Thursday, March 8, 2012

Biggest Solar Storm in Years Is Bombarding Earth Now

The biggest solar storm in five years is battering our planet right now, and may cause disruptions to satellites, power grids and communications networks over the next 24 hours, space weather experts say.

Two strong solar flares erupted from the surface of the sun late Tuesday (March 6), blasting a wave of plasma and charged particles toward Earth. After speeding through space at 4 million mph, this eruption of material — called a coronal mass ejection (CME) — should be hitting Earth now.

The storm is expected to create strong disruptions due to an odd combination of intense magnetic, radio and radiation emissions, making it the strongest overall solar storm since December 2006, even though the flare that triggered it was not the largest, space weather officials said.

The CME reached Earth this morning at about 5:45 a.m. EST (1045 GMT), according to officials at the Space Weather Prediction Center, which is jointly managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service. While the CME did not hit Earth head-on, the material delivered a glancing blow to the planet, and energetic particles will continue to interact with Earth's magnetic field over the course of the day.

The CME will likely trigger geomagnetic and solar radiation storms today, which could interfere with satellites in space and power grids on the ground, said Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist at NOAA. Aircraft that fly over the Earth's polar caps may potentially experience communications issues as well, and some commercial airliners have already taken precautionary steps, Kunches said.

"There is the potential for induced currents in power grids," Kunches told reporters Wednesday. "Power grid operators have all been alerted. It could start to cause some unwanted induced currents."

The effects of this solar storm will likely last for 24 hours, and may possibly linger into Friday (March 9), Kunches said.

"Such a CME could result in a severe geomagnetic storm, causing aurora at low latitudes, with possible disruption to high frequency radio communication, global positioning systems (GPS), and power grids," NASA scientists said in a statement.

Experts also predict that the magnetic storm will likely enhance normal aurora displays (also known as the northern and southern lights). As the effects of the CME bombard Earth, these stunning light shows will be especially visible for people where it is currently night, though the full moon of March, which also occurs Thursday, may interfere with the display.

"Skywatchers at all latitudes should be alert for auroras," astronomer Tony Phillips wrote on his website, which regularly monitors space weather events.

If you snap an amazing photo of the northern lights sparked by these sun storms and would like to share it for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at

'Altaf refused ISI money, Nawaz was contacted directly'

DUNYA TVEx-chief Mehran Bank Yunis Habib says Altaf Hussain had refused to take ISI money.
Talking to Dunya News, Yunis Habib said he had given Rs 70 million to Jam Sadiq and Rs 15 million to Pir Sahib Pagara.
He said that the money offered however to MQM chief Altaf Hussain by the ISI was turned down.
He also said that ISI directly approached Nawaz Sharif and he was not part of that contact.
Earlier, MQM had issued a statement saying that MQM chief Altaf Hussain was approached but the bribe was turned down.

Veena Malik's first Holi India

Veena Malik was going for her first dubbing in Bollywood for her debut film Daal Me Kuch Kaala Hai at B R Studio in Juhu.

She was not aware of director Aanand Balraj who was waiting for her to play holi .As she reached the studio Aanand Balraj along with Kishore Bhanushali and writer Vijay Akela came out of studio and had holi with Veena Malik.She told that this is her first holi in India.She also danced on her song Mdam Malai and Bombay with Kishore Bhanushali and Aanand Balraj.Her debut film Daal me kuch kaala Hai is releasing in May 2012.She also told media that I always try to play holi with natural colours which is eco friendly and which good for the face and body.Aaanand got the gulaal made by natural herbs.Veena told media that if we will promote this message then people will understand better and will play with natural colours and they will have a safe and colourful holi.

Yunis Habib points finger at Aslam Beg, Ishaq Khan

Yunis Habib has confessed to paying Rs 400 million on the orders of Ishaq Khan and Aslam Beg.

Ex-chief of the Mehran Bank Yunis Habib has sought unconditional pardon from the Supreme Court.

According to the details the ex-chief of the Mehran Bank Yunis Habib has admitted paying the sum of Rs 350 to 400 million on the orders of the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and ex-COAS Mirza Aslam Beg.

