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Satchu's Rich Wrap-Up
Friday 30th of April 2021

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“Derivatives,” Alvin said. “I don’t speculate about the future, I trade it.” @NewYorker
World Of Finance

And they were cross‑linked and interwoven and resold in large bundles, “future on future,” Alvin said, handing me a paper towel. 

“Forget about the forces of the free market, my friend. Commodity prices no longer refer to any value, past or present—they’re just ghosts from the future.”

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The US recovery is weak especially given the size of the stimulus. @dlacalle_IA
World Of Finance


The Consensus View appears to be that the Global economy is going to accelerate big time and that its going to BOOM! I beg to differ 


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Peter Shaffer, The Royal Hunt of the Sun

“Have you ever climbed a mountain in full armour? That's what we did, him going first the whole way up a tiny path into the clouds, with drops sheer on both sides into nothing. 

For hours we crept forward like blind men, the sweat freezing on our faces, lugging skittery leaking horses, and pricked all the time for the ambush that would tip us into death. 

Each turn of the path it grew colder. The friendly trees of the forest dropped away, and there were only pines. Then they went too, and there just scrubby little bushes standing up in ice. All round us the rocks began to whine the cold. 

And always above us, or below us, those filthy condor birds, hanging on the air with great tasselled wings....Four days like that; groaning, not speaking; the breath a blade in our lungs. 

Four days, slowly, like flies on a wall; limping flies, dying flies, up an endless wall of rock. A tiny army lost in the creases of the moon.”

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China is "preparing for its final military assault" on Taiwan, the island's foreign minister has told @SkyNews as he vowed to "defend ourselves to the very end"
Law & Politics

In an exclusive interview, Joseph Wu said that China had "been conducting misinformation campaigns, hybrid warfare, and recently they have increased their grey zone activities against Taiwan".

"And all these seem to be preparing for their final military assault against Taiwan," he added.

"This is our country, this is our people and this is our way of life. We will defend ourselves to the very end.

"Taiwan happens to be on the frontline of China's expansion of its authoritarian order. And if Taiwan is taken by China, I think the consequences will be global."

Chinese military aircraft have been making almost daily incursions into Taiwan's air identification defence zone recently, with April being a record month.

This week, it also sent its Liaoning aircraft carrier on a course to the east of Taiwan - the second such manoeuvre in recent weeks.

"We are trying to safeguard the status quo that Taiwan is a free and democratic country, that Taiwan is not run by China."

There has been an increase in Chinese military pressure since September last year. Mr Wu suggested this was because of domestic weakness in China.

"Very often an authoritarian state experiencing difficulties will actively create a crisis externally to divert domestic attention," he said.

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“Unity is iron and steel; unity is a source of strength,”
Law & Politics

“Complete reunification of the motherland is an inevitable trend..no one and no force can ever stop it!” 

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"The Dark Forest," which continues the story of the invasion of Earth by the ruthless and technologically superior Trisolarans, introduces Liu’s three axioms of “cosmic sociology.” @nfergus
Law & Politics

First, “Survival is the primary need of civilization.” 

Second, “Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.” 

Third, “chains of suspicion” and the risk of a “technological explosion” in another civilization mean that in space there can only be the law of the jungle. 

In the words of the book’s hero, Luo Ji:

The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost ... trying to tread without sound ... 

The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life — another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod — 

there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people ... any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out.

Kissinger is often thought of (in my view, wrongly) as the supreme American exponent of Realpolitik. But this is something much harsher than realism. This is intergalactic Darwinism.

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09-NOV-2020 :: The demise of the Reality TV Star turned seriously vaudeville with Mr. Giulani mounting the last stand from the Four Seasons Total Landscaping next to Fantasy Island Adult Books
Law & Politics

The demise of the Reality TV Star turned seriously vaudeville with Mr. Giulani mounting the last stand from the Four Seasons Total Landscaping next to Fantasy Island Adult Books across the street from the Delaware Valley Cremation Center.

