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Pensions for Some, but Not for Others

Wed, 31/07/2019 - 20:24
Congress members celebrate as Brazil’s pensions reforms cleared their first legislative hurdle after years of wrangling © Reuters

Pension reform is something that has a great effect on the future of Brazilians, Latin Americans and to be honest the rest of us as well. Brazil was always a unique case, a country that built an administrative centre in the middle of the country in the 1950s that is populated by mostly government administrators with fairly good pension packages. The citizens of Brasilia did not initially come to their careers or pensions in an average process where a union fought for reforms to match wages with those of the private sector. The creation of Brasilia was a massive national project that also created the place for a public sector that really formed much of the middle class in Brazilian society at the time, existing to this day.

With the attempt at industrializing Brazil and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s came stronger workforces, with capable union support to fight for the rights of their workers. By the 1990s and the post economic crisis of the 80s came Worker’s Party Presidents like Lula and balanced economic policy approaches with the support of unions in pushing the economy forward. While memories of those years were positive and a somewhat healthy mix of classically liberal economic policies supported by labour unions with some targeted social programs, the last few years has shown that there was corruption feeding off corruption, and it hurt average Brazilians the most. Whether it was elite members of labour unions or elite wealth, middle and lower income Brazilians were treated as an afterthought.

The debate in Brazil and the rest of the region likely follows a similar debate in your country as well. Pensions for those who were fortunate enough to be employed in the public service seemed to become very lucrative over the years. With many private sector employers cutting back or losing their businesses altogether, many became unemployed and felt that the little income they had should not go directly towards a set raise for union employers that depended on underemployed taxpayers. Public sector jobs were now out-competing benefits-wise and pay-wise with private sector employment that no longer existed due to economic disruptions over the years. The end result is that the pension packages that were lucrative and part of the labour contracts in the past still needed to be paid, but without an economy that can sustain many of those packages.

It is understood by a community that taxes should go to support everyone in a community, for schools, hospitals, police and other utilities. What percentage however is a reasonable amount to go to a pension fund from the community’s public purse? While it is well understood that public and private sector pensions should not be cut or eliminated because those employees have spent their careers depending on those future benefits, what cost should the entire community endure to pay those pensions before other necessities? Even in the case of California, Michigan and Ontario in Canada, public pension costs are forecast to be so consequential that there is no real plan to cover them without going into permanent debt. How can an elected government make the community a priority if they have an impossible political battle over pensions when making difficult policy decisions?

The case of Brazil and Latin America may have even more desperate consequences. With much of the lower income workforce being precariously linked to the national and regional social services systems and a weakened private sector middle class, there is little political strength to pressure the government and unions to take policy decisions to benefit the average worker. Even in the case of private sector union employees who lack hours or a place to work, the private sector unions have little power if there is no employment in their sector. Such a scenario occurred in the last US election, with private sector unions pulling away from their traditional Democratic roots because their members had no employment to effectively support their union movement. While is it extremely difficult to reform contracts and take money from the pockets of active union members, it might be that the resolution of this issue determines the future health of a community.

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Open Source: A Month of Sputnik Radio

Fri, 07/06/2019 - 19:27

Five years into operation and two years into its 24/7 radio broadcast in Washington, what’s Kremlin-sponsored radio talking about?  I listened for a month to find out.

Of three main areas discussed on Sputnik Radio – the United States, U.S. foreign policy, and Russia/Putin – there is fairly little discussion of Russia/Putin.  With a studio in Washington, most of the hosts and many of the guests are American, not Russian.  Much of the discussion was about the relationship between American imperialism, corporate corruption, and race and class issues.

The Establishment and Foreign Affairs

Most of the dialogue begins with a rejection of the U.S. political “establishment.”  Talk is much more tolerant of – though not enthusiastic for – anti-establishment politicians like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  America’s two main political parties are completely corrupted by big corporations.  Hypocritical, corrupt Democrats and Republicans like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Mike Pompeo and their “corporate media” partners are not to be trusted.

On the dominant question in American politics today – Trump / Russia / collusion / obstruction – attention is directed against the U.S. intelligence community and the Democratic Party.  Program hosts and guests disagree over the extent to which Russia might have tried to influence at all the 2016 U.S. election.  But they agree that the Democrats are forgetting history.  U.S. intelligence community failures and corruption are highlighted.  Targets include the CIA’s history in Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Central America, and elsewhere, the CIA’s history of trying to influence media, surveilling reporters, and tracking US anti-war groups, and the FBI’s efforts against civil rights and anti-war leaders. Democrats have to ignore history, Sputnik says, to trust that the CIA and FBI aren’t political and to believe it’s impossible that the IC was working against the Trump campaign.

A key theme of Sputnik programming is the persistent, ubiquitous danger of American imperialism.  Whether through sanctions or military force, the Wolfowitz Doctrine of global dominance by unilateral imperialism, opposing instead of recognizing regional powers, continues in the Bush-Obama-Trump era.

Sputnik points out America’s long history of “breaking countries” – by and for its military-industrial complex. If the United States was merely trying to break countries, it had been very successful. This goal continues in the “John Bolton Administration” that has never met a problem for which regime change isn’t the solution.

But recent efforts to replace old regimes with new allies have been enormously unsuccessful. The nation-building fantasy suggested by postwar Germany and Japan that has costumed U.S. imperialism since the 1990s is a delusion: see Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Special emphasis is also given to the increasing inability of Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump to accomplish even the nation-breaking goals.  Assad remains in power in Syria, Maduro in Venezuela, the ayatollahs in Iran, and the Kims in North Korea.

U.S. sanctions are intended to harm the public and to provoke anti-government sentiment. If there are food, water, and medical crises in Venezuela, it is a direct result of U.S. policies – not corruption, mismanagement, or socialism.

Very little is said directly about Russia or Vladimir Putin.  American foreign policy is responsible for the distance between the U.S. and Russia today. The U.S. sought hegemony and Cold War victory instead of embracing Gorbachev’s New Thinking and Russia’s place within a common European home. Western and American triumphalism – and NATO expansion – led to the rise of Putin and his law and order and return to great power policies.  Ukraine is in the midst of a civil war.

Instead, Sputnik analysts focus on the U.S.  Anti-Russian neoconservatives and Scoop Jackson/Clinton Democrats continue to dominate the Establishment in both American political parties.  Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov spoke against the U.S./West policies that continue to seek world dominance instead of global cooperation. In countries around the world, listeners are told, the vision of a liberal world order is losing to calls for populism.

Brexit, which Sputnik guests and hosts tend to support, is both a cause and a symptom of the UK’s broken political system and representative of a broken Western political system more broadly. Brexit delays are evidence of the UK’s lack of functioning parties and government and of the Establishment’s dismissal of popular will.

Wikileaks and the arrest of Julian Assange generated all-day live breaking news special coverage. Sputnik programs shared the position of most progressive American media outlets, offering hagiographies of Assange as a victim of American and British intelligence. The daytime arrest and the dragging from the embassy were deliberate public relations moves to intimidate whistleblowers who might want to share information about American or British abuse. The ruling class, the police state, and the corporate media work together in opposition of WikiLeaks – and against Bernie Sanders, Extinction Rebellion, gilets jaunes, etc.

America’s corrupt Establishment faces a new, young, progressive party of peace and social justice.  The youth movement wants to rectify decades of counterproductive Middle East policies that promoted the military-industrial complex, dictators, and climate change.  And it wants change at home as well.

Race and Class in America

Anti-capitalist themes energize Sputnik programs’ discussions of race and class in America.  The root of wealth inequality is corporate corruption.  The Republican party is completely corrupted by big corporations – and so is the Democratic party.

Wealth inequality is the greatest testament to corporate corruption and American hypocrisy.  In rich cities like Washington, new luxury apartment buildings displace poor African Americans and increase the numbers of homeless who sleep on sidewalks and under bridges.  African Americans work hard for the limited opportunities to escape the school-to-prison pipeline.  But the Democratic Party mayors who are supposed to represent the urban poor are rented or owned by corporations who treat inner cities as colonies with labor and resources to be exploited and abandoned.

The racism attached to wealth inequality is also associated with the greatest crime of the Trump Administration: an immigration policy of scapegoating Muslims and Latin Americans.  Sputnik applauds that Democrats committed early energy opposing these policies.  Sending immigration lawyers to airports to defend travelers and exposing the outrageous family separations at the borders was promising.  But Democrats soon chose instead to focus entirely on the myth of Russian collusion and abandoned their important work on real issues like immigration.

Wealth inequality doesn’t mean that everyone should go to college, though. America can train an army of cyber security analysts through certificate programs without a university’s liberal arts courses and $70,000 per year tuition. Once certificate holders get hired, companies themselves will continue to train them as the technology advances. Additionally, this could reduce the need for H-1B immigration, which has been disastrous for technology-worker wages in the U.S.

On the other hand, universal basic income is necessary.  The billionaires that own Walmart, Amazon, and the rest know that artificial intelligence is going to replace many jobs in trucking, retail, manufacturing and across the economy.  This is why, Sputnik reasons, tech giants support universal basic income. They know the jobs and employment catastrophe that lies ahead in the next decade.

One analysis of environmental politics argued that the origins of today’s debate stems from specific choices the two parties made in the 1990s.  Vice President Al Gore and the Democrats elevated the issues of global warming and climate change.  Their solutions were global governance, social engineering, and taxes and regulation – things Republicans are philosophically opposed to.  The U.S. environmental movement could have been bipartisan if Democrats had tried to “speak Republican.” Democrats could have brought along Republicans by framing climate change as a national security problem and promoting public-private and private-sector solutions.  Instead, Republicans rejected the proposed liberal solutions and with them recognition of the problem itself.

