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Do You Hear the People Sing?

Mon, 19/08/2019 - 19:55
Protesters occupy the departure hall of the Hong Kong International Airport during a demonstration on August 12, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.

Democracy is always messy, because people by nature are not perfect. Democracy is neither a perfect solution or system because it is run and set up by people who are often flawed and make mistakes. That being said, it is the best system of government that has been created in human history. It has achieved this status because it promotes honour in equality, even if it is impossible to achieve in its perfect form. To honour equality there is a set of rules that must apply to everyone, whether rich or poor, powerful or weak, sick or healthy. These rules must be also applied equally, and there is a financial and societal obligation by citizens to make sure justice serves the people, and not only those running the government. Since 2009, those who did not have democracy were chosen as targets by some of the most brutal regimes in modern history, and mostly ignored by other nations comfortable in their own democracies. Those who learned they had to speak out were brutalised, and those who’s grandparent’s spoke out forgot to honour their achievements by ignoring those who wanted equality.

Neda was a young Iranian woman who wanted to change her country, her own life, and gain equal opportunities in the process. Like many in her community she was killed by her own government because she wanted a society that honoured equality. For those that were not killed, the government arrested and tortured them while the world ignored them. Unfortunately, a trend was learned by other regimes against those who wanted equality. Along came Syria’s war and an entire conflict learned from the death of Neda and others like her on how to oppress with success. Once they know that no one is watching, they applied these lessons against equality. Some of the most ancient communities in the middle east have been subject to a genocide in our generation because they wanted to just to exist. Being left alone to survive was the only equality they could hope for. Because they were not of the right blood, religion or family, people like the Yazidis, Kurds and other regional minorities were subject to the repeat of a new Holocaust. This occurred in the post civil rights era, where feminism is on the mind of most when forming their societies and families, but we ignored the most brutalised women in human history.

Democracy once achieved, needs to be maintained and developed. The costs of applying justice are great, but they are as necessary as water and shelter. Even in some of the most fair and democratic societies, there is a constant and persistent need to maintain a fair democracy. Whether it is realising that a justice system does not apply laws equally, Protects police members to a different degree than it does a citizen murdered by the police, or tries to justify moving the goal post of large corporations against the will of the people, the legal community and the Justice Minister herself, policies must always be made while honouring equality. When those same policymakers try to legitimise fence sitting while their fellow democratic cousins are shouting for their rights, they are dishonouring their grandparents and their parents who fought for the same rights many are fighting for today. If that cannot be comprehended by those in power in modern times, it gives the impression that they do not understand the countries they govern. If they will not fight for equality, then citizens will do it for themselves, even if it is messy and comes at great costs.

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Op-Ed: Why Trump and Netanyahu should help Bangladeshi Hindus

Wed, 14/08/2019 - 21:17

Next month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit India.   Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, stressed that the 55 million Bangladeshi refugees who are presently being sheltered in India are very excited about this visit, believing that Netanyahu can potentially join forces with Modi in order to help them: “With the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India, Bangladeshi refugees in India have begun dreaming of returning to Bangladesh. They hope that, with the combined intervention of Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi, they will be able to return to their homes in Bangladesh, to be able to reclaim their abandoned lands and to live in their homeland once again.” 

Basu reiterated that the present Bangladeshi government is very anti-Israel.  Under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, Bangladesh and Israel do not share diplomatic relations.   Bangladeshi citizens are barred from traveling to Israel and Israelis cannot visit Bangladesh.  Sheikh Hasina also routinely makes public statements against the Jewish state.  She condemned the US President for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, accused Israel of violating Palestinian human rights and her ministers routinely spread conspiracy theories against Israel.  In fact, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan even had the audacity to accuse Israel of killing secular bloggers and members of minority faiths in Bangladesh.  In a recent Bangladeshi newspaper article, Mendi Safadi, an Israeli Druze citizen who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, was even accused of being part of an international conspiracy against Bangladesh and I was accused of being “his lapdog.”  Such anti-Israel conspiracies are typically spread in newspapers originating in undemocratic Muslim majority countries led by tyrants who seek to distract their population from the horrors that they experience on a daily basis.     

