CONCLUDING PART: The Federal Reserve Bank. America's privately-owned central bank

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By rahnuma ahmed


It is not only the American corporate media which keeps the lid on the Federal Reserve System — since, contrary to what most ?Americans believe, it is `not federal’, has `no reserve’, is `not even a bank’ but actually a banking cartel which serves and furthers the interests of the wealthiest men in the world ? American universities too play their role. As Stephen Lendman points out, his MBA curriculum 46 years ago, had `left out the most important parts of the story and never hinted at anything sinister about how the banking system works in fact’ (The Federal Reserve, Z Magazine, June 29, 2006).

A similar situation seemingly prevails in the UK, for, when I asked a relative who teaches business and finance at a British university about who owns the Bank of England, I was told, its nationalised. Its a public organisation wholly-owned by the government. ?Corroborating the official storyline secured in place by the powers-that-be, reflected in the Bank’s website: ?’As a public organisation, wholly-owned by Government, and with a significant public policy role, the Bank is accountable to Parliament.’
But this account ? unfailingly subscribed to by most Brits, `You ask the question, Who Owns The Bank Of England? to one thousand Britons, and I kid you not, all of them will say that it is owned by the Government’ (The Tap Blog, February 27, 2010) ? glosses over actualities. For instance, the setting up of? a wholly owned subsidiary called Bank of Nominees Limited (BOEN), a private limited company, by the Bank of England in 1977, which was granted an exemption from disclosing its shareholders. ‘It was considered undesirable that the disclosure requirements should apply to certain categories of shareholders.’ This exemption is separate to the fact that the Bank of England is also protected by its Royal Charter status, and the Official Secrets Act. To put it briefly, members of the British public are ‘not allowed to know who the shareholders are who own the company which carries out Central Banking in the UK.’ Continue reading “CONCLUDING PART: The Federal Reserve Bank. America's privately-owned central bank”

A Struggle From Dawn to Dusk

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By?ANDREA RICE

Photographs by Taslima Akhter


Lens - Photography, Video, and Visual Journalism

The garment industry is one of the?largest industrial sectors in Bangladesh. It accounts for a good portion of the country?s exports and employs more than three million workers. Most of them are women.
?Workers toil from dawn to dusk on minimum wage,? said?Taslima Akhter, a Bangladeshi photographer who has spent more than four years capturing the workers? movement for ?The Life and Struggle of Garment Workers.?
Ms. Akhter, 37, was compelled to bring to light some of the industry?s darker aspects, like dangerous working conditions and low salaries. As an activist, a photographer and a resident of Bangladesh, she sees the ongoing project as both a personal agenda and a civic duty.
Ms. Akhter said she believed that the struggle of garment workers ? particularly women ? was one of the country?s most pressing issues. A transition to democracy in Bangladesh would raise questions about women?s rights, she said, expressing hope that her project could help speed the country toward that goal? ? and inspire the workers to make their own voices be heard.
In 2006, garment workers in Bangladesh made less than $25 per month, Ms. Akhter said. Following a tremendous protest in 2010, their wages increased to just under $45 monthly ? still not a living wage.
That strike ? and the number of women who participated ? drove Ms. Akhter to continue her work on the project, most of which she photographed in and around her hometown, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. (Outside Dhaka, she shot in Gazipur, to the north, and Narayanganj, to the east.) Ms. Akhter studied photojournalism at the?Pathshala South Asian Media Academy in Dhaka in 2007. She completed a master?s degree in philosophy from theUniversity of Dhaka. She just completed a six-week course on photography and human rights at New York University?s?Tisch School of the Arts as part of a?Magnum Foundation scholarship she was awarded in 2010.

Magnum Foundation Interview

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Conversation between Shehab Uddin and Shahidul Alam


Champa with her son Ridoy, running to meet me. At first, she was very reluctant but soon she became quite willing, to pose in front of the camera. To trust or distrust some one is a matter of whimsy for her like others pavements dwellers. 2008, Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Shehab Uddin/Drik/Majority World

UDDIN: I’m a freelance photographer in Bangladesh and I first met Shahidul in 1998. At that time I was in my hometown in Khulna. Shahidul, who also moved to Bangladesh a few years earlier was organizing all the photographers here. So it was a great moment for me to meet him.

