The Asian Age – Big technology firms should be stopped from turning the world into a China, Noam Chomsky says

He is referring to China’s social credit system that tracks citizens to award/deduct points on a score determining one’s access to services.

New York – State of New York, 25 May 2020. The role of technology in helping push back against the novel coronavirus has been hailed widely. But it also means that people are constantly being watched by entities that can set the tone for public behaviour without giving a shred of consideration to people’s privacy.

One of the greatest contemporary thinkers, Noam Chomsky, warns of the consequences of technology being allowed to control our lives in the guise of making our lives easier.

In an interview with AFP, Chomsky talked about how the dystopian reality of digital surveillance is already here. “There are now companies developing technology which make it possible for the employer to look at what’s on your computer screen and to check your keystrokes and if you get up and walk away for a minute, they’ll send you a warning.”

“That’s being installed right now, It’s not the future.”

The very things that are convenient are the ones that are invasive, he pointed out. “The so-called Internet of Things is coming along. It’s convenient.

It means if you’re driving home you can turn on the stove, but it also means that that information is going to Google and Facebook, to the government, the American government, the French government, it’s an enormous amount of potential control, surveillance and invasion. But this has happened. It’s not the future.

“If we allow the huge tech companies, the state, to control our life that’s what will happen. They’ll turn it into something like China, where you have social credit systems and in some cities you get a certain amount of credits, there’s face recognition technology all over the place and everything you do gets monitored.

“If you cross the street in the wrong place, you can lose some credits, and so on. “It’s not inevitable, just like global warming, that it’s going to happen, unless people stop it.”

When asked whether the use of surveillance was justified in combating COVID-19, said “It might be, during the period of threat. There’s controls needed during wartime, you have rationing. But it doesn’t have to be permanent. ‘Yes, we’ll let you have this authority now, but it can be revoked at any time.'”

Speaking about other major problems facing humankind, Chomsky said global warming was a greater threat than even the deadly pandemic. “As severe as this pandemic is, it’s not the worst problem.

There will be recovery from the pandemic at severe cost, but there isn’t going to be any recovery from the melting of the polar ice caps and the rising of sea levels and the other deleterious effects of global warming,” he said.

However, it is evident that the public is either not aware or not bothered to see global warming as a serious enough problem.

That kind of a public in the US also voted for a leadership that has proven itself wholly unequal to the task of managing the pandemic in the country where more than 100,000 people have died of it . “There’s no coherent leadership. It’s chaotic.

The presidency, the White House, is in the hands of a sociopathic megalomaniac who’s interested in nothing but his own power, electoral prospects, doesn’t care what happens to the country, the world,” Chomsky said, in scathing criticism of President Donald Trump.

Chomsky spelled out how the administration under Trump never even gave the US a chance against COVID-19. “As soon as Trump came in, his first move was to dismantle the entire pandemic prevention machinery.

At the start, defunding the Center for Disease Control, which would deal with this. And canceling programs that were working with Chinese scientists to identify potential viruses. So the US was singularly unprepared,” Chomsky said.

He explained the economic model that led to the current situation. “It’s a privatised society, very wealthy, with enormous advantages, far more than any other country, but it’s in the stranglehold of private control.

“It doesn’t have a universal health care system. It’s the ultimate neoliberal system, actually.”

He compared it to Europe, which in “many ways is worse, because the austerity programs just amplify the danger, because of the severe attack on democracy in Europe, the shifting decisions to Brussels.”

But he added, “At least it has the residue of some kind of social democratic structure, which provides some support, which is what I think is lacking in the US.”

The Tribune – Labour crunch may push farmers to diversification

Ruchika M Khanna – Tribune News Service

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 24 May 2020. For three decades, Punjab has been talking about diversification in agriculture, but to no avail. With specialised labour for paddy transplantation unavailable, the situation seems ripe for a change in the crop cycle.

The area under the water-guzzling non-basmati paddy is set to be reduced by almost 3 lakh hectares, as farmers will find it difficult to either buy new machinery for direct seeding or labour to transplant the crop. This clearly means that more and more farmers will opt for basmati or other cash crops like cotton and maize.

Official data shows that area under paddy, including basmati, is expected to be reduced from 29.30 lakh hectares in the last kharif marketing season to 26.30 lakh hectares now. Of 26.30 lakh hectares under paddy, 7 lakh hectares will be under basmati varieties. “With Vietnam stopping the export of basmati, a huge opportunity lies ahead for Indian farmers and exporters,” says M S Sidhu, an agro-economist.

“The area under basmati will increase from 6 lakh hectares last year to 7 lakh hectares this year, especially as exports look promising after we banned nine pesticides to make it export-compliant,” says Vishwajit Khanna, Additional Chief Secretary, Development.

Other than basmati, it is cotton which is expected to get a major push with an expected increase of 1 lakh hectares, from 4 lakh hectares last year to 5 lakh hectares this year. Khanna says a lot of mechanised interventions (vacuum pluckers for cotton and drilling of maize seeds) are being made in the cultivation of alternative crops, which is expected to help farmers wean away from paddy.

