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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Perils of “arrogance”
Comrades did act like know-alls

T
he
drubbing that the Left parties got in the Lok Sabha elections seems to have done some good to their thinking process. While the CPM is still trying to sidestep a critical review, the CPI is doing some honest introspection. In a rather strongly worded statement, it has admitted that arrogance did the Left in and has emphasised the need for “humility and total absence of arrogance in the behaviour and attitude of all Left leaders and activists in relation to the people”. 

Congress triumph in AP
Welfare measures were Reddy’s trump card

I
f
there is one over-riding reason why Andhra Chief Minister Rajashekhar Reddy has managed to beat the anti-incumbency factor and emerged with flying colours in both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections it is the fact that he honours his election promises and has his finger on the pulse of the people.



EARLIER STORIES

The failed fronts
May 21, 2009
Advani stays put
May 20, 2009
Vote for growth
May 19, 2009
North by North-West
May 18, 2009
Risat 2: A feather in the cap
May 17, 2009
The countdown begins
May 16, 2009
Regional satraps in demand
May 15, 2009
Well-done, EC
May 14, 2009
Can’t be just goodwill
May 13, 2009
Before and after
May 12, 2009
Plunder of Aravali
May 11, 2009


Crossings or death-traps?
Railways must take proper steps

T
ime
and again, unmanned level crossings cause serious accidents and there is an outcry against them. However, neither the railways nor road users, particularly rash drivers, seem to have learnt their lessons. The tragedy that took place at an unmanned level crossing at Gumtala village near Nurmahal in Punjab, where seven school children and the driver of a van lost their lives, was clearly an avoidable accident.

ARTICLE

Collapse of the Left Front
It’s time for policy review
by Balraj Puri

T
he
elections to the 15th Lok Sabha represent a landmark in politics in India in more ways than one. Its various aspects are being discussed or will be discussed by political analysts. In particular, the contribution of Dr Manmohan Singh’s personality and policies of his government, Mr Rahul Gandhi’s role specially in UP, weaknesses of the BJP, and confusion in the Third and Fourth Fronts are being mentioned as the factors behind the spectacular victory of the Congress.


MIDDLE

Sorry, but not so sorry
by Roopinder Singh

T
he
principles of Westminster system, the democratic parliamentary system that we adopted, modelled after the British government, help us govern the largest democracy in the world. Now that we have finished the gigantic task of electing worthies who will represent us in the national capital, we must look beyond our shores, as we often do for inspiration.


OPED

News analysis
UP rejects social engineering, votes for development

by Shahira Naim

T
he
ballot box (EVM machine?) in UP this time has produced more surprises than a magician’s hat. It has proved to be a reality check for all major political players in the state. Who could have predicted such a remarkable revival for the Congress? It has more than doubled its seats from nine in 2004 to 21 this time.

China’s winds of change
by Edward Silver

A
fter
President Richard Nixon went to China, the United States urged that nation’s leaders to forget Marx and Mao and embrace the blessings of capitalism. Unfortunately, it’s been wryly said, they took our advice.

Obama pushes for lower car emissions
by David Usborne

T
he
United States has served notice that it finally intends to take firm action to combat the planet’s climate crisis, announcing unprecedented plans to regulate vehicle emissions from 2012 with exhaust standards that match those sought for years by California and a handful of other states.

 


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Perils of “arrogance”
Comrades did act like know-alls

The drubbing that the Left parties got in the Lok Sabha elections seems to have done some good to their thinking process. While the CPM is still trying to sidestep a critical review, the CPI is doing some honest introspection. In a rather strongly worded statement, it has admitted that arrogance did the Left in and has emphasised the need for “humility and total absence of arrogance in the behaviour and attitude of all Left leaders and activists in relation to the people”. The criticism is obviously directed towards Mr Prakash Karat of the CPM who hustled the entire Left into a confrontation with the Congress while trying to cobble together a notional Third Front. Far too many compromises and mistakes were made while doing so, and in the process the Left got reduced to a pale shadow of itself. It was indeed too presumptuous on the part of Mr Karat to surmise that the Congress ought to support the Third Front from outside — as if it had already grabbed power. Election results proved that the elephant that he was hoping to ride on was no better than a mouse.

