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 Xenophobic nationalism throws global economy into tailspin

Shahid Islam in Toronto
 
The fear of the unknown is the worst of all fears. A fear-mongering Donlad Trump may have embarked into changing the world, and changing himself in the process, but whatever he says or tweets are often reversed by his deft Vice President Mike Pence and the suave defense secretary James Mattis, who’ve just toured the EU and the NATO headquarters in Europe to assure allies of the USA’s desire to continue with policies considered as the bedrocks of transatlantic relationship.
It’s an evolving theatrics with little harmony and much discord in the tunes being played by the President and his visibly jittered team members. Whatever his top advisers may say or try to do, Trump believes the NATO is an ‘obsolete’ antique and the EU is on the verge of collapsing.
Full Story
Shahid Islam in Toronto
 
The fear of the unknown is the worst of all fears. A fear-mongering Donlad Trump may have embarked into changing the world, and changing himself in the process, but whatever he says or tweets are often reversed by his deft Vice President Mike Pence and the suave defense secretary James Mattis, who’ve just toured the EU and the NATO headquarters in Europe to assure allies of the USA’s desire to continue with policies considered as the bedrocks of transatlantic relationship.
It’s an evolving theatrics with little harmony and much discord in the tunes being played by the President and his visibly jittered team members. Whatever his top advisers may say or try to do, Trump believes the NATO is an ‘obsolete’ antique and the EU is on the verge of collapsing.
Axing multilateralism
Trump’s maiden days as President, and his idiosyncratic and inexperience-driven moves, are compounded by the plunging into a state of disarray of the White House transitional chores. Even his latest pick of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as the new national security adviser following the sudden removal of Michael Flynn has done precious little to convince observers that the transitional turmoil is over as yet.  And, in the midst of such uncertainties, the greatest shock to the global economy stems from the unpredictability the new US President is dawdling in shunning aside.
Trump had reiterated many times during and after the campaign that he’s averse to moving ahead multilaterally and is spiteful of the NATO, EU, NAFTA, TPP, TTIP and all else that had mushroomed under the doctrine of globalization as the driving forces behind public policies pursued by liberally inclined nations in the post-World- War- II international system.
That might insinuate the arrival of a new global order, which is hardly the case. The theorem under which Trump’s own doctrine is devised to operate can be dubbed as xenophobic nationalism. No wonder, within a month of his swearing in as the 45th US President, the existing global order and the economy has been flung into a virtual tailspin. Nations are being gripped by fears of conflict, dwindling consumer demand, stymied economic interactions and growth.
 
EU-USA trade scenario
Take for instance the evolving EU-USA scenario. Over the weeks, the EU, the US’s largest trading block, had fumbled on devising policies to deal with the USA, as is the post-Brexit UK where Trump’s visit remains uncertain as yet due to intense public opposition.
Agitation is bubbling across the globe due to the protectionist agenda being driven by the Trump administration feared to directly impacting the lives of millions of workers in the USA and the EU nations who generate nearly US$700 billion worth of bilateral trade annually. Besides, the US investment to the EU often surpassed the total of what the US had invested in the entire Asian region in previous years, which will dry up sooner.
While this evolving virus of Trump-ism will not infect the USA-EU economic collaborations in its totality, the EU and the U.S. - based research hubs accounting for nearly two-thirds of the top global R&D companies remain wary of the Trump administration’s mixed signals on future EU-USA relationship.  Equally worried are over 15 million strong transatlantic workforce of the disruptive impact in existing EU-USA trade relations, which has been generating, on average, over $5 trillion annual commercial sales in previous years.
Simply put: the global economy faces a dire crisis due to the transatlantic economy being the main conduit of global economic interactions, accounting for over 50 per cent of global GDP in terms of value, and over 40 per cent in terms of purchasing power. The EU-USA compact also accounts for 56.7 percent of the inward stocks of FDI, and a whopping 71 percent of outward stocks.
Faced with this challenge, policy makers in Europe do not quite know how to recalibrate an entrenched relationship into something as yet unknown, and, rendered more troubling by the USA’s demand that the 28 member NATO allies spend 2 per cent of their GDP on defence; at a time when their economies face the greatest post war challenges to their survival and prosperity, and, warfare has become synonymous to chasing shadows of errand terrorists.
 