Keeping Watch

Consumers of state media – from China’s Xinhua and Qatar’s Al-Jazeera to the BBC, France24, or Deutsche-Welle – can try to intuit lessons about the sponsoring-government’s general or specific interests.  What news is covered, what scope of debate is offered, and implicit or explicit bias can be revealing.  Combined with the Mueller Report’s findings about Russia’s covert efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and expected efforts in the 2020 race, Sputnik (and RT television)’s global reach deserves continued attention.

Photo: Wikipedia

 

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Elements Determining Modern Defense Strategy

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 16:28
Possible Land Based Missile Threats

In a documentary developed in 2018 called Rise of the Superbombs, the details of future defense threats are analyzed. One that might affect current policy and strategic defense initiatives is the possible use of hypersonic weapons in repelling or eliminating one of the most dominant weapons systems available to superpower countries, the Aircraft Carrier.

Aircraft Carriers make up much of the power base for countries that want to expand their military strength abroad. They are often based around one large Carrier, surrounded by defensive ships and other offensive destroyers. The weapons systems on the escorting vessels mostly consist of various types of missiles, cannons and anti-aircraft systems to protect the Carrier and other ships in the fleet. The surrounding group focuses on missile threats as well as undersea threats and may also consist of submarines to further challenge any below sea adversaries.

Beyond extremely fast torpedoes that some believe have been developed by Russia and may be present in the Persian Gulf, the main threat to the US Navy may be from shore based missile systems. While there are land based anti-ship missile systems likely in operation in many regions where a Carrier fleet could be targeted, the smaller systems may be able to be defeated by defense measures of the fleet.

According to the above mentioned documentary, the largest missile threat may come from the Chinese model DF-21D, a hypersonic land based ballistic missile that can apparently defeat most defense systems and could sink a fleet’s Carrier with a well placed strike. It is most likely the case that the “D” variant of the DF-21 missile system was specifically designed to sink a US type Carrier and act as a strong naval deterrent for the Chinese Navy.

Defensive systems that have permeated the battlefields in many current conflict zones are now often designed to not only defeat aircraft, but also target cruise missiles and drones. Systems like the modernized BUK-M1 variants such as the BUK-M2 and BUK-M3, modern TOR-M1 variants like the TOR-M2, and S-300 and possible S-400 systems are all designed to shoot down Tomahawk and other types of cruise missiles. It may be the case that current naval actions are reflective of the need to target and eliminate any threats before more modern hypersonic systems come into play and pose a real threat to a Carrier group. The development or distribution of such weapons may be accelerating any strategies to move forward in a more assertive manner in conflict situations.

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Bangladeshi Hindu rights activist: “Prime Minister Modi, please help your Hindu brethren!”

Tue, 04/06/2019 - 16:23

I especially call upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, whom we share the same faith with, to help out his Hindu brethren, who are being left destitute,” Hindu human rights activist Shipan Kumer Basu declared.

In Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka following the Easter bombings, the plight of Hindus is rapidly deteriorating.  In Pakistan in recent days, Islamist mobs burned to the ground several shops, homes and religious centers belonging to Hindus.  The excuse for this crime that was given was that a Hindu doctor allegedly burned a Quran.  However, that doctor was arrested and this still did not stop the Islamist mobs from attacking the local Hindu community. 

In Sri Lanka, a number of Buddhist and Hindu women who were seeking C-sections found out that a Muslim doctor had removed their entire uterus without their consent.  According to the World Hindu Struggle Committee, the Muslim doctor in Sri Lanka was likely motivated by radical Islamist ideology.  They claim that he sought to sterilize the non-Muslim women so they would be unable to have children.   The Muslim doctor is presently in custody.  

And in Bangladesh, a Hindu school teacher was beaten up by two Islamists and a Hindu woman was kidnapped together with her 5-year-old son in recent days.  Incidents like this occur on a daily basis within Bangladesh.   In the wake of these developments, Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, stated in an exclusive interview: “The plight of Hindus in Bangladesh is getting worse by the day.  Sheikh Hasina’s government is literally looting Hindu property so that she can ethnically cleanse them from the country.  Sadly, the international community is turning a blind eye to this.”  

According to Basu, under the Pakistani occupation, Hindu property in Bangladesh was declared to be enemy property after the country obtained independence.  However, under Bangladeshi rule, these lands got the name vested property.”  He added: “A Bangladeshi government official said that vested property is not government property.  The government claims that it is merely the custodian of these assets.  However, in reality, this is nothing more than an excuse.  The real aim of the Bangladeshi government is to hand Hindu property over to the Muslims and to leave the Hindu community with nothing.”     

“I ask that the Israeli, American, British, German and Indian governments help the Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,” Basu declared in conclusion.”  “I especially call upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, whom we share the same faith with, to help out his Hindu brethren, who are being left destitute.  I ask that you intervene quickly so that we can have a new democratic government, which will replace Sheikh Hasina’s authoritarian rule, thus allowing the Hindus and other minority groups to thrive once again.”

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Where Next with North Korea and Negotiations

Wed, 29/05/2019 - 14:47

With recent rocket tests being conducted by North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – DPRK), it appears the regime of Kim Jung Un is pushing the bounds of sanctions and effectiveness of the negotiation process with the international community, including bilaterally with President Trump. Not only has it tested missiles (demonstrating a potential regional threat to South Korea, which also houses nearly 30,000 U.S. troops, Japan and the U.S.), it seems as if Kim Jung Un is disregarding the international community as a whole.

The sanctions specifically have placed restrictions on: exports to North Korea (such as crude oil, condensates, natural gas and aviation fuel); imports from North Korea (such as metals, all arms and other manufacturing goods); financial and economic sectors (focusing on the banking system, assets, including from individuals and joint ventures); and North Korean shipping vessels.

The United Nations as well as the United States, European Union, China, South Korea and Japan, have imposed a slew of economic sanctions on North Korea since 2006. Different sanctions measures have been designed to pressure North Korea, a country of 25 million people, to halt its nuclear weapons and missile programs in return for a lifting of the economic pressure. President Trump and Kim, leader since 2011, held two summits to discuss the sanctions and nuclear issues in June 2018 in Singapore and February 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Neither summit resulted in a substantial resolution of the issues at hand. North Korea said negotiations will not resume unless the Trump administration adjusts its unilateral position for disarmament.

These restrictions have further weakened North Korea’s already struggling economy. Nevertheless, the intended effectiveness has not yielded the extensive impacts, as some countries and companies are not consistently enforcing the agreed terms.

Effects on Energy

Sanctions have hit the energy sector in the country particularly hard, providing a further obstacle to meet its needs. North Korea’s energy landscape was already in an unenviable state. Necessary quantities of fuels are further out of reach, the country hasn’t effectively tapped its own resources, much of its infrastructure is aging and unreliable and only 27 percent of its population has access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Kim has been quoted saying increasing electricity access is a priority.

Currently North Korea relies on hydropower, coal and petroleum products for most of its energy needs. Its electricity mix is dominated by hydroelectric power at an estimated 76 percent and the balance is derived from coal and petroleum. Electricity derived from nuclear energy certainly does not appear to be available anytime in the near-term. Another avenue being explored is tidal energy. With development of technology, with assistance from international experts, North Korea’s coastal regions can be capable of harnessing the emerging power source. With the demand, biomass, waste, and solar energy have also grown in residential, military and rural applications to avoid unreliability and lack of access.

Sanctions cap refined petroleum exports to North Korea at 500 thousand barrels per year and crude oil imports are regulated to four million barrels per year. The nation imports nearly all of its oil and petroleum products from China.

To combat the choking off of international commodities, Kim is focused on energy sources that are not vulnerable to sanctions, which could also partially alleviate the nation’s economic struggles.

While past oil exploration has proven unfruitful, coal has been found to be plentiful – there is an estimated 661 million short tons as of 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA). Coal was an economic driver and source of revenue through exports and domestic uses. Exports shipments to China dominated its customer base. In fact, in 2016 China imported 22 million tonnes valued at more than one billion USD. However, now its legal exports have been limited.

Harnessing the domestic supply, Kim Jung Un envisions ramping up coal-based synthetic fuels to utilize as a substitute to oil and petroleum products. Direct applications would include: power, industry, heating, fertilizer and in vehicles. With the positives, come the negatives, such as low efficiency and higher cost. However, with its reduced coal exports, there will be more supply available for domestic uses. Yet estimates show not all primary imports affected by the sanctions will be able to be replaced by the synthetic substitute.

With the prominence of the military, providing a reliable energy supply has been cited by commentators as a motivating factor for the forward-thinking actions.

Avoiding Sanctions

North Korea has become crafty discovering methods to partially work around the restrictive sanctions, including a rising amount of ship-to-ship oil transfers and related products, continuing coal exports, defrauding banks and commodity traders, and selling various arms, according to a U.N. report. The U.S. seized a North Korean cargo ship over accusations it was used for coal shipments in violation of sanctions. North Korean Ambassador to the U.N., Kim Song, rebutted the U.S. saying it was violating international law. The report continues that North Korea has taken advantage of operating in international waters, using vessels flagged from countries that do not monitor vessels sailing under their registries, or “flags of convenience”. It is speculated that China may be one of the actors.

North Korea also recently hosted what is estimated to have been the largest international trade conference in its history, attended by more than 450 companies representing multiple industries. The turnout certainly gives the appearance companies want to pursue potential trade despite broader restrictions. Parties were represented from Russia, Pakistan, Poland, China, among others.

