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Doctor claims Dogs understand humans

by Rodan ( 10 Comments › )
Filed under Dog Day Afternoon, Special Report at July 24th, 2014 - 10:16 pm

Anyone owning a dog know they understand what we say. They rely on more than instinct and actually show though processes. A doctor now claims, he will prove dogs understand human speech.

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) – Dr. Greg Berns of Emory University wants to prove that a dog really does understand what its owner is saying to them.

“The more I study dogs and the more I study their brains, the more similarities I see to human brains,” Berns told WGCL-TV. “They are intelligent, they are emotional, and they’ve been ignored in terms of research and understanding how they think. So, we are all interested in trying to develop ways to understand how their minds work.”

Berns uses an MRI to test a dog’s brain.

[....]

Currently, we are trying to understand what dogs perceive about the world,” Berns told WGCL. “You know, what do they see when they see humans, dogs, other animals, cars, etc. so the idea is, at least in humans and even in certain chimpanzees and monkeys, there are parts of the brain specialized for visual processing of all of these things and so what we are trying to determine is whether a dog has that sam ekind of specialization. Nobody knows. Understanding how that dog’s brain works can only help that dog be happier and more productive in its role serving man.

I don’t need a study to know the answer.

 

Weekend Lecture, Mushrooms and Neurology

by coldwarrior ( 3 Comments › )
Filed under Academia, Medicine, saturday lecture series, Special Report at July 3rd, 2014 - 9:50 pm

Compounds in Magic Mushrooms (those containing Psilocybin) have a positive effect on some brains.

I’ll keep this lecture simple, its also extra credit. Enjoy your July 4th Weekend!

Psychedelic mushrooms put your brain in a “waking dream,” study finds

Psychedelic mushrooms can do more than make you see the world in kaleidoscope. Research suggests they may have permanent, positive effects on the human brain.

In fact, a mind-altering compound found in some 200 species of mushroom is already being explored as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety. People who consume these mushrooms, after “trips” that can be a bit scary and unpleasant, report feeling more optimistic, less self-centered, and even happier for months after the fact.

But why do these trips change the way people see the world? According to a study published today in Human Brain Mapping, the mushroom compounds could be unlocking brain states usually only experienced when we dream, changes in activity that could help unlock permanent shifts in perspective.

The study examined brain activity in those who’d received injections of psilocybin, which gives “shrooms” their psychedelic punch. Despite a long history of mushroom use in spiritual practice, scientists have only recently begun to examine the brain activity of those using the compound, and this is the first study to attempt to relate the behavioral effects to biological changes.

After injections, the 15 participants were found to have increased brain function in areas associated with emotion and memory. The effect was strikingly similar to a brain in dream sleep, according to Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, a post-doctoral researcher in neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and co-author of the study.

“You’re seeing these areas getting louder, and more active,” he said. “It’s like someone’s turned up the volume there, in these regions that are considered part of an emotional system in the brain. When you look at a brain during dream sleep, you see the same hyperactive emotion centers.”

In fact, administration of the drug just before or during sleep seemed to promote higher activity levels during Rapid Eye Movement sleep, when dreams occur. An intriguing finding, Carhart-Harris says, given that people tend to describe their experience on psychedelic drugs as being like “a waking dream.” It seems that the brain may literally be slipping into unconscious patterns while the user is awake.

Conversely, the subjects of the study had decreased activity in other parts of the brain—areas associated with high level cognition. “These are the most recent parts of our brain, in an evolutionary sense,” Carhart-Harris said. “And we see them getting quieter and less organized.”

This dampening of one area and amplification of another could explain the “mind-broadening” sensation of psychedelic drugs, he said. Unlike most recreational drugs, psychotropic mushrooms and LSD don’t provide a pleasant, hedonistic reward when they’re consumed. Instead, users take them very occasionally, chasing the strange neurological effects instead of any sort of high.

“Except for some naïve users who go looking for a good time…which, by the way, is not how it plays out,” Carhart-Harris said, “you see people taking them to experience some kind of mental exploration, and to try to understand themselves.”

Our firm sense of self—the habits and experiences that we find integral to our personality—is quieted by these trips. Carhart-Harris believes that the drugs may unlock emotion while “basically killing the ego,” allowing users to be less narrow-minded and let go of negative outlooks.

