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Category Archives: Socio-economic Collapse

Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society? – CounterPunch

Posted: November 17, 2019 at 2:40 pm

As old certainties crumble and systems crystallize, social divisions grow and extremes harden, a friend asks: Why is there so much wrong in our society? Its a good question. He was referring specifically to Britain where we both live, but, although the specific problems may vary, the question could be applied to any country, and by extension, to world society.

Politicians, lost in a fog of their own ambition and blinded by ideologies, argue and deceive; they have no answers to the pressing issues or my friends question and, addicted to the privilege, status and motorcades, are concerned only with gaining and retaining office. Corporations and undemocratic institutions exert increasing political power and sociological influence; religion, essential to some, is irrelevant to many, the church east and west groans under the weight of its inhibiting doctrine, fails to provide guidance and succor, and the people most of whom live under a blanket of economic insecurity feel increasingly anxious, angry and depressed.

We had been discussing the justice system and specifically prisons, retribution and the total absence of rehabilitation in the UK system, when my friend posed his rhetorical question. The areas of chaos and dysfunction are many and varied, from environmental carnage to armed conflict, slavery, economic injustice and homelessness. All, however, flow from the same polluted source, us mankind; motive, often short-term ideologically rooted, conditions and corrupts action and the construction of socio-economic forms.

Society is not an abstraction, it is a reflection of the consciousness of the people who live within it, the seed of what is wrong in our society lies within this consciousness, not simply in the forms and systems themselves. There will never be peace in the world, for example, until we ourselves are free of conflict: that we constitute society and that societal problems flow from us is clearly true, but, as with most things in life, the issue is more complex and nuanced.

Firstly, the relationship between the forces of society and the individual is a symbiotic one, and this is well known to those that most powerfully control the systems under which we all live; secondly, the vast majority of people have little or no influence over the mechanics of society. Depending on the nature of the society in which we live, we are all to a greater or lesser degree, structural victims, with little or no voice and even less influence something that in recent years in particular, millions have been marching to change. Billions of people throughout the world, the overwhelming majority, feel themselves to be subjects within a Giant Game of Aggrandizement and Profit played by governments and powerful organizations, including the media in its many strands.

These interconnected and interdependent groups, which are of course made up of men and women, design and shape the way society functions, and do all they can to manipulate how the masses think and act. The ideology of choice for those functioning within the corporate political sphere is founded on and promotes the dogma of greed and profit. Selfishness, ambition, competition, nationalism all are found within its tenets and are promoted as natural human tendencies that are beneficial for an individual and so should be developed. Such qualities they claim, bring success, usually understood as material comfort, career achievement or social position, and with success, the story goes, comes happiness. Within the Corrupt Construct happiness, which is rightly recognized as something that everyone longs for, has been replaced by pleasure, which is sought after day and night. Likewise, desire and the satiation of desire, itself an impossibility this too is well known by the architects has been substituted for love, which has been assimilated, commodified and neatly packaged.

The tendency towards greed and selfishness, hate and violence, no doubt exist within the human being, the negative lies within us all, so does the good. The Good is our inherent nature, hidden within the detritus of conditioning and fear. The negative, aggravated, rises, and, within the Corrupt Construct it is relentlessly prodded and stirred up. Desire is demanded, facilitating its bedmate fear, which manifests as anxiety/stress, to which an antidote is offered by the deeply concerned, eternally grateful, trillion dollar pharmaceutical companies, recreational drugs/alcohol and the world of entertainment. Common sense, restraint and The Wisdom of The Wise is trivialized, discarded; conflict and suffering, within and without goes on. Discontent leading to the pursuit of pleasure is the aim, desire, agitated, the means.

The two most pervasive and effective tools employed to condition the minds of all are education and the media. Conditioning into competition and nationalism, pleasure and individualism not individuality, which is dangerous to the status quo and is therefore actively discouraged; conformity is insisted upon and forms a cornerstone of education and the stereotypes churned out by the media.

This is a transitional time, a time of collapse and expansion, of disintegration and rebuilding; underlying the present tensions and discord is the energy of change and the emergence of the new.

A battle is taking place, between those forces in the world that are wedded to the old ways, and a dynamic, global movement for social justice, environmental action, peace and freedom. Sapped of energy, the existing forms and modes of living are in a state of decay; propelled solely by the impetus of the past they persist in form only, hollow carcasses without vitality. Growing numbers of people around the world know this to be true, and while some react with fear and look for certainty behind a flag or ideology, the majority call for a fundamental shift, for justice and the inculcation of systems that allow unifying harmonious ways of living to evolve. As always, resistance is fierce, but change and the spirit of the time cannot be held at bay indefinitely.

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The President and the Blob – Boston Review

Posted: at 2:40 pm

President Trump signs the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018. Image:Stephanie Chasez/DoD

The barrage of attacks that followed Trumps decision to reduce the U.S. military presence in Syria obscures the decades-long bankruptcy of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

When Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced on October 13 that President Donald Trump would bring home 2,000 U.S. troops deployed in Syria, it ignited a bipartisan firestorm. Punditsconservatives and liberals alikesavaged Trump for deserting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), composed largely of Kurds who had fought alongside the United States against the Islamic State (IS). In Congress, even Trumps most stalwart defenders, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham, parted ways with him.

Trumpscritics issuethe standard Beltway cocktail of bromides, stale thinking, skin-deep historical knowledge, and hypocritical sentimentality. That is the real pity.

The critics were playing a familiar tune. By announcing his intention to pull out of Syria, Trump was corroding U.S. credibility across the globe, demoralizing U.S. allies, undercutting the campaign against terrorism, throwing a lifeline to a (supposedly) dying IS, opening the door to genocide, and handing unearned victories to Iran, Russia, and by extension to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.The charge sheet was extravagantly comprehensive; dissenters were few and far between.

In fairness to Trumps critics, the presidents operating style, unique in the annals of U.S. statecraft, does not inspire confidence; and his decision on Syria was of a piece. It owed, seemingly, to id and impulse, not reason, and it was suffused with that dangerous Trumpian amalgam of ignorance and overweening self-confidence. Moreover, the presidents own Syria policy has been all over the map. After being elected, he actually increased the number of U.S. troops there, to a total of about 2,000. Then, in late 2018, he surprised his advisers by calling for an immediate reduction on the grounds that IS had been defeated. Then he changed his mind again. Less than a week after last months abrupt order for a full withdrawal, he reversed course yet again, decreeing that a small, unspecified number of troops would remain, to guard Syrias oil fieldsnever mind that these are dispersed and nowhere near the SDF-controlled northeast.

By going with his gut on this decision, Trump effectively ignored his foreign policy and national security team and the top military brass, all of whom seemed stupefied following Espers newsflash. These advisers were left to contemplate various what-next questions that had seemingly never occurred to the commander-in-chief. How, for example, would U.S. troops exit a war zone speedily and safely, especially with angry Kurds flinging trash and invective at them? What, precisely, would limit the advance of Turkish forces once the U.S. troops were gone? What fate would befall the Kurds inhabiting the twenty-mile buffer that Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned to create in northern Syria, and then to flood with Syrian Arab refugees? Who would care for Kurdish refugees fleeing the advance of Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters and al-Assads army? What if in the ensuing melee IS prisoners under the SDFs control managed to escape?

Indubitably, then, Trumps Syria decision was hasty and the (non-) process used to decide inept. Yet what his recklessness laced with grandiosity elicited from his critics was the standard Beltway cocktail of bromides, stale thinking, skin-deep historical knowledge, and hypocritical sentimentality. And that, in the end, is the real pity.

American presidents have unique autonomy and latitude when it comes to enacting foreign policy. Apart from conflating U.S. interests with their own personal interests, they can set the agenda and execute their priorities. Given the magnitude of this responsibility and the complexity of decision making involved, they rely on what Stephen Walt calls the blobthe amorphous foreign policy establishment that diffuses responsibility and rarely if ever suffers consequences for its mistakes.

Obamas plan to partner with the SDF was doomed from the start. Insisting on aU.S. presence in Syria sweeps various additional problems under the rug.

To understand how calamitous this partnership between politician and blob has been in recent years, consider the U.S. policy that resulted with troops in Syria in the first place. For starters, recall that it was President Barack Obama, not Trump, who first engineered the U.S. collaboration with the SDF, in 2015partly in response to calls, including from some members of his administration, to intervene more forcefully in Syrias civil war. Bipartisan legislation in 2014 had approved $500 million to extract Syrian Arab rebels out of Syria to train and arm them for the fight against IS. But this program produced little of value: the rebels proved more interested in resisting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad than in fighting IS.

Obama sought to project toughness on terrorism. With polls taken in late 2014 and early 2015 revealing that a majority of Americans favored sending ground troops to fight IS in Syria, he terminated the 2014 program and developed a new, measured plan. Yet Obama understood that protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had made Americans wary of military expeditions that began with promises of easy victories and then dragged on for years, with vast expenditure of blood and treasure. So he chose to deploy a limited number of Special Operations Forcesfewer than 50 in October 2015, and then another 450 in April and December of the following yearto train and equip a more clearly defined local partner to do the bulk of the fighting, with air support provided by U.S. warplanes already stationed nearby at Incirlik, Turkey. Enter the SDF, which was already engaged in fighting on the ground and shared the U.S. interest of destroying the sprawling caliphate that IS had by then erected in parts of Syria (and Iraq).

The partnership, while superficially plausible, was doomed from the start. Though the SDF included Syrian Arabs and Assyrians, it was dominated by the Peoples Protection Units (YPG), the fighting arm of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish nationalist organization. The United States and the Syrian Kurds had a common enemy in IS, but they did not share common political objectives. The Syrian Kurds minimal goal, which required the liquidation of IS, was an autonomous Kurdish region in northeastern Syria; what it really coveted was an independent state for Syrias Kurdsan outcome unacceptable to just about every nation in the region, especially Turkey.

Erdoganand Turks generallyrecognized that the PYD was now essentially masquerading as the SDF. The PYD, while organizationally distinct, is a kindred spirit of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought for a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey for decades. In 1997 and again in 2019, the U.S. State Department had labeled the PKK a terrorist group. Photographs of the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan abound in PYD-ruled Syrian territories, and some PKK fighters have joined their PYD comrades in battle, as have Iranian Kurds from the Party of Free Life for Kurdistan (PAJAK), which, in 2009, the U.S. Treasury Department also labeled a terrorist group.

One can sympathize with the Kurds, of course. The post-World War I territorial settlement Britain and France devised to carve up much of the Near East eviscerated the Kurds hope for statehood, dispersing them across three countries. The cold historical reality, however, is that no state with the power to prevent the emergence of a separatist state on its flank, to say nothing of one aligned with a homegrown secessionist insurgency it has battled for decades, will allow that to happen. Long before Erdogan was even elected prime minister in 2003 (he became president in 2014), the Turkish state had demonstrated, repeatedly, its determination to wage a pitiless counterinsurgency war against the PKK, which included the burning of over 2,000 Kurdish villages. Between 1984when the PKK took up armsand 2014, more than 65,000 civilians and combatants on both sides died or were injured, with the Kurds getting the worst of it by far.

Yes, Trump is a disastrous president. But U.S. foreign policy has been a disaster for much longer.

The idea that Turkey would permit a PKK affiliate to create a de facto state within Syria adjacent to Turkey proper was therefore delusional. Erdogan has been reviled in the United States; but you neednt like the man to understand what drives his actions in northern Syria. In 2018 he denounced the SDF as aU.S.-backed terror army and most Turks support himindeed, as opinion polls demonstrate, Turks are turning increasing hostile toward the United States.

Obama, for his part, seems to have given scant thought in 2015 to how the United States might respond if Turkey moved to crush the SDF. Clearly, he had no intention of sending troops numerous enough to deter, let alone repel, a Turkish offensive against the SDF. His focus was on limiting U.S. exposurehence, his resistance to taking bolder steps, such as creating a no-fly zone over Syrian airspace or safe areas inside Syria for refugees fleeing Assads army. His plan for demolishing IS by relying on the SDF, though successful, was all but certain to give rise to an additional set of problems.

For example, Turkeys interests aside, consider that Assads forces have been making steady gains since 2015, which is the year Vladimir Putin intervened with Russian airpower and thousands of so-called contract soldiers to prevent the Syrian states collapse. As Putin sees it, Assads fall would perpetuate chaos and create further space for the rise of a radical Islamist government. Russia thus remains determined to help Assad retake the lands he has lost to an assortment of armed opponents. So, to those who demand that the United States maintain troops in Syria (or even increase their number), the question Obama swept under the rug remains: would the United States be willing to defend the SDF from a Russian-supported assault by Assads army in the south while Turkey was also pressing against it in the north?

Critics of Trumps recent withdrawal claim that Trump has handed Russia a big prize. This is absurd. Imagine, for a moment, that Assad routs his opponents soon and once again rules all of Syria. What strategic gain will accrue to Putin? Large parts of Syria have been demolished and resemble a smoldering ruin. No Western country will pony up the cash needed for a serious reconstruction, which the UN estimates will require $250 billion (Syrias entire GDP before the civil war began in 2011) and other sources estimate at $400 billion. Whatever the sum, the Russians cant afford it. The Chinese have the money to help rebuild Syria, but why would they when Russia would then reap the benefits?

The proponents of hanging tough in Syria also warn of wily Russian diplomats forging ties with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey. To hear them tell it, you would think that Russiawith a military budget that is less than a tenth of the United States and a GDP comparable to that of the Benelux countrieshas all but driven the United States out of the Middle East. But Russias achievements here cannot be blamed on Trumps actions in Syria. Russias diplomatic successes in the Middle East were evident during Obamas presidency and continued even as Trump beefed up the military deployment in Syria that he inherited following the 2016 election. Indeed, the extensive cooperation between Israel in particular and Russia can be traced at least to the 1990s. Putin has certainly built energetically on that foundation, but his success cannot be ascribed to U.S. policy in Syria, let alone Trumps decision to reduce the number of troops deployed there. Moreover, the question remains of how substantial and lasting these relationships will prove to be. Each of the countries in question, for example, remains much more closely tied to the United States than to Russia, or indeed any other state.