US predicaments
The overall impact on the global economy in 2017 onward of Donald Trump’s protectionist policies cannot be assessed in fragmented observations, or in a generalized sweep. Suffice to say that it’s happening at a time when the global economy expanded by just 2.2 per cent in 2016, the slowest since the Great Recession of 2009. Lingering security instabilities in the Mid-East, and the political turmoil in the EU having resulted in dwindling investment and trade growth, flagging productivity growth, and high levels of debt, to trigger such a down turn, the causes must be removed first. Trump is not the leader to undertake that mission unless he transforms from a ‘rowdy grandpa’ to a maturing statesman.
While one must appreciate the underlying concerns of the doom and gloom that Trump had aptly capitalized to attract voters, turning the economy around can hardly be done by pursuing an isolationist policy. Not if the US wants to remain the global leader.
It was one thing to make a number of promises to voters in 2016 when the USA’s public debt totalled $13.62 trillion, about 75% of the 2015 GDP. It’s quite another ball game to add flesh to the shrinking economic bones by reducing debt which had surpassed $18.96 trillion, about 104% of the 2015 GDP, and rising further.
It’s time to be realistic. Gone are the days when savaged by the piercing impacts of the Afghan and Iraq wars, the so called ‘rust belt’ workers of dying US factories decided to rally behind Trump’s propaganda of reviving the US’s individualism by being xenophobic and isolationist.  The global economy is too integrated to allow such an unhinging of the USA from an inter-dependent system in which the USA alone stands pivotal by virtue of its leading military and economic predominance.
 
The China factor
Already, in about a month’s time, the US proclivity to revert to isolationism and protectionism has begun to impact the world’s second largest economy, China, too. In 2016, U.S. trade deficit with China stood at $347 billion; exports to China being only $116 billion while imports from China hitting $463 billion. Given that much of the imports were from U.S. manufacturers who sent raw materials to China for low-cost assembly of merchandises, reduced Chinese exports to the USA is set to make redundant over six million Chinese workers.
Trump’s unpredictability is also leading the EU to look more toward China, which has already been the second destination of EU exports; about 10 percent of all extra-EU exports heading to China since 2014. In 2015, China-EU bilateral trade amounted to 521 billion euros ($593.43 billion).
Besides, the EU leaders are concerned that Trump will not sign onto the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a new trade deal between the EU and the USA, which is widely considered as an extension to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Trump had already scuttled.
These emerging scenarios in the global economy should serve as reminder to developing economies that the days ahead are not as rosy as many think. And, added to the prospect of US military showdowns with Iran, North Korea and China, observers cannot be faulted for being wary of a world plagued by leadership bankruptcy, protracted armed conflicts and, economic miseries of unknown proportions.

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Crisis-hit education sector struggles despite having resources

Faruque Ahmed

 
The country has now enough resources for funding education from primary to the highest university level and yet the education sector is acutely suffering from lack of facilities and proper planning.  There is a classroom shortage from primary schools to public universities and government colleges. There is also a short supply of teachers from primary schools to public universities. Besides, the lack of government control over the private universities is adversely affecting teaching and functioning.
Full Story

Faruque Ahmed

 
The country has now enough resources for funding education from primary to the highest university level and yet the education sector is acutely suffering from lack of facilities and proper planning.  There is a classroom shortage from primary schools to public universities and government colleges. There is also a short supply of teachers from primary schools to public universities. Besides, the lack of government control over the private universities is adversely affecting teaching and functioning.
The question is why the government is failing to provide resources and properly develop the sector to enable it to meet demand side of the skilled and educated manpower to run the administration efficiently and provide technical manpower to business and industry to bring qualitative changes and transform the system. The fact is that resources are there but the leadership is failing to use it effectively.
 
