ON Dec. 26, 1991, the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist. Its flag, with its famous hammer and sickle, was lowered outside the Kremlin at 7:32 p.m. Within a half-hour, the red, white and blue Russian flag had been raised in its place. For almost 70 years, the totalitarian Soviet Union had curtailed the free speech and human rights of its citizens. By the late 1980s, it was painfully obvious that its economic policies had led to a dramatically lower quality of life than in the West. But even so, few celebrated its demise. “It was strange how little reaction there was,” Uli Klese, a Berlin photographer vacationing in Moscow as the flag fell, told The Washington Post at the time. “When the Berlin Wall came down, everybody was out on the streets. This was an event of the same kind of magnitude, but no one seemed to care.”
A quarter-century later, few in the former Soviet Union seem to remember its collapse fondly. In fact, many seem to bitterly regret it. The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, recently gave interviews in which he criticized Western inaction over the collapse of the Soviet Union and lambasted the “treachery” of those who enabled it. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s leader in one form or another for more than 16 years, has called the fall of the Soviet Union the ”greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
Perhaps what’s more surprising, however, is that among the general public, who often suffered the most under the Soviet Union, there is perhaps a lingering nostalgia for it. Look at data from the independent polling firm Levada and you’ll see that the percentage of Russians who regretted the Soviet collapse has dropped below 50 percent only once since 1992: in 2012, when it hit 49 percent. In the most recent polling, about 56 percent of Russians say they regret its fall. It’s reasonable for anyone living in a democracy to wonder why anyone would regret the collapse of a totalitarian regime. Thankfully, Levada also asked those with regrets why they thought that way.
To most, the destruction of the union’s shared economic system was the main factor — in Levada’s most recent poll, 53 percent listed it. The reasoning is understandable: The planned economy of the vast Soviet Union offered financial stability. In the immediate aftermath of its 1991 crash, it quickly became apparent that Russia’s new market economy would offer a rocky ride.
Economic reforms quickly had a harsh effect on general living standards. The ruble became almost worthless. Corruption was rampant. A deeply flawed privatization program helped put much of the country’s economy in the hands of an entrenched and often shady oligarchy. Then, just as things began to look up, the 1998 financial crisis hit and wiped out much of the limited gains that had been made.
The economy did finally begin to stabilize when Putin came to power. The new Russian leader went out of his way to confront the oligarchs. Meanwhile, the benefits of Russia’s rich natural resources began to filter through into the day-to-day economy, with real disposable income going up 140 percent between 2000 and 2007. But many Russians still felt humiliated by the experience in the 1990s and blamed Western advisers for the turmoil. And as NATO expanded closer into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, many in the country felt slighted, as if their interests were being ignored by the United States and Europe.
This may explain why Levada’s polling finds that the sense of belonging to a great power is one of the major reasons for people missing the Soviet Union: 43% in 2016. Other justifications for regret range from the mundanely practical (its harder to travel) to the emotional (a lost sense of home). Curiously, it seems this nostalgia may not be limited to Russia, the dominant country in the Soviet Union and whose empire formed its base. A recent survey by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank found that more than half of the respondents from former Soviet states thought a return to an authoritarian regime would be a positive development in some circumstances. The EBRD study also found that life satisfaction remained low in post-Soviet states, which led to a “happiness gap” with Western Europe. All this begs another obvious question: Could the Soviet Union come back? Here’s the evidence from Levada polling: While as many as 30% of Russians said in 2001 that they favored a return to the Soviet Union in its original form, that figure has dropped throughout the Putin years. It now sits at 12%.
But the most recent polling did find that a significant chunk of people (46 percent) supported either combining several former Soviet republics in a new union or integrating all the former Soviet republics in a new bloc akin to the European Union. Speaking recently with Tass, Gorbachev seemed to understand the desire to raise a new flag. ”The Soviet Union cannot be restored,” he told the Russian news agency. “But a new Union can be established.”
Mr Hawking believes the current AI race will eventually usher humans into a stage when machines will become more intelligent than humans. This is when the total annihilation of humans would begin, Hawking claims. Of course, the AI community prefers not to hear such a prominent and respected science proponent say such things. Hawking was heavily criticized within the AI community recently, facing accusations of being a pessimist, and should inculcate the spirit of positivism in the AI debate instead. But despite the criticisms, Hawking is still expressing his views as an independent thinker in the arena of public discourse. Apart from the AI apocalypse, Hawking has summarized vices in humans that he thinks will destroy any progress made since the Stone Age period to current times.
