Saturday, May 17, 2014

They'll go to Mars but won't come back

If your romantic partner pointed you to an application for a one-way trip to Mars, would you be upset -- or thrilled? When Dr. Leila Zucker's husband sent her such an e-mail last spring, he said that he didn't want her to go but that he'd be a lousy husband if he didn't tell her about it.
Fast-forward to today: Zucker has made it past the first round of cuts for Mars One, a nonprofit organization that aims to send four people to the Red Planet in 2024 and subsequent groups in later years. "Most of us want to explore, want to go new places, and then it's just a question of: How much are you willing to give up to do it?" she said.
Zucker is one of 705 candidates selected from a pool of 200,000 applicants for the mission. The select group has been narrowed from 1,058 people as some prospective astronauts dropped out for personal or medical reasons, Mars One said recently. All of the remaining candidates will be interviewed by the Mars One selection committee. Eventually, only four will be picked for the first trip. Apparently, none of them is scared off by the idea that, because of technological and financial limitations, Mars One astronauts would probably never come home.
It might not actually happen
Despite growing excitement surrounding this effort, it is not clear that sufficient money will be raised to follow through. Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp has said the company is looking at "a range of funding scenarios." A reality TV concept is one way Mars One may make good on its $6 billion budget for getting the first four humans to Mars. Lansdorp hopes the unprecedented video opportunities will attract sponsors, partners and media coverage.
But since no one has ever been to Mars, the technology to fly people there and keep them alive has not been tested there, either. Lansdorp said last year that "no new inventions are needed to land humans on Mars," and the website says the "plan is built upon existing technologies available from proven suppliers." But the company will need to show that key systems involved in transportation and life support will work in untraversed territories.
Mars One announced in March that it will soon begin constructing the first of its "simulation outposts" to train selected astronauts and teams, giving them experience in an environment made to feel like a Martian home. Zucker, 46, an emergency medicine physician in Washington, is doubtful that Mars One will deliver on the trip at all. But if it does happen, she is on board. "There's no question."
Settling away from your spouse
You might think that trying to emigrate from our planet might put some pressure on Earth-based relationships. Zucker and her husband have been married for 21 years and have no children. If she goes to Mars, she said, she will probably offer her husband a divorce but will wear her wedding ring regardless. He doesn't want her to go, she said, but supports her following her dreams.
"Both of us are space enthusiasts," she said. "Humanity needs to expand off Earth if we expect the human race to succeed in any way beyond just basic survival."
Dan Carey, 52, another candidate, also believes humans should be spreading to other planets -- but his wife is not happy about Carey taking part in the mission. The couple, married 28 years, has two college-age children.
"She's concerned that she's going to have to watch me die on television," Carey said of his wife.
It's hard for Carey to think about leaving his wife and kids behind forever and never meeting future grandchildren. Still, he likes the idea of making history and seeing things that no one has seen directly before. Sachin Desai and his wife, Ankita Ritwik, are getting around the marital tension issue by applying together. Desai says he could not go to Mars without her. Sure, Mars might challenge their marriage, but enough marriages are strained on Earth already, he said.
"One thing we do really well together is travel, and this would be a trip lasting the rest of our lives. I think we also are very good at helping each other out when we are stressed; I would be a far worse space cadet without her." A 'social experiment'
When you live far from people you've known for a long time, you manage to make friends in your immediate area, and that's what Marina Santiago thinks will happen on Mars. The Harvard University Ph.D. student says Mars One crew members may take the place of friends, family and significant others.
Even if Mars One doesn't land people on Mars in 2025, it serves as a "social experiment" to get people talking and thinking about a Mars mission, she said.
"What I learned in grad school is that you never really know what problems you're going to come across until you actually try and do something. And the fact that they're actually trying to plan it, means that they'll come across the problems," she said. "I believe that there are no problems humanity can't solve."
Some candidates draw analogies to the early waves of European settlers in North America. Immigrants didn't have a rover on Plymouth Rock telling them about local conditions before they arrived, says Gregory Sachs. "You even couldn't necessarily send a letter back to your family," Zucker said. "You were leaving everything for good. We at least will have the ability to use e-mail."
Still, it's a hard sell for friends of Brian Robles', a Mars One candidate who studies public health at Rutgers University. "Usually, every time I tell somebody about the trip, they say it's a 'suicide mission' and 'you're going to die on Mars,' " Robles said. "Well, we're going to die here, too. So might as well live your whole life to the fullest."
Funny he should mention that: The United Arab Emirates' religious watchdog, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments, recently issued a fatwa to warn Muslims against the mission because "the chances of dying are higher than living."
Mars One responded in a statement, asking the authority to cancel the fatwa. "The Fatwa prohibits Muslims from going to Mars, but not from applying to Mars One's mission or training for the mission. In the next ten years, Mars One is open to working with the GAIAE to assess the risk of the mission as the unmanned settlement is under construction," Mars One said.
Sachs is hopeful that his trip wouldn't actually be one-way. He believes it would be in the best interest of the mission to send the astronauts back: "Imagine only the cost and tax on resources to care with someone elderly on a Mars One colony," he said.
But the way that the mission is currently set up -- with no return plan -- he's still interested.
Making happy Martian meals
Spending the rest of your life on another planet might make a person miss certain Earthly conveniences like favorite foods. Carey said he'd lose weight just to be able to take more chocolate with him, since there would be a limit of how much weight each person could contribute to the mission. Michael McDonnell, another applicant, said he wants to make the first pizza on Mars. Zucker would miss hamburgers but has high hopes for being able to grow them herself, perhaps from cow stem cells using a technique demonstrated last year.
How test-tube meat could be the future of food
"The first hardest thing to give up would obviously be my husband," Zucker said. "The second hardest thing would be meat." But for this opportunity, she would kiss them both goodbye.