As for the charge that Trump has betrayed the Kurds, well, he has. Indeed, the United States has forsaken the Kurds repeatedly, on a much grander scale, and long before Trump came on the scene. Consider just a couple of examples. Washington armed Turkeyto the tune of $800 million a year on average during Bill Clintons presidencyas Turkey mounted its massive counterinsurgency against the PKK in the 1990s. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Reagan administration supported Saddam Hussein in several ways, including providing Iraq economic credits as well as intelligence information on Iranian troop deployments, even as Hussein set out to retake Kurdish territories in northern Iraq. During their 1988 offensive, called Operation Anfal, Iraqi troops killed thousands of Kurdish civilians, demolished entire villages, and used poison gas in the town of Halabja, taking some 5,000 Kurdish lives. The entire campaign may have killed as many as 100,000 civilians. The White House and State Department uttered nary a word of condemnation after the attack on Halabja and even opposed Congressional resolutions that sought to do so.

There is, then, much amnesia at work in 2019.

From where we sit, Donald Trump has been a disastrous president, and in ways too numerous to recount here. Apart from his policies, his personal comportmentthe sexism, the racist dog whistles, the demagoguery, the coarsenesshas been revolting. With luck, and assuming he manages to finish his term, voters will cashier him in 2020. That said, however, the barrage of attacks and news coverage that followed his decision to reduce the U.S. military presence in Syria has obscured something the country really needs: a debate about the basic principles of recent U.S. foreign policy. This policy, which has loomed large since 9/11, has five, interrelated elements.

The foreign policy establishment says that we must persevere lest adversaries doubt our will and allies lose their nerve. But endless interventionsensure militants a steady stream of recruits.

First, recent U.S. foreign policy has authorized serial military interventions undertaken in the name of universal human rights, the commitment to which is belied by the many repressive regimes that the United States supports. A recent, egregious example is U.S.-armed Saudi Arabias war in Yemen, which began in the final year of Obamas presidency and has ravaged a dirt-poor country, killed thousands of civilians, and created a cholera epidemic and a famine.

Second, recent U.S. foreign policy rests largely on the so-called war against terrorism which has no clarity of strategic purposenamely, whether the terrorists pose a clear and present danger or are a species of militant Islam produced by complex causes that may be rooted in local factors that have little to do with the United States. The war on terror has used drone strikes and special operations to convert large swathes of the planet into a battlefield and commits the country to promiscuous, preventive, and open-ended interventions across the globe.

Third, and a consequence of the first two, the decapitation of governments (such as in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya) produce chaos and bloodletting while leaving the United States with two bad choices: doubling down for years (Afghanistan and Iraq) or bugging out (Libya). The first two ventures have cost $5.9 trillion (counting the money already spent and the future obligations to our troops), while the third has proved to be a boon for Al-Qaeda, IS, and a network of human traffickers and armed militias who have thrived in the resulting power vacuum.

Fourth, recent foreign policy has all but ignored the cumulative opportunity costs. While it is true that money cant fix all of our festering domestic problems, it would certainly help ameliorate some of them. Imagine if the money saved by winding down needless, counterproductive wars was put towards updating crumbling infrastructure, or addressing the child poverty rate (which ranks among the highest in OECD countries), or treating the raging opioid and suicide epidemics (the latter of which has taken a heavy toll on veterans and active-duty soldiers; at least 45,000 have killed themselves since 2013). The military, which is currently having to lower its health and education standards in order to field a force, is especially aware of the consequences of decreased domestic investment.

Lastly, U.S. foreign policy since 9/11 has largely allowed Congress to go AWOL. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), legislation passed on September 14, 2001, has amounted to a permanent permission slip presidents can invoke to mount armed interventions of various sorts, thus enabling the continual military interventions of recent years. Congress can undo this legislation whenever it chooses, but instead has all but abdicated its constitutional right to declare war.

Since 2016, the number of U.S. troops has increased in virtually every region of the world.

By assuming the cloak of anti-terrorism, U.S. foreign policy post 9/11 has amounted to an endless game of whack-a-mole, pitting the United States against militant movements that move from one country to another. How, then, does this game end? What will victory look like? The foreign policy establishment says that we must persevere lest adversaries doubt our will and allies lose their nerve. But these shopworn shibboleths about being persistent and demonstrating credibility keep the game going. Endless interventions simply generate resentments that ensure militants a steady stream of recruits. Sticking with the same failed strategy in hopes of a obtaining a different result amounts to insanity.

Trump famously described himself as a very stable genius. He is, in fact, neither stable nor particularly smart. Yet he deserves credit for his intuition in 2016. He sensed the American publics frustration over the forever wars, the burden of which is borne by a small segment of our society because we do not have a military draft, and which are paid for with the national credit card rather than by raising taxes. Trump also grasped the depth of resentment among those who feel belittled, even mocked, by a super-richelite that knows nothing, and perhaps cares less, about their workaday hardships. He tapped into the despair of people whose jobs succumbed to outsourcing and automation and those who have jobs but nevertheless struggle to cover basic expenses.

Trump spun a narrative, which, for all of its simplemindedness and crudeness, portrayed him, a quintessential creature of privilege, as a revolutionary savior. It convinced nearly 63 million voters that he would dismantle a dysfunctional system and replace it with one that would, at long last, fix their problems. In the end, unsurprisingly, Trump has managed only to perpetrate one more con job. His promise of a new foreign policy has proven bogus. Since 2016, the number of U.S. troops has increased in virtually every region of the world; the total in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria soared from 18,000 at the end of Obamas term to 26,000 by the end of 2017. Most recently Trump dispatched 3,000 troops to Saudi Arabia, supposedly to shore up its defenses against Iran, never mind that the United Sates has sold the House of Saud $90 billion worth of arms since 1950 so it could supposedly defend itself.

Under Trump, the forever wars grind on. Drone strikes and military raids remain the commander-in-chiefs tools of choicenotably in Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Obama was scarcely a paragon of transparency on civilian deaths caused by drone strikes, but as of this year, the Trump administration stopped releasing annual reports on drone attacks, thereby making it even harder to ascertain civilian casualties and deaths. If anything, Trump uses military force even less discriminately than his predecessor did. The self-proclaimed architect of restraint turns out to be the avatar of more of the same.

The foreign policy establishment needs to rethinks its worldview,including acknowledgingthe role its collective folly has played in elevating someone like Trump.

And yet all that disaffection he tapped into to win the presidency remains. Though not all of it stems from a loss of confidence in U.S. foreign policy, the disenchantment with militarized global leadership and awareness of its abundant failures will likely still haunt us in 2020 and beyond. A true change in our policy will require a root-and-branch assessment that distinguishes between essential goals, commitments, and expenditures and those that owe to bureaucratic inertia, entrenched vested interests, and a foreign policy establishment that not only lacks new ideas but is also increasingly sequestered in Washington, D.C., and disconnected from public sentiment. It will entail realigning ends and means, redefining national security so as to take account of domestic socio-economic considerations. It will require winding down wars that breed millenarian movements and more terrorism. Despite his propensity for big talk, the current commander in chief wont achieve any of this.

No thoroughgoing change will occur unless the foreign policy establishment rethinks its worldview. And that wont happen until members of the blobwhether in Congress, the military, think tanks, or the mediaacknowledge the role that their collective folly has played in elevating someone like Trump to the presidency. The U.S. foreign policy crisis predates Trump. It wont end simply with his removal from office.

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The President and the Blob - Boston Review

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Does the Lebanese Government Have the Courage to Make the Right Decisions? – International Policy Digest

Posted: October 24, 2019 at 11:47 am

On my visit to Lebanon several weeks before the current demonstrations began, two Lebanese leaders, one a minister and the other a parliamentarian, described the mood of the Lebanese people and noted the lack of courage by Lebanese government officials, one admitting, We do not have the courage to address our problems.

That comment now appears prescient as Lebanons crisis is about more than Syrian refugees, who with existing Palestinian refugees and other immigrants, make up at least one-third of the population. This presence adds to the existing pressure on government services, unemployment and underemployment, infrastructure overload, environmental damage, and increased crime. And the government has no national strategy to effectively addresses these concerns.

Nearly daily, Israel threatens to intervene militarily in Lebanon against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Israeli jets and drones conduct illegal overflights of Lebanon, while Hezbollah threatens to wreak havoc inside Israel. One miscalculation by either side could lead to a catastrophic war. One almost occurred a month ago when Israel sent drones to the Hezbollah stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut; another in December, when Israel first discovered tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel.

However, the Israeli military threat and the refugee crisis are not taking up most of the attention of the Lebanese these days. Its their economy and people from all over the country and across all sectarian groups are demonstrating in the streets.

They have many reasons to demonstrate. Economic growth could be in negative territory in 2019; bond agencies have rated Lebanese bonds as deep junk; unemployment and poverty are on the rise; and the government has little in the way of resources and management to address the countrys socio-economic problems. The Central Bank of Lebanon has enacted monetary policies to maintain the value of the Lebanese pound to prevent economic collapse, rampant inflation, and wage instability. But this cannot last without sound fiscal measures taken by the government. Adding to these pressures are the decrease of remittances and deposits from the Lebanese diaspora and the decline in significant deposits and foreign direct investment from Gulf countries, principally the UAE and Saudi Arabia, who have blocked their investments to Lebanon due to the Iranian influence on Hezbollah. In addition, the Syrian war has also cut off Lebanon from its only overland trade routes.

The U.S. has made its position clear by taking on Hezbollah by taking tough steps to weaken Hezbollah and Iran, sanctioning individuals and two banks in Lebanon, most recently, Jammal Trust. This affected 85,000 mostly innocent Shiite depositors who face challenges in retrieving and transferring their accounts. This is perceived by some as the U.S. targeting Lebanons Shiite community. The banking sector makes up 14% of the GDP of the country, and protecting this industry is a must if Lebanon is to recover.

There is a new U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs and there will soon be a new U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon. These changes lead Lebanese officials to wonder if ongoing U.S. support will continue, especially regarding its negotiations on the Lebanon-Israel land and maritime borders, putting into question the future potential of natural gas development.

Its the perfect storm, said one Lebanese official. Another remarked, The U.S. wants us to be more aggressive with Hezbollah and in our economic policies. We have little room to maneuver, adding, We need breathing spaceThis is not our problem alone. It is a problem involving outside actors much larger than Lebanon: Syria, Russia, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States. They have as much an effect on Lebanon as Lebanons internal actors.

As the U.S. has reduced its involvement in the Middle East, Russia sees an opportunity to fill the void and exert leadership. Russia claims to be a more dependable alternative, promising Lebanon and its neighbors increased trade, military equipment, and conflict mediation regarding Lebanons refugee repatriation. So far, Russia has shown little action and questionable capability, but this propaganda works at a time of U.S. regional retreat.

Despite Lebanons fears of abandonment, and in response to the legitimate concerns of the demonstrators, the U.S. can be helpful in many ways. For example, emphasizing its commitment to the sovereignty, independence, and stability of Lebanon, providing significant funding in direct military and foreign assistance, and continuing visits by senior diplomatic and military officials.

Time is running out however for the Lebanese government to show the courage to make the tough decisions necessary to right its economy. Thousands of Lebanese are demonstrating in the streets, expressing their frustration with a government that is failing to take decisive action on the economy.

The government has the power to make the needed changes, address its economic woes, and take control of its destiny. It has been offered $11 billion in soft loans and grants by international donors to rebuild infrastructure, kick-start the economy, and privatize government-run entities.

The international community however expects Lebanon to reduce its budget and public workforce, create transparent oversight mechanisms, and institute anti-corruption policies that will allow this beautiful country to reclaim its historic role as an economic model in the Middle East. The demonstrators are showing their concern and commitment to a more free, open, transparent, and inclusive Lebanonwill the politicians take up the challenge? All it takes is a little courage.

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Raising the country’s wellness index – Ceylon Daily News

Posted: at 11:46 am

This article is a continuation of Sri Lankas rise to healthy nationhood published in the Daily News yesterday.

Elimination of HIV/AIDS by 2030

HIV/AIDS is a major global public health problem having claimed over 34 million lives so far. At present, around 36.7 million people globally are affected with HIV/AIDS. Today, Sri Lanka is named as a low prevalence country for HIV/AIDS.

The challenges facing HIV/AIDS in Sri Lanka

1.) Bringing down the rate of low prevalence to a point of near elimination

2.) Ensure all patients with HIV/AIDS have the right to universal healthcare

3.)Ensure all patients with HIV/AIDS lead a normal life in the community without being marginalised or discriminated by the local community

Magnitude of HIV/AIDSproblem in SL:

(Source: National STD/AIDS Control Programme, December 2017)

Target of HIV/AIDSprogramme in SL:

To reduce the prevalence from 0.01 percent to the overall goal of zero percent - target to be achieved by 2030

The fast track initiative programme, the 90-90-90 needs to identify the following.

1.) Diagnose 90 percent of population infected with HIV.

2.) Treat 90 percent diagnosed with anti viral treatment.

3.) Ensure undetectable HIV in 90 percent of patients is treated with anti viral drugs.

Prevention of HIV/AIDS

1.) Sexual education of young people is mandatory regarding sexual health, sexual responsibility and the need to practice safe sex with the use of condoms.

2.) Advising youth to engage in sexual activity with one trustworthy partner only.

3.) Screening of all pregnant mothers for HIV/AIDS.

4.) Among drug addicts - avoidance of sharing needles for injecting drugs.