Education is nobody’s business
Newspaper reports on Sunday say that over 400 students of 15 batches are crowding in four classrooms at Chittagong University’s Marine Science and Fisheries Institute. It appears unthinkable how the ‘varsity management is conducting the classes and running 90 courses for students. This simply suggests the students are not getting proper education.
Another report said 21,000 students at Gurudayal Govt. College of Kishoreganj are overcrowding in 34 classrooms and there is a shortage of 109 teachers there. Allegations galore that most big government colleges are overcrowded with students without enough classrooms and teachers  and suffer from lack of proper library and laboratory facilities.
Yet another report said 45,000 posts of primary school teachers including over 17000 headmasters are lying vacant in 64,000 government schools across the country. Since assistant teachers are acting as headmasters, regular teaching is also severely suffering.
This is a horrendous picture of our education system exist in the public universities to primary schools while the education sector has been allocated a huge sum Tk 49,009 crore in 2016-17 budget. The question is when the government is providing huge budget for education every year why primary schools, government colleges and public universities are lacking basic infrastructure facilities.
Media reports and point out that many primary schools are running classes in dilapidated buildings across the country and teachers are taking classes in open air. One question naturally arise is why so much money is failing to solve the problems and where so much funds are being used.
The Marine Science and Fisheries Institute of Chittagong University was established ove two decades ago to explore marine resources in the off-shore waters of the Bay of Bengal. It later opened three academic disciplines for teaching and over time number of students increased manifold but classrooms and number of teachers remained the biggest problem for expansion of the physical and teaching facilities. It has four classrooms for around six hundred students.
 
System doesn’t work
It needs new building and other facilities but things are not moving mainly because of political influence and bureaucratic wrangling and lack of discipline to ensure proper implementation of different projects.
It is no secret that dishonest officials and contractors are grabbing the bigger part of development budgets of schools, colleges and public universities. Ruling party men and leaders of their student fronts are taking the lion’s share of development budget by forcing the contractors who are to implement projects. If they are not paid, they simply prevent the construction work taking effect.
The Engineering Department of Primary Education, which is entrusted to build primary schools is allegedly highly corrupt and divert major part of the resources to vested interest quarters. As a result construction of new primary school buildings is slowing down and decision to build new school buildings in some areas also depends of political consideration.
Similarly despite the shortage of so many teachers at primary level, recruitment of new teachers is also facing setback for many reasons including political intervention. It is now conducted with written test followed by viva-voice test.
But the political influence behind the selection of a candidate starts from the grassroots and final approval of the results depends on how much bribe a candidate can cough up with. It is no secret and even known to the minister but he has little control over the system.  Consequently, vacancies keep lying vacant while the rigmarole for recruiting new teachers goes on.
Meanwhile leakage of question papers has become endemic causing to breakdown the public examination system. It happened once again during the ongoing SSC examination when question paper of mathematics was leaked out before the exam started. There is no secret that a section of teachers is also involved in such leakage and few days ago the education minister warned that ‘no one involved would be spared’.
 
Bribery at public universities
Recent TIB report said bribery has been detected in a study report of recruitment of public university teachers’ which varies up to Tk 10-15 lakhs in many cases. On the other hand, most private universities are using their establishment as business enterprise charging five to six lakhs taka for a four-year course without having proper faculty and other facilities for the students.
It appears that most private universities using private houses to run their classes ignoring contractual obligations to shift their campuses into their own facilities. Over 39 universities are operating in rented facilities and since powerful persons within the government own such establishments, the University Grants Commission is helpless in strictly enforcing the rules
Many of them have no regular Vice Chancellor and acting VCs in running them. Many have no registrars or treasurers to save money and make more profit. Sponsors of some are also publicly engaging in quarrels as to who will control the establishment and the UGC ignores such unacceptable behavior of the sponsors.
Meanwhile the government has decided to give license to six more private universities to powerful people close to the government. Few new Medical colleges are also getting permission when some existing ones in the private sector are not having their own college campuses and running classed in hired facilities. They have no room for anatomy classes and other necessary in-house training facilities of a medical hospital.
 
Unholy alliance in education
Some Medical Colleges are operating in only several hired rooms, the University Grants Commission report says, while admitting regular students in those institutions. They realize huge charges per semester in which students from rich families get admitted only for boosting their family image that their children are going to be medical doctors. These medical colleges should not have been permitted to operate in the first place.
There is no doubt that the country is facing a serious crisis to develop a properly functional education system where powerful people have established their control over it to make fortune overnight. The government is failing to run the public sector educational establishments while private sector involvement has made education as business establishments without any check and balance.
The nation has the resources to build a reasonably good base for proper and competitive education in the country. However, its political leadership has joined hands in an unholy alliance with private businesses and is failing to develop the education sector to create the necessary manpower that the country urgently needs to advance its own economic development for higher growth.