The CPI has suffered heavily in the process. It contested 57 seats in 23 states and could win only four — with all three sitting MPs in Kerala losing their seats.The LDF’s electoral adjustments with an openly communal PDP alienated both secular and Hindu voters. Ironically, the CPI itself had blindly toed the line taken by the CPM and its general secretary A.B. Bardhan is as much to blame as Mr Karat.

Now that the communists have realised that even they can be wrong, they must do a thorough soul-searching. Only then can correctives be applied. Unfortunately, they are still trying to deflect attention away from their failures. For instance, the CPM has been insisting that the Congress won mainly on the strength of social sector schemes like NREGA and the Forest Tribal Act, which had been adopted under “Left pressure”. But it has no explanation as to why the same schemes did not work for the Left in Kerala and West Bengal. Not owning up its own blunders would be another historical blunder. The time for a candid analysis is now. 

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Congress triumph in AP
Welfare measures were Reddy’s trump card

If there is one over-riding reason why Andhra Chief Minister Rajashekhar Reddy has managed to beat the anti-incumbency factor and emerged with flying colours in both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections it is the fact that he honours his election promises and has his finger on the pulse of the people. The manner in which he announced from the dais the enhancement in the subsidized rice quota to the poor and an increase in the duration of free power supply to farmers, soon after his swearing-in on Wednesday, may have been theatrical but it was effective. In 2004 he had signed on the dais the file ordering the supply of free power to farmers and had announced the waiver of the Rs 1,200 crore power dues. His Rs 2 a kg rice scheme for those below the poverty line, loans to women’s self-help groups and 4 per cent reservation for Muslims in jobs and education during his first term all contributed to overall public satisfaction with his Congress regime which neutralised the negative fallout of the Opposition’s attack on him for rampant corruption.

The Congress can indeed heave a sigh of relief that its consistent stand against the bifurcation of the state to carve out a separate state of Telangana has paid off. While the torch- bearer of the Telangana statehood demand, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, managed to get only two Lok Sabha seats and 10 assembly seats in the Telangana region despite a tie-up with the Telugu Desam and the Left, the Congress bagged an impressive 12 Lok Sabha and 50 assembly seats. This was a clear reflection that popular support for the Telangana statehood demand has dwindled.

Another bubble that was burst in the election was in regard to actor Chiranjeevi, who had been widely predicted to be the potential “kingmaker” in the assembly. That Chiranjeevi’s entry only divided the Opposition vote which indirectly benefited the Congress is now clear. While Mr Reddy’s regime deserves kudos for a good showing in the polls, there are challenges ahead. Welfare measures have their place but development cannot be ignored. Greater vigour in pursuing the development agenda, stress on infrastructure and a tighter lid on corruption cannot wait any more. 

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Crossings or death-traps?
Railways must take proper steps

Time and again, unmanned level crossings cause serious accidents and there is an outcry against them. However, neither the railways nor road users, particularly rash drivers, seem to have learnt their lessons. The tragedy that took place at an unmanned level crossing at Gumtala village near Nurmahal in Punjab, where seven school children and the driver of a van lost their lives, was clearly an avoidable accident. What is particularly distressing is that though the same crossing has witnessed three accidents, including the one in which four college-going girls were killed, little has been done to make the crossing safer.

Accidents at unmanned level crossings are all too common. In Punjab, where Ferozepur division alone has 560 unmanned level crossings, nearly 25 students have lost their lives in the last two years. The railways had identified the crossings prone to accidents and promised to take urgent action. But precious little has been done. Overbridges can solve the problem to a large extent, but the cost involved often becomes a bone of contention between the railways and the states, and there is a tendency to pass the buck, instead of tackling the issue.

Besides providing proper infrastructure, people too must be sensitized. The need for an awareness drive about the dangers of unmanned crossings has been recognised by Northern Railways. It is a fair idea and must be given the necessary push. Likewise, making drivers, especially school bus drivers, more safety conscious would yield positive results. Several accidents occur due to sheer negligence of drivers, many of whom don’t even have a driving licence. It is imperative that school authorities be more careful in employing drivers. These steps, however, are clearly not enough by themselves. Accidents have to be checked and proper systems, including modern safety techniques, must be in place. Above all, the attitude of callousness needs to be shed. Clearly, the cost should not be a criterion when it comes to saving precious human lives.

