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Rise of the ultra rich and decline of the middle class

Abdul Hannan

My seven-year old grandson Ozayer is excited and becomes almost crazy about buying a cow for sacrifice for the Eidul Azha. He is very popular in our immediate neighborhood in Dhanmondi residential area and has easy access to many apartments. He makes hourly reports to me about Sami’s  father, a contractor, Mahi’s father, a land developer, Obaid’s father, a cardiac surgeon  Zillur’s father, a garments business owner, Jaedi’s father, a trader in the import of machinery for garments industry, Siddique’s father, a politician and Musa’s father, a World Bank consultant —- who purchased cows at prices varying between one lakh taka and four lakh taka. Ozair would not rest content with such narratives but insists on my taking a walk along the street adjoining our apartment building to have a look at the rows of cows tied to the buildings.

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Abdul Hannan

My seven-year old grandson Ozayer is excited and becomes almost crazy about buying a cow for sacrifice for the Eidul Azha. He is very popular in our immediate neighborhood in Dhanmondi residential area and has easy access to many apartments. He makes hourly reports to me about Sami’s  father, a contractor, Mahi’s father, a land developer, Obaid’s father, a cardiac surgeon  Zillur’s father, a garments business owner, Jaedi’s father, a trader in the import of machinery for garments industry, Siddique’s father, a politician and Musa’s father, a World Bank consultant —- who purchased cows at prices varying between one lakh taka and four lakh taka. Ozair would not rest content with such narratives but insists on my taking a walk along the street adjoining our apartment building to have a look at the rows of cows tied to the buildings.

It was significant to note that the majority of the cows were of big size. The number of small cows was few and far between.
In the afternoon when I bought a small cow at 70,000 taka shared by my son and two sisters, Ozair was visibly shocked and dismayed.  With a sad and melancholy look he asked me why I had bought a small cow while most of his friends’ dads  in our neighborhood had purchased big cows. I said tried to make my grandson understand that others bought big cows because they had big money and we bought small cow because we had small money. But he was not convinced and asked me how was it I had no big money while others had. I said it is the social condition which allowed unequal distribution of wealth to make some people super rich and others not so rich and still others poor. He was not pleased with the answer and looked miserable.
However, Ozayer’s comments continued to haunt and disturb me for a long time. There was a time when my father after retirement in the late fifties last century built a small one-storied house at Dhanmondi residential area which was home of the middle class or retired civil servants, the bourgeoisie and the professionals of teachers, doctors and engineers .We enjoyed unrivalled position, power, prestige and privilege of a high social status distinct from others and was a source of envy. A wedding proposal with a resident of Dhanmomndi was considered an honourable leap into the ranks of a privileged respectable and aristocratic class. We lived a contented life of high thinking and simple living, a decent life of modest success and personal accomplishment. It was a pleasure to read books, listen to songs and music, watch movies and go to Art exhibitions. We valued the beauty of grace, decency and dignity of character, love and compassion for others. Life was beautiful and many-splendered.

The moneyed elite and predatory capitalist economy
But now the social landscape and demographics of Dhanmondi residential area has been silently transformed in favour of the fortunate few of the rich and super rich to the exclusion of us, the original middle class residents whose income has remained stagnant and sluggish or perhaps deteriorated. Now suddenly with the emergence of this class of new arrivals in the block, the erstwhile majority  has been squeezed, diminished and marginalised  as  a minority facing an existential threat of being swamped and wiped out by a new ultra wealthy class. Now for us it is a grim struggle of existence. The reversal of fortune of the middle class has been foisted on us by widespread corruption and the dispensation and onslaughts of an unhinged and predatory capitalist economy which has gone berserk. Now there’s an unmistakable divide and cleavage between them and us. Nevertheless, if they are the moneyed elite, we remain as the cultural elite of the society.

