Saturday, January 28, 2012

Living between the two worlds - 2

My port city of Chittagong, situated on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, in Bangladesh is no longer the town that I grew up with or the city that I left some 34 years ago when I came to North America to pursue higher studies. Chittagong was a sleepy little beautiful town on the edges of vast hilly terrain that stretched throughout the entire district. There were enough roads to commute easily anywhere. The air was fresh and clean. The people were nice, warmhearted and helping, watching out for each other.

I remember that in some of the weekends, which usually meant Friday, my parents would take us all in our family car for picnics in the nearby Chittagong Hill Tracts, or the beautiful Patenga Beach, or the Fauzdarhat Beach, or to some other scenic picnic spots on the hills in and around the town. Those scenic spots were sparsely crowded to enjoy a family outing.

Back in the late 1970s, the city population was below a million. Today, Chittagong cannot be recognized by anyone who had been away from this growing metropolis for a decade or two. It is now one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Although official estimate of the city would put the population at around six million, the actual population is between eight and ten million. While most city roads have widened somewhat in the last three decades, hardly any new road has been built, thus adding to the growing agony of the daily commuters who have grown ten-fold. With all the new imported cars, buses and trucks, let alone single-engine taxis, gridlocks are now a daily nuisance that the city dwellers must live with. The air is polluted and unhealthy.

So, when I visit my parents in Chittagong, I usually prefer not to go anywhere but spend time with them and my siblings. Outside the Foy’s Lake, located close to my parents’ home in the northern part of the city, most of the picnic spots are long gone, having made spaces for the booming real estate business. Even the beaches are so crowded these days that they don’t attract me any more to spend some quiet times when the sun sets into the Bay of Bengal.

Commuting within the city, even meeting family members, is no longer fun. It could take anywhere from half an hour to an hour just to go a mere 3 to 4 miles by car or taxi, depending on the time of the day one is traveling. Dr. Aynul Haque, a businessman friend of mine who is a prominent developer in the city, was lamenting that the country was losing at least 20% of its GDP because of such delays in commuting. In some of the major crossings, and there are plenty of those in any major city including Chittagong, a commuter may end up waiting for 15-20 minutes before the road clears.

Bangladeshi roads, like in many parts of South Asia, are still swamped with rickshaws. It does not take a genius to figure out that if the vehicles, manually pedaled or engine powered, move at different speeds it is the slowest one that would dictate the flow or speed of the traffic. Thus, in most roads and crossings, Chittagong City has its share of problems dealing with the slow-moving rickshaws. Pulling a rickshaw, although a very laborious and tiresome task, is easy to learn for anyone. It does not require any test, conducted by the municipal office, to get a license. And the earning at the end of the day is not bad either. With the ever expanding mechanized ploughing introduced in the agriculture sector, and the shrinking job market in the rural areas, many of the poor (usually landless) peasants have no other alternative but to seek jobs in cities. Once they find a job, they then bring their family members to live in ever expanding shanty towns that dot most cities as eyesores for the local residents.

Zakir Hossain Road that runs in front of my parent’s home is now 65 feet wide. A half century ago, it was a narrow patch of muddy road, where my father could not bring his car into our properties. We had to leave our car, half a mile away, near a Muslim shrine, Goribullah Shah Mazar. We would then either walk or take a rickshaw to come to our properties. But now this very road, connected to Dhaka Trunk Road - connecting the port of Chittagong to the capital city of Dhaka -- is one of the busiest roads in the city. With all the heavy convoys moving from the industrial parts of the city to either the port or the capital city, even in the late hours of the night this road does not sleep. Even to crossover to the other side of the road can be quite hazardous!

Many residents have found out that it actually takes less time to walk to their banks or shops than to take a ride in a car, taxi or rickshaw. Unfortunately for the pedestrians, the footpaths are ever shrinking, thanks to many shoppers and vendors who have made a habit of bringing out their merchandize all the way to the footpaths. The traffic and local police ignore such incursions on public properties. In most cities, the city government is inexcusably dysfunctional providing hardly any service to their tax-payers. Garbage is rarely picked up completely and parts of most roads and footpaths are littered with such dumps, which pushes pedestrians to walk on the edges of busy roads. And then with never ending construction works by the developers or city utility companies, both the roads and the footpaths that run parallel become narrower, thus adding to annoyance of all – drivers and pedestrians alike.

