any notion of sovereign statehood would be bankrupt as India’s food needs would be dependent on attracting foreign exchange reserves via foreign direct investment or borrowing.

This would represent the ultimate betrayal of India’s farmers and democracy as well as the final surrender of food security and food sovereignty to unaccountable global traders and corporations.

The farm legislation is regressive and will eventually lead to the country relying on outside forces to feed its population. This in an increasingly volatile world prone to conflict, public health scares, unregulated land and commodity speculation and price shocks.

MSP, malnutrition and helping farmers

Consider that India has achieved self-sufficiency in food grains and has ensured that, in theory at least, there is enough food available to feed its entire population. Yet hunger and malnutrition are still major issues.

Initial results from the National Family Health Survey round 5 (NFHS-5) released in January indicate a stagnation or deterioration in most factors related to the nutrition status of the Indian population. These findings have not accounted for the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown, which could see severe long-term adverse impacts on poverty, health and nutrition.

The survey findings suggest that people’s ability to access good quality diets has been impacted by the economic slowdown in recent years and a subsequent deterioration in poverty and consumption. Such a conclusion might not be too far off the mark given the findings of the consumption expenditure survey of the National Statistical Office (2017-18).

In a December 2019 article, economist S Subramanian writes:

Employing the modest Rangarajan Committee poverty line… we find that the… proportion of the population in poverty, has climbed up from 31% to 35%, thus inverting a long trend of declining poverty ratios. If the poverty line is raised by 20% to a less modest but still modest level, then we find… [poverty]… rises precipitously from 42% to 52%.

Supporters of the farm legislation are fond of saying the impact will be higher income for farmers and greater efficiency in food distribution. They fail to acknowledge that the neoliberal policies they have backed over the years have driven many farmers out of agriculture, into debt or to the edge of bankruptcy. They are now pushing for more of the same under the banner of helping farmers.

These policies mainly stem from India’s foreign exchange crisis in the 1990s. In return for up to more than $120 billion in World Bank loans at the time, India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange.

The plan involves shifting at least 400 million from the countryside into cities. We have seen the running down of the sector for decades, spiralling input costs, withdrawal of government assistance and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes. The result is an acute agrarian crisis.

Through the new farm laws, the Modi government is now trying to accelerate the planned depopulation of the countryside by drastically reducing the role of the public sector in agriculture to that of a facilitator of private capital.

There is a solution to poverty, hunger and rural distress. But it is being side-lined in favour of a corporate agenda.

The Research Unit for Political Economy (RUPE) notes that minimum support prices (MSP) via government procurement of essential crops and commodities should be extended to the likes of maize, cotton, oil seed and pulses. At the moment, only farmers in certain states who produce rice and wheat are the main beneficiaries of government procurement at MSP.

RUPE says that since per capita protein consumption in India is abysmally low and has fallen further during the liberalisation era, the provision of pulses in the public distribution system (PDS) is long overdue and desperately needed. RUPE argues that the ‘excess’ stocks of food grain with the Food Corporation of India are merely the result of the failure or refusal of the government to distribute grain to the people.

(For those not familiar with the PDS: central government via the Food Corporation of India (FCI) is responsible for buying food grains from farmers at MSP at state-run market yards or mandis. It then allocates the grains to each state. State governments then deliver to the ration shops.)

If public procurement of a wider range of crops at the MSP were to occur – and MSP were guaranteed for rice and wheat across all states – it would help address hunger and malnutritional as well as farmer distress.

Instead of rolling back the role of the public sector and surrendering the system to foreign corporations, there is a need to further expand official procurement and public distribution. This would occur by extending procurement to additional states and expanding the range of commodities under the PDS.

Of course, some will raise a red flag here and say this would cost too much. But as RUPE notes, it would cost around 20 per cent of the current handouts (‘incentives’) received by corporations and their super-rich owners which do not benefit the bulk of the wider population in any way.

Furthermore, if policy makers were really serious about ‘sustainability’ and boosting the rural economy, they would reject the fake high-tech corporate controlled ‘sustainability’ agenda and a reliance on rigged and unstable global markets. They would embrace an approach to agriculture based on agroecological principles, short supply chains and local markets. If the last 12 months have shown anything, it is that decentralised regional and local community-owned food systems are now needed more than ever.