5.) Advise suspected cases of HIV/AIDS to avail themselves of freely accessible STD clinics in the government sector and confirm the HIV status confidentially at no cost.

6.) Protection of the baby during pregnancy from HIV infected mothers.


The stark reality of road traffic accidents (RTA) in 2018 was that approximately 3,000 Sri Lankans died on roads. On average, one death occurred every three hours or eight deaths occurred daily. The government spends on each death, including basic treatment, ICU care, investigations, legal workout and post-mortem, approximately Rs. one million per victim.

The WHOs ambitious goal is to reduce the deaths from RTA by 50 percent by 2030. To ensure this, the government will have to enforce strict laws and implement them without any exception via the National Road Safety Council to ensure the countrys roads are safe for its citizens.

Analysis of fatal road traffic accidents in 2016 revealed the following information.

Total number of road traffic deaths - 2961.

This comprised 1,157 motorcyclists, 877 pedestrians, 720 motorists and 244 cyclists. These figures confirm that roads in Sri Lanka pose a serious hazard.

Consequences of road accidents

Deaths from road traffic accidents often involve the breadwinners of families at the peak of their lives. These deaths also invariably spell economic disaster for the families as all financial resources are utilised for treatment of these victims. Invariably these victims who survive from road traffic accidents are left with severe degrees of disability ranging from partial to total paralysis, totally dependent in vegetative states.

Prevention of roadtraffic accidents

1.) Primary prevention - Preventing road traffic accidents before it occurs. This includes education of the public, engineering and enforcement.

2.) Secondary prevention - management of injuries

3.) Tertiary prevention - disability limitation and rehabilitation

The way forward

All road users should act with civic responsibility and obey road rules at all times. They should not drink and drive or drive when they are tired and sleepy. The insurance premium should be increased for reckless driving. Other important measures are withdrawal of licence for six months for drunk driving and implementation of strict fines on dangerous driving without any exceptions.

The Sri Lanka Medical Association(SLMA) has already initiated a programme to increase public awareness of road traffic accidents and their consequences.


Sri Lanka was certified malaria-free on September 5, 2016. This was exactly four years after the last endogenous case of malaria was detected in a soldier at a Sri Lanka Army camp in Mullaitivu. This was exactly 100 years after the British set up the first-ever malaria field station in Kurunegala in 1912. During this period, Sri Lanka was plagued by a devastating epidemic of malaria in 1935. This epidemic affected about 80 percent of the total population of Sri Lanka, which was five million at that time. The maternal mortality during the epidemic was 5,000 per 100,000 live births and the infant mortality rate was 458 per 1,000 live births.

Sri Lanka was free of malaria temporarily in 1963. However, unremitting vigilance was not maintained and malaria re-emerged in the late 60s. Minor epidemics of malaria occurred from 1970 to 1974 and from 1986 to 1988. During this period, 1986 to 1988, malaria was the leading cause of admission of patients to the government hospitals in Sri Lanka. This was the period that I worked at the Polonnaruwa Base Hospital where one-third of all admissions to the medical and paediatric wards comprised patients sick with malaria.

Patterns of malariaepidemics in SL

Elimination of Malaria

With the decline in cases to 124 in 2001 with global funds, the task of elimination of malaria began. This was achieved through

(1.) Integrated and targeted vector control (mosquito larvae) in major irrigation channels and agricultural projects; (2.) Adult vector control by targeted spraying in high-risk areas, indoor residual spraying and the use of long-lasting insecticide sprayed bed nets; and (3.) Parasite control with mobile clinics for active and passive case detection and treatment of patients at all levels.

Despite elimination of malaria in Sri Lanka, we remain receptive and vulnerable to reintroduction of malaria. Receptivity to malaria results from

(1.) The ecosystems of the country favouring a high prevalence of malaria mosquitoes due to suitable temperature and humidity; (2.) Presence of vectors in most parts of the country in irrigation projects, streams, quarry pits and water pools; and (3.) Real danger of a new vector Anopheles stephensi in the Northern Province imported from India. This vector would cause major epidemic of urban malaria if it reaches the Western Province.

Sri Lanka is vulnerable to the reintroduction of malaria due to the tremendous increase in the migrant population, with the possibility of importing the malaria parasite to Sri Lanka from other endemic countries and delay in the detection and treating these imported malaria cases.

These high-risk groups include

(1.) Sri Lankan gem traders travelling to Madagascar and Mozambique; (2.) Businessmen who travel to Asia and Africa; (3.) Pilgrims travelling to India; (4.) Sri Lankan security forces in foreign missions; (5.) Migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers; and (6.) Tourists from malaria-endemic areas and Sri Lankans on leisure trips to South Africa.

There have been no indigenous cases of malaria since August 2012, confirming zero local transmission since then.

In 2018, there were 47 imported cases and one introduced case in a Sri Lankan who contracted malaria from an Indian worker in Moneragala.

An important message to doctors:

(1.) Always obtain a travel history of patients who present with fever

(2.) Perform blood tests repeatedly to confirm a diagnosis of malaria.

(3.) Remember thrombocytopenia is common not only in dengue but in malaria as well.

(4.) Always follow the national guidelines during treatment.

(5.) Inform all cases of malaria to the hotline, 011 7 626 626.

Take home message to patients:

If you develop fever after visiting a malaria-endemic area, please remind your doctor that it could be malaria.


Sri Lanka has one of the fastest ageing populations in the world with 19 percent of population belonging to the elderly population group by 2030. ( See Table 1)

With the decrease in the birth rate and rising of the expectation of life and the geriatric population will need to shift the governments healthcare allocation funds from the pediatric to the geriatric age groups. Increase in the dependency ratio and the shrinking of the working population will consequently cause a tremendous burden on the government.

Mitigating adverse effectsof rising geriatric population

1.) Increase the retirement age and encourage older workers to remain longer in the labour force.

2.) Introduce phased out retirement schemes.

3.) Promote voluntary pro-social behaviour, craft and artistic work among the elderly.

4.) Provide support for independent living for the elderly.

5.) Adaptive transport, housing and rehabilitation.

6.) Prepare for management of age-related diseases such as NCDs, dementia, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and Alzheimers disease.

7.) Establishment of day care centres, psychogeriatric clinics, dementia care centres etc.

People living longer and leading productive lives is the crowning achievement of our health services. It is certainly a challenge which must be properly planned and executed. Our aim should be to add life to years and not years to life and to enter the silver age, healthy and productive.


In the history of our nation, spanning over 2500 years, agriculture and the paddy farmer have had a special bearing on our economy. It is believed that the migration of Rajarata from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa and subsequently to Dambadeniya resulted from the devastating effects of malaria in these kingdoms. Today, the high prevalence of CKDu in the North-Central Province (NCP) has nearly crippled this agricultural heartland, causing a steady outmigration of people and is slowly but surely destroying the agricultural-based civilisation of our country.

The following data highlight the stark reality of this malady.

1.) The age-standardised prevalence of CKDu is 15 percent.

2.) A population of 500,000 is at risk in the NCP namely Medawachchiya, Padavi Sripura and Weli Oya areas

3.) Numbers severely affected with CKDu fearing death is 75,000

4.) Estimated death toll so far is 24,000

5.) Estimated daily deaths are two per day

In 2009, the following were defined as criteria for case definition of CKDu.

1.) No past history of or current treatment for diabetes, chronic hypertension, snakebite or urological disease of known aetiology or glomerulonephritis.

2.) Normal glycosylated haemoglobin (HBA1C) level is below 6.5.

3.) For blood pressure below 160 by 100 mm untreated or blood pressure below 140 by 90 mm mercury up to two hypotensive drugs used (The Health Ministry, 2019).

Main features of CKDu include an insidious onset, slowly progressive chronic interstitial nephritis which predominantly affects, poor rural male farmers in agrochemical intense form of cultivation. The heavy sun exposure in these areas leads to increased sweating. This factor, along with reduced water intake leading to dehydration further aggravate this toxic nephropathy with unique geographical distribution which appeared in Sri Lanka in the mid-1990s. CKDu has been associated strongly with the following factors.

1.) Consumption of hard water containing magnesium and calcium

2.) Spraying of glyphosate (Roundup), the most widely used herbicide in disease-endemic areas with unique metal chelating properties.

3. Use of fertilizers with heavy metals (E.g., arsenic lead, cadmium and chromium)

The above interactions result in the formation of glyphosate metal (GM) complexes. Drinking hard water with the GM complex and subsequent absorption to the circulation leads to high levels reaching the kidney. In the kidney, high concentration of ammonium, NH4 plus ions, releases the heavy metals from the GMA lattice in the proximate tubular areas. When the lattice is broken, it releases metals such as arsenic which damage the glomeruli and leads to glomerulosclerosis and subsequent collapse while arsenic, cadmium, chromium and the other heavy metals cause proximal tubular damage leading to chronic interstitial nephritis.

All these factors associated with agriculture have resulted in change of the name of CKDu to Chronic Interstitial Nephritis of Agricultural Communities (CINAC).

(Source: Int. J. Res. Public Health 2013, Page 2137. C.N. Jayasumana et al.)

Prevention of CKDu/CINAC

1.) Fast track provision of safe water to communities living in affected areas -

Provision of reverse osmosis water purifiers at community levels in common places

(e.g., markets, community centres, temples, pradeshiya sabha grounds)

2.) Provision of safe water for schoolchildren by installing water filters in schools in the affected areas.

3.) Minimise the use of agro chemicals herbicides and weedicides

4.) Avoid the use of chemical fertilizers

5.) Encourage farmers to engage in traditional methods of agriculture by using compost

6.) Population screening and surveillance for early detection of CINAC

It has now been proved beyond doubt that reverse osmosis by water purifiers is the only effective answer to prevent CKD/CINAC. Reverse osmosis removes all suspected causative elements of this malady (e.g., removes arsenic, cadmium, glyphosate, fluoride, calcium and magnesium) Reverse osmosis is therefore the only effective answer to prevent CINAC.

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Raising the country's wellness index - Ceylon Daily News

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Letters: Capitalism isnt perfect, but it lifts societies out of poverty – St. Paul Pioneer Press

Posted: October 20, 2019 at 10:34 pm

Capitalism isnt perfect. But

There was a recent letter describing the irony of President Trump defending Social Security and Medicare while denouncing socialism. Although both Social Security and Medicare are government programs that provide social benefits, they should NOT be held up by socialists to demonstrate what they have in mind for our country.

Do socialists plan to impose a flat tax rate on all to fund their new programs so everyone has skin in the game or to establish regressive taxes to do so, as with Social Security and Medicare?

Do they plan to allow all even the 1% to receive the benefits of their new programs, as with Social Security and Medicare? Those programs enjoy general support because all pay into them and all receive benefits from them.

They are not representative of what our socialist friends have in mind.

Socialists define which entities in America are the enemies and then promise to strip them of their wealth to pay for goodies. It is a very divisive strategy.

Socialists now talk about a 90% incremental tax rate for the rich. How does that work when the only surgeon in town who can operate on your brain cancer has hit his 90% rate in October and decided he will take the rest of the year off, rather that assume full risk while giving 90% of his reward away?

What happens when we reach the socialist utopia where the evil corporations have been brought to their knees and the rich have been stripped of their wealth? Who then pays for all the existing programs?

We need to be compassionate, but we also need to be sure that those people out there who get up every morning, dress for work, drive through traffic, deal with bosses and customers all day and then drive home to prepare to do it again are rewarded more than those who sit at home and do not contribute to the productivity of our nation. If, in the name of empathy, we give the latter the same benefits as the former, no one would go to work and society would collapse.

Capitalism is not perfect. Like the natural world, it is competitive, but it has been shown over and over to do a better job of lifting societies out of poverty than any other system especially socialist/totalitarian systems. It leads to the creation of wealth in society, not the destruction of wealth.

Carl Hasbargen, St. Paul

He wasnt a bum. He had a soul. These words from Keys Caf and Bakery owner Barbara Hunn Miesen were uttered many years ago when a homeless man named Boyd would hang out in her restaurant on Raymond Avenue. She gave him food and clothing, and did the same for others in need.

Decades later, Boyd is no longer there. But Miesens words reflect the hearts of many in St. Paul who frequent her establishments. The family business owner has found other ways to help, asking customers for donations to Union Gospel Mission and matching them.

As Thanksgiving approaches, and we prep for our annual meal distribution, I want to say a specialthank you to Keys Caf, and the thousands of diners in and around St. Paul who support our work. Theyre helping us to restore peoples lives, and to get them off the streets for good.

Gail P. Gisi, New RichmondThe author is director of education and training for theUnion Gospel Mission Twin Cities

I am absolutely giddy about all the peoples work the U.S. Congress is getting done NOT!

If you pay even a little attention you know their eyes are off the ball and instead on political junk that will go nowhere and get us to that same place.

We all know there is need for a manageable government. I beg for people to remember the founding fathers who demanded state and local government to lead the way, with a federal government standing by to asist. Assist?! My, my what we have created? There are about 2.8 million federal employees making on average $123,000 per year. Do the math are we getting our moneys worth?

Phil Hove, Cottage Grove

Deanna Wenigers article on homeschool theater was a wonderful read (Group is working to shatter misconception of homeschool theater, Oct. 9). Education is not one size fits all, and if a family chooses to home educate, wonderful! I am glad that choice is available.

Jennifer LaMotte, Hastings

Tried watching the nightly national news again tonight. Of the 30-minute time slot, a full eight minutes was devoted to advertising. During those eight minutes, it was recommended that I ask my doctor about a wide range of pharmaceuticals that could help certain conditions, but may also cause: allergic reaction, fever, vomiting, bruising, bleeding, constipation/diarrhea, severe headache, hallucinations, limbs falling off without warning and in some cases, sudden or slow death!