“My take on Trump is that he is an inevitable creation of this unreal normal world,” Adam Curtis says. 

“Politics has become a pantomime or vaudeville in that it creates waves of anger rather than argument. Maybe people like Trump are successful simply because they fuel that anger, in the echo chambers of the internet''

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The ISIS Beat | Why Caliphate and Everyone Else Got It Wrong @thedrift_mag @rozina_ali
Law & Politics

In March 2019, I arrived in eastern Syria to witness the demise of the Islamic State. The movement had been largely defeated, having surrendered major cities like Raqqa and Mosul. 

All that was left of the Caliphate, which had gripped our collective fears for the past six years, were a few square miles of desert along the Iraqi–Syrian border. 

The towns here appeared to be deserted. Car doors were left wide open, and clothes were still hanging on lines. Minarets and domes were etched with bullet holes. Concrete foundations of razed houses jutted out from the ground. 

A trail of mattresses and animal-print blankets lay abandoned in piles on the roadsides. From the main street in Shafa City, I could make out a painted ISIS logo on a wall. Not a soul was around.

When I reached the outskirts of Baghouz, the sole remaining ISIS-held town, and the site of the group’s last stand, I could see people leaking through the crevices of a rocky hillside. 

Women in niqabs carried backpacks and children, followed by the injured and the elderly, all of whom were surrendering to the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces awaiting them at the summit

It turned out that there were tens of thousands of people in this small town, many of whom had fled other parts of Syria and Iraq to live here. 

Who were they? Why did these families abandon their homes and choose to live in this sliver of desert where ISIS still clung to power?

These are not easy questions, and they require a deep engagement with the history and politics of the region. 

But the welter of articles, essays, books, and films that has appeared since the group emerged — carving out a veritable “ISIS beat” in journalism — were less interested in the sociopolitical roots of ISIS than in portraying the group as a cipher for the otherworldly, for what keeps us up at night. 

After a decade of the War on Terror and chaos in the Middle East, ISIS seemed to be the ultimate testament to an enduring clash of civilizations. 

It is not that surprising that ISIS itself encouraged this fantastical narrative — but it is striking that our media took their word for it. 

Until recently, the torchbearer of the ISIS beat was the New York Times’s Rukmini Callimachi. 

There’s no doubt that journalism documenting the horrors of groups like ISIS, and the specifics of the devastation they’ve wrought upon communities, is vital. 

However, by narrowly focusing on the savagery of ISIS fighters, we miss the deeper and more important story of how ISIS grew into a political force, and of how it moved not just the hearts and minds, but the physical bodies, of tens of thousands. 

Even if Caliphate’s source had not lied about going to Syria and taking part in executions, what would his single story have illuminated about ISIS? 

What would his adventures, bookended by the declaration of the Caliphate and the victory against it, have told us about what happened in those abandoned towns in eastern Syria before 2014, where ISIS rose to power with a degree of local support, and which we bombed and left behind?

ISIS made itself known to much of the West in the summer of 2014The organization dissolved the official borders between Iraq and Syria, declared itself a state, and surrounded more than twenty thousand Iraqis, mostly from the indigenous Yazidi minority, on Mount Sinjar. 

At the same time, the group’s fighters were barreling towards Erbil and Baghdad, threatening a bloodbath against Kurds and Shias. 

That August, the Obama Administration launched airstrikes, first into Iraq, then Syria, drawing the U.S. towards another war in the Middle East. 

Soon after, ISIS released a video showing the beheading of journalist James Foley. 

This was the era that minted some of the most indelible ISIS images: Western prisoners in orange Guantanamo-style jumpsuits, surrounded by rifle-wielding men in black. 

Stories of the group’s atrocities emerged in quick succession, echoing the parade of violence ISIS was proudly broadcasting on its own channels: public executions, conscription of child soldiers, disappearances and murders of thousands, Yazidi girls sold into slavery.

