Sunday, 17 April 2016
Friday, 15 April 2016
HIS front-runner status has generated a barrage of attack ads against Republican Party Presidential hopeful Donald J Trump. Each of these is anchored in claims that the public interest is what motivates such publicity, and that the US would lose ground were the real estate mogul to get sworn in as Head of State and Government of the world’s most consequential country on January 20, 2017.
In reality the primary “sufferers” would be the phalanxes of lobbyists that infest Washington. Some of these are directly affiliated to either the Democratic or the Republican Party, but most are ambidextrous, ensuring continuing relevance no matter which party makes it to the White House. They are assisted in this by the governance system in the US, which segments and distributes power between different branches of the state, such as the US Senate, the White House, the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives. Other power centres include corporate and financial interests, as well as a variety of specific lobbying groups that over time have cultivated cosy relationships (usually under the surface) with both major political parties and their hangers on. Their nightmare is in the form of two individuals who are for the present at least impervious to the influence of lobbying groups.
In ensuring a firewall between Big Money special interests and themselves, Bernie Sanders is a bit ahead of Donald Trump, who has off and on been given the attention of lobbying groups seeking to tap into his dirigible-sized public persona. However, the problem they face is that Trump has both money and influence of his own, lots of it, and has, therefore, the potential to be resistant to the wiles and lures of lobbyists in a manner not possible for Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz, the other major contestants in the race for nomination as Presidential candidate of either the Republican or the Democratic Party.
While it is understandable that the Republican hopefuls would be going slow on their barbs at the Clinton Foundation, what is less so is the way in which Bernie Sanders has given Hillary Clinton almost a free pass on the issue. The Clintons are a single political entity, taking decisions together, and this was clear during the period when the former First Lady was Secretary of State. This at a time when huge dollops of money were accruing on a regular basis to the Clinton Foundation (as well as in the form of speaking fees and other payments) from locations that had a direct interest in the direction of US foreign policy. Perhaps entirely might be coincidence, the policy pursued by Secretary of State Clinton in the Mideast matched perfectly with the requirements of Riyadh and Doha.
The record shows that Washington was lockstep behind Qatar and Saudi Arabia, whether this be the removal from office of Muammar Kaddafi in Libya and his replacement with a regime steeped in the traditions of Wahabbism, or an effort to push Bashar al-Assad down the same road as the Libyan dictator was made helpless by his own destruction of WMD on the request of the very powers that subsequently took the lives of himself and all but one of his sons. The Secretary of State using an email account that was accessible to officials of a foundation that was the recipient of billions of dollars of foreign money, constituted a security risk to US interests that this far does not appear to have been intensively examined, perhaps because President Obama does not wish to damage his former Secretary of State’s chances of becoming his successor.
Donald Trump is spending his own money in the Presidential primary, and this makes him unique among the other candidates. Ted Cruz has, through his spouse, links with the financial conglomerates that helped cause the 2008 financial crash which saw the demise of NATO-bloc dominance in global geopolitics. As for Hillary Clinton, she has made no secret of the act that millions of dollars have been paid to her and Bill Clinton by such conglomerates. In the case of Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont has shown a disregard for riches that is almost totally absent in US politics, which as in some other democracies, is entirely about making money for oneself, family and friends through the use of state power and influence. A contest between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would represent an entirely different choice to US voters than a match-up between two Goldman Sachs favourites, Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton.
However, precisely for this reason, efforts are intensifying to ensure that Trump and Sanders lose steam. Daily, there have been attack ads against Trump, usually filled with innuendo, while in the case of Sanders, the reason why these are not so common is the view that he will lose to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Presidential primary contests. Should this take place, a heavy chunk of the blame would fall on Sanders himself, because he has shown himself too much of a country gentleman to match the aggression of his opponent. The Clintons are political fighters of the most superior kind, and across the years, have perfected a political machine that is expert at deciphering what the voters want to hear and in ensuring that contests be won. It is a tribute to Bernie Sanders and to the innate decency of the US voter that the Vermont politician has survived this far.
Had this columnist a vote in the US primary, he would have backed Trump over Cruz in the Republican primary and Sanders over Clinton in the other. The US needs a Head of State and Government who is as free of lobbyists as Sanders is, or even Trump has the potential to be. In healthcare, ensuring access to cheap drugs at the expense of Big Pharma would work wonders for the budget, while in matters of security, delinking from big money interests in the Mideast would help make the US and the globe more secure.