He prayed that he had no option other than complying with the said order. The money was allegedly paid to get the Islami Jamhoori Etihad elected in the general elections against Pakistan People’s Party. He also disclosed Roedad Khan forced him to file a case against Asif Ali Zardari.

He also mentioned the name of Col Akbar who gave him the account numbers for transferring the money. General Aslam Beg arranged Younus Habib’s meeting with president, he allged.

He also disclosed Aslam Beg demanded that amount for the sake of national interest. The court adjourned the hearing till March 9.

Later, former ISI Chief Asad Durrani submitted his reply to the Supreme Court.

According to sources, Durrani has admitted to distributing Rs 140 million to the politicians.

'Extreme' Poverty in US Has More Than Doubled, Study Says

combination of joblessness due to the Great Recession and welfare reform meant to encourage work has led to more than a doubling of “extreme” poverty in the United States, a new study has found.

Using a World Bank definition usually applied to developing countries, the National Poverty Center found that the number of households getting by on less than $2 per person, per day increased to 1.46 million households in 2011 from 636,000 in 1996, a climb of more than 129 percent.

Welfare reform in the late 1990s eliminated the sole cash entitlement program for poor families with children, replacing it with time-limited cash assistance that required able-bodied people to seek work. Children were the hardest hit: The tapering off of assistance has doubled the numbers of children in extreme poverty households, to 2.81 million from 1.38 million.

'Extreme' Poverty in US Has More Than Doubled, Study Says
“The prevalence of extreme poverty rose sharply between 1996 and 2011,” they concluded. “This growth has been concentrated among those groups that were most affected by the 1996 welfare reform.”

The study, done by researchers at the University of Michigan, considered only cash income. Once they took into account the impact of food stamps, the extreme poverty rate is still up by 67.4 percent, measured as homes that fell below the $2 per person daily threshold on a monthly basis.

The grindingly slow recovery is partly to blame. Unemployment is still high at 8.3 percent as investors wait with bated breath for new jobs numbers on Friday. An Associated Press survey of leading economists offers only slim hope: The economists estimate that employers added a net of 210,000 jobs in February, a result that is unlikely to change the headline number.

Part of the reason that the unemployment rate has improved so far, they noted, is that not many of those out of work are still actively looking. The government only counts people currently seeking work when calculating the widely reported unemployment rate.

If they are emboldened by good news to resume their search, the jobless rate could get worse or stagnate at a high level, even as jobs are created.

Accordingly, the economists said that they see the unemployment rate at 8 percent on Election Day, and only falling to 7.4 percent by the end of 2013.

The average U.S. jobless rate since 1948 is well under 6 percent, ranging from a low of 2.9 percent in 1953 to a high of 9.7 percent in 1987.

Nevertheless, the economy is likely entering a “self-sustaining” period of job growth, the economists said. "The economy is finally starting to gain some steam, with consumers and businesses more optimistic about prospects in 2012," Chad Moutray, chief economist at the National Association of Manufacturers, told the AP.

A separate study has found that things are not much better for older Americans. Increasingly, millions of older Americans cannot keep up with even basic living expenses, according to Washington, D.C. think tank Wider Opportunities for Women

Seniors in the Northeast and Southeast are the worst off, but in none of the 50 states do median incomes rise enough to meet the Elder Index, a comprehensive measure of what it takes to finance basic living costs, reports Wider Opportunities for Women.

With a median income gap of $10,248, seniors in Massachusetts are more likely to face economic insecurity than in any other state, followed by seniors in D.C., New York, Hawaii, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Massachusetts seniors need $27,048 to get by, but the median earns $16,800 — or 62 percent of the statewide index. In comparison, a senior in Alaska has the best outcome, at 96 percent.

The Elder Index defines “economic security” as the income level at which seniors have sufficient incomes from Social Security, pensions, retirement savings and other sources to cover basic and necessary living expenses without public support, such as food assistance, energy assistance or subsidized housing.

The official U.S. poverty rate for all ages in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. This was the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate, according to the U.S. Census. Since 2007, the poverty rate has increased by 2.6 percentage points, to 15.1 percent from 12.5 percent.

Read more: 'Extreme' Poverty in US Has More Than Doubled, Study Says

Apple unveils new iPad, Apple TV box

Apple unveiled a third-generation iPad

enhanced with features aimed at keeping it on top of the booming tablet computer market.