The new regime induced shock and horror in Western commentators, whose responses ranged from the lazy (a CNN guest parroted ISIS members’ claims that they were “preparing the largest religious cleansing campaign the world has ever seen”) 

and the racist (a Fox host declared that ISIS-like violence by Islamists has been happening “for hundreds and hundreds of years”), 

to the absurd (a CNN chyron announced that ISIS was luring women with kittens and Nutella)

ABC republished a world map with all of the Middle East, most of Africa and Asia, and some of Europe blacked out; claiming, without verification, that it represented ISIS’s five-year expansion plan. (Experts later determined it was likely fake.) 

Explainers at the time offered a few cursory lines to describe locals’ discontent with their governments, but inevitably returned to the main emotive thrust, that the group was so ruthless that even Al Qaeda had disavowed it. 

This frenzied interest in the U.S.’s darkly powerful new enemy lured some journalists and analysts to focus on the group full-time. 

It emerged as a distinct topic from the Syrian civil war, whose crowded theater was becoming difficult to explain, or the Iraq War, now a nearly-adolescent 11 years old. 

Soon, writers covering ISIS, what Wired called “the world’s most important beat,” developed a signature flourish, describing it not just as a terrorist organization, but as an almost supernatural threat

“It is not clear,” argued a New York Review of Books piece in 2015, “whether our culture can ever develop sufficient knowledge, rigor, imagination, and humility to grasp the phenomenon of ISIS. But for now, we should admit that we are not only horrified but baffled.” 

The author (who was granted anonymity by the Review and described as a former “official of a NATO country”) lists historical events that influenced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, ISIS’s founder, and that helped spawn the group, such as the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the 2011 uprisings. 

And yet, the author concludes, these factors simply cannot explain, in any meaningful way, “the phenomenon of ISIS.” 

It’s unclear why anonymity was necessary to make these points, but the article was a perfect distillation of how ISIS appeared in the public imagination: as a movement beyond human understanding. 

The only sensible answer to so inscrutable and atavistic an adversary was total war.

As foreign fighters poured into the Caliphate, commentators abandoned their bewildered posture. 

Graeme Wood’s seminal 2015 Atlantic article, “What ISIS Really Wants,” which sought to interrogate the group’s appeal, was based on a number of interviews with scholars as well as the group’s supporters and proselytizers around the world, none of whom had actually traveled to Syria or Iraq and joined ISIS themselves. 

Referring ostentatiously to Islamic texts, these interviewees offered evidence of the religious underpinning of the Islamic State, which Wood argued shed light on the enemy: 

“We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.” 

Wood’s innovation was to listen to and read Salafi thinkers — followers of a puritanical strain of revivalist Sunni Islam — who tend to generate polemics and have left behind a canon of texts. 

His deeper point was that to understand a group, we simply have to understand its ideology. 

In a distinct but similarly abstract vein, many journalists and analysts started proffering theories about “radicalization” to explain ISIS recruitment. 

They interviewed “radicalization experts” on the “classic radicalization process” and hunted for clues in recruits’ personal lives to understand their decisions to travel to Syria. 

Even Psychology Today joined in, digging into the past of two young Americans who attempted to join the organization. 

But, devoid of any political context, terms like “radicalization” and “ideology” lose meaning. 

The New York Post, for example, published a piece about a French journalist who pretended to be a Muslim convert interested in marrying an ISIS fighter. 

Over several months, she spoke with an ISIS commander through phone and video calls, and even traveled to Amsterdam so she could understand the network that moved recruits from Turkey into the Caliphate. 

The writer never made it to Syria, or even Turkey, but her subsequent book carried the terror-inducing title, “In the Skin of a Jihadist.” What did it mean to be a jihadist, then, if the term could describe a woman who merely spoke to one online?