The policy of relying on religious extremists to carry out tactical and strategic objectives on behalf of the US and its partners has run its course, and needed to have been discontinued after 9/11, rather than revived during 2003 in Iraq and later in 2011 to terminate Kaddafi. The best hope of such a pragmatic policy vests in Bernie Sanders or even Donald Trump following the telegenic and likeable Obama clan into the White House. Rather than the paid views of lobbyists, what US policymakers need to give preference to, is the need of US citizens for a government that treats them fairly.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
Sunday, 10 April 2016
Friday, 8 April 2016
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has done service to the global community by exposing hundreds of individuals guilty of looting their own countries by sending money abroad illegally. The “Panama Papers” show how easy it is to create dummy entities in tax havens such as the Virgin Islands so as to park billions of euros anonymously. High-priced lawyers, financial advisers and bankers assist high-value individuals to cheat on taxes by generating cash through measures such as over-invoicing of imports, the difference in price going to offshore accounts. Much of this could easily be caught, had the authorities the will to do so. An example is Air India, the government-owned airline in India, which bought the same type of aircraft at the same period of time as two private sector competitors did, but paid much more for each than the other two airlines. However, it is unlikely that such discrepancies will ever get investigated.
Those who make billions out of looting the exchequer spend millions out of that in making friends with influential officials and politicians, with the result that they remain protected no matter which party comes to power. Instances are in the hundreds where items produced in India get sold at low prices to paper entities based in the Cayman Islands or such other tax havens, and within seconds get resold to others at much higher prices. The price differential remains in the foreign bank accounts of the domestic producer of the item sold in the first instance at an artificially low price to a dummy buyer but resold later to a genuine buyer at the correct market price. Were authorities serious in their task of dissevering illegal income, it would have been a simple matter to find out which items were being sold at prices far below that prevalent in the international market, but such an effort never gets made, because both officials as well as their political masters are more interested in adding to their personal bank accounts than to the exchequer.
In the Panama Papers, there are reported to be around five hundred Indian citizens. This is hardly a surprise, as for decades money has flowed out of the country through such means as under-invoicing, over-invoicing and hawala. The Government of India has followed past precedent and set up a Multi-Agency Investigative Team to “investigate and monitor” the revelations in the Panama papers. After months if not years, it will be seen that next to nothing will come of such “monitoring and investigation”. A few of the five hundred may be asked to pay a fine or penalty, but the rest will escape. India has a long tradition of those who are guilty of large-scale theft getting away, even while pickpockets making off with Rs 50 get sent to jail for years.
This columnist believes that the higher the scale of the robbery, the more should be the punishment. Petty theft ought to be punished by community service as a form of restitution, rather than by prison. The reality is that jail usually degrades an individual’s skills, making him or her lose the capacity to return to free life as a productive citizen. By depriving an individual of access to the internet or to the family, rehabilitation is being made almost impossible. Those guilty of petty offences or who are non-violent in behaviour need to be shifted to “open” jails, where they can be visited by family and friends and avoid the depression and psychosis that too often attaches to those sent to jail. It is a disgrace that seven decades after the British pulled down the Union Jack across the subcontinent, as yet the politicians who are their successors retain the harsh conditions of imprisonment that were prescribed by the former colonial masters of the subcontinent. Our officials and politicians have effortlessly slipped into the role of colonial masters, using the same restrictive laws and procedures that were followed by the British to ensure that the population was kept in a state of subservience.
It is the closer identification with the former colonial authority rather than with the ordinary people that is responsible for the successors of the British being more focussed on acquiring personal wealth than on improving the overall condition of the citizens. The level of commitment to the country and its people is low – indeed absent – in the countries of the subcontinent, so far as those in power and in positions of governmental authority are concerned. The consequence has been theft on the same scale – or in some instances worse – than that indulged in by the British colonial masters, and a neglect of policies that would improve living conditions. If a survey were to get done of the top hundred political leaders and the top five hundred civil servants, a large number would be seen to have their children abroad, and their families more often outside the country than inside. A son or a daughter gets sent abroad and made a foreign citizen, and subsequently money gets channelled in that individual’s name, so that many well-connected youths with no visible work living in Singapore or London or Miami nevertheless have very large incomes, usually funnelled through offshore banking havens. It would be a simple matter for authorities in India and Pakistan to investigative such individuals, given that we are only talking of the top five hundred officials in a country and the top hundred politicians, but of course, this will not even be attempted.
There is too much at stake for those at the top in a cosy system where making money and sending it abroad is regarded as normal. In order to make a pretense of ensuring acceptability, governments often impose heavy penalties on monies parked abroad, thereby making sure that few declarations get made. The only way to ensure access to such monies is to set low rates of penalty rather than high, and to ensure that those making such declarations not be subsequently harassed by officials. Otherwise, those voluntarily disclosing unaccounted assets will find themselves harassed every year for a long period thereafter, thereby reducing the incentive for others to follow their example. The Panama Papers represents only a very small proportion of the monies illegally parked abroad by individuals who care only about their own wealth rather than public welfare. Unless more of such money comes back and gets used within the country of origin, poverty in the subcontinent will continue to be shamefully high.