The new iPad boasts a more powerful processor, eye-grabbing resolution on par with that of an iPhone 4S, and the ability to connect to the latest 4G LTE telecom networks that move data faster than their predecessors.

"We think that iPad is the poster child of the post-PC world," Apple chief executive Tim Cook said, noting that iPad sales topped those of any personal computer maker during the final three months of last year.

"We have redefined once again the category Apple created just two years ago with the original iPad," Cook said at a press event in San Francisco, the first major product release by Apple since the death of founder Steve Jobs.

The new iPad will go on sale March 16 in Canada, France, Germany and the United States at the same price as the previous models, which start at $499 for the most basic iPad featuring wireless connectivity only.

An iPad with 16 gigabytes of memory and with both Wi-Fi and 4G connectivity will cost $629 in the United States while a 32GB Wi-Fi/4G model will cost $729 and a 64GB version with Wi-Fi and 4G will cost $829.

In a bid to cater to budget-minded shoppers, Apple will sell a 16GB version of the iPad 2 at a trimmed price of $399.

The new iPad screen was billed as the best display ever on a mobile device. The tablet also features a five-megapixel camera and high-definition video recording.

Apple said the latest model has the same 10-hour battery life as its predecessor, with the span cut by about an hour with constant use of high-performing 4G telecom networks.

The third-generation iPad weighs 1.4 pounds and is 9.4 mm thick, slightly heavier and slightly thicker than the previous model.

Apple showed off an enhanced suite of iPad applications for tasks ranging from movie editing to making music or managing one's life.

A new iPhoto application turns the iPad into a slick tool for editing pictures with simple touches or automated features.

Epic Games president Mike Capps joined Cook to show off a version of the Infinity Blade videogame for the iPad, contending the quality was comparable to videogame console play.

"It is an evolutionary upgrade with a lot of revolutionary features," said Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg. "It is going to put a lot more pressure than before on iPad competitors.

"The updates to GarageBand, iMovie, and the new iPhoto will drive this going forward," Gartenberg said.

"At the end of the day it isn't going to be Tim Cook that sells the iPad, it is going to be the iPad that sells the iPad; and they are going to sell a lot of them," he said.

Apple's App Store has more than 200,000 mini-programs, or "apps," tailored for the iPad with offerings including books, games, and software designed for getting work done.

Apple has dominated the tablet market since launching the iPad two years ago and few expect that to change anytime soon.

IMS Research predicted that Apple would increase its tablet market share to 70 percent in 2012 from 62 percent in 2011 and it will ship 70 million iPads this year, up 71 percent over the previous year.

"Apple's insistence on blending hardware innovation with services innovation will keep the iPad at the front of the tablet pack for the foreseeable future," said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps.

Apple real-world stores will be "critical" since the high-resolution screen is the major improvement in the iPad, and it needs to be seen to be fully appreciated, according to Gartner analyst Van Baker.

"It is astoundingly beautiful, but people are going to have to get it in their hands to see this," Baker said.

A new dictation-taking feature could be a stumbling point for the iPad, since that type of technology has proven to be a bane to other companies, according to independent analyst Rob Enderle of Silicon Valley.

The California-based gadget-maker on Wednesday also released an updated Apple TV box used to stream movies, television shows and other content from the Internet to high-definition TV sets.

The new box features a streamlined new user interface and will sell for the same $99 price as the previous model.

Apple TV was synched with iCloud, on online content storage service that lets people buy films or television shows on the box but have the options of watching them on iPhones, iPads, iPod touch devices, or on computers.

Apple released the first version of Apple TV in 2007 but it has never really caught on with the public.

The iPad event was the second Apple product launch by Cook since he took over for Jobs, and both events showcased improved versions of products.

"Let's wait and see if Apple can bring an astounding new class of product to market," Baker said. "Ultimately, they need to do that."

Investors appeared unsurprised by Apple's announcements, with the company's stock price inching up slightly to $531.05 a share in trading on the NASDAQ.

Karzai under fire on Afghan women's rights

President Hamid Karzai's US-backed government is under fire this International Women's Day, accused of selling out on Afghan women's rights as it tries to woo the Taliban into peace talks.