Even if radicalization spread like an airborne illness from person to person, it would explain little. And even if Wood was right to focus on ideology, his approach fails to answer the more important question: 

Why here? Why now? Why did this ideology suddenly resonate in two Muslim-majority countries, and among a tiny fraction of Muslims around the world? 

To begin to formulate an answer, we would have to explore the world in which ISIS arose: That would mean trying to understand the role of dictators like Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad, and oppressive regimes like that of Nouri al-Maliki. 

Under their rule, there were no avenues for justice; thousands were routinely disappeared or killed, and certain key tribes and families were empowered at the expense of the rest. 

We would also need to understand the long history of foreign powers competing for control over the region: decades of imperialism, like the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Russia and Iran’s interventions, have irrevocably transformed communities in the Middle East. 

Similarly, though ISIS opposes the Saudi government, the Salafi-Jihadi underpinnings of the group could not have gained traction without the Kingdom’s years of effort of exporting and standardizing a particular form of Islam across the Middle East. 

What all this points to, uncomfortably, is that the current global order has left many people behind. 

Despite the anonymous NYRB author’s claims to the contrary, we cannot dismiss such factors, because people on the ground do not dismiss them. 

In late 2014, as the U.S. ramped up airstrikes in Syria, thousands of rebels who had armed themselves after the 2011 uprisings opted to join or align with ISIS. 

Though Barack Obama had famously drawn a “red line” as a warning to Assad as his regime slaughtered Syrians, the U.S. did not intervene until ISIS was involved. 

“All the locals here wonder why the U.S. coalition never came to rescue them from Assad’s machine guns, but run to fight ISIS when it took a few pieces of land,” one rebel told the Guardian. 

Add to the mix material pressures like economic inequality and political marginalization. 

Mara Revkin, a scholar who conducted field work on the Islamic State, found that it “could not have captured and governed Mosul for as long as it did without the compliance and active support of some of the city’s population.” 

Through a survey of 1,400 residents in the city, she found that civilians were likely to stay in ISIS-controlled territory because, among various reasons, the “quality of governance,” including “availability of electricity, cleanliness of streets, and crime rates,” was better compared to services provided by the Iraqi government

As Revkin points out, the Islamic State was adept at exploiting Sunni discontent with economic neglect and sectarian discrimination in Iraq.

Such sentiments echoed across the region. In late 2018, I visited the western reaches of Iraq’s Anbar province, near the Syrian border. 

Until a few months earlier, ISIS had controlled the villages there, giving it access to a vital border crossing between Iraq and Syria, which allowed for easier movement of weapons and fighters between the two countries. 

People tried to flee, and those who didn’t have the means or who didn’t want to abandon their homes resigned themselves to the group’s rule. 

In the town of Anah, I met 30-year-old Hassan, who chose to stay when ISIS arrived. 

Hassan was a day laborer who tended to his family farm and did odd construction jobs where he could find them. 

His father had done the same, even though he had a law degree. 

“There are no jobs here,” Hassan told me, explaining that the government only helped certain connected people. He had hoped that the new regime could offer a fairer system. 

In parts of the Caliphate, ISIS did promise a different model, at least nominally

In one piece of propaganda, the group declared, “The people are as equal as the teeth of a comb. There is no difference between the rich and the poor and the strong and the weak. The holder of a right has redress, and the grievance of an injured party will be answered.” 

In appealing to residents and new recruits, ISIS touched upon something familiar: the desire for justice, equality, and law and order in a world that has manifestly failed to deliver any

Women, too, found opportunities under ISIS. In Fallujah, they used the regime’s justice system to secure divorces, which had been more difficult under the Iraqi government.

It’s difficult to cut through this sensationalism without developing expertise in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts or, more generally, the dynamics of rebel movements and civil wars. 

Some scholars are doing just that, revealing a more complicated — and more interesting — story. 

The political scientist Austin Doctor recently conducted a study of sexual assault by 143 rebel groups around the world, from 1989 to 2011, and separately applied the results of his analysis to ISIS.  

