Sunday, August 30, 2009

Libya and Western Hypocrisy

Remember the words of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela who on September 20, 2006, standing before the United Nations General Assembly, said, “Yesterday, the devil came here,” alluding to President George W. Bush’s appearance before the General Assembly? Chavez continued, “Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.” In case anyone had missed the point, Mr. Chavez drove it home: “Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.” Those remarks, combined with his hand gestures, will probably never be forgotten by many of our generation. They produced much chuckles and applause in the assembly hall.
Every September, many of the world’s leaders come to New York to address the General Assembly sessions of the United Nations. The 192-member Assembly, U.N.’s supreme policy making body -- much diminished in stature since the 1990s and viewed more like a toothless tiger, has routinely served as a high-profile international theatre for world leaders who take the podium for few minutes to boost their political image back home. There is rumor in the air that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya is coming to the UN this year. This would be his first visit to the UN. His fellow country man Dr. Ali Abdessalam Treky, Libya’s Secretary for African Union Affairs, has already been elected to serve as the president of the upcoming 64th session of the Assembly.

Like some other controversial leaders, the late Hafez al-Assad of Syria, the late Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and Kim Il Sung of North Korea, Gaddafi had scrupulously avoided the world body all these years. With lifting of the sanctions, easing of tensions between Libya and the West and the ensuing multi-billion dollar trade deals, things have been going rather well for the “brotherly leader and guide of the revolution” from Libya, until recently when his son accompanied Abdel-Baset Ali al-Megrahi – a prisoner released by the Scottish government on humanitarian ground – back to Libya.
So who is Megrahi and why is the West upset about his release? For that we have to turn our clock back to December 21, 1988 when a Boeing 747-121 (Pan Am flight 103) was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members. Eleven people in Lockerbie in southern Scotland (UK) were killed as large sections of the plane fell in and around the town, bringing total fatalities to 270. Within hours of the plane crash, several groups, including the Ulster Defence League claimed responsibility. However, because of the escalating tension with the USA, fingers were quickly pointed toward known suspects - Libya, Syria, the PLO and Iran as countries that might have sponsored the crime.
After a three-year joint investigation by Dumfries and Galloway (UK) Constabulary and the FBI (USA), indictments for murder were issued on November 13, 1991 against Abdel-Baset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, the LAA station manager in Luqa Airport, Malta. Libya refused to hand over the suspects, insisting that it would instead try them in its own courts, unless the trial took place in a neutral country -- a position that was also echoed by Nelson Mandela of South Africa who objected to British position by saying: “I have never thought in dealing with this question that it is correct for any particular country to be the complainant, the prosecutor and the judge at the same time.” Eventually, the UN’s punitive sanctions against Libya and negotiations with the Libyan leader secured the handover of the accused on April 5, 1999 to Scottish police at Camp Zeist, Netherlands, having been chosen as a neutral venue for their trial. On May 3, 2000, the trial of the two Libyans began. On January 31, 2001, a panel of three Scottish judges convicted Megrahi and sentenced him to 27 years in prison. Fhimah was acquitted.
The judgment stated: "From the evidence which we have discussed so far, we are satisfied that it has been proved that the primary suitcase containing the explosive device was dispatched from Malta, passed through Frankfurt and was loaded onto PA103 at Heathrow. It is, as we have said, clear that with one exception the clothing in the primary suitcase was the clothing purchased in Mr. Gauci’s shop on 7 December 1988. The purchaser was, on Mr. Gauci’s evidence, a Libyan. The trigger for the explosion was an MST-13 timer of the single solder mask variety. A substantial quantity of such timers had been supplied to Libya. We cannot say that it is impossible that the clothing might have been taken from Malta, united somewhere with a timer from some source other than Libya and introduced into the airline baggage system at Frankfurt or Heathrow. When, however, the evidence regarding the clothing, the purchaser and the timer is taken with the evidence that an unaccompanied bag was taken from KM180 to PA103A, the inference that that was the primary suitcase becomes, in our view, irresistible. As we have also said, the absence of an explanation as to how the suitcase was taken into the system at Luqa is a major difficulty for the Crown case but after taking full account of that difficulty, we remain of the view that the primary suitcase began its journey at Luqa. The clear inference which we draw from this evidence is that the conception, planning and execution of the plot which led to the planting of the explosive device was of Libyan origin. While no doubt organisations such as the PFLP-GC and the PPSF were also engaged in terrorist activities during the same period, we are satisfied that there was no evidence from which we could infer that they were involved in this particular act of terrorism, and the evidence relating to their activities does not create a reasonable doubt in our minds about the Libyan origin of this crime." [Note: both the PFLP-GC and PPSF are Palestinian Marxist groups.]
The Libyan motive for the act is generally attributed to a series of military confrontations with the US Navy that took place in the 1980s in the Gulf of Sidra during Reagan era. In 1981 two Libyan fighter aircrafts patrolling over its territorial waters in the Gulf were shot down by the US Navy. Later two Libyan radio ships were sunk in the Gulf. On March 23, 1986 a Libyan Navy patrol boat was sunk in the Gulf of Sidra, followed by the sinking of another Libyan vessel on March 25, 1986. When on April 5, 1986 a bomb exploded in a West Berlin nightclub, La Belle, which was frequented by American soldiers, killing three and injuring 230, the Libyan leader was accused of retaliating to those sinkings of Libyan boats. On April 15, 1986 President Reagan ordered bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi inside Libya. Among dozens of Libyan military and civilian casualties, the air strikes killed Gaddafi’s adopted daughter.
Megrahi throughout his imprisonment in Greenock Prison maintained that he was innocent of the charges against him in the Pan Am Flight 103 plane crash. His appeal against his conviction was, however, refused on March 14, 2002, and his application to the European Court of Human Rights was declared inadmissible in July 2003. Later that year he applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) for his conviction to be reviewed, and on June 28, 2007 the SCCRC announced its decision to refer the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh after it found he “may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.” On August 20, 2009, the Scottish Government released him after serving nearly nine years on compassionate grounds to return to Libya as he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer and had a life expectancy of less than three months.
After he left the Scottish soil, Megrahi released a statement protesting his innocence and expressing his sympathy for the families of the victims he was convicted of killing. Upon his return to Libya, Megrahi was welcomed by hundreds (a very small crowd by Libya’s standard), much to the chagrin of the British government and anger of the victims’ families. Many of the world leaders were also upset with Megrahi’s release from the Scottish prison and the reception he had received in Libya. [Even my own physician, a Jewish American, was upset. Last week, when I met him for my yearly physical checkup, he said, “Can you believe these Scotts? They have released a mass murder who had killed 270 people!” “If I had the gun,” he continued, “I would have killed that b--d. He should have served 270 life-terms and not released for his terminal cancer.”]
Two-thirds of the victims of the Lockerbie plane crash were Americans, which included many students from the north-eastern states. Before their death, 38 victims lived in the state of New Jersey, where Libyan officials were considering setting up a Bedouin-style tent at a Libyan-owned estate in the upscale suburb of Englewood to accommodate Col. Gaddafi and his entourage to attend the upcoming 64th Session of the General Assembly of the UN. Relatives of the victims had threatened to converge on New York to mount a protest when Gaddafi attends the United Nations General Assembly on September 23.
So, it is not difficult to understand why Gaddafi’s anticipated visit to New York and New Jersey has now become a big political debate in New Jersey’s gubernatorial election. The incumbent governor Jon Corzine and New Jersey federal legislators have joined an angry chorus of opposition to Gaddafi’s visit to the state. A columnist with the Star-Ledger wrote, “Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan dictator, is arguably an accessory to murder... The issue is whether he should be arrested once he sets foot on American soil -- on New Jersey soil.” (August 26, 2009)
However, such an opposition to foreign leader’s visit to attend the UN session is illegal according to the host-nation agreement with the UN, which stipulates that the USA is obligated to allow foreign leaders, other officials and diplomats into the country to visit or work at the UN, with limited exceptions. However, the agreement allows U.S. authorities to restrict their movement to a 25-mile radius around U.N. headquarters in Manhattan. Englewood is 12 miles north of Manhattan, apparently placing it within the 25-mile radius.
The opposition to Gaddafi’s anticipated visit also ignores the fact that the case against Libya and Megrahi was hemmed around flimsy evidences, which led to the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh to declare that it “may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.” Many intelligence experts from the CIA and German security service believed that the type of bomb used to blow up the plane came not from Libya, but bore all the hallmarks of the PFLP-GC.
It is true that on 29 May 2002, Libya offered up to $2.7 billion to settle claims by the families of the 270 killed in the Lockerbie bombing, representing $10 million per family. But the payment was made in good faith to lift off economic sanctions against the country. By opposing Gaddafi’s visit now to the USA, these relatives of the victims who had benefited personally from such big pay-offs are setting a new standard in hypocrisy. If they had the moral higher ground, they should have denied the big pay-offs from Libya years ago. That would have been honorable and fair.
No less hypocritical is the stand of Robert Mueller, the FBI director, who wrote a scathing letter to Kenny MacAskill, Scotland's justice secretary, for allowing Abdel-Baset Ali Al Megrahi to return to Libya. The director said the decision made “a mockery of justice” and gives comfort to terrorists around the world, according to US reports.
In response, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “The US authorities indicated that although they were opposed to both prisoner transfer and compassionate release, they made it clear that they regarded compassionate release as far preferable to the transfer agreement, and Mr. Mueller should be aware of that. Mr. Mueller was involved in the Lockerbie case, and therefore has strong views, but he should also be aware that while many families have opposed Mr. MacAskill’s decision many others have supported it.”
Nor should we be oblivious of the victims of the Iran Air Flight 655 (IR655) that was shot down by the US Navy on July 3, 1988 over the Strait of Hormuz, inside the Iranian territorial waters. The civilian aircraft, an Airbus A300B2, was flying from Bandar Abbas, Iran, to Dubai, UAE, when it was destroyed by the U.S. Navy’s guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes, killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard, including 66 children, ranking it the among the deadliest airliner fatalities. The Vincennes was traversing the Straits of Hormuz inside Iranian territorial waters and at the time of the attack, IR655 was within Iranian airspace. As part of an agreement, reached in 1996, relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice, the United States agreed to pay only $61.8 million in compensation for the Iranians killed ($300,000 per wage-earning victim, $150,000 per non-wage-earner).
The amount paid by the US government is peanuts compared to that made by Libya. In a show of typical arrogance, the USA also did not admit responsibility or apologize to the Iranian government. [Digression: The US forces have not paid anything to most of its civilian victims in Iraq and Afghanistan. And even when payments were made in some rare cases, the maximum payment was just couple of thousand dollars per victim. ] In a July 13, 1992 article, Newsweek reporters John Barry and Roger Charles noted that Captain William C. Rogers III had acted recklessly and without due care. They also accused the U.S. government of a cover-up which Admiral Crowe denied. (Three years after the incident, Admiral William J. Crowe admitted on American (ABC) television show Nightline that the Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters when it launched the missiles. This contradicted earlier Navy statements that were misleading if not incorrect.)
An analysis of the events by the International Strategic Studies Association described the deployment of an Aegis cruiser in the zone as irresponsible and felt that the expense of the ship had played a major part in the setting of a low threshold for opening fire. The Vincennes had been nicknamed “Robocruiser” by crew members and other US Navy ships, both in reference to its Aegis system and aggressive tendencies of its trigger-happy captain.
CIA’s ex-director Muller’s recent remarks are symptomatic of selective amnesia when we notice that in 1990 Captain Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989.” (Note: The award was given for his service as the Commanding Officer of the Vincennes, and the citation made no mention of the downing of IR655.)