Lawmakers, rights organisations and analysts say that the Afghan leader, by endorsing an edict calling women second-class citizens, has endangered hard-won progress in women's rights since the Taliban fell from power in 2001.

The Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization denounced authorities for trying to strike a balance between receiving foreign aid and "keeping the conservative forces of Afghan society happy".

"In practice, the demands of extremist elements residing in the presidential palace, particularly those in the judicial bodies as well as the Afghan Ulema Council, always outweigh those of the international community," it said.

Last Friday, the Council, Afghanistan's highest Islamic authority, issued a non-binding edict saying that women were worth less than men -- a statement released by Karzai's office and then endorsed by the president on Tuesday.

"Men are fundamental and women are secondary," it said, adding women should avoid "mingling with strange men in various social activities such as education, in bazaars, in offices and other aspects of life".

Such advice effectively implies that women should not go to university or to work at all, no matter that in the lower house of parliament, for example, 27 percent of seats are reserved for women.

The edict went on to say that women would wear "full Islamic hijab", should respect polygamy -- Islam allows a man to take up to four wives -- and comply with Sharia law on divorce, which severely restricts women's rights.

It further stated that "teasing, harassing and beating women" was prohibited "without a sharia-compliant reason" -- leaving open the suggestion that in some circumstances, domestic abuse is appropriate.

Karzai, who has formally outlawed violence and discrimination against women, caused consternation on Tuesday by publicly endorsing the statement, saying that it "reiterated Islamic principles and values" in supporting women.

In response, Afghanistan's first deputy speaker, Fawzia Koofi, who was this week listed as one of the world's "150 Fearless Women" by US website The Daily Beast, accused the Council of returning women to the dark days of Taliban rule.

"This move by the Ulema council drives Afghan women rights towards Talibanization," she told AFP. "Nobody has the right to interfere in women's rights, not even President Hamid Karzai."

Many women are increasingly concerned that Karzai's desire to end the Taliban insurgency through peace talks means that their hard-won rights will be compromised in order to bring the hardline Islamists into mainstream politics.

"It could be a message to the Taliban that he could make compromises amending the constitution," Afghan political analyst Haroun Mir told AFP.

In Kabul and major cities in Afghanistan, enormous progress has been made in women's rights since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban regime, which banned girls from going to school and women from working.

Women were whipped in the street by the religious police if they wore anything other than the all-enveloping blue or white burqa, and those accused of adultery were executed at a sports stadium after Friday prayers.

Since the Taliban fell, however, the number of girls in education has soared from 5,000 to 2.5 million, according to the government and aid groups.

But in remote areas where the traditional patriarchal system is very much the norm, life for most women has barely improved at all.

The case of a woman named Gulnaz, who does not know her real age but says she is 20 or 21, attracted worldwide attention when she was jailed for adultery after being raped by her cousin's husband.

Karzai pardoned her, and she was released in December after spending two years behind bars, but faces great social pressure to marry the man who attacked her, to provide security for her baby and restore her family's honour.

In January, the president described violence against women as "cowardly" and pledged to take action against the perpetrators in the wake of a horrific case of the torture of a child bride, locked in a toilet for six months.

Heather Barr, researcher in Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, said at best Karzai was giving out mixed messages on women's rights.

"This thing from the Ulema council is really, really frightening... because it is about all women, rather than individual cases," Barr told AFP.

Despite Karzai signing legislation to eliminate violence and discrimination against women, implementation is poor to non-existent.

According to aid group Oxfam, 87 percent of Afghan women say they have suffered from physical, sexual or psychological abuse or been forced into an arranged marriage.

Asghar Khan petition: Former Mehran Bank chief admits distributing Rs400m

The Express Tribune

Former chief of Mehran Bank Younis Habib admitted in front of the court on Thursday that he distributed Rs400 million to politicians before the 1990 elections.

Habib, while submitting his written statement in the Supreme Court during the hearing of Asghar Khan’s petition, apologised for being a part of the scandal. He told the court that he was under so much pressure that he did not have any choice left.

In his statements, Habib revealed that former Army chief Aslam Baig introduced him to then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

Baig telephoned him in March 1990 and told him that the president wants him to arrange for Rs350 million, said Habib. But, when Habib said that it was impossible to arrange for such a huge amount, he was taken into custody by the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA).