He found a correlation between the presence of foreign fighters and increased incidence of sexual violence, which suggests that the Islamic State functioned much like other rebel groups — that ISIS is not so singular as it may seem. 

Still, despite the growing and diverse literature on the Islamic State, the dominant narrative of the ISIS beat — in fact, the very existence of the beat — has helped obscure these layers. 

This isn’t the failure of any single journalist or outlet; the fact that Caliphate has drawn actual blame makes it an exception that proves the rule — that mainstream media coverage of ISIS receives almost no scrutiny. 

But many other publications and reporters have operated on the same flawed assumptions and premises as Caliphate, ones that animated the West’s understanding of the Middle East long before ISIS gained its first foothold.  

In its introductory episode, the Caliphate podcast poses the question that drives its interrogation: Who are we really fighting? It was the same one that had stumped us twenty years ago, when George W. Bush first declared the War on Terror in the aftermath of 9/11. 

Bush’s swift military action offered a sense of certainty in uncertain times. 

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The ISIS Beat | Why Caliphate and Everyone Else Got It Wrong @thedrift_mag @rozina_ali [continued]
Law & Politics

“This is the world’s fight,” he declared. “This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.” 

However, as some critics pointed out, this new fight against “terror” did not actually shed light on our opponents; it only made their identities murkier. 

“Terrorism is a tactic,” historian Michael Burleigh told a reporter, “so it’s a bit like saying the Second World War was a war against Blitzkreig.” 

The enemy was ill-defined, and the conflict lacked parameters, ensuring a war without an achievable end.

But such critiques were rare. By and large, the media accepted the Bush administration’s framing. 

By 2006, public criticism of the handling of the Iraq War was mounting, but even then, few questioned the legitimacy of the war itself. 

In a 2009 study of media coverage after 9/11, two scholars from the University of Texas found that journalists “helped brand the policy, [then] labeled the frame as public opinion,” ultimately contributing to the acceptance of that frame as a “fact of life,” and a “larger narrative of struggle and heroism.” 

Journalists did not treat the War on Terror as a policy decision made by the Bush administration, but as the natural and inevitable order of things. 

What the Bush administration argued, and what the media accepted, was that terrorism is not a mere tactic, but a full-blown ideology — what Bush called “the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century,” including “fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism.” 

In practice, this means non-state armed groups not allied with the U.S. should be understood as terrorist organizations — no matter if, like the Taliban, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and Hamas, they have little else in common. 

Although Bush was quick to differentiate between Islam and terrorism (“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam”), a core argument for the war depended on the idea that terrorism was, in essence, a form of religious violence. 

“The religious dimension of this conflict is central to its meaning,” Andrew Sullivan wrote in the New York Times Magazine in late 2001. 

“The words of Osama bin Laden are saturated with religious argument and theological language. Whatever else the Taliban regime is in Afghanistan, it is fanatically religious…The terrorists’ strain of Islam… surely represents a part of Islam — a radical, fundamentalist part — that simply cannot be ignored or denied.” 

The fight against terrorism, in this conception, collapses into a morality play, a civilizational struggle of good versus evil — exactly the type of struggle in which we can’t afford to fret about the niceties of root cause and local context.

Obama seemed to offer a refreshing change, at least in rhetoric. He campaigned against the Iraq War, and as ISIS gained territory in 2014, he was hesitant to take action. 

When he eventually dropped bombs into Iraq (at its government’s request) and Syria (without its request), he explained, “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.” 

He also insisted on calling the group the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” pointing out that it was a more accurate translation of its Arabic name. (Some experts argued it wasn’t, and commentators suggested the administration wanted to distance itself from its failures in Syria). 

Two years later, Obama again attempted to downplay the “civilizational battle” narrative, claiming that ISIS was “not an existential threat to us.” 

But, he explained, “We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.” 