It’s still not clear why such effects can have more profound long-term effects on the brain than our nightly dreams. But Carhart-Harris hopes to see more of these compounds in modern medicine. “The way we treat psychological illnesses now is to dampen things,” he said. “We dampen anxiety, dampen ones emotional range in the hope of curing depression, taking the sting out of what one feels.”

But some patients seem to benefit from having their emotions “unlocked” instead. “It would really suit the style of psychotherapy where we engage in a patient’s history and hang-ups,” Carhart-Harris said. “Instead of putting a bandage over the exposed wound, we’d be essentially loosening their minds—promoting a permanent change in outlook.”

100 Years Ago, 28 June 2014

by coldwarrior ( 1 Comment › )
Filed under Academia, History, Special Report at June 28th, 2014 - 11:38 am

Here is an interesting read, an ‘As It Happened’ from Sarajevo.

First World War centenary: the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, as it happened

On Sunday June 28 1914 in Sarajevo, Gavrilo Princip fired the shot that killed the Archduke and started the train of events that led to global war. Here is a step by step account of how the dramatic day unfolded

Way beyond mere corruption.

by Guest Post ( 1 Comment › )
Filed under Barack Obama, Corruption, Guest Post, Progressives, Special Report at June 23rd, 2014 - 12:59 pm

Guest Blogger: Doriangrey


Mere weeks after Lois Lerners hard drive supposedly crashed taking with it her emails regarding the IRS conspiracy to target for intimidation TEA Party and Conservative groups, the IRS canceled a long standing contract with Sonasoft for back up email services. Now suddenly Ro Khanna, a wannbe politician supported heavily by the board of directors of Sonasoft has working on his election campaign Barack Obama’s former election advisors.

Board of Sonasoft, IRS email contractor, working to get ‘Silicon Valley’s Wannabe Obama’ elected

The 2014 campaign connection

After the 2012 election – and this is what really caught Joshua Green’s attention – Khanna began preparing for a new campaign in Silicon Valley, this time with the biggest names from the Obama 2012 campaign team on his roster. Khanna is making another run in 2014 against an entrenched Democrat (seven-termer Mike Honda), but he brings major firepower, especially for a guy you’ve probably never heard of:

What makes Khanna more interesting than your typical underdog is who else he has in his corner. On April 2, when he announced that he would challenge Honda, he also revealed that the people who will be running his campaign are many of the same ones who just got Barack Obama reelected. Even though Khanna has never been elected to anything, he has managed to sign up one of Obama’s top-three fundraisers, Steve Spinner, as his campaign chairman; Obama’s national field director, Jeremy Bird, as his chief strategist; and the president’s media firm, pollster, and data-analytics team, along with assorted other veterans of the reelection. Their aim is to build at the congressional level the same type of campaign they ran for Obama. It’s as if Bill Belichick and the staff of the New England Patriots decided to coach a high school football team.

Somebody really wants to get this guy elected. And the interesting thing is that two of Sonasoft’s three board members appear to be in the middle of it.

Romi Randhawa, CEO of HPM Networks, is perhaps of lesser interest in this regard. His main appearance was as joint host of a fundraising reception for Khanna in October 2013.

But Romesh Japra, a high-profile figure in Silicon Valley’s Indian-American community, seems to be playing a bigger role. Besides being one of Khanna’s major donors ($7,400 since 2011), Japra has been implicated in a byzantine effort to run multiple Republican candidates in the primary, and thus divide the GOP vote so that Khanna and Honda, the Democrats, face off only with each other in November 2014.

California adopted a non-partisan “jungle primary” system via Proposition 14 in 2010, and the Golden State’s primaries now advance the top two vote-getters, even if they’re both from the same party. If you want to make an intra-party challenge to a strong incumbent, the most effective divide-and-conquer strategy may well be an across-the-board “more the merrier” approach.

Republican candidate Vanila Singh, running for the 17th district seat this spring, had the GOP field to herself, until a pair of high-profile Khanna supporters encouraged another Republican, Joel Vanlandingham, to join the campaign late. One of that pair was reportedly Romesh Japra (see last link above).

The primary result on 3 June was satisfactory for Khanna supporters, although things might well have turned out the same without Vanlandingham as a spoiler. Honda and Khanna will have the race to themselves in November.

The peculiar thing, in any case, is Sonasoft’s collateral connectedness to the Khanna drama, on which the Obama machine has left such distinctive fingerprints. It doesn’t seem to signify anything more than the web of vaguely icky crony connections that characterize so much of government and politics today – regrettably, on both sides of the aisle.