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Trump was always for one state in Palestine

Jonathan Cook in Nazareth, Palestine countercurrents.org
 
For more than 15 years, the Middle East “peace process” initiated by the Oslo accords has been on life support. Last week, United States president Donald Trump pulled the plug, whether he understood it or not.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could barely stifle a smile as Trump demoted the two-state solution from holy grail.  Instead, he said of resolving the conflict: “I am looking at two states or one state … I can live with either one.”
Full Story
Jonathan Cook in Nazareth, Palestine countercurrents.org
 
For more than 15 years, the Middle East “peace process” initiated by the Oslo accords has been on life support. Last week, United States president Donald Trump pulled the plug, whether he understood it or not.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could barely stifle a smile as Trump demoted the two-state solution from holy grail.  Instead, he said of resolving the conflict: “I am looking at two states or one state … I can live with either one.”
Trump’s one-state solution
Given the huge asymmetry of power, Israel now has a free hand to entrench its existing apartheid version of the one-state solution –
Greater Israel – on the Palestinians. This is the destination to which Netanyahu has been steering the Israel-Palestine conflict his entire career.
It emerged this week that at a secret summit in Aqaba last year – attended by Egypt and Jordan, and overseen by US secretary of state John Kerry – Netanyahu was offered a regional peace deal that included almost everything he had demanded of the Palestinians. And still he said no.
Much earlier, in 2001, Netanyahu was secretly filmed boasting to settlers of how he had foiled the Oslo process a short time earlier by failing to carry out promised withdrawals from Palestinian territory.  He shrugged off the US role as something that could be “easily moved to the right direction”.
Now he has the White House exactly where he wanted it.
In expressing ambivalence about the final number of states, Trump may have assumed he was leaving options open for his son-in-law and presumed peace envoy, Jared Kushner.
But words can take on a life of their own, especially when uttered by the president of the world’s only superpower.
Some believe Trump, faced with the region’s realities, will soon revert to Washington’s playbook on two states, with the US again adopting the bogus role of “honest broker”. Others suspect his interest will wilt, allowing Israel to intensify settlement building and its abuse of Palestinians.
The long-term effect, however, is likely to be more decisive.  The one-state option mooted by Trump will resonate with both Israelis and Palestinians because it reminds each side of their historic ambitions.
The international community has repeatedly introduced the chimera of the two-state solution, but for most of their histories the two sides favoured a single state – if for different reasons.
 
Israel’s dubious plans
From the outset, the mainstream Zionist movement wanted an exclusive Jewish state, and a larger one than it was ever offered. Some even dreamed of the recreation of a Biblical kingdom whose borders incorporated swaths of neighbouring Arab states.
In late 1947, the Zionist leadership backed the United Nations partition plan for tactical reasons, knowing the Palestinians would reject the transfer of most of their homeland to recent European immigrants.
A few months later they seized more territory – in war – than the UN envisioned, but were still not satisfied. Religious and secular alike hungered for the rest of Palestine. Shimon Peres was among the leaders who began the settlement drive immediately following the 1967 occupation.
Those territorial ambitions were muffled by Oslo, but will be unleashed again in full force by Trump’s stated indifference.
The Palestinians’ history points in a parallel direction. As Zionism made its first inroads into Palestine, they rejected any compromise with what were seen as European colonisers.
In the 1950s, after Israel’s creation, the resistance under Yasser Arafat espoused a single secular democratic state in all of historic Palestine. Only with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Palestinians’ growing isolation in the early 1990s, did Arafat cave in to European and US pressure and sign up for partition.
But for Palestinians, Oslo has not only entailed enduring Israel’s constant bad faith, but it has also created a deeply compromised vehicle for self-government. The Palestinian Authority has split the Palestinian people territorially – between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza – and required a Faustian pact to uphold Israel’s security, including the settlers’, at all costs.
The truth, obscured by Oslo, is that the one-state solution has underpinned the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for more than a century. It did not come about because each expected different things from it.
 
