Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Blair Challenges Chilcot Report

Tony Blair has been proven a liar regarding the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Following the release of the Chilcot report, Blair was left with no option but to beg the British people to understand his decision.

However, the British people are finding it harder and harder to understand.

"I had to decide. I thought of Saddam, his record and the character of his regime… and took decision with the heaviest of hearts," Blair argued. "There was no middle way. The decision had to be taken… and it was mine to take."

However, the Chilcot report's main argument is that military action was not the last resort. "Intervention may have been needed at some point but in March 2003, there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein" the report said.
Pic: Damien Gayle (Twitter @damiengayle)

If so, the Chilcot report has already challenged Blair's claim that there was no middle ground. By making a statement to that effect after the release of the Chilcot Report, Blair is questioning and challenging its conclusions.

Meanwhile, Blair is yet to convincingly explain how it was decided that Saddam Hussein posed a threat. This becomes even harder when the Chilcot Report's conclusion of the Iraqi 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' programme is taken into account.

Releasing the report, Sir John Chilcot said that the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were “presented with a certainty that was not justified.”

Once again, Blair has to explain this point in detail, because the threat of the WMDs was used to justify the war in Iraq.

The Chilcot report also blames Blair for towing the U.S. line, failing to consider the British interests.

“The UK’s relationship with the US has proved strong enough over time to bear the weight of honest disagreement. It does not require unconditional support where our interests or judgements differ” John Chilcot said while releasing the report.

In July 2002, well over six months before the invasion of Iraq, Blair wrote to then-US President George Bush promising him that the UK would be there with him “whatever,” Chilcot said. In short, he had given assurance to the US even before conclusive proof of WMDs.

Chilcot also went on to say how Blair blamed the French government for the 'impasse' regarding getting support for military action in the UN Security Council. It seems that the British government applied undue pressure on the French by making such claims. This revelation casts a doubt on the Blair government's sincerity within the UN and outside, in forging a genuine alliance to attack Iraq.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

No Uniformity among Europe's Far-right Parties Regarding EU

The right wing anti-EU factions who want to see the European Union disintegrate received a rude shock recently, which however, largely went unnoticed.

In an interview with Russia’s RT, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) presidential candidate Norbert Hoefner said that Austria will not leave the EU, if Turkey did not join it. His concern was the free movement of people from outside of Europe, which would have become easier if Turkey joins the bloc. Austria, Hoefner said, would contribute to create a better Europe.

A somewhat different approach was expressed by FPÖ representative Barbara Kappel in an interview with Russia’s Izvestia newspaper. She said Austria should consider greater autonomy within the EU and if the EU was not prepared to consider the concerns, Austria should hold a referendum to leave.
Pic: FPÖ

What the FPÖ envisages as a better Europe is in stark contradiction to what Angela Merkel or Francoise Hollande would envisage. Nevertheless, the FPÖ’s position is opposite to the position of the United Kingdom Independent Party and some other right wing groups. The UKIP and some other parties are not content to merely see their countries leave the EU. They want the EU to disappear too

Despite the seemingly different opinions within the FPÖ, one thing is crystal clear. The FPÖ still wants Austria to be a part of Europe and EU. There is no talk of the disintegration of the EU, given that "things do not become unbearable."

One must remember this fact clearly. Brexit was not a vote against the EU or for the dissolution of the EU. It was a vote for the strengthening of the UK. Only a minority of the British electorate, namely the supporters of ultra-rightist groups and staunch UKIP members, supports the destruction of the EU. Others, irrespective of whether they voted to remain or leave, want to see the EU remain as a viable entity.

Fears were raised on June 24 after several far right parties across Europe expressed jubilation at the result of the EU referendum in the UK and called for similar votes in their respective countries. The then UKIP leader Nigel Farage expressed belief that the EU would collapse. However, as the dust settled down and the EU leaders mustered their resolve, the threat of a sudden collapse disappeared. Furthermore, the immediate repercussions of Brexit also scared off some people, perhaps even within parties such as the FPÖ.

At this point, France, Denmark and the Netherlands hold the key to the future of EU since the far right parties in these countries are popular and are seeking referenda in their countries on the EU membership. The EU will hold off a Brexit, but it will have a hard time in dealing with a Daxit, Nexit and especially a Frexit.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sanders should Score in being ‘Single Issue Candidate’

Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has repeatedly insisted that she is no ‘single issue candidate’ as her main rival Bernie Sanders. Clinton’s contention is that Sanders is wrong in portraying every social ill as a result of the economic disparity.