J.E. Dyer is being oh so incredibly diplomatic here. Lois Lerner’s emails disappeared, Sonasoft should have had those disappeared emails because that was the contract they had with the IRS. Sonasoft has volunteered no information regarding those emails. But now suddenly an individual with political aspiration directly connected to Sonasoft is receiving an unprecedented level of assistance from the former Obama campaign team in his own election bid.

I will say what J.E. Dyer is far to circumspect to say outright. It looks as if one of two things are in play here. Either the Obama Administration is being successfully blackmailed into supporting Khanna, or the Obama Administration is paying off a debt to Sonasoft. At either rate, not only should Lois Lerner and the entire senior Obama administration staff be going to prison, but so should the administrative staff at Sonasoft.

Sen. Rand Paul makes the case against Iraq Intervention

by Rodan ( 1 Comment › )
Filed under Al Qaeda, Iran, Iraq, Islamists, Libertarianism, Republican Party, Special Report at June 20th, 2014 - 8:14 am

As evil ISIS is, let us not lose sight at how evil Iran and their Iraqi Shiite lackeys are. It was Iran’s puppet PM of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki who instigated this sectarian war by promoting Shiite supremacy. While most  Republican politicians are salivating for another nation building exercise, Rand Paul once again takes a brave stand against the Jacobin/Trotskyite mindset that has infected the Right when it comes to foreign policy.

Though many claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan on foreign policy, too few look at how he really conducted it. The Iraq war is one of the best examples of where we went wrong because we ignored that.

In 1984, Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger developed the following criteria for war, primarily to avoid another Vietnam. His speech, “The Uses of Military Power,” boils down to this: The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the U.S. or its allies are involved and only “with the clear intention of winning.” U.S. combat troops should be committed only with “clearly defined political and military objectives” and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives and with a “reasonable assurance” of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress and only “as a last resort.”

Much of the rationale for going to war in 2003 did not measure up to the Weinberger Doctrine, and I opposed the Iraq war. I thought we needed to be more prudent about the weightiest decision a country can make. Like Reagan, I thought we should never be eager to go to war. And now, 11 years later, we are still dealing with the consequences.

[....]

Let me address both of these. First, we should not put any U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, unless it is to secure or evacuate U.S. personnel and diplomatic facilities. And while we may not completely rule out airstrikes, there are many questions that need to be addressed first.

What would airstrikes accomplish? We know that Iran is aiding the Iraqi government against ISIS. Do we want to, in effect, become Iran’s air force? What’s in this for Iran? Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?

[....]

Saying the mess in Iraq is President Obama’s fault ignores what President Bush did wrong. Saying it is President Bush’s fault is to ignore all the horrible foreign policy decisions in Syria, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere under President Obama, many of which may have contributed to the current crisis in Iraq. For former Bush officials to blame President Obama or for Democrats to blame President Bush only serves as a reminder that both sides continue to get foreign policy wrong. We need a new approach, one that emulates Reagan’s policies, puts America first, seeks peace, faces war reluctantly, and when necessary acts fully and decisively.

Thank God Rand Paul is trying to resurrect the GOP’s traditional foreign policy stance that has been hijacked by a Jacobin/Trotskyite cabal. Both ISIS and Iran/Iraqi Shiites are enemies of the US. It is in our interest for both sides to continue killing each other. No Islamic nation is worth the blood of Americans.

 

An Advance Against MDROs

by coldwarrior ( 1 Comment › )
Filed under Special Report at June 19th, 2014 - 8:00 am

It appears that the guys over at East Anglia have figured out a way to counter those pesky Multi-Drug Resistant Organisms. This is pretty big news.

 

Background:

http://www.theblogmocracy.com/2012/01/30/the-rise-of-multi-drug-resistant-bacteria/

http://www.theblogmocracy.com/2012/03/24/saturday-lecture-series-ppis-and-c-diff/

http://www.theblogmocracy.com/2012/05/08/drug-resistant-bacteria/

http://www.theblogmocracy.com/2013/11/23/saturday-lecture-series-kpc-oxa-48/

 

Achilles Heel’ of Antibiotic Resistance Discovered in Bacteria’s Defensive Walls

The “Achilles’ heel” of antibiotic resistance has been discovered by scientists, who claim to have found a way to target the bacteria’s defensive walls, preventing it from becoming drug-resistant.

