The Movie Lagaan and British Colonization

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

I recently had the pleasure of watching my first Bollywood movie, a title called Lagaan: Once upon a time in India. The movie’s plot was fairly conventional yet unconventional at the same time. India is straining under the rule of the evil British Empire. A rebellious young man with striking green eyes attempts to defy the British. How? By beating them in a cricket match! The local village quickly forms a cricket team, the British team is defeated, and the local village’s crushing tax burden is reduced for the next several years.

There were some fairly interesting things about this movie (with respect to politics). The movie, for all its dislike of the evil British Empire, still seemed to have some yearning that the British respect India. Perhaps the most obvious example of this occurred when the main British generals praised the skill of the Indian cricket team.

The movie also had a strong message about equality of castes, an issue that continues to plague India. The main character adds an untouchable onto his team for the untouchable’s skill at throwing the ball, despite the very strong resistance of the rest of the team. Unfortunately, the untouchable (Kachra) didn’t seem to play that well. Somehow, despite his skill at throwing the ball the British were able to always hit it; also at the end of the movie, he apparently failed to hit the ball when a lot was riding on his ability to do so. (A note of caution: apparently Wikipedia says that he was more of a service to the team than my recollection of the movie).

In any case, it seemed that despite the movie’s vocal advocacy of equality of castes, the person of lowest caste was still treated somewhat poorly. This is especially true given that an upper-caste person advocates for Kachra; why didn’t the untouchable advocate for himself? Or why wasn’t Kachra a main character rather than a mere side character? One guesses that having an untouchable as a protagonist in a Bollywood movie would be like having an Asian as a protagonist in a Hollywood movie; unheard of!

It was also interesting to see the United Kingdom portrayed as the bad guys. Most Americans are used to seeing the British as those tea-drinking people with funny accents. A lot of the scenes in which the British generals abuse the Indian farmers in Lagaan are not meant to be humorous. But for me, at least, (with the influence of American culture) it was sometimes hard to fully square the fact that British people with their funny accents could be evil. I say this with lightheartedness, but it does reflect the strength of American perceptions of the United Kingdom.

Nevertheless, there was one fact that did bother me: seeing the British flag fly over places where it definitely should not have been flying. To see a battalion of soldiers march into an Indian village, proudly flying the British flag, was quite disconcerting. So was seeing a British general with no knowledge of India talk proudly of India being Britain’s. What in the world was Great Britain doing there? How did what was happening in India have anything to do with Great Britain? To have the British flag over so many places where it had no business being seemed quite unnatural. It brought home the fact that Great Britain should not have ruled over so many peoples that it had no connection to nor empathy with.

 

 

The BRIC Fallacy

China is a place with massive regional inequality. A recent feature by The Economist magazine, titled Comparing Chinese Provinces With Countries, found a stark divide between the rich coast and the poor hinderland. Some of my previous obervations about that feature can be found here. In Shanghai and Beijing GDP per person is over $20,000 (as of 2010) - roughly equivalent to a high middle-income country.

In rural Guizhou GDP per person is almost seven times lower. Guizhou is the poorest province in China. It is the part of China the media does not visit and that China tries its best to hide. There are no skyscrapers in the rural parts of Guizhou, just decrepit stone houses dating back to the Maoist era (or earlier).

But there is something else very interesting about Guizhou: as of 2010 its GDP per person was almost exactly equal to GDP per person in India. That is, a person living in the poorest part of China is about as well off as the typical Indian. This fact says something about the constant comparisons between China and India – China is generally far ahead.

Let’s take a look at Brazil. Brazil is a typical Third World country, in the view of many Westerners. Surprisingly, while Brazil is infamous for its massive inequality, its regional inequality is not as great as that of China’s. Nevertheless, there are still vast differences of regional wealth in Brazil. As of 2008 GDP per person in the rich Distrito Federal (of Brasilia) was $25,000; in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro the high incomes of its wealthy elite raise the number to a respectable number as well.

In contrast, almost everybody is poor in the northern coastal parts of Brazil, populated by the descendants of plantation slaves. In the northern state of Alagoas GDP per person is a mere fraction of that in the capital. Alagoas is the third-poorest state in Brazil. It is characterized by a juxtaposition of beautiful beaches and violent gangs. Favelas of ill-built wooden structures dot Alagoas.