Moscow demands halt to military action in Ukrane's southeast - Russian Foreign Ministry
The Russian Foreign Ministry says it is outraged by operations the Kiev authorities launched in the southeastern part of Ukraine early on Saturday. "The situation around Slavyansk in the Donetsk region dramatically worsened in the early hours of May 17. Ukrainian troops supported by aviation once again attempted to storm the city. This time, civilian installations were shelled by heavy artillery. Some people were wounded. A real threat to peaceful civilian lives was created. All this provokes Russia's rightful outrage," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
"We are insisting once again on the immediate stoppage of military actions by Kiev in the southeastern part of Ukraine," it said. "Such punitive actions against their own citizens show the hypocrisy of the Kiev authorities who falsely declare their willingness to comply with the provisions of the Geneva Declaration concluded on April 17, 2014 and with the road map, developed by the OSCE," the Foreign Ministry said. "The question also arises can the [presidential] election truly meet the democratic norms of the electoral process, when it is carried out against the backdrop of the continuing military crisis in Ukraine?" the Russian Foreign Ministry concluded. The Russian Foreign Ministry expects that the West will have a "drastic influence" upon Kiev to encourage reconciliation in the country. Moscow doesn't want an ostentatious approach but a straightforward demonstration of willingness to find a solution. On Saturday night the situation around Slavyansk, in the Donetsk region, ratcheted up sharply. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Ukrainian military, with the air support, once again attempted to storm the city, heavy artillery is bombarding civilian buildings; several people are injured. " There's a real threat to the lives of civilians. All this arouses rightful indignation in Russia," the report of the Foreign Ministry reads. "Saber-rattling" arouses a particular bewilderment, since it is today that the second "round table" discussion on ways out of the political crisis in Ukraine is taking place in Kharkov,” the Foreign Ministry says. "It seems that the self-proclaimed Ukrainian authorities simply use this forum to cover up their aggressive actions,” the statement says. "We hope that our Western partners will have a drastic influence on Kiev in order to start a real, not ostentatious work on moving towards national reconciliation in the country," the message of the Foreign Ministry reads. Read more:

China’s Xi and Russia’s Putin to make Substantial Statement

A Chinese top-diplomat announced on Thursday, that President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will make a substantial statement during Putin’s visit to China later this month.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is scheduled for an official state visit to China on invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi invited Putin to pay a visit to China and to attend the Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) from May 20 in Shanghai.
During a press briefing, the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping announced that the two top-leaders will exchange views on cooperation, coordination in international affairs as well as on major issues of common concern. The meeting is the second meeting between the Chinese and the Russian Presidents in 2014, and Putin’s first visit to the Chinese People’s Republic since Xi took office.
Vice Foreign Minister Cheng stressed that Xi and Putin will be showing the two countries willingness to firmly support each other with regard to their country’s path with regard to national development, as well as with regard to the strengthening of the two countries strategic cooperation on major international affairs. Cheng added, that the two presidents also would witness the signing of a series of important bilateral cooperation agreements.
The meeting has been scheduled against the backdrop of the deepening crisis in and over Russia’s neighbor Ukraine, where predominantly US and UK backed post-coup government’s military escalation and the deployment of 30.000 heavily armed troops to the countries southeastern regions has cast the country into a de facto civil war.
The visit also comes against the backdrop of increased international tension over Ukraine and sanctions against Russia by the G7, the US and EU. Additionally, Japan announced earlier this week that it had suspended talks about a peace treaty with Russia, to coordinate its policies with the G7.
So far, neither Beijing nor Moscow lift the veil about what Xi’s and Putin’s “substantial statement” contains. It is noteworthy, however, that sanctions have prompted Moscow to diversify payments in international trade to increasingly use national currencies instead of the dollar.
Within this context it may be worth noting that Xi and Putin, at the sideline of the 2013 G8 summit in St Petersburg, in September 2013, announced that the planned BRICS development bank would become operative by late 2015 or early 2015.