However, Basu is hopeful that with Netanyahu’s, Modi’s and Trump’s help, Bangladesh does not need to always be just another non-democratic Muslim majority country.   Unlike many other Muslim dictatorships, Bangladesh was a democracy in the past.  Furthermore, he argued that the sentiment on the Bangladeshi street is not as hostile towards Israel as it used to be.  Basu stressed that democratic elections within his country could lead to the rise of a new leader who will not only respect minority rights but will also establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.   According to him, Safadi has been advocating for the establishment of free and fair elections under international supervision across the globe so that the minorities of Bangladesh will be liberated from Sheikh Hasina’s tyranny.  After US President Donald Trump was briefed by Priya Saha on the horrific plight of minorities in Bangladesh, Basu also hopes that the US President will also begin to see the merits of supporting the minorities of Bangladesh and thus will support Safadi’s efforts within the international community.

“Since 1947, the Hindus of Bangladesh have been slowly ethnically cleansed from the country,” Basu declared.  “During the Liberation War of 1971, 10 million Bangladeshi Hindus fled to India.   During Bangladesh’s War of Independence, millions of Hindus were massacred by the Pakistani Army over a period of nine months.  Over the course of the 1971 genocide, Bangladeshi Hindu women and girls were also raped and gang raped en masse.  Many others were forcefully converted to Islam.”  

Although the 1971 genocide is over, Basu emphasized that the oppression against the Hindu minority has not stopped: “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the ISKCON Temple (The International Society for Krishna Consciousness) in Bangladesh a few years ago. Two fundamentalist organizations called Hefazat-e-Islam and the Bangladesh Islamic Movement in Bangladesh have conspired against ISKCON today. With the help of the government, they have been organizing rallies and meetings against peace-loving Hindu religious organizations. Their demand is to ban a peaceful Hindu religious organization called ISKCON in Bangladesh.”  

In addition, Basu noted that Hindus to date have been barred from reclaiming their property that was seized by the Bangladeshi government following the Liberation War of 1971.   Furthermore, he added that Bangladeshi Hindus to date are being murdered, raped, gang raped, abducted, forcefully converted to Islam and having their property seized as the Bangladeshi government turns a blind eye to these atrocities.  For this reason, he fears that Bangladeshi Hindus don’t have a future in their own country unless fresh democratic elections are held under international supervision.  However, he emphasized that Bangladeshi Hindus are no longer willing to sit passively by and accept their horrific fate: “We Hindus are no longer weak.  We will see to it that Sheikh Hasina will pay for her crimes.”      

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The Trade Bone’s Connected to the Yuan Bone …

Mon, 12/08/2019 - 20:59

 

We have not yet begun to fight!

The Trump Administration’s August 5 designation of China as a currency manipulator marks a new crossing of policy lanes in US-China relations.  In the many facets of that relationship and the rising tension between the two, America needs a clear understanding of our objectives and priorities.  

Followers of trade policy know that matters of tariffs, quotas, and other “strictly trade” measures are usually kept separate from issues of monetary policy, at least formally.  Currency levels inevitably affect trade and at times academics, politicians, companies, and officials question whether a country deliberately depreciates its currency for trade reasons.  Japan in the 1980s faced this suspicion.  But whatever the reasons, governments tend not to play currencies and trade measures against each other explicitly.  

China’s central bank allowed the Yuan to drop through a market benchmark, apparently in response to President Trump’s announcement of a new round of tariffs.  The administration’s “manipulator” designation, symbolic in economic terms, signals that the U.S. sees the linkage, and will engage China on that basis.