After that, I came to Dhaka in 1990 and I joined a newspaper here. In 2005 I decided that work in the newspaper was not right for me, and I had the opportunity to join Drik and work directly with Shahidul. So I took the opportunity and worked there as a photographer. It was really a milestone, and a breakthrough for me.
ALAM: The agency [Drik] was set up primarily because we were very concerned that countries like Bangladesh, which some have called “third-world countries” and we choose to call “majority-world countries,” have been portrayed almost invariably through a very narrow lens. It worries me that Bangladesh has become in the eyes of many, an icon of poverty. The reality is something we cannot ignore. Shehab shows it through his work and I have no intention of wallpapering over the problems we have. What I do have a serious problem with is when people are denied their humanity and become icons of poverty; they become lesser human beings.
The agency was set up because we wanted to tell stories that got across the richness and the diversity of people’s lives and we realized the story had to be told by people who had empathy for the subject. So it was a platform for local practitioners. And that’s the birth of Drik. But when we started, we realized that a lot of the photography infrastructure a Western agency has acess to, was not available to us. So we started creating some of that infrastructure here. Later on we also began developing educational structures that could foster new talents. We are one of the few agencies in the world that has two galleries of its own, runs a school of photography, and runs its own photography festival; I do not know of a single other agency in the world that does anything of this type. But all of that is really part and parcel of Drik’s photography-philosophy–in telling rich and diverse stories without compromising the subject’s humanity–we just had to create a whole space for ourselves. And now we are telling our own stories.
Continue reading “Magnum Foundation Interview”

New humility for the hegemon

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India and its near-abroad

Too slowly, India is realising that poor relations with its South Asian neighbours hold back its global ambitions

Jul 30th 2011 | from the print edition of the Economist

NO ONE loves a huge neighbour. For all that, India?s relations with the countries that ring it are abysmal. Of the eight with which it shares a land or maritime boundary, only two can be said to be happy with India: tiny Maldives, where India has the only foreign embassy and dispenses much largesse, and Bhutan, which has a policy of being happy about everything. Among its other South Asian neighbours, the world?s biggest democracy is incredible mainly because of its amazing ability to generate wariness and resentment.
Until recently it operated a shoot-to-kill policy towards migrant workers and cattle rustlers along its long border with Bangladesh. Over the years it has meddled madly in Nepal?s internal affairs. In Myanmar India snuggles up to the country?s thuggish dictators, leaving the beleaguered opposition to wonder what happened to India?s championing of democracy. Relations with Sri Lanka are conflicted. It treats China with more respect, but feuds with it about its border.
As for Pakistan, relations are defined by their animosity. One former Indian diplomat likened reconciling the two nuclear-tipped powers to treating two patients whose only disease is an allergy to each other. The observation underscores the fact that it takes two to have bad relations, and to be fair to India plenty of problems press in on it?many of them with their roots in India?s bloody partition in 1947. Pakistan has used a long-running territorial dispute over Kashmir as a reason to launch wars. It also exports terrorism to India, sometimes with the connivance of parts of the Pakistani state. India thinks Bangladesh also harbours India-hating terrorists.
With the notable exception of India?s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who has heroically persisted in dialogue with Pakistan in the face of provocations and domestic resistance, India?s dealings with its neighbours are mostly driven by arrogance and neglect. It has shared shockingly little of its economic dynamism and new-found prosperity with those around it. Just 5% of South Asia?s trade is within the region.

Too little and too late, the neglect is starting to be replaced by engagement (see?article). This week Sonia Gandhi, dynastic leader of India?s ruling Congress Party, visited Bangladesh?a first. And on July 27th India?s foreign minister hosted his Pakistani counterpart, the first such meeting in a year. He promised a ?comprehensive, serious and sustained? dialogue.
A new regional engagement is prodded by two things. China?s rapid and increasingly assertive rise challenges India?s own regional dominance. As a foundation for its rise, China pursued a vigorous ?smile diplomacy? towards its neighbours that stands in contrast to slothful Indian energies. The smile has sometimes turned to snarl of late (see?Banyan). Even so, China?s engagement with its neighbours has allowed it both to prosper and to spread influence.

 interactive map displays the various territorial claims of India, Pakistan and China from each country’s perspective

Second, dynamic India can hardly soar globally while mired in its own backyard. Promoting regional prosperity is surely the best way to persuade neighbours that its own rise is more of an opportunity than a threat. Yet India lacks any kind of vision. A region-wide energy market using northern neighbours? hydropower would transform South Asian economies. Vision, too, could go a long way to restoring ties that history has cut asunder, such as those between Karachi and Mumbai, once sister commercial cities but now as good as on different planets; and Kolkata and its huge former hinterland in Bangladesh. Without development and deeper integration, other resentments will be hard to soothe. It falls on the huge unloved neighbour to make the running.
BBC Documentary on Sino-Indian Rivalry and Bangladesh


http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/worldservice/docarchive/docarchive_20100630-1227a.mp3

ConocoPhillips Oil Spill

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As government faces increasing criticism over its controversial deal with ConnocoPhillips and pressure mounts to force the government to reveal the contract, an oil spill in China lends weight to the protesters claims that the company has a poor safety record.