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Thought for the Day

When the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept;/Ambition should be made of sterner stuff. — William Shakespeare

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Collapse of the Left Front
It’s time for policy review
by Balraj Puri

The elections to the 15th Lok Sabha represent a landmark in politics in India in more ways than one. Its various aspects are being discussed or will be discussed by political analysts. In particular, the contribution of Dr Manmohan Singh’s personality and policies of his government, Mr Rahul Gandhi’s role specially in UP, weaknesses of the BJP, and confusion in the Third and Fourth Fronts are being mentioned as the factors behind the spectacular victory of the Congress.

What are missing in the entire debate are the real causes for the debacle of the Left, which could win only 24 seats against 61 in 2004. The CPM, which is the core of the Left, could get only 16 seats against 43 last time. Its much-trumpeted ambition of installing a non-Congress and non-BJP government at the Centre was thus dashed to the ground. Against this, the UPA has got an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.

Of the two bastions of the Left — Kerala and West Bengal — the former is used to periodic changes in the loyalty of the voters from the Left Democratic Front to the Congress-led United Democratic Front. But West Bengal has been a citadel of the Leftists for over three decades and a show-piece of communism in India. In this state, the Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance with 25 seats has trounced the CPM which got only nine seats while its ally, the CPI, got another six. The collapse of this Left citadel is a puzzle for political pundits and disappointment for all those who wanted a secular progressive opposition as a pressure group for pro-poor policies of the Central government, at least to balance the monopoly in the Opposition of the Right.

West Bengal was supposed to be a test case for the economic policies of the Leftists. But since the initial momentum of radical land reforms exhausted, the deprivation index of the rural poor is as bad as in the backward states like UP, Orissa and Bihar. The latest trend shows that West Bengal is gradually replacing these states in the supply of manpower to the states like Haryana and Punjab.

There is another angle to view the West Bengal debacle. The sentiment of Bengali patriotism had always influenced the political behaviour of Bengalis. Mr Jyoti Basu, above all, symbolised Bengali assertion against the Central authority. The new leadership in the state has been unable to give adequate expression to that sentiment.

The same people at one time hailed Subhas Chandra Bose as their hero. He was, of course, no less popular in the rest of the country, as he led the movement of militant nationalism. But he was not owned up by the national movement led by Gandhi. Moreover, West Bengal is the only state where the party Bose founded, the Forward Bloc, has remained active and is alive today. It is a part of the CPM-led coalition government. The communists were, however, most vociferous in condemning Bose as an agent of fascism.

In between, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, founder-president of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, became the most popular leader of West Bengal. His death in a Kashmir jail in 1953 was far more deeply mourned. The protest against it was much stronger in West Bengal than elsewhere.

It was certainly the genius of Mr Jyoti Basu and his comrades that they could finally make Marxim as a symbol and expression of Bengali patriotism. Though it represented the mainstream of Bengalis called Bhadralok, it did not make adequate allowance for diversities within the state.

Traditionally, Bengali patriotism had two divergent streams. One was represented by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, who in his work like “Anand Math” gave us the national song Bande Mataram, and had a pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim bias. The other stream was represented by cosmopolitan personalities like Tagore and M.N. Roy.

Even under the Marxist regime, Muslims nursed a feeling of neglect. They got an opportunity to register their protest in Nandigram last year. The Muslims, represented by the Jamiat-ul-Ulema, clashed with armed CPM cadres, whom they accused of committing excesses against members of the minority community. Ms Mamta Banerjee intervened to support them.

Soon thereafter, they staged strong protests when the dead body of a Muslim technocrat, Rizwanur Rehman, who had fallen in love with the daughter of a Hindu industrialist, was found near a railway track. The same mood got an expression in the demonstrations for the externment of Taslima Nasreen, a Bangladeshi writer accused in her country of sacrilegious writing.