As policy measures cross into each others’ old lanes, who will link more issues together, and to what end?  Is America out to counter China’s initiatives by exacerbating strains on the Chinese system?  It seems not, given reports of the Trump Administration’s internal instructions for the August trade talks. But Chinese leaders could see an existential threat even if a U.S. administration only wants them to enforce patent rights.  Is China’s harassment of an American diplomat in Hong Kong a linkage that reflects this fear?  Conversely, might the Chinese think we attach lower priority to, say, political repression, than we actually do?

In recent history we seem to have tolerated “a degree of intellectual property theft and unequal market access in the belief that China was making some progress toward market principles and the rule of law,” and a hope that that would lead in the direction of more democratic practice.  Today, Xi Jinping’s consolidation of governing power has dashed that logic.  Xi also exhibits geopolitical ambition in the Belt And Road Initiative’s investments in Eurasian nations; militarization of islands in the South China Sea; even cultural influence campaigns.  U.S.- China relations are entering a new mode.   

Reviewing a broad backdrop of many issues and several decades, the observer can see U.S. priorities careening between human rights, economics, and geopolitics.  China can always justify aggressive geopolitics toward us, as we might always swerve toward confrontation, but need never take our concern for rights and democracy to heart, as we always veer back to economics.  Chinese leaders could all too easily see the swings as fecklessness masking hostile underlying motives: our protests over rights as interference to weaken them internally; our economic pragmatism as serving capitalist exploitation; and our security posture as hegemonic.  

In the coming transformation in Sino-American relations, policymakers must clarify our essential purposes.  Doubts about American goals, and even America’s nature, are rising.  The post-modern age’s bewildering developments complicate the task. Coherence in national priorities becomes more difficult just as it becomes more important.  

Amb. William Burns, in his diplomatic memoir The Back Channel, notes how “Shaping the principles of policy debate … is often the first step toward winning it.” Principles need not be controversial, but clarity is “critical to shape our approach and tactical choices,” especially as new issues, new technologies, and new developments keep changing the tactical landscape.

America has clear core principles, and today’s transitions give an opportunity not only to apply them, but to remind ourselves of our priorities.  Principles for an approach to China might follow lines like:

  1. The sanctity of individual rights and government’s first duty to secure them form the core of America’s values.
  2. Our friendship with China or any other actor will grow as they develop toward that principle, and wane as they diverge from it. China’s compatibility with us is their sovereign choice.
  3. Security for the U.S., beyond safety of Americans and our essential functions, includes a primary interest in security for nations that embody our core values, and an interest in societies that are developing toward freedom.  
  4. Free enterprise and attendant rights are integral to individual liberty.
  5. Economic well-being, for the U.S. and globally, is a major goal of U.S. policy because it supports freedom and its development.

Note that it is China’s choice to move toward or away from us.  And, although the divergences run deep, even a neo-Confucian governing doctrine could admit of a modus vivendi with us.  Meanwhile, the U.S. gives explicit voice to where we stand, guides our own actions by that principle, and affirms our nature to ourselves and the world.

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On America’s Role in the World

Wed, 07/08/2019 - 20:48

As the United States matures as a global power, how should America assert itself in the world?

The United States is the world’s preeminent superpower and barring some unpredictable catastrophe that fact is not going to change over the short term. For the United States to maintain its leadership role over the long term, however, America’s approach to foreign affairs and international engagement will need to respond both to a changing security landscape and the gradual economic rise of other powers. Just as the United States understood its role in the world differently after the First World War, the Second World War, and following the Cold War, the United States should work to preemptively understand the consequences of the continued Eastward movement of the world economy’s center of gravity and the continually changing nature of asymmetrical security threats. While that guidance might seem so obvious as to be meaningless, the challenge comes in understanding those changes in light of America’s relative decline when compared to more rapidly growing powers. The United States has long been an economic powerhouse, but America’s short history combined with its unparalleled dominance over the global economy following the Second World War has led to distorted expectations for the certainty of outright American hegemony. None of this is to say that the United States is in absolute decline (which is to say that the United States would be getting weaker when compared only against itself) or that America is not capable of sustaining a major international presence long into the future. Instead, it is to suggest that for the United States to maintain its top-tier power and influence over the decades to come it should seek to rebalance its international activities toward more up-stream and cost effective approaches towards global engagement while gradually (yet strategically) trimming the fat off of America’s bloated international military presence. 