“The largest shift, however, will be in area under maize. Traditionally, maize was grown in Doaba and the kandi belt, but last year, we made concerted efforts to bring 8,000 hectares under maize in Malwa. This year, the target is to increase the area from 1.6 lakh hectares last year to 3 lakh hectares, mainly in the Malwa belt,” says Sutantar Kumar Airi, Director, Agriculture.

Many farmers, however, feel that they will grow maize only if its MSP is assured. Last year, the cotton growers had suffered losses as they were forced to sell their produce at prices below the MSP.

Balbir Singh Rajewal, president, BKU (Rajewal), says the price of last year’s maize crop has dropped drastically and the farmers are resorting to distress sale. “In such a scenario, the government will have to assure the farmers a good return for the programme to be successful,” he says.


28 March 2020

Sint-Franciscus Instituut

De Lijn Bus stop – Vogelhoekplein

Junction Merelbekestraat – Brusselsesteenweg

Melle Leeuw – Terminus of tram 2

De Lijn Tram 2 to Zwijnaarde

Melle – Oude Brusselseweg

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Aljazeera – Karachi plane crash: Black box recovered, says airline

Worst air disaster in Pakistan since 2012 killed at least 97 passengers and crew members.

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 23 May 2020. The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder have been recovered from the site of a plane crash that killed at least 97 passengers and crew members in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-8303 was flying from Lahore to Karachi when it went down around 09:45 GMT on Friday. The Airbus A320, which had 99 people aboard, crashed into a crowded residential district of the southern city after twice trying to land at the airport.

“The black box had been found late yesterday, we are handing it over to the inquiry board,” PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan said on Saturday, clarifying both the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were located.

Health ministry spokeswoman Meeran Yousuf told Al Jazeera by telephone that 66 bodies were kept at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Karachi’s largest government hospital, and 31 at Civil Hospital Karachi, another leading state-run hospital.

Two male passengers survived the crash.

“After it hit and I regained consciousness, I saw fire everywhere and no one was visible,” passenger Mohammad Zubair, 24, said from his hospital bed in a video clip circulated on social media.

“The cries were everywhere and everybody was trying to survive. I undid my seat belt and I saw some light and tried to walk towards it. Then I jumped out.”

Zubair suffered burns but was in a stable condition, a health ministry official said. The airline named the other survivor as the president of the Bank of Punjab, Zafar Masud.

Dozens killed in Pakistan passenger plane crash

Seconds before the crash, the pilot told air traffic controllers he had lost power from both engines, according to a recording posted on, a respected aviation monitoring website.

“Our plane [an Airbus] A320 which was coming from Lahore to Karachi was on final approach,” said PIA chief Arshad Malik in a video message released after the crash.

“The last words we heard from our pilot were that there is a technical problem and he was told on final approach that he has both runways available to him to land on. But the pilot decided that he wanted to go around.”

The plane then rapidly lost altitude and crashed short of the runway into the Model Colony neighbourhood, witnesses told local media.

Dense plumes of black smoke rose above houses in the narrow streets of the neighbourhood, with television footage showing several buildings crushed from the impact of the aircraft.

Parts of the plane, including the emergency exit door, were strewn in the streets.

Airbus said the jet first flew in 2004 and was fitted with engines built by CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran.

Worst air disaster in years

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan announced soon after the crash that there would be an inquiry,

The country only last week resumed domestic flights it had suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, with many people travelling for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

This year’s holiday is expected to fall on Sunday or Monday in the country, subject to the sighting of the moon.

Friday’s crash is the worst air disaster in Pakistan since 2012, when a Bhoja Air passenger aircraft, a Boeing 737, crashed in the capital, Islamabad, killing 127 people.

The Print – PM, CM, DM: India’s 3 big power centres have been exposed by one disaster

The prime minister, chief minister and district magistrate are the three engines of India’s governance, but their handling of the corona-virus pandemic is going awry.

Shekhar Gupta

New Delhi – India, 23 May 2020. A prominent and eminent civil servant has a brilliant take on governance in India. It runs on three engines, he says: PM, CM and DM. The prime minister, chief minister and district magistrate.

Much as I would’ve liked to give the person the credit for this fine description, I’d rather err on the side of discretion. Why expose him to blame for the argument that will unfold hereon.

This wasn’t a description discovered for the times of the corona-virus emergency, but to underline a settled phenomenon.

The special powers that governments have acquired during this pandemic with the invocation of the Epidemic Diseases Act and the Disaster Management Act have made it more evident.

The question we need to ask, and debate, is whether this three-storey dictatorship has served India well enough in this public health emergency. Or has it been counter-productive, and responsible for some of the chaos, especially with unorganised working classes.

This PM-CM-DM era gathered strength after the summer of 2014, as the 1996-2014 coalition era ended. Over the past six years, no minister has been heard from much. Even if you look at the most senior among them, members of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), with the possible exception of Amit Shah now, none has counted for much.

The Cabinet system has declined. The notion of collective responsibility, internal debate and dissent declined and disappeared. A decision as big as demonetisation could be taken more or less entirely in secrecy from the Cabinet.

