Thursday, April 7, 2011

China's bullet trains separate the rich from the poor Read more:


Passengers in Beijing board a "Green Train," a lower class of travel on China's railway system | Tom Lasseter/MCT

ZHENGZHOU, China — As the first-class passengers settled into cushioned seats, unfolded newspapers and waited for their tea or coffee, a woman's soothing voice came over the intercom to welcome them to the "harmony train."

The white bullet train whooshed out of the station, its blue pinstripe a blur as it sliced across the Chinese countryside at more than 200 miles an hour.

Chang Baoning, a 40-year-old government bureaucrat with a paunch and purple-tinted eyeglasses, watched the scenery whirl by from a whisper-quiet cabin. There could be no question, he said, that "the speed of development in China is getting faster and faster." Chang waved off the notion that some are being left behind.

"There are fewer and fewer people with big bags on trains; it's not a problem," he said, using a euphemism for migrant workers who haul belongings in large sacks slung over their shoulders.
As the bullet train rocketed off into the distance, Zhou Xishan, 53, was still sitting on the ground outside the station in Zhengzhou — the capital of a rough-and-tumble central Chinese province with some 100 million residents and a reputation for poverty. Zhou was waiting to board a cheap train known for its grim, green color.

He had a good idea of what to expect: a slow, rickety ride with a jumble of people crammed against one another on old, uncomfortable seats.

"The people are not equal," he'd said earlier, leaning back against a worn plastic bag as he cradled a 2-year-old grandson wrapped in a canvas jacket being used as a blanket.

Western analysts often point to projects like high-speed rail as proof of China's seemingly boundless momentum. But as with so much else in China, the bullet trains represent both the excitement of an emerging superpower and, at the same time, the extent to which the nation's unbridled economic progress has cleaved its population on two sides of a deep divide of money and privilege.

Although the country's boom lifted more than half a billion people out of extreme poverty in the decades after 1981, a point of immense pride here, there is growing worry about the distance between everyday Chinese and the very wealthy, and at times very corrupt, elite.

In one version of today's China, the government is spending billions of dollars to better connect a constellation of cities that Beijing's rulers hope will fuel the nation's domestic growth, in the same way that St. Louis and Chicago once did for 19th century America. Among the skyscrapers, there are fortunes — legal and otherwise_ waiting to be made by those with the right political and business connections.

For instance, the longtime railways minister and a lead proponent of the high-speed initiative, Liu Zhijun, was removed from his job in February amid accusations of taking kickbacks of more than $122 million, according to an account carried by state media.

On the other side of China is Wu Guojun, a taxi driver who was recently dropping a passenger off at the train station in Zhengzhou. Passing by the shiny metal and glass of brand new apartment buildings, Wu shook his head and said they were just investment opportunities for wealthy people looking for a place to park their cash. Stories of Chinese officials and businessmen snapping up clusters of high-end apartments are not uncommon; it's often considered a way to hide untaxed or illegal income.

"The difference between rich and poor is getting so big," said Wu, a 32-year-old who started work as a cabbie 12 years ago. "If we compared our lives to the rich, we would die of heartbreak."

The high levels of unreported income in China make it almost impossible to measure the full extent of the wealth gap. A study sponsored last year by Zurich-based Credit Suisse estimated there could be more than $1.4 trillion of hidden income in the country, almost all of it held by the top-20 percent earning households.
Chinese media reported recently that a coal baron from the Chinese province of Shanxi spent $1.5 million buying a red Tibetan mastiff — a dog. It also reported that per capita disposable income for urban residents in 2010 was a bit more than $2,900, and rural residents' net income was about $900.

The government, apparently sensitive to public resentment of the upper class, this month unveiled a ban on posting outdoor advertisements in Beijing that reference emperors or seem to "worship" foreign countries. The English edition of China Daily, a state newspaper, said the measure will focus on words like "supreme," "royal" or "luxury."