There is something very interesting about Alagoas as well: as of 2008, its GDP per person was almost exactly equal to GDP per person in China. A person living in the third-poorest province of Brazil is about as well off as the typical Chinese. So much for the Chinese dragon; the typical Brazilian is far better off than the typical Chinese. And let’s not even start comparing Brazil to India.

These comparisons put a stake through the heart of the BRIC acronym: the concept that Brazil, Russia, India, and China have much in common other than their high economic growth rates. And even the assertion that all four BRIC countries are growing at high economic rates is questionable; Russia certainly isn’t right now.

Indeed, the differences between the richest member of the BRICs (Russia) and the poorest member (India) are stunning. Just look at the map at the beginning of this post; almost everybody is literate in Russia, while literacy rates in India are comparable to those in Sudan and Nigeria.

Or think about hunger. Hundreds of millions of people in India are not getting enough food to eat; India has the highest number of malnourished people in the world. In Russia, on the other hand, everybody gets enough to eat. The last time large numbers of Russians didn’t get enough food was more than half a century ago, which had something to do with a man named Hitler. Check out the difference between google results for Russian malnutrition and Indian malnutrition.

All in all, the differences between living standards and relative global power of the BRIC countries are vast. One could say that the United States and Russia have more in common than Russia and India, with respect to living standards (or many other things, in fact). BRIC is a fallacy.

--inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

 

Reforming the U.N. Security Council?

By: Inoljt,  http://mypolitikal.com/

The United States has permanent membership in the Security Council along with the China, France, Russia, and United Kingdom. Each of these countries may veto any resolution they desire to.

There have been occasional calls to reform the Security Council. The most discussed option has been adding Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan as permanent members.

Let’s take a look at each of the current Security Council members:

China – China has the world’s second-largest economy and – probably – the world’s third most powerful military. Its relative influence, however, is still limited. China today is far more of a great power than it was in 1945 (indeed, in 1945 it probably didn’t deserve to be labeled a great power). Moreover, China is indisputably becoming stronger.

France – France has the world’s fifth largest economy and a very modern and powerful military, probably in the world’s top five. On the other hand, its influence is somewhat limited outside the former French Empire. Compared with 1945, France is substantially less of a great power, having lost its empire and fallen under the American umbrella. Indeed, like most of Europe it has been in relative decline ever since 1918 and looks set to continue to decline in relative terms. This is because the Third World is slowly catching up to the First World, rather than any fault of France itself.

Russia – Russia has the smallest economy of the five, barely (or not at all) breaking into the world’s top ten biggest economies. However, Russia’s military is unquestionably the world’s second strongest, and it dominates the region it is located in. Russia fell into steep decline after the fall of the Soviet Union, when it was on par with the United States, and has only recently begun to recover.

United Kingdom – The United Kingdom has much in common with France. Its economy is the world’s sixth largest, and its military is probably in the world’s top five. Nowadays, the United Kingdom’s influence is more cultural than anything else; it neither dominates Europe or the former British Empire. Out of all the powers, the United Kingdom has declined the most since 1945 – losing both its empire and economic preeminence.

United States – The United States has the world’s largest economy and most powerful military. It strongly influences the entire world. It is more powerful than in 1945, with the fall of its great rival the Soviet Union.

All in all the United States, Russia, and China (going in order of their great power strength) definitely ought to be in the Security Council. The case is more questionable for France and the United Kingdom. Europe is still a very powerful entity in the world and should have a permanent member in the Security Council. But having two members in the Security Council – as is currently the case – certainly overstates its status.

The trouble is that by themselves, France or the United Kingdom aren’t powerful enough to have one seat. Nor is the European Union influential or coherent enough to deserve a seat. Under an ideal situation, one-third of a seat each would go to France and the United Kingdom, with the other third going to Germany. This, of course, wouldn’t be feasible in the real world.

Finally, let’s take a look at the countries which some propose adding as permanent members:

Brazil – Brazil has the world’s seventh or eighth largest economy, which is why people propose adding it. However, Brazil has no substantial military presence to speak of. Its influence is limited to Latin America (where the United States is probably more influential). While Brazil has become relatively more powerful since 1945, it is still not in the category of great power status.

Germany – Germany probably has the strongest claim to being added to the permanent Security Council. Germany’s economy is the world’s 4th largest (bigger than the United Kingdom or France), but its military is still quite weak due to the restrictions imposed upon it after World War II. Germany is generally seen as Europe’s first-among-equals; it is Germany, not France or the United Kingdom, which is coordinating the response to the European Union debt crisis. Germany has thus definitely become more powerful after rising from the ashes of 1945.