I have never been an admirer of the Libyan strongman. But I am not sorry to stating that all this fuss around Megrahi’s release from the Scottish prison and opposition to Gaddafi’s anticipated appearance in the UN is nothing but blatant hypocrisy. Much that we may hate to admit, by paying handsomely the victims of terrorism, both at home and abroad, Gaddafi has set a higher standard than the USA on a comparable basis. For years, when the USA and Israel were Apartheid South Africa’s best friends, Gaddafi was a trusted comrade of Nelson Mandela’s ANC. He has more rights than any of the Israeli leaders that have had attended the UN General Assembly. If Governor Corzine (NJ) and Mayor Bloomberg (NYC) had no problem in letting such mass murderers to enter New Jersey and New York City, they should not set a double-standard now for Libya’s Gaddafi.

See, e.g., ; see also the reports: ,
While Libya maintained that it was innocent of the bombing in UTA flight 772 and German discotheque, it never the less paid the victims. It even paid the victims of US attack in Tripoli and Benghazi.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Debunking Saudi intellectual's observations on Muslim Scholars of the Past


It seems I have some major disagreements with the Arab scholar Ibrahim al-Bulehi. I believe that while those individual philosophers from Andalusia like Ibn Rushd were not Arabs they definitely were products of Islamic civilization and not what is called western civilization. The Greco-Roman western civilization had collapsed centuries before the Islamic one ushered in. While our scholars did study Greek philosophy and the sciences, their contribution is beyond mere Arabization of the Greek knowledge. They took theory from textbooks and made it a practical science that nurtured on experimentation and observation. In that process, not only did they challenge old wrong notions and hypotheses but also did come up with new theories and axioms that are still valid. It would be wrong to separate them from Islamic civilization. They were both the products and trailblazers of that Islamic civilization.

It is also wrong to say that those great philosophers were detached from Islam. A keen reading of Ibn Rushd, and even the much controversial Bu Ali Sina, shows that they were motivated by Islam and were firmly grounded on the faith. It is true that Imam Ghazzali (RA) had criticized some of them, but that was only to demonstrate the fallibility of logic and rationalism to explain away non-rational matters like wahy, revelation, etc. As Muslims, we have learned to live in peace as those who believe in the unseen (one of the first few sentences of the Qur'an).

I am inclined to feel, probably like the interviewer, that al-Bulehi is a confused person, and undeserving of the status of an intellectual. He is right though to criticize our generation of Muslims that have only learned to take delight in the past and do nothing to make our imprints felt in this age. My article in the Muslim World Almanac had already dealt with the pathetic state of ours. That attitude of ours need to change and like Bulehi, I agree that we need to be self-critical. But self-criticism does not mean falsifying truth. He sounds too much like Zia Gokalp and many other derailed Kemalist, Muslim intellectuals who in the past had wrongly identified Islam as the main cause for today's backwardness of Muslims. That is why, I hate to consider them as intellectuals.

Senator Edward Kennedy Dies at 77

It is a sad day for America. With the death of Senator Teddy Kennedy, America lost one of its most noble souls. He was an articulate advocate of human rights, an unwavering champion of peace against war, and, of course, immigration rights and health-care for all. His was a life very few could aspire for - from childhood upbringing unto death. He was able to see things very few had dared to consider. He was able to discuss things with ease very few dared to discuss. Often times the stand he took were not politically correct. Yet as a man of parts, a visionary, as one of the best citizens of our planet, he took a bold stand and tried to make America better for all its citizens and inhabitants and by that process he touched the lives of too many, even those who lived outside. He knew that we are all connected somehow. What is good for our world ought to have been good for America, too.