Perhaps the first and most obvious consideration is that reducing American military presence does not necessarily mean a policy of isolationism, or even reduced American influence in the short term. After all, if a short term reduction in America’s military spending only served to foster uncertainty or instability that forced the United States to return to, or perhaps even exceed, current military expenses the whole merit of the idea would be wasted. Instead, the United States could look to trim some of its most excessive deployments, curtail the raw production of military goods (which would not necessarily mean dramatic cuts in funding for R&D), and exert a more watchful eye over ongoing military actions to ensure that there is no unwarranted mission slip. 

Perhaps the most obvious, or at least historically peculiar, example of America’s international military presence is the continued stationing of forces through Western Europe. There is little historical precedent for that sort of military basing, even among close allies, and as conditions have shifted from the Cold War era, so too should America’s approach. While the move to withdraw forces from Europe might be seen as a symptom of weakening American commitment to NATO (especially in light of current conditions), there is nothing that would prevent the United States from simultaneously managing its resources more frugally while maintaining an unquestioned commitment to all of NATO’s key provisions. In the same sort of way, other opportunities for rebalancing American deployment could come about on the Korean Peninsula if the idiosyncratic relationship between President Trump and Kim Jong-un continues to gradually ease tension there. It might even prove to be the case that as a consequence of gradually reducing America’s military presence in tense, yet peaceful, regions, those regions might become less tense with time as potential rivals feel more stable in their security environments.

Of course, an undertaking like this would not only require a focused diplomatic effort to effectively communicate, but it would also require a reinvigorated State Department and a strong commitment to effectively use America’s soft power. These would be fundamental elements of any effort to ensure that American power matures gracefully. Unless we are willing to assume that American allies impacted most by the suggested rebalancing would simply ignore their security responsibilities (something that seems unlikely in light of America’s many capable allies and a careful approach to military withdrawal), close diplomatic relationships with our allies would prove both more important and more effective when called upon. American allies might even be more easily persuaded to join the United States when military force is needed if they can feel confident that the American diplomatic service has consistently been involved and that the potential diplomatic options have been exhausted. In modern instances where the United States has worked closely with its allies on military action, most notably the Persian Gulf War, those partnerships frequently proved successful in accomplishing their military objectives while avoiding mission creep. 

Unfortunately, when the United States has not carefully considered diplomatic and intelligence options and has failed to work with international partners, American military action has proven more costly and less effective. There is little doubt that America’s actions in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan have had serious unforeseen consequences that brought about increased regional instability, to say nothing of reduced American influence. While some might suggest that comparing American unilateral action in these wars to America’s multilateral approach in past conflicts like the two World Wars, and even the Persian Gulf War, is disingenuous to the extent that the nature and scope of the threat is so different, it might be worth considering instead what that means for what sorts of ills that America can actually solve internationally. In order for the United States to remain a global superpower and a reliable and effective military partner over the long term, it must avoid the classical historical blunder of over-extension that helped bring about the collapse of empires as ancient as Rome and as modern as the Soviet Union. The United States has been in more than twice as many wars since the end of the Cold War than it had during an equal length of time during the Cold War era. This is a remarkable statistic given that one could easily argue that the threat during the Cold War surpassed the threats that exist today, and Sun Tzu, author of the Art of War, warned us that “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.” This sort of effort would begin with a careful and honest assessment of the costs and benefits of America’s ongoing military action, and would continue into the future by ensuring that decisions to use military force incorporate the American congress and international partners.

