Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Load shedding...The crisis deepens

Editorial:Daily Times
The violent protests rocking the country, with Punjab as their epicentre, against prolonged scheduled and unscheduled load shedding has added the latest nail in the coffin of the present dispensation. The protestors vented their frustration and anger at electricity deprivation for long hours of the day and night by attacking electricity distribution companies’ offices, vehicles and other government property. Some collateral damage to private property also occurred, especially when charged up crowds were subjected to ruthless police action involving water cannon, tear gas, firing and the ubiquitous lathi (baton). The country was roiled by the violent protests and the police’s violent response almost throughout its length and breadth. It was inevitable then that these events should find an echo in the proceedings of the National Assembly. Turning roundly on the government, opposition parties led by the PML-N lambasted the treasury benches for caring not a fig for the misery of the people. Households’ inconvenience has been added to by the impact on industry and commerce, with closures and inability to do business fully producing lay offs and further unemployment. Without means to purchase high priced food, and suffering the unwanted attentions of the dengue mosquito in darkened communities, is it any surprise that the citizen has said ‘Enough!’ This is not to justify the violence on display, only to point to the reasons for such seething anger that can no longer be mollified by sugarcoated assurances. The police’s harsh methods may have succeeded partially in rolling back what threatened to become a countrywide tide of fury and destruction, but unless things improve, this could well be just a lull before fresh storms.

Unfortunately, our political class is unable to rise above itself even in moments of such momentous national crisis. The tired old mutual blame game is predictably on display again. While the government is on the defensive, some at least in the opposition may see this as a heaven sent opportunity to rock the ruling party back on its heels. Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N seems to have decided to jump into the load shedding fray and lead what it hopes will transform into a political movement to unseat the present incumbents. It must be admitted that the latter have not done their cause much good. It is being put about that the present unprecedented energy deficit is first and foremost due to the circular debt, secondarily (and temporarily) due to reduced irrigation discharges from the dams that lead to reduced hydel power, and last but not the least, breakdowns in the nuclear power plants at Chashma. The first at least has been in public knowledge ever since this government came to power. It took the unprecedented breakout of virtually countrywide riots to induce this government to announce that it was releasing Rs 11 billion to the energy sector to re-enervate the at a standstill KAPCO and HUBCO, which will add 2,000 MW to the system. It boggles the mind why the government could not have done this earlier and staved off the crisis. Compared to the reported figure of Rs 300 billion circular debt, this is a mere drop in the ocean. In addition, the government has decided to institute conservation measures such as two weekly off days and shutting down markets by 8:00 pm. Although this is estimated to save 1,000 MW, it is not certain if the provinces will go along, especially since the chief ministers absented themselves from the energy conference chaired by the prime minister. In addition, the government proposes a 12-16 percent electricity tariff increase, sale of government paper to the banks, and a loan from then ADB to address the circular debt. The first proposal promises more protests. The other two may be more feasible. Let us not overlook the fact that traders and businessmen in various parts of the country are threatening to withhold their electricity bills unless the present situation improves markedly.

As if the woes of KESC’s customers are not an object lesson, the government proposes the privatisation of nine more generation plants, a move critiqued by Transparency International on precisely these grounds. The government had better get its priorities right. First and foremost, it has to address the present miseries of the citizen and business by ensuring an improvement in power generation as quickly as possible. All other ideas will have to wait until this is achieved. Otherwise the hopes of the opposition to use this crisis for political gains in the shape of a generalised movement against the government may well turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Occupy Wall Street protests...Unions endorse, will join


As the Occupy Wall Street protesters rally for a third week, social media sites such as Twitter seem to be spurring similar protests in other cities.

A Twitter account called Occupy Boston mentions a city-wide college walkout there Wednesday.

Meantime, the Massachusetts Nurses Association says "hundreds" of the city's nurses will rally with the Occupy Boston protesters on Wednesday. The Nurses Association says the protest will be part of the opening day activities for a national nursing convention in Boston.

In New York City, several unions endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement and plan to join the protesters' street theater on Wednesday, labor leaders said.

"It's really simple. These young people on Wall Street are giving voice to many of the problems that working people in America have been confronting over the last several years," said Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which has 20,000 members in the New York area.

"These young people are speaking for the vast majority of Americans who are frustrated by the bankers and brokers who have profited on the backs of hard-working people," Hanley added in a statement. "While we battle it out day after day, month after month, the millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street sit by -- untouched -- and lecture us on the level of our sacrifice."

Transport Workers Union Local 100 spokesman Jim Gannon said the Occupy Wall Street movement, which denounces social inequities in the financial system and draws inspiration from the Arab Spring revolutions in Africa and the Middle East, has advanced issues that unions typically support.

"Their goals are our goals," Gannon said. "They brought a spotlight on issues that we've believed in for quite some time now ... Wall Street caused the implosion in the first place and is getting away Scot-free while workers, transit workers, everybody, is forced to pay for their excesses.

"These young folks have brought a pretty bright spotlight," Gannon added. "It's kind of a natural alliance."

President Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers, the sole bargaining agent for most nonsupervisory New York City public teachers with 200,000 members, said he was "proud" to support the Occupy demonstrators, who have been camping out in New York and elsewhere across the nation."The way our society is now headed it does not work for 99% of people, so when Occupy Wall Street started ... they kept to it and they've been able to create a national conversation that we think should have been going on for years," Mulgrew said.

The labor officials couldn't provide a projection on how many of their members will take the day off from work Wednesday and join the protests.

The demonstrators have bivouacked in the park in New York's Financial District, calling for 20,000 people to flood the area for a "few months."

The protest campaign -- which uses the hashtag #occupywallstreet on the microblogging site Twitter -- began in July with the launch of a simple campaign website calling for a march and a sit-in at the New York Stock Exchange.

Over the past two weeks, demonstrations have addressed various issues, including police brutality, union busting and the economy, the group said.

Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless movement made largely of twentysomethings upset with the state of the economy, the state of the war in Afghanistan, the state of the environment, and the state of America and the world in general.

In less than three weeks, the movement has become a magnet for countless disaffected Americans at a time when an overwhelming majority of U.S. adults say the country's on the wrong track.

Occupy protests have been held in Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston.

Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots have clear strains of liberal economic populism -- a powerful force in U.S. history during various times characterized by growing economic stress. That said, it could be a mistake to label or tie the movement to a specific agenda, said Susan Olzak, a Stanford University sociology professor.

"It's difficult to classify a social protest movement early on in its history," Olzak told CNN. "Clearer goals could eventually emerge, but there's no guarantee."

"Many movements fizzle out. Others become more organized," she said. But "I think we run a risk (by) taking a snapshot at any one point in time, and trying to categorize the movement in any one way based on that snapshot. The only way to study these protest movements is to follow them over time."