Friends of Hillary

Gail Collins
The American economy has gone through some tough times lately. But, happily, we still lead the world in the production of corn, soybeans, beef, cheese and stories about Hillary Clinton.
Clinton has become famous in a unique, remarkable way. She’s practically an organizing principle for the American consciousness. We see her everywhere. How could Barbara Walters have signed off from “The View” this week without a drop-in from H.R.C. — who holds the record for multiple appearances on Walters’ annual Most Fascinating People roundup? How could Gloria Steinem have celebrated her 80th birthday party without a video visit from the former first lady/senator/secretary of state? How could the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries have gotten through its Las Vegas convention without a Hillary speech?
O.K., they had to pay her for the last one. But while she was there, somebody threw a shoe at her. At once, the nation had something new to talk about. People were trudging through their days amid dreary domestic headlines about crime, bad weather and congressional gridlock. Then suddenly it was — Hillary! Shoe!
It’s so interesting how interested we are in her. Of course, she’s a potential presidential candidate. But she’s also got the critical national role of being someone Americans all have in common.
Ever since the industrial revolution, when Americans abandoned small-town life for anonymous cities, they’ve bonded by talking about celebrities. In 1800, people chatted over their back fence about the neighbors. In 1900, the guys on the assembly line no longer shared mutual friends, but they all knew that boxing champion John L. Sullivan was a terrible drunk, and had opinions about singer Lillian Russell’s generous figure.
Today, the media’s getting so fractured we don’t even know the same famous people. We’re long past the era when 100 million viewers would turn in to see how “M*A*S*H” turned out. There’s still the Super Bowl, for which a large chunk of the country gathers around the TV in a touching show of faith that this is going to be the year when it isn’t boring. But mainly we surf around for our own special favorite things — the Danish drama on Hulu, the Miley Cyrus video, the blog about “Hogs Gone Wild.” Then on weekends we get together for a multigenerational dinner and talk about ... ourselves. Or the salad.
Or Hillary. It must be an ungodly burden to be both the most important political figure outside the White House and perhaps the last great all-purpose celebrity on the map. She’s so familiar she’s like a family member — even to the political right, although in that case it’s something along the lines of a wicked stepmother. Rush Limbaugh recently entertained the theory that Clinton had “staged or set up” the shoe-throwing incident, although, really, if you were going to try to get attention with that kind of event, you’d have picked someplace more elevating than the scrap recyclers.
For the right, Clinton is responsible for nearly everything bad that occurs in the world, including the terrible kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls — which happened either because Benghazi made us look weak (Laura Ingraham) or because the State Department never formally designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization. Also, Chelsea got pregnant because her mother wanted the positive press. Somewhere, right now someone is working on a story that will reveal that Hillary Clinton started the elevator fight between Jay-Z and his sister-in-law.
Everybody — right, left and middle — is talking about her presidential candidacy even though we’ve got more than two years before the presidential nominating convention. Karl Rove made headlines when he reportedly mused that Hillary might be able to conceal a “traumatic brain injury” during a run for the White House. (His estimate that she had spent “30 days” in the hospital after a fall last year was a mere 26 days off.) But Rove was not really worried that the public would fail to take a look at the health issues of all the presidential candidates when the race really begins. He was just keenly aware that without Hillary gossip, he might be stuck analyzing the presidential prospects of the current Democratic field: Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to belong to everybody in such an intimate way. There’s no one else in the same situation. Barack Obama is universally known, but these days, if you have a conversation at the dinner table about him, the real topic is going to be something like health care or the unemployment rate. We’re so aware of his enormous responsibilities, we’ve sort of lost interest in Obama as a person. He may try to be diverting with the odd comment about sports or his dog, but, really, it doesn’t work.
This is why Hillary Clinton is going to run for the White House. She wants to be president so people will stop talking about her.

President Obama's Weekly Address: Working When Congress Won't Act

Pakistan: Asif Zardari felicitates Narendra Modi
Former President and Co-Chairman Pakistan People’s Party Asif Ali Zardari has felicitated Narendra Modi on the success of his Party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with a wide margin in India’s general elections.
In a message the former President said that elections in Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and now in India and the coming into power, one after the other, of new governments in countries of the region should serve as an impetus to efforts aimed at promoting peace and stability in the region.
One such effort must be directed towards promoting regional trade and people to people contacts so direly needed for the prosperity and well being of the peoples of the region, the former President said in his message.