While adopting certain of Sanders’s rhetoric, Clinton has repeatedly insisted that breaking down big banks, for instance, cannot defeat racism. The racist card is therefore used to deflect the attack on the big businesses and turn Sanders to other grounds, where he is admittedly on a weak footing.
Bernie Sanders (Nick Solari - Wikimedia Commons)

However, Sanders must not get distracted by his opponents too much. While he should react to Clinton’s argument in a positive way, which he has not sometimes being able to do, he should also stress on his message relentlessly. This message has reverberated among a certain level of the society and has created a surprisingly strong ground level movement. It is because an increasing number of people, especially the young people, find his message appealing.

Racial tension, in United States as well as many other countries, are rooted in economic reasons. Of course, one may argue that this is not the case and racial tensions started because of slavery in the US. Well, it is quite true and slavery was instituted mainly because of economic reasons. Slavery provided cheap labor, one prerequisite for profit making. Of course, cotton farmers did not use slave labor to produce cotton to be distributed for charity. They were looking for profit and slave labor was one real advantage.

Therefore, if slavery is a root cause of racism in US today, since economy was the driving force for slavery, economy is the root cause of racism in US.

The opponents of Sanders do not oppose him as a person. They oppose the idea he spreads. Sanders is just one agent. He was there for ages in the US political scene. But the idea has caught up only during the recent years, since there is strong grounds in which it can grow. Sanders’s opponents are actually looking to take him, and the society, to a different ground.

One remembers what Marx said about the workers of England. In 1870, he wrote: “Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the “poor whites” to the Negroes in the former slave states of the U.S.A”.

Nearly one and a half centuries later, what he said on the USA has not changed much. The situation is even worse due to the economic downturn. This is why individuals like Donald Trump are getting substantial support, especially from the poor whites. This is why Sanders should capitalize on his position on the other side of the spectrum and repeatedly call for economic justice.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

BBC Continues to Give Legitimacy to So-called 'Islamic State'

Even after repeated criticism from political leaders and other concerned individuals, the BBC continues to give legitimacy to the so-called 'Islamic State' terrorist group.

In a report published on its website a short while ago titled 'The Afghan district stuck between IS and the Taliban', the name Islamic State is used without any indication that it is a self-proclaimed group.

The danger in using this is obvious, since the so-called 'Islamic State' is not merely a terrorist group but a group which wants to recreate an 'Islamic Caliphate' which it calls 'Islamic State'.

In January, British Prime Minister David Cameron criticised BBC for its use of the term 'Islamic State'.

“I think Muslim families around the country would have held their heads in despair this morning when once again you just called it Islamic State. You didn’t even say ‘so-called Islamic State’. It’s so important,” he said.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Connecting at a Deeper Level with “Danno Budunge”

* Originally written in November 2013 for 'The Nation' newspaper.

Staring down at the city of Colombo from the rooftop of Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theater is a magical experience at dusk that day. Above us the clouds were tinged with orange the color coming from the setting sun. Below us was the city, starting to turn on thousands of lights. The breeze blew strongly from the sea, cooling mind and body.

On any beautiful evening, this would have been a magical experience. On that day it was exquisite. The streets below, with much less traffic than usual, stretched out beneath us, a sea of red, grey and green. Hundreds of orange and white flags on either side added an extra beauty to the streets around the Nelum Pokuna. Perhaps coincidentally, the colors of the flags matched the orange tinge of the setting sun, anticipating the street lamps which were being lighted to take its place. On that day, the Nelum Pokuna hosted its largest international gathering, the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013. It eagerly anticipated another major event, the largest orchestral concert in Sri Lanka ever.

The stage background, arranged for the CHOGM opening ceremony, evoked the glory of ancient Anuradhapura. The steps and pillars, with their pictures of Sigiriya and the Twin Ponds somehow echoed the Nelum Pokuna. A monumental structure like Sigiriya and the Twin Ponds, the Nelum Pokuna, the Lotus Pond, is also associated with water.

The Nelum Pokuna was a packed house by 7.00pm with both local and foreign invitees arriving on time to witness the spectacle. As the musicians took up their places, one could only wonder at the significance of the event. By any standards, it was an awe inspiring gathering. More than 90 musicians were involved. The largest contingent of around 60 musicians was from The Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka (SOSL). There were 30 British musicians, coming from the Purcell School for Young Musicians in London, Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester and the Royal Academy of Music. There were also six Indian musicians. This was a fusion of musicians from three Commonwealth countries. The conductor who had to cope with the challenge of managing these different musicians was Dr. James Ross, who had performed in many countries before, including in Sri Lanka.