Trump provokes struggles
For Israelis, it was to be a fortress to exclude the native Palestinian population.
For Palestinians, it was the locus of national liberation from centuries of colonial rule. Only later did many Palestinians, especially groups such as Hamas, come to mirror the Zionist idea of an exclusive – if in their case, Islamic – state.
Trump’s self-declared detachment will now revive these historic forces. Settler leader Naftali Bennett will compete with Netanyahu to take credit for speeding up the annexation of ever-greater blocs of West Bank territory while rejecting any compromise on Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Palestinians, particularly the youth, will understand that their struggle is not for illusory borders but for liberation from the Jewish supremacism inherent in mainstream Zionism.
The struggle Trump’s equivocation provokes, however, must first play out in the internal politics of Israelis and Palestinians. It is a supremely clarifying moment. Each side must now define what it really wants to fight for: a fortress for their tribe alone, or a shared homeland ensuring rights and dignity for all.
 
A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism.  His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

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The for-profit presidency, month one
Robert Weissman
DailyKos
 
One month into the Trump administration, and it’s clear that there has been a wholesale corporate takeover of the government.
A day-by-day review of the administration’s first month shows that virtually every day there has been a new, extraordinary grant of power to corporate interests and/or another development in Donald Trump’s get-rich-quick-scheme known as the American presidency.
Full Story
Robert Weissman
DailyKos
 
One month into the Trump administration, and it’s clear that there has been a wholesale corporate takeover of the government.
A day-by-day review of the administration’s first month shows that virtually every day there has been a new, extraordinary grant of power to corporate interests and/or another development in Donald Trump’s get-rich-quick-scheme known as the American presidency.
America has never seen anything like this, and it’s only the first month.
 
Trump repaying funders
Poorly attended though it might have been, the inauguration itself was a paean not just to the new president but to his corporate backers.  Corporations that have pending business before the president—AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, Chevron, Deloitte, JPMorgan Chase and United Parcel Service – were among the top funders of the inauguration and surrounding festivities. We still do not know the full list of donors to the inauguration.
New President Trump signaled his intent to deliver on the corporate wish list by signing two executive orders, one designed to start the process of destroying the Affordable Care Act and another freezing all regulatory activity for 90 days. The regulatory freeze included public protections already finalized but not yet published in the Federal Register. One such rule would protect the public from five tons of mercury discharges every year.
It’s been downhill since then.
President Trump has assembled what is probably the least qualified and certainly most corporate cabinet of all time. Although the unqualified and hostile-to-his-agency nominee for Secretary of Labour Andy Puzder was forced to withdraw, the rest of Trump’s corporate cabinet has been or seems likely to be approved.
 
Most corporate cabinet ever
By way of reminder, this list includes:
The former CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, remarkably now the Secretary of State, despite virtually no qualifications for the job and a lifetime career leading the corporation that has done more to impede action to address catastrophic climate change than any other.
A slew of former Goldman Sachs executives – hailing from the Wall Street giant that Candidate Trump attacked by name as embodying corporate-government corruption, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, chief strategist and white supremacist Steve Bannon, and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn. Reports The Independent: “Its shares have been Wall Street’s leading performers and hit a ten-year high close on Tuesday as investors banked on friendly policies coming from a White House filled with several former Goldman employees.”
Tom Price, the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, who has engaged in dubious pharmaceutical stock trades while a Member of the House of Representatives. Price wants not only to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, but Medicare itself. He refuses to say that every American has a right to health care, only that they have a right to “access” to health care – which means they should get it if they can pay for it. Pay or Die.
Betsy DeVos, the mega funder of the Republican Party, who made herself the butt of countless late night jokes with her pathetic confirmation hearing performance and claim that schools need guns to fend off grizzly bears. DeVos is a supporter of privatizing public schools, and has herself invested in for-profit school ventures in the past.
 