China has been viewed as integral for effective sanctions due to its bilateral relationship, accounting for over 90 percent of its trade, shared geography and overall influence. North Korea is important for China geopolitically, too. Chinese President Xi Jingping wants stability in its region and to be a stakeholder to stave off Kim’s regime from potentially collapsing, which could lead to thousands of refugees, less international stature and close the distance of U.S. troops in South Korea. This is not to say China is hostile to South Korea; opposite in fact. South Korea is one of China’s most important trading partners with two-way trade tallying well over $100 billion.

Kim has also traveled to Russia to cultivate a relationship with Vladimir Putin to seek support in negotiations and improving its economy. Russia does not fully support sanctions but does not support North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons either.

Working Together

South Korea stated it will provide food and medical supplies to North Korea through the U.N. with the country suffering through severe drought. It also said it may consider broader food aid. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has voiced optimism that the actions can provide a path to rekindle talks with North Korea. Some in North Korea have met the news with skepticism, claiming South Korea is avoiding fundamental issues with a PR stunt.

Outside of humanitarian engagement, South Korean experts have proposed an idea of revamping and providing technical know-how to assist the North’s complications with electricity generation and distribution. North Korea’s electricity grid and generation would cost in magnitude of billions of U.S. dollars to bring up to today’s standards, especially reliability and efficiency. A substantial amount of energy infrastructure is decades old and not well maintained.

Perhaps if a global agreement in regard to weapons and sanctions is reached, North and South Korea can build on that momentum and continue in line with the Panmunjom Declaration, from April 2017, when the two governments agreed to work together to end its decades long conflict.

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Narendra Modi re-elected Indian Prime Minister: “An opportunity for Bangladesh’s minorities”

Fri, 24/05/2019 - 16:39

In honor of the re-election of Modi, Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, declared: “Under your leadership, you will play an important role in protecting the oppressed minorities in Bangladesh, who are presently being slowly and gradually ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homeland.”

According to the BBC, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was just re-elected and thanked the people of India for giving him a “historic mandate” for the next five years, after he won a land-slide victory in the general election.  “We all want a new India,” he proclaimed.  “I bow down and say thank you.”  Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is projected to get about 300 out of the 543 seats in the Indian Parliament.

Following Modi’s victory, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Congratulations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP Party on their big election victory.  Great things are in store for the US-India partnership with the return of PM Modi at the helm.  I look forward to continuing our important work together.”

In a public statement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated: “Oh behalf of the government of Canada, I congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his re-election.  I look forward to continuing to work with him to improve the lives of Canadians and Indians alike through education, innovation, investing in trade, investment and fighting climate change.”  

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally called Modi and congratulated him.  The conversation was posted on his Facebook page: “Narendra my friend, congratulation.  What an enormous victory!  I hope that I can see you very soon, as soon as you form a government and as soon as we form a government.  There is much to discuss on so many things.  Thank you for your congratulations on my victory but there is one difference.  You don’t need a coalition.  I do.”

On Twitter, Netanyahu tweeted: “Heartfelt congratulations my friend Narendra Modi on your impressive victory in the elections.  The election results are more a validation of your leadership and the way in which you lead the largest democracy in the world.  Together, we will continue to strengthen the great friendship between us and between India and Israel, and bring it to new peaks.  Well done, my friend.”

Modi’s government has been a strategic partner for both the State of Israel and the United States of America.  Under Modi’s leadership, India is expected to clamp down increasing upon radical Islamist terror groups in Pakistan and against China’s growing dominance in Asia.  Both of these strategic policies promoted by Modi will make him an ideal friend for the United States of America.  Aside from the US, Israeli-Indian-relations have blossomed under Modi’s leadership to an unprecedented level.  Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to ever visit Israel.  His re-election thus opens up many doors for a better trilateral relationship between Israel, the US and India.    

However, Modi’s re-election was not just welcomed in the West.  The Hindu community in Bangladesh also was very excited about his electoral victory.  In honor of the re-election of Modi, Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, declared: “I congratulate Narendra Modi, the honorable prime minister of India for being elected again on behalf of Mendi Safadi, the head of the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, and Bangladeshi dissident Aslam Chowdhury. I am feeling proud because you have been able to climb to power in India for a second time.”

“Under your leadership, you will play an important role in protecting the oppressed minorities in Bangladesh, who are presently being slowly and gradually ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homeland,” he noted. “I urge you to promote a free and fair election with international observers within Bangladesh so that ordinary Bangladeshis will have the opportunity to rise to greatness in the same manner that India has under your leadership.” 

Abishek Gupta, the President of the Indian Chapter of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, added: “For the first time in Indian politics, we have witnessed pro-incumbency.  This was due to the great work done by Modi over the past five years.  Modi has worked for the benefit of all age groups.  The Indian economy has become stronger, the army is more confident and India has really enhanced its prestige across the world.  Not only the BJP workers campaigned for Modi but so did the common man in India.  Nationalism, honesty and dedication won.  Congratulations to Modi from everyone in India.”  

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AIPAC’s Weakening Grip On US Foreign Policy

Wed, 22/05/2019 - 22:48

Despite the 18,000faithful who gathered recently in Washington, D.C. to pledge their unwavering support to Israel, AIPAC finds itself in a Dickensian moment of history that could be described as ‘It was the winter of gloating; it was the spring of scrutiny’.

AIPAC’s guests of honor may vary in faith and political affiliation; they may vary in fame, clout, and the sizes of their wallets. But on certain characteristics they are all identical: their cultish faithfulness in the mentality of ‘what’s good for Israel is good for America,’ and in their adherence to disseminate the committee’s talking-points on foreign policy ad nauseam.

As usual the AIPA Cconference has attracted big names such as Vice President Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others to rub shoulders with many bigwig donors, pundits and ‘king-makers’.

Sustaining Apartheid

After 7 decades of statehood, Israel remains unsustainable without billions of U.S. tax-payers’ money, without U.S.’ blind commitment to veto any resolution that attempts to hold Israel accountable for the routine human rights violations and transgressions against international laws- something that ironically would have justified ‘regime change’ if it were another country doing it.

Over the years, AIPAC has successfully marketed Israel as a “logical” cognitive dissonance. Though 2019 Global Firepower ranks Israel the 16th most powerful military in the world, it is presented in the US as a nation that is under existential threat. Though it is a wealthy, innovative, and advanced nation, it is presented as a nation that is worthy of perpetual unconditional funding from American tax-payers.

Looking Through the Stained Glass

Following Israel’s 70th anniversary, these 3 controversial AIPAC lobbied-issues came to fruition: termination of the Iran Nuclear Deal, transfer of US embassy to Jerusalem, and getting U.S. to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel; hence underscoring AIPAC’s exceptional clout in driving U.S. foreign policy. The only outstanding item in Israel’s wish-list is to declare the remanence of the Muslim Brotherhood—most of whom are in the dungeons of Egypt—a terrorist organization.  Surely these accomplishments could boost Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Donald Trump’s image- something they desperately need as specter of corruption charges looms.

That being said, despite the common perception, America, save President Carter, has never been an ‘honest broker’ in its effort to help negotiate peace between Israel and Palestine. And that duplicitous brokerage is now on steroids. Unlike previous U.S. envoys to the Middle East who diplomatically concealed their staunch support of above-all-laws Zionism, Trump’s son in law Jarad Kushner who is now piloting U.S.’ Middle East policy, seems to enjoy being closely affiliated with Netanyahu and the extreme elements of Israel’s politics.

The Missing In Action Media

AIPAC relies heavily on U.S. mainstream media for dissemination of Israel’s narrative and for perception management by omitting daily human rights violations that IDF commits against Palestinians, including children. So it should shock no one to see media groups that would assign reporters to file stories from dangerous war zones would never send reporters to educate American audiences on what happens at military check points or about the unbearable living conditions in Gaza.

Generally speaking, in democracies, media provides some of the most critical public services- information, scrutiny, and empowerment. Without them, the masses will remain ignorant or ill-informed, therefore easily exploitable socially, politically and economically, and those whom power is entrusted with will grow more authoritarian and abusive, with impunity.  

By the same token when media surrender their journalistic independence to the highest corporate or individual mogul bidders, they, in due course, grow dysfunctional and lose sight of their role to advance the public interest and keep power in check. In such condition, media become dangerous tools.

According to Gullup media trust survey, older Americans are more likely to trust the media than younger Americans are. In this latest survey, 53% of those aged 65 and older trust in the media, compared with just 33% of those under age 30,” And this demographic perceptional enlightenment is the biggest revolution against fictional narratives that cannot withstand the smell test. That revolution is not only active in social media; it has real presence in the United States Congress. And said presence is more profound than Adam Milstein, a major pro-Israel funder’s, Islamophobic claim that “The Muslim Brotherhood is now part of Congress” in reference to Muslim Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib or President Trump’s reckless posting of a propagandistic video implicating Rep. Omar as a terrorist sympathizer. Death threats against Omar have alarmingly increased since then.   

Imminent Clash With Congress

Donald Trump’s tweet has set thestage for U.S.’ formal recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel posted the day before the Special Counsel Rober Mueller turned in his final report on the Russia Investigation. Of course, this latest of  ‘Trumplomacy’ adventures has very little, if any, to do with U.S. national interest.

Trump’s violation of the international law that considers the Golan Heights as an occupied territory was meant to give another troubled leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is AIPAC’s choice, a boost in the upcoming election. This blind loyalty to Israel’s grand objective in the Middle East would further alienate and shut out any opportunity to reconcile with the Muslim streetsthat are fed up with the despotic older guards such as Egypt’s President Abel Fattah el-Sisi and the more youthful perilous pawns such as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. This reckless decision endorses the ‘might is right’ world view, reinspire irredentism and intensify the sporadic disorders already underway in many parts of the world and undermine U.S.’ geopolitical interest in the long term. Most of the credit goes to AIPAC.