India – India is similar to Brazil in many respects, except weaker. It has the world’s tenth or eleventh biggest economy. Like Brazil, its military is essentially nonexistent. It has very little influence even in its neighborhood. India has certainly strengthened since 1945, when it was under foreign rule. However, it definitely is not yet a great power. One could make a stronger case for adding Italy or Canada to the permanent Security Council than India (or Brazil, for that matter).

Japan – Japan is a unique case. Its economy is the world’s third largest, which seems to say that Japan ought to be included in the permanent Security Council. Japan’s military, however, is extraordinarily weak. Furthermore, Japan has no regional influence; it is regarded negatively by its neighbors for its crimes in World War II. Indeed, Japan has been bullied quite recently both by Russia and China over disputed islands, with Russia and China getting the better of it each time. While Japan has advanced economically since 1945, its regional influence is still lower. Before World War II, for instance, Japan occupied Korea and much of China as a colony; this would be impossible today.

Out of these four countries, probably only Germany truly ought to be in the permanent Security Council. Brazil and India are still middle powers. Japan, while economically strong, lacks the other qualifications that go along with Great Power status.

Indeed, none of these countries have been able to exert their strength in ways the Security Council Five have in the past decade. The United States invaded and occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, countries half around the world. Russia invaded Georgia. The United Kingdom and France are currently bombing Libya. Perhaps only Germany – and even this is fairly uncertain – can do something similar today.

The world has changed a lot since 1945, but it has also changed a lot less than many believe. The five great powers in 1945 still are, by and large, the five great powers in 2010.

 

 

Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Portugal Seeks Relief for Its Troubled Banks. The caretaker government of Socialist Prime Minister José Socrates announced he was asking for financing from the European Union on Wednesday, saying the risks to the economy had now become too great to go it alone as borrowing rates soared in recent weeks. More from Reuters.

China Levels Charges Against Dissident. Ai Weiwei, best known for designing the 'Bird's Nest' stadium for the 2008 Olympics, has been charged with "economic crimes" by Chinese authorities. The 53 year old artist was seized by border police Sunday at the Beijing airport as he prepared to board a flight to Hong Kong. He is the latest dissident detained in a series of arrests that began in February. Other high-profile dissidents held by Chinese authorities include Noble Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo and blind activist Chen Guangcheng. More from the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has called upon Beijing to ease its crackdown against political dissidents. Speaking on Sino-US ties at a function held in Shanghai Wednesday, Huntsman said there was room for improvement in bilateral diplomatic ties. He said US envoys to Beijing would continue to speak out publicly in support of dissidents activists Ai Weiwei and others. More on this side of the story from RTT News.

French Forces in Côte d'Ivoire Fighting. French forces hit military vehicles belonging to troops loyal to strongman Laurent Gbagbo during a helicopter-borne mission that rescued Japan's ambassador to the West African country today after Gbagbo's soldiers broke into the residence of Ambassador Yoshifumi Okamura. The full story in The Independent.

India Opens Talks with Japan. India and Japan today started an economic-strategic talks that promises to have important strategic ramifications regarding balancing China. More from The Times of India.

China's Bubble Economy. The Asia Sentinel examines the Chinese economy warning that an inevitable slowdown will affect the entire world – from commodity producers to governments issuing debt. The ramifications of a meaningful slowdown in Chinese economic activity are profound, ranging from the risk of widespread social instability to a collapse of several commodity markets.

Bank of England Holds Rate Steady. The Bank of England kept its benchmark interest rate at 0.5 percent, a record low for the 26th consecutive month, as policy makers judged the need to aid the recovery took precedence over the fastest inflation in more than two years. More from Bloomberg News.

Weekly Mulch: With D.C. in GOP Hands, Environmentalists Must ‘Fight Harder’

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

For the environmental community, this coming year offers a chance to regroup, rethink and regrow. Two years ago, it seemed possible that politicians would make progress on climate change issues—that a Democratic Congress would pass a cap-and-trade bill, that a Democratic president would lead the international community toward agreement on emissions standards. And so for two years environmentalists cultivated plans that ultimately came to naught.

What comes next? What comes now? It’s clear that looking to Washington for environmental leadership is futile. But looking elsewhere might lead to more fertile ground.