The enemy was familiarly vicious. One CNN report from 2014 had described ISIS’s takeover of Mosul as a “Blitzkrieg-like sweep.” 

As with other battles against evil, the “killers and fanatics” necessitated the dropping of bombs, an operation that Obama’s successor continued. 

When I arrived in West Mosul, in February 2018, just two months after the fall of ISIS, the city was gutted by the torrent of American airstrikes. 

High-rise buildings sat open-faced, revealing the lives of ghost families: floral print armchairs, frames on the walls, a living room floor spilling out into a pile of rubble below. 

Many Iraqis were forced into white tents outside the city, while others tried to make a home amid the destruction and the decaying bodies.

The Manichean framework helps absolve the West of its role and its responsibility in ending an endless conflict. 

“Terrorism” has become so synonymous with horrific violence that most Americans are likely unaware that the vast majority of civilian deaths in global conflicts today are caused by states, not non-state actors. 

Massacres of Iraqi civilians, deaths of Afghan civilians by airstrikes, and indiscriminate detention and torture and rape have all happened at the hands of state security forces, including those allied with the U.S. 

When American airstrikes hit a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Afghanistan in 2015, then-Senator Jeff Sessions justified the incident by stating the U.S. was waging “the good war.” 

As the scholar William Cavanaugh has argued, “The myth of religious violence thus allows us in the West to shrug off any specific grievances that the Muslim world might have about U.S. relations with the rest of the world.” 

the myth that we are in a struggle between civilization and savagery ignores that the West, too, is shaped by ideology:

“Most American Christians would recoil from the idea of killing on behalf of Jesus Christ under any circumstances, and yet most Americans consider organized slaughter on behalf of the nation — or perhaps on behalf of some ideal like freedom — as sometimes necessary and laudable.”

The U.S., Cavanaugh noted, spends billions of dollars annually on its military, more than the rest of the world combined, to kill in the name of the nation.  (The Pentagon’s budget for 2021 is $740.5 billion).

If a war is a “good war,” or merely conceived of as a necessary one, it matters little why a terrorist group gained support, or how we may be inadvertently contributing to the group’s appeal. 

Yet, while the current approach to terrorism has been wildly successful in building a cottage industry of extremism and deradicalization experts, it has failed to rid the world of terrorists. 

In 2018, a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies determined that two decades of the War on Terror had only increased the number of militant groups across the world. 

“While the United States and allied governments have weakened some groups like the Islamic State, many of the underlying causes have not been adequately addressed,” the report noted

“Perhaps the most important component of Western policy should be helping regimes that are facing terrorism improve governance and deal more effectively with economic, sectarian and other grievances.”

And yet this conclusion runs the risk of perpetuating the ills of the past — pitting states against militants, leading the U.S. to back autocratic governments as long as they are fighting terrorism. 

If our enemy is everywhere, we will seek allies in even the most oppressive of regimes (like Egypt and Saudi Arabia) to hunt down “terrorists,” no matter if they are gun-wielding militants or political dissidents who believe that the current state of affairs does not serve them. 

In spring 2013, in the face of months-long mass protests against the U.S.-backed Nouri al-Maliki government in Iraq, security forces opened fire against demonstrators in Sunni-majority cities like Mosul, Fallujah and Hawija. 

During the war against ISIS, the Shia-majority Popular Mobilization Units, partnering with Iraqi Security Forces, kidnapped, disappeared, and killed hundreds of Sunni men across Iraq, claiming they were extremists. 

More recently, the government and Iran-backed militias have carried out assassinations of peaceful protesters in Baghdad and southern Iraq. 

Almost always, the repressive governments used the language of counterterrorism. 

Certainly there have been some critics of American crimes perpetrated in the name of the War on Terror. 

But mainstream coverage continues to cast these acts as distinct from questions about the legitimacy of the War on Terror itself. 