Riding a nationwide wave created substantially by his campaign, Narendra Modi won an unprecedented victory for the BJP, matched in its intensity and sweep only by the crushing defeat of the Congress in the 16th general elections.
The BJP returns to power at the Centre after 10 years. Allies will also be part of the government, though the BJP is not dependent on any for numbers.
“Good days are ahead,” tweeted Mr. Modi as soon as trends became clear, reiterating the words of his campaign jingle 'Acche din aanewale hain' that had inspired hope among people and created a hype around his persona.
The BJP won a simple majority for the first time, only the second time a non-Congress party has done so. The BJP also became the first party since 1984 to get a majority on its own.
In its worst performance, the Congress won less than one third of its 1977 tally of 154, when a massive anti-Congress wave swept India after the Emergency.
The BJP consolidated its hold in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, leaving only a handful of seats to its opponents. It also engineered a decisive turnaround in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, made inroads into Assam and West Bengal, won the southern most seat in India, Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, and came a close second in nearby Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala.
The Congress failed to hold ground in any state except Kerala, where its alliance won a majority of the seats, and Karnataka.
In its unrivalled march, the BJP managed to break barriers of caste, decimating parties such as the BSP, SP and the RJD in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
While the Left fell to its lowest tally in history, three regional parties outside the BJP alliance, the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, held their ground.
With most senior leaders of the Congress routed, and no regional heavyweight other than Mulayam Singh in the new Lok Sabha, the opposition appears weak against the overwhelming numbers of the BJP.
The BJP had put its hardcore Hindutva agenda on the backburner when it began alliance building in 1996, but with absolute numbers on its side, the demand from within to bring these up may rise. But Mr Modi sought to reassure the country, stating that he would “take the entire 125 crore people of India along.”

India: Does the elections verdict signal decline of the Gandhi dynasty?

For several hours after it became clear that the Congress had been decimated by a clear Narendra Modi wave, the Gandhi family stayed behind the high walls of 10, Janpath, the official residence of its president Sonia Gandhi.
A large posse of journalists waited outside for Sonia and her son and vice-president Rahul Gandhi to speak, but the time kept getting pushed. Sources revealed the mother-son duo — who Modi had torn into through the course of the campaign — waited anxiously for results from Amethi which Rahul had won comfortably in 2009 by 3.7 lakh votes.
But Verdict 2014 belonged as much to the abysmal showing of the Congress as it did to Modi. In particular, it underscored the steep political decline of the Gandhi family. "We can never say this in public but if the Manmohan Singh government is responsible for losing steam in UPA-2, Rahul is equally responsible for leading an insipid campaign devoid of any clear message," said a minister who lost.
Sonia crafted the 'we are all equally to blame' line earlier this week in a bid to firewall son Rahul but the family has been hit the hardest by the party's worst-ever showing.
Though not formally named by the Congress as its prime ministerial candidate, Rahul was not just the face of the campaign. He also chose the candidates and ran an election office from his residence in Tughlaq Lane instead of the party's war room.
"We are not just disappointed by the results, we are shocked," Jairam Ramesh said in a television interview. What he did not say was that the shock was not restricted to the humiliating defeat.
The Congress had lost in the past but this time, it hasn't enough seats to become the principal opposition party. As one defeated Congressman pointed out: "When Modi kept saying he wanted a Congress-mukt bharat, he actually meant a Gandhi-mukt bharat. For the first time, the Nehru-Gandhi family is staring at political oblivion."
Many, in fact, point to Gujarat where Modi defanged the Congress and made it politically irrelevant since he became chief minister 13 years ago. Modi said as much when in a recent interview he predicted that the family's leadership could come under threat if it did not win 100 seats.
The Congress has split several times in the past — leaders like Sharad Pawar and P Chidambaram left the party. Questions are being raised this time too, albeit in certain circles. But as a Congressman said, "Let the humiliation sink in. The rumblings will take a while to start."
The problem for the family — as also the party — is that the Gandhis might get dragged into another battle if Modi were to go ahead with a probe against Robert Vadra, accused of windfall gains in shady land deals.
"If Modi takes that route to further his 'Congress-mukt Bharat' slogan, all three Gandhis — Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka — will get embroiled."
Believed widely to be the more charismatic Gandhi, Priyanka too appears to have taken a hit, with the margins of Sonia and Rahul falling. "This is precisely why Amit Shah pushed Modi to campaign in Amethi," a BJP insider said.
After the 2014 drubbing, the Gandhis will be forced to defend not just the party but themselves. "I take the responsibility as the Congress president," Sonia finally said, making sure Rahul did not have to field questions from the media.
A Congressman quipped, "Rahul must take more than just the blame, now that our fortunes have plummeted."
For Priyanka, however, it's a mission accomplished
Amidst an abysmal performance by the Congress all over the country, including Uttar Pradesh, where only Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi won, it was a mission accomplished for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who campaigned hard in the two family bastions of Rae Bareli and Amethi.
Sonia won the Rae Bareli seat by a huge margin.
Priyanka was the lead campaigner for her brother Rahul Gandhi in Amethi and mother Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli. The reduced victory margin for Rahul indicates the challenges Priyanka faced while campaigning in the two constituencies.
Her task was obviously made more challenging by the entry of high-profile candidates – BJP's Smriti Irani and Aam Admi Party's Kumar Vishwas in Amethi.
Did Priyanka make a difference? The Congress had won only seven of the 10 assembly seats in the two parliamentary constituencies in the 2012 Lok Sabha elections.
A close look at the poll results indicates that the Congress led in all the five assembly segments of the two Lok Sabha constituencies in the 2014 polls.
Yet, Smriti and Vishwas appear to have made Priyanka's task difficult as they focused their campaign on the lack of development and poor power supply in the region. Though both Rahul and Priyanka listed the new projects that had been brought to Amethi and spoke about the works in progress, the rival candidates maintained their attacks on these issues.
Besides holding road shows in Amethi and Rae Bareli, Priyanka addressed nearly 100 street corner meetings -- about 50 each in the two Lok Sabha constituencies.
She also held a joint road-show with her brother in some areas on the last day of campaigning in Amethi. She had launched the election campaign, addressing her first election rally in Rae Bareli on April 16. A day before, she held closed-door meetings with party workers, giving final touches to the poll strategy in Amethi.
She plunged into the task of reorganising the party units in Amethi and Rae Bareli soon after the debacle in the 2012 assembly elections in UP.