In deep sadness, I recall the demise of this great man whose contribution to the cause of Bangladesh should never be forgotten by our posterity.

Arabism at its worst

My attention has been drawn to an article by Mr. Khalaf Habtoor in the Global Arab Network. In a blatant statement he says that the Persian Gulf need to be named the Arabian Gulf.

Khalaf Habtoor's article on the naming of the Persian Gulf is very problematic and shows nothing but arrogance and lack of wisdom. While the entire Muslim ummah is bleeding from one coast of the Arabian Sea to the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, such a proposal is not only utterly stupid but also very divisive and, therefore, un-Islamic, further creating tension within the region, as if we don't have enough already! I condemn such chauvinism and would encourage our Arab community to rise above petty narrow chauvinism and Arabism for the sake of God, especially in this blessed month of Ramadhan. Let us not put ax on our own feet with pronouncements and agenda that are self-defeating and only end up strengthening our enemies that like nothing better than disunity and strife within our camp. May Allah give us hiqmah to see clearly what is good and beneficial for the ummah.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Comments on global warming


Flavio Souza has written a good article on harms done by human beings to the very place they call their home - the planet earth. Change is inevitable in history. Thus, we see that today's men are far more advanced to exploit nature for their needs. But in that process, something definitely has gone seriously wrong. Greed and satisfaction of our desires have taken priority over common sense. Thus, we are behaving like that stupid farmer who would rather eat the goose that was laying the golden eggs.
A visit to places like Bangladesh, her frequent bout with natural calamities, is enough to make a believer out of anyone who is still doubtful about the harmful effect of global warming. Millions of people are routinely marooned there; the place is slowing going under water. And yet, hardly anything is done to stop this process of global warming. On the top of this misery, India is planning on building dams on international waters that run into the Bay of Bengal via Bangladesh - which is a sure recipe to destroy vegetation, ecology and people's livelihood. Where will all those tens of millions move if man-made disasters and madness are not stopped before it is too late?
But the good thing is -- we have the power to stop our stupidity and victimization of others. But the bad thing is we lack courage and foresightedness to undo our wrongs.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Comments on Seoul Times article by a messenger of hate - Lee Jay Walker

I must admit I have never read anything this bad in quite a while. This article is a blatant one-sided christian attack against Islam.

The appearance of this kind of hateful article in a newspaper from South Korea only shows that the paper does not have a high standard in journalism and is abused as a tool to create division and animosity with the world of Islam. This kind of article twists facts and distorts history, while trying to protect Christianity from a similar criticism when we know its problematic history of enslavement of hundreds of millions of people in vast territories of Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas, let alone the Crusades that saw no mercy from warriors for Christ. Much to the contrast of Jesus's much publicized words of peace what the Christian West presented the world was an ugly side of Christianity that the world never saw before.

The sad reality is even in this age of information super highways there are many pen-pushing pundits like Lee Jay Walker that are irate about Obama's fence-mending Ramadan message of peace with the 1.7 billion Muslims. They would rather see our world as a battle ground for toxic Christianity. Shame on the Seoul Times and shame on its Tokyo correspondent - Lee Walker for spreading hatred.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

America’s Health Care Debate

As I mentioned last week, the US health care program needs a massive overhaul and not a cosmetic one. This fact was recognized by all the presidential candidates last year when they ran for the highest office in the country. The current program only helps those who are insured and could afford to pay premium prices for their desired services, leaving behind tens of millions who are uninsured or under-insured.

The under-insured must pay exorbitant prices for their desired healthcare services – from making up the difference in hospital or medical cost, which can run into tens of thousands of dollars just for staying a night or two in a hospital to buying prescription drugs. Just to give some examples. When someone calls 911 for emergency medical assistance, the ambulatory service would take the patient to the nearest hospital unless asked otherwise. This cost of transporting the patient (usually within 5 miles) to the emergency ward may run close to a thousand dollars! Often times, even the best of the health insurance plans cover only a small fraction of such costs. The bill for a 24-hour stay in a hospital can run into several thousand dollars, depending on the type of sickness and treatment provided. Even when the attending emergency doctor could not diagnose the disease or there was not anything serious and had released the patient within few hours, the charge can run into a couple of thousand dollars. In such cases, the patient would be advised to see his/her own doctor. Most doctors would only see patients that are insured, or can pay their high bills for their services. An insured patient usually pays a co-payment every time he/she sees a doctor, which can run upwards of $15. But those who are uninsured are usually denied such services. They must pay the full amount to the attending doctor for any service, provided the latter is willing to see him/her. While any uninsured patient, once brought to an emergency ward in a hospital, cannot, in principle, be denied medical care, often times the failure of the patient for such medical services provided by the hospital are passed on to insured individuals, who now must pay a higher premium to continue their insurance policy. As a result, insurance payments and associated healthcare costs for insured individuals are always increasing while services are deteriorating.

Most medical treatments end up buying prescription drugs from pharmacies. Just a single tablet when it is categorized as a prescription drug (and no generics are available) can cost sometimes a hundred dollars. This brings into the fore the not-so-ethical or inhumane, almost viper-like, practices of the drug companies that charge such exorbitant prices for their so-called life-saving drugs. The pharmaceutical industry would tell you that it takes enormous efforts to bring a new drug into the market. It is true. In general, it takes nearly 7-12 years to bring a new drug, costing millions of dollars in research, development and regulatory compliance. The probability of success for finding the new target is too slim, thus, adding to such high prices in the discovery stage.

Unlike other process industries, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry is in its infantile stage in matters of implementing Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, and other quality initiatives and measures which have proven to drastically cut down cycle time, reduce wastes and develop products faster and cheaper, while granting efficacy and stability. This I say based on my own experience of working with the pharmaceutical industry. When I worked as a Director with Merck & Co., a highly reputable global drug research and manufacturing company, I was simply shocked to see the deplorable state of affairs with its quality program – from research to manufacturing and human health. Most of its processes were not streamlined, requiring too many hand-offs and unnecessarily complicating simple systems, adding to time, cost and delivery.

Interestingly, Merck’s CEO Dick Clark, just months before I joined the company, had announced to the Wall Street how the six sigma initiative would improve performance throughout the company. The initiative was made part of Merck’s Plan-to-win strategy. But the players who were put in charge of making that happen were mostly unqualified in-house employees, who moved upward through the rank, with little or no prior experience with change initiatives of the size required to make the difference to the corporate vision and bottom line. The old guards were too protective of their turf and liked to micro-manage the entire change execution. Certification requirements were a joke. For example, people were awarded Six Sigma Master Black Belt (MBB) certification after completion of one or two projects (which I later guided to change to at least 7). But these soft-MBBs, if I may qualify their poor level of skill in lean/six sigma, were the same individuals put in place to run the overall corporate and division-wide process excellence program. Too many things – not just with the “soft” certification process of belt candidates and how financial benefits were reported - simply did not seem right, almost bordering into unethical practices, adding to overall low morale of employees and utter frustration of real experts brought from outside to guide and assist with the new initiative. Many such experts have since left the company. Sadly, incompetence, mediocrity, ego and lack of long term commitment and foresightedness seemed the rule rather than exceptions. If these are the facts with a highly respectable drug maker, one can sense the overall unhealthy condition of the pharmaceutical industry that truly needs a paradigm shift as to how better to cope with the challenges of the new century where quality matters to customers.