Bangladeshi ultra wealthy top even Americans
Yet, this ultra wealthy class in Bangladesh is a recent phenomenon since 2012 as indicated by  World Wealth Population report published recently by a New York based Research for Wealth X. According to the report the number of ultra wealthy whose income is more than taka 250 crore has been rising in Bangladesh at 17 percent topping the list among China, United States, India, Hongkong, Vietnam and Kenya. This is a stunning and disturbing revelation and largely explains Ozair’s questions about the economic disparity between his friend’s fathers and us. This new class of ultra wealthy has reaped the benefit and windfall of unprecedented economic growth, an offshoot of neo liberal free market capitalist economy in the country. But the vast majority of the population has been denied a bite in the pie and left behind.
This wealthy class is the new moneyed elite. They have a lavish life style. They make vulgar display of wealth. They lead an ostentatious life of affluence and extravagance.  They buy big cows, shop in expensive stores, dine in expensive restaurants, indulge in expensive weddings parties, and go on weekend for rest and recreation in countryside expensive resorts. They drive Lexus, BMW and Jaguar. They go on vacation to London, New York and Paris, go to Bangkok and Singapore for medical treatment. They expropriate national wealth by not paying adequate taxes and swindling banks by their default loans, laundering money in Swiss banks and offshore havens and buying second homes in Malaysia and Toronto. Their children are educated in America, Canada or Australia. They have enormous political influence and power.

They are the new aristocrats
They look alien and strangers to human beings living next door in slums and shanties and languishing in squalor, misery, disease and death and picking food crumbs from garbage dumps round the corner.  This is the perfect picture postcard of two Bangladesh; - one of unreal world of ultra rich; and the ugly sore of abject and grinding poverty. This condition is wrong, pathetic and unconscionable. Perhaps this is the paradox, contradiction and side-effect of development. Who will fix it? Is it not a governance failure?
[Abdul Hannan is a former diplomat. hannanabd@ gmail.com]


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Nicaragua’s success threatens US stranglehold on Latin America

Americans opposing U.S. aggression against Nicaragua.

Lauren Smith

The United States’ economic and geopolitical stranglehold on Latin America is threatened and they are running scared to put Nicaragua on the Security Council’s agenda, pass the repressive NICA Act and covertly fund mass disinformation campaigns and demonstrations, replete with mortar-wielding mercenaries, against the legitimate government of sovereign Nicaragua – a peaceful country the approximate size of New York State.
Washington’s bureaucrats not only fear favorable reports being released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank on the successful economic and social policies instituted by President Ortega because they undermine their disinformation campaigns to slander and discredit him, but even more importantly, because Nicaragua’s achievements inspire other developing countries.

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Americans opposing U.S. aggression against Nicaragua.

Lauren Smith

The United States’ economic and geopolitical stranglehold on Latin America is threatened and they are running scared to put Nicaragua on the Security Council’s agenda, pass the repressive NICA Act and covertly fund mass disinformation campaigns and demonstrations, replete with mortar-wielding mercenaries, against the legitimate government of sovereign Nicaragua – a peaceful country the approximate size of New York State.
Washington’s bureaucrats not only fear favorable reports being released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank on the successful economic and social policies instituted by President Ortega because they undermine their disinformation campaigns to slander and discredit him, but even more importantly, because Nicaragua’s achievements inspire other developing countries.

According to the IMF and World Bank reports, Nicaragua has sustained growth in GDP, improved its social indicators, expanded tourism, and provided regional leadership in public safety and sustainable energy. As such, the United States is in a race against time to undermine President Ortega before a tsunami of developing countries wanting success through his model of autonomy topples all its remaining puppet dictatorships.
Historically, the U.S. government justified imperial invasion and occupation by claiming its targeted country was ‘communist.’ Now that the spurious threat of communism has been largely debunked, the latest buzzword used to justify imperial aggression by the United States, when it’s not throwing around the word ‘terrorism,’ is ‘democracy.’ In doing this, the United States effectively lowered its justification bar further, because democracy is a nebulous concept at best. The United States conceals its imperialist aggression under the pretense of being the world’s democracy ‘policeman’ when in fact it is just the opposite. The United States functions as the world’s democracy criminal, overthrowing legitimate governments of sovereign nations to allow its puppet master transnational corporations to unabashedly steal without interference.
Accordingly, the word ‘democracy’ merely provides cover for a pitiful and desperate attack against the rights of sovereign countries, such as Nicaragua and Venezuela, to self-determination and self-defense. Within this context, the word ‘democracy’ is dead and needs to be buried. Justice is autonomy over subservience!
As long as President Ortega remains autonomous and just says no to the dictates of the U.S. government, Nicaragua will never be ‘democratic’ enough for Washington’s liking. The United States will always object to Nicaragua and President Ortega’s handling of national elections, foreign-funded anti-government news media, armed insurgents/mercenaries disguised as protesters, and nefarious non-governmental organizations (NGOs) intent on fomenting discontent. It’s a no-win situation because democracy is always a vague pretext.
President Ortega risks retribution when he openly defies U.S. restrictive trade and development prohibitions. In particular, President Ortega has threatened the United States regional pre-eminence with the planned development of a transoceanic canal, and has overturned U.S. hegemony by negotiating trade deals with countries the United States can’t control.
The United States’ fear of autonomy spreading among successful developing countries is long standing, and it runs deep and dirty. Invasions and occupations by the United States into sovereign Nicaragua are not new and date back to the early 1900s. Besides the Banana Wars, which were largely to protect the foreign interests of the United Fruit Company throughout Latin America against unions formed by its Indigenous workers and aggrieved and displaced landowners, U.S. military interventions were used to stop nations, other than the United States, from building a transoceanic canal in Nicaragua.