The nation's economic gap is obvious at places like the Zhengzhou train station, where a small sea of migrant laborers spreads out across a concrete square, plopped down on seed bags stuffed with blankets and clothes.

Bullet train passengers, meanwhile, sit in a waiting hall with laptops open and plenty of space. Their accommodations are about to get much nicer — a new Zhengzhou station for high-speed rail is slated to open by the end of the year, at a cost of more than $1 billion.

Chang Baoning's bullet train trip from Zhengzhou to the city of Xi'an will take about two hours — so quick that last year, after the train service was initiated, airlines suspended their flights between the cities.

On the green train, covering the same distance would take six or seven hours.

But the bullet train's cost — a first-class ticket is 390 yuan each way, or about $60 — is unreachable for many. A one-way seat on the green train is 36 yuan, or $5.50.

For Cao Tianjing, there's no point in making the comparison.

"We are just workers, we have no idea about the prices of the fast trains," said Cao, who was passing through on his way to work at a stone masonry.

There are, of course, many price options between the poor man's ride taken by laborers and Chang's first-class ticket. But the amount of investment being poured into the fancier end of the spectrum — more than $100 billion planned for high-speed rail this year alone — has made China's railways ministry a focal point of concern.

During the Chinese New Year festival, when millions of people return to their home towns and villages, there's been mounting frustration among passengers who arrive too late for lower-priced trains and are confronted by high-speed fares.

State media in February profiled a family that had to pay an extra 400 yuan, a third of their monthly salary, to get home.

It's a situation that "reflected the concerns of many migrant workers and students," said China Daily, which noted that the costliest sleeper cars between the cities of Shanghai and Chengdu are now priced similarly to rooms at five-star hotels.

"The majority of people cannot afford high-speed trains," Wang Laiying, a 31-year-old office worker at a biological research company in Beijing, said.

Wang, who was taking a green train from Beijing to the city of Tianjin, said that while he's proud to see his nation build such sophisticated projects, he and many others are worried about being lost in the shuffle.
As Wang spoke, a conductor leaned over to hear the conversation. After listening for a few minutes, Zhang Guangjun chimed in.

"I think there is a real concern that people won't be able to buy tickets on these new trains," said Zhang, a 52-year-old man in a slightly baggy blue uniform with a red tie and black tennis shoes.

A few minutes later, in a voice loud enough for the entire car to hear, Zhang began talking about Liu, the deposed railways minister.

"Liu is a high-class man, and I am just a normal man," he said with a smile, his words thick with sarcasm. "Men like him are leaders; they are the government's cadres."

Zhang paused to add: "As part of my company benefits, I get a free bar of soap every month."

Laughter broke out across the seats. Everyone understood the punch line: A corrupt set of powerful people counts its money, and the rest of the nation is left to make do.

The moment passed, and life on Train 4419 continued as it had begun.

Far from the bullet trains' TV screens, snack boxes and perky attendants, Wang shifted on a hard seat, trying to avoid tangling his legs with the men sitting in front of him. People got up to pour hot water into cups of instant noodles, and then complained to conductor Zhang that the car had already run out.

Across the aisle, Li Changlong, 58, sat next to his wife and stared at an empty can of Tsingtao beer. A reporter asked him what he thought about the country's high-speed trains. Li gave a blank look and said "I've never heard about them."

No. 4419 lumbered on toward Tianjin, with no apparent hurry to get its passengers to the next town.