Goodies for big business
Having a corporate cabinet has apparently not satisfied Trump’s yen to hang out with the corporate elite. Trump started his first full weekday in office with a breakfast meeting with CEOs of a dozen corporations including Arconic, Corning, Dell, Dow Chemical Company, Ford Motor Company, International Paper, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, UnderArmour and U.S. Steel. Later in his first month, he would meet with: auto company executivesd (environmental regulations are “out of control,” Trump said);  Big Farma CEOs (75 to 80 percent of FDA regs should be cut, Trump said);  his Wall Street-dominated Strategic and Policy Forum, made up of a dozen-and-a-half corporate executives;  and airline CEOs (where Trump supports privatizing air traffic control).
It’s not just meetings and personnel. The Trump administration is off to a roaring start on delivering the goodies to Big Business.
It has taken care of its Dirty Energy friends. By Executive Order, Trump overturned Obama measures to block the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines. A few days later, the Army Corps of Engineers granted Energy Transfer Partners the final permit it needs to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline. It has also put in place measures to speed approval of other pipelines and fossil fuel projects, and is expected in the coming days to announce measures to upend the Environmental Protection Agency.
It is taking care of its Wall Street friends. Trump has signed executive orders aimed at unraveling the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and repealing an Obama administration Labour Department rule requiring financial advisors to give advice based on their customers’ best interests. The Labour Department rule, if adopted, will save consumers $17 billion a year in rip-off fees and bad advice.  Contemplated changes in Dodd-Frank rules, the Wall Street Journal reports, will enable the six biggest banks to return $100 billion of reserves to shareholders. A staggering gift to the shareholders – at the cost of making the financial system far, far more unstable, insecure and prone to another 2008-style meltdown.
 
Trump & administration sued
The interim chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission has even launched a review of the congressionally required pay-ratio rule –which will require companies to disclose the ratio of pay received by CEOs and their median worker wage – an important but mechanical reporting requirement that Fortune 500 companies have nonetheless claimed will cost them a staggering amount of money.
And the administration has commenced its full-fledged assault on health, safety, environmental, worker, consumer, financial security, civil rights and other regulatory protections. It has issued an executive order that aims to block the issuance of any such measures.  The regulatory executive order directs federal agencies to repeal two federal regulations for every new rule they issue, and requires that any cost to industry of new rules be offset by savings from repealed rules. In this crazy scheme, regulators are not permitted to consider the benefits of rules. No one thinking sensibly about how to set rules for health, safety, the environment and the economy would ever adopt this approach – onless their only goal was to confer enormous benefits to Big Business. That is indeed the goal here.
(With the Natural Resources Defense Council and Communications Workers of America, Public Citizen has sued President Trump and the administration to have this executive order overturned.)
 
Conflict of interest may backfire
Meanwhile, Congress has been hard at work serving the interests of Corporate America, as well. Congressional Republicans are prioritizing a series of votes to repeal regulations issued in the last six months of the Obama administration. With many more to come, two such measures have passed both houses and been signed into law. The most recent was a rule to protect streams from coal waste. The first, amazingly, was an anti-corruption measure that required oil, gas and mining companies to report their payments to foreign governments – a measure that now-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lobbied against.
It makes poetic sense that Trump has gleefully signed the repeal of an anti-corruption measure. For accompanying Trump’s gift-giving spree to Corporate America has been an astounding series of actions making clear that his pervasive and consequential conflicts of interest will immerse the administration in a permanent miasma of corruption: the Nordstrom tweet, the new $200,000 fee to join Mar-a-Lago, the ongoing financial updates to President Trump on the Trump business, the Kellyanne Conway advertisement for the Ivanka Trump line of clothing, the apparent plans to massively expand Trump hotels in the United States, the conduct of presidential business at Mar-a-Lago, and on and on. And on and on.
 
Robert Weissman is President of Public Citizen.

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Bhutan rejects transit corridor to India under cover of BBIN

Shamsuddin Ahmed
 
When the government faced severe criticism of the controversial transit corridor to India, few fertile brains found the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal Motor Vehicle (BBIN- MVA) agreement an ideal framework for face lifting the promised transport corridor to India.  It is interesting that the Transit Corridor agreement was signed in the middle of last year but the framework provided by BBIN-MVA was signed 2 years ago but is yet to come into force. In a major setback to India, Bhutan has not ratified the agreement.
Full Story
Shamsuddin Ahmed
 