Before AIPAC came to the scene, the Jewish Zionist Council used to do heavy lifting when it comes to lobbying for Israel. Under the Kennedy administration, Attorney General Robert Kennedy launched an investigation that later found out that the Council has “compromised its position”thus ordering it to register as a “foreign agent”. The Council never registered. It was voluntarily dissolved, and, in late 1960s, AIPAC whose mission is “to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel” assumed its functions. 

Due to the blurred line of U.S. national interest andAIPAC’s emboldened status under the current administration, it is a matter of time before the new generation in the House would demand hearings citing that 1962-63 investigation as a precedent.

Downward Indicators

This year’s de facto conference theme was ‘Let’s gang up of Ilhan, shall we?’ Led by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who told the conference “take it from this Benjamin, it’s not about the Benjamins,” it is about Israel’s shared values with the U.S., he added. This assertion might persuade anyone who is oblivious to or ignores the fact that United Kingdom is the closest to U.S. when it comes to shared values, history, fighting side-by-side in major wars, and strategic partnership that ensures each a robust support for the other. But, everyone knows no politician who knows a thing or two about international relations could claim that U.K. and America will be friends forever. Yet, “Israel and America are connected now and forever,” said Speaker Pelosi.

AIPAC has been having a rough time spinning any and all legitimate criticism of Israel’s ruthless oppression of the Palestinian people as an ill-intentioned anti-Semitic attack on all Jews, though many of the most antagonistic toward that apartheid-like system are thoughtful Jews, Jewish human rights and peace-promoting organizations.

The United Nations has recently issued a reportblaming Israeli army for cold-blood killings of 189 unarmed Palestinians that include 35 children and some journalists and first aid workers and maiming more than 9,000 during  last year’s ‘right to return’ protests in Gaza.  The report which was based on more than 300 interviews and more than 8,000 documents concludes that Israel may have committed crimes against humanity. With these kinds of crimes and Netanyahu’s Likud Party forming partnership with a zealot party that promotes forced removal of Palestinians had compelled many including 2020 presidential candidates such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Kamala Harris to boycottattending the conference. President Trump did not waste time in condemning their decision to not pay their loyalty homage as an anti-Israel stance.

Meanwhile, the BDS movement continues to rapidly grow. Recently Brown Uniersity became the first Ivy League university to officially join the movement. Expect other universities to follow. 

Many holes are poked in AIPAC’s ‘carrot or stick’ groupthink power that had total monopoly on the Middle East narrative and the future of the Palestinian people. Just don’t tell those die hard AIPAC loyalists who were at the conference about it.

When groupthink rouses the masses into disorder it is a tragedy. And when groupthink rouses the political, economic, social, and the intellectual elite to surrender their autonomy to think critically and independently, it is a tragic comedy.  

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Missile Shields Forging International Relations

Thu, 16/05/2019 - 17:28
Soviet/Russian Missile Development Catalogue – Designed to Shoot Down US and NATO aircraft and missiles going back as far as the 1950s.

A historical overview of the development of anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems comes from the belief that the United States and its allies might have attempted to repeat the terror of German forces on the Soviet people during the Second World War and launch a strike on Moscow and the Soviet Union. The Cold War development by the Soviets of various missile systems was seen as the best deterrent against a NATO strike. A coordinated ground radar, missile and fighter/interceptor concept was developed and put in action in Vietnam, where the SA-2 missiles and radars, called the S-75 by the Soviets, shot down many American strike aircraft. While the SA-2 was a fixed installation, the 1970s era SA-6 was mobile and determined the strategy for several conflicts in the Middle East.

Much of the idea behind defending a city or military target during the Cold War focused on not only shooting down aircraft, but other missiles as well. Concepts like the SA-4, SA-5 and the ABM Galosh and other systems focused on stopping warheads before they met their targets. While the Reagan Administration was keen on a Star Wars type system and using directed energy weapons, the anti-ballistic missile concept was more feasible at the time and came from a design heritage that went back as far as the 1950s development of the SA-1 missile. The SA-1 and other variants of missiles were given the responsibility of surrounding Moscow with a missile shield, one that was often the most advanced for its time and was used only for the most important heritage centres of the Soviet Union.

The advancement of the Anti-Ballistic Missile technology was further developed within tactical missiles at the end of the Cold War. The use of smaller and mobile systems like the SA-6 Kub and SA-8 Osa developed into systems like the SA-11 Buk and SA-15 TOR that could now target other missile systems and drones. While these systems often were used only by former Soviet states and their close allies, the latter years after the end of the Soviet Union saw Russia re-asserting itself in challenging Western policy approaches. After the more recent fall of Libya’s government and the legacy of failures in Iraq, Russia saw itself as a necessary counterbalance to the US and its allies and what was seen as a flawed Western policy. Russian hegemony in Syria allowed Cold War systems to be used actively in the fight to maintain Syria’s government in power. More advanced systems were purchased by Venezuela since 2003 that are likely more sophisticated than most of Syria’s systems save the most recent acquisitions of the S-300 missiles.

Recent US policy on Venezuela and Iran need to take into consideration the spread of the S-300 type systems in any coercive actions in those regions. With the likelihood of an air conflict being greater than an invasion by troops in Venezuela and Iran, Russian missile systems will determine the strategy in addressing US concerns in Venezuela and Iran. Mid-level S-300 missiles could counter most aircraft, cruise missiles, many ballistic missiles and possible some stealth aircraft. The tradition of having ground based missile systems to counter US air power is long and has been very successful over the Cold War years. The effectiveness of those systems will be a strong factor in developing future strategies in international relations.

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Base of American Identity, Complexities for American Conduct

Wed, 15/05/2019 - 17:32

What Exactly Does It Stand For?

Foreign policy, a nation’s collective conduct, best attains its interests if it correlates means to ends. To make the correlation, even to know its ends, a nation needs to know its identity.

Attaining this knowledge raises great complexities. On May 8, a panel at the American Enterprise Institute on American nationalism wrestled with them, hard. Various views, all conservative, saw nationality residing, in varying proportions and senses, in the Constitution, in the Declaration of Independence, in some combination of British stock and the Declaration’s claims, or in the practice of patriotism.

America’s founding on classic Liberal principles actually poses a rather odd question. Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle, in a reflection on her encounter with Irish cultural preservationists, comes to muse whether Liberalism’s 

“cosmopolitan viewpoint … is itself exactly the sort of exclusivist project that its proponents supposedly reject. It can see only one right way to live your life, which is mobile, socialized to the values of the educated class and best adapted to the cities where most of its cosmopolitan proponents just happen to live.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/04/12/irish-cultural-pride-gives-this-cosmopolitan-second-thoughts/?wpisrc=nl_ideas&wpmm=1

McArdle is American, but also identifies as transnational. Her visit left her torn. Her politics make her one of the “people from nowhere,” and she fears that cultural pride leads to exclusion. But she also found an elemental satisfaction in back-country Ireland as she learned now her “bones took shape.” She, rather like the panel at AEI, now struggles with the relationship between organic identity and Liberalism.  America needs to work through this, as a nation.

Classic Liberal principles are British in origin, which has unexpected implications.  Britons can take the principles as organic heritage, much as McArdle’s Irish preservationists do the Irish language.  Liberalism could be taken as an Anglo ideology.  But Britons could also determine, should they choose, that other strains of their culture are more British. Locke and Hume, Adam Smith and Mill were not the only British philosophers. Burke, even Filmer, could theoretically gain a revival.  The Brexit movement can invoke mythic cultural roots.  

To quote Gordon Wood, in his “The Idea of America,” “to be an American is not to be someone … but to believe in something.”  The American nation declared itself in its divorce of its cultural motherland. The British signers of the Declaration of Independence renounced Britain in the name of a principle: of unalienable rights universally endowed and government only legitimized to secure those rights.  The “one people” separating from the other, “we” for whom the signers spoke, are defined in the Declaration by precisely this belief, and, on examination, nothing else.  Americans cannot renounce the Declaration’s abstract principles.

Yet “homo liberalus” looks more and more like a someone to be than a something to believe.   The Declaration’s creed does not prescribe any “ism,” not even “Liberalism.” It defers to each person to choose their own lights.  If my pursuit of happiness leads me to invest my identity in some tribe, even with illiberal internal tenets, the creed stands silent.  It leaves each of us to work things out for ourselves.  I might draw on my traditional church or ethnic heritage; I might invent my own.  So long as I respect the rights of others – and government does impose restraints to secure them – it falls to me.  

Even if I follow a traditional faith, it is not pre-ordained by birth, not received from the divine. The American can opt out.  This is choice. We may not all be self-creators or self-inventors, but we cannot avoid being self-choosers. But choice is the act of a mere mortal.  The Declaration’s deference to my choice imposes a burden even as it liberates.  My identity belongs to me alone, without support of church or king. It is mine as it rarely has been in human history – my homestead, maybe a village carved out with others who choose as I do, in a social wilderness.

If the nation’s founding creed defers to each of us in our choices, what, exactly, is an American?  Our abstract creed and the abstract flag symbolizing our State yield no automatic answers. Yes, it is “we” who hold our truths.  That also means it is each of us wrestling, like McArdle, to reconcile national principle and personal identity.  This wrestling befits a nation of immigrants – including even the involuntary — and includes the oppressed as they gain franchise. It also fits the founding tenets; in our liberty we all wrestle to define and pursue our happiness.  Which wrestlers can be citizens is a separate, though vexing question: shaping rules of inclusion will continue to absorb great energy.  But the principle puts enduring common ground under the debate. 