Phillip Greaves gets probation for 'paedophile guide

6 April 2011 Last updated at 23:01 GMT

Philip R Greaves IIMr Greaves pleaded no contest to the charge against him

A US man who wrote a guidebook giving advice to paedophiles has been sentenced to two years' probation.
Phillip Greaves pleaded no contest on Wednesday in Florida to a charge of distributing obscene material depicting minors engaged in harmful conduct.
Greaves will serve the sentence in Colorado, his home state, and will not have to register as a sex offender.
He was arrested in December after he sold a copy of the self-published book to an undercover detective in Florida.
He was arrested in Colorado on behalf of prosecutors in Polk County, Florida, and was extradited to the southern US state.
The book, The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct, argues that paedophiles are misunderstood and purports to offer advice to help them abide by the law.
Mr Greaves gained notoriety after online retailer was criticised for selling the book on its website.
After angry comments and threats of boycotts from thousands of Amazon users, the site pulled the book from its virtual shelves
Courtesy:BBC News.

JET post best, not 'pityfest'

American helps, refuses to leave beloved, battered beach locale

Staff writer
SHICHIGAHAMA, Miyagi Pref. —

There is a picture folder in Marti McElreath's Facebook account that chronicles her time in Shichigahama, a town located on a small peninsula in Miyagi Prefecture less than an hour's drive from Sendai and where she has been working since last summer under the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.

Her comment on the folder reads: "I have the best JET placement in Japan," a view McElreath hasn't changed despite the massive earthquake and tsunami that brutally transformed the once peaceful beach community she has come to love.

"I mean, it's heartbreaking and hard to see what happened, but people are laughing and kids are playing and life is going on. Even after all that's happened, I still believe it, I believe that I have the best JET placement in Japan," she said.

While radiation fears from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have led many foreigners in the region to flee, McElreath, who said the town lies on the cusp of the 80-km evacuation zone recommended by the U.S. government, has remained firm in her conviction to stay and do what she can to help the community.

"I've only been here for seven or eight months, but I really do love Shichigahama. The people here have been really amazing to me, and they've done so much to help me — I couldn't imagine just leaving," said McElreath, 23, from Westborough, Mass.

The earthquake and tsunami that hit the small town of 20,000 claimed 56 lives, and 18 people remain missing. Nearly 1,000 people were still living in the town's six evacuation centers as of Tuesday, and many houses in the coastal area were swept away or damaged.

The facility McElreath works for, Kokusaimura, or International Village, is being used as a temporary shelter, providing food and a place to sleep for around 300 people, and McElreath spends her days helping out evacuees as the only foreigner among the staff.
According to the International Affairs Division of the Miyagi Prefectural Government, out of the 70 JETs in Miyagi — excluding those in Sendai — 36 have either returned to their homeland or evacuated from the prefecture following the earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster.

A municipal representative from Sendai said out of the 70 JET assistant-language teachers working in the city, 50 remained, and the rest planned to return before schools reopen Monday.

When the magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, McElreath was at her office at Kokusaimura, going about her usual business.

As a coordinator for international relations, McElreath, fluent in Japanese after studying as an exchange student in Kobe during high school and then at Tohoku University during her senior year in college, was responsible for organizing various community events the facility hosted, as well as giving English-language and culture classes to local residents.
Without warning, the earthquake cut off the lifelines at the facility, and while sirens blared out tsunami warnings, people began evacuating to Kokusaimura, which sits on a hill.
McElreath said no one at the facility at that point was aware of the scale of the tsunami that was about to crash into the peninsula. By the time emergency electric generators were able to re-connect television sets, evacuees were confronted with horrific images of the disaster.

"I think it was around that point that we realized that we were going to be here for a while," she recalled.

Then at around 6 or 7 p.m. a huge explosion shook the facility and its residents as the JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp.'s Sendai oil refinery, located a few kilometers from Shichigahama, went up in flames.

"The entire sky went red, and everyone gathered around the windows and looked outside and it was, like, an inferno," McElreath said, adding the smoke from the refinery lasted two or three days.

While McElreath was able to notify a prefectural adviser of the JET program of her safety immediately after the earthquake, cell phone reception quickly died.
It was not until the third day after the earthquake that she rode her bicycle 6 or 7 km toward Sendai and her cell phone finally re-connected, allowing her to contact family and friends to let them know she was safe.