Further ammunition was provided to the agitated Muslims by the report of the Sachar Committee, which highlighted the fact that Muslim representation in various fields was among the lowest in West Bengal. Dalits, Adivasis and ethnic minorities, who also had a feeling of being marginalised, got an opportunity to join the Opposition ranks.

Rural Bengal was another fortress of the Leftists which was so regimented that it looked impregnable. Most of the ration shop owners were party workers. They mediated in family disputes and took up problems at higher levels. The Leftists had a sort of clientist relations with the rural people. The voice of the suffocated people also got an expression as the opposition made headway.

Leftist leaders might do an introspection and review their ideological, political and strategic policies. They must not only make a deeper study of the ground realities, but also grow with the changing global and national situation.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the Communist parties in Europe converted themselves into social democratic parties. Ironically, by the same time, the democratic socialist movement in India had collapsed. The communists had the opportunity of filling the gap.

Nehru was very keen to see socialists grow as an opposition party in India. He had invited Jayaprakash Narayan to be his Deputy Prime Minister and the Socialist Party to join in the coalition government, so that it gained experience and strength. But JP rejected the offer and later started a movement for a partyless system. The socialists, who constituted the strongest opposition group during the Nehru era, disappeared from the political scene in India.

Now, it is the responsibility of the Communists to build a broad-based Leftist alliance to play the role of a secular progressive opposition, so vital for the success of democracy, and represent the interests of the downtrodden and aspirations of all ethnic and regional diversities of the country. This can supplement the efforts of the Congress party in tackling the problems of the country.n

The writer is Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Jammu. 

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Sorry, but not so sorry
by Roopinder Singh

The principles of Westminster system, the democratic parliamentary system that we adopted, modelled after the British government, help us govern the largest democracy in the world. Now that we have finished the gigantic task of electing worthies who will represent us in the national capital, we must look beyond our shores, as we often do for inspiration.

The Palace of Westminster is the seat of Parliament of the United Kingdom and, practically, all former British colonies, with the notable exception of the United States of America, have adopted the legislative model used in Westminster.

While India has adopted the British system, there are differences, and one that has occupied headlines in the UK recently is that the British MPs can, and do, claim expenses for a second home, outside their constituency, in London.

Ever since the British paper, The Daily Telegraph, published expenses claims made by senior British MPs under the controversial Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure for MPs or second homes allowance, what Freedom of Information activists long held, became obvious-that this is an expense most open to abuse.

Media exposure of glaring cases — like claiming the cost of cleaning a moat, fitting chandeliers and in another case, jacuzzi-style bath — stunned taxpayers, as they learnt exactly what they were subsidising with their hard-earned money.

We must keep in mind that historically, all over the world, more tax is paid by those who do not have homes with moats or chandeliered hallways where their visitors might wait while the butler announces them, or retire to the rest room for a jacuzzi bath. These are blue or white collared workers struggling to pay bills as they balance various aspects of their lives. For them, this extravagance is a bitter pill to swallow, indeed.

Not that all MPs were extravagant in their purchases: They even billed for routine things like an ice tray for £1.50, and to top it all, a chocolate Santa, for 59p! Hey, a guy’s got a right to a snack. Others were billing the British taxpayers as much as £18,800 over four years in “unreceipted” expenses for food consumed at the designated second home!

Now that they have been exposed, the honourable members are not terribly contrite, they are sorry, but not so sorry as to resign from their positions following public outcry at their extravagances. They have actually found the scapegoat — the House of Commons Speaker, Michael Martin, who has announced his resignation for failing to handle the crisis of confidence that followed the evisceration of the expense accounts scandal.

Considered the first person from a working-class background to sit on the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons, Martin presided over a house that for a long, long time held allowances as a supplementary salary, and receipts as notional, because they were anyways secret.

Now that they had been “outed”, the MPs bayed for blood, and punished their leader. Yet, even after they elect a new Speaker, they will have to reform the system, or be seen to be on the wrong side of fair play, which would definitely lead to the loss of public support. The Honorable Members can still have their chandeliers; clean their moats or have jacuzzis installed, provided they pay for them, like the rest of us.