He further revealed that due to the pressure, he arranged for Rs1.48 billion out of which Rs400 million were distributed while the rest were invested.

The bank account numbers in which the money was transferred was also provided by Baig, claimed Habib.

Asghar Khan’s petition alleges that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) rigged the 1990 elections by distributing millions of rupees among several politicians.

During today’s hearing, other respondents including former ISI chief Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani and Baig also appeared before the court.

Asghar Khan’s lawyer Raja Salman, speaking to the media, said that the prosecution of two people is not important, rather it is the role of institutions in the country.

He added that his client does not wish that the next 64 years of the country are the same as the past 64 years. “This is the purpose of the petition.”

“The task of punishing [the accused] is of the government and the court. It is the duty of the government to prosecute and proceed against them,” he added.

He also said that the Supreme Court can give a verdict which might compel the Election Commission to hold those involved in the scandal ineligible.

‘Lahore has not a single woman SHO’

The News

A seminar was organised by an organisation in connection with the International Women Day on Wednesday.

Speaking on the occasion, Rabbiya Bajwa, a women’s rights activist and a lawyer by profession, said despite having a legal system to protect rights of people, the absence of mechanism had resulted into the state’s failure to provide people with their basic rights, especially women. She termed the acid attack as terrorism against women. She also expressed concern over the lack of representation of, ‘actual women’s concerns’, in the parliament. Most of the women in the parliament do not belong to the class that actually suffers the most in our society’, she said.

Dr. Samia Amjad, MNA, demanded that the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2012 immediately be introduced and said that it was necessary to ensure that the act be implemented not just in the capital city of Islamabad but also include the entire country, especially Punjab. Dr. Amjad, who is also a Member of the Punjab Assembly Health Committee, said despite just 17% women representation in the national assembly, women parliamentarians had been successful in tabling and passing resolutions for upholding the rights of women. ‘Out of more than 80 police stations in Lahore, there is not a single one which has a woman SHO’, said MNA Sajida Mir while lamenting that the Punjab government had failed to ensure proper implementation of laws.

Justice Nasira Iqbal, a retired judge of the Lahore High Court and an activist, said it was unfortunate that the domestic violence bill had so far not been presented in the Punjab Assembly. She explained that it was necessary to add the ‘vulnerable groups’ during the drafting of the bill to ensure the protection of any victim of domestic violence, irrespective of the gender. Condemning the recent case in which two women at a polling station were slapped by Pakistan People’s Party’s Waheeda Shah, Justice Iqbal said violence by anyone should not be tolerated.

Director of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan I. A. Rehman said it was necessary to induct women into the Election Commission of Pakistan and it was of utmost importance to have women representation in the ECP to understand the perspective of women’. Rehman said that women parliamentarians worked across the party lines when working for a cause, adding that it was essential that ‘equal pay for equal rights’ and the right to marry of one’s choice should be made fundamental rights of every citizen.

Pakistan: Women and peace-building

BY:Sanaullah Baloch
Daily Times

In historically evolved patriarchal tradition and tribal-based social structures, women’s role has been downplayed in decision making, which naturally resulted in gender disparity and systematic discrimination against women. Exclusion of women from the peace process directly discriminates against half of the population and deprives them of engagement in constructive political change and promotion of peace and love

Despite women’s crucial participation in political movements, their role occupancy in crucial areas of decision-making, regarding war and peace, has been neglected institutionally and by their male counterparts in many countries, and particularly in Pakistan.

The ‘dirty’ war in Balochistan, conflict in FATA, and targeted killings and ethnic unrest in Karachi are massively affecting helpless mothers and sisters — where their loved ones are caught in complex conflicts. Countless fathers, husbands and sons are ‘missing’, and ‘killed and dumped’ on roadsides. However, the women’s perspective and their crucial role in peace, stability and inclusive governance are entirely ignored. Endless military operations, internal displacement, disappearances, killings and insecurity has traumatised Baloch and Pashtun mothers, sisters and wives in conflict-stricken Balochistan, FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In all societies where war has lasted for decades, it is very important to identify the conditions of women and realise the role of women in peace building. No doubt, men and women both suffer from war and have ideas about how to build peace. However, women’s roles, resources, needs and priorities in times of conflict are different from those of men.