India's Modi gets hero's welcome as he brings new era to New Delhi

Hundreds of Indians thronged the leafy streets of New Delhi on Saturday to greet Narendra Modi's triumphant march into the capital after he decimated the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and the ruling Congress party in the biggest election victory the country has seen in 30 years.
Modi leaned far out of his car, waving a victory sign to jubilant supporters, in a drive from the airport to the headquarters of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the center of town.
A Hindu nationalist who critics fear will be divisive and autocratic, Modi toned down religious issues in his pitch to India's 815 million voters and won the world's biggest ever election with promises of economic development for all.
The three-times chief minister of the western state of Gujarat is an outsider to Delhi's power circle. The low-caste son of a tea stall-owner, his rise to power signals the end of an era dominated by the descendants of India's first prime minister, independence hero Jawaharlal Nehru.
"Four to five generations have been wasted since 1952, this victory has been achieved after that," Modi said, in a jibe at the Nehru-Gandhi family and the Congress it dominates.
Describing himself as a "worker", he hailed grass-roots campaigners who showered him with pink rose petals as he arrived at party headquarters. There he met other party leaders and was expected to start discussions about forming a cabinet. Modi will not formally take office until after Tuesday, the party said.
Modi has given India its first parliamentary majority after 25 years of coalition governments, with his party winning more than six times the seats garnered by Congress.
With almost all 543 seats declared by Saturday morning, Modi's BJP looked set to win 282 seats, 10 more than the majority required to rule. With its allied parties, it was heading for a comfortable tally of around 337 - the clearest result since the 1984 assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi propelled her son Rajiv to office.
During the campaign Modi was explicit about wanting to end the dominance of the Nehru-Gandhi family on Indian politics. He may have achieved the goal, with Congress reduced to just 44 seats, less than half of its previous worst showing.
Modi's landslide win gives him ample room to advance reforms started 23 years ago by current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but which have stalled in recent years. Despite his party's pasting, 81-year-old Singh was magnanimous in his final address to the nation on Saturday, wishing the incoming government success. Later, he tendered his resignation. "I am confident about the future of India," he said in his televised message. "I firmly believe that the emergence of India as a major powerhouse of the evolving global economy is an idea whose time has come." Unlike Singh and his predecessors, Modi will not have to deal with unruly partners to implement reform. That could usher in profound economic changes, with some supporters imagining him as India's answer to former British leader Margaret Thatcher.
The desire for change among the youthful electorate after a slump in economic growth, years of policy drift and a spate of corruption scandals overrode concerns about a spasm of violence against Muslims that occurred on his watch in Gujarat 12 years ago, as well as worries his pro-Hindu leanings would sideline minorities.
In his victory speech on Friday, 63-year-old Modi struck an inclusive tone, declaring that "the age of divisive politics has ended - from today onwards the politics of uniting people will begin".
"No words will be enough to salute the youth of India. They led from the front in the elections & rose above non-issues like caste & creed," Modi wrote on his Twitter page late on Friday.
In Washington, the Obama administration congratulated Modi, and said he would be granted a visa for U.S. travel. Washington denied Modi a visa in 2005 over the sectarian riots three years previously in Gujarat state, where he was chief minister.
Modi is expected to try to replicate his success in attracting investment and building infrastructure in Gujarat, the state he has governed for more than 12 years.
Betting on a Modi win, foreign investors have poured more than $16 billion into Indian stocks and bonds in the past six months and now hold over 22 percent of Mumbai-listed equities - a stake estimated by Morgan Stanley at almost $280 billion.
But with India's economy suffering its worst slowdown since the 1980s and battling high inflation, it will not be an easy task to meet the hopes of millions of Indians who have bought into the idea that Modi will quickly push their country onto the top table of global economic powers. His party also lacks strength in the upper house of parliament, where backing is needed for legislation to pass.
When Indira Gandhi was prime minister it was often said that she was so dominant that "India is Indira, Indira is India". The Economic Times echoed that on Saturday, with a headline: "India is Modi. Modi is India."
"Modi's ability to rise from nothing to everything has demonstrated that Indians are no longer willing to accept credentials such as belonging to a dynasty or assertion of past scholarly accomplishment abroad as a substitute for persuasive argumentation: you have to perform to command respect," Jagdish Bhagwati, an eminent Indian-born economist who has positioned himself to advise the new prime minister, told Reuters in an email exchange.