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News analysis
UP rejects social engineering, votes for development
by Shahira Naim

The ballot box (EVM machine?) in UP this time has produced more surprises than a magician’s hat. It has proved to be a reality check for all major political players in the state. Who could have predicted such a remarkable revival for the Congress? It has more than doubled its seats from nine in 2004 to 21 this time.

Yet if it had gauged such an undercurrent it would have surely contested all 80 seats and not just 69.

A more astonishing result has been Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party being reduced to the third position in UP, winning just 20 seats — an improvement of a single seat over her 2004 tally!

It was just two summers ago that she magnificently strode to power in the state with a clear majority in yet another completely unexpected verdict, crushing arch-rival Mulayam Singh Yadav.

While Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party remains the single largest party in the state with 23 seats it has depleted its 2004 strength of 35 seats. (Two more seats were gained through by-polls)

However, there is little to rejoice for Mulayam. His alliance with Kalyan Singh may have ensured his victory in a handful of family seats. What he has lost is credibility among his major vote bank — the Muslims.

It was due to this ideological shift that the voters have punished his Muslim candidates by not returning even a single of the 10 Muslims fielded by the SP. In 2004 the SP had sent seven Muslims to the Lok Sabha.

The Muslim face of the party, Mohammad Azam Khan, may have committed “anti party activities” by opposing the party’s official candidate, Jayaprada, in Rampur. But his act was a desperate cry to draw attention as no one was listening to him in the party.

He had painstakingly nurtured the party along with Mulayam. With this one move Mulayam was bent on gambling away the hard-earned trust of the Muslims for a short-term dynastic gain of family seats.

Once again, it is the Kalyan baggage that makes Mulayam Singh a liability at the national level. There are indications of further strengthening of these ties in the days to come with Kalyan’s son Rajvir Singh, a general secretary of the Samajwadi party, being offered the Firozabad seat, which Akhilesh Yadav would vacate after his victory from both Firozabad and Kanuauj.

While the SP climbing down from 30 plus to 20 plus was being predicted in political circles, what was not so obvious was Behenji being reduced to number three, barely touching 20 seats.

Using the Muslims as the scapegoats she has held them responsible for her dismal performance at the polls. What obviously she is yet to internalise is that her much-touted “social engineering” has completely failed this time.

It is the Brahmins, enjoying the fish and loaves of office during the last two years, who have let her down in a big way.

Playing the Brahmin card, she had, once again, showered them with more seats (25 per cent) than their approximately 9 per cent share in the state’s population. Of the 20 Brahmins fielded by her only five managed to win (25 per cent).

The BSP, a party identified with Dalit resurgence, could return only two of the 17 Dalits (11.76 per cent) that it had fielded from as many reserved seats. What should be a huge embarrassment to Mayawati is that it was the SP that won 10 of the reserved seats. Even Agra, having a dominant Jatav community, has been wrested by the BJP.

Obviously, the Dalits fielded by the BSP did not get any help from the other communities there, confirming that Mayawati’s social engineering has proved to be more of a figment of her imagination and rhetoric for her public meetings.

Compare this to the performance of Muslims. Of the 14 Muslims fielded by her 4 (28.57 per cent) could win which is far better than the other communities.

What is most significant is the Congress victory marking a paradigm shift in the state’s political terrain dominated by the complexities of caste/sub-caste and community permutation and combinations for the last two decades by these two regional parties.

Let me quote the example of Unnao to substantiate. Here Congress candidate Annu Tandon won by a handsome margin of over two lakh votes.

Visiting Unnao, whoever this reporter spoke to — across religious and caste divides — had given ample indication of this verdict. They described her good work for the region and how they would vote for her so that it could continue.

Her election office was most efficient working on corporate lines with critical constituency information graphically displayed on the walls or available in both hard and soft copy.

Compared to this, the BSP office appeared a sleepy joint with some party people sitting and making caste and sub-caste calculations virtually mohalla and streetwise. Here the BSP had fielded a notorious Brahmin land mafia from Lucknow, Arun Shankar Shukla ‘Anna’, having four serious criminal cases against him.