Just like the composition of the orchestra, the performance also signified a meeting of East and West. It included Western classics such as “Capriccio Italien” by Tchaikovsky and “Concerto for Viola” by Max Bruch. Two soloists, Robert Plane and Ashan Pillai performed in the latter piece. The orchestra also performed “Mars” and “Jupiter” from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst. Dr. Ross introduced Holst as a man of the Commonwealth, telling us that he had studied Sanskrit and Indian mythology. Some of his compositions, including “The Planets” were inspired by his studies on India.

The centerpiece attraction of the concert was a song which has become an integral part of Sri Lanka’s culture; “Danno Budunge.” John de Silva composed the song for his drama “Siri Sangabo” 110 years ago in 1903. It was said to have been inspired by a composition of a Lao-Indian monk V. Laoji. Many see the elements of Church music in this composition and it has actually been arranged as a Christian Hymn, “Hymn for Ceylon.” This Buddhist and Christian connection has made “Danno Budunge” an ideal piece to be played by an orchestra with members from the East and members from the West.

Danno Budunge” had initially been included in the middle of the program. When Dr. Ross declared that he was going to start the concert with a piece that almost all of Sri Lankans who had gathered would know by heart, the audience was pleasantly surprised. Dr. Ross briefly described the theme of “Danno Budunge.” Reminding that it was a description of entering ancient Anuradhapura, he invited all foreigners to visit the city one day, to witness the glory of ancient Lanka. And then, they started playing.

It started very slowly, patiently. It was unassuming, slowly asserting its authority over the audience. The audience held its breath, listening to the different sounds and travelling through time. Over vast distances they traveled to the ancient city. Those who have seen Anuradhapura and felt its spiritual attraction must have had a similar feeling, imagining entering Anuradhapura in ancient times. Once the music reached a crescendo and then ended, one yearned for more.

More was to come at the end of the show, when the conductor turned to us, “ I’m sure you would like to listen to “Danno Budunge” once again.” The audience, already intoxicated, cheered their approval. And then, they started playing, again.

Dr. James Ross once told this author that “orchestral music needs to connect at the deepest level with all Sri Lankan people on their terms.” Driven by this concept, Dr. Ross and the orchestra touched a chord deep inside the hearts of Sri Lankans. Through music, they created the glory of ancient Anuradhapura, right in the heart of Colombo.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Kasich Plays Positive, Gains Positive

New Hampshire Republican primary was not about Donald Trump. It was about the establishment candidates making an attempt to save their campaigns. While Marco Rubio had emerged the favorite among the pack, the next in line were ready to pounce on him.

Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich were next in line, and the Deleware Governor Christie, who was precariously clinging on to the campaign, had decided to take on Rubio head-on. While he managed to unsettle the Junior Senator from Florida, Christie appeared, at least to some people, as a bully. Ultimately, Rubio ended up losing a chunk of his popularity, and Christie ended up with only a slight improvement in his campaign. Rubio stayed on, Christie did not.

Meanwhile, Governor John Kasich of Ohio adopted a different gameplay. He said that he wanted to launch a positive campaign without personal attacks. He met people at the grassroots level, which won him the crucial votes to push him on.

It is still too early to write-off any of the leading candidates in the GOP race. However, Kasich, who was written-off by some people after his performance in Iowa, is back in the race among the leading contenders.

Kasich was thrilled at the results of his positive campaign and said that he will continue it. However, he warned potential attackers that if they decide to launch an attack, he will respond.

Since both Rubio and Bush are continuing in the race for presidency, Kasich will have to fight hardly in South Carolina, to emerge first, at least among the establishment candidates.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Only in India: Chhattisgarh Police Arrest Goat

* I do not copy paste news items on my blog. But this was so funny, I had to publish this.

Incredible as it may sound, a goat was taken into custody by police in Chhattisgarh on a trespass complaint, PTI reported.

The goat, which was accused of being a ‘repeat offender’, was released later but its owner was not lucky.

Abdul Hasan (40) was arrested after his goat allegedly ventured into the garden of a judge’s bungalow in Korea district, police said on Tuesday, as the incident gave fodder to the opposition Congress to slam the State police.