In an interview with Larry King on the Larry King Now talk show last year, the distinguished physicist said although he has talked about AI in the past as a tool that could spell doom for humans, he believes strongly that such inventions are inspired by human vices. Hawking stated that greediness and stupidity are the biggest threats to humanity. He said these two vices will eventually drive humans into extinction, and earlier than he previously expected. According to Hawking, humans are becoming increasingly stupid and greedy with each passing day. He noted that there has been a massive air pollution problem in the last six years, killing many around the world. Hawking said the situation will continue to worsen, bringing along more deaths and strange diseases in the near future.
“We certainly have not become less greedy or less stupid. The population has grown by half a billion since our last meeting, with no end in sight. At this rate, it will be eleven billion by 2100. Air pollution has increased over the past five years. More than 80% of inhabitants of urban areas are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution,” he said.
Hawking added that he is only reminding us of the things we are doing that will end up devouring us. Hawking’s warning is just like the hunter who finds a baby monster in the forest and brings it home. After nurturing the baby monster for it to grow into a giant beast, the monster eats the hunter one day.
If you look at what is currently happening across the world, people are increasingly being exposed to automated things. Smartphones, robots working amid humans, and unmanned vehicles to name a few. These machines are increasingly becoming more intelligent. On the other hand, humans seem to be losing their senses. Due to proliferation of smartphones and other integrated cell-phones; some are literally dying or injuring themselves, just for a common selfie.
The United States Department of Transportation estimates that during 2014, in the so-called “year of the selfie,” 33,000 people were injured while driving and using a cell-phone in some fashion, which included talking, listening, and “manual button/control actuation” including taking, uploading, downloading, editing, or opening of selfies. Also, a 2015 survey by Erie Insurance Group found that 4% of all drivers admitted to taking selfies while driving.
Again, the Washington Post reported in January 2016 that about half of at least 27 selfie deaths in 2015 had occurred in India. No official data on the number of people who died taking selfies in India exists, but reports show from 2014 up to August 2016, there have been at least 54 deaths in India while taking selfies. This has encouraged the Indian Tourism Ministry to ask states to identify and barricade ‘selfie danger’ areas. The goal of the sign is to try and stop or reduce selfie-related deaths in the country.
So, you see, this is one of the exact stupidities Hawking is warning us about. Humans are becoming increasingly stupid while the machines they have created are becoming increasingly intelligent. The mockery of humanity has started. The machines seem to be controlling humans, not the other way around.
From the very beginning of his career as a scientist, Hawking came out of the clutches of so called bourgeois neutrality of science and openly declared his political preference by declaring solidarity with the world people fighting the US aggression on Vietnam in the early seventies.
As a concerned scientist, Hawking has been the staunchest critic of corporate greed, burden imposed on nature and unsustainable consumerism of the financial elite. His approach to artificial intelligence and prediction of doom on humans by machines, etc. though have earned him the branding of a pessimist, Hawking stands above all others in his love and concern for humanity.
For us, the sad demise of Hawking came when we just published his article “Greed and Stupidity will end Humanity earlier than Expected” in Red Star Weekly No. 8 Vol.7 dated 12th March 2018.
The CPI(ML) Red Star extends its tribute to Hawking and express heartfelt condolences to those who love him.
In Bengal, Biman Basu and other CPI(M) leaders laugh at Mamta for calling Red Star comrades and people of Bhangar Maoists, while in Kerala CPI(M) leaders starting from chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to local leaders attack Red Star comrades and others as Maoists for supporting the Kizhattur people’s movement against the Expressway By-pass project. For them comrade Sunny, Kerala state executive committee member and other comrades of Red Star are Maoists, just like Red Star PB member com. Alik and others are Maoists for Mamta! What a ridiculous stand! It shows that they never learn from what happened to their party in Bengal and Tripura for pursuing neo-liberal policies! But in Bhangar, in spite of Mamta’s goons attacking villagers with bombs and guns, the movement is still continuing and expanding to dozens of villagers around. It is also inspiring many more movements! Almost the same thing is going to happen in Kerala also. Now please read what Mamta said:
Kolkata: Chief minister said that Maoists were inciting villagers of Bhangar in South 24 Parganas to protest. She said on Monday that the Maoists were extorting money from foreign countries by using photographs of people’s movement in Bhangar. The area witnessed protests over a power grid project in recent times compelling the Mamta Banerjee government to stall work.