My suggestion of Annu Tandon doing well was met with a snigger. “Do you know she is a Khatri and does not have a base in this constituency having barely 100 Khatri votes?” Frankly, I had not looked at it from this angle.

Never sure of my tools of assessing the electorate I heard them out as they reeled statistics of Anna’s base Brahmin votes plus the so and so Dalit sub-castes, all comfortably adding up to give the BSP candidate a comfortable victory.

The results have proved that winning is not just about caste arithmetic any longer. Development also counts and this is where the BSP has miserably failed.

Even Behenji’s core Dalit voters have shifted to the Congress in sizeable numbers, as they happen to be the main beneficiaries of the NREGA and mid-day meal scheme that has given them some security in a relatively bleak scenario.

The Congress itself underestimated the benefit of the UPA government’s schemes like the Right to Information, NREGA and even the waiving of farmers’ loans.

Both the BSP and the SP do not appear to have learnt any lessons. Mayawati’s outburst against the Muslims and venting her anger against the bureaucrats and party functionaries would not help. She needs to deeply reflect and set her priorities right to ensure that she remains the messiah of the Dalits, a role she fancies herself as playing.

For Mulayam the path is far more difficult as he can hardly retract his step. The damage is done. His USP is lost forever. He has no Muslim MPs and hardly any Muslim leaders to speak of. His Fourth Front gamble has also failed miserably.

For the BJP, the other national party in UP, the crisis is more of identity. Reduced to just 10 seats, it is now realising in hindsight that a vitriolic Varun Gandhi might have helped win the Pilibhit and Aonla seats, but has cost the party dearly elsewhere.

The youth, who constitute a major chunk of the electorate, want to move ahead and compete in a global world. It is dawning upon the BJP that it can no longer flog dead horses like the Ram Mandir or Bofors. The youth are actually embarrassed by the language of self-respect used by Varun.

There is a lesson to be learnt by every party. It remains to be seen who is quick on the uptake, pulls up its socks and prepares itself to meet the growing aspirations of the voters before the 2012 assembly elections. 

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China’s winds of change
by Edward Silver

After President Richard Nixon went to China, the United States urged that nation’s leaders to forget Marx and Mao and embrace the blessings of capitalism. Unfortunately, it’s been wryly said, they took our advice.

Americans have by now become inured to China peeling off layers of the U.S. manufacturing base. The Asian giant, though, has never been at the starting gate of a new industry that promised exceptional growth.

That’s a natural place for America, we like to think. Indeed, the U.S. booted up the Internet business, fostering phenoms such as Cisco Systems and eBay. Those innovators brought the world online, enriching our national economy.

But with “clean tech” and renewable energy heralded as the next world-changing opportunity — and our ticket out of the Great Recession — the United States is at risk of ceding this strategic terrain.

U.S. setbacks dealt by the weakened economy have helped China’s prospects in green commerce. It’s become the capital of solar and wind power manufacturing, and it aims to be the main source of affordable electric cars.

In the U.S., the lending freeze has combined with cheap oil to stunt the fortunes of clean energy. Wind, solar and biofuel projects have been canceled and seed capital is scarce, leaving fertile ideas on the drawing board.

While U.S. gross domestic product shrank 6.1 percent in the first quarter of this year, China’s expanded by the same proportion. Its banks are not only standing but healthy, even amid a global downturn that has curbed demand for Chinese exports. At the same time, Beijing has raised efficiency and sustainability goals, largely in a quest for energy security.

There’s an irony here, as those who have wheezed in Beijing’s foul air know. China has overtaken the U.S. as the top greenhouse gas emitter, the fallout of breakneck development and its role as workshop for the West’s cut-rate goods.

Deforestation, overgrazing and poor water management are expanding its deserts; many of its rivers are flush with toxins. To environmentalists, China’s crimes against nature threaten the planet.

Yet even as it has alarmed green activists, China has also stirred their hopes. Although the U.S. unseated Germany last year as the world leader in generating wind energy, this year, China is expected to be first in building the industry’s machinery, largely for foreign companies.

It’s also installing wind turbines at a fast pace to generate clean electric power. The top two companies in the field, General Electric and Denmark’s Vestas, have factories there.