Transoceanic Canal
Washington vehemently objects to President Ortega’s ongoing plan to develop a transoceanic canal with Wang Jing, a Chinese national. As such, it promotes the spread of environmental doomsday scenarios throughout the complicit news media, and it funds opposition groups, protests and thugs. The canal engenders a regional shift in power that is unfavorable to the United States’ expressed interests for three primary reasons. First, the transoceanic canal would lessen U.S. influence over Nicaragua, because the canal provides an alternate and independent funding stream to trade and lending – still largely dominated by the United States. Second, the transoceanic canal would allow China to gain strategic geographic access and control over the passage between two oceans. Reportedly, the depth of the canal, at 28 meters, is deep enough for Chinese submarines to quickly and covertly cross between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Third, the transoceanic canal would impinge upon the profitability of the Panama Canal, because it would subject it to competition from a new waterway designed to accommodate today’s larger shipping vessels. As an aside, not only does Panama remain a U.S. outpost, but the United States also enjoys a longstanding trade surplus with Panama. In 2017, the United States received US$6 billion in trade surplus from Panama.

Trade Between Nicaragua and the United States
In stark contrast to its trade surplus with subservient Panama, the United States, since 1995, has suffered an annual trade deficit with Nicaragua. In 2017, the U.S. trade deficit with comparatively tiny Nicaragua was approximately US$1.7 billion.
President Ortega’s success in trade is remarkable, especially given its restrictive trade agreement (DR-CAFTA) with the United States. The DR-CAFTA agreement was reached December 13, 2003, when President Ortega was not in office. While a US$1.7 billion trade deficit might seem relatively small compared to the United States’ overall trade deficit of US$568 billion, it nonetheless demonstrates Nicaragua’s strength in production, farming and in the marketability of its commodities. But, even more importantly, it reveals a growing negative trend against the U.S. plan for world domination.
The Trump administration is particularly concerned with the U.S. trade deficit. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, President Trump has made reducing the U.S. trade deficit, which has expanded significantly in recent decades, a priority of his administration. Basically, trade deficits are supported by loans. If China calls in its loan, the United States would theoretically have to come up with US$1.18 trillion or default.
Yet despite the privilege the United States enjoys in being Nicaragua’s largest trading partner, it still discourages Nicaragua from having other trading partners, especially those it can’t control, such as Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Algeria, Libya, China and Russia. However, diversification in trading partners is essential for Nicaragua’s autonomy, because the United States has a history of instituting protectionist measures and leading trade embargos that also involve Canada and the European nations.

Trade Between Nicaragua and Iran
Trade between Nicaragua and Iran has really taken off since President Ortega’s election in 2007. Of course, this defies Washington, since Iran is still considered by the United States to be part of the ‘axis of evil.’ Although this hyperbolic designation sounds silly, it isn’t because it carries in part with it the justification necessary for Washington to declare unilateral war.
Additionally, to the chagrin of the United States, Nicaragua remains a stalwart defender of Palestine and of a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Korean Peninsula in the United Nations.
In conclusion, Nicaragua remains a beacon of light and hope for the Non-Aligned Movement. As such, it’s imperative that President Ortega and Nicaragua be defended from covert imperialist aggression by the United States under its brand of fake ‘democracy.’ The time to rise up with Nicaragua in its fight for autonomy is now!
[Lauren Smith, author of historical fiction.]