“They are getting funds from Venezuela by showcasing your land agitation. They will flee after some days, but your lives will be doomed. Don’t allow them to create trouble in Bhangar. Remember they had murdered 400 to 500 people in Junglemahal,” Ms Banerjee said.
The police had submitted a report to the state government, accusing Maoists and a group of around 40 Jadavpur University students of turning the peaceful agitation violent outburst. Ms Banerjee, who had spearheaded the land movements at Singur in 2006 and Nandigram in 2007 as an Opposition leader criticised the Bhangor movement and said, “In Nandigram, there was an effort to capture the villages in the name of chemical hub. But in Bhangor, the villagers are being cheated and their future is being doomed. I cannot allow this to happen.”
She flayed a section of real estate developers for duping innocent villagers in Bhangar into selling off their land at a low price. “Some promoters and developers want to acquire the farmlands at a low price and construct multi-storey apartments. These promoting companies are trying to cheat farmers and grab their land,” she said.
She added that some outsiders had brought arms and bombs and they had stockpiled them in the villages. “If you don’t surrender arms to the police, we will recover them either today or tomorrow. We will recover the bombs as well. Who will guarantee that the villagers will not be killed by the arms?” she questioned, requesting villagers not to provide any kind of support or shelter to the “outsiders”.
She urged the villagers to come forward with their grievances. “If you have any grievances against political leaders in Bhangar including those of the TMC, please let me know. My officers will convey the details. I am ready to communicate with the villagers but not with any outsider,” she said.
However, even this fresh bout of terror unleashed by the Trinamool Party and its government turned to our advantage as the entire civil society spoke out in favour of the villagers and against the TMC. When the TMC realised that they had failed in their objective, the CM announced a huge and absurd compensation for even those over whose land the high voltage lines would pass. This announcement was greeted with contempt by the people of Bhangar who saw it as just another ploy to derail their movement. Further, the CM’s announcement of compensation made it clear that the high voltage lines would harm the farmland and that is why she was speaking of compensation. Thus it was proved that the Committee had been right all along in stating that the project would have an adverse impact on land and livelihood. Thus the CM’s declaration gave a boost to the movement instead of demoralising it as she had intended.
Here, it would also be pertinent to mention that the armed attack of the TMC served to make the villagers even more firm in their position. On the day following the attack, the people under the leadership of the Committee took out a 10,000-strong rally which shook the TMC. Simultaneously, on that very day an instant protest was launched by Bhangar Andolon Sanhati Committee in Moulali crossing near Sealdah with a human chain which blocked the busy crossing at mid of the day. Both the programs were well covered by the media.
However, as a result of the armed attack of the TMC, the Kolkata Chalo programme of 4th January had to be postponed. The program was shifted to Bhangor. Instead of Kolkata Chalo, the program was renamed as Bhangar Chalo. The program was a huge success as a massive participation took place. The government cracked down on those who were trying to enter the area in order to participate in the program. From Chinar Park crossing near Rajarhat-Newtown area where the members of different struggling organizations were mobilized, the Baguiati police detained nearly 200 activists. In the wee hours of the same day, the Belgharia police arrested a team of 11 members of comrade Akhil Gogoi’s organization who came to Kolkata from Assam to participate in the 4th January program, along with comrade Raju Singh of our party. All the comrades were released in the evening from both the police stations. This crack down of the government to jeopardize the program evoked huge stir and reaction among the democratic people of the state, which again was widely covered in media.
On 17th January the Martyrs’ day was observed. The Central Program took place at Bhangar, in a field opposite to the Power Grid Substation, while at least in 50 places in South Bengal the day was observed throughout the day at the call of Sanhati Committee. In more than 10 places in Kolkata city area temporary Martyrs’ columns were erected and the day was observed. Our party’s program took place in Taltala area in Kolkata city in the morning. The Central program at Bhangar was participated by top leaders of all the organizations supporting the movement including the opposition leaders of the Assembly and by all the politburo members of our party.
Meanwhile in response of the 4th January program of Jomi-Jibika Committee the ruling TMC organized a counter-program at Bhangar on 6th January where the leaders of TMC including MLA Rezzak Molla and other central leaders declared that within one month the work of the Power Grid project will be restarted, in a mass meeting where only 700 supporters of the ruling party brought from far away areas were present. After completion of this declaration the people of Bhangar gave a befitting reply organizing a massive rally of more than 12000 people with bamboo sticks in hands from Bogdoba to Shyamnagar, a stretch of 7 kms.