When the government faced severe criticism of the controversial transit corridor to India, few fertile brains found the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal Motor Vehicle (BBIN- MVA) agreement an ideal framework for face lifting the promised transport corridor to India.  It is interesting that the Transit Corridor agreement was signed in the middle of last year but the framework provided by BBIN-MVA was signed 2 years ago but is yet to come into force. In a major setback to India, Bhutan has not ratified the agreement.
Bhutan says no to BBIN-MVA
Latest report from Thimpu said the upper house of parliament – the national Council, whose members are independent and not involved in any party  politics have taken a stand not to ratify the agreement against interest of the country. Another report said, the Indian lobby was pressing the Bhutan government hard to clear the way for the agreement.
Now the inquisitive question raised in different circles is how the transit corridor agreement can function when its basic framework BBIN-MVA Agreement has lost its legality for the refusal of one of the four member parties to ratify. India has been transporting its goods, passengers from Kolkata though the corridor over Bangladesh to the Northeastern states. Legality of the transport corridor agreement is rightly or wrongly questioned by many.
Bhutan’s Upper House has rejected the move to join the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal Motor Vehicle Agreement (BBIN MVA), citing environmental concerns. The four South Asian nations signed the BBIN agreement in Bhutan’s capital Thimpu in 2015, in what was seen as an important symbol of sub-regional unity mooted by Delhi.  The agreement allowed for the regulation of passenger, personnel and cargo vehicular traffic among the four countries.  However, there have been reservations among some sections within Bhutan about the viability of this agreement given that it was a small country. After the National Assembly or the lower house of the Bhutanese parliament endorsed the agreement earlier last year, it forwarded the same to the National Council for consideration. But, the National Council voted against Bhutan joining the agreement.  According to Sonam Kinga, Chairman of the National Council, there were two votes for joining the agreement and 13 against, while five members abstained from voting.
The sub-regional pact was being seen in Delhi as an important milestone in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much touted diplomatic agenda for ‘Look East’ policy and also to forge a regional cooperation without Pakistan aiming at boosting trade ties in the region.
 
Low-cost multi-modal transportation
The proposed agreement envisages reduction in transport cost and foster development of multi-modal transport facilities for a better connectivity between the four countries. It allowed the member states to ply their vehicles in each other’s territory for transportation of cargo and passengers, including third country transport and passenger vehicles and personal vehicles.
India, Nepal and Bangladesh have already ratified the pact but Bhutan’s refusal is likely to delay the implementation of the key trade cooperation agreement further.
Although India already holds bilateral motor vehicular pacts with Bangladesh and Nepal, a multilateral agreement could have bolstered regional cooperation manifold.
Reports in local media pointed out that Bhutan is a much smaller nation and a huge amount of traffic from its larger neighbours would strain the country’s limited infrastructure and adversely impact the environment.
An article from Bhutan News Network states: “environment protection is one of the four pillars of Bhutan’s gross national happiness, with sustainable development, promotion of cultural values and good governance being the others. Opposition parties have been raising concern over the environmental impact of the increased vehicular movement.
Tourism is Bhutan’s single largest revenue generating industry, and the small Himalayan nation has carefully guarded its pristine natural habitat. It has worked out a “low-volume, high-value” tourism strategy and maintained its status of an elite tourist destination. It touts itself to be the “untouched Himalayan Paradise” charging tourists $250 a day as a minimum fee (this does not applicable to Indian and Bangladeshi nationals) to witness the natural wealth abounds the nation.
Gautam Babmawale,  India’s ambassador at that time and now posted in Islamabad made a very unusual, direct appeal to Bhutanese MPs to approve the agreement starkly demonstrating its importance to Delhi.
 
Defence treaty in offing?
While granting to India controversial transit corridor in the bilateral context, Dhaka and Delhi battled to develop the long sought after corridor under the cover of BBIN. Trade and import corridor over plains of Bangladesh is essential for India for it is less risky than the treacherous and mountainous Shilliguri corridor that takes a lot more time and a hefty cost to reach the remote Northeast States from Kolkata port and facilitate easy movement of people.  The main objective of transit corridor of India as stated by analyst Samit Karlekar is to transport troops and arms in the event of war into the insurgency troubled Northeastern States, allegedly with support of China. This would help nullify the geographic vulnerability for India in using the Shilliguri Corridor.
His views amply manifested in an earlier report published in the HOLIDAY that India will propose for a defence pact when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visits Delhi to realize the objective. Indian media report this week indicated that Sheikh Hasina may visit Delhi in April next.