US likely to spend $10bn a year in Afghanistan after troops pullout: SIGAR

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, has said that the US spending in Afghanistan is likely to continue at a pace of $6 billion to $10 billion a year even with the US war effort winding down.
Sopko said the embattled Afghanistan will be lucky to keep the lights on despite billions of dollars from the American taxpayers have been spent to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.
Sopko said the US agencies largely failed to assess the price tag it would cost one of the world’s poorest countries to maintain its new infrastructure.
In prepared remarks for the Middle East Institute think tank, Sopko said the U.S. could be spending up to $10 billion annually as far as the eye could see.
Sopko pointed to a 2010 report about Kabul’s construction of its new 105-megawatt power plant as an example, and said the government of Afghanistan promised to get an outside commercial partner to cover the plant’s operational costs after its completion, but that never materialized.
He said the plant will need outside support for several years and warned that thousands of homes in Kandahar will be in the dark without outside support, unless the country continues to be subsidized by foreign governments by 2015. According to Sopko, US has never put so much money into the rebuilding of another nation and the US funding for Afghan reconstruction has topped the amount spent rebuilding Britain or Germany following World War Two.
He said annual payments to Afghanistan are more than what Washington gives to Israel, Egypt and Pakistan combined.
Sopko also expressed concerns regarding the security gap following the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan and said the draw down will also leave some key reconstruction projects too dangerous for U.S. government employees to visit and “kick the tires,” to make sure the funding is being used correctly.

Pakistani:Threats to Girls’ Education: Extremists Burn Student Vehicle, Beat School Owner, Flash Victory Sign

The Baloch Hal News
Unidentified gunmen, suspected of having links to an underground religious extremist group opposing girls’ education, attacked and burned a school van carrying female students in Panjgur District on Wednesday, local residents confirmed. The students remained unhurt but the attackers beat the school owner who was driving the van.
Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan, an unknown underground religious extremist group, had disseminated threatening letters among all private schools in Panjgur district calling them to stop girls’ education or prepare for attacks.
An eyewitness to the latest incident told The Baloch Hal that Major (retired) Hussain Ali, the owner of the Oasis School in Panjgur district, was stopped on his way in Gramkan township by armed men when he was driving female students to school.
“Mr. Ali was on his way to school with his female staff on his vehicle when he was attacked. The attackers pulled him and the ladies out of the vehicle,” said a family member of the head of the school.
Local residents said the attackers wanted to shoot Mr. Ali but the female students resisted the attackers and prevented a possible shootout. The attack took place when Mr. Ali was in front of the house of some female students to pick them up.
“The attackers burned the student vehicle and threatened him to shut down the school,” said one eye-witness who added that after burning the vehicle, the attackers then escaped by riding their bikes in the presence of the Frontier Corps (F.C.) patrolling convoy at Football Chowk.
“They fired in air and showed victory signs when they reached the convoy,” said another eye-witness. ”They left towards west and the F.C. followed them slowly.”
Community members gathered in Gramkan area to express support for Mr. Ali who had been attacked and promised to support the private schools. A meeting of all the private schools was held soon after the attack. The representatives of the private schools had previously met with the district administration and shared the threats they had received but the local government had failed to offer any tangible security to the schools, female teachers and students.
“All private school owners have decided to shut down the schools for an indefinite period considering the lack of security provided to us, ” said Zahir Baloch, a prominent local educationist, while talking to The Baloch Hal.