So at my next routine physical, I need to ask my doctor about medications for back pain, flu, deep vein thrombosis, A1-C, menopause (Im a male!) and I almost forgot about the memory-aid medication!

Relentless sales pitches for so many prescription drugs are even more depressing than the news stories are.

But hey theres a drug for that! Ask your doctor.

Pat Cullen, Stillwater

I have noticed the term white privilege being used frequently of late. As a recently retired blue collar, middle class white person Id like to add my two cents.

My first job was delivering the St. Paul newspaper at 13 years old, followed by different jobs through high school, then trade school and finally a steady job with benefits. There were eight children in our family, both parents worked, Dad had two jobs. Nothing was given but a roof over our heads.

There are many people like myself who have never expected special privilege for being born into the situation I was, and do not feel guilty or apologize for it.

Certainly there are also those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale who could use a leg-up.

Lets focus on helping others without labeling anyone.

Greg Jenny, River Falls, Wis.

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Letters: Capitalism isnt perfect, but it lifts societies out of poverty - St. Paul Pioneer Press

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BDP has run the race and deserves a break to introspect – The Patriot On Sunday

Posted: at 10:34 pm

BDP leadership

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has been in power since independence in 1966. That is a period of over half a century. It seeks another term and it is perfectly entitled to do so as do other political parties. It is important to recognise and appreciate that it has done well under trying circumstances to bring Botswana where she is. But to be in power for so long in and of itself breeds complacency, arrogance, fatigue and a serious dereliction of duty. The current state of the political and socio-economic standing of the country is in my view, the result of arrogance, fatigue and serious dereliction of duty. Consequently and in the process, citizens suffer the most in terms of receiving the full social justice benefits they would otherwise receive if there was no such serious dereliction of duty. I am not interested in blaming the Presidents of the BDP but the institution and the brand called the BDP.

Arrogance is borne out of the sheer account that the party is ruling and whatever good motions/ideas from the opposition are ignored on account that they could elevate the opposition profile. I need not tabulate them because they are common knowledge. Fatigue in the sense that important national issues are not treated with the urgency and the speed they deserve. Parliament, which has become subservient to the executive has for example, failed to investigate the shenanigans surrounding the National Petroleum Fund scandal whose funds it authorised. The BDP ganged up to frustrate any motion that sought to investigate this matter. Serious dereliction of duty would encompass the failure to attend to for example, the runaway corruption that has become the way of life.

In the Presidential debate held on 16 October 2019, it emerged that the BDP is challenged in so many fronts with respect to fulfilling its mandate as a ruling party. Chief among these challenges and as conceded by the President of the party are the secretive nature of the agreement between Botswana and the De Beers Group. Rre Ndaba Gaolathe confirmed albeit with no rebuttal from the President during the debate that even parliament is kept in the dark about the agreement. One feels rightly or wrongly that there is more in this agreement for the BDP than it is for the nation. It was also confirmed that the economy of the country is firmly in the hands of non-Batswana. It is mind blogging that Batswana, and by virtue of the fact that this economy belongs to them and should therefore play a tangibly evident role to better their socio-economic circumstances, play very little to no significant role in it. How and why is this so given that the BDP has alone, been in power for over fifty years?

Corruption under the BDP has remained unattended to for as long as one can remember. The latest figure released by the Director General of the DCEC is that over P 5 billion of public funds have disappeared and mysteriously so if I may add. Just how could P 5 billion believably, disappear under the BDPs watch and authority? I guess it should be reasonably easy to trace the paper trial if there is no attendant complicity of some sort in the BDP. Corruption like I have said somewhere in this conversation, has become a way of life in Botswana. The DCEC has not caught and convicted the big fish of the corruption world yet such fish is in our midst and in abundance given the extremely high levels of corruption. In this regard, it tells me that the BDP is not doing something right in corruption fighting except the usual and tired we are fighting corruption slogan. While the Assets and Liabilities Act has come to pass, it was evident from opposition parties in the presidential debate and in parliament that it leaves a lot to be desired. I need not repeat the inadequacies in this law because they are common knowledge as well. Very little if anything, will be attained through this law. Those required by law to make declarations will still do so to their political principals thereby making the whole exercise a mockery of justice. Just why should one make a declaration to a politician amongst others? Its a joke of the century in corporate governance. Why has the BDP lowered the corruption fighting bar this low?

The President of Botswana is above the law as evidenced by Sections 41 and 47 of the Constitution. In this respect, it is not difficult to imagine how the powers conferred therein could be seriously abused. The easiest example is the recent decision by the President that he, and him alone, has decided to reinstate workers dismissed in 2011 after the public service strike. The relevant trade unions representing these workers have according to Botswana Nurses Union official on one of the private radio stations on Thursday, neither been consulted nor engaged on the matter. There are several legal implications to the Presidents decision which on the face it, have not been dealt with. Is this re-employment which would suggest that the dismissed are employed as first and new employees or re-instatement where they are paid their back pays and other attendant benefits they would have lost? The sitting President is alleged to be involved in some corruption/abuse of office with respect to the NPF and the CMB scandals. It is difficult or should I say impossible that the President can be subjected to any form of investigation to establish if these allegations are true or not. This state of affairs (that of the President being above the law) is not good for democracy, the Rule of Law, accountability and transparency. Why has the BDP allowed the President of Botswana to be above the law? The intentions of this law, good as they may have been back then, have long been overtaken by events given the unfolding events. In this day and age, there is no reason why we still have a Motswana who is above the law. Such a person cannot rationally be expected to uphold the Rule of Law regardless of pronouncements made thereto and that he himself or herself is above the law.

State institutions like the DCEC, DIS, IEC, Ombudsman and others are still housed under the office of the President. This issue was raised in the debate where the President responded by saying that this is how the law stands. Fair enough. He failed to convincingly commit that the status quo will change by reforming these institutions and by removing them from his office. The location of these institutions, appointments of their heads and other related matters have been raised by both opposition politicians and the general public but the BDP has remained unmoved. The end result is that these institutions are susceptible if not, to manipulation and influence by the politicians. The BDP has allowed this situation to be perpetuated for time immemorial because predictably, it has served it very well for political expediency.

I have argued before which I still maintain that most Botswanas problems are as a result of painfully lowering the leadership bar. In fact there is no longer any bar to refer to. And this bar is lowered right from the top political leadership level to the boards of parastatals amongst others. Just like it is the case for the country, parastatals leadership is in shambles with the entities performing so poorly. Most of them are on the verge of collapse if they have not already collapsed. Integrity in leadership is a rare commodity leading to no consequent management across the leadership hierarchy. This leadership decay has been largely promoted by arrogance, self-preservation and a serious dereliction of duty as stated above.

It is incontrovertible that the BDP could close BCL mine and in the process render about 5000 people jobless. And this was a decision taken by the BDP without the consent of parliament as it has become the norm under its rule. As a political campaign tool, the party somersaults under unexplained reasons to suggest that it intends to re-open the mine. It is important to mention that competent individuals and bodies richly endowed in mining had advised and correctly so, that it would be catastrophic to close BCL mine. The catastrophic consequences are there for even the blind to see.

The morass Botswana finds herself in, in whatever form or shape, is the result of the BDP having dropped the ball not once, twice but several times. The party has been largely reactive and less proactive in many instances hence the morass which seemingly and at best, is being solved if any, by short cuts and unsustainable measures. The BDP is an institution and a brand that has run its race that needs some introspection and soul searching outside the seat of power. Apart from populist and self-centred view that it is the only party that has the wherewithal to take Botswana forward, the socio-economic circumstances of her citizens largely suggest otherwise. It is somewhat of a movie I have watched before and whose script is still the same. Botswana is spoilt for choice with regard to other citizens taking the baton from the BDP. The argument that no other party is competent to rescue Botswana is seriously flawed to the extreme. I am prepared to be persuade otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!

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BDP has run the race and deserves a break to introspect - The Patriot On Sunday

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The Myth of the Secular: Religion, War, and Politics in the Twentieth Century – Foreign Policy Research Institute

Posted: at 10:34 pm

On December 31, 1977, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi hosted Jimmy Carter at a state dinner in Tehran.

The President took the occasion to laud Iran, a reliable U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East, as an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. . . . This is a great tribute to you, your majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.[1]

Just a few weeks later, strikes and protests erupted, which metastasized over the coming year into a revolution led by Shiite Muslims loyal to their exiled Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini. Nobody saw it coming, least of all the Central Intelligence Agency, but just thirteen months after Carters visit the Shah was in exile and his regime replaced by a theocratic Islamic Republic, whose leaders denounced the United States as the Great Satan.

Why did it come as a terrible shock? The revival of religious influences on international politics was already evident in the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian, Indian-Pakistani, and Northern Irish conflicts. Indeed, Carter himself made an ecumenical appeal for peace when the devout Southern Baptist brokered the 1978 Camp Accords between Israel and Egypt. Events in the subsequent decade repeatedly underscored the growing role of faith-based movements.

For instance, the Afghan mujaheddin who defied the Red Army were also Muslim jihadis who cried Allah O Akbar as they shot down Soviet helicopters with Stinger missiles. The Filipino Catholic Church was instrumental in the popular overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos regime. Liberation Theology, a volatile mix of Catholic social thought and Marxist analysis, inspired left-wing politics in Latin America. The Polish labor leader Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II prayed to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa for divine protection over the Solidarity movements defiance of their Communist government. Lutheran churches encouraged the East German protests that toppled the Berlin Wall in 1989.[2] Two years later, Russian Orthodox clergy and faithful babushkas shamed soldiers in Moscow into disobeying the orders of the Communist coup-plotters trying to save the Soviet Union.[3] In 1994, Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu and penitent clergy in the Dutch Reformed Church were among the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. In fact, religious actors played important roles in the democratization of 48 countries between 1972 and 2009.[4] But the dark side of the force was just as apparent in that Iranian Revolution, genocidal wars in the former Yugoslavia, the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, and the insurgency following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which belatedly educated Americans about the ancient schism between Sunnis and Shiites.

During those decades, scholars in the field of international relations were obliged to admit that seemingly atavistic religious motivations still mattered a great deal after all. Hence the appearance of publications with such titles as Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft; Faith and Diplomacy in the International System; Religion and Security: The New Nexus in International Relations; Nations Under God: The Geopolitics of Faith in the Twenty-first Century; A Turn to Religion in International Relations?; The Sacred and the Sovereign: Religion and International Politics; The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations; War, Religion, and Empire; and Religion in International Relations.[5]

Several distinguished political scientists acknowledged the prior shortcomings of their discipline. Jack Snyder wrote, And yet the main canonical works of international relations theory, which continue to shape much empirical academic work, hardly mention religion. . . . The foundational statements of the three leading paradigms by Kenneth Waltz for realism, Michael Doyle and Robert Keohane for liberalism, and Alexander Wendt for constructivism offer no explicit guidance on how to do this, and in some cases imply that a role for religion may not be allowable within the logics of their paradigms.[6]

Likewise, Robert Jervis wrote, Terrorism grounded in religion poses special problems for modern social science, which has paid little attention to religion, perhaps because most social scientists find this subject uninteresting if not embarrassing.[7]

Likewise, Edward Luttwak observed that astonishingly persistent, Enlightenment prejudice has remained amply manifest in the contemporary professional analysis of foreign affairs. Policymakers, diplomats, journalists, and scholars who are ready to over-interpret economic causality, who are apt to dissect social differentiations most finely, and who will minutely categorize political affiliations, are still in the habit of disregarding the role of religion, religious institutions, and religious motivations in explaining politics and conflict.[8]

Even today, four decades after the Iranian revolution and two decades since 9/11, theorists in international relations have made little progress toward some new general theory in which religious motivations or institutions are treated as independent variables. What academics have mostly accomplished is to compile tedious lists of truisms that should have been obvious all along. For instance:

Religion is relevant to all conflict, as it concerns life and death.

Religious conflicts tend to have higher levels of intensity.

Wars are longer in duration when religion is a major factor.

Over half of all contemporary conflicts have a significant religious dimension.

Religious leaders emerge as primary authority figures under conditions of state failure.

Religious factors are invariably related to ethnic group identity.

Religious factors are an essential component of effective conflict management.[9]

Or else social scientists have displayed their worst tendency, which is to generate gobbledygook. Try to parse this: The neo-Weberian and other dialogical, ethics-based approaches, in turn, point to the internal workings and tensions as well as internal-external interactions of religious traditions in their contexts. In a similar vein, we assert that studies of religion in international relations, in order to avoid bad-good, problematic-beneficial, conflict prone-peaceful dichotomies, should instead treat religion as socially constructed practice and discourse.[10]

Why have scholars of international relations been so blind to the role of religion both before and after the 1970s?

At least five causes of that blindness leap immediately to mind. First, the scarcity of good literature on the subject is simple due to the paucity of academics and practitioners who display expertise in both fields. Those with a deep understanding of one or more religious traditions usually lack knowledge inor experience ofthe rough and tumble of politics. Those who are wise in the ways of statecraft are often out of their depth in spiritual matters. Second, a profound disconnect hampers analyses of the phenomenon simply because diplomacy is immanentan arena of power with discernible material stakeswhile religion is transcendentan arena of faith in which motives and outcomes are unpredictable and immeasurable. The impact of charismatic individuals, not to mention divine Providence, is thus an unwelcome intruder confounding rational models of world politics based on balance of power, or economic self-interest, or comparative sociology. Scholars cannot make sense of occasions when worldly groups of people behave according to precepts not of this world.