In historically evolved patriarchal tradition and tribal-based social structures, women’s role has been downplayed in decision making, which naturally resulted in gender disparity and systematic discrimination against women. Exclusion of women from the peace process directly discriminates against half of the population and deprives them of engagement in constructive political change and promotion of peace and love. In many war-torn societies/countries, women contributed significantly in peace-building. A strong women’s peace movement, The Women in Black, played a momentous role in the former Yugoslavia, rejecting violence and promoting peace. In West Africa, the Women in Peace-building Network played a positive role by promoting and including a peace agenda as the main focus of its work. Included in these great initiatives by women, the Indian-Kashmiri women belonging to different religious groups (Muslim, Hindu and Sikh) initiated plausible missions on development, trauma healing and reconciliation.

Moreover, during recent times, the role of women in making and shaping peace has been widely acknowledged. A number of international commitments outline women’s right to full involvement in political and economic decision-making, including numerous resolutions of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.

Implementing these commitments would be a first step toward utilising all available resources to establish and sustain peace. Nevertheless, the role of women in peace making and peace building is crucial. Women often build a foundation and catalyse the peace process. They foster reconciliation and set an example for moving society forward. Women build ties among opposing factions and increase the inclusiveness, transparency and sustainability of the peace process. Women’s gender perspective and engagement in the peace process can lead to long-term advances for women’s equality. During times of intense conflict, in many traditional societies, women’s role as a facilitator and communicator has been widely recognised to facilitate in cessation of hostilities and initiate dialogues.

In Bosnia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Liberia, Northern Ireland and several other places women played an encouraging role in peace-building and highlighted the importance of moving women beyond the “humanitarian front of the story”. They have and can continue to influence peace building processes so that they go beyond defining peace as the absence of violent conflict and focus on the principles of inclusion, good governance and justice.

Despite the United Nations’ forceful support to the cause of gender mainstreaming including during a peace process, the obstacles to the implementation of Resolution 1325 are enormous. Recent studies on gender and armed conflict portray a very gloomy picture. Women’s efforts to represent themselves and their concerns in official peace negotiations pose significant challenges, despite the passage of 1325 mandating women’s participation. For instance, at the Arusha peace talks to end the civil war in Burundi, only two of the 126 delegates were women. Only two women served on the 15-member National Council of Timorese Resistance in East Timor. Only five women were in leadership positions in the UN mission to Kosovo, although women had forged the way for groups to cross ethnic barriers and rebuild fractured relationships. There were no Bosnian women at the 1995 Dayton peace negotiations to end the war in the former Yugoslavia, even though this conflict had affected women in a most devastating manner. In the last few years, women have held only a small proportion of seats at the peace negotiations in Cote d’Ivore, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The genuine restructuring of society based on justice, equality and lasting peace requires not only the absence of violence or war but also the elimination of unjust social and economic relations, including unequal gender relations.

