Archive for July, 2010

Walk the Talk

July 25, 2010

India, which provided refuge to the Dalai Lama, has multiple philosophies and paths to enlightenment from the Hindu Vedas, Muslim Koran, Sikh Granth, Jain scriptures, Buddhist scrolls, Christian and Jewish Bibles and many other words of wisdom from various religions, sects and a host of thought leaders.  There are many paths to enlightenment.  

So, why is it that amid so much enlightened thought and lore of wisdom, there is still so much darkness and despair? It is because most governments only pay lip service to the ideals on which their respective nations were founded.  There are some well-compensated commentators and political insiders who cynically state that “politics is the art of the possible”.  These commentators have artfully ensured that it is possible for their families and themselves to gorge from the political trough and imbibe from a steady revenue stream. 

Crooked political operators operate the levers of government to benefit themselves and utilize the government machinery to intimidate and / or harm any potential whistleblowers or their families.  With the advent of multiculturalism and quotas, some minority members have demonstrated that they can be as incompetent, if not surpass, the least competent majority employees.  With so many persons from differing origins working for the government, group think and ethnic dynamics have created a tribal system of competing ethnic, social and political interests.  It is possible to rise up the ranks, without any of the requisite qualifications, simply by belonging to one of these politically connected ethnic groups. 

Some of these government employees, minority and majority alike, are abusing their privileges by using government resources to monitor, hound and harass citizens and whistleblowers.  Some of these employees accept free or reduced fare vacations to island destinations as a bribe / reward for their dubious and devious achievements.  There is also a systematic campaign of blacklisting, defaming and trying to frame detractors.  Some of these networks are well entrenched and answer to special interests and / or corrupt politicians with their nefarious personal agendas.  It has recently become easier for crooked politicians to get away with their shenanigans by bringing up nebulous security risks as a pretext to continue to monitor and harass innocent citizens.  

The citizens are left with little recourse as the police and local politicians are either wary of taking on entrenched political special interests or are in the service of the crooked politicians and / or special interests.  

The scenario mentioned above is unfortunately too prevalent in many developing nations – surely it could not occur in the Western world in countries like the USA and Canada, could it?  As long as special interests and their paid minions continue to abuse their positions of influence and privilege, there will be no walking but only talking the talk.  Anywhere and everywhere, that is a road to nowhere.

Is the Indian media misusing its freedom?

July 24, 2010

We need to first distinguish whether the medium in question is television, radio, print or the internet.  

The television media is mostly run by corporate sponsorship or political backing.  These stations will spout the vision and values of the persons with the controlling interest.  Rarely will they be able to report independently and thus the only misuse of the freedom is toeing a certain line and not being free to broadcast at will.   

The radio stations are controlled by state or corporate funding. Where there are a few independent radio stations, their target audience is limited to certain geographic areas and the news dissemination is also likewise limited to the areas in question.   

In many states, the major newspapers and magazines are published with state backing or by families and organizations allied with the political parties.  The information from these papers will toe the respective party lines.  Where established independent newspapers exist, many of the editorial boards of these papers have made a conscious decision not to alienate the powers that be.   

The internet is another matter altogether.  Established websites of all the major networks and independent media as well as countless individual websites and blogs compete for the fickle attention of the web surfers from all over the globe.  The internet is the media source that is truly independent and there is the definite possibility that many of the individual websites may be misusing their freedom to publish at will.  On the positive side, numerous independent websites, without any strings attached, have created forums for the frank exchange of ideas and knowledge.  This can only be considered a positive phenomenon.  

Many of the individual blogs and independent websites are challenging the established websites, and the former are not burdened with having to tailor the news as per the financial backers.  Many independent blogs have taken the lead in exposing official corruption, or in revealing the murkier side of politics, power and privilege. 

Some of the Indian media have abused their freedom under the guise of investigative journalism and tried to entrap corrupt politicians through sting operations.  There was also the case of the investigative journalists who were responsible for the false accusations of abuse against an educational institution’s administrator.  The administrator resigned under pressure from parents outraged by the false accusations.  Though the truth came to light later and the administrator was reinstated, the damage had been done.  

Indian reporters, in every medium – television, radio, print and the internet – must be vigilant to ensure that they observe and report the news without becoming part of the news story.   

In conclusion, while there has definitely been misuse of freedom by some Indian media, nevertheless, a thriving, independent media is necessary to act as the guarantor of civic freedoms.  Those in power may sometimes feel the urge to curtail freedoms, but thankfully due to people power and the internet, it will impossible to fully censor either independent ideas or the right to free speech.