Scientists from the University of East Anglia say their findings could result in a new wave of drugs without the shortcomings of current antibiotics.

Published in the journal Nature, the researchers looked at a class of bacteria called ‘Gram-negative bacteria’ resistant to antibiotics due to its cells’ impermeable outer membrane. This outer membrane acts as a defensive barrier against attacks from the immune system and antibiotics.

At present the World Health Organisation has said antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest health problems facing the world – common infections that have been treatable for many years will once again become deadly as there will be no drugs to kill them.

Modern cancer and diabetes treatments would be impossible in their current form, while routine surgery would be lethal.

The researchers looked at how the defensive barrier of the cell is built and found how bacterial cells transport the building blocks of the barrier to the outer surface. They found that removing the outer membrane causes the bacteria to become vulnerable and die.

Research leader Changjiang Dong said: “We have identified the path and gate used by the bacteria to transport the barrier building blocks to the outer surface. Importantly, we have demonstrated that the bacteria would die if the gate is locked.

“This is really important because drug-resistant bacteria is a global health problem. Many current antibiotics are becoming useless, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.

“The number of super-bugs are increasing at an unexpected rate. This research provides the platform for urgently-needed new generation drugs.”

Lead author Haohao Dong added: “The really exciting thing about this research is that new drugs will specifically target the protective barrier around the bacteria, rather than the bacteria itself.

“Because new drugs will not need to enter the bacteria itself, we hope that the bacteria will not be able to develop drug resistance in future.”

An Apology

by coldwarrior ( 14 Comments › )
Filed under Special Report at June 16th, 2014 - 9:41 am

I apologize for my treatment of Lobo the other night. What I thought would be some simple ‘tough love’ backfired and I blew it.

I was not my intent to be mean or nasty, it just came out that way. I blame no one or anything but myself.

I have great hope that he returns and that the members of Blogmocracy can forgive me. If not, I fully understand your anger.

I promise to do better in the future. You may beat me senseless in the comments below.

 

–coldwarrior.

 

This will remain up for at least 72 hours or more so that everyone can see it and comment.

 

Econ 400, Biflation

by coldwarrior ( 1 Comment › )
Filed under Economy, Special Report at June 5th, 2014 - 9:42 pm

Yes, prices can go up AND down. And, oddly enough, interest rates can be negative.

Normally, when there is too much money being spent in the economy chasing too few goods, there in inflation.

It’s called the “Dismal Science” for a reason

Read This:

Biflation (sometimes mixflation) is a state of the economy in which inflation and deflation occur simultaneously.[1] The term was first introduced by Dr. F. Osborne Brown, a Senior Financial Analyst for the Phoenix Investment Group.[2] During biflation, there is a rise in the prices of commodity/earnings-based assets (inflation) and a simultaneous fall in the price of debt-based assets (deflation).[3] The prices of all assets depend on the demand for them and the volume of money in circulation to buy them.

  • On the one hand, an over-abundance of money is injected into the economy by central banks. Since most essential commodity-based assets (food, energy, clothing) remain in high demand, their prices rise due to the increased volume of money chasing them. The increasing costs of purchasing these essential assets are the price-inflationary arm of biflation.
  • On the other hand, there is increasing unemployment and decreasing purchasing power. As a result, more money is used to buy essential items and less is available to buy non-essential items. Assets such as large houses and expensive cars are less in demand. As a result, their prices fall: this is the price-deflationary arm of biflation.[4]

Ok. Now you need to understand that high interest rates usually cause people to save, low interest rates cause people to spend. Interest rates are a kind of throttle on the velocity of money. So what happens when interest rates are near 0 and no one is spending/lending? The Central Bank hits the Krugman Liquidity Trap. In short, when interest rates are very low and the velocity of money is low, the Central Banks have pretty much run out of tools. People will simply not spend, they will put the extra printed money in the bank or just sit on it or invest it. This is not spending. This takes money out of the economy and more or less sidelines it.

M2 : A measure of money supply that includes cash and checking deposits (M1) as well as near money. “Near money” in M2 includes savings deposits, money market mutual funds and other time deposits, which are less liquid and not as suitable as exchange mediums but can be quickly converted into cash or checking deposits.