Similarly, many solar companies have factories in China. Yet virtually all their wares are exported. In the 2008 sales derby, China-based Suntech beat all independent makers, trouncing U.S. champs SunPower and First Solar.

China isn’t hesitating to open the public purse to fund progress. As heated as the debate was over the size of Obama’s stimulus plan and its green elements, China’s package, at $586 billion, is bigger — relative to its economy — and greener.

And entrepreneurs, whom we rely on to invent the next generation of everything, are being kept afloat there. In the first quarter, clean-tech venture investments plunged a jaw-dropping 84 percent in the U.S. while continuing to rise in China.

China produces armies of engineers but has no innovation centers comparable to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Silicon Valley or the Ecomagination group at General Electric. The American culture of quality has no echo in China, which is only now hurrying to assemble the infrastructure of a modern economy.

“The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources,” Obama has said, “will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy.” Not only China but India, Japan, much of the European Union and even Saudi Arabia would agree.

In the competition ahead, the U.S. will have to work to be a player.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Obama pushes for lower car emissions
by David Usborne

The United States has served notice that it finally intends to take firm action to combat the planet’s climate crisis, announcing unprecedented plans to regulate vehicle emissions from 2012 with exhaust standards that match those sought for years by California and a handful of other states.

Unveiling the new plan on Wednesday, surrounded by car executives from the US, Japan and Europe, President Barack Obama left no one in doubt that he means to make good on his campaign promises to drag his country out of years of lethargy and inaction on climate protection.

“The status quo is no longer acceptable,” President Obama declared, standing in the White House rose garden. “We have done little to increase the fuel efficiency of America’s cars and trucks for decades. This is unprecedented change.”

The measures are the result of weeks of behind-closed-doors negotiation. If successfully enacted, they will reshape a car industry that is already trying to wean itself from its past gas-guzzling instincts and promise to make the American fleet 40 per cent cleaner and more fuel efficient than it is today.

Importantly, all sides have given their support to the package and will drop any related lawsuits. Although the standards impose new challenges on the car industry at a time of great economic strain, having certainty about what will be expected from it going forward was enough to buy its support.

With so many officials and industry executives around him, Mr Obama was clearly also firing across the bows of Congress, where his signature climate change bill that includes provisions for a controversial cap-and-trade system for industry emissions is likely to face formidable opposition. “This is staggering,” said the governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger after hearing Mr Obama speak. “This president after 120 days in office has taken the action and pulled everyone together. We are ecstatic.”

The proposed programme would cover the period 2012-2016 with the goal of achieving a standard of 35.5 miles per gallon across the fleet. Officials said that this will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to taking 58 million cars off the road in the US for an entire year. It would also instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate car exhaust emissions for the first time.

Among those applauding the plan are environmental groups. “Few actions could have a more profound impact in the fight against global warming,” commented Bill Becker, leader of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. “After an initial phase-in, every new vehicle sold in every state in the country will be required to meet California’s clean-car greenhouse gas standards.”

Officials conceded that the tough regulations will add an average of $600 (£387) to the cost of a new car but contended that the savings in fuel purchases would cancel out the extra cost within three years. “The fact is, everyone wins,” the President insisted.

For years, California fought with the Bush White House for the right to set its own standards for vehicle emissions. The proposals, which were supported by other states including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, triggered lawsuits from the car industry in Detroit, and the Bush administration was consistent in opposing California’s initiatives. As part of this new deal, the state has agreed in advance to defer to Washington henceforth on emissions standards.

Climate change is one of many priorities for the new President and will have to compete with healthcare reform for his attention. He knows that his green agenda may be in particular peril on Capitol Hill because opinion polls continue to show that tackling global warming and energy wastage is one of the lowest priorities for an American public that is far more concerned with a return to economic prosperity.

“Ending our dependence on fossil fuels represents perhaps the most difficult challenge we have ever faced,” President Obama said.

The President added that the oil which would be saved by the policy is equivalent to the US’s imports for an entire year from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Venezuela and Nigeria combined.

— By arrangement with

The Independent

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