A third source of blindness is the tendency of Western intellectuals to think in dichotomies. They set realism and idealism, or secular and religious, against each other as if they were mutually exclusive. In fact, the most profound Christian students of moral theology from Thomas Aquinas to Reinhold Niebuhr have understood that whatever is unrealistic (meaning contrary to natural law) cannot by definition be moral. In statecraft that would imply that the (utopian) pursuit of moral perfection through diplomacy or war is perversely to invite immoral results. To be sure, courageperhaps born of religious faithcan sometimes expand the bounds of the possible, but politics remains, in Otto von Bismarcks aphorism, the art of the possible. Hence, a genuinely moral statecraft accepts human nature as flawed, pursues limited aims, and acknowledges the contingency of all human creations. A genuinely moral statecraft upholds international order, hopes for peace but prepares in extremis to fight, practices proportionality of force, tempers justice with mercy, and is always prudent about ends and means. Unfortunately, the binary biases of most Western thought inhibits such subtle balance.

A fourth source of the blindness has been the unwarranted assumption since the late 19th century that a decline of religion is the inevitable byproduct of modernization. Hence, the followers of Max Weber, who coined the term Entzauberung (disenchantment), have made the same mistake as the followers of Karl Marx, who dismissed religion as the opiate of the masses. What sociologists failed to realize is that opiates are addictive (and can be therapeutic). That is why homo economicus or homo faber (the tool-maker) has always been homo religiosus as well. It took that eminent social scientist Ayatollah Khomeini to state the obvious in 1978: The masses are naturally drawn to religion.[11] Max Weber was surely right to observe that industrial management, modern science, secular schools, and government agencies were taking over the epistemological, psychological, and social duties previously performed by religious institutions. So in functional terms modern societies seemed no longer to have use for religion. Moreover, American proponents of modernization theory such as Walt Rostow argued during the 1950s and 60s that since the conditions for economic take-off were the same for all countries, the processes of secularization would be similar for all countries. Of course, Rostow has been proven wrong. Not only did religion survive in the Third World, it has even survived in America. Ever since then, theorists have tried to account for the persistence of religious belief by imagining so many exceptions, counter-trends, and special cases that have come to resemble the cycles and epicycles of Ptolemys terracentric solar system.

Other scholars have made room for religion only as a dependent variable. For instance, world system theorists such as Immanuel Wallerstein have described the uneven effects that turbulent, inequitable capitalist markets have on locales and interpreted occasional religious revivals as psychological expressions of helplessness. That seems plausible, but if such structuralism is universalized it leaves no room at all for cult and culture as genuine inspirations for human behavior. The Frankfurt School of critical theorists focused instead on cultural evolution, but only within the context of socio-economic change. During the era of high industrialization, he observed, more advanced societies had displayed the expected retreat of religion. But in what Jrgen Habermas called the postmodern era, advanced societies have shifted their focus from productivity and distribution to quality of life issues such as the environment and expressive individualism. Hence, the renewed interest, not in religion per se, but spirituality in all its New Age manifestations. While largely true for Europe and North America, that shift in focus does not begin to explain Muslim fundamentalism, which isif anythingin open rebellion against the postmodern West. Nevertheless, the Frankfurt School predicts this latest phase is sure to give way in time to universal humanism based on reason rather than superstition.[12]

There is, however, a fifth source of the embarrassing blindness towards religion in world affairs: the hoary Enlightenment myth about the birth of the modern international system. According to that myth, the system sprang to lifelike Athena from the head of Zeusin the year 1648 when the Peace of Westphalia brought the curtain down on the age of the Religious Wars. According to that myth, 120 years of international and civil wars between Protestants and Catholics had been so destructive that Europes monarchs cried Never again and abruptly converted to secular principles such as state sovereignty, raison dtat, and the balance of power. But the truth was that myth had to be ruthlessly imposed, as Edward Luttwak observed: Enlightenment publicists and philosophers wielded none of the torture instruments of the Catholic inquisitions, nor did they burn dissenters under some Protestant dispensation. But when it came to religion in all its aspects, they strangled free inquiry just as effectively by the commanding force of the fashion they imposed.[13] Ever since then, scholars of diplomatic history, political theory, and international law have perpetuated that myth so relentlessly that the recent literature about diplomacy and religion still parrots it.

Thus did the authoritative Oxford Encyclopedia on International Relations state in 2016 that IR theorists trace the system of sovereign states back to the Peace of Westphalia when temporal and spiritual authority were severed. Henceforth, religion played no role at all in Great Power politics except as a fig leaf cloaking real motives rooted in power and economics.[14] Flip through almost any work of IR theory and you will find some version of this postulate: The treaties of Westphalia . . . established political realism and raison dtat as the main principles of statecraft by replacing religion. . . . It can be argued that the Westphalian settlement established a political theology for modern international relations.[15] And again: The Westphalian principles of nonintervention and domestic jurisdiction . . . which codified national sovereignty as the core premise of the nation-state system served as the polestar that guided international relations and limited interstate conflict for several centuries, including the cold war years.[16]

That sentence from a 2003 book called The Sacred and the Sovereign is appallingly ignorant: how could its author possibly imagine the Napoleonic Wars and World Wars of the 20th century as examples of the limitation of conflict? But the author begins with the ritual bow to Westphalia as fons et origo of modern diplomacy, and goes on to describe the historic sea-change as follows. Prior to Westphalia, we read, the Medieval Archetype, or Res Publica Christiana, established four principles. First, faith and reason or religion and politics were not antagonistic, but ideally cooperative. Second, all authority vested in church and state derived from God. Third, temporal political and legal rule was an intermingling of overlapping authorities and jurisdictions: in short, the feudal system. And fourth, civilization was coextensive with Christendom. But the Reformation fractured the Medieval Archetype and replaced it with a Modern Archetype derived from Protestant theology and resting on four different principles. First, faith and reason are not cooperative because religion is viewed as divisive and destructive. Second, authority is no longer derived solely from God. Third, temporal political and legal rule is rigidly confined to sovereign states. And fourth, religious affinity is now tethered to the territorial state rather than a transnational church hierarchy. And if proof is needed, write the authors, that Westphalia worked such a revolution, one need only quote Pope Innocent Xs anathema to the effect that the Westphalian treaties were null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, and inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time.[17]

My purpose is not to be condescending. Political scientists tend to be lumpers whereas historians tend to be splitters. Lumpers look for the patterns in human behavior and propose theories to account for the similarities they discern across space and time. Splitters look for what is unique in each historical context in order to account for the diversities they discern across space and time. Both methods have their place. But too often political scientists tend to stipulate some oversimplified version of past events which historians have long since challenged.

That is why the question must now be asked: what was the Peace of Westphalia anyway?

It was the collective term applied to three treaties negotiated in the northwestern German towns of Osnabrck and Mnster in 1648. They brought to an end the Thirty Years War in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation as well as the Eighty Years War for Dutch independence from the king of Spain. (But so fractured was the Holy Roman Empire and so complex the shifting alliances in the long war that no less than 109 diplomatic delegations were sent to Westphalia!) Now, the Holy Roman Empire dated from the year 843 when the Treaty of Verdun divided Charlemagnes realm among his three grandsons. Each got a kingdom but only one could inherit the imperial title and it turned out to be Otto the German. Throughout the Medieval era, therefore, Germanys rulers had universal pretensions and the most powerful of them expanded the imperial boundaries into the Low Countries and Italy, where the imperial power rivaled that of the papacy. Emperors often tried to centralize their rule as well, which brought them into conflict with their own vassals, the lesser princes of Germany.

In the year 1356, the princes got the upper hand and issued the so-called Golden Bull, which regularized the procedure by which emperors were chosen. Seven princesfour secular and three clericalwere made Electors and in the ensuing centuries habitually exploited their leverage to extract concessions from their habitual choices, the Habsburg dukes of Austria. But over those centuries the Habsburgs also acquired so many kingdoms and provincesincluding Spain and its New World empireas to wield nearly hegemonic power. Thus, when Martin Luther launched the Reformation in 1517 and various north German princes turned Protestant, the mighty Emperor Charles V resisted in the name of Catholic universalism and imperial unity. But the Lutherans managed to weather those Wars of the Schmalkaldic League until 1555 when Charles acquiesced in the Peace of Augsburg that established the principle of cuius regio eius religiowhose realm, his religion throughout the empire.

Three of the electorsthe rulers of Brandenburg, Saxony, and the Palatinatewere now Protestant, but the Catholic majority held until the year 1618 when Bohemias nobility dared to elect a Calvinist as their own king. Since that would tip future imperial elections against them the Habsburgs went to war against the Winter King and crushed the Czechs at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620. But that proved to be just the beginning because Protestants both German and foreign intervened, while the emperor escalated the stakes by trying to forge a centralized empire. Three decades of war ensued during which large swaths of Germany were repeatedly ravaged and a third of its population perished. The Protestant Danes, Swedes, and Dutch entered the war at various phases, and, in 1642, Cardinal Richelieu brought in Catholic France as well, butand heres the kickeron the Protestant side! Why? Because the French monarchy had long since followed the allegedly modern strategy of balance of power with respect to the Habsburg Empireand the French kings had long since functioned as sovereigns just as kings of England, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, and Russia had done. The notion that state sovereignty was invented by the Westphalian treaties is fanciful. What did triumph there was sovereignty for the princes of the Holy Roman Empire, whose control over mostnot allstate functions was now recognized by the emperor. Otherwise, the Augsburg formula of cuius region eius religionow over a century oldwas reconfirmed and extended to Calvinists, while the rights of minorities to worship in private were upheld.

The Peace of Westphalia was an important watershed. But it is nonsense to suggest that it ushered in a wholly new era of statecraft whether in spirit or praxis. As early as 1536, French King Francis I made a close alliance with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, so they might coordinate their attacks on the Habsburgs. A century later, when Richelieu allied with Germanys Protestants, France was simultaneously waging a war against Catholic Spain that would drag on until 1659. Other European monarchs routinely fought wars against fellow Catholics and for reasons that had nothing to do with religion, such as the famous Hundred Years War between England and France. For that matter, even the so-called Wars of Religion were driven by powerful secular motives, not least the desire of Protestant princes to seize the Catholic churchs vast accumulations of land and wealth. Likewise, the French Wars of Religionanother thirty years conflict that ended in 1598were civil conflicts over the throne and the ultimate victor, the Protestant Henri de Bourbon, happily converted back to Catholicism to placate the majority of his subjects! He then issued the Edict of Nantes tolerating the Protestant Huguenots. The party of French nobility who brokered this settlement literally called themselves les Politiques, meaning pragmatic politicians rather than sectarian zealots. Likewise, the Dutch rebellion against Spain was waged as much for political and economic freedom as religious freedom and numerous Dutch Catholics joined the patriotic Protestant side. The English Civil War from 1642 to 1660 might have been a Presbyterian crusade under Oliver Cromwell, but it began and ended as a political quarrel between Parliament and a would-be absolute monarch. All sides in those conflicts stoked religious fervor, often with savage results. But none was a crusade in the Medieval sense.

As for the myth that Westphalia ended the power of the church, the fact that Innocent X cursed the treaties was as laughable then as it is now. By the mid-17th century, papal power had been in eclipse for some two hundred years. During the late Middle Ages, it fell under the thumb of secular rulers, suffering first the so-called Babylonian Captivity when the French kings removed the Holy See to Avignon. Then, a schism between rival popes backed respectively by France and the Empire made a mockery of their spiritual authority. Then, the church reached its nadir with the notorious worldly corruption of the 15th century Renaissance popes. To be sure, the prestige of the Vatican recovered under the great reforms of the Counter-Reformation begun at the Council of Trent, but the popes had long ceased to influence Europes Great Powers. The Spanish Inquisition, for instance, was just that Spanish, not papal and was created by Ferdinand and Isabella to root out Muslims and Jews because the monarchs assumed that religious dissidents were likely to become political dissidents.

Turning now from the era that preceded Westphalia to the era that followed, is it possible to discern a striking new emphasis on respect for sovereignty, raison dtat, and the balance of power? Certainly, the great founders of international law such as Hugo Grotius, Samuel Pufendorf, and Immanuel Kant hoped it would. But the reality was often otherwise. In 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes declared by his grandfather and drove nearly a million prosperous, but Calvinist Huguenots out of his kingdom in violation of his own raison dtat because that only strengthened the rivals who welcomed the Huguenots, including Prussia, England, and her American colonies. But Louis believed, like the Spaniards of the pre-Westphalian era, that religious affiliation was a powerful indicator of political loyalty. That was certainly the belief of the English Whig conspirators who exiled James II in the Glorious Revolution in 1688 in large part because he had reverted to Catholicism! So just as religion did not dominate European politics before 1648, neither did it disappear after 1648.

It is fair to say religious sectarianism did retreat during the High Enlightenment of the 18th century. But the hyperbolic French Revolution carried the tyranny of reason to such extremes that Europeans elsewhere rallied behind their traditional thrones and altars which zealously revived the rhetoric of holy war. Austrian, Prussian, Russian, and British propaganda routinely depicted the radical French Republic as godless and Napoleon as the Antichrist. Over that quarter-century of revolution and war, a new movement arose called Romanticism and a Christian romantic spirit permeated the diplomacy of the so-called Restoration Era.

Following Napoleons final defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Tsar Alexander I bade his brother monarchs join a mystical Holy Alliance, which bound the Orthodox Russian monarch to Prussias Lutheran king and Austrias Catholic emperor in a Christian covenant of brotherhood. In France, the monarchy and church were restored to their former power and Romantic philosophers such as Robert de Lammenais and Franois-Rn de Chateaubriand imagined a new politics derived from the genius of Christianity. England produced a host of Christian Romantics, most famously Samuel Coleridge, while the piety of the Victorian Era became a clich. Nicholas II proclaimed Orthodoxy the bedrock of his regime and later blundered into the Crimean War mistakenly thinking the other European powers would take up the Christian cause against the Muslim Turks. Louis Napoleon came to power during the Revolutions of 1848-49, but one of his first acts was to dispatch a French army to Rome to serve as the Popes bodyguard against revolution.