With the ever-expanding middle class, and their preference to own flats or apartments rather than live as tenants, the real estate business is booming. So fast is this change that I often have serious difficulty recognizing the landscape of the city, in spite of the fact that I visit Bangladesh every year!

Bangladesh with an approximate 56,000 square miles area and a population in excess of 150 million, is one of the most densely populated places in our planet. Consequently, land-prices are skyrocketing. It is probably the best investment one can make! (However, holding on to one’s legal properties is not easy!)

When I grew up in the town, Chittagong’s tallest building was below ten storied high, and now there are dozens of taller buildings all across the city. In my neighborhood, our house ‘Aranika’ was once the tallest one – a six storied house. And now there are hundreds of taller houses in our neighborhood in Khulshi. That is how fast Chittagong’s skyline is changing!

During the pre-liberation Pakistan era, Chittagong was the second largest city – a major commercial and industrial centre of the then East Pakistan -- and still it is in the post-liberation Bangladesh era. It was the major port then, and still it has held on to its status. However, with globalization, it has evolved into a globally competitive economic hub. The tax-free Export Processing Zone has attracted many international investors to establish their manufacturing centers near the port. With the Port of Chittagong being expanded and developed, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar (Burma) - the regional neighbors of Bangladesh -- have eyed Chittagong as a future regional transit hub. The port city is seen as crucial to the economic development of landlocked southern Asia including Northeast India, Bhutan, Nepal and parts of Southern China and Myanmar.
=================================================
To be continued>>>

For the first part see the link here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

More on the Demography of Arakan in the pre-colonial period

What was the proportion of the Rohingya people (the so-called Bengalis, mostly brought forcibly as slaves by the Mugs or Maghs) before the 1784 invasion of Arakan by the Burmans? Here is a link from Major Roberts' account of Arakan from 1777, some 7 years before the invasion, and nearly half a century before the Anglo-Burman war of 1824-26, which clearly shows that roughly three-quarters, or 75%, of the inhabitants of Arakan were the ancestors of Rohingya.

The piece by Major Roberts also show that the Mugs were really a savage people.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Living between the two worlds - 1

Like many citizens of our world these days, I live between the two worlds. The last month I was away from my adopted country visiting my native home in Bangladesh in South Asia. I still have my parents and siblings living there, and many school-day friends. The journey from Philadelphia takes almost two days to go and another two days to return. I, therefore, found it more appropriate to take this trip, usually a month-long, around December. With the western holidays like the Christmas and New Year’s Eve falling in the last week of December, my vacation time actually becomes five weeks long. It is a dry season with no rainfalls there, and having lived in the West for more than three decades, the winter in Bangladesh is not supposed to be brutal for me. So, every year I visit my native country and last December was no different.

After arriving in the capital city of Dhaka, a megacity of some 16 million people, I decided to take a train ride to reach Chittagong, the second largest city of the country, an ancient port city situated on the Bay of Bengal, where some 8 to 10 million people live. My other options were to take either a plane ride or a bus ride. Everyone cautioned me against taking the bus ride, in spite of all the fancy air-conditioned European buses that provide better comfort than a plane ride. The road condition was horrible and unsafe for such a 6-hour long commute, which can actually take longer than 8 to 10 hours. After flying for almost two days from New York, I was tired of a plane ride, and instead chose a train ride which would give me a chance to see the country better. And I was not disappointed with my choice.

I have been a frequent flyer for many years. Some years ago in one of those rides, I came across an article in an airline magazine which said that if one were to know about a city and how well its municipality works one should look out for the manholes. Why manholes, when there are other more important indicators to understand the state of affairs of a city? Well, nowhere is this indicator more relevant and visible than my native country of Bangladesh where some criminals have found other usefulness with the cover of a manhole. Obviously, a rickshaw or taxi ride to the old part of a town could be hazardous if the rider and the driver are unmindful or unaware of the road hazard.