ConocoPhillips Halts Oil Operations In Bohai Bay, China

ConocoPhillips has been ordered by the Chinese government to halt oil rig operations in Bohai Bay. ??AP

China said Wednesday it had ordered ConocoPhillips to immediately stop operations at several rigs in an area off the nation’s eastern coast polluted by a huge slick.
The 336-square-mile slick emanating from the oil field in Bohai Bay — which ConocoPhillips operates with China’s state-run oil giant CNOOC – has sparked outrage amid allegations of a cover-up.
On Wednesday, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said operations would not be allowed to resume before the source of the spill was fully plugged and “risks eliminated,” as fears over the long-term impact on the environment grow.
“There has been oil seeping continuously into the sea for days from platforms B and C in the Penglai 19-3 oil field and there is still a slick in the surrounding marine areas,” the SOA said in a statement.
“Another spill could happen at any time, which has posed a huge threat to the oceanic ecological environment,” it said, adding it had ordered Houston-based ConocoPhillips to stop operations at those platforms.
Spill ‘Basically Under Control’
CNOOC last week said the spill — which was detected on June 4 but only made public at the beginning of July — was “basically under control” while ConocoPhillips told reporters the leaks had been plugged.
The official China Daily newspaper last week said that dead seaweed and rotting fish could be seen in waters around Nanhuangcheng Island near the site of the slick.
It quoted a local fisheries association official as saying the oil leak would have a “long-term” impact on the environment.
CNOOC has been slammed by state media and green groups over the spill, and it emerged on Tuesday that the firm was cleaning up another slick after a breakdown at a rig off the northeast coast.
The state-run giant said the leak was “minor”.
In a separate incident, a CNOOC refinery in the southern province of Guangdong caught fire Monday but there were no casualties, the company said, adding that the cause of the blaze was still under investigation.
The refinery is located about 25 miles from the Daya Bay nuclear power plant, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

De-energising Bangladesh

by rahnuma ahmed

In the end, treachery will betray even itself.
Roman proverb
When the prime minister, the finance minister etc., not known for being democratically-oriented, feel obliged to respond publicly according to the terms and conditions set by the National Oil-Gas Committee, it is clear that the tide is shifting.
It is clear that? the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports (NCPOGMR) has made a significant impact on public consciousness. That there is a growing national awareness of the issue of ownership of natural resources; of the terms on which production sharing contracts are signed with international oil companies (IOCs); a growing suspicion that exporting extracted gas may not be the best way of solving the nation’s energy shortfall. More precisely, of the hollowness of the government’s reasoning as to why gas blocks need to be, must necessarily be, leased out to multinational companies.? More broadly, of whether the nation’s ruling class, regardless of which political party is in power, does act in the interests of the nation, of its people.
It is clear from what top ruling party leaders are now obliged to say, to repeatedly say, we are patriotic, we are not treacherous, that they have been forced to cede ground.
It is clear that a moral battle has been won.
Continue reading “De-energising Bangladesh”

Majority World Agency poised for lift off

London, 16th March 2011.