Pakistan's LoadShedding: Still A Crisis

Around this time last year, the PML-N promised to end load shedding in 60-90 days and overcome the energy crisis for good. Shahbaz Sharif still believes that his party can overcome the shortage, although the word ‘soon’ has replaced a specific date. Dar is commending himself and the rest of the government for prioritizing the energy crisis and taking steps to fix it. But beyond these general statements, the PML-N has replaced its motto from ‘yes we can’ to ‘we try our best’. This is probably for the better, considering that the head of the IMF mission to Pakistan, Jeffery Franks recently stated that it would take about 6 years for load shedding to end in Pakistan.
The fact that the media has completely missed out on this statement is shocking. The head of the IMF mission to Pakistan is well-acquainted with the problems of Pakistan, and since his job entails coming up with potential solutions, his estimate might just be correct. The government however, is painting an entirely different picture.
It was always obvious that the government could not end load shedding in three months, and now that a year has passed, let’s analyse how close they have come to solving the problem their election victory was predicated on. The energy policy of 2013 gave precedence to short term measures such as bringing down electricity theft and prioritizing cost-effective production techniques like hydel generation and coal-based production. The national grid is still losing an incalculable amount of electricity through theft, and the cost of electricity has only risen over the past year. The PML-N never meant for their political promises to be taken seriously, but at the same time this tenure will be judged primarily on whether their policies led to an increase in the overall supply of electricity in the country. Initiatives such as the coal power plant at Port Qasim are nothing more than stop gap measures, which fail on two counts. Firstly, they do not add substantial amounts of electricity to the national grid, which is still facing a shortfall of around 5000 MW, and secondly they give the public a false impression that things are taking a turn for the better. The energy policy devised by the PML-N was surprisingly well-informed about the energy crisis. Preventing theft and line losses was the way to make things better immediately and yet, it seems that the government has been reluctant to follow its own advice. If Jeffery Franks is indeed correct, we’re in for a long haul.

Pakistan: Extremism in Balochistan
Recent developments in Balochistan have brought a new set of problems to that already troubled province. For the last two years we have seen growing sectarian massacres and attempts to intimidate, in fact annihilate, the minority Hazara and other Shia communities in the province. Concurrently there has been a mushrooming in the activities of sectarian militias associated with banned or proscribed militant Sunni organisations. Often these are old organisations with a new face. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), through its public face the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), and other militant groups with the avowed aim of ethnically cleansing non-Sunni Muslims from Pakistan have in recent months staged several demonstrations in Balochistan, the largest in Quetta in March where speakers applauded scoring a 'century' when referring to the killing of over 100 Hazaras in two terrorist attacks. The radicalising trend has spawned a new group called the Islam Al-Quran, which has become a security threat to the education sector. Recent reports from the Makran areas of Turbat and Panjgur say that three weeks ago private schools received pamphlets telling them to stop co-education immediately or face violent consequences. Several private schools in the area have been attacked by ‘unknown persons’ since then. Several days ago a school van was intercepted by armed men in the Khudabadan area and after offloading the children and teachers, they set the van on fire, firing into the air all the while. Given the propensity to violence of these groups, the next attack may not be so ‘benevolent’.
The process of extremist radicalisation has other by-products. Bringing sectarian terror to the fore diminishes and distracts from the Baloch insurgency, which is a nationalist movement without any religious overlay. When seen in this context and with the track record of the establishment in creating and propping up jihadi proxies, there is a possibility that increasing the foothold of radical groups is a move to marginalise the Baloch nationalists in the province’s narrative. Of course such a move is likely to backfire, with horrific consequences for the whole country. Radicalisation and using religious fundamentalists as proxies has netted this country a surplus of violence, bloodshed, and the destruction of vital infrastructure. Nothing is more vital than schools since this country’s human capital is its greatest resource. Education, particularly modern education that teaches the value of human rights and analytical thinking, is a threat to those who aim for total control of the population and its potential. Ultimately the goal is nothing less than the eradication of the ability to question and the complete servitude of the many to a powerful few. The Taliban and other extremist groups aim to be at the top of the pyramid, and their handlers hope to be there with them. Threatening to destroy incipient nationalism using religious radicalisation will end up creating an extremist religious narrative that will roll over obstacles in its path. We have seen this happen in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas. It must not be allowed to happen in the rest of Pakistan too.