As I mentioned earlier, prescription drugs costs too much in America, and are unaffordable for most patients, esp. when they don’t have adequate health insurance plans for covering prescription drugs. Most co-payment for prescription drugs can cost minimum of $20 per 15-30 day supply of tablets per item. While longer, inefficient and non-streamlined processes for marketing drug from inception as it goes through all the phases and trials contribute significantly to such drug costs paid by patients, one should not be oblivious of the higher salaries of all those working in the bio-tech and pharmaceutical industry. [For instance, Abbott Laboratories Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Miles White's compensation was $25.3 million in 2008. Merck & Co.'s chief executive, Richard Clark, received a $17.3 million compensation package for 2008.] All individuals with ranks of vice president and above within Merck were provided with round the clock limousine service for commuting to and from work. That is, they did not have to drive to work. The president would use the helicopter. In departmental or most meetings, three to four times food would be supplied than actually required, only to be later wasted. It is no-brainer that all such unjustifiable work force practices, high salaries and wasteful activities end up costing the patient more in buying drugs.

So it goes without saying that a comprehensive overhaul of the entire healthcare program – from drug makers, distributors/marketers/pharmacies to insurance companies, doctors and hospitals – is needed to get out of the current quagmire. President Obama’s push for healthcare reform is trying to address issues surrounding each player in this game by reining in costs, constraining insurance companies and expanding coverage to 46 million uninsured Americans. There are many who oppose any reform within the healthcare sector. Many are opposed to putting a cap on salaries of top level executives. Last Friday, August 21, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York defended multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies and their chief executives declaring that they "don't make a lot of money" and shouldn't be scapegoats in the health care debate. In spite of such condescending voices opposing change, it is fair to say that the salaries made by anyone related to the healthcare industry need to be regulated, bringing it at par with other industries. The current economic downturn should also provide enough justification for curtailing unbelievable paychecks and bonuses offered to the C-level executives in every industry, and not just limited to the pharmaceutical industry.

As it stands today, Obama’s courtship with the Republicans has failed to persuade them to approve his government-run insurance plan. To ensure approval Obama needs 218 votes (out of 435) in the House, where Democrats have 256 seats, and 60 votes in the Senate, where Democrats and their allies have exactly 60 seats -- enough to break any Republican effort to block the legislation through procedural tactics. However, as opined by many experts who are observing the debate closely, to reach the magic number in the House, he must walk a tightrope between more than 50 conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, many from Republican-leaning districts, and more than 80 liberal members, most from safe Democratic seats where they rarely face a re-election challenge. Liberals within his party have demanded inclusion of a government-run insurance option and threatened to withhold support without it. Many Democratic conservatives on the other hand have voiced concern about the cost, the public plan and the impact on small businesses.
Three House committees have passed a health care measure that includes a strong public option, which according to a recent Congressional Budget Office report estimated would attract 10 million to 11 million people by 2019. Many critics say that the government-run insurance plan, designed to bolster competition and choice in the market would amount to a government takeover of health care. While they are against government programs, they have failed to offer anything substantial to alleviate the current problem with 46 million uninsured Americans.
Only the coming weeks would show how effective the White House was in getting the necessary support from the elected representatives within President’s own party to passing the health care bill. Obviously, getting a bi-partisan approval would be even better and go a long way to show Obama’s leadership skill to make deals that are critical to the public.

Clintons and Obama’s Health Plan

(Posted last week, Asian Tribune, Aug. 16, 2009)

Last week, Secretary Clinton was in Congo. A Congolese university student asked what her husband thought about a multibillion-dollar Chinese loan offer to Congo. She was visibly upset with the question and snapped, “My husband is not secretary of state, I am.” She asked, "You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" "If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion," she said. "I am not going to be channeling my husband." Many observers and analysts have called Mrs. Clinton’s instant reaction to the student’s question unbecoming of the top diplomat of the USA. Some have even tried to explain her behavior as a reaction of a disgruntled wife who felt sidelined by her husband who had earlier won the release of two American journalists from North Korea, capturing headlines in the media, something that she could not do with her trip to Africa.
The past week was also a very busy one for the White House promoting President Obama’s public health insurance plan. As he had promised during his 2008 election campaign, Obama is serious about bringing the healthcare to millions of uninsured Americans that are denied of any service in the healthcare sector. The American health care system is a capitalistic one that caters to the needs of those who are insured, often paying high premium insurance bills. It is like a Mafia-type extortion - a racket - that allows anyone employed within the healthcare industry to demand high payoffs. Naturally the American doctors and nurses are better paid than their counterparts in any country. Pharmaceutical companies also charge exorbitant charges for their prescription drugs. Most elderly and low income Americans today can’t afford those costly healthcare plans and thus are forced to remain uninsured or underinsured, routinely being denied such services when they need those most. And yet, many Americans are confused about Obama’s plan; they think it will cost them high taxes, which they refuse to pay. Americans obviously pay less tax than people in Canada and most of European countries.
The Republicans and the conservatives called Obama’s plan a “socialist nightmare.” Sarah Palin, the Republican former vice-presidential candidate, earlier in the week condemned Obama's plans as an "evil" move that would result in "death panels" deciding who would live or die. Other Republicans have echoed her criticism by saying that Obama’s plan is like UK’s NHS, as if it’s a bad plan that Americans ought to be away from trying. To further spice up the debate, the former Speaker Newt Gingrich said British healthcare was run by "Orwellian" bureaucrats who put a price tag on life.
Britons were offended by such nasty and unkind criticism of their NHS. Prime Minister Gordon Brown praised UK’s plan and so did the opposition Conservative Party leader David Cameron who added his voice to the defense campaign with a posting on his party's Web site. "Millions of people are grateful for the care they have received from the NHS -- including my own family… One of the wonderful things about living in this country is that the moment you're injured or fall ill -- no matter who you are, where you are from, or how much money you've got -- you know that the NHS will look after you."
Even the Nobel Laureate physicist Stephen Hawking came to defend the NHS by saying, "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS… I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived."
To allay people’s fear, President Obama on Friday took his push for a health care overhaul to traditionally conservative Montana, saying a bill to extend coverage to the uninsured while helping those already with coverage will pass this year. He said that two-thirds of the cost of overhauling health care -- estimated at about $900 billion over 10 years -- would come from eliminating waste and improving efficiency in the current system, which includes the government-run Medicare and Medicaid programs for the elderly and impoverished. The rest would come from new revenue, i.e., higher taxes. However, he called for reducing the amount of deductions that people making more than $250,000 a year can make on their income taxes. "If we did that alone, just that change alone ... that would raise enough to pay for health care reform," Obama said, noting that would meet his election campaign pledge to avoid any tax increase on people earning less than $250,000 a year.
But things don’t look that promising now. The conservative radio and TV talk show hosts are painting Obama as a Nazi Hitler-like monster. Democratic senators and congressmen supporting the President’s plan are getting an earful from angry protesters, even the elderly - the supposed beneficiary of the new initiative. Even the Democratic law-makers are divided on the plan. For instance, congressman Murtha (D-PA) seems opposed to the plan.
If the past week is any indicator of the future, it appears that passage of a healthcare plan, modeled much like UK’s NHS, may see more nasty fights over it in coming weeks and months. At this time, one can only hope that President Obama’s plan will not be dumped much like his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton’s. America, the most prosperous nation on earth, simply cannot afford a status quo in this vital issue of our time, affecting so many that are routinely denied healthcare services because of the current system being unaffordable to them. They need a change and Obama’s plan offers that change.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Comments on Israelis killing Palestinians for organs

For years there were rumors that the Israeli government was trying to poison Palestinian wells, inject women with infertility shots and taking organs from dead Palestinians. Afraid of being dumped as anti-Semites, reporters ignored such horrendous crimes of the Zionist state against unarmed Palestinians. Thanks to Aftonbladet, now for the first time, we have some proofs. Yes, the report is too much for all those hypocrites who were more interested in protecting the image of the apartheid state.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Comments on the Times report: - Burma is China's problem to solve

(Comment Posted in the Times Online on Aug. 13, 2009)

Both communist China and democratic India are the biggest trading partners of the Myanmar regime, providing the necessary transfusion that the hated regime requires to sustain its criminal hold on the country. So, if we want to see a difference in the attitude of the military regime, both these countries have to stop their trades with Burma and impose conditions for any future trading that mandates people's rule in a free election, allowing all the people - from marginalized Rohingyas of Arakan (denied of their citizenship rights) to the Karens to the Shans to the Burman majority and all other religious communities that live inside Burma.