MAJORITY WORLD?, the socially responsible image agency, announces major expansion plan at ?Responsible Business?, Business Design Centre, London, 17-18 March 2011 Inspiring images, responsibly sourced MAJORITY WORLD? is a picture agency with a difference. It promotes the work of talented local photographers in the majority world ? Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East – enabling them to gain a fairer share of the global image market. Their work is often overlooked through inadequate access to global markets, or when organisations fly in western photographers for assignments rather than choosing to use and nurture local talent. It will also increasingly reveal the unique insider perspective that comes from local photographers? images and stories. Hence its wider mission to ?open doors and open minds?. MAJORITY WORLD? is pleased to announce that it has secured vital new start up investment from Stichting DOEN in the Netherlands as well as from two of its founder directors. As a result of this vote of confidence, MAJORITY WORLD? can now embark on its ambitious expansion plan. A new full time team will provide the expertise and dynamism needed to boost revenue growth, which in turn translates directly into increasing flows of commission funds into majority world economies. MAJORITY WORLD? is registered in the UK as a Community Interest Company. Talking of its socially responsible brand, Ben Marshall, Creative Director, Landor Associates, worldwide branding & design consultants confirms, ?The global potential of the MAJORITY WORLD? brand is massive.? Dr. Colin Hastings, Co-founder of MAJORITY WORLD?, speaks of the opportunities the organisation?s new investment can realise. ?We are much more than a photo library; we are a cause. To date we have been refining and testing our business model and our social impact. Now we can actually make it happen? Dr Shahidul Alam, Co-Founder, Chairman and International Ambassador, will also be speaking at the event on 18th March, 11.00 ? 11.30. The title of his presentation is ?Behaving responsibly towards the developing world: the secrets of successful north/south partnerships?. The MAJORITY WORLD? founders will be at the exhibition to explain their innovative approach which helps photographic entrepreneurs in the majority world to build sustainable businesses whilst creating new added value opportunities for CSR professionals in the minority world. To understand the full picture: ? Visit MAJORITY WORLD? on stand 126 at Responsible Business 2011, Business Design Centre, London, 17 ? 18 March 2011. ? Visit www.majorityworld.com ? For interviews with Shahidul Alam or Colin Hastings, contact Clare Puddifoot +44(0)7876553879. – ENDS – Dr Colin Hastings www.majorityworld.com/ Visit Majority World on stand 126 at Responsible Business 2011 www.responsiblebusinessevent.org/

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the Noblest of them all?

by rahnuma ahmed

I’d thought of writing about the Nobel Laureate’s ouster from Grameen Bank last week, but fever intervened.

Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Muhammad Yunus, right and Grameen Bank represented by Mosammat Taslima Begum hold the Nobel medal and diploma during the award ceremony at Oslo Town Hall Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006. (AP)


Mine has receded, the government’s however, has not. Their’s is prolonged, one that continues. High state and party functionaries have repeatedly spoken of “irregularities” with a feverish zeal as the Bangladesh Bank relieved Dr Muhammad Yunus of his duties as managing director of Grameen Bank.
He had violated the country’s retirement law, they said. Sixty years is the age limit but Yunus was 70. This made him “too old” to be Grameen Bank’s chief, said the finance minister. He should have left ten years ago, said the Bangladesh Bank, instead of staying on “illegally”for an extra ten years.
In a writ filed at the High Court, Yunus’ defence lawyers argued that the Bangladesh Bank’s directive was illegal. No show cause notice had been served, this made his removal “illegal, malafide and arbitrary.” A week later, on 8th March, Dr Yunus lost his High Court appeal when the judge ruled, ?Professor Yunus has been continuing in his job with no legal basis, therefore his petition has been rejected.? ?Neither Yunus nor any of his senior lawyers were present at the court. ?In recent months, the independence of the judiciary has been a matter of grave concern.
Yunus and 9 members of the board of directors have filed an appeal with the Supreme Court challenging the High Court’s order. A full bench hearing is scheduled for March 15. The HC’s decision was “entirely perverse” said Dr Yunus and the members of his board, it was passed without issuing any ruling.
The alignment of local, national and global influentials against, and in support of, Yunus is telling. The prime minister’s son Sajeeb Wajed, in an e-mail sent to international agencies, human rights organisations, US state department officials and prominent persons, wrote: Yunus’ only stature in Bangladesh is that of a “Nobel prize winner,” politically-speaking, he’s a “non-entity.” Accusing the Grameen Bank of “massive financial improprieties,” “tax evasion” and “embezzlement,” Sajeeb reminded us that despite being “criminal” offences, the government has not taken any “punitive” action against Yunus. It’s only concern is to “prevent further abuse of microcredit borrowers.” (dated March 5, 2011).
As I read the e-mail, I mulled, is this not the same prime ministerial offspring against whom allegations of taking a $2 million bribe from Chevron surfaced recently? A deal reportedly brokered by Dr. Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, the prime minister’s energy advisor, a la, also, of WikiLeaks fame? (`People’s resistance to global capital and government collaboration is vindicated,’ WikiLeaks Bangladesh I, New Age, December 27, 2010). ?Did not the news item (December 17, 2010) later land the editor of Amar Desh in jail? At least, that’s the connection made by some.
Bangladesh Chhatra League activists manhandle Grameen Bank staff and stakeholders who were holding a human chain in front of BM College in Barisal, March 11, 2011. Photo: Daily Star


Continue reading “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the Noblest of them all?”