The era of German unification in the 1860s and 70s is considered the heyday of Realpolitik, yet its principal practitioner Otto von Bismarck was an adult convert to faith and insisted he was a Christian statesman. To be sure, a Prussian liberal quipped that Bismarcks God has the remarkable faculty of always agreeing with him, but he never doubted that by serving his king he also served God. Bismarcks contemporary Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, by contrast, tried scrupulously to conform his foreign policies to Biblical morality and as a result made a series of well-meaning blunders. That did not dissuade young Woodrow Wilson from naming Gladstone his beau idal.[18]

During those decades, the United States was emerging as a world power, and, in 1898, the Cuban revolt against Spain tempted Americans to intervene. President William McKinley resisted the clamor for war until the Congress, the Navy, and public opinion forced his hand. So did myriad Protestant clergy who longed for a crusade to slay the Catholic dragon and save the Cuban damsel in distress. In its wake, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson presided over a wholesale Reformation of the original American Civil Religion dating back to George Washington and John Quincy Adams. Their updated, 20th century theology about Americas role in the world amounted to a Progressive heresy that justified war and imperialism in terms of the Protestant Social Gospel and exhorted Americans to take up the White Mans Burden in imitation of Europes imperial powers.[19]

That brings us chronologically to perhaps the most counterintuitive example of the mix between religion and statecraft: the catastrophe nearly all historians and political scientists have traced to nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and economics, and hubris. For it turns out, even the Great War of 1914-1918 was a clash of the religions, if now mostly civil religions, of the belligerent powers.

Most people think that war did not become a religious crusadea war to end waruntil President Wilson led the United States into battle in 1917. But Kaiser Wilhelm II himself expressed his own nations creed when he proclaimed to the Reichstag at the start of the war: So now I commend you to God. Go into your churches, kneel before God, and implore his help for our brave army. Lutheran pastor Johann Kessler was just one of many Germans whose wartime bestsellers argued that theirs was the holy cause. We believe in the world calling of our nation. A nation that God has equipped with such gifts of the spirit and such depths of mind that He called it to bear the gospel in the days of the Reformation, that he chose it in the War of Liberation to be the harbinger of a new era, a nation to which God has given a Luther and Lessing, a Goethe and Schiller, a Kant and Bismarck this nation cannot be cast aside. God has great things in store for such a nation that could defy a world of enemies and still prevail.[20] Liberal pastor Adolf von Harnack wrote speeches for the Kaiser that even justified Germanys brutal attack on Belgium.[21] And German soldiers famously marched into battle with Gott mit uns on their belts and the war cry Gott strafe England! on their lips.

Tsar Nicholas II famously rallied his soldiers with reverent displays of holy icons. The Church of Englands bishops presented the war from its very inception as one between good and evil, even God and the Devil, instructed their parishs to sing martial hymns (e.g., Onward Christian Soldiers), described as martyrs those dead in battle, and led by King George V sponsored regular days of prayer.[22] (In the 1914 Battle of Mons British, soldiers even claimed to have visions of angels resisting the German advance.) All the monarchs and the leaders of their national churches, and their chaplains, andto judge from their lettersmany soldiers in the trenches prayed for Gods blessing in a war all believed was being fought in self-defense against a demonic enemy. But not until 2014 did historian Philip Jenkins publish a book called The Great and Holy War, which marshaled the evidence for this startling hypothesis: The First World War was a thoroughly religious event, in the sense that overwhelmingly Christian nations fought each other in what many viewed as a holy war, a spiritual conflict. Religion is essential to understanding the war, to understanding why people went to war, what they hoped to achieve through war, and why they stayed at war. Not in the Medieval or Reformation times but in the age of aircraft and machine guns, the majority of the worlds Christians were indeed engaged in a holy war that claimed more than ten million lives.[23] His book shows, moreover, how the war transformed Judaism and Islam as well, and in effect redrew the religious map of the world.

How was it that 266 years after the Peace of Westphalia Europeans and their descendants around the world went to war in the service of their God as well as their country? Why did they remain in the trenches long after it became obvious that this war was a bloody, muddy war of attrition whose cost far exceeded any conceivable fruits of victory? The second question answers itself. The sacrifices proved so great that only victory could redeem them; the enemy was so evil that no truce or compromise was conceivable; and the cause for which they were fighting was so sacred it could not be abandoned. But as to the first questionwhy the various clergies urged their flocks to enlist or otherwise do their patriotic dutythe answer can only be that they had long since made their peace with the modern secular state. During the long 19th century, nationalist ideologies had gradually spread across the whole continent, while the established state churches in England, Germany, and Russia obediently perceived no difference between rendering unto God and rendering unto Caesar.

To be sure, the popes had repeatedly denounced nationalism along with capitalism and socialism, for instance in the famous encyclicals Syllabus of Errors (1864), Rerum Novarum (1891), and Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae (1899). But the Vatican also compromised by making concordats with the Austrian and German governments, while, in 1892, Leo XIII even instructed French Catholics in the anti-clerical Third Republic to obey their secular authorities. By 1914, it had become unthinkable for any significant Christian authority to stand athwart its nations war effort.

As a result, the war was catastrophic for churches because millions of Europeans emerged from it deeply disillusioned by clergy who had turned the cross into a bayonet and baptized its bloody work. But the war did not turn Europeans into atheists. Jenkins puts it this way: Condemnations of the mainline churches are never hard to find in this era, but they should not mislead us into imagining a wholesale abandonment of religious ideas. However we label them esoteric, occult, mystical or merely superstitious supernatural themes not only survived the war but flourished. For mainstream churches and governments, the problem was not that Europeans were abandoning spirituality, but embraced passionate, heterodox, messianic movements that quickly took secular forms.[24]

Left in a state of anomie, or emptiness after an apocalyptic war that had raised such millennial expectations, many Europeans fled to political religions, such as fascism, communism, and national socialism, all of which exploited twisted versions of Christian iconography, doctrine, and liturgy. By the 1930s, the Catholic church was on the defensive, the Protestant churches were hollowed out, and the Orthodox church had been crucified by the Bolsheviks.[25] So if secularization triumphed in the end it was not because of modernization, but because of the Great War waged with the collusion of the churches themselves. As the Reformed theologian Leonhard Ragaz observed from neutral Switzerland, the Kingdom of Heaven is always hindered less by the world than by a Christianity that has bound itself to this world.[26]

Less well known, but just as tectonic, were the earthquakes triggered by the war in the Middle East. For there, the mosque was recruited in the service of the Ottoman war effort even though the Turkish government was now led by secular modernizers called the Young Turks. When the Empire joined the war on Germanys side in the Fall of 1914, Sultan Mehmed V, assuming his role as Caliph of all Islam, solemnly proclaimed a jihad. Right and loyalty are on our side, and hatred and tyranny on the side of our enemies, and therefore there is no doubt that the Divine help and assistance of the just God and the moral support of our glorious Prophet will be on our side to encourage us. Let those of you who are to die a martyrs death be messengers of victory to those who have gone before us, and let the victory be sacred and the sword be sharp of those of you who are to remain in life.[27]

The Ottoman army, stiffened by German advisers, defeated the British Empires 1915 Gallipoli invasion, by which Winston Churchill had hoped to capture Constantinople.

By 1917, however, British forces in Egypt were stirring up Arab revolts against Turkish rule and General Edmund Allenby was preparing to invade the sanjak, or province, of Jerusalem. A mystic of sorts himself, Allenby imagined his campaign to liberate the Holy Land was the culmination of the Medieval crusades. It certainly excited English and American Protestants, especially Christian Zionists. One image celebrated the beginning of Chanukah by depicting two heroes in parallel: Judas Maccabeus entering Jerusalem in 165 BCE and General Allenby in 1917 beneath a caption drawn from chapter 59 of the prophet Isaiah: And there will come for Zion a Redeemer. Indeed, the blessed event occurred just a month after Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour assured Lord Rothschild and the Zionist Federation that His Majestys government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. After the war, the British would rule Palestine as a League of Nations mandate, which meant a Jewish return to the Promised Land was now a palpable possibility. But at the same time, the collapse of the Ottoman dynasty brought with it the end of the Caliphate, the fracture of the ummat al-Islm, the worldwide Muslim community, and the rise of radical, often violent Arab religious movements. The concatenation of all those events presaged both the exodus of European Jews to the Holy Land and the resistance they would face from Arabs and periodically from the British themselves.

Zionism predated the Great War, as did modern anti-Semitism. But the wars social and psychological stress caused a tremendous upsurge of anti-Semitism in all the belligerent powers in spite of the fact that their often well-assimilated Jewish communities were making great contributions to the war efforts both in uniform and in the fields of science, industry, medicine, and finance.[28] Under such circumstances, both Zionism and anti-Semitism grew hyperbolically, marking the start of a stunning demographic redistribution.[29] In 1900, no less than 80 percent of the worlds Jews resided in Europe. Today, in 2019, 80 percent of the worlds Jews reside in Israel and the United States. Already between 1919 and 1930, some 120,000 Jews moved to the British mandate and became one-sixth of its whole population. Arab resistance movements, including the suicidal fedayeen, sprang up as early as 1920. During the interwar decades, a modicum of order was imposed on the Middle East because the British and French patronized Arab chiefs and policed their mandates. But leaders like Ibn Saudwho captured Mecca in 1924, declared himself king of Saudi Arabia in 1932, and became a principal promoter of the Muslim Wahhabi secthad their own agendas apart from the colonial powers. Due to the First World War, therefore, the modern Middle East was already in gestation well before the Nazi holocaust to come.[30]

The Great War brought immediate holocausts to Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Armenians and Anatolian Greeks, who were among the oldest of Christian communities, had lived more or less peaceably under the Turks tolerant millet system for centuries. Constantinople itself was 50 percent Christian and 5 percent Jewish in 1914. But the Sultan gambled his Empires future on a war alliance with Germany, and the regime turned on minorities of dubious loyalty. The forced relocation of Armenians, a byproduct of the Turks Caucasian front against Russia, quickly escalated into genocide. Over a six-month period in 1915, an estimated 1.2 million people were systematically driven, hanged, shot, starved, drowned, or burned to death. According to a U.S. consul who caught glimpses of the horrors, material destruction was as complete as the human: The Mohammedans in their fanaticism seemed determined not only to exterminate the Christian population but to remove all traces of their religion and civilization.[31]

When the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 enabled a secular nationalist movement under Kemal Atatrk to gain power, it was the turn of the Anatolian Greeks to suffer extinction. To be sure, Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who encouraged him deserve much of the blame. They hoped to exploit the collapse of the Ottomans to forge a Greater Greece, a sort of neo-Byzantine empire, in western Anatolia. Atatrks Nationalists fought back ferociously and over three years pried the British out, defeated the Greek armies, and forced 1.3 million Christians to choose between death and exile.

So the real watershed in the relation between religion and international politics would appear to be World War I, not the Peace of Westphalia. For that was the moment when Christian churches, compromised by their national civil religions, heartily endorsed total war. But, of course, that could not happen twice because Europeans emerged from the trenches utterly disillusioned.

Hence, when the Second World War erupted in Europe, it took the form of a profane, not sacred, slugfest among secular ideologies. Not so World War II in the Pacific. For the only nations that emerged from the 1914-1918 war with their civil religions intact were those that had suffered least and gained the most from the 1914-1918 war: Imperial Japan and the United States. Hence, when the Second World War erupted in the Pacifi,c it did take the form of another holy war between civil religions. At its end, only national God was left standing, the American one, which is what enabled the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy administrations to invoke American civil religion during their long twilight struggle against godless Communism.

The presidents even made explicit prophecies that so long as Americans gritted their teeth and stayed the course in the Cold War, Communism would someday collapse and all the nations would embrace peace, democracy, and free markets: in effect, the American Dream. That the end of history was famously celebrated in 1989 by Francis Fukuyama.

What have we witnessed over the thirty years since? Backlashes against American-led globalization on the part of Muslim terrorists, Communist holdouts, and revisionist powers such as Russia, China, and Iran. Samuel Huntington saw some of that coming when he presciently wrote in 1993 that a clash of civilizations would be the defining feature of world politics now that the Cold Wars clash of ideologies had come to an end. But just a year later, Huntingtons former student (and FPRI scholar) James Kurth was even more prescient when he imagined the real clash would not be between the West and the Rest, but within Western Civilization and especially its core, the United States.

Kurth described how Americans had invented the concept of Western Civilization during the World War I era and identified it with the values expressed by the Reformation, Enlightenment, Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, and liberal governmentall most perfectly realized in the United States. Wilsons wartime propaganda summarized all that as The American Creed, which went on to legitimize American power throughout its heroic age from 1917 to 1991. But by the end of the Cold War, society had passed through a wrenching transition. The national industrial economy had surrendered the commanding heights to a global financial economy, which devalued masculinity and empowered women. The nuclear families that had characterized the industrial age split like atoms, releasing explosive energy, just as the split-up of extended families had done at the end of the agricultural age.