It isn’t as if you could dissent very much in Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet. But that only strengthens the PM-CM-DM argument. It is just that 18 years of coalitions had spoilt us.

Even in that coalition era, though, regional dictatorships had already come up. Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Y S Rajasekhara Reddy in Andhra, Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, and, indeed, Narendra Modi in Gujarat. These were all-powerful chief ministers.

The most prominent commonality between them and the prime minister today is how irrelevant and powerless their ministers were. And how power is exercised through a few hand-picked civil servants.

The pandemic now necessitated the promulgation of the Epidemic Diseases Act that the British drafted for their largest colony in the wake of the 1897 plague, and that was meant to give the central government powers of issuing diktats as powerful as medieval papal bulls.

This was fortified by the more recent Disaster Management Act, which brought in complete centralisation of all powers.

The UPA wouldn’t have foreseen this when it passed this law in 2005 in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. That’s why the old wisdom remains: You should be very careful before passing a bad law, never one in a hurry.

The framers of the law would think of a disaster affecting one, two or a few states, as the tsunami did. Here comes a pandemic, and New Delhi found just the legal basis to centralise all power.

Centralise to the extent that the prime minister talks to chief ministers on video conferencing, not always giving everyone time to speak (it was done at the last one), but can also speak directly with sarpanches and civil servants on the ground.

The Cabinet Secretary holding meetings of chief secretaries is by no means unconstitutional or immoral, but raises a question: Where does it leave the democratically-elected leaders? Particularly when stuff hits the fan, as it did with this long-marching labour disaster. Who do you hold accountable then? Who picks up the pieces?

You can catch a contradiction here. If the combination of these two laws and a majority has placed all this power with the PM, where does it leave the CM? And what does it do to your three-engine formulation?

Run your eye over the political map of India. Under an all-powerful Centre, many mini-dictatorships prosper too. It is a secular phenomenon, cutting across party lines.

In Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, you have all-powerful CMs of regional parties who’ve used the same special laws to make themselves even more powerful. In West Bengal, Mamata runs a one-woman show.

In their own different ways, they are able to either collaborate or defy the central government despite its special powers. Telangana and West Bengal, for example, are testing too little, never mind the admonition from the Union health ministry.

Arvind Kejriwal’s government in Delhi sometimes counts its corona-virus dead as if it counts their limbs and divides by 8. Figured the math? Please check out this report by ThePrint’s Aneesha Bedi who broke this on 15 May, now being followed by the rest.

Is the Congress free from this? It doesn’t have many CMs, but Amarinder Singh in Punjab now has more power by himself than any of his predecessors I have known in almost 45 years.

It is fascinating how a new political contract has been established between those holding total power in New Delhi and in the state capitals. You only feel sorry for some BJP chief ministers, especially Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Vijay Rupani, who’ve been left to their own devices, with little power and ‘scapegoat’ written on their backs.

Even there, Yogi Adityanath is his own master, as is B S Yediyurappa to some extent. Nitish Kumar rules his shambolic republic, smug that he will win again later this year. And Naveen Patnaik in Odisha.

We are too large a political landscape to paint with one brush. Maharashtra is one of a kind. A dictatorship of a father and his son, bumbling in the crisis, never mind that their party has just under one-fifth of the strength in the assembly.

We use a strong word like bumbling because they had the responsibility of keeping India’s industrial/economic wheel turning, and they’re sitting on a confused disaster.

Mumbai, the national financial capital, is now the epicentre of the disease. The leaders are neither able to control the numbers, nor reopen the economy. And where’s your Cabinet? Oh, speak with my son/father please.

At which point we come to the DM. Just as the prime minister runs the national Covid fightback through a task force of civil servants, so do the CMs through theirs.

At the Centre, this goes to the extent that the key ministers involved, health, home, agriculture and labour, have never even needed to come and speak to the nation (we aren’t even complaining about the media). The MPs are irrelevant now, as are the state cabinets and MLAs.

The consequences it has on the ground are for real. Orders are written and handed out by people far from the ground with an inadequate idea of realities. That’s why that plethora of corrections and clarifications has piled up.

If nobody in this huge governance structure anticipated the problems and fears that the inter-state labour and work forces might face with a four-hour notice to a complete lockdown, it can only mean they were taking their decisions in the isolation of the Lutyens’ blocks and bhavans.

Equally, labour-importing states (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, Delhi) and exporting states (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand) failed to anticipate this. It can only be if the leaderships had mostly forgotten their political instincts, or left it entirely to their DM equivalents.

After the first phase of the lockdown, the script has gone a bit awry. And wherever it has, see who’s been held accountable. Both Maharashtra and Gujarat have removed the IAS officers heading their respective capitals’ municipal corporations.

Apparently because they were testing “too much”. Bihar has replaced its health secretary too, and Madhya Pradesh has changed its health secretary and health commissioner. The handling of the pandemic, under this totally constitutional and legal three-level dictatorship, has begun to show its downside.

PM, CM, DM: India’s 3 big power centres have been exposed by one disaster