Guarding the Guardians

July 20, 2010

Who will guard the guards? (“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”), the very discerning Roman poet, Juvenal wondered in 160 A.C.E.  Incidentally, this question was also the basis of a novel (“Digital Fortress” by Dan Brown) about a corrupt clandestine government agency official. 

In a recent change of policy, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) stated that it will no longer allow access to an entire section of customs clearance records to the Canadian public. This change in CBSA policy was a move to allay the concerns of CSIS and RCMP about sharing of sensitive information with an agency that was making its records available to the public at large.

In the Meher Arar case, a Canadian engineer holding dual Canadian and Syrian nationality was returning to Canada but was detained while in transit by US immigration officials, based on erroneous RCMP information, and deported to Syria.  Mr. Arar stated that he had been tortured in Syrian captivity and was finally released after his wife tirelessly and successfully managed to convince Canadian officials of his innocence.  The RCMP and CSIS were forced by the Canadian court to reveal evidence of their faulty and sloppy intelligence analyses, after numerous delays and attempts to withhold evidence of their ineptitude claiming reasons of national security.  The RCMP laid the blame for the ineptitude on a new employee – a recent female African immigrant.  By the time that CBC was investigating the allegations of an RCMP cover up, the female immigrant had emigrated to Massachusetts, USA.  CBC calls to the immigrant’s home provoked a warning from the husband to stop hounding his wife.    

Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant to Canada died after RCMP personnel at the Vancouver, BC airport used Tasers to shock him into submission. 

Mr. Dziekanski did not speak English and had become upset after he was delayed at the airport and was confined to a secure area.  His mother had waited for hours at the airport and finally returned to Kamloops, BC prior to his arrival.

In 2002, the day before I joined the government, I was returning to Canada from the US and after showing my passport to the Canadian border agent, was asked to stop at the Customs building.  A woman officer came out and I handed her my passport.  She asked me to open my car’s trunk and examined my luggage.  She asked me to follow her into the office.  When I came in she asked for identification.  I told her that I had given her my passport and she denied it.  She requested my driver’s license and I gave it to her.  She then proceeded to ask me many questions about my stay and jobs in the US.  She pointed to my old camera and asked for the receipt.  I did not have it.  She informed me that my camera and my laptop would be impounded.  I managed to convince her that I needed the laptop.  She asked me to leave the laptop on and left it connected on the counter.  She then told me I had to pay customs fees for the camera which would be refunded when I provided a receipt.  She also told me my name was being added to a database but would not specify any other details. 

I paid the fee and she handed over to a male colleague who completed the customs clearance.  I was then informed that I could leave and the laptop and camera were handed to me.  I told them that I could not leave without my passport.  They told me that they did not have it.  I reiterated that I would not leave until my passport was returned.  I was asked by another female agent to check my luggage thoroughly.  I went to my car and found my passport stashed under all the clothes.

I had to report to work the next day and was too tired to argue or lodge a complaint.  I later wrote a letter to the CBSA and received a polite letter that referred only to the male agent who had signed off on my clearance and made no mention of the female officer who had confiscated my passport and abused her position.  On one of my later trips to the US, I stopped at the Canadian side and demanded to know the female officer’s name.  She would not give her name or badge id and I noticed she was not wearing any name tag or identification.

After she left, I asked her male counterpart and he would not provide me her name.  I then informed the agent that the female officer had abused her position and if I was ever stopped or harassed again, I would inform my MP.  I did not receive any response but after that I never encountered any delay at the border.  I spoke to a RCMP official and asked him if my name had been added to any database and he informed me that as far as he knew, there was no record of my name in their database. 

With the increased security requirements after 9-11 and legislation like the new BSA policy in Canada and the Patriot Act in the US, the rights of citizens and legal immigrants has been drastically reduced in inverse proportion to the greater power of officials and politicians.  Unfortunately, not all persons in powerful positions can exercise their power properly.  There are a few who may let the power go to their head and misuse or abuse their authority.  A few corrupt current and former politicians have abused the overriding issue of security to advance their personal agendas and /or vendettas against their  perceived critics and their families.

Similarly minorities, as well as the majority, and special interests need to realize that they are working for the government, which is answerable to the public.  It is essential that group interests, minority members with political influence and other special interests realize that they are not private masters but public servants.

The renowned American author and humorist, Mark Twain observed with prescience: “The government is merely a servant — merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them…”.