My habit is to arrive at a station quite early. I would rather wait for an hour than be late, missing my flight, train or bus. The train from Dhaka was to depart from the Kamalapur Station at around 8 a.m. Instead, it left some 30 minutes late, and eventually arriving in my destination almost two hours late. The way the train moved and halted frequently in non-scheduled places it seemed as if its conductor and driver had no rush to be on time. There also appeared to have more riders than the seats available. I was told that the conductors, driver and the rail police have been making illicit money by allowing such riders to ride the train without ticket. They are initially let in to seat in the dining car and an empty bogey that is reserved for offering prayer services and later moved into empty seats as these become available.

Train ride is probably the most sought after ride to reach major cities in south Asia. Not is it only affordable, it is also safer. The train and seats are also kept quite clean. It is not difficult to understand why it is almost impossible to get a ticket unless bought more than a week earlier than the scheduled day of ride. I was told that within minutes such advance tickets are sold, and that for a higher price they can be bought from some illegal vendors, courtesy of corrupt railway officers at the ticket counters.

As the train started pulling out of the capital city of Dhaka, I could see illegal slums built on the railway properties on either side of the rail track. The living conditions there looked so filthy and unhealthy that I doubt if there is any place worse than those slums. And yet, it seemed tens of thousands of migrant workers from remote rural places to the major metropolis had been living there and calling it their homes, almost a permanent home on illegal government properties.

Slums in many major metropolises in the developing world are not a new phenomenon and have been there for decades. The Academy Award winning movie – Slumdog Millionaires – has provided many moviegoers an inside look at life inside a slum in Bombay (Mumbai), probably typical of other slums in South Asia.

As the train whistled past the slum dwellers and like a snake basked into the rural parts of the country, it was too gratifying to see the beauty of the countryside. The success in the agricultural sector was all too visible. There was hardly any spot left uncultivated on either side of the rail track. I could see farmers working in their paddy fields. It was green, yellow and golden all over with sporadic punctuations of rivers, streams and ponds. It is because of the labor of those hardworking farmers that hardly anyone dies of starvation these days in my native country. An agricultural miracle, in deed!

As I recall, during my childhood days whenever I had taken a train ride, and I took many in those days seasonally commuting from my native town in Chittagong, located in the southeast corner of the country, to my school (Rajshahi Cadet College) in Rajshahi, located in the northwestern edge of the country, beggars were a frequent nuisance that the riders had to live with. Any time the train stopped, they would either jump into a bogey or stretch out their hands from the platform asking for money. These days, they are almost invisible. But I could see a new type of beggars. There were some who sought money for their blind or mute classmates.

These intercity trains have their own catering services that provide tea, coffee, snacks and drinks. If one is bored, one can also buy newspapers, magazines, and books. The price, however, was not cheap, at least from a third world economic perspective where the average income is only a fraction of those earned in the West. However, the train passengers seemed quite comfortable spending their money to buy whatever they needed at prices that were not much cheaper than in the West. This again showed that people now have more money to spend and buy things that they desired. So, some level of prosperity must have trickled down to the ordinary masses.

As the train was running late, I frequently asked the conductor to ascertain the time when it would arrive in my destination. Initially, he was not sure either, reflecting on the fact that the train had started late, and his best guess was that it would be late by that time or an hour, maximum. But as the train drifted farther and farther away from its original scheduled time, he had to change his time a few times. Finally, when the train came within about 50 km of my destination, he gave me a time that seemed to hold true. I called my brother-in-law to pick me up from the train station, and he did.

A journey which was to take six hours ended up taking eight hours. But I was glad that I made this train journey rather than taking a very short plane ride. This allowed me to get a better understanding of the country I was born into.

Within a week of my train journey, a new minister – Suranjit Sengupta - with sole responsibilities for the Railway Department was sworn in, who took a train ride and, as in my case, witnessed firsthand the late departure and arrival of the train. I am told since then the service has improved and trains run mostly on time. I hope it is not a temporary thing but continues to alleviate suffering of many passengers who like nothing better than a timely service.

To be continued>>>

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Comments on the new regime in Myanmar

I recently came across Rimond Htoo's piece - Ceasefires won't bring piece. He is absolutely right for a befitting title to his piece. I am also in agreement that "Since Burma is a multi-ethnic country, mere democracy won’t do. Burma needs a system that guarantees the rights and self-determination of every ethnic group." I shall extend this definition to include every minority group - religious and otherwise, which includes the Rohingyas of Arakan.

