In India, a shift to meritocracy sets aside the old elites

Accounts of India’s changes focus on its economic growth, its surging migration, its skyward construction: changes in outward trappings. Less apparent, but no less momentous, is the decline and fall of the Anglicized ancien régime.

Some in the old elite saw change coming. They sold inherited businesses, learned new professions, reined in maharajah-like spending. But many did not, and now a wave of aspirations is rising from dank slums and hopeless towns, crashing at last into the delicate structures of unearned privilege.

Quietly but unmistakably, a whole country is changing hands.

In cities, middle-aged graduates of India’s leading colleges struggle to get their children into the same schools. With children of humbler backgrounds aiming higher than ever, even a 90 percent score on the entrance exam is no longer enough. This is the secret reason why, in a new age of Indian opportunity, many rich Indians still send their children abroad for college: not to escape India, but because their children are unable or unwilling to compete in an increasingly fair society.

The newspapers print photographs of those who “top” the exams. They are routinely scrawny and dark-skinned, drawn from the distant suburbs and villages, Indians whose ancestors might have cooked and cleaned for the ancestors of the students they now displace.

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Blago is history!

The Illinois State Senate Thursday convicted Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich on a sprawling article of impeachment that charged him with abusing his power. The vote prompted the governor’s immediate and permanent ouster and ended nearly two months of political spectacle in which he sought unsuccessfully to salvage his reputation and career here and across the country.

Overdue.

CIA station chief investigated for drug-and-rape charges


Daylife/Reuters Pictures

A former CIA station chief in Algeria is under investigation by the State and Justice departments after being accused of raping at least two women while he held the post.

Two Algerian women allege that the CIA’s former Algeria station chief raped them at his home. The women told investigators that they think date-rape drugs were used in the assaults, which are said to have occurred at the officer’s official residence.

The allegations were made in the fall, when the unidentified officer was still serving as station chief. In October, soon after the allegations were made, the man returned to the United States for a previously scheduled trip and was ordered not to return to his post, the source said.

A senior U.S. official confirmed that the case is under investigation but refused to comment on the details…

The women, who are Algerian citizens, brought their allegations to a U.S. government official, and federal authorities then launched an investigation.

A search of the station chief’s residence in Algeria was approved by a U.S. District Court judge after a request from the Justice Department. The search found pills believed to be of a type commonly used in date rape, the source said.

In that search, authorities also found about a dozen tapes that are thought to show the officer engaged in sexual acts, the source said, including some in which women are believed to be in a semiconscious state. CNN’s source had not seen the tapes but had been briefed on their content. Some of the tapes include date stamps indicating that the recordings happened when he would have been serving in Cairo, Egypt, before his tenure in Algeria…

So – possibly – this CIA operative has been doing the United States nothing but disservice during his tenure in North Africa. Nothing unusual about a government operative taking on the mantle of being above the law. This case sounds worse than many, though – using his position and power in such a corrupt and venal manner.

School principal bans singing “O Canada” – in Canada

The Boyd sisters have been raised singing the national anthem every day, but a New Brunswick school has silenced their morning ritual.

These days, the only time Julia Boyd, 11, gets to belt out the anthem’s lyrics is at monthly school assemblies, other special occasions or at home with her older sister Kara. That’s because singing O Canada is no longer a daily morning event at Belleisle Elementary. The school’s principal has dropped it in response to concerns from other parents.

“It makes me sad, upset,” Julia said. “I didn’t feel very good about it.”

The change started more than a year ago, but their mother said she didn’t find out until Julia started forgetting some of the lyrics…

Erik Millett, principal of Belleisle Elementary School, said some parents complained about the singing of O Canada each day. The anthem is no longer a daily ritual, but he said perhaps the education minister should decide on a provincial solution. Erik Millett, principal of Belleisle Elementary School, said some parents complained about the singing of O Canada each day. The anthem is no longer a daily ritual, but he said perhaps the education minister should decide on a provincial solution.

Erik Millett, the school’s principal, said he made the decision partly to accommodate parents who didn’t want their children taking part in the daily anthem. He would not say why the parents didn’t want their kids taking part, citing privacy reasons.

Weird. I feel strongly about individual rights to choose – and all the way back to my own high school daze I refused to take part in school prayers when they were introduced. But, I never tried to force other students to do anything other than make up their own minds.

The same has always been true of archaic crap [to me] like national anthems. I wouldn’t ban their singing. Though I’d fight to the death for someone’s right not to participate. There has to be more to this story and I’d bet dollars to doughnuts there’s a religious kicker to the tale.

UPDATE: The principal’s decision has been reversed by the district super.

Iraq ends licence for Blackwater to provide “security” for U.S. agencies

Iraq will not renew the licence of US security firm Blackwater, which was involved in an 2007 incident in which at least 14 civilians were killed. An interior ministry spokesman said the US embassy had been told it will have to use another security company.