Such framing restricts our ability to explain the world today. If we portray certain enemies solely as existential threats, we sweep over the political conflicts unfolding in places like Iraq and Syria, and the political violence wrought upon these communities, even by those who claim to be fighting a just war.

Before I arrived in Baghouz, on the frontlines of the last stand against the Caliphate, I had been deep in eastern Syria, in towns and cities that were freshly liberated from ISIS and now under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the mostly Kurdish militia that the U.S. had helped create to secure a post-ISIS Syria. 

The S.D.F. offers a remarkable vision to counter ISIS’s draconian rule — local councils, farmers’ cooperatives, and committees that promote the rights of oppressed minority groups. 

In the village of Jinwar, a female-controlled town, the S.D.F. has built a commune for women and their children, both Kurdish and Arab, seeking to escape oppressive families and realize a community without patriarchy

According to the constitution of the so-called Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the S.D.F.-linked ruling authority in the region, a post-ISIS Syria will be “a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs.” 

In order to realize this vision, part of the S.D.F.’s mandate is not just to govern, but also to annihilate ISIS. 

Several soldiers and S.D.F. spokesmen told me that the war against ISIS isn’t over — its aim now, with the support of the U.S., is to destroy sleeper cells and root out the ideology.

In the city of Manbij, I met the family of a young man named Hamza, a store owner. Three years earlier, in 2016, soon after the city was liberated, Hamza had decided he wanted to spend more time on his family’s farm in a village just outside the city. 

He was only twenty-four, but he already had a daughter, and his wife, Basma, was pregnant with their second child. 

Late one night in August, they were sleeping on the second floor of their home when they awoke to the sound of gunfire. 

Masked S.D.F. soldiers rushed into the house, and then upstairs. Pointing guns into the family’s faces, they accused Hamza of being an ISIS member and took him away. 

When I met them, Hamza’s family told me that when ISIS was in power, fighters frequented his store, and rumors had started circulating about Hamza’s supposed connections to the group. In 2019, they still had not been able to secure his release.

I heard similar accounts from others. One woman told me she had been searching for her son for three years; he had been arrested by the S.D.F. and subsequently disappeared. 

Another told me that after ISIS fell, she elected to continue wearing the niqab, and one day, S.D.F. soldiers stopped her and her husband, took her husband away, and severely beat him — due to her clothing, she believes. 

In Qamishli, I spoke with a former Arab member of the Raqqa local council, part of the S.D.F.’s governing structure, who described being intimidated into silence by individuals linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party, which exerts control behind the scenes. 

Soon after the Coalition announced victory over ISIS, protests against S.D.F. rule spread across Deir ez-Zor.

The S.D.F. was not exaggerating the presence of sleeper cells. Months after liberation, in one town in eastern Syria, the names of local council leaders were compiled into a hit list and pinned up on mosque doors; in another village, two bodies were found tortured to death. 

ISIS attacks continue in Syria and Iraq. Today, ISIS has taken control over parts of regime territory in the deserts of central Syria, and slices of S.D.F.-controlled Deir ez-Zor province are witnessing a full-blown ISIS insurgency, underscoring just how central the question of governance is to the group’s appeal.

But the U.S. and its allies’ focus on ideology risks ignoring why ISIS gained support in the first place. 

Raids and detentions, torture and execution, and governance that politically marginalizes certain groups and offers few options for justice or accountability will only build anger. 

It is these layers of political and social contexts that are lost in most coverage, even if they will shape Iraq and Syria for a long time to come. 

Twenty years later, the War on Terror as a conflict between civilization and savagery rings hollow, not just in light of the brutalities waged in our name, but also in the face of extremism at home; after all, weren’t the perpetrators of the Capitol Hill riots part of “our” civilization? 

As the persistence of far-right nationalism suggests, ideologies cannot so easily be destroyed — even those we thought we had bombed out of existence seventy years ago. 

Yet, the world refracted through this war (the “only one” of the 21st century, Bush hoped) has left us not just morally inept, but also woefully misguided about what is to come next. 