Putin’s win irks west

EDITORIAL:The Frontier Post

Vladimir Putin has won Russia’s presidential race and the squirming western gang is crying foul. The gang had in fact started screaming that the election would be rigged the moment Putin announced he would contest the poll. And now that he has romped home decisively the gang is shouting that yes it has been rigged. Indeed, US President Barack Obama has gone to the extent of demanding a probe into the poll rigging charges, although no such call was heard from the gang when George W. Bush clinched his first, disputed presidency from the Supreme Court amid charges of a defective ballot paper and the Black- Africans’ widespread complaints that they were prevented from exercising their right to vote in many a place.
But this has always been the way with the western gang that wants elections in foreign lands but only their stooges to be elected, and cry foul if they are not. Even as the international monitors, including the group headed by former US president Jimmy Carter, pronounced the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election clean, the gang just refused to accept the outcome and its winner Hamas that scored a convincing victory. The gang wanted its rival Fatah to be in place. And so angry was it that in an outright insult to the Palestinian people’s verdict, it just refused to deal with Hamas and took to dirty tricks to prop up Fatah to take on Hamas that has led to an internecine conflict the wretched Palestinians are since struggling staggeringly to patch up.
The gang always wants clowns in foreign capitals playing to its tunes, which it cunningly terms as western values. But since his advent to power in 2000, Putin has demonstrated it conclusively that he is no pushover. While at home he put order and direction on the chaotic conditions prevalent when he took over and pressed his country’s gas and oil wealth to give an economic resurgence to his economically-distressed nation, abroad he asserted a renewed Russia’s clout maximally to the great chagrin of the western gang. Of course, the 12-year-long incumbency, including two presidential spells and one prime ministerial stint, has definitely nibbled into his public backing, as indeed it would in any western democracy, political reputes and public popularities being inherently no permanent fixtures but transient fluctuating phenomena.
His poll ratings that once stood at something like 70 percent have believably tumbled down to 40 percent or so. Still, his all the four challengers were no match to him. They all had very narrow support base, mainly constricted to their own ideological strands. Although the gang would have it believed that they were the only challengers “allowed” in the electoral arena. But the truth is something else. The Russian system is yet to throw up an impressive alternative leadership from within. And no charismatic leadership has still emerged from outside, too. Pluralism is easy to talk about glibly. But for it to happen is not so easy. It cannot be planted on a polity from above; it has to happen on its own dynamism. And it arguably will take Russia quite a time to come out of the shadows of the Soviet Union era’s centralism, and for its people to appreciate, value and practise pluralism.
Nonetheless, by every reckoning, Putin was a shoo-in right from the outset. His win was a forgone conclusion. It was only the gang wishing it otherwise. Indeed, the gang was after him since the December parliamentary contest, in which his United Russia party was a lead winner. Although he has distanced himself latterly from the party, its win drew protests from disgruntled poll contestants and their sympathisers, but which Putin asserts were incited actually by the western gang. His own triumph has sparked protest demonstrations, for which too he is pointing a finger at the gang.
Whatever it is, Putin too has to admit and recognise that in his people’s eye he is now not what he was 12 years ago. There has been a big diminishing in his public approval and he has a lot on his plate to do for refurbishing his public image and to accumulate his people’s goodwill to brighten up his chances for the next race in 2018, if he intends to run again. He had come in with great promises, many of which have gone down the drain, unfulfilled. And his biggest challenge is, ironically, the biggest feat of his incumbency: a burgeoning middle class. It is a huge class of well-educated, most-demanding and ambitiously-aspiring people, mostly young. And it is a fast-expanding class that not only demands opportunities to advance and prosper but civil and political liberties as well. He has to open up and be forthcoming to this budding class which is becoming powerful politically too.
His test will thus be the liberalisation of policies covering political activities, media and civil society, radical economic reforms for equitable distribution of national wealth, elimination of cronyism, favouritism and patronage, purging the administration of widespread corruption and sleaze, disciplining the state agencies and security apparatus, decentralisation of state power concentrated in Kremlin, and devolution of power to the provinces and regions. To be more acceptable to his people, he will have to take off his old hat of a no-nonsensical autocrat and wear new cap of a liberal reformist. The western gang, in any case, will keep going after him.

Masha Gessen Talks About the Reign of Vladimir Putin


The journalist Masha Gessen is a citizen of both Russia — where she was born and now lives, in Moscow — and the United States. Her newest book, “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin,” is a scathing account of Mr. Putin’s reign. Shortly after after the Russian elections on March 4, in which Mr. Putin won a contentious six-year term, Ms. Gessen discussed on e-mail his rise to power, the use and abuse of that power and the chances for change. Below are excerpts of the conversation.
“The Man Without a Face” by Masha Gessen

You write: “Possibly the most bizarre fact about Putin’s ascent to power is that the people who lifted him to the throne knew little more about him than you do.” Given how little they knew, why did so many think he could be the answer to the country’s political prayers?

It is not unusual for humans to see what they want to see. In this case, Russians wanted to see a new, young, energetic, worldly leader. Outgoing president Boris Yeltsin had become an embarrassment to the country and a heartbreak to his former supporters. Putin was definitely not Yeltsin: He was indeed younger, he wore well-cut European suits and he did not have a drinking problem. And the vast majority of Russians, as well as the leaders of the Western world and Western media, chose to overlook everything else — like the fact that he was the K.G.B.’s flesh and blood.

Putin was born in Leningrad in 1952. What was it about the place and time of his upbringing, and his parents’ lives and beliefs, you think is most important in understanding him today?

