Author Archives: Prabir Purkayastha

Does the U.S. chip ban on China amount to a declaration of war in the computer age?

The United States has gambled big in its latest across-the-board sanctions on Chinese companies in the semiconductor industry, believing it can kneecap China and retain its global dominance. From the slogans of globalization and “free trade” of the neoliberal 1990s, Washington has reverted to good old technology denial regimes that the U.S. and its allies followed during the Cold War. While it might work in the short run in slowing down the Chinese advances, the cost to the U.S. semiconductor industry of losing China—its biggest market—will have significant consequences in the long run. In the process, the semiconductor industries of Taiwan and South Korea and equipment manufacturers in Japan and the European Union are likely to become collateral damage. It reminds us again of what former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said: “It may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.” Continue reading

Why our electricity prices can’t be left to bogus ‘free markets’

The so-called electricity markets were created to help private capital, not people. It is time that we wind up such bogus electricity markets and return all such public services to the people, to be run cooperatively for their benefit.

The price of electricity has risen astronomically in Europe over the last two years: by four times over the previous year and 10 times over the last two years. The European Union (EU) has claimed that this rise in prices is due to the increase in the price of gas in the international market and Russia not supplying enough gas. This raises the critical question: Why should, for example, the German electricity price rise four times when natural gas contributes around one-seventh of its electricity production? Why does the UK, which generates 40 percent of its electricity from renewables and nuclear plants, and produces half the natural gas it consumes, also see a steep rise in the price of electricity? Continue reading

The WTO opts for greed and profits over providing vaccinations for all people worldwide

The health of all people is being sacrificed to Big Pharma profits and rich countries’ saber-rattling sanctions. Meanwhile, other countries are capable of meeting the world’s vaccine needs.

The UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima had appealed before the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva that the world would face a grim future if patent waivers did not take place. At a press conference, Byanyima had said, “In a pandemic, sharing technology is life or death, and we are choosing death.” Continue reading

Ukraine and the global economic war: Is this barbarism or civilization?

The West’s actions against Russia since the war in Ukraine could signal an emerging new order that shuns the U.S. for weaponizing the dollar and Western control over the global financial system.

Do the Ukraine war and the action of the United States, the EU and the UK spell the end of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency? Even with the peace talks recently held in Turkey or the proposed 15-point peace plan, as the Financial Times had reported earlier, the fallout for the dollar still remains. For the first time, Russia, a major nuclear power and economy, was treated as a vassal state, with the United States, the EU and the UK seizing its $300 billion foreign exchange reserves. Where does this leave other countries, who also hold their foreign exchange reserves largely in dollars or euros? Continue reading

Can Iran and the U.S. breathe life back into nuclear deal?

The possibility of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—or the Iran nuclear deal—being revived, though difficult, seems to have brightened in February 2022. The U.S. may now also believe that the potential loss of Russian natural gas and oil due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war needs to be offset by Iran returning to the global oil market. The nuclear deal could have been accomplished much earlier if not for the Biden administration’s unwillingness to commit to the “way forward” offered by Iran to stay in the deal for the remainder of Biden’s term as president, according to Responsible Statecraft. Former United States President Donald Trump had pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 on the premise that he could get a better deal than the one negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama. Continue reading

The geopolitics behind spiraling gas and electricity prices in Europe

Markets do not solve the problem of energy pricing. What is required is planning and long-term investments in infrastructure.

The current crisis of spiraling gas prices in Europe, coupled with a cold snap in the region, highlights the fact that the transition to green energy in any part of the world is not going to be easy. The high gas prices in Europe also bring to the forefront the complexity involved in transitioning to clean energy sources: that energy is not simply about choosing the right technology, and that transitioning to green energy has economic and geopolitical dimensions that need to be taken into consideration as well. Continue reading

Theranos verdict: In the U.S., it is fine to lie to consumers but not to investors

Hyper-capitalism has systematically weakened regulations to help capital at the cost of consumers. The verdict on the Elizabeth Holmes case simply illustrates the growing post-’90s disregard for consumers.

The verdict on Theranos founder and former CEO Elizabeth Holmes, who was tried for fraud in a U.S. court, was guilty. Theranos was a company set up by Holmes and her former partner Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani and had promised to revolutionize blood testing. Their advanced biotech equipment—they claimed—would provide results for a whole battery of tests with just a few drops of blood. In its heyday, Theranos was worth more than $9 billion, and Elizabeth Holmes was looked at as “the next Steve Jobs.” She was also the face that launched $724 million in stock sales to private equity firms and venture capitalists. Holmes figured in Time’s 2015 list of the 100 most influential people of the year and was feted by Wall Street as the “world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.” Continue reading

Why poorer nations aren’t falling for green-washed imperialism

The world’s wealthiest countries make a big show of fighting climate change without offering poorer countries the finances to switch to renewable energy.

Fighting global warming is not just about providing a path to net-zero carbon emissions for all countries. It is also about figuring out how best to meet the energy needs of people across the world while working toward net-zero emissions. If fossil fuels have to be given up, which has now become an urgent need given the current environmental challenges, countries in Africa and a significant part of Asia, including India, need an alternate path for providing electricity to their people. What then is the best alternate course for poorer countries to follow for electricity production—if they do not use the fossil fuel route—that is being used by rich countries? This in turn also raises questions about how much this alternative energy source route will cost poorer countries, and who will pay the bills incurred when making the switch to this new source of energy. Continue reading

Meta isn’t just about rebranding Facebook—could it bring a dystopian future?