As I mentioned in some of my earlier articles, Burma or today's Myanmar has been a hopeless case of lies and deception leading to frustration on the part of minorities since its founding after the British colonial masters had left. Promises made by those in power never translated into tangible gains on the ground that could gravitate people towards a federal formula for unity shunning disunity and racism that had always defined race relations inside Burma. So, Rimond Htoo's piece may be what is in store for the Karen and various other minorities, and that would be a sad one - going back to the unfortunate days of death and diaspora.

I hope that such fears are untrue and that the new rulers in Myanmar are different than their predecessors. And that they have learned and become wiser and better. The ball is obviously in their court. If they want to retrace their path to the olden days of oppression and persecution of minorities like the Karen and Rohingya (and others) by kicking the ball into their own goal post, it would be utterly stupid, esp. with so much of support that they enjoy and the goodwill others now have about their new regime. It would be their loss, and no one else's. Under the current wave of new hope and aspirations, the only thing the regime can do is to carry the ball forward and make a winning team by playing together as equals with the same goal or objective. Just as in soccer or with any other game, an winning formula requires building a winning team, and that process starts with dialogue, open negotiations that show what is at stake and how unity of purpose and action can be a winning formula for all. It is surely not dictated by barrel of a gun, and no bullies either.

Again, my hope is that the new regime is different for better. It is neither SPDC nor SLORC, and as such trouble days are over for Burma, and a new dawn offers newer hopes. And thus, the ceasefires made on the ground with Karen and others are meant to be stepping stones before a serious dialogue with various nationalities, ethnicities, races, religions, etc. take place on a common formula of unity in diversity towards a federal government where no single group dominates the government. Ethnic tensions need to be eased so that trust is built within and between all races and minority groups.

On a personal level, I am willing to give the new regime some time to prove its worthiness before we dump it as the same old, rotten, dirty regime, if it proves hypocritical and acts contrary to its promises made. Whatever it is worth, my opinions on Burma's latest development can be read in the New Age. Here is a link: http://newagebd.com/newspaper1/editorial/47088.html

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Is the change in Myanmar for real?

In its latest gesture of amnesties, the military-backed regime of Thein Sein in Myanmar has released many political prisoners. Those freed included veterans of the 1988 student protest movement, monks involved in the 2007 demonstrations and ethnic-minority activists like U Kyaw Min (a member of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi). Truly, the names of those released read like a who's who of Burma's most prominent political detainees. In a statement broadcast on the TV, President Thein Sein said those released were people who could "play a constructive role in the political process".

The releases came a day after the government had signed a landmark ceasefire with the rebel Karen National Union in Hpa-an, capital of eastern Karen state. The release of all political prisoners has been a long-standing demand of the international community. As a human rights activist who for years has demanded reform inside Burma, I warmly welcome these releases.

My hope is that the new regime is serious about a transformational change that would allow the released politicians and former prisoners of conscience to play a positive role to unite the otherwise fragmented country of many nations, races, ethnicities and religions under a federal formula. For too long, the former military regimes and their ultra-racist supporters have used one community against another, and created an atmosphere where bigotry, racism, xenophobia and hatred ruled supreme. Of special mention is the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law which ensured such state policies of exclusions that would rob millions of Rohingya and other religious and ethnic minorities of their citizenship rights. Forgotten there was the time honored realization that narrow ethno-centric nationalism in a country of diverse races and ethnicities is suicidal.

With the release of ethnic minority leaders like U Kyaw Min of Arakan (alias) Shamsul Anwarul Haque, my hope is that President Thein Sein and his new regime is serious about a genuine reform. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has welcomed the move as a "positive sign" and so did many international leaders.

When Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a military-backed civilian government, came to power in November 2010, after the country's first elections in 20 years [in which Daw Suu Kyi’s The National League for Democracy (NLD) did not participate], no one was sure which direction the new regime would follow. Many considered the regime change as a sham -- the same old stuff: serving new wine in an old bottle. But soon after coming to power, Thein Sein took reform steps that were meant to show the world that he was serious about a transformational change. He opened dialogue with Suu Kyi and her NLD. He released her from house arrest within a week of coming to power. Last May, the government released some 1500 prisoners, which did not, however, include any prominent politician. Last September, Thein Sein suspended construction of controversial Chinese-funded Myitsone hydroelectric dam, a move which was seen as showing greater openness to public opinion. Then in October, he freed more than 200 political prisoners as part of a general amnesty, and passed new labor laws allowing unions to function.