Here is a fact that Putin has hidden in plain sight: He was born into the K.G.B. His father had served in the secret police, and the boy was brought up dreaming of becoming a secret agent — which is what he became right out of college. As a result, there was virtually no record of his life before he was appointed prime minister of Russia in August 1999 — so he got to shape his own story. The story he chose to tell is that of a street tough, a scrappy, aggressive, vengeful little boy and, later, a man who has trouble controlling his temper or letting go of a fight.

You move through a catalog of disastrous events in recent Russian history — the bombings of apartment buildings, the quashing of political dissent, the death of journalists — and lay the blame for much of it at Putin’s feet. How much of this is concretely provable? And why is the conventional Western portrayal of Putin, though negative, not as thoroughly damning as yours?

It’s the Catch-22 of closed systems like the one Putin has built: conclusive evidence should be obtained by law enforcement, but that is the last thing that is going to happen so long as Putin is in power. None of the murders or acts of terror that have occurred in the last 12 years have been properly investigated.

Still, there is at least one smoking gun, in the murder of former F.S.B. [Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation] agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London of polonium poisoning. That sort of polonium is produced only in Russia, and its release would have had to be approved at the highest level of the Russian government. And, finally, there is this: Putin has been running the country for the last 12 years, and for this reason alone he should be held personally responsible for the fact that dissenters are menaced, physically attacked and even killed on his watch.

What do you consider the most brazen thing Putin has done while in power?

It is hard to choose, so I’ll go with the freshest insult: the mass violations during the March 4 presidential elections — the blatant ballot-stuffing, the throngs transported from precinct to precinct so they could vote repeatedly, and, finally, the tens of thousands bused in from the provinces to celebrate Putin’s victory while tens of thousands of armed police stood guard.

There were several moments when the political tide in recent Russian history threatened to change. Of all the developments there since the fall of the Soviet Union, what do you think was the best opportunity for change that slipped away?

I think the greatest missed opportunity in recent Russian history predates Putin. In 1996, Yeltsin and his people, faced with a strong challenge by the communist Gennadi Zyuganov, panicked and rigged the election. It was child’s play compared with the kind of rigging that goes on now, but it sounded the death knell for Russian democracy. If Zyuganov had won in a fair and open election, Russia would have seen some rollbacks in policy, but nothing like what Putin began doing four years later.

News broke before the election that there had been a foiled plot to assassinate Putin. How does this fit in with the events chronicled in your book?

The Russian blogs immediately filled with jokes about the plot: No one but no one seems to have believed the news. This is how cynical we as a people have become in the Putin era. Imagine there really was a plot: Putin would be the president who cried wolf.
Svenya GeneralovaMasha Gessen

The reviews of your book have called you brave and courageous. Do you feel safe living in Moscow? Do you think of leaving?

I have thought of leaving, and I have even made plans to leave. The truth is, I don’t want to. I love my home, my friends, my job, my life. And if Putin doesn’t like me, he can leave.

“The Man Without a Face” ends with last December’s protests, and there are still peaceful protests continuing, but the picture your book paints is a grim one. How does the era of Putin give way to the world the protesters want? How does the Putin you portray allow for that change?

The regime is in agony. Of course, this is not because Putin would consider giving in to the protesters or even, it seems, negotiating with them. But then, he is not the protests’ intended audience. The protesters address themselves — or, more accurately, we address ourselves — to other Russian citizens, who also want to live in a just and open society.

The Putin regime, like all such regimes, is a pyramid. And what the protests are doing is dismantling the bottom rungs of this pyramid. It happens when journalists on state-controlled TV sneak in accurate and sympathetic coverage of the protests. Or when the editor-in-chief of the Yaroslavl state television station writes an open letter to his boss, saying, “I am taking sick leave until after the election because the election is making me sick.” Or when officials from local election commissions in Samara and St. Petersburg come forward and tell the stories of their own parts in the vote-rigging in the December parliamentary election.

Soon — quite soon, I think — too many bricks will have come out of the bottom of the pyramid, and the whole edifice will collapse. This is not dissimilar to the way the Soviet Union ended, and the feeling in Moscow these days is reminiscent of that time. There is hope and there is fear, and the hope wanes occasionally but ultimately prevails.