Microcredit Pioneer Faces an Inquiry in Bangladesh

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By Lydia Polgreen

New York Times: January 29, 2011

DHAKA, Bangladesh ? Any other year Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a pioneer of microcredit, would be in Davos, Switzerland, this week. For years he has been celebrated at global gatherings like the World Economic Forum there for helping move millions of impoverished women toward a better life through tiny but transformational loans.

?Muhammad Yunus founded the microfinance institution Grameen Bank 34 years ago. ??Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World/ for The New York Times

Instead, he was in court again on Thursday, facing accusations, considered frivolous by most accounts, that one of his nonprofit companies adulterated vitamin-fortified yogurt. On Jan. 18, he was summoned to a rural courtroom to face charges of defamation lodged by a local politician.
Microcredit, the idea that Mr. Yunus popularized as a path out of penury for those long excluded from the banking system, has increasingly come under scrutiny. Scholars have cast doubt on its effectiveness in fighting poverty, and politicians and other critics accuse microfinanciers, many of whom, unlike Mr. Yunus, profit from the loans, of getting rich off the poor.
Now, the government of Bangladesh has ordered a wide-ranging inquiry into the microfinance institution he founded 34 years ago, Grameen Bank, after a Norwegian documentary accused him of mishandling donors? money. Norway?s government has said no money was misused. Still, Mr. Yunus?s troubles will deepen what has become a global crisis in microfinance that threatens to undermine the very concept ? small loans to poor people without collateral ? on which his reputation rests.
Long accustomed to adulation at home and abroad, suddenly, at 70, Mr. Yunus, Bangladesh?s best-known citizen, finds himself very much on the defensive. In an interview at his office here, Mr. Yunus seemed stunned and deeply stung.
?There is some kind of misinformation,? he said, his voice trailing off. ?I shouldn?t say more.?
A pause.
?Every word I say will be held against me,? he said finally.
On one level, his troubles seem to be largely political. Mr. Yunus, who leads a spartan life, has for decades floated well above the muck of Bangladeshi politics. Then in 2007, while a caretaker government backed by the military ruled Bangladesh, he waded in, egged on by supporters who argued that his leadership was needed in a time of crisis.
He declared in an interview that Bangladeshi politics were riddled with corruption. He floated a short-lived political party. Bangladesh?s political class did not take kindly to being lectured by the Nobel laureate. The steely leader of one of the main political parties, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, took umbrage, analysts say.
In the 2008 election that restored democracy after a two-year interregnum, Ms. Hasina led her party, the Awami League, back power with a vast majority. Her critics say that in lashing out at Mr. Yunus she is simply trying to eliminate a political rival.
But lost in the talk of politics is a more complex question: how to ensure that Grameen Bank, which has 8.3 million borrowers, has loaned $10 billion and has become an indispensable part of Bangladesh?s social and economic fabric, outlives its charismatic founder? Mr. Yunus is now a decade beyond the bank?s mandatory retirement age, and apparently there is no successor in sight.
Long-serving internal candidates that might have replaced Mr. Yunus as the bank?s managing director after his retirement have departed acrimoniously.
The government recently appointed one of his former deputies, Muzammel Huq, as chairman of the board. Mr. Huq has been a vocal critic of Mr. Yunus, and the promotion of a former underling has been taken as a sure sign that the government seeks to oust the bank?s founder.
?I think he is a good man with a small heart,? Mr. Huq said of Mr. Yunus. ?He cannot give credit to anyone but himself,? he added, with a wan smile at his pun.
Microfinance experts worry that a government takeover of Grameen Bank may turn it into a tool of political patronage and destroy it. Mr. Yunus said that he was eager to step down, but that the transition must be handled carefully to avoid panic among borrowers and the bank?s employees.
?I am riding the tiger,? Mr. Yunus said. ?I cannot just get off the tiger without drawing the attention of that tiger. So I have to very quietly do it.?
The Norwegian documentary accuses him of improperly moving $100 million that has been donated by Norway for microcredit to another Grameen nonprofit organization. The Norwegian government later confirmed that the money had been improperly moved, but it cleared Grameen of any wrongdoing.
Continue reading “Microcredit Pioneer Faces an Inquiry in Bangladesh”