How should a nation founded on abstract principle conduct itself in the world?  Do our self-evident truths, and our national basis in them, contradict the legitimacy of nations based on race, religion, language, heritage, or soil?  Can America avoid ideological conflict with traditional regimes?  As with citizenship, politics will set the actual actions. The essential point for America is to ensure that debate, and hence the outcomes, refer first to America’s odd (exceptional?) national identity, resting on our abstract founding creed.

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Hindu human rights activist burned to death in prison toilette

Tue, 14/05/2019 - 19:10

Palash Chandra Roy, a Hindu rights activist and leader, went to the bathroom, had petrol thrown on him and was set on fire.  He later on died of his injuries.   

According to the World Hindu Struggle Committee, Hindu human rights activist and leader Palash Chandra Roy was murdered while being imprisoned in Panchagargh.   His family claims that the murder was premeditated.   Roy was the son of Mira Rani, a former freedom fighter and a female vice chairman of the upzilla. 

In the past, Roy was a legal officer in the Kohinoor Chemical Company.  When his superiors started to demand that he perform immoral tasks, he refused to do so as an outspoken opponent of corruption.  As a consequence, he faced a gigantic lawsuit in Bangladesh in 2016 and was subsequently arrested.  After he was released on bail, there was talk about him being imprisoned again.  Due to this, he went on hunger strike in order to demand his rights. 

At one point, his hunger strike turned into a massive protest rally on the Sher-E-Bangla Highway, where he raised awareness about the corruption going on daily in the Kohinoor Chemical Company.  The protests attracted the attention of the Bangladeshi government.   Following this, Rajib Rana, an APS of Sheikh Hasina, filed a case at the Sadar Police Station, claiming that Roy spoke against the Prime Minister and the Bangladeshi government during the protests.   After that, Roy was re-arrested and his bail was rejected this time around.

According to the report, the statement by Roy that the Bangladeshi government felt deemed him worthy of imprisonment was as follows: “As a response to brutal torture, we will commit suicide as the children of freedom fighters in front of the Prime Minister.   What does today’s Prime Minister have to say about democracy?  If you were in front of me today, I want an apology!  You killed the democracy by pressing my throat.  I am not BNP and I am not Jamaat.  Why did you file a case against me?  I want a reply from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.”  

Roy was supposed to appear in Dhaka in order to defend his case but instead he found himself unable to do so.  While in prison, he went to the bathroom and was sprayed with petrol by two strangers.   He was set on fire.  While the prison guards managed to rescue him alive, he later on died of his injuries while being treated inside of a local hospital.  All efforts to save his life failed.

In response to these developments, the Bimaloghu Roy Foundation, a local Bangladeshi human rights group, declared, “We seek the urgent attention of the international community regarding the grave situation in Bangladesh.   We seek to raise awareness about Palash Chandra Roy, who was an honest, upright and popular leader of the National Hindu Coalition in Bangladesh.  He has been exposing how religious minorities have been persecuted in the country.  It has come to our attention that Roy has been arrested due to the false allegation of making some remarks against the present prime minister and was brutally murdered by being set on fire in the bathroom.”

“Incidents of rape and murder, the defilement of Hindu gods and the looting of property belonging to religious minorities has been rising within Bangladesh,” they continued.  “This has created great apprehension and terror in the hearts of Bangladesh’s religious minorities, who no longer feel safe.  The aforementioned incidents are happening across Bangladesh.  This is a grave violation of the minorities in Bangladesh.”  

Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, concurred with the statement issued by the Bimaloghu Roy Foundation.  He added that he hopes that the Americans and other members of the international community can intervene in order to assure that Roy’s family receives the justice that they deserve posthumously and that the Bangladeshi government be held accountable for the grave human rights abuses occurring on a daily basis within their country.   

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Corruption Almost Never Disappears

Fri, 03/05/2019 - 19:14
Corruption can easily come to be seen as an inevitable part of the system (Christopher Dombres, public domain)

Since the Americas became home to millions of refugees from Venezuela over the last year, a great deal of attention has been given to the situation in the country. With a new government in waiting declaring their legitimacy and international condemnation of the Maduro government, little has changed however in Venezuela or for Venezuelans. Maduro’s government was able to ride out the international media attention it seems, and once there was less focus on the actions of his government he sought to ban, block and arrest his opposition and re-enforce his power in the country. While these actions run contrary to much of international law and breaks several human rights laws in the process, it was not the first time Maduro sought to jail his opposition. Despite an international effort to return rudimentary democracy to Venezuela, it looks as if the international community were only willing to support the democratic movement in Venezuela for a limited period of time with a limited amount of effort. No one is willing to take a large risk to end corruption in the country unfortunately, and those who do take the risk often do not succeed as the institutions of government have already been corrupted.

While people on both sides of the political spectrum in Brazil have aligned themselves closely with many of their political representatives, there is little doubt that corruption by many politicians is a serious problem with almost all political actors in Brazil. After several scandals and the realisation by many in the public sphere that corrupt practices have greatly reduced the per capita wealth and standard of living of average Brazilians, the judicial community advanced investigations into corruption that has placed a few ex-Presidents in jail and have gutted the established political order in Brazil. Brazilian society was made aware of how corruption operated between large corporations and their government, and how millions upon millions in revenue went to a few politicians and business leaders. Hard fought and well established judicial independence was able to challenge a system that was completely corrupt because the public demanded real justice. This was possible because while absolute corruption corrupts absolutely, it also makes the average citizen pay for it without restrictions or barriers, and will bankrupt every country that suffers from corrupt practices and institutions. Besides the moral deficits, it makes everyone poorer for the experience. The only way to eliminate it is to make sure it never takes hold in the first place.

Even countries with healthy democracies can become victim to corrupt practices. Canada has been suffering since February of this year with a corruption scandal where two whistle blowers in the current government have been kicked out of their party for protecting the judicial independence of Canada from a government that wishes to change the law to benefit a specific company. Canadian Parliamentary Democracy is built on the British Parliamentary system, where customary laws and etiquette have governed democratic practices for generations, but are often not codified in Commonwealth governmental systems. When the country’s Attorney General and fellow Ministers supported Minister Wilson Rayboult in her role to keep the Prime Minister from influencing the judicial process, she was castigated. When committees were formed to investigate, they were shut down by the Prime Minister’s party and those who did their job protecting Canada’s justice system were tainted by the same party and their reputations attacked. This leads to the conclusion that in the wrong hands, the Parliamentary Democratic system can be severely abused if the governing party lacks moral fibre. An immoral Prime Minister is able to infect the institutions and democratic protections in the government to such a great degree that they themselves believe they can permeate the barriers between the Executive, Legislative body and the Judiciary for their own political benefits. If the end result of such a political system is that there is little difference between holding a PM accountable and an Elected King accountable, the system is unable to protect its citizens from corrupt practices. Canada’s Venezuelan and Brazilian neighbours struggle with the end results of absolute power. Canada is far from having those problems to the same degree, but they are rapidly making inroads towards institutionalizing corruption in their country. Once installed in a society, it is almost impossible to remove and always is a detriment to the public.

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Sri Lanka bombings and the rise of ISIS in Asia

Thu, 02/05/2019 - 15:00

After I reported that ISIS is starting to move its forces to Africa and Asia following the destruction of the Caliphate, the Sri Lanka bombings occurred.   Across Asia, ISIS is on the ascent.  How should American policy makers respond?  

Last week, as Christians across the globe were celebrating Easter and Jews throughout the world were enjoying Passover, suicide bombers blew up three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  Later on the same day, there were additional smaller explosions within the country.  259 people were massacred and 500 others were injured in one of the worst coordinated terror attacks in recent history.  ISIS claimed responsibility for the coordinated terror attacks in Sri Lanka.  This came after I reported, “The murderous terror group is starting to move its forces to Africa and Asia.”   The question remains, in the wake of the fall of the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, to what extent does ISIS pose a threat to Asia following the Sri Lanka bombings?

Although US President Donald Trump had claimed that the War against ISIS is over due to the collapse of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, many counter-terror analysts warned that such statements were premature given that ISIS terror leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi remains free and the terror group still has the potential to wage deadly terror attacks worldwide.  Furthermore, in the wake of the fall of the Caliphate, many ISIS terrorists have returned to their home countries in Asia, where they are beginning to claim territory.

 Already, ISIS has captured a number of villages in Afghanistan and ISIS is attempting to establish itself in Bangladesh.  Not too long ago, Bangladeshi MP Assaduzzaman Noor claimed that “IS is not the Islamic State but rather the Israeli state.  Israel is the biggest enemy of Islam.”  Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, proclaimed that in the absence of vigilance by the authorities in suppressing the brutal terror group, there are many local supporters for the murderous terror group within the Asian country.  Aside from Afghanistan and Bangladesh, ISIS had also attempted to gain territory in the Philippines but they were repelled by the local authorities, who recently eliminated Abu Dar, the ISIS leader of the Philippines.  In 2017, ISIS terrorists in the Philippines held an entire island hostage for 5 months.  Over 1,000 people were killed as part of efforts for the local government to retain the main city.  Furthermore, according to the Clarion Project, the Rohingya rebels are linked to ISIS as well and they managed to initiate a major conflict against the Myanmar government.    