Five former Blackwater guards have gone on trial in the United States over the killings in Baghdad. They have pleaded not guilty to killing 14 Iraqi civilians and wounding 18 others by gunfire and grenades…

After the incident, the Iraqi government pressed Washington to withdraw Blackwater from the country, but the security firm’s contract was renewed in 2008.

A new US-Iraqi security agreement gives Baghdad the authority to determine which Western security companies operate in the country.

A US embassy official confirmed it had received the Iraqi decision, and said US officials were working with the Iraqi government and its contractors to address the “implications of this decision”.

Heavens to Murgatroyd. The Iraqi government not only wants to make decisions without approval from the Pentagon and U.S. State Department, they think they have the right to disagree with our policies.

What is this? Sovereignty?

Scandal in House of Lords rocks Labour Party


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At a meeting late last year at the House of Lords, Thomas Taylor, a peer and stalwart of the governing Labour Party, told visitors who introduced themselves as representatives of a Hong Kong businessman seeking tax relief on an investment in Britain that “you’ve got to whet my appetite to get me on board.” He added that some companies he had worked with paid him the equivalent of about $140,000.

“That’s cheap for what I do for them,” he said.

In reality, the visitors to the Lords’ guest room overlooking the Thames were reporters for The Sunday Times, one of Britain’s most widely circulated newspapers. Their front-page account last weekend of their meetings with Taylor and three other Labour Party peers who were said to have agreed to accept payments for lobbying on behalf of the fictitious businessman have sent shock waves through British politics.

All four of the men named by the newspaper have denied any wrongdoing, and senior Labour officials have accused the paper of entrapment. The House of Lords has begun an inquiry, including a review of creaky, hard-to-carry-out procedures that require an act of Parliament to oust miscreants in the chamber…

The Sunday Times said it had assigned reporters posing as lobbyists to approach 10 peers. It said that four of five Labour members it approached showed a willingness to take payments to help amend a pending bill in ways that would lower taxes for the fictitious businessman in a plan to open 30 shops.

The paper named the four peers: Taylor, 79; Lord Peter Truscott, 49, an Oxford-educated former energy minister in Tony Blair’s Labour government; Lord Peter Snape, 66, a former railroad man and Labour whip in the Commons; and Lord Lewis Moonie, 61, a psychiatrist and former junior defense minister. It said three Conservative peers had not answered the reporters’ calls, and two members of smaller opposition parties had rejected offers of payment, one of them saying angrily that the offer was contrary to basic concepts of integrity.

Abolish the fraking House of Lords altogether. Aren’t there existing regs on corruption which might be used on the political hacks in question?

Congressdork says cameras need to make noise to stop pervs


Daylife/AP Photo by Mustafa Quraishi

Cameraphone perverts of the world beware: the American government is after you.

Well, not the entire government – yet, anyway. According to the Camera Phone Predator Alert Act – a piece of legislation submitted to Congress by New York Republican Peter King – all camphones could be required by law to make a clicking sound when a picture is taken.

It’s understandable, I suppose, given people’s fear of sex crime and concerns about being spied on. At least if somebody’s perving on you, there’s a noise that you can pick up on and give them a slap (or at least a stern talking to).

But there’s also something that feels terribly anachronistic about this whole process: after all, they’re effectively saying “let’s make a way to create the fake sound of an artificial process that acts as a social cue”.

It’s a similar thing with electric cars, which many people think should make ‘car-like’ noises to stop people getting run over.

Idiots who have no comprehension of a technology, who try to make it fit into their tiny world – and even tinier brains, drive me nuts.

Coming from Peter King is no surprise either. Between his stylistic preference for taxing working families versus the rich, ending silly civil liberties, campaigning before Jewish senior citizens by requiring a reduction in the number of mosques in the country, blah-blah – you get the picture. If there’s an issue where he can demonstrate a devotion to 19th Century technology and 12th Century morality this creep is leading the way.

Mississippi mayor arrested for Katrina fraud


Daylife/AP Photo by Tim Isbell

The mayor of Gulfport, Mississippi, and his wife were arrested Wednesday on charges they defrauded the federal government and an insurance company of more than $220,000 in claims related to Hurricane Katrina.

Gregory Brent Warr and Laura Jean Warr were named in a 16-count federal indictment handed up last week by a grand jury, the Department of Justice said in a news release. They are accused of conspiracy, Federal Emergency Management Agency fraud, Department of Housing and Urban Development home grant fraud and insurance fraud, all arising from claims after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast.

He said he pleaded not guilty, but said he will not speak further about the case

According to the indictment, the Warrs in 2005 applied for FEMA assistance regarding a Gulfport home, telling officials that home was their primary residence when it was not. In 2006, the indictment says, the couple applied to the Mississippi Development Authority for a Homeowner’s Assistance Grant funded by HUD, again claiming they lived at the address.

The indictment also alleges the Warrs made misrepresentations to Lexington Insurance Company regarding personal property in the insured home, payment of rent for alternative living after Katrina and the extent of damage to the home.

Uh, OK. Now, how about someone getting back to helping the folks who are still in trouble?