A lot of money is not moving, So we get this. Please read this very very carefully:

Mario Draghi takes historic gamble with negative rates but still stops short of QE

ECB’s revolutionary move aims to force banks to pay a charge if they continue to park money for safe-keeping in Frankfurt

“Are we finished? The answer is no,” said Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president

The European Central Bank has become the first of the world’s monetary superpowers to cut its deposit rate below zero, taking a leap into the unknown as it tries to drive down the euro and head off deflation.

The bank opened the door to direct purchases of private assets or quantitative easing, and announced a €400bn blast of long-term lending at cheap rates for banks.

The benchmark interest rate was cut to a record low of 0.15pc, tantamount to zero. The revolutionary move was to lower the deposit rate to -0.1pc, forcing banks to pay a charge if they continue to park money for safe-keeping in Frankfurt.

“Are we finished? The answer is no,” said Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president. “If required, we will act swiftly with further monetary policy easing. The Governing Council is unanimous in its commitment to using unconventional instruments within its mandate should it become necessary to further address risks of prolonged low inflation.”

The rate cuts prompted fury in Germany, where the head of the German Association of Savings Banks, Georg Fahrenschon, accused the ECB of expropriating savers. “We are tearing a hole in the pensions of savers. Over time these low rates will destroy the value of assets,” he said.

Der Spiegel deemed it was the “end of capitalism”, while Die Welt described Mr Draghi as Europe’s Bismarck, a near autocrat beyond control. It is a foretaste of what may happen if the ECB does graduate to QE later this year, once the machinery is ready.

David Marsh, head of the financial forum OMFIF, said the latest stimulus is mostly window dressing and may backfire. “The fear is that it cannot and will not provide the massive impulse needed to return the euro area to full health. But it will nonetheless be more than sufficient to antagonise public opinion in Germany,” he said.

The anti-euro party Alternative fur Deutschland won seven seats in the European Parliament in last month’s elections, giving it a platform for the first time.

In an extraordinary development, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has called into question the backstop plan for Italian and Spanish bonds unveiled with spectacular effect by Mr Draghi two years ago, saying the scheme cannot go ahead without German consent and “we will not approve of such a programme”. The comments yet again call into question how far Germany is willing to go keep the system together.

David Owen, from Jefferies Fixed Income, said the lending measures offer more than meets the eye and amount to a mini-bazooka. “Draghi has drawn a line in the sand and is telling us that he is not going to raise interest rates for four years. This is highly significant,” he said.

Banks will be able to borrow €400bn for four years at near zero rates at LTRO (long-term refinancing operation) auctions in September and December. The magic is in the details. While the sums are far lower than earlier LTRO auctions, the banks will be able to tap the ECB for funds equal to 7pc of their private loan book without using up collateral. “They can get free money for four years so long as they lend it to the real economy,” he said.

ECB officials hope that this will unlock a surge of lending. The aim is to stop “passive tapering” as banks rush to repay loans and beef up capital ratios, a phenomena that has caused the ECB’s balance sheets to shrink by €800bn.

Mr Draghi has also copied a tool deployed by the Bank of Japan in February, letting banks obtain liquidity equal to three times their lending. The first trickle of QE is coming through as €165bn bonds held from an earlier scheme are no longer “sterilised”, but the pace will be glacial.

The ECB package of emergency measures is in striking contrast with developments in the US and Britain, where central banks are moving toward the exit door, deeming the job done.

It underscores the gravity of the crisis in Europe, where lending to the private sector is declining at a rate of 1.8pc and several countries are in deflation. Italy, Holland and Portugal relapsed into economic contraction in the first quarter, while France fell back to zero growth. The recovery is in danger of withering on the vine.

The blitz comes late, with EMU inflation already down to 0.5pc. The ECB slashed its inflation forecast for this year to 0.7pc, making a mockery of the coming stress test for banks, which deems 1pc to be the most extreme “adverse scenario”.

The ECB also lowered its inflation estimate to 1.1pc in 2015 and 1.4pc in 2016, showing how far it has strayed from its 2pc target. Mr Draghi has warned in the past of a “pernicious negative spiral” in prices, but insisted that their is currently no “self-fulfilling” dynamic at work pulling Europe into a trap.

Even so, the prolonged effects of “lowflation” are serious, since any drop in the rate at this stage can have powerful effects on the intensity of debt-deflation in the crisis countries. It is a key reason why debt ratios keep spiralling higher despite austerity cuts.