But a solution that would genuinely serve to help address rural distress and malnutrition does not suit the agenda of the Gates Foundation and its corporate entourage.

The post Four Words Gates and His Pals Despise: Democracy and Minimum Support Price first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Australia Struggles to Find an Independent Voice

Australia has always struggled to present an independent foreign policy to the world. For example, during its early days as a British colony its soldiers fought in the Crimean war in the mid 19th century, although it would be impossible to identify any Australian interest in that conflict. World War One saw a similar eagerness to die on behalf of the British Empire. To this day the most solemn day in the Australian calendar is 25th April, ANZAC Day, when Australian and New Zealand troops were sacrificed by their incompetent British officers to a hopeless campaign in Turkey during World War One.

The same saga was repeated during World War II when Australian troops were rushed to North Africa to fight Rommel’s desert army. They were only withdrawn from that theatre following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when defending home territory from the Japanese superseded defending Britain in its European war.

The fall of Singapore to the Japanese had a profound effect on Australian military thinking. Foremost was the realisation that they could no longer rely on Britain for their safety.  Rather than formulating a plan for having a uniquely Australian tinge to their defence, Australia simply switched its allegiance from the British to the Americans. That allegiance has continued to the present day and is essentially a bipartisan affair, with both the major political parties swearing undying allegiance to the Americans.

What did not change from the days of allegiance to a participation in Britain’s wars, was an affinity simply transferred to the Americans to join their wars, regardless of the merits, military or otherwise, of doing so.

Thus Australia was an eager participant in the first post-World War II exercise in American imperialism when it joined the war in Korea. Australian troops later joined in the invasion of North Korea, contrary to the terms of the United Nations resolution authorising the conflict. After the Chinese joined the war when the western forces reached the North Korea – China border, they were quickly expelled back to the southern portion of the Korean peninsula.

As is well known, the Americans used their aerial domination to bomb the North until the armistice was finally signed in 1953. During that air war every city in the North suffered severe damage. More than 600,000 civilians died, which was greater than the military losses of around 400,000. To this day the war remains technically alive as no peace treaty has been signed. Of the 17,000 Australian troops that served in Korea, there were 340 fatalities and more than 1400 injured, a comparatively small number for a war that lasted three years.

In 1962 Australian troops arrived in South Vietnam and remained there until January 1973 when they were withdrawn by the Whitlam Labor government. It was Australia’s longest war up until that time. The withdrawal of Australian troops by the Whitlam government incensed the Americans, on whose behalf they were there. The withdrawal drew the enmity of the Americans and was a major factor in the American role in the overthrow of the Whitlam government in November 1975. It is a fact barely acknowledged in Australian writing on the demise of the Whitlam government. It did, however, have a profound effect on Australian political and military thinking. Since November 1975 there has been no recognisable Australian difference from United States belligerence throughout the world.

The next miscalculation was Australia joining the United States led war in Afghanistan. That is now Australia’s longest war, rapidly approaching 20 years of involvement with no sign or political talk about withdrawing. It is a war that has largely passed out of mainstream media discussion. This ignorance was briefly disrupted by revelations in late 2020 that Australian troops had been involved in war crimes in Afghanistan, specifically, the killing of innocent Afghanistan civilians.

The brief publicity given to this revelation rapidly passed and Australia’s involvement in its longest war once more faded from public view. The mainstream media remains totally silent on Australia’s involvement on behalf of the Americans in protecting the poppy crop, source of 90% of the world’s heroin supply and a major source of uncountable illicit income for the CIA.

Australia’s next foreign intervention on behalf of the Americans was in the equally illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. They have simply ignored demands by the Iraqi government in 2020 that all uninvited foreign troops should leave. The involvement of Australian troops in that country, and indeed in adjoining Syria where they have been since at least 2015 is simply ignored by the mainstream media.

Australia also plays a role in the United States war machine through the satellite facility at Pine Gap in the Northern Territory. That base is one of a number of United States military facilities in the country, another topic that is deemed by the mainstream media as being unfit for public discussion.