In the wake of the inroads that ISIS is making in Asia, the risk of another series of terror attacks occurring in the continent could not be greater.  Brahama Challeley, a professor for strategic studies at the New Delhi based Center for Policy Research, explained, “The defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq has only intensified the terrorism challenge because battle-hardened fighters with the operational training to stage savage attacks are now returning home.” He claimed that the presence of such ISIS returnees in Sri Lanka explains how such a horrific and sophisticated coordinated series of terror attacks were able to occur within the Asian country.  

However, the threat of such a coordinated series of terror attacks occurring did not begin with the fall of the Caliphate.  It began in 2017, when Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi appealed to his followers to avoid feeling defeated: “Oh soldiers of the Caliphate, fan the flames of war on your enemies, take it to them and besiege them in every corner and stand fast and courageous.”  The following year, in 2018, the New Yorker reported that ISIS was linked to 3,670 terror attacks worldwide with more than 300 taking place in Afghanistan, more than 180 in Egypt, about six dozen in Somalia, more than 40 each year in Nigeria and Yemen, and 27 in the Philippines.   Not too long before the Sri Lanka bombings this year, ISIS took responsibility for a terror attack that killed 16 in Afghanistan, a suicide bombing that killed 18 in a Pakistani market and twin bomb blasts in a Philippines church which slaughtered 23 others.   Indeed, ISIS making inroads in another Asian country was only a matter of time. 

For ISIS, Sri Lanka was a soft target.  The local authorities, who are Buddhist, fought a long and bloody civil war against the Tamil Tigers, a brutal terror group that implemented numerous suicide bombing attacks that included the use of female suicide bombers.  Given that brute force and not a peace agreement ended the civil war, keeping the peace on the island meant a constant suppression of Tamil (who are mainly Hindu) separatism.   Given this, Israel Hayom claimed that the Sri Lankan authorities turned a blind eye to the threat that Islamist extremism posed to the country.  Since the local Muslims were victims of many atrocities implemented by the Tamil Tigers, they were not on the radar screen of the Sri Lankan authorities.  However, Challeny claims that as the Sri Lankan authorities focused mainly upon suppressing Tamil separatism, there has been a surge in Saudi funded madrassas springing up who preach the radical Wahhabi ideology not only in Sri Lanka but also Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Pakistan.  

The very presence of these madrassas provide a fertile ideological breeding ground for ISIS to set themselves up in a number of Asian countries.   This is demonstrated by the fact that Salafi Wahhabi Indian preacher Zakir Naik, who equates music with alcohol, believes people should have their hands chopped off for stealing, supports wife beating and death for homosexuals, blamed Bush for September 11, supports Al Qaeda terrorizing America and is ideologically opposed to the propagation of non-Muslim faiths, promotes the same radical ideology that is propagated in the Saudi-funded madrassas.   According to Basu, his preaching were very popular not only among the Sri Lanka bombers but also among the perpetrators of the 2016 Dhaka terror attack in the Holey Artisan Bakery, which led to the slaughter of 22 people.  Interestingly, Saudi Arabia granted Naik citizenship merely so that he would not be prosecuted in India for promoting Islamist radicalism.   According to Basu, these Saudi-funded madrassas in Asia not only promote the teachings of Naik but other radically minded individuals as well, thus leading to the rise of radical Islam in Asia.   If one wants to understand the magnitude of the rise of ISIS in Asia, it is of critical importance to understand in depth all of ISIS’s present activities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, where the murderous terror group has made numerous inroads in recent times.  

Is the Pakistani ISI helping ISIS?

According to the Business Standard, during the Sri Lanka bombings, “ISIS honed in on Sri Lanka as a soft target because of the relative peace post conflict with LTTE, using the NTJ, which had not yet earned notoriety for major violence and marked it for possible terror attacks of this nature.  Surprisingly, there is no mention of the role of Pakistan played in the past as a coordinator between the NTJ and ISIS, which is perhaps by design or default.  When an Indian Peace-Keeping Force returned from Sri Lanka in 1990, Pakistan posted a colonel from ISI as deputy high commissioner for its mission in Colombo.   He organized the aOsama Brigade, comprising Muslim Tamils of North Sri Lanka, to provide a base for terror attacks in Southern India.”  According to the report, Amir Zubair Siddiqi, who served as the ISI man in Colombo, was the one who trained Tamil Muslim Zakir Hussein, who later on planned to attack the US and Israeli Consulates.   Hussein was later arrested but was subsequently released and then went to Malaysia.  

The plans to attack the Israeli and US Consulate are not the only terror attacks that Pakistan stands behind.  The Brookings Institution claims that “Pakistan has long been a difficult and disruptive neighbor to Afghanistan, hoping to limit India’s influence there and cultivating radical groups in Afghanistan as proxies.  It has augmented Afghanistan’s instability by providing intelligence, weapons and protection to the Afghan Taliban.”  However, does the Pakistani ISI support ISIS, do they merely enable them like the Sheikh Hasina government does or do they work for the ascendancy of radical Islamist terror generally speaking but not ISIS in particular?

In 2017, a research report titled “ISIS in Pakistan” claimed that ISIS was alarmingly increasing their presence in the country while the government turned a blind eye to the phenomenon, claiming that the brutal terror group either did not exist within their borders or did not pose as grave of a threat to Pakistan as it did to other places.  A couple of years later, the Pakistan Market Terror Attack that was implemented by ISIS took place within the country.  Since then, the author has not been able to find any recent evidence of Pakistan assisting ISIS.   Pakistan has a new Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has barred militant groups from attacking from Pakistani soil and who has started to crack down on radical Islam.  Nevertheless, despite his good intentions, a Pakistani drug cartel may have financed the Sri Lanka bombings and Pakistan still has a long sordid history of enabling radical Islamist terror across the region, which has worked to the benefit of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar e-Toiba, Jaish e-Mohammed, and now potentially also ISIS.      

Why Sheikh Hasina’s government in Bangladesh is enabling ISIS

According to Basu, it is the dream of the present ruling government in Bangladesh to create an exclusively Muslim country.  He claims that in Bangladesh, Islam is the official state religion, Hindu writers are being removed from the school curriculum, more and more madrassas are getting built as minority places of worship are getting desecrated and minority faiths are slowly being ethnically cleansed from the country. 

Although the Western media claims that Bangladesh has been fighting against ISIS since 2016, when ISIS attacked a Dhaka café, killing 22 people, according to Basu, the reality on the ground has shown that the Sheikh Hasina government has been turning a blind eye to ISIS increasing their presence within her country and in public statements, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister denies their existence in Bangladesh.  Basu claims that Sheikh Hasina does this while taking a few symbolic acts to appease the West in order to serve the purpose of using ISIS to create an exclusively Muslim country for herself and her radical Islamist supporters.   Basu claims that ISIS and other radical Muslims are doing Sheikh Hasina’s dirty work of pushing the minorities out of the country for her.  Therefore, even as ISIS recently injured several Bangladeshi police officers who raided a radical Islamist hideout that turned out to be affiliated with ISIS, where a couple of terrorists were eliminated, the Sheikh Hasina government continues to deny the existence of ISIS in Bangladesh.   This remains the situation even after ISIS claimed responsibility for detonating an IED on the police, just a week after the deadly Sri Lanka bombings.

Due to this systematic Awami League policy of ignoring ISIS and other radical Islamist activities in Bangladesh in order to let them suppress minorities, Basu notes that the number of incidents targeting minorities within the country is on the ascendency.  They include but are not limited to:

  • A Hindu housewife was kidnapped in Manikganj
  • Hindu temples were vandalized in Madaripur
  • A 15-year-old Hindu girl committed suicide after being sexually harassed
  • Six idols in the Rodha Govinda Temple were vandalized
  • 20 Hindus were beaten to death by Muslim mobs in Sakhira Puja Mandap
  • In Jamalpur Sadar, a Hindu woman was tied to a tree and left there all tied up
  • A Hindu school teacher was attacked with harsh objects
  • The abduction of a seventh-grade Hindu girl
  • The abduction, selling and sexual enslavement of a Hindu girl by a Muslim trafficker
  • The Mosque Committee threatened to burn a Hindu crematorium if it was not shut down and handed over to them
  • A Hindu religious function in Dhaka was interrupted by Muslim mobs

According to Basu, although ISIS cannot be blamed for all of these incidents, the systematic persecution of the minorities of Bangladesh and the government’s encouragement of radical Islam breeds an environment where ISIS can flourish under the radar screen of the international community. 

For this reason, he claimed that the desire of 40 ISIS members of Bangladeshi origin to return to Bangladesh could be realized, even though the Border Security was given instructions to bar their entry.   As he told me previously, there are plenty of Bangladeshis who are sympathetic to ISIS that would volunteer to get them past Border Security, give them shelter and help them to build up ISIS bases within the country.  He claims that all they would have to do is change the name in order to avoid problems with the Bangladeshi authorities.   And for this reason, he predicts that unless the international government is vigilant in tackling the rise of ISIS in Asia by placing pressure on the Sheikh Hasina government, it is possible that something similar to the Sri Lanka bombings could also happen within his country.  This is especially so after ISIS recently released a telegram in Bangla proclaiming “coming soon,” implying that their next attack will be in Bangladesh.  

The ARSA-ISIS Connection

According to a report in the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, although ARSA, the main Rohingya rebel group, denies any links to ISIS, both the Indian and the Bangladeshi governments claim that ARSA is in fact linked to ISIS: “The smoking gun was an interception of long-distance calls between Hafez Tohar, the chief of ARSA’s military wing, on August 23 and 24, 2007, just prior to the large scale Rohingya rebels attack on Myanmar’s military outposts on August 25 that triggered a crackdown that led to the mass exodus of Rohingya from North Rakhine in Myanmar.   The incriminating testimony is a call from an Iraq number initiated by someone introducing himself as al Amin of Daesh in which ISIS wished ARSA the best in its jihad against the Burmese colonists, Buddhists and Hindu fanatics.”