Danae Kyriakopoulou, from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said the negative deposit rate may do more harm than good. Banks hold just €30bn in cash reserves at the ECB – down from €700bn in mid-2012 – so the move will not free up much money for lending.

“What we may see instead is deposit flight as savers look for banks more willing to take on their cash elsewhere, as happened in Denmark. This in turn could even lead to a fall in lending, making the rate cut effectively contractionary, and do little to raise eurozone inflation,” she said.

The negative deposit rate risks causing havoc in the money market industry, one reason why the US Federal Reserve never tried it. The industry is worth €843bn in Europe, of which €375bn is from foreign funds.

The ECB is clearly hoping that some of this money will drift away, pulling down the euro exchange rate, which has strengthened 5pc in the past year and pushed the bloc closer to deflation. Early on Thursday the euro plunged one cent against the US dollar to $1.35 but bounced back and ended slightly higher.

Hans Redeker, currency chief at Morgan Stanley, said it will be a struggle to weaken the euro for long given the eurozone’s ballooning current account surplus of €280bn and the repatriation of funds by banks shoring up defences at home. “The ECB has bought time but Europe’s banks are incapable of recycling the surplus,” he said.

The stock markets rallied by 1pc in France, 1.1pc in Spain and 1.5pc in Italy on the historic measures, though reaction in Germany was muted. Many of the details were flagged in advance. Jens Nordvig, from Nomura, said credit markets have already priced in near perfection. It may take “broad-based” asset purchases to keep the rallies going.

Full-blown QE is not yet on the cards, though the ECB has a €1 trillion plan for use in extremis. Mr Draghi said the bank wants to “signal” that it is willing to buy asset-back securities if need be. They would be packages of loans but not the incendiary concoctions that led to the US subprime crisis. “They should be simple, not CDS (collateralised debt securities) cubed, or squared. They should be real loans, not based on derivatives,” he said.

It is an immature market in Europe, with just €700bn of assets to buy, and it is unclear whether purchases of asset-backed securities can direct much lending to small businesses, where it is most needed. It is costly to put together packages of sellable loans for family firms. “Their importance to politicians far outstrips their attractiveness to creditors,” said Matt King, from Citigroup.

In the end, the ECB may have to bite the bullet and resort to full-blown purchases of sovereign debt, just like the central banks of the US, Britain and Japan. That thorny issue has been put off for a few more months while the ECB prays for a miracle.

Now it costs the Banks money to park assets in Frankfurt. They have to do something with this money. The ECB is demanding that they lend it. Last resort? QE in the EU.

This will be very interesting to watch. I’ll leave this up for a few days so we can get our heads around this.

The Rot Starts From the Inside.

by coldwarrior ( 6 Comments › )
Filed under Academia, Islam, Special Report at June 1st, 2014 - 7:21 pm

Islam is a cancer, period.

 

Damning reports will show state schools in Birmingham are imposing Islamic practices

The head of Ofsted is expected to reveal six schools have been placed in special measures following worrying evidence of religious interference in the classroom

 

Teachers are to be sent on training programmes to help them stop extremism entering the classroom, as damning reports show that some state schools have been imposing Islamic practices and attitudes.

The reports are due to be published by the education watchdog Ofsted next week, after inspectors carried out emergency checks in 21 schools in Birmingham following complaints of homophobia, the segregation of boys and girls in some lessons, refusal to teach sex education, bullying and invitations to extremists to speak at assemblies.

It is understood six schools, including Park View Academy, have been placed in special measures after inspectors found worrying evidence of religious interference in the classroom.

According to The Sunday Times, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, will claim next week that children in Birmingham are being denied a “rounded education” to prepare them for life as British citizens.

The Ofsted boss is expected to warn the education secretary Michael Gove that his inspectors have found evidence of some governing bodies being dominated by individuals intent on changing the character of schools.

At Park View Academy, inspectors are understood to have found evidence of segregation of pupils and the omission of parts of GCSE syllabuses that were considered “un-Islamic”.

However, Tahir Alam, chairman of governors at Park View and a governor at several of the other schools under investigation, has described the inquiry as a “witch-hunt”.

Only two of the 21 schools are thought to have been given positive feedback.

According to a source at the Department for Education, some of the schools will be asked to attend training programmes designed to combat the problems.

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, criticised what he described as “a worrying pattern of religious interference by governors, attempted hijacking of appointments, syllabus restrictions and cultural conformity”.