All such reforms were not lost in the minds of ASEAN leaders who met last November agreeing that Myanmar would chair the grouping in 2014. The award was meant to show that Burma was moving in the right direction with the steps taken thus far and also as a sign of encouragement to keep it up. The pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi soon announced that she would stand for election to parliament, as her party rejoined the political process.

There has been such an unmistakable aura of change in Myanmar that the U.S. President Barack Obama called such the "flickers of progress." Before sending his top diplomat to Myanmar, Obama said, "We want to seize what could be a historic opportunity for progress, and to make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America."

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country in December and also met with Suu Kyi. This year the British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited the country in which he expressed his strong concern saying, “Minorities like the Rohingya in many cases lack basic civil and political rights.” These and other western leaders hinted that they would help to ease sanctions against the regime if it releases its political prisoners and is serious about reform that would resolve ethnic conflicts around the border regions.

Last month President Thein Sein signed a law allowing peaceful demonstrations for the first time. The NLD re-registered as a political party in advance of by-elections for parliament due to be held early in 2012. In recent weeks, the government has agreed a truce deal with rebels of Shan ethnic group and ordered the military to stop operations against ethnic Kachin rebels.

Now with the release of high ranking political prisoners there is little doubt that Thein Sein is serious about genuine reform in his country. Suu Kyi described the past 12 months as "eventful, energizing and to a certain extent encouraging". And she is right. Myanmar is seemingly taking irreversible baby steps for a viable democracy.

Never before in the last 50 years did we ever see such a ray of hope gleaming in the country that was once Burma. We can pray and hope that Thein Sein is no charlatan change agent but is as genuine as it comes. Sure, there are several steps that need to be taken before Myanmar becomes a country with a functioning democracy where its people would enjoy political and economic freedom like many other citizens of our planet -- the release of all remaining political prisoners; repealing the racist and xenophobic Burma Citizenship Law of 1982 which has resulted in unfathomed discrimination, violations of human rights and forced exodus of millions of its inhabitants to settle for a life of unwanted refugees in neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Thailand; addressing the rights of Burma’s ethnic and religious minorities (especially, the Rohingya, Karen and Shan peoples) and ensuring the fair and independent application of the rule of law for all its inhabitants.

Objective and unbiased researches have amply shown that the Rohingya people are an indigenous group whose ancestry and root to the soil of Arakan state of today’s Myanmar predates the British colonial era. [See, e.g., my book -Muslim Identity and Demography in the Arakan State of Burma, available in the Amazon.com] Accordingly, they had exercised the right of franchise in all elections in the pre- and post-colonial periods, including the SPDC’s 2010 election. And yet, this unfortunate people have been denied citizenship and rendered stateless for a xenophobic law that violates every principle enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The sad plight of the Rohingya people was duly observed by Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. Special Rapporteur, who said, “Despite being in this region for generations, this population is stateless. This population is not recognized by the Government as one of the ethnic groups of the Union of Myanmar and is subject to discrimination…. However the Government allowed them to participate in the referendum on the adoption of the new Constitution…. What is more significant than the possibility to vote for the Constitution of a nation to show that one belongs to the nation? If this population was considered apt to give its views on the adoption of the Constitution, then it should be granted all other privileges, including the citizenship, which recognized ethnic groups, citizens of Myanmar do enjoy in the Union.”

As Thien Sein reforms and changes the old orders yielding place to the new, I wish he is mindful of the views and concerns expressed by dignitaries like Tomas Quintana, and stops discriminatory practices against the Rohingya and other vulnerable minorities, plus restores dialogue with each of the ethnic and religious groups on the principle of unity in diversity.