It is important to emphasize that the United States could, and absolutely should, maintain the ability to quickly respond to changing security environments and maintain a steady and active presence in all sorts of international affairs. These efforts would include maintaining a forward presence in particularly troubling or symbolically complicated regions of the world. It is also important that the United States remains on the cutting edge of all aspects of military technology, including cyber threats, in order to remain on top of the global pecking order. While, in general, this paper does make the argument that the United States would stand to benefit over the long term from more frugal commitment and use of military force, the end goal of those adjustments would be to maintain American strength, both domestically and abroad, over the long term. Streamlining America’s military presence would simultaneously allow for more full-throated commitment to truly vital interests, and could result in savings that would benefit the strength of America’s economy- which, at the end of the day, is a key factor in ensuring that the United States would be able to organize a sufficient military response to a major threat like war with another global power. Towards this end, the United States should work to adjust its long term strategic approach not only to a post-Cold War world, but to the eventual (potential) ascent of other players on the global stage to peer status. 

A nation whose foreign policy has long been guided by notions of its exceptionality might find its greatest test in its ability to mature gracefully.

Peter Scaturro is the Director of Studies at the Foreign Policy Association. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the Foreign Policy Association.

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Opportunities and Risks in Zelenskyy’s New Ukraine

Tue, 06/08/2019 - 17:17

What to make of the new political realities in Ukraine? Both, the presidential and parliamentary Ukrainian elections of 2019 delivered historic results. Ukraine never had a President with so much electoral support (73%), and so little connection to the country’s old political class. Moreover, independent Ukraine never had a parliament with as dominant a party as Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s “Servant of the People” whose faction will command more than 250 of the 450 seats. The two elections were a perfect storm that swept away the majority of previous politicians and top bureaucrats in the presidential office, national government, Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council), and general procuracy.

Regress or Reset?

Such a high concentration of power, in the hands of the “Servant of the People” party, as a result of Zelenskyy’s landslide victories in the presidential and parliamentary elections is being assessed very differently by various observers, in and outside Ukraine. Many intellectuals in Kyiv warn against the authoritarian and security threats that such one-party dominance could entail. They fear – within what one could call the “post-Soviet” or “Thermidorian paradigm” – a political development in Ukraine that will follow that of other former republics of the USSR.

Authoritarian regression has been the rule rather than the exception in much of the post-Soviet space from Belarus to Kazakhstan. Many thus worry that a kind of Thermidorian Reaction could undo most of the gains of the Euromaidan Revolution. Ukraine could also become a typically post-Soviet dictatorship or again a Russian colony – or both.

In a more favorable perspective, Ukraine’s novel political landscape can also be contextualized within the logic of the Westminster model or so-called pendulum democracy with its “winner takes it all” idea. This approach to democratic rule partly rejects division, balance and checks of power. The Westminster paradigm instead emphasizes clarity of public responsibility, as well as a sharp differentiation between the roles of a country’s ruling majority party, on the one side, and opposition forces, on the other.

Ukraine’s elections have now delivered a result where all executive and most legislative power rests in the hand of only one party. What is left under yet incomplete control by the otherwise hegemonic “Servant of the People” party are constitutional amendments that need a two-thirds majority of votes in parliament. A change of Ukraine’s basic law thus still demands collaboration of some MPs not elected with the support of Zelenskyy’s party.

Such a, for Ukraine, largely novel constellation implies enormous opportunities and risks. Zelenskyy’s overwhelming dominance in the executive and legislative branches of power provides him, for the coming years, with many instruments to swiftly implement his ideas – whatever they are. It also puts responsibility for Ukraine’s future successes and failures squarely into his and his followers’ hands. That reminds of a situation after a House of Commons election in the United Kingdom, in the past.