America and India

by coldwarrior ( 3 Comments › )
Filed under Economy, India, Military, Politics, Special Report at May 26th, 2014 - 11:55 am

There is now a real chance for closer ties that would benefit both countries.  The victory of Hindu National Party and elevation of its leader Narendra Modi to Prime Minister signals a sea change in Indian politics, defense, and economics. The voters in India have forcefully rejected the socialist/collectivist old ways of the Congress Party and have demanded reforms and new ways. Capitalism and Nationalism are the order of the day.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj—the troika who will implement Mr. Modi’s strategic vision — will be seeing lots of the world, but it is unlikely to be fun.

East Asian states like Japan and Vietnam, alarmed by the rise of China and an apparent decline in United States’ power, want to lock India into closer military partnership. Islamist insurgencies and Saudi Arabia-Iran tensions have made West Asia, the source of the fuel India’s economy lives on, dangerously fragile. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is buffeted by civil-military tensions, and, in some areas, collapsing central authority.

Ms. Swaraj will have to negotiate this maze of regional crisis — knowing all of them could directly hurt India’s overarching strategic goal, high economic growth.

Teeth for war machine

The unprecedented decision to give Mr. Jaitley charge of Defence in addition to Finance suggests that Mr. Modi believes these challenges can’t be dealt with unless India has military teeth. Mr. Jaitley will face immediate calls from defence services for injections of cash. The 2014-2015 interim budget allocated the armed forces Rs. 2.24 billion, but just Rs. 895.88 of that is available for capital expenditure—leaving the forces’ acquisition programme floundering.

 

In the long run, I believe that India will fare better than China. India is where we need to be to counter the Chinese. A US-India alliance is the most obvious of goals.

A window of opportunity

Geo-strategically, some of the big issues that confront the United States today, China, Pakistan, and the shaping of the post-2014 transition in Afghanistan, all happen to be in India’s periphery. A more rapid expansion of India’s economy can accelerate the creation of a common economic space in South Asia

India’s weak economic performance, the 2008 financial crisis and the economic downturn in the United States have all diminished the India-U.S. relationship in recent years, after the two countries had come a long way together since the 1950s. When I arrived in Philadelphia in early April, Prof. Surjit Mansingh — once an Indian Foreign Service officer and now teaching at the American University — ruefully said, “Nothing can be expected from a U.S. government that has relegated South Asia, India included, to the strategic unimportance it had during the Cold War.” While the two governments remained somewhat somnambulant, business and industry leaders and the Indian-American community, the other drivers of the relationship, became dormant too. Extricating it from the depth it has sunk will be no easy task.

Consonance of interests

Post-election, there has been a visible change in the outlook of experts on India within think tanks, universities and the beltway in Washington DC. There is a sense that India’s destiny depends not just on economic progress; it also needs governance that has a social vocation, public institutions that are accountable, and a society that is tolerant and secular. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statements, they hope he might turn out to be different from how he has been portrayed by the Opposition. They believe it is time to re-engage with an India that is energised, self-confident, and which will grow faster under a new government.

On his part, Mr. Modi has set aside the personal affront of his visa blacklisting. Declaring that national interest is higher than individuals, he has committed himself to work for improved India-U.S. ties. He fought the election on an agenda of development, for which India needs markets, investments and technology. For India, the U.S. remains the prime source of all three.

Geo-strategically, some of the big issues that confront the U.S. today, China, Pakistan, and the shaping of the post-2014 transition in Afghanistan, all happen to be in India’s periphery. A more rapid expansion of India’s economy can accelerate the creation of a common economic space in South Asia. Such an India can better contribute to the design of the currently absent security architecture in Asia and the Indo-Pacific. India’s contribution to stabilising the subcontinent, underwriting its integration and development through its own growth, and investment in building regional infrastructure and connectivity, as also India’s growing role in protecting maritime routes in the Indian Ocean, all benefit the U.S too.

Defence preparedness

Besides the economy, India’s focus externally will be on improving relations with the contiguous countries, including China. Given our experience since Independence, this also requires better defence preparedness, for which the relationship with the U.S. will be critical in the years ahead.

So far, India’s major military platforms, including some still being developed, have come from Russia. The two countries have enjoyed a special relationship for several decades and this must be preserved and nurtured. The inept U.S. handling of its ties with Russia has cemented Sino-Russian strategic relations in a way that India’s preferential customer status of Russian defence supplies is now imperilled. India might not be able to rely indefinitely on exclusive or favoured treatment from Russia vis-à-vis China.