Our new leaders

On Wednesday, the 112th Congress began, and Republicans took over the House. They are not going to tackle environmental legislation. This past election launched a host of climate deniers into office, and even members of Congress inclined to more reasonable environmental views, like Rep. Fred Upton, now chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, have tacked towards the right. Whereas once Upton recognized the need for action on climate change and reducing carbon emissions, recently he has been pushing back against the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending carbon regulations and questioning whether carbon emissions are a problem at all.

“It’s worth remembering that Upton was once considered among the most moderate members of the GOP on the issue,” writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. “No longer.”

Good riddance

The climate bill is really, truly, dead, and it’s not coming back. But as Dave Roberts and Thomas Pitilli illustrate in Grist’s graphic account of the bill’s demise recalls, by the time it reached the Senate, the bill was already riddled with compromises.

And so perhaps it’s not such bad news that there’s space now to rethink how progressives should approach environmental and energy issues.

“It’s refreshing to shake the Etch-a-Sketch. You get to draw a new picture. The energy debate needs a new picture,” policy analyst Jason Grumet said last month, as Grist reports.

Already, in The Washington Monthly, Jeffrey Leonard, the CEO of the Global Environmental Fund, is pitching an idea that played no part in the discussions of the past two years. He writes:

If President Obama wants to set us on a path to a sustainable energy future—and a green one, too—he should propose a very simple solution to the current mess: eliminate all energy subsidies. Yes, eliminate them all—for oil, coal, gas, nuclear, ethanol, even for wind and solar. … Because wind, solar, and other green energy sources get only the tiniest sliver of the overall subsidy pie, they’ll have a competitive advantage in the long term if all subsidies, including the huge ones for fossil fuels, are eliminated.

No impact? No sweat

Federal policies aren’t the only part of the picture that can be re-drawn. Even as Congress failed to act on climate change, an ever-increasing number of Americans decided to make changes to decrease their impact on the environment.

Colin Beavan committed more dramatically than most: his No Impact Man project required that he switch to a zero-waste life style. This year, he partnered with Yes! Magazine for No Impact Week, which asks participants to engage in an 8-day “carbon cleanse,” in which they try out low-impact living. Yes! is publishing the chronicles of participants’ ups and downs with the experiment: Deb Seymour found it empowering to give up her right to shop; Grace Porter missed her bus stop and had to walk two miles to school; Aran Seaman found a local site where he could compost food scraps.

The long view

Perhaps, for some of the participants, No Impact Week will continue on after eight days. After Seaman participated last year, he gave up his car in favor of biking and public transportation.

On the surface, giving up a convenience like that can seem like a sacrifice. But it needn’t be. Janisse Ray writes in Orion Magazine about her decision to give up plane travel for environmental reasons. Instead, she now travels long distances by train, and that comes with its own pleasures:

Through the long night the train rocks down the rails, stopping in Charleston, Rocky Mount, Richmond, and other marvelous southern places. People get on and off. Across the aisle a woman is traveling with two children I learn are her son, aged twelve, and her granddaughter, ten months. In South Carolina we pick up a woman come from burying her father. He had wanted to go home, she says. She drinks periodically from a small bottle of wine buried in the pocket of her black overcoat. The train is not crowded, and I have two seats to myself.

Our true leaders

Ultimately, though, sweeping environmental changes will require leadership and societal changes. American politicians may have abdicated that responsibility for now, but others are still fighting. In In These Times, Robert Hirschfield writes of Subhas Dutta, who’s building a green movement in India.

“The environmental issue is the issue of today. The political parties, all of them, have let us down,” Dutta says. “We want to be part of the decision-making process on the state and national levels. The struggle for the environment has to be fought politically.”

One person who understood that was Judy Bonds, the anti-mountaintop removal mining activist, who died this week of cancer. Grist, Change.org, and Mother Jones all have remembrances; at Change.org, Phil Aroneanu shared “a beautiful elegy to Judy from her friend and colleague Vernon Haltom:”

I can’t count the number of times someone told me they got involved because they heard Judy speak, either at their university, at a rally, or in a documentary.  Years ago she envisioned a “thousand hillbilly march” in Washington, DC.  In 2010, that dream became a reality as thousands marched on the White House for Appalachia Rising….While we grieve, let’s remember what she said, “Fight harder.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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