Hasan was booked under IPC section 447 (criminal trespass) and 427 (mischief causing damage) based on the complaint of Judicial Magistrate (first class) H. Ratre on Monday, SHO Janakpur police station R.S. Paikra told PTI.

The goat had many times raided into the garden of the Judge Ratre’s bungalow, located in Janakpur town, about 350 km from Raipur, and ate flowers and plants there, he said.

“My goat scaled the boundary wall again and ate flowers and vegetables from the garden. It was taken to the police station and then the police also brought me in,” Mr. Hasan said.

Several warnings were given to the owner of the ruminant animal by the judge as well as police but the incident continued to happen, the SHO said.

The magistrate had on Monday called up senior police officers to complain about the goat’s antics following which the animal and Mr. Hasan were brought to the police station, he said. However, the goat was released later, he added.

Hasan was on Tuesday produced before a court, which sent him to a two-day remand, the SHO said, as he refused bail.

“The ‘arrest’ of a goat is ridiculous. Chhattisgarh police has made fun of themselves by doing so,” Congress leader Shailesh Nitin Trivedi said, adding, “Those accused in rape cases are moving freely”.

“The most painful and disappointing aspect is the entry made by an ASI of Chhatisgarh police in diary that the goat used to graze despite several warnings. Chhattisgarh police is communicating with even goats, this is one aspect of the incident,” he added.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ted Cruz to gain through New Hampshire Debate on February 6

Marco Rubio was always going to be the target of the establishment candidates at the New Hampshire Republican Debate on February 6. Chris Christie, as expected, launched a severe onslaught which rattled Rubio, shaking him up seriously for the first time since the Republican race for Presidency began. While these establishment candidates battle it out, Texas Senator Ted Cruz would be sitting back and enjoying.

Billionaire Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz are the two leading anti-establishment candidates of the Republican Party during the primaries while Rubio, Jeb Bush, Christie and John Kasich are the establishment candidates. Following the performance in Iowa, Rubio jumped up as the hot favorite of the establishment. This alarmed the other establishment candidates, who decided to hit out against the youthful Florida Senator. The intentions of Chris Christie were well known as he had called Rubio the “boy in the bubble” merely days before.

According to a CNN/WMUR Poll released on Friday, Donald Trump was still well ahead of the Republican pack with 29 percent support in New Hampshire. The biggest change following the Iowa caucus was the increasing support for Marco Rubio in particular and for the GOP establishment candidates in general. Cruz jumped from an 11 percent support prior to Iowa to 18 percent. Thereby, he went clear of Ted Cruz, who remained on 13 percent. Meanwhile, other establishment candidates such as John Kasich and Jeb Bush narrowed the gap with Cruz.

This development encouraged the establishment candidates who now aim to attract some Rubio supporters towards them. For Kasich, Bush and especially Christie, New Hampshire could be the last battle ground, and they are fully aware of it. While Kasich adopted a different tactic, Christie and Bush were out there to grab Rubio from the neck.

Rubio’s less convincing performance at the debate may cost him a few points in popularity. If so, it will be the establishment candidates who will be vying to pick up the small bits and pieces. One should remember that these pieces will be picked up by several candidates. While this can take them a few inches forward, it would not take them to somewhere secure enough.

Meanwhile, if Cruz is fortunate enough, the establishment candidates could eat into Rubio’s popularity so that he could assert himself in the second place during the primary. Therefore, if there is anyone with a chance of picking up something from the debate on Saturday, it will be Cruz.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Jeb Bush’s Last Stand

February 9 will be a vital day for Jeb Bush. On that day, when the New Hampshire primary is held, he will have to show the GOP establishment that his cause is not dead. The surprisingly strong performance by Marco Rubio has propelled him to the position of one of the leading contender for Republican nomination. A strong performance in New Hampshire will surely do him good. However, he could afford to drop a few points behind. Jeb Bush cannot.
Jeb Bush (Pic by Gage Skidmore)

Despite strong showing by Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush still has a national-wide network which he could utilize to rival any candidate from the Republican Party in the long run. Therefore, unlike the other contenders like Governor Christie and Governor Kasich, Jeb Bush can go the long distance, and could return to the position of being the favorite of the establishment.

To do so, he has to deliver at New Hampshire.

Marco Rubio has already received the endorsement of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. This is a key victory for Rubio, given that Jeb Bush was actively seeking Scott’s endorsement. Scott’s backing has given the impression that Rubio would do well in South Carolina, one of the early-primary states. Therefore, Bush has to do well in New Hampshire to make the establishment think again.