Only the coming months will show how serious is the new government in Myanmar about its commitment to reform. Let’s hope that Thein Sein will not be like any of his hateful predecessors and will do all that is required to ensure human rights for all and bring glory to Myanmar.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

More on Rick Santorum

In the latest debate in NH, Congressman Ron Paul called Rick Santorum one of the "top corrupt individuals because he took so much money from the lobbyists.” Many of us, who are Pennsylvania residents should not be surprised by such unkind and yet true assessment on Santorum. So disappointed were his constituents that they made sure that he did not represent them on the Senate floor any longer. Consequently, in 2006, he was defeated in a re-election bid by one of the widest margins in national history against Bob Casey, Jr.

Ron Paul said, "He’s a big government, big spending individual. Because, you know, he preached to the fact he wanted a balanced budget amendment but voted to raise the debt [limit] five times. So he is a big government person... And also where did he get — make his living afterwards? I mean, he became a high-powered lobbyist on — in Washington, D.C. And he has done quite well.”

Ron Paul's campaign has come out with a new ad in South Carolina, which hits Rick Santorum on his "record of betrayal."

"One serial hypocrite exposed," the ad says, showing clips of Newt Gingrich. "Now another has emerged: Rick Santorum, a corporate lobbyist and Washington politician. A record of betrayal."

Santorum bashes President Obama as a European-style socialist and preaches fiscal conservatism. Yet in the Senate, he made sure dollars from the socialistic Medicare program went to Puerto Rico on behalf of a hometown firm — United Health Services — that later gave him nearly $400,000 in director’s fees and stock options.

He was among the pay-for-play Republicans who tried to strong-arm lobbyists and say that if you wanted to have influence you had to cough up campaign money. While Karen Santorum was home-schooling their seven children in Virginia, Santorum soaked the Pennsylvania taxpayers to the tune of $100,000 by enrolling the children in a Pennsylvania cyber charter school.

On race issues: In Iowa, Santorum tossed out a line about food stamps that NPR reported this way: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” He later told CNN that he was “pretty confident” that he didn’t say “black.” The only alternative, watching the video clip, is that he said “blah.” He doesn’t want to make blah people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money?

It is high time that guys like Santorum are dumped by Republican voters in the coming primary elections.

Letter of a former Guanatanamo Bay prisoner - a must read

Mr. Lakhdar Boumediene was the lead plaintiff in Boumediene v. Bush. He was in military custody at Guantánamo Bay from 2002 to 2009. The New York Times has recently posted Mr. BOUMEDIENE's letter. You can read this here.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bachmann is out, Who’s next?

The USA is in the early stage of its primary elections to narrow down the number of Republican presidential hopefuls to just one. Michelle Bachmann, the congresswoman from the state of Minnesota, suffered a hard blow with a last-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. Wisely, she has ended her campaign, but has not yet endorsed any of her former rivals.

It is good to see that the Republicans in Iowa had dumped Bachmann, a highly polarizing politician since becoming a congresswoman in 2006. Her biting condemnations of Democrats — and of tax increases, big government, the health care law and government spending — and hawkish and pro-Israeli remarks on international affairs show that she would have been a very poor choice for the White House, let alone a dangerous one, if she was ever elected to the highest office in the country.

The field of (serious) Republican candidates now includes only six candidates. They are Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. In spite of spending millions in ad campaigns, Romney barely won over Santorum in the Iowa caucuses, thus once again showing that many Republicans are not comfortable with his Mormon religious faith. His moderate stances on gay rights and abortion also concern conservatives. He remains, however, a Republican Party establishment favorite and has lately been endorsed by Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate who had lost his bid against Obama in 2008. It is believed that he will do a better job in New Hampshire, next to the state of Massachusetts where he once was a governor. With his right-leaning conservative talks, pro-Israeli and warmongering remarks on world affairs, he has been courting support within the grass-root Republicans who make up the majority of voters in these primaries.

After a close second finish in the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania (PA), is immensely energized in his campaign. Before losing to Bob Casey, Jr. in the PA senate race, he was the third-ranking Senate Republican, one of his party’s fastest-rising stars and a brash favorite among social conservative. He had a staunchly conservative voting record in the Senate, and is a hawk on foreign affairs. He is loathed by liberals and independents and has little chance of winning against Obama, if he was to win the Republican ticket. The best he can hope for is a second spot in the Republican ticket, and that seems to be his strategy.