Kurth explained that successive generations beginning with baby boomers in the 1960s and culminating in the millennials had ceased to think of the United States as the core or even as a member of a civilization in which they had ceased to believe. Kurth imagined the younger generations, having redefied Euro-American history in terms of imperialism, militarism, racism, and sexism, no longer promoted assimilation for legal immigrants and instead promoted multiculturalism for illegal ones. He anticipated the coming tyranny of expressive individualism, political correctness, deconstruction of gender, and intersectionality in American politics. So thorough has been the loss of faith on the part of progressives in the rule of law, free markets, and old-style liberalism, that Kurth wondered in conclusion how many Americans would be willing to fight in Huntingtons clash of civilizations?[32]

If that was a chilling observation 25 years ago, then what is the prognosis today? In 2015, a political scientist provided a breakdown of the basic relationships, or dynamics, between religions and regimes. The first is the dynamic of collision in which the state permits religion, but only of an approved sort that is subordinate to the state. That is the norm which today functions most blatantly in authoritarian China or Russia. The second is the dynamic of collusion in which church and state join forces, promote civic values, and serve jointly as a source of social capital. That is the norm in nations with robust civil religions. The third is the dynamic of coercion in which the state purges the public square of religious believers and institutions, if necessary by force. That is the norm in hard totalitarian countries like Cuba and North Korea, but is perhaps becoming a model in soft totalitarianism regimes that imposed intolerant codes of political correctness. The fourth is the dynamic of co-option, in which the political culture itself is derived from the theology, institutions, and laws of a single religion. Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Indonesia fall into this category, and India under the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party displays similar aspirations.[33]

Note that the author has no category for regimes that permit genuine free exercise of religion. Does he mean to suggest that the relationship between God and Caesar can never be benign except insofar as religion has been sufficiently tamed as to become civil? Nor is there a category for ecumenism, whose time has surely passed. For if all those 20th century ecumenical palavers taught anything, it is that people has no incentive at all to obey some humanist ethical code cooked up by a committee and stripped of its divinity. What then of missionary work across cultural lines? Do any world religions display the potential to make serious inroads into other civilizations? Here, the answer is demonstrably yes. Christianity and Islam are both transportable, evangelical faiths and are in fact racing for conversions in sub-Saharan Africa.[34] But Christianity is no longer promoted by any Great Powers, while the Muslim states compete fiercely with each other across sectarian, strategic, and political lines.

Yet, one has cause to speculate that one other faith does have widespread appeal, does have a Great Power champion, and may have potential to become the first trans-cultural Civil Religion. That is faith in what Singapores Lee Kuan Yew called Asian values, but are more precisely called Chinese values derived from Confucianism, Taoism, and Han Buddhism.

Chinawhether imperial, national, or communisthas never had an articulated civil religion because China is a civil religion. People are born into it and nurtured by it. They worship their ancestors and are worshiped in turn after their death. Moreover, the fetching values China espouses include hierarchy, authority, family loyalty, communal and national solidarity, elevation of social stability over personal freedom, thrift, education, and a relentless work ethic. Those Asian values eloquently express realities of human nature as opposed to the defiance of reality that in the West has smothered Judaeo-Christian values in the name of expressive individualism. Those Asian values are not tethered to any theological doctrines, holy scriptures, or specific commandments, hence they are adaptable across a wide variety of socio-economic and political conditions. Finally, although Asian values date back to the Qin Empire in the third century BCE, they appear to be quite compatible with cutting-edge technologies of the 21st century, including artificial intelligence, big data, 5G telecommunications networks, total surveillance including facial recognition, and a social credit system that rewards mutuality and punishes individuality. Asian values are what Xi Jinpings regime currently advertises through its world-wide web of Confucius Institutes, and is exporting through its Made in China 2025 program and Belt and Road Initiative, which spans all of Asia and has begun to penetrate Europe, Oceania, and even Latin America.

Today, it is customary for American pundits to declare that we are on the cusp of a new Cold War as if Deng Xaioping had not predicted exactly that three decades ago. And if that is indeed the case, then the civilization formerly known as Western will find itself in serious trouble. For the civil religion that inspired Americans throughout their first Cold War effort has today ceased to exist at the very conjuncture when the United States must confront, for the first time in its brief history, a post-humiliation, post-Maoist, imperial, and authentic China.

Eliot Abrams, The Influence of Faith: Religious Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy. Lanham, Md.:

Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

Madeleine Albright, The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

Talal Asad, Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

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Kevin Taylor, youre a reporter, not an opinionist; youre guided by the rule of impartiality! – Modern Ghana

Posted: at 10:33 pm

I have observed, read, heard, and watched a multitude of ebullient social media commentators apparently immersed in a gamut of emotions over the squeamishly ugly and somewhat preposterous statements by a certain importunate social media critic of the Akufo-Addos administration, who goes by the name, Kevin Taylor.

The said clamorous social media critics numerous wild and unsubstantiated claims of malfeasance and wilful neglect of responsibilities by the officials of the incumbent NPP government, so to speak, smack of sensationalism more than anything else.

In fact, at worst, it is intellectually incoherent and ridiculously incongruous for a supposedly trained-mind to brush aside the existing data on Ghanas economy and keep asserting somewhat spuriously that the Akufo-Addos government is worsening the plight of Ghanaians.

If the ubiquitous social media commentator, Kevin Taylor, cares to know, Ghanas economy is in a favourable position today than yesteryears.

In fact, the unconventional and unpalatable pronouncements by the vociferous and patently aggrieved serial social media critic of the Akufo-Addos administration, Kevin Taylor, who has gained an illimitable notoriety as a Lucifer in the flesh of the NPP government appointees, cannot be allowed to pass without commenting.

Whatever the case, I cannot for the life of me, comprehend how and why anyone calling him/her self a reflective thinker can proclaim somewhat plangently that Ghanas economy under former President Mahama (3.4% growth and 15.4% inflation) was better than under President Akufo-Addo (8.6% growth and 7.8% inflation).

It therefore came as no surprise to some of us at all when the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), concluded in its country report released on 13 May 2019 that Ex-President John Dramani Mahama will find it extremely difficult to convince discerning Ghanaians into accepting that he is the credible manager of Ghanas economy given the countrys fairly strong economic growth under President Akufo-Addo.

In a related development, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recent review of Ghanas economy reinforced the Economist Intelligence Unit earlier report of Ghanas propitious economic growth under the Akufo-Addos administration.

Well, Kevin Taylor, believe it or not, Ghanas economy had received thumbs-up from the likes of seasoned journalist, Malik Kweku Baako, the Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ms Christine Lagarde, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, who had earlier commended the Akufo-Addos government on its excellent economic performance in the two and half years in office.

In 2017, the Bloomberg News, for example, predicted Ghana to become Africas fastest-growing economy in 2018 and Ghana was proclaimed Star of Africa in 2018 Lenders Economic Forecasts.

And, in reporting on the same fiscal policy achievements, Le Monde pointed out that Ghanas economic success is not just as the result of an oil-driven boom, but is also due to prudent economic management, an entrepreneurial population, the role of traditional leaders, and good governance.

Kevin Taylor, the latest on the list of observers on Ghanas auspicious economy is the Nigerian scholar, who recently gave a presentation at the NDCs most recent forum, in which he emphasised Ghanas thriving economic growth under the NPP government.

Kevin Taylor, the Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ms Christine Lagardes has observed that the Ghanaian economy is in a better place than it was in the previous years under the John Dramani Mahamas administration.

Ms Lagarde opined that the Akufo-Addos government had made important gains towards macroeconomic stability, including inflation, which had declined to a single digit and now within the Bank of Ghanas (BoGs) tolerance band; buoyant growth, averaging about five per cent between 2015 and 2018, and, over six per cent in 2017-18) and a primary surplus in 2017 for the first time in 15 years (IMF 2018).

Besides, Kevin Taylor, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, observes: Ghana met the targets for halving extreme poverty and halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, and it achieved the goals relating to universal primary education and gender parity in primary school.

Kevin Taylor, the seasoned journalist, Kweku Baako Jnr hit the nail on the head when he pointed out on Joy FMs political show (News File) on Saturday 6/04/2019 that the NPP administration led by President Akufo-Addo has performed exceedingly better than the erstwhile NDC government led by former President Mahama.

Juxtaposing the state of the economy in first two years of the two administrations, Kweku Baako Jnr aptly concluded that the economy is in a better shape under the Akufo-Addos administration than it was under Mahamas administration.

Baako Jnr, therefore, asserted poignantly: Theres no doubt that the Akufo-Addo administration has done far better than the Mahama administration; its as simple as that, the figures and the records support it (, 6/04/2019).

This article thus intends to remind you, Kevin Taylor, and the opposition NDC communicators (both home and abroad) of the revoltingly ugly governance provided by the erstwhile Mahama administration.

Kevin Taylor, some of us, as a matter of principle, cannot end our arousing disgust anyhow and anytime soon over the erstwhile NDC governments irreversible incompetence and the corrupt practices which destabilised Ghanas macroeconomic indicators.

Whilst we do not want to buy the widely held assertion that politics is a dirty game, one would not be far from right to suggest that the political terrain is full of inveterate propagandists and manipulating geezers.

Of course, roguish politicians are not limited to Africa, it is a global phenomenon, as a matter of fact.

However, in our humble opinion, it is our part of the world (Africa), where political insobrieties and vague rhetoric are so prevalent.

Perhaps, this is so because we have greater number of unlettered folks, many of whom cannot choose between tricksters and morally upstanding politicians.

Of course, the opposition is obliged to put the incumbent government on its toes. But does the opposition NDC have to grumble and criticise for criticising sake?

In fact, one cannot help but to giggle over the minority NDCs renewed zeal to expose and prevent perceived incompetence and corruption in the NPP administration.

Bizarrely, the minority NDC faithful are gleefully hopping around the globe (from United States to Luxembourg), with a view to detecting a perceived corruption by the embryonic NPP government. How strange?

Kevin Taylor, let us be honest, if the NDC operatives were that good at detecting and preventing sleazes and corruption, how on earth did they go to sleep over the scandalous corruption cases involving the infamous Bus Branding, Brazil World Cup, the Ford Expedition vehicle, GYEEDA, AZONTABA, SADA, SUBAH, the purported $300million debt incurred on the faded STS housing deal, the dubious Embraer 190 Aircrafts and hanger for the Ghana Armed Forces and over a US$100 million oil revenue loss between 2011 and 2013 as reported by the Public Interest& Accountability Committee?

Perhaps, the NDC apologists are trying their level best to convince their aggrieved supporters of their consuming desire to recapture power in 2020.

In fact, Kweku Baako Jnr was absolutely right when he once stressed that the minority NDC operatives were seeking to internationalise their incompetence.

Kevin Taylor, isnt it therefore ironic that the opposition NDC operatives have soon found their voices and squalling and scolding at the roof top about alleged sleazes and corruption?

To some of us, Kevin Taylor, it is an illustrative case of let us give a dog a bad name and hang it. Obviously you and your ilk are trying your level best to bring to the fore the non-existent sleazes and corruption in the Akufo-Addos administration. How pathetic?

It beggars belief that despite the unbridled corruption, the arrogance of power and the irrevocable incompetence by the erstwhile NDC administration which resulted in massive economic collapse, the NDC apologists, both home and abroad, would still have the moral authority to accuse others.

Whatever the case, that is the beauty of democracy. The likes of Kevin Taylor are within their democratic right to whine and speak their piece and criticise the NPP administration as they see fit.

But all said and done, the obdurate critics of the Akufo-Addos administration such as Kevin Taylor ought to exercise a great deal of circumspection and consider criticising constructively.

Kevin Taylor, some of us have always held an unfailing conviction that governance is a serious business and as such it requires forward thinking, serious and committed group of people to bring about the needed progress.

However, it has not always been the case in Ghanas democratic dispensation. The multi-party democracy has given birth to both purposeful and coarse political parties.

And, as a consequence, we have for a long time been relying on lousy economic managers who cannot see their backsides from their elbows and have only succeeded in sinking the economy deeper and deeper into the mire through corrupt practices.

Kevin Taylor, in fact, some of us, as a matter of principle, share in the sentiments of the reflective sceptics who argue vehemently that despite spending 27 years in government, the successive NDC governments have failed woefully to improve upon the socio-economic standards of living of Ghanaians.

The contending schools of thought have been arguing consistently that the successive NDC governments only managed to destabilise Ghanas macroeconomic indicators through dreadful errors in decision-making.

Despite the unobjectionable facts and figures of favourable economic growth under Akufo-Addos administration, the NDC operatives are all over the place nagging, grumbling and censuring the NPP government for perceived slow pace in development in less than three years in office.

Kevin Taylor, the fact however remains that if the officials of the erstwhile NDC government had not squandered the funds meant for various developmental projects, the NPP government would have enough funds at its disposal to undertake a lot of developmental projects.

On 7th December 2016, discerning Ghanaians found in NPP, a redeemer, in whom they reposed their absolute trust to set them free from the NDC governments unpardonable economic enslavement.

Kevin Taylor, so who says that the critics are not absolutely right for suggesting that if discerning Ghanaians had not graciously intervened by showing the dreadful economic managers (NDC) the exit through universal adult suffrage, the terrible errors in decision-making and the rampant corruption would have obliterated Ghana off the world map completely?

Kevin Taylor, given the circumstances, we can confidently deduce that discerning Ghanaians made the right decision on 7th December 2016 by electing the septuagenarian Nana Akufo-Addo and retiring the middle-aged John Dramani Mahama.

Mind you, Kevin Taylor, a large portion of Ghanas scarce resources, regrettably, went down the drain due to the mismanagement and the rampant corruption perpetrated by the officials of the erstwhile Mahama administration.

There is admissible evidence of gargantuan bribery and corruption cases, including monies which were given to parasitic creatures who did not render any services towards the national development. Woyome and Akua Donkor come to mind.

And despite Mahamas government coarse administration, the loyalists NDC supporters would want discerning Ghanaians to believe that the erstwhile NDC government provided exceptional governance.

Truly, Kevin Taylor, vague understanding of patriotism exists in the minds of many Ghanaians, who prefer needless praise singing to defending the national interests.

Kevin Taylor, the good people of Ghana, unfortunately, witnessed so much scheming guiles, corruption, incompetence, nepotism, cronyism and frequent abuse of power in the erstwhile NDC government, and hence the vast majority of Ghanaians have permanently lost trust in the NDC.

Kevin Taylor, based on the prudent governance and the current favourable economic outlook, we can confidently state that Ghana is heading towards the right direction under the able leadership of President Akufo-Addo.

We must, therefore, take solace in the fact that the Akufo-Addos government is tackling the erstwhile Mahamas government economic mess head-on.