But the sad fact is both these neighbors of Burma care less about such easing of civil rights in Burma and care more for trading that helps their economy. Burma is also not the Middle East and as such, we won't see much progress towards punishing the regime from our western countries either. It is a sad, sad situation in Burma and her unfortunate people.

French ban on Burkini-clam Muslim woman

(Posted in the Times Online on Aug. 13, 2009)

As a student of history for most of my life, nothing really surprises me any more about blatant violations of human rights in France, the very country that once presented us with the slogans of equality, liberty and fraternity. This country and its laws and regulations now epitomize hypocrisy. One has to really question the IQ of that seemingly intellectually disadvantaged chief lifeguard who found a head-to-toe swimsuit called burkini less hygienic than a man's brief trunk or a western woman's swimsuit. By implementing such moronic laws, he and his supporters within France society are showing that their secularism really sucks, and is worse than the Taliban version. The French fundamentalist secularists are behaving like morons that are failing to differentiate between common sense and stupid laws that make no sense except showing despicable arrogance. Shame on France for such discrimination and exclusion.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Blackwater – America’s Mercenary Crusaders

If you have been following the Iraqi Invasion and the subsequent American Occupation, you probably did not miss hearing about the trigger-happy Blackwater mercenaries. Blackwater (now Xe Services) is the largest private military (mercenary) company in the USA that trains more than 40,000 people a year. The training consists of military offensive and defensive operations, as well as smaller scale personal security. The company has nine business units. Its Aviation Worldwide Services (AWS) provide services to the CIA, and its aircrafts have also been used in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” programs.
Blackwater first came to our attention in 2003 when it received a $21 million no-bid contract from the U.S. government for guarding L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Within months, it drew much notoriety for trigger-happy, killer instinct of its guards that resulted in wanton killing of unarmed civilians. The Iraqis hated these savages who had no respect for human lives. On March 31, 2004, when four Blackwater employees were ambushed and killed in Fallujah, its residents displayed their public anger by hanging their charred bodies from the bridge.
From published reports, it is believed that since June 2004, Blackwater has been paid more than $320 million out of a $1 billion, five-year State Department budget protecting U.S. officials and some foreign officials in conflict zones. In 2006, Blackwater also won the contract to protect diplomats for the U.S. embassy in Iraq. For the security work in Iraq, Blackwater draws contractors from its international pool of professionals, a database containing “21,000 former Special Forces operatives, soldiers, and retired law enforcement agents” overall. It is estimated by the Pentagon and company representatives that there are 20,000 to 30,000 armed security contractors working in Iraq.
Between 2005 and September 2007, Blackwater’s security personnel were involved in 195 shooting incidents; in 163 of those cases, its personnel fired first. The company fired 25 members for violations of drug and alcohol policy and 28 more for weapons-related incidents.
The following incidents, extracted from the Wikipedia, offer glimpses of Blackwater’s shoot-first mentality. On February 16, 2005, four Blackwater guards escorting a U.S. State Department convoy fired 70 bullets into an Iraqi’s car, claiming that they felt threatened by the car’s approach. An investigation by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service concluded that the shooting was not justified and that the Blackwater employees provided false statements to investigators. The U.S. Embassy’s top security officer declined to punish Blackwater or the security guards, stating that “any disciplinary actions would be deemed as lowering the morale” of the Blackwater contractors.
On February 6, 2006, a Blackwater sniper opened fire from the roof of the Iraqi Justice Ministry, killing three Iraqi guards working for the state-funded Iraqi Media Network. An Iraqi police report found that Blackwater had “caused the incident,” and described it as “an act of terrorism.” On Christmas Eve 2006, a Blackwater employee Andrew Moonen killed the security guard of the Iraqi vice president, Adel Abdul Mahdi while on duty outside the Iraqi prime minister’s compound. While Moonen lost his job with Blackwater, he has since been employed by U.S. Defense Department contractor Combat Support Associates (CSA) in Kuwait. No other criminal charges have been filed against him by the US government.
Throughout their stay in Iraq, there were many such occasions in which Blackwater mercenaries would open fire into the crowd on the streets killing civilians when they were not threatened at all. It was like a recreational sport for them. As a matter of fact, any civilian which came close to a Blackwater convoy or personnel would be killed unprovoked. The Iraqi government had no authority to punish them.
On September 16, 2007, Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad. The fatalities occurred while a Blackwater Personal Security Detail (PSD) was escorting a convoy of U.S. State Department vehicles en route to a meeting in western Baghdad with USAID officials. The U.S. military reports indicate Blackwater’s guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force. Iraq’s government vowed to punish Blackwater after an Iraqi inquiry found that the guards were “not touched even by a stone” when they opened fire on the civilians in Nisour Square. As the NY Times later reported during the incident one member of the Blackwater security team continued to fire on civilians, despite urgent cease-fire calls from colleagues. Federal prosecutors convened a grand jury in the aftermath of the shootings. A number of Iraqi victims and victims’ families have filed a lawsuit against Blackwater in Atban, et al. v. Blackwater USA, et al. Five Blackwater employees are awaiting trial on several manslaughter charges and a sixth, Jeremy Ridgeway, has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempting to commit manslaughter and is cooperating with prosecutors.
So, what is new about these criminal mercenaries? This past week, a former Blackwater employee (identified in the court papers as John Doe #2) and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company (identified as John Doe #1) have made some explosive accusations. In sworn statements filed in federal court in Virginia, the two men claimed that Erik Prince, the company’s owner, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. John Doe #2 also alleges that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.” To that end, “Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar,” the Christian Jihadists who fought the Crusades. Mr. Prince’s executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to “lay Hajiis out on cardboard.” Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince’s employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as “ragheads” or “hajiis.”

According to award-winning investigative journalist, correspondent for the national radio and TV program “Democracy Now,” and author of the bestselling book - Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Jeremy Scahill, “In their testimony, both men also allege that Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq. One of the men alleges that Prince turned a profit by transporting “illegal” or “unlawful” weapons into the country on Prince’s private planes. They also charge that Prince and other Blackwater executives destroyed incriminating videos, emails and other documents and have intentionally deceived the US State Department and other federal agencies. The identities of the two individuals were sealed out of concerns for their safety.”