In end-February three days sit-in demonstration took place in Padmapukur area. The participation was absolutely massive in all the three days. The members from all the associated organizations participated. Meanwhile, Bhangar Andolon Sanhati committee organized several street corner meetings in support of the movement in different parts of the Kolkata city. The urban middle class people at present have gradually started to realize the justification of the movement as a result of continuous effort of Sanhati Committee and Jomi-Jibika Committee.
Another People’s Convention took place on 19th of March at Yuva Kendra in Kolkata where large number of intellectuals and democratic minded people participated.
Meanwhile, according to the decision of the state committee to form a mass-political front discussions with other organizations are started. Apart from MLRO there are five organizations to which we have put forward our proposal. These organizations are PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism), Radical Socialists, CPIML (Liberation), CPIML (ND), and PCC CPIML. All of these organizations are in a flux regarding their task at present situation. Further discussions shall be initiated putting forward a clear concept from our side explaining why we are thinking about this type of a front. The draft program of the front which has been prepared shall become the basis of this discussion.
Meanwhile the political condition of the state is moving in a direction where the main parties are trying to come closer in order to resist BJP, especially, after the latter’s ‘unexpected’ victory in Tripura. Mamta Banerjee is so much scared that she is now openly asserting to give the ‘Left Front parties’ some political concessions in order to prevent the shifting of their vote bank in favour of BJP. The possibility for the alliance of Congress and TMC is getting brighter in every passing day. Already, TMC has extended their support to Congress candidate in the fifth seat in the Rajya Sabha. Undoubtedly they will be happy if their friendship will exist until the Parliament election of 2019, and will be happier if the ‘Left Front parties’ join them. In this scenario the task of carrying forward the flag of uncompromising battle against neo-liberalization in particular and Corporate-Communal Fascism in general will become extremely important for the organizations like ours. What impact of this scenario will be felt in the anti-imperialist mass movements like Bhangar movement that must be closely watched.
PEOPLE'S CONVENTION HELD AT KOLKATA
THE leading intellectuals of the state have once again expressed their support and solidarity to the ongoing Bhangar movement in West Bengal. In a Citizens’ Convention held in Moulali Yuva Kendra, Kolkata, on 19 th March they criticized the state government for not entering in a discussion with Jomi, Jibika, Poribesh o Bastutantra Rakhsha Committee (JJPBRC) in Bhangar issue. Instead of holding a talk with the committee the state government recently has set up three police camps in the power-grid area.
The intellectuals raised their voices against this notorious act of the government. Partha Sarathi Sengupta, one of the most senior and leading lawyers of Kolkata High Court, said that the Bhangar movement is placed on solid arguments and moral justification. That is the reason why the government is still not being able to enter in a discussion with the struggling people of Bhangar. He said that the government is trying to bulldoze the people’s opinion to carry forward the anti-people project. The use of black laws like UAPA on the workers of mass movement is the result of this anti-people policy. Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, under whose leadership a team of expert lawyers defeated the government in High Court in Bhangar case, expressed his solidarity and said the determination and courage of the people of Bhangar will win. There is no power in the country to stop this. Eminent lawyer and activist in democratic movement Bharati Mutsuddi also expressed her support and solidarity to the movement.
She said that the struggle of the people of Bhangar is an inspiration to all the struggles which are going on throughout the state at present. Veteran poet Shankha Ghosh, historian Partha Chattopadhyaya, Somnath Chatterjee, ex Speaker of the parliament, and eminent senior writer of the state Nabanita Deb Sen sent their written statements as they could not participate physically. Shankha Ghosh is the most senior and respected poet in the state who has been writing poetry that reflects the struggle of the masses since 1951 when the police of the then Congress government brutally killed several persons including a minor girl by firing on a procession which was demanding food in Cooch Behar district of Bengal.
He took a prominent role in favour of Singur-Nandigram movement and against the Left Front government at that time. Therefore, his statement in favour of the people of Bhangar and his sharp criticism of the present government in this issue was significant, opined by the political circle of the state. Historian Partha Chattopadhaya sent a long and elaborate statement that totally unmasked the government where Sri Chattopadhaya asked the government that if they think that the project is being set up for the purpose of the people then why they are failing to convince the people. He declared that the mal-intention behind the project will not be successful as the solidarity of the democratic masses of the state is growing in favour of the movement. The convention received wide media coverage where it was said that the government had faced yet another blow in Bhangar issue as a result of the huge success of the convention.