Rick Perry, the longest serving Governor of the state of Texas, once a favorite amongst both social conservatives and the Tea Party movement, especially the Christian evangelicals, had a very poor performance in the Iowa caucuses. He finished fifth. His awful mumblings in the debates have shown that he is not a presidential material. Although initially rumored to quit the race soon after Iowa results, he has decided to continue his bid. With elections coming into the more conservative southern states (the so-called Bible Belt), e.g., in places like South Carolina, he, with strong southern roots, is hoping for a better result that would catapult him to a frontrunner position once again. If he fails to come in the top in the first couple of southern states, it is widely believed that he would drop out of the race.

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker from Georgia, had a dismal fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. He claimed to be “Romney-voted” (much like how the Democratic candidate John Kerry was ‘Swift-voted’ by Bush Jr. supporters in the 2004 presidential election), with a barrage of negative ads against him from Mitt Romney. Before the Iowa results, he was riding high with a front-runner status. He vowed to continue on to New Hampshire. As I noted elsewhere, he has serious character flaws, and is one of his party’s best-known and most polarizing figures. He is a hypocrite, and acknowledged having an extramarital affair with Callista Bisek, then a House staff member and now his wife, while leading impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton for lying about his own sexual transgressions. As we have seen in Iowa, his lack of a well-established association with religious conservatives, and questions about his two divorces, could make him a less favorable candidate amongst some conservative Republicans. With his warmongering mentality, while a chicken-hawk himself, much like Bush Jr., he is a dangerous person to end up in the White House. Even if were to ever succeed in winning his party’s nomination, he has little chance of ever winning the presidential election.

Jon Huntsman, Jr., the former two-term governor from the state of Utah, did not campaign in Iowa and has instead been campaigning strongly in New Hampshire. He has significant foreign policy experience. He speaks Mandarin fluently from his time as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan. He served in diplomatic positions in the two Bush administrations and as ambassador to China under President Obama. On a personal level, he is a moderate on social issues, and immensely popular with many Democrats and independents. With an impressive record overall he could be a formidable contender for a one-to-one race against Obama. However, he is a moderate (and a Mormon), which can hurt his chances winning the Republican ticket in this era of polarization. If he decides later to run as an independent, there is little doubt that he would hurt Obama’s chances of getting reelected badly.

This leaves us with Ron Paul, the senior Congressman from the state of Texas, who has rightly been dubbed as the “intellectual godfather of the Tea Party.” He is a very wise man, a first-rate intellectual, and a good Christian. During his 20 years in Congress, Paul has established himself as an outspoken critic of American foreign and monetary policy, and rightly so. He is widely known for his libertarian positions on a host of political and social issues. He is most popular amongst young voters, especially among college-age voters. Although the Tea Party movement echoes Paul on fiscal issues, some of its Palin-Bachmann like shallow and obtuse folks are very uncomfortable with his so-called isolationist stance on international affairs. Many of these Tea Party conservatives are not on board with his beliefs about scaling back the United States military worldwide. However, outside (probably) Jon Huntsman, Jr., Ron Paul remains the last, best hope for renouncing America’s worst and reclaiming her greatness.

When a patient requires surgery to save it, nothing short of it will do any good. Thanks to the pyrrhic wars started by Bush Jr. and continued by Obama, the USA is now dying! She requires surgery and not a band-aid to save itself. A drastic change is required in the top with fresh new ideas and thinking, and not Obamesque mesmerizing and hypocritical sound-bytes. As I see it, outside Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, Jr., none of the candidates has what it would take to conduct that necessary life-saving surgery in the heart of the USA. Come November while I don’t see myself voting for President Obama, one thing for sure, as an independent, I won’t vote for any of the Republican candidates unless it is either Ron Paul or Jon Huntsman, Jr.

It is simply unlikely that either party can hope to win the next election without massive support from the independents. Thus, if the Republican voters are serious about a change in the White House, they better wise up by nominating a candidate that the independent voters won’t mind voting for. Since the next election should also be about the direction the Americans would like their nation to follow in the coming years so as not to hastily embrace the fate of the falling Roman Empire, any urge to go back to the pyrrhic, gung-ho days of Bush would be not only insane, it would be utterly suicidal.

Will the Republican voters take heed as they weed out undesirables like Bachmann?