However, Bush is finding it hard to create enthusiasm, especially in a contest which had seen ugly accusations and fiery speeches flying around. In the initial stages of the contest, as one of the serious contenders for nomination, Bush was the target of some of the most vitriolic attacks from Donald Trump. It has not gone well for Bush since then.

It is not getting any better for Bush in New Hampshire. While polls can be deceptive to a certain degree, they show that Trump is leading in New Hampshire while Bush is lingering at around 10 percent. His predicament was best seen recently, when he had to ask a crowd to “please clap”.

It is likely that Bush’s campaign will falter after February 9.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Marco Rubio, Real Winner of Iowa Republican Caucus

Marco Rubio has delivered the message. Or, more precisely, the Republican caucuses have given a message to the party establishment. The polls had indicated a close race between billionaire businessman Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, with the former edging past the latter. Senator Marco Rubio was a distant third according to the same polls. However, the Republicans in Iowa chose Cruz over Trump, and gave a surprising endorsement for Rubio as well.
Rubio in 2012 (Pic: Gage Skidmore)

Rubio is currently the favorite of the party establishment, given the lackluster performance by other establishment favorites. The party cannot expect to win the Presidential Election with a divisive candidate such as Trump or Cruz. Therefore, it needs to elect a more moderate candidate such as Rubio.

Marco Rubio has several advantages. He can appeal to the younger generation and the Hispanic Americans, two key groups which overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama in 2008 as well as 2012. He can expect the reach of the voter base to the groups which did not support the party in the last two elections.

The fact that he was also trailing in the polls in Iowa may have created some fears among the Republican establishment. Apparently, it did the same in Iowa as he was selected as the best suitable candidate by over 20 percent of the participants of the Republican caucuses. He was dangerously close to pushing Trump to a unceremonious third place.

Rubio still has challenges. Jeb Bush, also from Florida, has vowed to keep on fighting. Bush expects Rubio to lack the experience to challenge him in the long run. However, Rubio has the charisma and perhaps the strategy, to defeat other establishment candidates.

One way Trump and Cruz can deflect the challenger from Florida is to start hitting out at him openly. Rubio has played a strategic campaign which was relatively low key and risk free. It has now paid dividends. However, it will be interesting to observe how the youthful junior Senator from Florida will face up to the challenges from anti-establishment and establishment candidates.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Republican Party is in Jeopardy

With the Iowa caucuses around the corner, the Republican Party is in jeopardy. This is apparent by the fact that businessman Donald Trump is leading the final pre-caucus poll in Iowa, closely followed by Senator Ted Cruz. While polls can always turn out to be wrong, they are a good indication as to what the trend is. As it stands, the Republican Party is doomed at the 2016 US Presidential Election.

Donald Trump’s entry to the race sent shockwaves through the Republican Party ranks. While some considered him a joke, others could have realized the threat he could pose for the party’s prospects from the outset. His uncharacteristic onslaught sent several prospective Presidential candidates off the race.

Trump stands with a good chance of capturing the nomination of the Republican Party. If it happens, the party will lose its chance of winning the Presidency. Trump may have won over some hardcore conservatives through his controversial remarks. However, at the same time, he has lost many others. The Republican Party, under a Trump candidacy, will find it hard to win over the moderates and neutrals.

Ted Cruz is no better in attracting broad range of support. He is a conservative and is more famous for his staunch opposition to Obamacare. He has the backing of certain groups among the US electorate and may well upset Trump by winning at the Republican caucuses in Iowa. However, Cruz will also find it difficult to attract a broad base of support among non-Republicans.

Meanwhile, Senator Marco Rubio is trailing at a distant, but not too distant, third. He has played a relatively low-key game until now. He is buying for time and perhaps hoping that perhaps sense prevails and the party dumps Trump and perhaps even Cruz. With the other candidates increasingly finding it hard to fight on, Rubio is perhaps the only hope the Republican Party could have.

Donald Trump or Ted Cruz could hope to win the 2016 Presidential Election only if the Democratic Party chooses Bernie Sanders as its candidate. Despite the increasingly successful campaign, Sanders will find it hard to win the endorsement of the party and the country as a whole. Furthermore, business interests will never tolerate the possibility of a Sanders Presidency. Therefore, Sanders will find it almost impossible to win the democratic candidacy. Even in the unlikely event of him being selected as the democratic candidate, he will have a hard time in defeating a Republican contestant thereafter.