Pakistan: Rs400,000, or hand over your son to the madrassa

It is one of the weirdest school enrolment drives ever: Surrender a son to the madrassa (religious seminary), or pay 400,000 rupees (US$4,000) instead. The militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas are openly coercing families to hand over their sons, or buy out their freedom. Only a few miles from Peshawar, posters have appeared on walls in the Bara district asking parents to enlist at least one son with a seminary affiliated with Ishat-o-Tauheed, a subsidiary of Lashkar-i-Islam (LI), an outlawed militant group headed by Mangal Bagh Afridi. The directives are clear. Only those enrolled in seminaries affiliated with LI will count. The militants perhaps are running short on beachheads or suicide bombers. The Taliban’s rank-and-file are made up of orphans or children abandoned by parents because of abject poverty. Militancy, devastating floods, and the earthquake in October 2005 forced the poor affected households to give up their children to religious seminaries.
Some children were turned into religious mercenaries, who became fodder in the war on terrorism. As militants continue to fight against the State and amongst themselves, fresh blood is needed. Hence, the conscription.
After decades of sustained neglect and fuelled by anger against the Nato intervention in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s tribal areas have become willing breeding grounds for religiously inspired orthodoxy and militancy. The rise of militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas is partially due to the State’s failure to extend the same privileges of citizenship that are enjoyed by others in settled parts of Pakistan. Political representation, franchise, and protection under the constitution are some examples of a discounted citizenship afforded to residents of tribal areas. An access to education, healthcare, and judicial redress have remained remote.
The recent drive for conscription by the Mangal Bagh-led LI raises several concerns and questions.
The brazen attempt to recruit in the name of madrassas suggest the absence of the State’s writ in the tribal areas. The presence of posters on walls in the Bara District confirms that the militants have a free hand in running their operations in the tribal areas.
Knowing that poor households do not have access to $4,000, militants are certain to expand their ranks with young conscripts whose parents would have no other option, but to comply.
Mangal Bagh’s ascent to leadership in just a few years’ time is a remarkable story. Most accounts of Mr. Bagh’s early life suggest that he was raised by his mother after his father passed away. There are no records of education for Mr. Bagh. His last known profession was that of a cleaning assistant for a truck. He had spent time fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
He took over LI from its founder and through carefully crafted alliances over the years, Mr. Bagh now commands a force whose strength is disputed between 10,000 and 100,000. He settles disputes for people and collects taxes in areas under his control. In 2008, he collected an $11,000 fine for malpractice from Dr. Shakeel Afridi, the doctor who led the CIA to Osama Bin Laden.
Mr. Bagh is schooled neither in religious text nor in humanities. His fluency with armory though enables him to recruit the young to madrassas from where they would likely graduate as militants.
While many madrassas are directly involved in militancy, most are not. Most madrassas do impart religious knowledge to students.
There are challenges even with those madrassas that do not condone violence. Their graduates are not ready to join the real world where a different set of skills and knowledge base is required.
The oversupply of madrassa graduates is imposing huge burdens on Pakistan. While some madrassas have tried to modernise their curriculum, most are stuck in the curriculum devised centuries ago to meet the religious needs of South Asian Muslims.
The madrassa-based messaging has played a huge role in radicalising the entire society. It is no longer the madrassa alumni who depict a fundamentally regressive world view. The entire society, with some exceptions, has embraced fundamentalist ideals. The goal should be to eradicate the fundamentalism that promotes militancy in Pakistan.
The State should step up and prevent the LI from conscripting in the Bara district. The government must open schools and colleges to allow the next generation of tribal area children a decent chance at a decent living.
Otherwise, the State should dispense with $4,000 per household to prevent children from being forced into militancy. A small price to secure an entire generation against violence.

Pakistan: 13.27m children to be vaccinated against measles in Sindh
Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Sindh has finalised the arrangement for upcoming measles vaccination campaign being launched from May 19 to 30, 2014 in Sindh province.
A senior official of EPI said all necessary arrangements have been made for measles vaccination, which would be started from coming Monday.
Around 13,269,690 children under six-month to 10-year age group would be vaccinated against the measles in province. The EPI has decided to establish 1,599 permanent measles vaccination centres and arranged 98 mobile teams across the province for maximum coverage of children.
EPI is going to launch 11-day-long measles drive in 1120 union councils of province in comprehensive manner.They said provincial government had assured the foolproof security for measles vaccination teams and local police would also assist the teams during campaign. Acting Inspector General of Sindh police Ghulam Haider Jamali had already issued directions for making foolproof security arrangements across the province during the upcoming vaccination drive in Sindh.
Executive District Officer Health Karachi Dr Zafar Ejaz when contacted said approximately 4 million children would be administered measles vaccination in Karachi city. He said strategy of measles vaccination was different from polio campaign and all necessary arrangement has been finalised for upcoming drive.