Another unsung role of the Australian Navy is to be part of the United States confrontation with China in the South China Sea where they protect so-called freedom of navigation exercises, despite the complete absence of any evidence of Chinese interference with civilian navigation in those waters. Equally unexplained is the Australian Navy’s presence in the narrow Straits of Malacca, a vital Chinese export waterway.

Last year the Trump administration resurrected the “gang of four” that is, India, Japan, the United States and Australia, a blatantly anti-China grouping designed to put pressure on the Chinese government in the Indo Pacific region. The measure is doomed to fail, not least because both India and Japan have more attractive opportunities as part of the burgeoning cooperation in trade among multiple countries in the Asia-Pacific who see better opportunities arising from a friendly relationship with China than the blatantly antagonistic options offered by the Americans.

Australia seems impervious to these signals. It has already suffered major setbacks to its trade with China, not to mention a diplomatic cold shoulder. The political leadership is silent on this development, perhaps unable to grasp the implications of its changing relationship with China. The inability of the Labor Opposition to grasp the implications of the consequences of Australia clinging to the fading American coattails is of profound concern.

All the signs are that the relationship with its largest trading partner, by a big margin, will continue to deteriorate. Australians seem unable or unwilling to grasp the lesson that its economic problems are intimately linked to its subservient role to the United States.

There is every indication that their fortunes in Asia will sink together.

The post Australia Struggles to Find an Independent Voice first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Adani Business Formula: Dealing with Myanmar’s Military

Corporate morality can be a flexible thing.  Some companies see tantalising dollar signs afloat in the spilt blood of civilians and dissidents.  Military governments, however trigger crazed, offer ideal opportunities; potentially, corners can be cut, regulations relaxed.  The Adani Group has shown itself to be particularly unscrupulous in this regard.

In many ways, it is fitting.  The group’s record in a range of areas suggests that the profit motive soars above any other consideration.  Environmentally, Adani is an irresponsible, wretched beast.  A shonky Adani coal ship, the MV Rak, sank off the coast of Mumbai in August 2011 with devastating effects on marine life, the fishing industry, beaches and tourism.  Its lacklustre response to dealing with the mess suggested environmental vandalism of the highest order.

In terms of employment practices, the company has been found to underpay its workforce and use child labour in the bargain.  As for corporate strategy, Adani is happy to spread largesse for favours.  The illegal export of 7.7 million tonnes of iron ore between 2006 and 2010 mobilised the company in a campaign of suppression and concealment.  The Ombudsman of the Indian state of Karnataka took an interest in Adani’s conduct and found a vast bribery enterprise covering local politicians, customs officials, members of the police force, the State Pollution Control Board, the Port Department and the Weight and Measurement Department.

So why stop there?  With the killing of demonstrators in Myanmar well underway, human rights groups and activists turned their sharp focus towards Adani’s record on port investment and its involvement with the military junta.  The grounds of concern were already laid in 2019, when the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar listed Adani Ports and its commercial links with the military conglomeration, the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC).

The previous year, the UN Mission had issued a call for the top military commanders of Myanmar to be investigated and prosecuted for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity against ethnic groups in the states of Arakan (Rakhine), Kachin and Shan and for alleged genocide against the Rohingya of Arakan state.  The fact finding mission was stern in judgment: “no business enterprise active in Myanmar or trading or investing in businesses in Myanmar should enter into an economic or financial relationship with the security forces of Myanmar, in particular the Tatmadaw, or any enterprise owned or controlled by them or their individual members”.

The International Criminal Court has also authorised the Prosecutor to investigate alleged atrocities by the military, including deportation and other inhumane acts and the persecution of the Rohingya inside Myanmar.  While Myanmar is not a State Party to the court’s jurisdiction, Bangladesh, which received the bulk of the displaced Rohingya, is.

In Port of Complicity: Adani Ports in Myanmar, a March 2021 report by the Australian Centre for International Justice and Justice For Myanmar, the authors focus on Adani Port’s commercial ties with the MEC military conglomerate.  In May 2019, Adani Ports entered into an agreement to construct, operate and transfer land held by the MEC for 50 years in an investment that promises to run to US$290 million.  Land is being leased for the construction of the Ahlone International Port Terminal 2.  The very property in question is a source of concern.  “Due diligence obligations,” warn the authors, “would require Adani Ports to investigate whether the land is the subject of illegal appropriation by the military.”