These allegations, and a series of other charges, were filed late at night on August 3 as part of a 70-page motion by lawyers for Iraqi civilians suing Blackwater for war crimes and other misconduct.
Doe #1 states that he “personally observed multiple incidents of Blackwater personnel intentionally using unnecessary, excessive and unjustified deadly force.” He then cites several specific examples of Blackwater personnel firing at civilians, killing or “seriously” wounding them, and then failing to report the incidents to the State Department. He alleges, “Blackwater did nothing to stop this misconduct.” Doe #1 also alleges that “all of these incidents of excessive force were initially videotaped and voice recorded,” but that “Immediately after the day concluded, we would watch the video in a session called a ‘hot wash.’ Immediately after the hotwashing, the video was erased to prevent anyone other than Blackwater personnel seeing what had actually occurred.” Blackwater, he says, “did not provide the video to the State Department.”
Doe #2, a former member of Blackwater's management team, expands on the issue of unconventional weapons, alleging Prince “made available to his employees in Iraq various weapons not authorized by the United States contracting authorities, such as hand grenades and hand grenade launchers. Mr. Prince’s employees repeatedly used this illegal weaponry in Iraq, unnecessarily killing scores of innocent Iraqis.” Specifically, he alleges that Prince “obtained illegal ammunition from an American company called LeMas. This company sold ammunition designed to explode after penetrating within the human body. Mr. Prince’s employees repeatedly used this illegal ammunition in Iraq to inflict maximum damage on Iraqis.”
As Scahill tells Keith Olbermann of the MSNBC, “Obviously to hear the term murder and Blackwater in the same sentence is no great surprise, particularly to people who have been following the history of this company… Erik Prince viewed Blackwater as a neo-crusader force and has from the beginning. This is a guy who comes from the powerhouse of the radical religious right. His father was a major bank roller and gave the seed money to Gary Bauer to start the Family Research Council, [and] James Dobson, Focus on the Family. And then we have his force employed in Iraq as part of a war against a Muslim nation that George Bush characterized as a crusade. What we have here, Keith, is a confirmation from insiders at Blackwater that, in fact, Erik Prince did have a neo-crusader agenda, and, most explosively, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were intending to or did cooperate in the federal government’s criminal investigation of Blackwater. This is deadly serious.”
When asked by Olbermann how the Bush administration’s State Department could have missed this crusader element, Scahill said, “I think it was considered a plus in the Bush White House… what we had here was the Bush administration essentially create a force that acted as an armed wing of the administration, not subject to the military command, not subject to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, that reported directly to George Bush’s secretary of state and then to the president. These were his men, his private force in Baghdad. And the allegations that they were running around shooting Iraqis as part of a war to eliminate Islam globally, as is actually what one of these individuals said, is extremely disturbing to anyone who believes in any semblance of Constitution, law or human rights.”
When Congressman Dennis Kucinich was briefed on the substance of the court allegations by The Nation, he replied, “If these allegations are true, Blackwater has been a criminal enterprise defrauding taxpayers and murdering innocent civilians.” Kucinich is on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and has been investigating Prince and Blackwater since 2004. He said, “Blackwater is a law unto itself, both internationally and domestically. The question is why they operated with impunity. In addition to Blackwater, we should be questioning their patrons in the previous administration who funded and employed this organization. Blackwater wouldn’t exist without federal patronage; these allegations should be thoroughly investigated.”
If actions mimic one’s intentions, obviously, we had plenty of incriminating hard evidences to suspect that something was fundamentally wrong – not just with the Iraqi war as to why and how it was planned and conducted, but also with the mercenaries sent there whose members appeared drugged or demon possessed. Just as with the Christian extremists within the U.S. Military, we now have a Christian mercenary force Blackwater, employed by the U.S. government, which saw the Iraqi battlefield as its personal Crusade to go and kill Muslims. In that toxic equation, motivated by their Christian faith and Crusading zeal, every crime from committing gruesome murders, slaughtering Iraqi civilians for sport and fun, smuggling unauthorized deadly weapons to destroying incriminating evidence came easy. No actions thus were taken by the U.S. government to punish these neo-Crusading soldiers of the Christ committing horrendous war crimes.
But how long can the U.S. government and its Congress hoodwink global citizens from seeing its ugly, noxious package of Christian militarism?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

China and her energy and defense strategy

China and her energy and defense strategy

Extracted from

Although China is expected to continue to rely on coal as its primary fuel source, consumption of petroleum and other liquid fuels will likely grow significantly, due in large part to growth in the transportation sector. China plans to increase natural gas utilization from three percent to eight percent of total consumption by 2010. Similarly, China plans to build some 40 1,000-megawatt nuclear power reactors by 2020, increasing nuclear power from two to six percent of total electricity output.
China currently consumes approximately 7.85 million barrels of oil per day. By 2015, China’s oil consumption could rise to 10-12 million barrels per day. In May 2008, China became the world’s second-largest importer of crude oil, surpassing Japan. China currently imports over 53 percent of its oil (around 4.04 million barrels per day in 2007). China imports about 46 percent of its imports from the Middle East, 32 percent from Africa, and 5 percent from East Asia. In 2008, Saudi Arabia was China’s largest supplier at about 725,000 barrels of oil per day. Saudi Arabia is followed by Angola at about 596,000 barrels of oil per day, and Iran at about 425,000 barrels of oil per day. The vast majority of its imported oil is carried on ships transiting through the Malacca or Lombok/Makkasar Straits.

Figure 1. China’s Critical Sea Lanes. Like many other industrialized East Asian countries, China is heavily dependent upon critical sea lanes for its energy imports. Over 80 percent of China’s crude oil imports transit the Strait of Malacca.

In 2006, China’s top three suppliers were: Angola (16 percent), Saudi Arabia (16 percent), and Iran (12 percent). In 2007, six percent of China’s crude oil imports came from Sudan. Currently, slightly over half of China’s imported oil comes from the Middle East and almost a quarter is imported from Africa. China’s national oil companies have invested in oil ventures (oilfield development, and pipeline and refinery projects) in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Nigeria, Sudan, and in over 20 other countries in North Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and North America.

Territorial dispute:

While China and India have improved bilateral relations, tensions remain along their shared 4,057 km border, most notably over Arunachal Pradesh. In June 2008, PRC troops entered more than a kilometer into the northernmost point of India’s Sikkim state. PRC soldiers, in May, had threatened to demolish stone structures in the area. In May 2008, India’s Minister of External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee visited the PRC and signed a Memorandum of Understanding to expand bilateral military cooperation. Following local elections in November 2008, Mukherjee stated that Arunachal Pradesh is “an integral part of India.” A spokesman for the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the statement.
India. China has deepened its ties with India through increased trade, high-level dialogues, and an improved military-to-military relationship. China and India agreed to boost trade from $11.4 billion in 2007 to $40 billion in 2010, and they have held several rounds of dialogue over disputed territorial claims. Sino-Indian defense ties were institutionalized in 2007 with the establishment of an Annual Defense Dialogue and by conducting three bilateral defense exercises since 2007. However, the PLA remains concerned with persistent disputes along China’s shared border with India and the strategic ramifications of India’s rising economic, political, and military power. The PLA has replaced older liquid-fueled nuclear-capable CSS-3 IRBMs with more advanced solid-fueled CSS-5 MRBMs in Western China, and may possibly be developing contingency plans to move airborne troops into the region.

Demographic pressure:
Between 2000 and 2030, over 400 million people – a population greater than the entire United States – will transition from the countryside into urban areas. As a result of this shift, China’s leaders will face challenges in terms of job creation as well as satisfying housing and infrastructure needs. Some estimates suggest that China is expected to account for half of global building construction during that period. China’s population is also aging rapidly; China’s population of 146 million senior citizens will increase to an estimated 290 million by 2025. Accommodating the needs of a large senior citizen population will present challenges to the CCP’s ability to maintain economic growth, growing defense budgets, and perhaps domestic stability.