The Myanmar media outlet Mizzama reported that a top Indian intelligence official claimed, “After ISIS’s huge failures in the Middle East in the face of Russian and US-led Western military action, there is a clear attempt to create a new theater of jihad where the narrative of torture and human rights violations reinforced by heavy-handed Burmese action can destabilize India’s east.  That will divert Indian military attention from Kashmir.  It is a clear Pakistani ploy.” 

A press release issued by a Myanmar government spokesman confirmed the above report, adding that recently ISIS has shifted its focus away from the Middle East and towards them: “ISIS mainly nurtured home-grown cells (a likely reference to ARSA).  The terrorists who entered from outside linked and worked with radical elements inside the country, as in the case of Sri Lanka.”  

 In recent days, the Economic Times of India have reported that armed gangs with potential links to ISIS have taken over Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, where they have been kidnapping people and threatening women with violence.  A rise in extremist ideology has been reported among the 900,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees currently living in Bangladesh.   According to the World Hindu Struggle Committee, in recent days, there has been an armed clash in the Rohingya camp of Cox Bazaar: “There are many horrendous crimes being reported including murders, kidnappings, disappearing and looting.” He claims that these radical Rohingya rebels who have taken over the Bangladeshi refugee camps have threatened to topple any Bangladeshi government that dares to react to their crimes.    

How America can fight against ISIS in Asia

In the wake of the Sri Lanka bombings and the ascendance of ISIS in Asia, it is of critical importance for American policy makers to re-evaluate Trump’s declaration regarding the defeat of ISIS and to formulate a strategy for struggling against the murderous terror group as they transform from an Iraqi and Syrian insurgency into a global clandestine terror group, which poses a threat to not only Asia but the entire free world.   Following recent developments, international cooperation between the US, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, the Philippines and other governments that are facing a radical Islamist threat in Asia is of utmost importance. 

As recent reports had suggested, India had supplied Sri Lanka with vital intelligence about the Sri Lanka bombings, which could have saved lives.   According to these reports, an internal feud among officials prevented this intelligence from being used properly.  If we want to prevent the next Sri Lanka, we all must work with each other regardless what our nationality is and what our political affiliation is.  Terrorism harms us all equally.  The political partisanship must end here.    

Furthermore, in light of recent gains made by ISIS in Afghanistan, a US withdrawal from the region at this time is not advised.  If anything, the US must put forward the same amount of efforts and resources into fighting against ISIS in Afghanistan that they did towards fighting against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  On top of that, pressure must be placed on any governments who do anything in order to enable ISIS terrorism within their borders.  The Sheikh Hasina government should not be able to ignore ISIS merely so that minorities can be ethnically cleansed from the country.  While Pakistan’s new leader has made some progress, more pressure should be applied on him so that he continues to move in the right direction and does not regress due to domestic pressure.  There should be zero toleration for ISIS, even if they change their names while merging with local Islamist groups. 

Furthermore, even if we don’t like the human rights records of certain countries, we should be willing to overlook it enough so that cooperation against ISIS won’t be impeded for the rise of radical Islam is the greatest threat to the free world of our times.  Just because we don’t like how Myanmar is heavily repressing Rohingya civilians does not mean that we should avoid cooperating with them, when their very conflict was initiated by a rebel group linked to ISIS.  As Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”  In light of this, more than anything, it is critical for American policy makers to act in order to prevent the rise of ISIS in Asia and not to sit by and let it happen.  

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Op-Ed: Unreality in Thinking about the Unthinkable

Tue, 23/04/2019 - 16:30

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, George Schultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn argued for “a world without nuclear weapons, [as] dangers continue to mount.” Lamenting “a dangerous policy paralysis” among the US, its allies and Russia, they write that the road to denuclearization is through “re-engagement” with Russia, a “joint declaration,” and “dialogue,” all with a goal of reaching “stability”.

The authors’ respective positions as former Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and Senator and Chair of the Armed Services Committee lend an implicit gravitas to their writing. But their writing  does them no credit. They remain damningly silent about what happened to the largest country in Europe that also took their advice.

Following the fall of the USSR in 1991, Ukraine became the world’s third largest nuclear power (only after Russia and the US). Three years later Ukraine acceded to the very Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (“NPT”) that the authors celebrate. Kyiv surrendered its nuclear arsenal (under American hectoring) to, yes, Russia: 176 ICBM’s armed with 1,240 nuclear warheads, 44 strategic bombers armed with 1081 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, and an unspecified number of tactical nuclear warheads. Predictably enough, this also meant the implosion of Ukraine’s scientific-military-industrial complex that produced or maintained that arsenal, including the worlds’ largest ICBM plant. Never did anything even remotely resembling Ukraine’s surrender occur. Nor will it ever again. 

Why?

In exchange for Ukraine’s denuclearization, the infamous 1994 “Memorandum on Security Assurances” (signed by Russia, the US, and the United Kingdom in Budapest) was intended to ensure Ukrainian sovereignty and national security. In early 2014, Russia (itself an NPT signatory and, bizarrely, the very recipient of Ukraine’s arsenal) nonetheless invaded, occupied and annexed Ukrainian territory, shattering its obligations under the Memorandum. Both from the standpoint of preventing any such violation by Russia in the first place (which was the entire purpose of the Memorandum) and from the standpoint of causing Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine, America “policy” has failed. Ukraine’s human costs, alone, in the ensuing more than half a decade has been heinous–the disemboweling of children is a war crime. The costs to our own, and regional and global security, has been accelerating, and may easily expand beyond the monetary.

It can be argued that the Memorandum literally obligates the US only to enter into “consultations” with the other parties. Yet that hardly rises to an “assurance of security.” It manifestly was never the intention of the parties to hinge Ukraine’s denuclearization on  Washington’s commitment to place a phone call to the UN in the event of a Russian invasion.  Further, the Memorandum essentially restates the obligations already extant in the UN Charter and other international agreements of the parties. Regardless, given Russia’s breach there is nothing to keep Ukraine from withdrawing from the NPT and renewing its nuclear arsenal. Little wonder that the authors don’t mention this reality.

A year before invading Ukraine, Putin wrote in a  New York Times Op-Ed: “[I]f you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus, a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen non-proliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.”  While we intone the need for denuclearization, our flaccid response endorses Putin having turned the very concept into a sad joke. Why should tyrants or allies ever again trust an arrangement such Ukraine entered into? Moreover, Ukraine’s was not the case of foregoing hypothetical acquisition of a nuclear arsenal, but of surrendering an existing one–as stated, the world’s third largest. And to its historic and predictable persecutor, no less. 

Interring any realistic prospects for denuclearization that the WSJ article champions is bad enough. But the proximate consequences have been even greater. In that same NYTimes Op-Ed, Putin further wrote: “We . . . believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law and we must follow it whether we like it or not.  Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council.  Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations charter and would constitute an act of aggression.”  True to form, Putin crow-barred denuclearization, using Ukraine as a fulcrum to upend the world order that has prevailed since WWII, sliding the world precisely into that very chaos. Overnight, he collapsed the “stable security architecture” that Messrs. Schultz, Perry and Nunn assume he wants to rebuild.

But it’s a shared accomplishment.  Measured against the egregiousness of Russian shattering of the very notion of denuclearization, as well as a dozen solemn international agreements,  our impotent  sanctions, furrowed brows and sonorous condemnations amount to little more than barring Russia from Disney World. Our lack of political will, naivete and, indeed, pusillanimity, have multiplied the consequences of Putin’s war against Ukraine.  We have been  the accelerant, not only for  Putin’s marauding elsewhere (including the Potomac), but also for much of the chaos roiling the globe. “Dangers continue to mount,” as the authors write. Is this consistent with the author’s urging that “we [must] respond firmly to Russia’s aggressions,” “maintain our values and protect our vital interests,” and “where treaties are not likely or feasible, understandings and red lines are imperative”?

Except that Messrs. Schultz, Perry, and Nunn don’t recognize the “red line.” It was identified already in 1997 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and to which I have referred in the past: “Whether Russian led integration on the territory of the former USSR will pose a serious, long-term military challenge to the West, depends in large part on the role that Ukraine plays or is compelled to play. . . . Ukraine will do much to determine whether Europe and the world in the twenty-first century will be as bloody as they were in the twentieth.” 

Twenty two ensuing years have not muted, but reinforced, that reality. The just released Special Counsel Mueller’s report records that Paul Manafort acknowledged a “backdoor” plan for Russia’s control of Ukraine.  Putin most certainly understands the stakes even if America’s “Cold War statesmen” do not.  They either  do not understand or–rather to their credit–do not remember that Ukraine’s reclamation of its independence in 1991 ensured the unravelling of the USSR and the seeming end of the Cold War. And here, it should be recalled, it was the US that strove to derail Ukraine’s independence. Where is the logic or consistency, where is the recognition of our fundamental national self-interest, in not having correspondingly supported and reinforced from the very outset the player that was the determinative factor in securing that epochal event? That was not done then, and the failure was compounded with the Memorandum and since. How more monumental can it all be?  How do friend and foe assess our judgment and common sense?