McElreath said that as the Fukushima nuclear disaster unfolded, many foreigners she knew in the region, including non-JETs and those from other nations, were contacted by their respective embassies and advised to evacuate.

"There are noticeably less foreigners, there is almost no one left that you can tell by just walking around," McElreath said, adding she did not feel threatened by the radioactivity leaking in Fukushima.

"I decided that I would rather stay here as long as possible and keep on monitoring the situation," she said, adding that while her parents are concerned for her safety, they understand her desire to remain and help the community.
While electricity returned about a week after the earthquake, and propane could be used, water remained undrinkable and was only restored Tuesday in some areas of town. McElreath said that while Kokusaimura was well stocked with food and drinking water, evacuees missed taking baths.

Meanwhile, McElreath said Plymouth, Mass., Shichigahama's sister city, has been making fundraising efforts, already gathering $80,000 to be used in the town's rebuilding. Teams from as far afield as Turkey have arrived on search and rescue missions, and various volunteers, including many celebrities, make the rounds to Kokusaimura to drop off goods and cheer up the evacuees.

McElreath has recontracted with JET until July 2012, and she is determined to stay and work — if the situation allows her to — for the entire duration.
"I'd like to let everyone know that the people here are positive and we don't want this to become a pityfest.

"We are doing our best."


Pawar offer to quit,Anna not relenting

UPDATED  6/4/2011 5:15:57 PM

News 24 Desk

New Delhi: Veteran social activist Anna Hazare on Thursday rejected agriculture minister Sharad Pawar`s offer to quit from the Group of Ministers (GoM) meant to look into the amendments required in the Lokpal Bill. The crusader against corruption is on fast unto death for a stringent anti-corruption law. Hazare is pressing for enactment of the Lokpal Bill with stringent measures against corruption.
In a related development, former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala was shouted out of Jantar Mantar area by all those sitting with Anna.

Hazare said that Sharad Pawar should quit his ministry anyway. It may be recalled that Pawar had said he would be happy if he was relieved from the GoM on corruption.
When asked to react on Hazare`s remarks about him, Pawar made light of the issue, but said: "I will be happy if you relieve me from all GoMs, including that GoM (oncorruption)".
Pawar was asked whether he was disturbed by the comments that he should not be part of the GoM on corruption. He is supported by eminent persons including Kiran Bedi, has been demanding that the drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill to tackle corruption should include members of civil society.

Earlier, when pointed out that the BJP too had embarked on a anti-corruption campaign , the reformist said the party was taking advantage of the nationwide movement he had begun. "But, they are a political party and are free to do as they wish. In the past too, when I agitated against corruption in the BJP government, the Congress party supported me. Now, its the other way around", Hazare said.

On Tuesday, BJP leaders Maneka Gandhi and Prakash Javadekar visited Hazare`s protest site at Jantar Mantar but did not make any speeches. JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav too sat on the dais with Hazare and offered his support for the Jan Lokpal Bill and even said he was ready to take it up in Parliament. Hazare said he would not allow politicians to sit with him on the dais anymore. The anti-corruption champion began his fast yesterday and has been joined by thousands of people.
(With inputs from PTI)



Iranian clerics slam silence on Bahrain

Iranian clerics on Wednesday condemned the silence of senior Muslim clerics on the crackdown on anti-government protesters in Bahrain.

According to Press TV, the Jame-e Modarresin-e Qom (the Qom Seminary Teachers Association) in a statement urged influential Muslim scholars to help prevent the "massacre of innocent people" since to remain silent goes against the Quran. It also called on intellectuals and the elite of the Muslim world to remain vigilant and "thwart plots of enemies of Islam."

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of seminary students held rallies across Iran on Wednesday to protest the Bahraini government's actions against protesters. They chanted slogans against the United States and Israel, and called for unity among Muslims.

In one of the rallies held in the Iranian city of Qom, senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami said arrogant powers are moving against Islam.