Defense priorities:
On March 4, 2008, Beijing announced a 17.6 percent increase in its military budget to approximately $60 billion. China’s military budget doubled between 1989 and 1994, and almost doubled again between 1994 and 1999. The 2005 military budget was almost ten times the 1989 military budget. If these trends continue, China’s military budget for 2009 will nearly double the 2005 figure.
China continues a two-decade trend of double digit percentage annual increases in its military budget. These increases surpass the percentage increases of its overall economic growth. Analysis of 1996-2008 data indicates that China’s officially disclosed defense budget grew at an average of 12.9 percent in real terms over the period, while GDP grew at 9.6 percent.
The Department of Defense estimates China’s total military-related spending for 2008 to be between $105 billion and $150 billion, using 2007 prices and exchange rates.

A letter to Congressman Ron Klein of Florida

Dear Congressman Klein,
What is needed is a nuclear-free world, and not just nuclear-free Iran. What you guys are proposing in the House is a hypocritical one to safeguard the nuclear-Brahmins while going after nuclear-wannabes, the nomo-sudra, nuclear-untouchables like Iran. Why not at least try for a nuclear-free Middle East by ensuring that Israel does not have nuclear arsenal? Do you know that Israel is not even a signatory to the NPT while Iran is? But you won't do that essential task, and you won't even condemn the rogue state for her monumental war crimes.

So, why all this fuss about Iran's nuclear peaceful program? Have not we seen enough what the immediately past Republican administration did to our economy by misleading our nation into Iraq's never-to-be-found WMDs? If you have found one WMD there, please, share that information with our American citizens before trying to push us into a new war against Iran.

And please, stop your hypocritical resolutions in the House, behaving like an Amen Center for the Israeli government that likes nothing better than the U.S. fighting its dirty wars. Such old games are counterproductive and harmful to our national interest, and must be shun. I condemn your hypocritical act wholeheartedly.

I hope my concerned voice is worth some pondering for you people in the congress.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Can corruption be ever weeded out in Bangladesh?


On July 29, 2009, the BBC News had a report on corruption in Bangladesh (Corruption Still Haunts Bangladesh). It noted that an entrepreneur who wanted to start an export company last year had to wait more than a year getting the necessary license and had to return to government offices multiple times, each time paying bribe to a different person. What is also worrisome, as pointed out by the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Dhaka, is the mere perception amongst the filthy rich in Bangladesh that they can buy success through corruption, and need not be efficient or honest.
Reports like that in the BBC or elsewhere shouldn’t surprise anyone. Just a look at the Transparency International (TI) corruption perception index between 2004 and 2007 is enough to understand what direction Bangladesh was heading (2008: Ranked 147 out of 180; 2007: Ranked 167 out of 179; 2006: Ranked 156 out of 163; 2005: Ranked 158 out of 158; 2004: Ranked 145 out of 145). Does government have a role in this TI trend? Sure. Is it the only party responsible for corruption? No.
What we have in Bangladesh is a vicious cycle in which corruption begets corruption and creates a society where one is either a giver or taker of bribe – both unlawful (haram) deeds. Very few Bangladeshis can claim to be outside this noxious embrace. Truly, corruption has lost its color and badge in our society where the difference between right and wrong, moral and immoral is increasingly becoming blurred. In our society today, money matters. Thus, many parents would rather have their daughter marry someone who is dishonest and yet makes enough “extra” income (another name for bribe) through corruption.
What this does is something ruinous to any society. Corruption pushes the honest and incorruptible ones (in spite of the doom and gloom environment in Bangladesh, there are plenty of those noble souls in every sector) to feel suffocated as if they don’t belong there and look for opportunities outside the country. And once the door to outside employment or immigration opens up for them, they don’t want to return to Bangladesh. Foreign governments and employers are, however, willing to accept only the best and smartest ones that they can get. It is not difficult to conclude that corruption eventually leads to a brain-drain phenomenon leaving behind a society in which the mediocre and less bright ones rule and run the society. Sycophancy becomes a sure way for upward mobility in job and social status. Crime thrives on corruption, eventually both acting like parasites eat away the fabric of the civic society to a status of no return. Most people in that condition cannot even differentiate the exceptions to the rule from the norms.
This past week a marketing company that is interested about importing chemicals from the USA and Canada to Bangladesh contacted an expatriate. It was for a big supply requiring good product knowledge and selecting the best of the suppliers. When asked WIIFM (what’s in it for me), the buyer said that the agent should try to get kickback from the suppliers, i.e., can't expect any commission from him. He did not understand that what he proposed is illegal in western countries (and very few will cross the line there).
The other day an old cadet college friend of mine who has been involved for the last two decades in poverty alleviation projects through empowering the poor was telling his story of how he failed to bring an EU funded project in 1999 (worth Tk. 200 crore) to the hilly districts of Chittagong simply because the minister in charge (Kalpa Ranjan Chakma) demanded a payment of Tk. 5 crore before he would approve the project helping his own people.
Last week, in a friendly gathering in suburban Philadelphia, a college professor shared his bitter experience about Bangladesh. He was saddened by the fact that many unscrupulous individuals were willing to reward crime. He was upset, and rightly so, that some expatriates living in the USA, eager to own a footprint now in Dhaka, were buying properties from known crooks in the housing sector who had built apartments on illegally grabbed land, simply because their asking price was lower than that offered by a genuine developer. If that be the attitude of our educated professionals, we are probably in a worse mess than perceived by our social scientists! It is sad to see how the demarcating line between halal (lawful) and haram (unlawful) is getting fuzzy and foggy.
In spite of such an exhibition of rotting corpse of moral decadence, probably everything is not lost. Our young generation is seeking a change for the better -- away from the dark days of the past when most of the high-stake government business deals were made not inside the Secretariat but inside the Hawa Bhavan. It is their overwhelming support for the Mahajote (Grand) Alliance that made the big difference in the last election. They voted hoping that the new government would fight corruption, thus changing the ominous perception from a corruption-infested society to one that promised honesty. But will their aspirations for a corruption-free society ever materialize?
It would be unwise to expect miracles so soon. One of the major declared aims of the Hasina administration is to weed out corruption, thus encouraging foreign and local investment, esp. in the private sector, which it hopes will open up more employment opportunities. Mindful of concerns and dreams of the young generations, the Prime Minister has not included any of the old guards in her cabinet. None of the new ministers has yet been accused of any corruption. But fact remains that the government inherits a highly bureaucratic system that is not streamlined in delivering results or resolving issues fast. It is highly inefficient and quite corrupt. Corruption is pervasive, structural, and persistent due, in part, to the high degree of state involvement in the economy and the weakness of the rule of law. A personal experience may shed some light here.
Last February while I was visiting Bangladesh, meeting with some ministers and high ranking government officials responsible for upholding law and order, and weeding out corruption, discussing concerns of the expatriate community, the leader of a land-grabbing crime syndicate (Jaker Chowdhury) was still able to victimize my family. In an earlier court decision, Jaker and nine members of his land-grabbing crime syndicate were found guilty and sentenced to a 6.5-year prison term for unlawfully demolishing nine homes and evicting sixteen tenant families from our Khulshi properties in 2005 (during the BNP rule). (The property has been legally owned and lived by my parents since the 1950s.) However, free on temporary bail, Jaker was able to bribe an unscrupulous (Chittagong metropolitan) Additional Magistrate Asaduzzaman Khan (reportedly paying him Tk. 40,000) to issue an arrest warrant against my father, sister and two brothers-in-law without requiring any police inquiry of the false charges made against them. Advised by a dishonest pleader, Jaker alleged that my father had tried to kill him by squeezing his testicles (and what else is possible for an 83-old man!) around mid-February in our premises! Interestingly, to accentuate the gravity of the crime, he claimed that my father was a man of 52 and my sister of 38 years young. For the last several months, our Khulshi properties have been under Ansar guard. Any person with an iota of intelligence could have seen the serious flaw with the accusation and would have thrown it on the face of the accuser, but not a corrupt magistrate. My father had to come to Dhaka with others, leaving my sick mother (a writer and retired college professor) behind, who needed constant care because of her cervical spondylolisthesis. After months of moving between courts (city to High Court), just last week, we got a quashment from the High Court. It ended up costing us nearly two hundred thousand taka -- just on legal fees alone. For what? To challenge an undeserving warrant, courtesy of a corrupt magistrate!
When I reflect upon the fact that we are, by the grace of the Almighty, financially well off and could handle such false cases, albeit under lots of physical, monetary and mental torture, what chances do our ordinary folks – the Salimuddin and Kalimuddins - have in fighting against criminal syndicates? Nada, zero. Will the government prosecutors ever bring such criminals and corrupt magistrates to justice for harassing law-abiding and peace-loving citizens? I doubt it.
In my meeting with the Law Minister when I asked him if his office could take any action against the corrupt magistrate, he said that because of separation of administration from the legal body of government, his office could not, and advised me that I approach the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It took me nearly a month to just get an appointment with the minister, and I was not prepared to wait another month to see the chief justice, and thus, returned to the USA disappointed. In our meeting with the chief lawyer of the government we were advised to sell off our family properties, which sounded like getting rid of one’s head for a headache problem.
None of these examples should make anyone feel good about looming corruption inside Bangladesh. Knowing the bureaucratic hassles and kickbacks investors have to endure and pay, they simply would shy away from investing in Bangladesh. The accounting procedures in Bangladesh have not been transparent either, allowing corrupt government officials to fatten their own coffers while the state treasure remains empty.
The current Mahajote government ought to redress these issues and make an environment that is investment friendly. It must earn the trust of the people that are sick of corruption by correctly identifying and punishing corrupt government officials. With the appointment of Mr. Golam Rahman, it has energized the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). It must empower the ACC sufficiently so that the latter could function as the most powerful watchdog against corruption in Bangladesh. All the ACC officers must also be well paid so that in carrying out their tasks they are not themselves corrupted. The corrupting influence of partisans, politicians, student leaders, chatar dal and mastans need to be clamped down.
Crime and corruption have a very caustic effect on everything they touch within the society. Individual citizens have a vital role in weeding out corruption. They can make it or break it. They must know that those who perpetrate injustice and those who tolerate the same are both guilty parties. They can only act as responsible citizens by refusing to be drawn into corruption and also acting as eyes and ears of the society against this vice.
Is there a future for Bangladesh getting out of this mighty mess of immorality and corruption? I don't know but do feel that something ought to be done fast because if we don't, we all become a nation that breeds and sustains a system that is so bad that only those who are buried under the ground are better off than those living on it. But the living ones deserve better!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Obama’s Beer Party