And Russia? It suffers none of the “policy paralysis” that the authors ascribe to it.  Russian military doctrine has jettisoned the notion of non-survivability of a nuclear war and embraced a doctrine of first-strike capability . . .  and more.   Underway are a score of nuclear modernization programs for land-based, air and sea weaponry, much of it hypersonic, such as the Tsirkon and Avangard missiles successfully tested last December.  And in an interview for the  documentary “The World Order 2018,” Putin commented on the prospects for nuclear war, asking, “Why would we want a world without Russia?” A performance by the Saint Petersburg’s Concert Choir in the Isakyev Cathedral on 23rd February 2019, Russian Armed Forces Day, unveils the mindset:  

Aboard a nuclear-powered submarine

With a dozen 100-megaton bombs

I crossed the Atlantic and told the gunner:

“Take aim, Petrov”, I said, “at Washington city!”

*           *          * 

Hail the enemy’s New World!

My friend, little Vova [Putin], flying in the airplane above

Didn’t come to visit with his bomb bay hatches empty

Aboard the nuclear-powered submarine

The crew sang a merry song:

*           *          * 

Burn, you Land of the Enemy!

The lights along Norfolk’s shore are napping sweetly

Tired toys and negroes [sic], all sleeping quietly,

Forgive me, good America,

But five hundred years ago they discovered you in vain. 

*.          *           *

Half burned is the land of the Enemy!

This is not because Putin seeks nuclear Armageddon, but because our sophomoric understanding of Russia and lack of political will provide Putin with predictability and certainty. Each step for him is less and less a roll of the dice.  At a conference in November 2014, I warned that that pattern will spawn another Cuban missile crisis, except that it will not end as characterized by then Secretary of State Dean Rusk, “We were eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other guy just blinked.”

Truly, it’s not (as the authors captioned their WSJ article) that  “The Threat of Nuclear War is Still With Us.”  It’s rather that our fecklessness has increased that threat.  Monumentally. The only unassailable part of Messrs. Schultz’, Perry’s and Nunn’s assessment is their conclusion that American policy is “dysfunctional” . . . but not in the way they think or deign to admit.

 

 

Victor Rud is past Chairman of the Ukrainian American Bar Association, and currently chairs its Committee on Foreign Affairs

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Op-Ed: The repression of Bangladesh’s indigenous culture

Fri, 19/04/2019 - 15:53

Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, calls for the end of the repression of Hindu and other minority cultures within Bangladesh.  

The Bengal region, which is located in a certain region of India and Bangladesh today, used to be entirely part of India until the area was divided politically by the British.   Under the British, Muslim East Bengal and the Assam Province (present-Day Bangladesh) were divided from the Hindu-majority area of Bengal Pradesh, which is located in today’s India.   Following the colonial partition of the country into India, East and West Pakistan, the Hindus became a minority community in East and West Pakistan, where they faced intense oppression from the Muslim majority. 

The partition of India in 1947 was a very bloody conflict for both the Muslims and the Hindus. Several hundred thousand people were killed, at least 75,000 women were raped, 83,000 women were abducted, many non-Muslims were forcefully converted to Islam and 12 million people became refugees.  While the Muslims also suffered during the partition of India, at least today, the Muslims who live in India enjoy democratic rights. Sadly, this is not the case for the Hindus of the Bengal region, who are still living in the shadow of the Noakhali Riots of 1946 and the Great Calcutta Killings, as the persecution of the Hindu community did not end with the partition of India.

 Later on, during the Liberation War of 1971, Pakistani soldiers massacred Hindu men and raped their women en masse.   Many people in Bangladesh consider what the Pakistani Army did to the Hindus and other non-Pakistani peoples of the Bengal region to be genocide.  However, while many across the globe believe that the oppression ended with the Pakistani occupation, this is not the case.  Following Bangladeshi independence, numerous Hindus continue to flee to India from Bangladesh due to the murder, rape and forceful conversions of their people that never came to an end, despite the end of Pakistani rule over the region.  In fact, according to Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, within the past year, 107 Hindus were murdered, 25 Hindus women were raped and 235 Hindu temples were vandalized in Bangladesh.  

To this day, Basu claims that the Islamists in Bangladesh view Bengali culture to be equivalent to Hindu culture and based on this inherent belief, they have begun a process of replacing Bengali words with Arabic and Urdu words in order to “purify the language” of its non-Muslim heritage.  In addition, he added that Islamist groups such as Jamaat e-Islam, Hefajat e-Islam, Olamama and the Islami Movement are now demanding the elimination of Hindu writers from the school system and their replacement with Muslim writers.  He claims that both BNP leader Khaleda Zia and Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina are trying to transform the country into an Islamic state and are cooperating with these Islamist groups in their quest to purge Hindu culture from the country.   

Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, has condemned the oppression of the indigenous Bengali culture in Bangladesh and stressed that the State of Israel always stands beside the Hindu people in their hour of need.    Furthermore, Bangladeshi human rights activist Aslam Chowdhury added that it is critical for all Muslims to stand in solidarity with the oppressed Hindu minority of Bangladesh and to work in order to preserve the indigenous Bengali heritage, even if it is not Muslim. 

As Dr. Martin Luther King once stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”   For this reason, respecting minority cultures is of utmost importance to the historic preservation of nations throughout the world.   Just as America would not be the same without having a respect for Hispanic, Native American, African American, Asian American, Jewish American and Muslim American culture, the preservation of Bangladesh also requires respecting the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and indigenous heritage of the nation.  In the name of preserving Hindu and other minority cultures in Bangladesh, Basu calls upon the international community to pressure his government to end the repression of Hindu culture within Bangladesh.   

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Quick Takeaways from the Latest Border “Crisis”

Tue, 16/04/2019 - 19:40

A Border Patrol agent guards detainees at a holding facility near the border. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

The southern border has been in the news again, and once again the Trump administration in speaking in terms of crisis. The number of migrant families arriving from Central America has spiked in the early months of 2019, leading the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to declare that his agency is at the “breaking point.” Here are a few quick comments on the situation.

First, the recent twist in the migration trend line—assuming that it is not a blip and perhaps even if it is—further undermines longstanding Republican assumptions concerning the forces that drive migration. The underlying assumption is that lenient U.S. border policy encourages people to come and that tougher treatment will deter them. Migration trends have not followed that pattern. Illegal crossings at the southern border peaked back in 2000, when 1.6 million were apprehended. The accumulated illegal population peaked back in 2007, at about 12.5 million, and has fallen off since. During the Obama administration, when Republicans continuously accused the president of leaving the border open and allowing masses of illegal immigrants to enter, more people were leaving than entering. This was true during Obama’s first term, when he deported unprecedented numbers of undocumented immigrants (a policy that had no effect on Republican rhetoric or willingness to cooperate on border issues), and it was true during his second term when he cut back on that. When Trump was running for office and complaining about the numbers of illegal aliens entering the country, the actual number was at a 45 year low. After more than two years of Trump’s “get tough” policies, the number is on the rise again. In the meantime, the nature of the migrant flow has changed from young Mexican men to Central American families. To the best of my knowledge, no one has explained what changes in U.S. border policy led young Mexican men to stop coming and Central American families to start. The root causes of the current migration wave most likely involve rampant violence, unemployment, poverty, and especially these days, rust fungus (which attacks coffee crops), drought, and famine in parts of Central America. Whatever is driving migration, it is not U.S. border policy.

Second, if CBP is facing a breaking point, it is a direct consequence of Trump administration policy. The administration opted to treat all people crossing the border without authorization as criminals and to detain and try them. Although administration officials constantly claim that they are only following the law and have no choice in the matter, this is not required by the law, no previous administration—Democratic or Republican—has done it, and detainees released with an ankle bracelet do show up for court hearings. (By the way, crossing the border without authorization is a misdemeanor. When the defendants are tried and convicted, the most common sentence is time served and a $10 fine.) The policy’s deterrent effect can be divined from the previous paragraph. It is the administration’s decision of what to do with the migrants, not their raw numbers, that has overwhelmed CBP.

Third, the administration’s proposed remedies do not address the problems at hand. The failure of the “get tough” policy to deter migration has already been noted. President Trump’s most famous proposal, of course, is to build a wall along the border. This, however, will have little impact on the recent waves of Central American migrants, who have not been sneaking in but presenting themselves to the Border Patrol and requesting asylum. (Incidentally, a recent Republican proposal has been to insist that asylum seekers apply from their home countries, but that is not a legal option. Asylum must be requested on U.S. territory, regardless of whether the asylum seeker entered the country legally, generally within one year of arrival.) Likewise, most illegal drugs are smuggled through legal ports of entry hidden in cars or trucks, so a wall between ports of entry would not even pose a minor inconvenience. Trump’s most recent proposals—closing the border with Mexico (our third largest trading partner) to all traffic and cutting off foreign aid that was intended to address the root sources of migration in Central America (announced one day after signing a memorandum of cooperation with those same countries)—will only create new problems. As always with this administration, the latest proposals lack meaningful details and whether they will actually be carried out is anyone’s guess.

Finally, the U.S. economy could probably use these people. The argument for keeping them out has never made much sense. Given low birth rates and the retirement of the Baby Boom generation, the native-born working-age population with nonimmigrant parents in the United States is shrinking after growing for decades. The Pew Research Center has projected that between 2015 and 2035, it will shrink by 8.2 million. Fortunately, the United States attracts millions of working-age people who are eager to take jobs. Unfortunately, many Americans think the number of jobs is fixed, so that more jobs for immigrants means fewer for native-born Americans. Well, between 1970 and 2010, the U.S. population increased by about 105 million (from 203 million to 308 million). If the number of jobs were fixed, there would be a lot more unemployed people around than there are now. At the moment, there are more job openings than there are unemployed people. Growth is the natural order, and growth requires people. The appropriate solution to the illegal immigration issue is not to throw them out, but to devise legal ways to bring them in.

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