Facebook’s announcement has implications about digital life and work—provided it can attract younger users and gamer skeptics and overcome the hate speech and disinformation problems that could still plague Zuckerberg’s vision.

On October 28, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched a new company brand, Meta, at the annual Facebook Connect event. According to Facebook, “Meta… brings together our apps and technologies under one new company brand. Meta’s focus will be to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses.” Continue reading

What does India get out of being part of ‘The Quad’?

Australia has joined the U.S. and UK games to contain China, leaving India unclear in the Quad and isolated in Asia. Tied to the waning imperial power of the U.S., India is gradually losing strategic autonomy.

The recent Quad leaders meeting in the White House on September 24 appears to have shifted focus away from its original framing as a security dialogue between four countries, the United States, India, Japan and Australia. Instead, the United States seems to be moving much closer to Australia as a strategic partner and providing it with nuclear submarines. Continue reading

Chip war: Can the U.S. really gain from China’s pain?

With the U.S. imposing technology sanctions on China, the world’s electronics industry is facing turbulent times. After the sanctions, Huawei has slipped from its number one slot as a mobile phone supplier—which the company held during the second quarter of 2020—to number seven currently. Commenting on this slide, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping has said that the company’s battle is for survival right now. According to Reuters, Guo in a note circulated internally maintained that Huawei “will not give up and plans to eventually return to the industry’s ‘throne.’” On that count, Huawei is not only surviving but doing quite well. It is still the world leader in the telecom equipment market with a hefty 31 percent revenue share, which is twice that of its nearest competitors Nokia and Ericsson, and profits of nearly $50 billion in the first six months of 2021. But will Huawei be able to retain its market position without China catching up with the latest developments in chip manufacturing and design technologies? Continue reading

Are Bezos and Musk launching us into a new space age or just a U.S. space grab?

We are entering a new space age in which billionaires can leave this world, which they are destroying, hoping to find another world to conquer and destroy.

The space race was once between two countries—the Soviet Union and the United States. It is now (at least on the surface) between three billionaires—Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Two of them—Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, and Bezos, founder of Blue Origin—recently rode their respective companies’ suborbital flights (meaning that they cannot be considered proper spaceflights, as they did not reach a stable orbit around the Earth). Branson’s space ambitions seem to be limited to developing a market for the exotica of space tourism. Elon Musk and his company SpaceX have been playing for the long haul, with a series of rockets and launches already to the company’s credit, including to the International Space Station. Bezos and Blue Origin also fall into the latter camp. Continue reading

Remembering the great scientific crusader who showed that no biological basis for race exists—Richard Lewontin

Lewontin fought a lifelong battle against racism, imperialism and capitalist oppression.

On July 4, Richard Lewontin, the dialectical biologist, Marxist and activist, died at the age of 92, just three days after the death of his wife of more than 70 years, Mary Jane. He was one of the founders of modern biology who brought together three different disciplines—statistics, molecular biology and evolutionary biology—that mark the discipline today. In doing so, he not only battled crude racism masquerading as science, but also helped shed light on what science really is. In this sense, he belongs to the rare group of scientists who are equally at home in the laboratory and while talking about science and ideology at a philosophical level. Lewontin is a popular exponent of what science is, and more pertinently, what it is not. Continue reading

Pegasus and the threat of cyberweapons in the age of smartphones

Spyware like Pegasus is dangerous not only because it gives hackers complete control over an infected phone, but also because it introduces the skills and knowledge of nation-states into the civilian sphere.

Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology, is haunting the Narendra Modi-led Indian government once again. Seventeen media organizations including the Wire, the Washington Post and the Guardian have spent months examining a possible list of 50,000 phone numbers belonging to individuals from around 50 countries. This list was provided by the French journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. These investigations by the media organizations helped zero in on possible targets of these cyberattacks. The mobile phones of 67 of the people who were on the target list were then forensically examined. The results revealed that 37 of the analyzed phones showed signs of being hacked by the Israeli firm NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware or signs of attempted penetration. Of the remaining 30, the results were inconclusive as either the owners had changed their phones or the phones were Androids, which do not log the kind of information that helps in detecting such penetration. Continue reading

A caring world needs a sharing world to end the COVID-19 pandemic

A virus that mutates forever is a perpetual money-making machine for Big Pharma. Everybody else wants the world’s population to be vaccinated to control the spread of the pandemic.

After three months of dithering, the Biden administration eventually agreed to a temporary waiver of patent rights for the COVID-19 vaccines. The proposal by South Africa and India for a waiver on intellectual property rights in the World Trade Organization has found support from a large number of countries and more than 400 public health organizations. The proposal now faces opposition from the European Union countries, which had earlier portrayed themselves to be more progressive than the United States. This portrayal was not difficult to achieve under the Trump administration. The latest move by Biden has, however, wrong-footed the EU, leaving the bloc as the only public supporter of Big Pharma in the WTO. Continue reading