Last week if you have listened to the American media, you could not have missed this single most important event of the week - President Barack Obama’s beer party in the White House! Every other news item seemed to get relegated to not-so-important status while the nation was abuzz with this one. So, what did really happen, leading to the White House beer party?
Well, the story goes like this. According to a Cambridge, Massachusetts police report, on Thursday afternoon, July 16, 2009, a white woman reported seeing a man “wedging his shoulder into the front door as to pry the door open.” [Apparently, the white neighbor did not know the owner - Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., historian and director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, who is black.] Campus police arrived at the scene of probable burglary attempt and found Gates there. A campus police officer Sgt. Crowley ordered Gates to identify himself, and Gates refused, according to the police report. Gates began calling the officer a racist and said repeatedly, “This is what happens to black men in America.” Officers said they tried to calm down the 58-year-old academic, who responded, “You don’t know who you’re messing with,” according to the police report. Gates was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge after police said he “exhibited loud and tumultuous behavior.” He was released later that day on his own recognizance and arraignment was scheduled for Aug. 26.
The other version from Gates’s side is: Gates had just returned home from a trip to China. (He was in China filming for a documentary tracing the ancestry of cellist Yo-Yo Ma.) When he got to his house, he tried to open his front door, but it was jammed. He tried to force his way in. That is when he saw campus police come in. Gates accused the Cambridge police of racism after being arrested trying to get into his own locked home near Harvard University on Thursday, July 16, 2009. According to Gates’s lawyer, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, Gates showed Crowley his Massachusetts state ID and Harvard University ID. According to the police report, however, Gates refused to submit identification, demanded Crowley’s badge number and yelled at Crowley while following him outside. Gates was arrested for “disorderly conduct.” Charges were later dropped on July 21.
The July 16 arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. for disorderly conduct in his own home sparked a national debate over racial profiling and police conduct. Many of Gates’s African-American colleagues believe his arrest is part of a pattern of racial profiling in Cambridge. The controversy intensified days later after President Obama weighed in on the arrest of Professor Gates, saying on July 22 that the Cambridge police officer had “acted stupidly” when he arrested Gates for disorderly conduct. In a much publicized media appearance, Sgt. Crowley disagreed with the President.
Soon after Obama’s remarks a poll was conducted Wednesday to Sunday, July 22-26 by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center to find his approval rating among Americans as they watched him wade into the racially tinged dispute between a white Cambridge, Mass., police officer and a well-known black Harvard scholar. The poll found that 41 percent of respondents disapproved of Obama’s handling of the Gates arrest, compared with 29 percent who approved. The poll also found the incident and Obama’s reaction saturated the public consciousness. As many as 80 percent of Americans said they are now aware of Obama’s comments on the matter. The president’s approval ratings fell, especially among working-class whites, as the focus of the Gates story shifted from details about the incident to Obama’s remarks, the poll said. Among whites in general, more disapprove than approve of his comments by a two-to-one margin. Interestingly, in polling of racial minorities and Hispanics, Obama’s approval with that group of respondents rose from 63 percent among those interviewed Wednesday and Thursday to 74 percent among those interviewed Friday through Sunday.
On July 24, trying to stop a national uproar over race, President Barack Obama acknowledged that he had used unfortunate words in declaring that Cambridge, Mass., police “acted stupidly” in arresting black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. “I could’ve calibrated those words differently,” he said. He stopped short of a public apology. But the president telephoned both Gates and the white officer who had arrested him, hoping to end the rancorous back-and-forth over what had transpired and what Obama had said about it. Trying to lighten the situation, he said he had invited the Harvard professor and police Sgt. James Crowley for “a beer here in the White House.”
The rest is history. Sgt. Crowley and Professor Gates accepted the offer. On July 30, Thursday evening they sat around a patio table with President Obama and Vice President Biden, drank beer, munched on snacks and talked about the arrest that has sparked debate about racial profiling and police procedures. “It was a private discussion. It was a frank discussion,” Crowley said of the meeting. In his website, The Root, Gates said, “It is incumbent upon Sergeant Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand.” No one apologized.
So what is your take on the biggest story of the past week? Who acted stupidly? Gates, Crowley or Obama?
If you think like UCLA law Professor Adam Winkler, here is his valued opinion (as posted in the Huffington Post): “The Cambridge Police should be training their officers to know the difference between legal and illegal conduct. What Gates did was probably not so smart -- in general, be nice to people carrying guns -- but it wasn’t disorderly conduct. At least not in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That explains why the charges against Gates were dropped. It wasn’t because the police were trying to defuse the situation. It was because Gates had done nothing illegal. Arresting someone for doing something that isn’t illegal is pretty stupid. Then again, perhaps Obama was wrong. Maybe the police officer wasn’t acting stupidly. He was just acting abusively. That is even worse.”
One thing for sure: race still matters in America.