Concert of Europe against America
EUROPE confronts America in a trans-Atlantic dispute that has affected the highest levels of governance.  The spying on citizens, Heads of State, and governments has caused a flutter in the continental roost, and is uppermost on the agenda of the summit of the EU Heads of State in Brussels. The development is of a piece with the claims of widespread surveillance of phones, email and social media ~ made in leaks by Edward Snowden, the former contractor with America&’s National Security Agency (NSA). If that had caused rifts between the USA and several countries, notably Brazil and Russia, the latest bout of snooping has provoked the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to give Barack Obama a piece of her mind in the wake of reports that her mobile phone had been tapped by the NSA ~ “I have made it clear to the President of the United States that spying on friends is not acceptable. We need to have trust in our allies and this trust must now be established once again.”
She hasn’t put too fine a point on it, making it obvious that the focus has now shifted from an individual to that sensitive creature called  the NSA.  Implicitly enough, she has also alluded to a critical change in the engagement between nations. The nature and extent of the spying would suggest that power blocs are of lesser moment in the overall construct; possible sensitivities of those being spied upon have ceased to count. Well and truly have international relations become sinister,  wholly bereft of trust… and markedly within the Western world. Even Washington&’s traditional and closest friends are not immune from snooping. We do not know President Obama&’s response. What we do know is that Ms Merkel made the call after the French media reported that the NSA had monitored more than 70 million phone records, text messages and private conversations in France in one month alone. Having summoned the US ambassador to explain the situation, the German foreign ministry is not convinced with the White House statement that it was not currently bugging Ms Merkel&’s phone, nor would in future.
Strikingly, Brussels this week plays host to a latter-day Concert of Europe against the wave of spying and tapping of phones by the USA. At the threshold of the summit, Ms Merkel has been assured of moral support, pre-eminently by Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, the French President, Francois Hollande, and the Dutch and Belgian Prime Ministers, Mark Rutte and Elio di Rupo ~ “We cannot accept this systematic spying. We need to take European measures.”  However, Britain&’s David Cameron stands at an angle to Europe, calling for “bilateral dealings on national security” between the EU member-states and America.   Nonetheless, the Brussels summit has advanced a fairly blunt message to the United States of America.
Novelty not for novelty&’s sake
CONVENTIONAL punishment, admittedly, need not always have the desired punitive or deterrent effect: particularly for offences on the dividing line between grave misdemeanour and crime. Recent events have certainly rendered irrelevant terms like “eve-teasers” and “roadside Romeos”, yet throwing those despicable types behind bars is not the best remedy. In that context an “experiment” by the police in the Capital is worth a second look. Fourteen youngsters in the 16-19 years age-bracket were rounded up for making a nuisance of themselves ~ wolf-whistles, lewd comments etc ~ near a women&’s college in South Delhi, duly marched off to the local police station. In addition to summoning their parents, the cops invited volunteers from an NGO involved in social action to counsel the youth. A two-hour session was conducted with the aim of sensitising them to gender issues, and enlightening them on the enhanced punishment the law provided after it was amended in the wake of the 16 December outrage. Fair enough, but only if both the cops and the NGO followed up the exercise, monitor the adolescents, work to preventing any “slippages”. If this is merely a one-off move both the police and the NGO would be guilty of token action, perhaps publicity-oriented.
By the police&’s own admission the young men were from middle-class families, families who would be concerned with preserving their ‘name”. Without suggesting a link between financial status and “honour” (sadly there are negative angles to that), action aimed at social reform will have to be more concentrated and sustained than the single session. What has to be eradicated is the feeling of superiority that young males acquire after witnessing the ill-treatment of wives, daughters and daughters-in-law in traditional society. Women will also have to be enlightened not to pamper their sons, cover up their several misdemeanours. It is a tall order: educational, social welfare and religious organisations will all have their role to play. The law and its enforcement agencies can do no more than treat the symptoms of the malaise, the cure lies elsewhere. That was the point so tragically “missed” 10 months ago when outrage was powerfully expressed at India Gate by those who declined to accept much responsibility for ensuring the “justice” they demanded.
Get well soon, Richie
IT is with unique apprehension that the cricketing fraternity awaits the upcoming “Ashes” series. An apprehension not generated by likely winners or losers, or indeed the showing of a favourite player. Of very serious concern is whether that doyen of analytical commentators, the silver-haired splendour that is Richie Benaud will be in the “box”. The cricketer-turned-journalist whose essays have graced newspapers the world over ~ The Statesman included ~ is in a Sydney hospital recovering from a recent car accident. The injuries sustained by the 83-year-old “national treasure” are not serious, he could be discharged a few days hence, but his countless admirers worry if he will be well enough to enlighten and entertain them when the “war” resumes at the Gabba on 21 November. For, to imagine a Test match in Australia without Benaud at the mike is as difficult to comprehend as India without Tendulkar. Sure there are other eminent players who sustained their eminence after switching to the media, Benaud is something special: though like all Aussies he deems a “baggy green” as prestigious as a monarch&’s crown, Richie&’s sense of fair play is never diminished, the praise flows for all who merit it. Few men have remained as abreast with the game for more than half a century: the classy spinner now weaves articulate, magic spells as he provides the viewer/listener a bit more than what a seat in the stadium offers. His is a professionalism laced with “olde worlde charm”. He was driving his prized 1963 Sunbeam Alpine when the mishap occurred, and he admits “I was more worried about the car than myself”. Maybe so, but cricket lovers around the world will have their worries eased only when they learn that Richie will be taking his rightful place behind the Channel 9 microphone ~ as he has done these past 36 years.