— The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
Sunday, 3 April 2016
Sunday, 27 March 2016
Friday, 25 March 2016
The March 22, 2016 terror attack in Brussels was a tragedy foretold in these columns, when – following the Cameron-Clinton-Sarkozy intervention in Libya, it was pointed out that the intervention would generate a swelling flow of refugees into Europe as well as a secure base from where attacks on European Union members could get launched by terror groups. The problem with what is referred to in narcissistic terms as “The West” is that the countries belonging to this group consider themselves to be the only repositories of wisdom and look down with derision at assessments coming from “underdeveloped” locales, unless they be from individuals who have spent years in academic locales within the “western world” and who have therefore become an echo chamber for the views fashionable there, in the process shutting out any consideration of the realities of life in the locations they analyse.
“Western” scholars know a dizzying amount of detail, such as fluency in languages of different regions, but without understanding much of the emphases and uses of irony used by native speakers of such languages, with the result that nuances essential to understanding “deep meaning”( i.e. meaning beyond simple strings of words ) in what gets said or sometimes written in such target countries. In the case of Libya and later Syria, it is obvious that strategic planners in the US, the UK and France failed to conduct an exhaustive study of the prolific writings of those who opposed Muammar Kaddafy and Bashar Assad.
Had they done so, it would have been clear that it was not an attachment to Westminister-style democracy that impelled them to oppose the two authoritarians but a conviction that both were enemies of the fanatic Wahabbi faith that the extremists of Daesh or Al Qaeda profess. The consequence of such neglect of the intellectual roots of opposition to the regimes in Tripoli and Damascua was the Cameron-Clinton-Sarkozy policy of joining hands with Ankara, Doha and Riyadh in funding, training and equipping such anti-Kaddafy and anti-Assad fanatics to do battle on the model of 1980s Afghanistan.
When David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and Nicholas Sarkozy watch on their television screens images of the dead and wounded in the Brussels attacks, it is unlikely that they will make the connection between this and their own actions beginning early 2011 onwards. “Western” politicians, officials and academics live in a bubble created entirely out of their own perceptions of the truth, and it is a bubble where the blame for disasters always rests elsewhere. The consequences of the actions taken by chancelleries in the major NATO powers are fobbed off to the natives. An example is mass killing of children, old and the diseased in Iraq caused by the sanctions imposed by President William Jefferson Clinton on Iraq in the 1990s, measures that were designed not simply to constrict the military led by Saddam Hussein but to inflict such misery on people of Iraq that they would turn on their dictatorial government.
Predictable, they instead saw the major powers in NATO as the guilty party, and this drove several to join fighting groups active against US forces in Iraq, as well as Al Qaeda offshoots that were active in global terror operations. Will Madeleine Albright acknowledge the role the sanctions so ruthlessly enforced by her on Iraq have played in creating the conditions for the mindsets of terror to flourish in Iraq and subsequently other locations where the military-oriented interventionist policies of David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and Nicholas Sarkozy (as well as the successors of the latter duo) took place. Instead, the narrative heard in think tanks and official chambers in Washington, London or Paris is that Nazi-style organisations such as Daesh are the consequences of the very authoritarians in the Middle East who have for decades been in reality the death target of such outfits.
It is, however, not intellectual dishonesty that leads to such absurd conclusions but a suspension of belief in the truth and an almost subconscious embrace of a manufactured version of events in which truth gets garbled into conclusions that are removed from reality. Even two years after the toxic effects of their intervention have become too widespread to ignore, the John Kerrys and the Francois Hollandes still call for fresh doses of Cameron-Clinton-Sarkozy policy of going in locations where angels forbear to enter, despite clear evidence of the security risks of such policies to their own countries.
Astonishingly, as yet very few in France, the UK and the US accept that the terror attacks which are spreading like a rash across western Europe are the consequence of the policies followed by the Three Musketeers. Apart from the fact that Hillary Clinton may become the next President of the US and Sarkozy that of France, while Cameron remains Head of Government in the UK, what is disquieting is that the three apparently believe the fiction that they mouth. Such as that the carnage now being caused in Syria is the direct consequence of Barack Obama’s “timidity” in not recreating a Libyan-style intervention in Syria in 2012.
The reality is that an offer was made in that year for a peace agreement very similar to what is being discussed in Geneva these days, but this was shot down by France, the UK and US, who believed that Assad was about to fold. Today, there is no way the Geneva talks can succeed. The country is already fractured and cannot be put together again. What will emerge is a Kurdish state, a residual state controlled by Bashar Assad for the duration, and a sliver of territory that will in effect be a failed state let kept going for reasons of preetige and ego by some regional capitals.
Should the Assad regime have been taken down in 2012,by now not 40% but 80% of the Syrian population would have been refugees. It is mendacious of Hillary Clinton and other fantasists to suggest otherwise. However, given the poor level of understanding in modern Europe and North America of the chemistry and mechanics of the Middle East, wisdom is unlikely to dawn before the Daesh virus metastises to a level that will make bombings such as what took place in Brussels a part of everyday life in first Europe and afte rwards, the US.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.