The Major Challenge for Zelenskyy

Unlike in the British proto-typical constellation, however, Zelenskyy’s absolute majority in parliament and staff in the executive is, to considerable extent, made up of newcomers with no previous experience in public office. This problem, in fact, is reminiscent of his own lack of exposure to national politics, public administration and international relations. The parliamentary and ministerial novices will moreover will be operating in an under-institutionalized and highly “monetized” political environment. They will make and implement decisions under a – mildly speaking – incomplete rule of law. They will also encounter many political and personal challenges – among them seductive offers from Ukraine’s notorious “oligarchs” – that they may not be prepared for.

Against such a background, the main question for the coming years will be less whether Ukraine becomes again authoritarian or/and Moscow-controlled – as some alarmist commentators warn. Rather, the principal question will be whether “habitual elite continuity” – once formulated as Ukraine’s key domestic political challenge, by German political scientist Ingmar Bredies – will reassert itself or not. Ukraine experienced considerable change among the holders of its highest public offices not only as a result of this year’s elections. This had happened repeatedly before, after previous elections or after the popular uprisings of 1990, 2004 and 2014, i.e. the so-called revolutions on the granite, in orange, and of dignity. In spite of frequent and sweeping fluctuation in the upper echelons of political power, the habitus or behavior of the Ukrainian elite did not change much, over the last 30 years, however.

Instead, Ukraine’s parliament, among other institutions, has been characterized by habitual elite continuity, i.e. a stunning stability in the patterns of political conduct by Ukraine’s MPs. They have shown a surprisingly continuous inclination to engage in informal exchanges, bribe-taking, outright nepotism, little disguised favoritism, secret deal-making and far-reaching clientelism. These pathologies, to be sure, are also present in the operation of advanced democratic systems. Yet, they have been – since 1991, if not before – far more prevalent in Ukraine and in most other post-Soviet republics than in Western states.

The main question thus is whether Zelenskyy’s landslide can finally disrupt these behavioral patterns. Will Ukraine’s almost three decades old habitual elite continuity be finally broken, with this new exchange in the composition of its political class? Or will private interests again be able to infiltrate political decision making, as it happened after earlier replacements of deputies and ministers? What instruments can secure a truly sustainable break in Ukraine’s political class behavior, and magnify the already sweeping change in the composition of the parliament?

Urgent Tasks: Deputies’ Salaries, Rule of Law, Gender Equality

First and foremost, the new MPs need to get salaries that will make their possible bribe-taking morally more hazardous than it currently is. As of mid-2019, Ukrainian parliamentarians earn, per month, about 28,000 Hrivnas or approximately 1,000 US-Dollars in cash. In addition, they receive a number of additional privileges that improve their material situation somewhat. To be sure, the overall package of monetary and non-monetary remuneration makes Ukraine’s MPs relatively well-off people, within the overall Ukrainian socio-economic context.

However, Ukraine’s capital Kyiv where the MPs are supposed to live most of the time is more expensive than the rest of country. Kyiv city has salary-, service- and price-scales of its own. The current MP reimbursements may be enough to survive for single MPs who do not have any larger family obligations. Yet, the current pay makes it difficult for those with financial responsibilities for children, parents or other relatives to take up a seat in the Verkhovna Rada – while only living on their official income as parliamentarians.

Even for those without greater family obligations, the current parliamentary moneys system is dysfunctional. In the best case, it limits the MPs’ lifestyles to one of constant counting of expenses for food, transportation, clothing etc. In the worst case, it creates a situation in which MPs feel ethically justified to take side-payments so as to be able to use Kyiv’s restaurants, taxis, and other services that their peers in business corporations, international organizations and foreign embassies use on a regular basis.

To overcome this situation, Ukraine could – with reference to its Association Agreement with the EU – adopt the EU’s formula for salaries paid to the members of the European Parliament. The MEPs receive about a third of the salary that the highest judges of the EU’s courts are paid. For some time already, Ukraine’s top judges receive, by Ukrainian standards, extraordinarily high salaries (though, in absolute terms, not as high as EU judges). If Ukrainian MPs would receive about a third of the salaries of Ukraine’s highest judges, this would apply the EU formula, significantly increase their monthly remuneration, and make their interaction with business-people, Kyiv’s diplomats, and foreign politicians more relaxed. Such a deal would also provide a justification for withdrawing immunity from MPs and increasing penalties for bribe-taking as well as other misbehavior by Ukraine’s new parliamentarians.