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India’s fading democracy

Ashraf Lone

INDIAN democracy is in grave danger. First it was all about lynchings of the Muslims and the Dalits (untouchables) and killing of some selective activists but—now the tide of intolerance and bigotry has entered the houses of all, including the urban intellectual class, labellled by present regime as “Urban Naxals”, which has received widespread condemnation. No one is being spared now.
Those, who are critical of the government policies are considered “threat” by the ruling class to their power. This ruling class is afraid of losing the power and is thus using every tactic to remain in power or to try everything, not to lose power in future (elections). Dissenting voices are being silenced and curbed.

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Ashraf Lone

INDIAN democracy is in grave danger. First it was all about lynchings of the Muslims and the Dalits (untouchables) and killing of some selective activists but—now the tide of intolerance and bigotry has entered the houses of all, including the urban intellectual class, labellled by present regime as “Urban Naxals”, which has received widespread condemnation. No one is being spared now.
Those, who are critical of the government policies are considered “threat” by the ruling class to their power. This ruling class is afraid of losing the power and is thus using every tactic to remain in power or to try everything, not to lose power in future (elections). Dissenting voices are being silenced and curbed.

RSS affiliated BJP is leaving no stone unturned to remain in power. “Love Jehad” slogan seems to be an old or outdated tactic now, though can be used at any opportune time which suits the ruling party. Lynchings have brought shame to India, and democratic system on international level. Some of the cases of lynchings have proved involvement of the government in these crimes and criminals are roaming free.

Muslims felt the brunt of present regime
From last four years Muslims have felt the brunt of this regime. There have been killing of Muslims in the name of beef eating and cow smuggling going on without interruption. Mobs are ruling the streets with full state patronage. Another aspect of the Indian society is discrimination and suppression of dalits on every front from villages to university recruitments. Lynching of dalits on one pretext or the other have been also reported.
India is under the BJP rule and the BJP in Independent India’s history has for the first time has come to power with full majority. It has tried and tries everything to “saffronise” the country. From school syllabus to Higher education, it has tried to change the narrative of history in its favour.

Was Akbar “defeated” by Rana Pratap?
It has turned its “heroes’” lost battles in wins, where Akbar is defeated by Rana Pratap at Haldighati. The BJP has failed to fulfill its promises. Before election it had promised to reduced oil prices, creation of 1 crore jobs, of bringing back black money, but now it finds itself nowhere near the target. its IT Cell is totally frustrated now. Fake charges againt intellectuals, activists and writers has become a new norm in today’s India. They are jailed and humiliated on roads and on different forums. Killing of activists and journalist is continuing on regular intervals.

TV personalities are attacked for speaking truth
Television Media has also felt the brunt of this regime in one way or the other. Some prominent TV personalities have been attacked for speaking the truth. Advertisements have been stopped to various media outlets. Only those are allowed to speak who toe the line of government and ignore the plight of common masses and harsh realities of the society.
Another worrying factor is the falling value of the rupee against the dollar and rising petrol prices. These two have worried Indians. Demonetisation proved to be total disaster making people wonder, what demonetization was all about. Editor-in Chief of Forbes magazine Steve Forbes has called demonetization a theft of people’s property and has also called Indian bureaucracy “to be notorious for corruption, red tape and lethargy.”

Fear has engulfed whole of India
Fear has engulfed the whole of India. Journalists are now scared to ask questions and some have taken the back seat and are keeping mum and some have turned propagandist for the government. No pressing questions are asked to government for the larger benefit of the Indian masses. Polarization is being done with purpose, to divide the society on communal lines for the vote bank politics. With 2019 elections nearing, the present regime is leaving no stone unturned to wash it from its failures and shortcomings. It is using different but dangerous tactics to woo the masses to its fold.
Indian democracy is in peril now, with only one man calling the shots on all important matters. The ruling despensation is no mood to answer the questions of the media and the opposition. Intolerance is rising with each passing day with hate speeches against Muslims and subsequently with the lynchings of Muslims. Activists are arrested with no stoppage to these arrests. Media is being muzzled and media persons silenced and threatened. Questening the government has become a crime now freedom of expression seems to be thing of the past . It is like “Elected Dictatorship” and undeclared emergency now in India and future of Indian democracy looks very bleak in present atmosphere of hate and bigotry.
(Ashraf Lone, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Countercurrents.org, India)


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