During his just concluded visit to Beijing, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia-China relations were “at the highest level in history.” The Skovorodino-Mohe pipeline project worth over $60 billion in investment, and nearly half a trillion dollars in overall value over three decades, is about to roll. In his phone-in-interview on April 17, available on his website, President Putin said Russia and China are neighbours and “allies,” and that, with China, Russia has “never had such trust based relations in the military industry.” Earlier, this year, Kommersant, a Moscow trade paper reported that Mr. Putin had given his assent for a deal to sell China — over the objections of his general staff — the state-of-the-art S-400 missile system, capable of shooting down all “enemy aerial targets that are known today.” Talks are at an advanced stage for sale of Su-35 fighter aircraft to China. Meanwhile, Russia itself is buying higher quality military platforms, such as the Mistral helicopter carriers from France.

India might, therefore, need to diversify its defence procurement further. On offer from the U.S, among other equipment, is the ‘Javelin,’ said to be among the best available crew fired anti-tank weaponry, as also the co-development and manufacture of the next generation of such missiles, long-range surface-to-air missiles, and the next generation naval gun. An even more pressing need for India is to raise the level of technology domestication in the defence industry, for which a tweaking of the offset policy and increasing the cap on foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence to nurture joint ventures might lead to a breakthrough in an area that have confounded India’s efforts at indigenisation so far.

Another area where constructive India-U.S. ties will have a positive impact is on India’s other external relationships. Until 15 years ago, India-U.S. exchanges were confined largely to bilateral issues. When on the Americas Desk in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) between 2001 and 2004, I saw the start of multiple India-U.S. dialogues, on East Asia, the rise of China, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Indonesia, the situation in the Gulf and the Middle East, and a range of multilateral and global issues. Other great powers quickly took notice and followed suit by pursuing similar conversations.

As the India-U.S. relationship gathered momentum, and an accord with the U.S. on peaceful uses of nuclear energy began taking shape, not perhaps as a consequence of but certainly as a sequel to it — there has been a spate of small successes in India’s interactions internationally. A case in point is the agreement with China in 2005 on the “Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question.” It was arguably the sole, significant success of the 17th round of talks of the Special Representatives negotiating the India-China boundary. This came when India’s global importance was at a high point, with flourishing relations with Russia, the U.S., the European Union, key European countries, and the start of warming relations with Japan. That traction in India’s external engagement was lost concurrently with India-U.S. relations losing steam, especially over the past five years.

The instruments of revival

For a revival in relations, the onus is on the U.S. side. The challenge would be how to do it. Mr. Modi has had the least contact with U.S. leaders, compared to those of Russia, China and Japan, and not of his own volition. U.S President Barack Obama has reached out to Mr. Modi by doing what other world leaders have done, but that is not enough.

The right mechanics must be harnessed in cranking up a cold motor — for starters, a new U.S. Ambassador in New Delhi. It appears that the eminent personalities who have been sounded out, such as the U.S. Exim Bank chairman/president, Fred Hochberg, do not want it with a lame duck presidency behind them. As of now, there is more than an even chance that in the coming Congressional elections, the Republicans will gain a narrow majority in the Senate, foreclosing presidential initiatives that do not have bipartisan support.

India’s well-wishers in Washington DC are urging the President to send out an envoy soon to confer with India’s new leadership. The obvious choice for this, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, might not find enthusiastic resonance in New Delhi. Bill Burns, the Deputy Secretary of State, is leaving at the end of summer. A more inspired choice, some have suggested, might be Vice-President Biden, who knows India better than President Obama does. That might also indicate that the White House is taking back the India account from the State Department.

On India’s side, the most categorical step to revive its global standing, including with the U.S., would be to get the engine of the Indian economy roaring again. In today’s world, economic heft is the booster rocket of foreign policy.

In discussions in New Delhi, both in South Block and outside, there is often a debate on whether the India-U.S. story should be strategic or transactional. When times are difficult, there is nothing wrong with a give-and-take approach, a prudent and practical engagement that looks at the relative costs and benefits and eschews normative arguments. The congruence of interests of India and the U.S. is self-evident. So also is the current hiatus in the relationship. There is a window of opportunity to resuscitate it now.

(Jayant Prasad is a former diplomat and currently a visiting scholar at the Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania.)