Second, there have been statements of the new president and his team on the possibility of early local elections. It is plausible to argue that a deep change in Ukrainian public administration would need a swift exchange also of local elites. Many current deputies and administrators on the regional and sub-regional levels are corrupt. Yet, for oblast and local elections to be effective as a mean to secure change on the regional and municipal levels, it is necessary to attain, at least, some improvement of the rule of law. New committed teams in the prosecution office and various anti-corruption bodies need to be appointed.

Furthermore, the role, function and reimbursement of oblast, rayon and communal administrators and deputies need to be adjusted. The official salaries of mayors, for instance, are lousy while members of city councils do not get any reimbursement for their work time. As on the national level, such framework conditions naturally lead to corruption – independently from possibly good intentions that citizens may have when becoming public executives or people’s deputies. New elections by themselves will not change this.

Third, many Ukrainian governmental bodies suffer – especially when it comes to their top positions – from more or less egregious gender imbalance. This is not only fundamentally unjust in view of the fact that more than 50% of Ukraine’s population are women. Organizational research has found that collective bodies, whether private or public, function better when, at least, one third of its members are female – a scale still not reached in certain Western institutions too. The argument about bringing more women into government is thus not only about equality, but also about the effectiveness of ministries, parliaments, services or parties.

The composition of the Rada, to be sure, has changed for the better as a result of the last elections. Yet, the share of women among parliamentarians only increased from 12% in the last Supreme Council to 19% in the new one. Worse, almost all parliamentary parties are headed by men. Zelenskyy himself is male – as are his first major appointments, like the Chairperson of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Bohdan, or Secretary of the Council for National Security and Defense of Ukraine, Oleksandr Danyliuk.

Given this circumstance, there are thus good reasons to sharply increase the number of women in top positions not yet filled – whether within the executive, legislative or judicial branches of government. Currently, there is a high overrepresentation of men on those posts that have already been distributed or taken. This includes seats in parliament, ministerial positions, heads of services, or leading party functions. It may thus be even necessary to simply stop, for a while, appointing any men to top offices. Only in this way, there may still be a chance to reach, at the end, the above-mentioned recommended share of one third among Ukraine’s crucial decision makers in various state organs. Given the high number of well-educated, emancipated and career-oriented women in Ukraine, this should not be a problem.

Getting to the Roots of Post-Soviet Problems

The already accomplished sweeping change in the composition of Ukraine’s political class this year may be deceptive. Zelenskyy’s stunning electoral triumphs over the last months could suggest to him and his team to go ahead and start reforming this or that part of legislation, the economy, foreign affairs, cultural matters etc. However, first things come first.

Numerous new laws, resolutions and policies need to be implemented to make Ukraine’s state better work. Yet, the responsible decision formulating, making and executing bodies in all three branches of power as well as in local administrations are still hampered by deep structural defects with regard to the formation and remuneration of their personnel. Unless these basics are changed radically, the outcomes of the work of Ukraine’s state organs may remain as wanting as they have been so far.

By resolutely getting to the core of Ukraine’s post-Soviet issues, Zelenskyy can, moreover, provide a model for other former republics of the USSR. With regard, for instance, to gender balance in state organs, most post-communist countries still lack far behind Western countries. A deep transformation in the composition and functioning of the political class of as large a country as Ukraine could – in distinction to earlier progress in, among others, the three Baltic countries – not be easily ignored by politicians and intellectuals in the successor states of the outer and inner Soviet empire. Western embassies and donors should, therefore, insist on Kyiv’s completion of the current reset in the make-up and structure of the Ukrainian political class.

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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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