1 Apocalypse avoided, but 2013 will be no picnic (Ha-Joon Chang in The Guardian) The world did not end this year, as some people thought it would following a Mayan prophecy, but it seems pretty certain that next year is going to be tougher than this one. We are entering 2013 as the Republican hardliners in the US Congress does its utmost to weaken the federal government, using an anachronistic law on federal debt ceiling.
Since its enactment in 1917, the ceiling has been raised nearly a hundred times, as a ceiling set in nominal monetary terms becomes quickly obsolete in an ever-growing economy with inflation. Had the US stuck to the original ceiling of $11.5bn, its federal debt today would have been equivalent not even to 0.1% of GDP (about $15tn) – the current debt, which is supposed to hit the $16.3tn ceiling today, is about 110% of GDP.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the eurozone is entering a make or break year, with the social fabric of the periphery countries stretched to the limit. With its GDP 20% lower than in 2008, with 25% unemployment rate and with the wages of most of those still in work down by 40% to 50%, it is a real touch and go whether the current Greek government can survive another round of austerity. Spain and Portugal are not yet where Greece is, but they are hurtling down that way.
For the UK, 2013 may become the year when it sets a dubious world record of having an unprecedented “triple-dip recession”. Even if that is avoided, with high unemployment, real wages that are at best stagnant and swingeing welfare cuts, many people will struggle to make ends meet.
Things look brighter in the Asian countries, with their economies growing much faster. However, they – especially the two giants of China and India – have their own shares of social tension to manage. Growth is slowing down in China. It is estimated to have grown by 7.5% in 2012, well below the usual rate of 9% to 10%. Management of social tension will be an even bigger challenge for India. Its economic growth has significantly slowed down since 2010, and few predict a major reversal of the trend in 2013. Add to this economic difficulty deepening economic, religious and cultural divisions, and you have a heady mixture.
If the political leaders of the major economies do not manage these social tensions well, 2013 could be a year in which the world takes a turn for the worse. It is a huge challenge, as it is like trying to fix a car while driving it. However, without fixing the malfunctioning car, we will not get out of the woods, however much extra fuel, like quantitative easing, we pour into the car.
2 UN wants India to protect women (Jason Burke in The Guardian) UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has urged the Indian government to take action to protect women after a 23-year-old student died of injuries sustained during a gang rape in Delhi. “Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected,” Ban said in a statement in which he welcomed efforts by the government but called for “further steps and reforms to deter such crimes and bring perpetrators to justice”.
The intervention of the UN takes the fallout from the incident two weeks ago to a new level and underlines the damage it has done to India’s international image, already battered by corruption scandals, a huge power failure earlier this year, and slowing economic growth.
Prime minister Manmohan Singh, and Sonia Gandhi, the president of the ruling Congress party, with other senior Indian politicians, have been heavily criticised for their slow and high-handed response to the incident, which has generated outrage, grief and anger across the country. “It’s been a huge challenge to all of them. They have seen the whole affair as basically a law and order problem. There has been no conversation,” said Swapan Dasgupta, a Delhi-based analyst.
Figures published on Sunday revealed that despite 635 reported cases of rape and 745 arrests in Delhi this year, there had been only one conviction. A total of 572 rapes were reported to Delhi police in 2011, up from 507 in 2010, 469 in 2009 and 466 in 2008. The government has said it will bring in fast-track courts to accelerate the legal process.
India’s courts have a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases, which would take decades to clear if all were heard. Facilities for forensic analysis are few and poorly equipped. Healthcare in many of the rural areas where assaults are endemic is often rudimentary. The UN has offered to help India “strengthen critical services for rape victims” with “technical expertise and other support as required,” Ban said.
3 Wasted life of India gang-rape victim (Ravi Velloor in Straits Times) In life, perhaps, the Indian woman gang-raped so brutally in New Delhi, may have one day travelled to Singapore on the credentials she was gathering– a diploma in physiotherapy. Indeed, she may well have been employed in Mount Elizabeth Hospital, where paramedical staff are drawn from all parts of Asia. It wasn’t to be.
Would her death go in vain? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for the emotions unleashed by her passing to be channelled into “a constructive course of action.” That is easier said than done. India’s national capital recorded 635 rapes this year alone – a rape every 14 hours – and that is just the number that are reported.
In a culture fixated on the male child – May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons is the title of Elisabeth Bumiller’s classic on the life of Indian women – when a third of Indian legislators have faced criminal charges, when aggressive behaviour towards women doesn’t fetch in New Delhi the same outrage as it would, in say, Kolkata, reining in the predatory instincts of the northern Indian male will not be easy.
Until the ordinary Delhi male turns indignant at the sight of a fellow man molesting a woman, and acts to stop him, the problem will not go away. No police force in the world has the manpower to post marshals on every bus and train in the city.