The report also draws upon documents obtained by Justice for Myanmar, revealing that Adani Ports’ subsidiary in Myanmar, the Adani Yangon International Terminal Company Limited, paid US$52 million to the MEC, including $30 million in land lease fees.  The rest constitute land clearance fees.

Through its Australian arm, the Adani Group released a statement seeing little problem with the commercial deal with a military-run corporation, despite acknowledging arm embargoes and travel sanctions on important members of the junta.  Such facts did not “preclude investments in the nation or business dealings with corporations such as MEC”.  The company also “rejected insinuations that this investment is unethical or will compromise human rights”.

In December 2020, Adani reiterated that understanding to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, seeing no problems between ongoing arms embargoes and travel restrictions on “key members of the military”.  A more constructive reading of company intentions was encouraged.  “The Adani Group’s vision is to help build critical infrastructure for nations across key markets and help in propelling economic development and social impacts.”

Following the February 1 coup, Adani issued a statement denying any engagement with the junta over the 2019 approval of the port.  “We categorically deny having engaged with military leadership while receiving this approval or thereafter.”  This was a curious version of events, given the July 2019 visit by a Myanmar military delegation led by Commander-in Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to Adani Ports’ headquarters based in Mundra, India.  Ten days prior to the visit, the US State Department had targeted Min Aung Hlaing and three senior members of the military with travel bans, citing their “responsibility for gross human rights violations, including in extrajudicial killings in northern Rakhine State, Burma, during the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya”.

The tour presented the general and his coterie a happy occasion for photo and video opportunities, many of which were posted on his personal website and the website of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar Defence Services.  Gifts were also exchanged between the CEO of Adani Ports, Kiran Adani, and the Senior General.

Caught out by this howler, the company, through a spokesperson, attempted to minimise the significance of the meeting.  The general and his delegation were on an official visit to India; visiting Mundra was merely an informal matter.  “In 2019, the government of India hosted the Myanmar general Min Aung Hlaing and Mundra Port was only one such location out of the multiple sites on this visit”.

The military regime in Myanmar is becoming the subject of interest in certain foreign capitals.  The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) within the US Treasury has targeted the two main military holding companies, the MEC and Myanma Economic Holdings Company Limited (MEHL) with sanctions.  “These companies,” states the US Treasury, “dominate certain sectors of the economy, including trading, natural resources, alcohol, cigarettes, and consumer goods.” Various high ranking military officials, former and current, have links to the holding companies and their various subsidiaries.

Superbly disingenuous, a spokesperson for Adani Ports has suggested watchfulness at this increasingly sordid picture: the company was “watching the situation in Myanmar carefully and will engage with the relevant authorities and stakeholders to seek their advice on the way forward”.  In what can only be regarded as an exercise in moral vacuity, the same spokesperson claimed that the Yangon International Terminal project was “an independent container terminal with no joint venture partners.”

The Myanmar-Adani nexus comes with broader, blood-stained implications.  The company’s Australian operations in the Carmichael coal project in Queensland, long challenged by a determined grassroots effort, raises the question of ethical financing.  “The question for Australia and Australians is whether we want to be hosting a company that is contributing to the enrichment of the Myanmar military,” asks Chris Sidoti, an Australian lawyer who was on the 2019 UN Mission.  Investing in Adani was tantamount to the indirect financing of the Myanmar military.  “This is a question especially for sovereign wealth funds and pension funds that should have a highly ethical basis for their investment decisions.”  As ever, some room to hope.

The post The Adani Business Formula: Dealing with Myanmar’s Military first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The US Indo-Pacific Strategy and Its Delusions

Newsclick’s Prabir Purkayastha talks about the recent Anchorage meeting between Chinese and US officials, the larger dimensions of the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States, and how all of this ties into the politics around vaccines that dominates global diplomacy today.

The post The US Indo-Pacific Strategy and Its Delusions first appeared on Dissident Voice.