In the past few days, Bahraini workers were sacked in huge numbers for participating in a nationwide strike called in solidarity with the anti- government protesters. The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions roughly estimated that over 250 staff of leading companies were dismissed.

Bahraini authorities on late Saturday evening decided to ban the opposition newspaper Al-Wasat in what appeared to be a move to further crack down on anti-government protesters.

More than 25 people have been killed, hundreds arrested and thousands injured in the government-authorized violence in Bahrain. The country's social unrest began after protesters called for a "Day of Rage" on February 14 to mark the 10th anniversary of the National Action Charter, which returned the country to constitutional rule after the 1990s uprisings. Initially, people took to the streets to demand reform and the introduction of a constitutional monarchy, but later they began to call for the removal of the royal family.

In March, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait deployed their troops to Bahrain to reinforce a massive armed crackdown on the popular uprising.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, is ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa family, but two-thirds of the population are Shiite.

CCEA approves creation of National Clean Energy Fund

New Delhi, April 6, 2011
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) today approved the constitution of a National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) in the public account of India along with the guidelines as well as modalities for approval of projects to be funded from the Fund.
The Finance Bill 2010-11 provided for creation of a corpus called National Clean Energy Fund to invest in entrepreneurial ventures and research in the field of clean energy technologies.

Subsequent to the budget announcement, the Central Board of Excise & Customs (CBEC) issued a notification dated June 22, 2010 to notify the Clean Energy Cess Rules, 2010.
An Inter Ministerial Group (IMG) has been constituted to approve the projects/ schemes eligible for financing under the National Clean Energy Fund, consisting of following members: (i) Finance Secretary-Chairperson (ii) Secretary (Expenditure)-Member (iii) Secretary (Revenue)-Member (iv) Representatives from Ministries of Power, Coal, Chemicals & Fertilizers, Petroleum & Natural Gas, New & Renewable Energy and Environment & Forests.

An official press release said the Fund would be used for funding research and innovative projects in clean energy technologies.

Any project/scheme for innovative methods to adopt to clean energy technology and research & development shall be eligible for funding under the NCEF, it said.

Such projects may be sponsored by a Ministry/Department of the Government; and submitted by individual/ consortium of organizations in the government/public sector/private sector in the form of loan or viability gap funding, as the IMG deems fit on case to case basis. Government assistance under the NCEF shall in no case exceed 40% of the total project cost.
A standard format for submission and evaluation of projects shall be designed by the IMG to receive proposals from various ministries of Government of India.
Proposals for loan or viability gap funding by Individuals/ consortiums are to be submitted to the concerned Ministry first, which, after due consideration, shall place them before the IMG. The IMG may seek the views of technical experts from related organizations and individuals of repute in the area ofclean energy to review, evaluate and recommend projects. There will be a time frame specified under thescheme for processing of applications at each stage. The IMG will identify/appoint appropriate professional agencies to monitor progress of NCEF funded projects, the release added.