K. Badu, UK.


Disclaimer:"The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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The Outdoor Narrative: Ottawa’s decision on steelhead is shortsighted – Kamloops This Week

Posted: October 10, 2019 at 12:49 am

Welcome to the inaugural The Outdoor Narrative column, which will run every two weeks in the pages of KTW and online at The Outdoor Narrative, which is also a podcast, is the work of Robert Koopmans, an angler and hunter and former editor of the Kamloops Daily News.

If there is one question Id like answered in the continuing saga of the demise of the Thompson River steelhead, its this: why are we still calculating the costs of saving endangered species?

The outlook for the Fraser Interior steelhead, which includes both the Thompson and Chilcotin river runs, is grim. Ten years ago, biologists said at least 900 fish needed to make it to spawning beds in the Deadman, Nicola and Bonaparte rivers for the Thompson strain to continue. In 2018, only 177 spawning adults and just 37 fish were counted in the Chilcotin River system.

There is much speculation about the reasons for the fishs decline, but reports from various government groups, committees, bodies and agencies (the decline of steelhead has been well considered, at the least) indicate three likely causes.

They are deteriorating freshwater habitat, poor ocean survival and losses to coastal commercial fisheries as unintended by-catch.

The threat to steelhead is so dire that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada issued an emergency report in February 2018, noting the runs have declined more than 80 per cent in three generations.

The fish are clearly endangered, the report stated, with immediate action required.

It was an open invitation for the federal government to list Fraser River steelhead as a species at risk under Canadas Species at Risk Act (SARA), legislation that would have kicked in numerous provisions designed to make survival of the species the highest priority.

From the government of Canadas website: The purposes of the Species at Risk Act are to prevent wildlife species in Canada from disappearing, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated (no longer exist in the wild in Canada), endangered or threatened as a result of human activity, and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.

Sounds tailor-made for the steelhead dilemma.

What happened?

In July, the federal government announced it would not list steelhead under SARA after considering a wide range of polycentric factors, including a cost-benefit analysis of the potential impacts of listing (steelhead).

What would have been those costs?

According to the same notes, the costs were estimated to range between $190 million to $254 million over 20 years, mostly in lost revenue and profits to harvesters, recreational anglers, Indigenous groups, the seafood industry and the recreational services industry.

Listing Chilcotin and Thompson River steelhead as endangered under SARA would result in significant and immediate negative socio-economic impacts on Canadians due to the application of (SARAs) general prohibitions, the governments statement on the decision indicated.

And there you have it.

To what extent the socio-economic factors weighed more heavily than other polycentric factors, we will likely never know.

But they are big numbers and I cant help but think those in high corridors in Ottawa did some political math there would have been a tremendous hue and cry had West Coast commercial fishing seasons been dramatically affected and decided the cost of saving 50 steelhead a year accidentally caught by gillnets wasnt worth it.

Such calculations are incredibly short-sighted. Weve heard the same socio-economic concerns expressed and seen the same calculations made many times in other places, including Canadas East Coast with Atlantic cod.

There, long-term resistance to constraining commercial fisheries led to the collapse of cod stocks and the fishing industry.

The fact is, people are incredibly resilient when it comes to adapting to changing economic circumstances.

The Atlantic commercial fishing industry collapsed and fishermen moved on. There are no businesses in Spences Bridge today catering to anglers.

The town is still there.

We have survived countless periods of economic adjustment.

No doubt there are individual hardships when regional industries are affected, but history shows people are remarkably adept at surviving job loss and displacement.

Steelhead are not so adept at dodging commercial fishing nets.

Is it too late for steelhead? Probably.

The federal governments refusal to do all it can to protect the few remaining fish likely sounds their death knell, despite Ottawas promise to implement immediate conservation measures.

What can we learn?

If nothing else, perhaps that calculating short-term costs in relation to saving endangered species is embarrassingly selfish and will be judged as such by future generations. Economic pain is temporary. Extinction of species is permanent.

Canada is a rich country with a deep natural heritage and Canadians are resilient people with proven ability to survive socio-economic impacts.

Lets act like it.

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Who will win the Polish election? | EUROPP – EUROPP – European Politics and Policy

Posted: at 12:49 am

It is almost certain that Law and Justice will emerge from Polands parliamentary election this Sunday as the largest grouping, but far from clear if it will retain its overall majority, writes Aleks Szczerbiak. If the governing party secures a second term, it will entrench and push ahead with its reform programme, while any alternative coalition government is likely to be weak and unstable.

On 13 October, Poland will hold a parliamentary election which is likely to be one of the most important and consequential since the collapse of communism in 1989. During the last four years, the current government, led by the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, has come under heavy fire from its political opponents for allegedly undermining democracy and the rule of law in its approach to the judiciary, media, public appointments and civic rights. It has also been in an ongoing conflict with the EU political establishment and subject to intense criticism from much of the western opinion-forming media.

However, Law and Justice remains very popular and enjoys a clear lead in the opinion polls. The Ewybory website that aggregates voting intention surveys shows the party averaging 44% compared with 26% for the Civic Coalition (KO) electoral alliance led by the liberal-centrist Civic Platform (PO), the countrys governing party between 2007-15 and currently the main opposition grouping.

Law and Justice remains popular in spite of the harsh criticisms that it has received because it is trusted by voters on the socio-economic issues that have dominated the election campaign. The party has delivered on most of the high-profile social spending promises which were the key to its 2015 election victory, the most significant of which was its extremely popular flagship 500 plus child benefit programme.

The 500 plus programme has had an important symbolic effect, providing a significant and clearly identifiable financial boost to many low-income households who felt frustrated that they had not shared sufficiently in Polands post-communist economic transformation. At the same time, although its opponents argue that the huge expansion of social spending and tax cuts places a massive strain on public finances, the government has continued to maintain high levels of economic growth and falling unemployment, with increased tax revenues actually leading to a reduction in the state budget deficit.

In its election programme, Law and Justice augmented its array of social welfare commitments and promised to build a Polish version of a prosperous state (pastwo dobrobytu) grounded in social solidarity and state-led economic modernisation. The centre-piece was a pledge to almost double the minimum wage by the end of 2023. These social welfare programmes and pledges are aimed at raising the electoral stakes for the partys core supporters, thereby encouraging them to turn out and vote out of fear that the liberal-centrist opposition may water them down or abandon them if it were to win office.

Credit for re-distributing prestige

Law and Justice has robustly denied the oppositions allegations that it undermined democracy and the rule of law, and many Poles accept the governments argument that its actions were necessary to restore pluralism and balance to institutions which, they said, had been expropriated by extremely well-entrenched, and often deeply corrupt, post-communist elites. But even if they have misgivings about some of the governments specific measures, particularly its approach to constitutional issues and civic rights, many still feel that, for all its faults, Law and Justice deserves credit for at least trying to tackle some of the apparently intractable problems with, and shortcomings of, the state which were ignored by previous administrations.

An important element of this that was linked to, but went beyond, the simple question of financial transfers is what some commentators termed the re-distribution of prestige. Many ordinary Poles who previously felt themselves to be second-class citizens started to regain a feeling of dignity and that, as they saw it, their government finally cared about the less well-off and was trying to restore an elementary sense of justice and moral order.

Although there has been negative publicity surrounding various allegations of abuse of public office by Law and Justice politicians, these do not appear to have damaged the governing party to any great extent. The party has generally been quick off-the-mark in acting decisively to neutralise these scandals, if necessary by dismissing the implicated officials. For example, in July Marek Kuchciski was forced to resign as Law and Justice parliamentary speaker following allegations that he had used an official aeroplane for private flights. The partys supporters appear to regard such allegations as either false, the occasional lapses of a generally honest party, or as endemic to Polish politics with Law and Justice at least attempting to ensure that it was not only the governing elites that shared in the fruits of the economic transition.

Law and Justice has also skilfully mobilised support around a number of moral-cultural issues where it enjoys widespread public support or that are important to its core electorate. In this campaign, for example, it has opposed what it calls LGBT ideology, putting itself at the head of a moral crusade as the defender of the traditional family, Polish national identity, and Christian values and culture. These, it argues, stabilise the social order and promote the common good but are threatened by a great offensive of evil (wielka ofensywa za). By focusing on these issues, and thereby strengthening its hold over conservative voters, Law and Justice has also neutralised the electoral challenge from the radical right Confederation (Konfederacja) grouping which, according to Ewybory, is averaging around 4% support (just under the 5% parliamentary representation threshold for individual parties).

An unconvincing opposition

The opposition should not be written off and retains considerable political assets. The overall levels of popular support for the government and opposition camps is actually fairly evenly balanced and the latter has substantial financial resources and the backing of most of the privately-owned media, as well as significant influence within, and widespread support from, the countrys cultural, legal and business elites. However, it has failed to develop a convincing and attractive programmatic alternative on the socio-economic issues that Polish voters care most about.

The opposition also lacks a convincing figurehead around whom it can rally. Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna is extremely effective as a behind-the-scenes political operator but lacks dynamism and charisma and is currently Polands least trusted politician. Recognising his lack of wider appeal, at the beginning of September Civic Platform proposed the more emollient former parliamentary speaker Magorzata Kidawa-Boska as its prime ministerial candidate. In doing so, it copied a Law and Justice manoeuvre in the 2015 campaign when its polarising leader Jarosaw Kaczyski nominated one of his deputies, Beata Szydo, as the partys nominee for prime minister. However, although the move helped to neutralise one of Civic Platforms most significant negatives, it has not had any discernible impact on the groupings poll ratings, coming too late to give Kidawa-Boska time to develop her profile as an authentic independent political figure.

Civic Platform strategists also recognised that, rather than trying to outbid Law and Justices huge expansion of individual social transfers and welfare benefit programmes (although it promised to continue with them), they should focus instead on improving the quality of public services, especially health care. However, while many Poles feel that these services have been neglected, they are also dubious as to whether the liberal-centrist opposition which is too associated with the previous, discredited Civic Platform administration offers a credible alternative. Law and Justice simply has much greater credibility on these social policy issues having implemented most of the spending promises on which it was elected.

More open than it seems

Nonetheless, although, as things currently stand, there is a strong possibility that Law and Justice will secure re-election for a second term, the election is more open than it initially appears. While it seems almost certain that Law and Justice will emerge as the largest party, it is far from clear if it will retain its overall majority and continue to govern without needing the support of other parties.

Law and Justice only secured such a majority in 2015 because an alliance of left-wing parties narrowly failed to cross the higher 8% representation threshold for electoral coalitions. This time the three main left-wing parties the communist successor Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the radical left Together (Razem) grouping, and the liberal-left Spring (Wiosna) led by sexual minorities campaigner Robert Biedro are contesting the election as a united slate. However, although they are badging their formation in a broader way as the Left (Lewica), in order to avoid the higher threshold the three parties are standing candidates on the Democratic Left Alliances electoral list; which is currently polling around 12% according to Ewybory.

The agrarian-centrist Polish Peasant Party (PSL), formerly Civic Platforms governing coalition partner, is also contesting the election independently but badging itself as a broader centrist Polish Coalition(KP) and has persuaded right-wing rock star Pawel Kukiz to join its ranks. Kukiz achieved a sensational result in the May 2015 presidential election winning one-fifth of the vote and, on the back of this, his Kukiz15 grouping emerged as the third largest in the new parliament but he lost much of his appeal as an anti-system campaigner when he teamed up with the quintessentially establishment Peasant Party; which, according to Ewybory, is currently polling around 6%.

Whether or not Law and Justice secures a parliamentary majority depends on the overall size and distribution of the ruling party and opposition groupings votes, particularly how many of the latter enter parliament and how many votes are cast for parties that fail to cross the representation threshold. The Polish electoral system, proportional representation with the dHondt method used for allocating seats, favours larger groupings particularly when a significant number of votes are cast for those that do not cross the electoral threshold. However, if Law and Justice loses a few percentage points and all the opposition groupings comfortably cross the threshold, then this could deprive the ruling party of its majority. The greatest threat to Law and Justice, therefore, comes from the danger of its own supporters succumbing to complacency and over-confidence that the election is a foregone conclusion.

The stakes are high

If Law and Justice wins it will entrench and continue to push ahead with its radical reform programme in areas such as the judiciary and probably broaden it out into other fields such as the privately-owned media. At the same time, and perhaps even more importantly, a Law and Justice second term will further shake-up the more informal hierarchies of power, influence and prestige that currently exist in the public sphere. With a fresh electoral mandate, the party will also be emboldened in its dealings with the EU political establishment and major European powers. As a consequence, a number of the partys more pragmatic domestic and international opponents are likely to seek some kind of accommodation if it appears that Law and Justice will be in office for another four years

Even if the opposition is able to deprive Law and Justice of an overall majority, and the latter is not able to peel off enough individual opposition deputies to compensate for this, any alternative coalition government will be weak and unstable. For sure, it is likely to try and roll back many of Law and Justices controversial reforms and engage in wholesale replacement of the partys nominees to key posts in public administration and broadcasting, the diplomatic service and state-controlled companies and agencies. But it will have to rely on an eclectic coalition of political forces for its parliamentary majority and its legislative programme will be undermined by the fact that it will also almost certainly lack the three-fifths majority required to overturn vetoes by Law and Justice President Andrzej Duda, whose term of office lasts until summer 2020.

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Note: This article originally appeared at Aleks Szczerbiakspersonal blog. The article gives the views of the author, not the position of EUROPP European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics.


About the author

Aleks SzczerbiakUniversity of SussexAleks Szczerbiak is Professor of Politics and Contemporary European Studies at the University of Sussex. He is author ofPoland Within the European Union? New Awkward Partner or New Heart of Europe?(Routledge, 2012) and Politicising the Communist Past: The Politics of Truth Revelation in Post-Communist Poland (Routledge 2018). He blogs regularly about developments on the Polish political scene at

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