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Slippery Laocoa-ns

Fakir Syed Aijazuddin
 
During the presidency of George H.W. Bush, his Secret Service detail was reputedly under orders that if anything happened to him, they should immediately shoot his Vice President Dan Quayle - to prevent him becoming president. In the present US administration, the orders are: If anything happens to Vice President Mike Pence, first shoot President Donald Trump.
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Fakir Syed Aijazuddin
 
During the presidency of George H.W. Bush, his Secret Service detail was reputedly under orders that if anything happened to him, they should immediately shoot his Vice President Dan Quayle - to prevent him becoming president. In the present US administration, the orders are: If anything happens to Vice President Mike Pence, first shoot President Donald Trump.
The selection of a US Vice president is always a tricky business. Every president hopes to find a person who can complement, not supplant him. Invariably, the choice falls on someone with more experience than ambition, on a man who can be trusted to remain a patient Prince of Wales than a restless Heir Apparent in waiting.
Some US presidents suffered the same disease the Guelph Georges did: they hated their potential successors. President Dwight Eisenhower disliked his Vice President Richard Nixon, refusing on one occasion to defend him during a corruption investigation. Then Nixon endured being spat upon by angry Venezuelans during a tour to their country in 1958.  John F. Kennedy saw his VP Lyndon B. Johnson as a useful Mr. Fix-it Southerner rather than his anointed torch-bearer.  Nixon, when finally president, in the few hours that he did sleep never dreamed that his VP Gerald Ford would succeed him.
Dan Quayle reached the highest level of his incompetence when he became Bush senior’s VP. The White House must have quaked when Quayle pronounced: “I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future”, or misspelt before an elementary class the vegetable as ‘potatoe’.
Today, Trump’s White House must be watching with apprehension whenever his Vice President Mike Pence opens his mouth. Pence, like Quayle, is also from Indiana, but there the similarity ends. Anyone though who saw VP Mike Pence at his press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels this week, realised that while Trump may well be a Svengali, Pence was certainly not his Trilby.
Pence articulated US foreign policy regarding shared financing of NATO with consummate diplomacy and precision. Within a few sentences, he restored the confidence of the Europeans in US’s leadership of the English-speaking world. And with a snake-oil salesman’s sleight of tongue, he explained away the inconsistencies between his president’s indefensible pronouncements and US’s more enduring global commitments and interests. At a stroke, he demonstrated why a good Vice President can be more precious than a bad president. VP Mike Pence is not a mouth-piece VP: in time he may well reveal himself as the Svengali behind Svengali.
The US experience with VPs may explain why Pakistani leaders are loath to nominate deputies. Where others look for running mates, ours prefer accomplices. Ayub Khan as a former Chief of Army Staff turned elected president did not choose Yahya Khan as his successor. He chose the Pakistan Army whose head happened to be General Yahya Khan.  Zulfikar Ali Bhutto saw his own successor in Benazir and after her Bhutto-ism. Ziaul Haq anointed Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the man who had midwifed him into power. Asif Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif share a disease known as congenital myopia: they cannot see a successor outside their family circle.
Mr. Sharif must envy Mr. Zardari’s Houdini-like skills in being able to escape with such oily dexterity from every trap. Ironically, while Mr. Zardari and General Musharraf enjoy their retirement abroad, PM Nawaz Sharif is finding his retirement home in Park Lane in jeopardy. Like some modern Laocoa-in, he finds himself and his two sons entangled in the suffocating coils of our serpentine judicial system.
Neither he nor his protagonist Imran Khan had expected the delivery of a judicial verdict on Panama-gate to be such prolonged labour. The public is tired, the press is tried, court functionaries are tired, my lordships must be tired. Only the legal counsels are not. They remain indefatigable in their pursuit of the elusive white stag of truth.
Now that civil courts have been supplemented by military courts, is it time to practice reverse osmosis, to let military jargon seep into judicial parlance? If so, shouldn’t the concept of surgical verdicts become a feature of the judicial process?
The new COAS General Qamar Bajwa, in making punitive strikes against terrorist bases in Afghanistan and within Pakistan, has demonstrated that while he may be Nawaz Sharif’s choice, he is his own COAS, and that even the Punjab’s administration can no longer enjoy a fraternal exemption. When General Bajwa took over, he said that terrorism not India was our prime enemy. Today, he uses his double-barrelled guns to fire in two directions – westwards against Afghanistan and simultaneously eastwwards against its behind-the-curtain Svengali.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani public to its cost has learned a new adage: Power corrupts, and corruption in power all too often leads to immunity.
 
Courtesy: Dawn, Karachi

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