India's foodgrains production estimated at 235.88 milliontonnes for 2010-11

New Delhi, April 6, 2011

India produced 235.88 million tonnes of foodgrains during 2010-11, an all-time high, surpassing the previous record of 234.47 millin tonnes achieved in 2008-09, according to the Third Advance Estimates ofCrop Production for the year.
The country had produced 218.11 million tonnes of foodgrains in 2009-10.
The estimates, released here by Union AgricultureMinister Sharad Pawar, said the production of wheat, estimated at 84.27 million tonnes in 2010-11, an all-time record.
Similarly, the production of pulses, estimated at 17.29 million tonnes, is also a new high, the estimates showed.
According to an official statement, despite a setback in the production of rice due to drought in some of the major rice-producing areas in the country, foodgrains production reached the record level due to significant improvement in production of wheat, pulses and coarse cereals.
Thanks to a steady increase in production of soyabean and a quantum jump of 2.62 million tonnes over its production during 2009-10, oilseeds production, estimated at 30.25 million tones, is also an all-time record, it said.
Cotton production is estimated to have increased from 24.23 million bales in 2009-10 to 33.93 million bales in 2010-11.
Production of sugarcane, which had attained a record level of 355.52 million tonnes during 2006-07 and declined in subsequent years, has again started witnessing an increasing trend with an estimated production of 340.55 million tonnes in the current year.
The production estimates for major crops for 2010-11 are as follows:
– 235.88 million tonnes: highest ever
Rice – 94.11 million tonnes
Wheat – 84.27 million tonnes: highest ever
Coarse Cereals – 40.21 million tonnes
Maize – 20.23 million tonnes
Pulses - 17.29 million tonnes: highest ever
Tur – 3.15 million tonnes
Urad – 1.82 million tonnes
Moong – 1.37 million tonnes
– 30.25 million tonnes: highest ever
Soyabean – 12.59 million tonnes
Groundnut – 7.09 million tonnes
– 33.93 million bales of 170 kg each: highest ever
– 340.55 million tonnes
Courtesy: NNN

Tamil Nadu : Too close to call contest in Trichy

Press Trust Of India 
Posted on Apr 06, 2011 at 02:00pm IST

Arch-rivals DMK and AIADMK are locked in an intense fight in this central Tamil Nadu district with the ruling party leaving no stone unturned to repeat its 2006 performance when it bagged seven of the total nine seats.

This district has assumed a 'star' status this election as AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa is contesting from Srirangam, the abode of Sri Ranganathaswamy, on the banks of river Cauvery.

DMK's stakes are also high in this district with ministers K N Nehru and N Selvaraj seeking the mandate from Trichy West and Manachanallur constituencies with both seats seeing a major change in the delimitation process.
Tamil Nadu : Too close to call contest in Trichy
Out of the nine constituencies, DMK is contesting seven and Congress two. In the last elections, DMK won 6 seats and Congress one.

The DMK has been winning both the constituencies in Trichy city since 1996 and the party heavyweights Nehru and Anbil Periyasamy are campaigning hard to retain their seats.

The DMK-Congress alliance is banking on the poll promises and the developmental projects executed in the past five years of M Karunanidhi's rule, while the AIADMK is raking up the 2G spectrum issue and the frequent power cuts in Trichy city and rural areas in the election campaign.

Nehru, the strongman of Trichy who shifted to the city from near-by Lalgudi in the 2006 elections, is seeking votes from people listing his "achievements" in the past five years and the projects he executed during the DMK's tenure.

Though belonging to minority Reddy community, Nehru has a huge following among DMK cadre in the entire district and is banking on the backward Muthuraja and Dalit community votes to retain his seat.

The AIADMK has fielded Mariam Pitchai, who has been a councillor in Trichy Corporation for the past two decades, though he was defeated by Nehru in the last elections too.

Issues that could work against Nehru in this constituency dominated by middle-class people are the frequent power cuts and alleged rowdyism by DMK cadres.

A government doctor, requesting anonymity, said though Nehru has done a lot of good work for the people, the power cuts and other issues can work against him.
"Rowdyism is at its peak in Trichyrapalli. People are very scared so, if they want a change from this they will definitely vote for AIADMK," he said.

It seems to be a cakewalk for Jayalalithaa in Srirangam as it has always been a traditional stronghold of AIADMK since 1977. The constituency had given a lead of 21,000 votes to P Kumar, who won the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

The Brahmin community in Srirangam may vote overwhelmingly for Jayalalithaa since she belongs to the caste and also that they feel that "her presence as an MLA will give a star status" to the area.

30-year-old N Anand, belonging to Muthuraja community, will take on Jayalalithaa as a DMK nominee. In Manachanallur, Forest Minister N Selvaraj, who shifted from near-by Musiri after the delimitation exercise, is sitting pretty due to caste equations as well as his 'clean' image.