Bolivia is now in the process of becoming a member of the Southern Common Market, Mercosur and Morales attended the group’s summit in Argentina last week. Bolivia’s popular uprising known as the The Cochabamba Water War in 2000 against United States-based Bechtel Corporation over water privatization and the associated World Bank policies shed light on some of the debt issues facing the region. Some of Bolivia’s largest resistance struggles in the last 60 years have targeted the economic policies carried out by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Most of the protests focused on opposing privatization policies and austerity measures, including cuts to public services, privatization decrees, wage reductions, as well the weakening of labor rights.
Since 2006, a year after Morales came to power, social spending on health, education, and poverty programs has increased by over 45 percent. The Morales administration made enormous transformations in the Andean nation. The figures speak for themselves: the nationalization of hydrocarbons, poverty reduction from 60% to less than 40%, a decrease in the rate of illiteracy from 13% to 3%, the tripling the GDP with an average growth of 5% annually, the quadrupling of the minimum wage, the increasing of state coverage on all fronts, and the development of infrastructure in communications, transportation, energy and industry. And above all, stability, an unusual word in the troubled political history Bolivia, of which today, with the economic slowdown experienced by many countries in the region, is a real privilege.
(Written by American Herald Tribune)
Though Indian corporate media who are also beneficiaries of this biggest-ever plunder of the nation and its people keep a studied silence on the issue, studies by leading international agencies like Transparency International (TI) have already identified India as one of the most corrupt countries in the world today. In this context, the study by TI is worth noting. Based on a sample survey of 20000 respondents in 16 countries in the Asia-Pacific region and covering almost one-and-a half years, TI has recently assessed how India surpassed Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam in terms of corruption. Accordingly, India under the present regime has become the typical example of flourishing ‘crony capitalism’.
As ILO Director-General Guy Ryder puts it, “decent work deficits remain widespread”. Almost 1.4 billion workers globally are estimated to be in vulnerable employment in 2017 - a majority live in Asia - and an additional 17 million are expected to join the ranks per year in 2018 and 2019.
So what is vulnerable employment? Vulnerable employment is often characterized by inadequate earnings, low productivity and difficult conditions of work that undermine workers’ fundamental rights. It is defined as the sum of the employment status groups of own account workers and contributing family workers. They are more likely to be informally employed, and are therefore more likely to lack a ‘voice’ through effective representation by trade unions and similar organizations.
In India, vulnerable employment roughly affects three out of four workers-77% of total workers according to World Bank (derived from ILO data). This, while all eyes have focussed on the unemployment rate. ILO actually projects the latter to stay steady at 3.5% till 2019-thanks to its rapid labour force growth, Southern Asia (which includes India) is expected to account for close to 90% of the total employment growth in Asia and the Pacific in 2018-though that means that the number of unemployed will go up from 18.6 million in the coming fiscal to 18.9 million in the next.
Worse still, a large proportion of the jobs being created is of poor quality, and expected to remain so. The report notes that “while there has been strong job creation in some ICT-intensive services, notably in India, a significant portion of the jobs created in the services sector over the past couple of decades have been in traditional low value added services, where informality and vulnerable forms of employment are often dominant.”
Other regions in Asia are faring far better. The share of vulnerable employment in total employment in South-Eastern Asia and the Pacific (which includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore and Australia) is expected to stay steady at 46% till 2019 and the figure is pegged at 31% for Eastern Asia (China, Japan, Taiwan et al). In the developed world, the figure is under 10%, but that’s still 56.5 million people.
“Underlying these aggregate labour market and social trends are disparities across a number of demographic groups. Gender disparities are of particular concern,” says ILO, adding that in Southern Asia, vulnerable employment rates among women are 8 percentage points higher than those of men.
The lack of employment opportunities for youth (i.e. those under 25 years of age) presents another major global challenge. Young people are much less likely to be employed than adults, with the global youth unemployment rate standing at 13 per cent, or three times higher than the adult rate of 4.3 per cent. The corresponding figure of Southern Asia is 9.5%.
On a more positive note, the report notes that the incidence of working poverty is expected to continue on its downward trend. As of 2017, 295.5 million people in Southern Asia were living in moderate or extreme poverty, which is projected to come down to 285.5 million in 2018 and about 276 million the year after. “Additional efforts need to be put in place to improve the quality of work for jobholders and to ensure that the gains of growth are shared equitably,” said Ryder. However, the high incidence of informality-it affects around 90% of all workers in India-continues to undermine the prospects of further reducing working poverty.
(BusinessToday. January 24, 2018)