Even if we cannot agree on what’s happened at home, there has been a bipartisan consensus that the War on Terror abroad is necessary. 

The mainstream media’s critical posture toward the Iraq War debacle evaporated as soon as ISIS — which first reappeared in Iraq — burst onto the scene. 

Even while Obama and Trump criticized the forever wars, they both expanded America’s military footprint and backed oppressive regimes for the sake of fighting extremism. 

And even as the new Biden Administration announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, to “end” the twenty-year war, it will continue airstrikes and raids to tackle the ever-looming threat of terrorism. 

We owe the countries we’ve invaded and bombed more than such a narrow lens of the world, a lens we’ve created. The question we’ve been asking, after all, has yet to be answered: Who are we really fighting?

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Countries w/ fast COVID-19 avg growth rate (daily / total) @Jmlukens

#Cambodia: 6.40%

#Mongolia: 4.40%

#Thailand: 4.06%

#India: 1.76%

#Cameroon: 1.62%

#Uruguay: 1.54%

#Cyprus: 1.25%

#Nepal: 1.20%

#SriLanka: 1.09%

#Cuba: 1.09%

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28-MAR-2021 :: We are once again entering an exponential escape velocity Phase #COVID19

The Virus remains an exogenous uncertainty that is still not resolved though all the virologists who have metastasized into vaccinologists will have you believe its all sunlit uplands from here. 

Glorious sunrise at the Borana conservancy @nickdimbleby @JamboMagazine

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‘We are witnessing a crime against humanity’: Arundhati Roy on India’s Covid catastrophe @guardian @gdnlongread

During a particularly polarising election campaign in the state of Uttar Pradesh in 2017, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, waded into the fray to stir things up even further. 

From a public podium, he accused the state government – which was led by an opposition party – of pandering to the Muslim community by spending more on Muslim graveyards (kabristans) than on Hindu cremation grounds (shamshans). 

With his customary braying sneer, in which every taunt and barb rises to a high note mid-sentence before it falls away in a menacing echo, he stirred up the crowd. 

“If a kabristan is built in a village, a shamshan should also be constructed there,” he said.

“Shamshan! Shamshan!” the mesmerised, adoring crowd echoed back.

Perhaps he is happy now that the haunting image of the flames rising from the mass funerals in India’s cremation grounds is making the front page of international newspapers. 

And that all the kabristans and shamshans in his country are working properly, in direct proportion to the populations they cater for, and far beyond their capacities.

“Can India, population 1.3 billion, be isolated?” the Washington Post asked rhetorically in a recent editorial about India’s unfolding catastrophe and the difficulty of containing new, fast-spreading Covid variants within national borders. “Not easily,” it replied. 

It’s unlikely this question was posed in quite the same way when the coronavirus was raging through the UK and Europe just a few months ago. 

But we in India have little right to take offence, given our prime minister’s words at the World Economic Forum in January this year.

Modi spoke at a time when people in Europe and the US were suffering through the peak of the second wave of the pandemic. He had not one word of sympathy to offer, only a long, gloating boast about India’s infrastructure and Covid-preparedness. 

I downloaded the speech because I fear that when history is rewritten by the Modi regime, as it soon will be, it might disappear, or become hard to find. Here are some priceless snippets:

“Friends, I have brought the message of confidence, positivity and hope from 1.3 billion Indians amid these times of apprehension … It was predicted that India would be the most affected country from corona all over the world. 

It was said that there would be a tsunami of corona infections in India, somebody said 700-800 million Indians would get infected while others said 2 million Indians would die.”

“Friends, it would not be advisable to judge India’s success with that of another country. In a country which is home to 18% of the world population, that country has saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively.”

Modi the magician takes a bow for saving humanity by containing the coronavirus effectively. Now that it turns out that he has not contained it, can we complain about being viewed as though we are radioactive? 

That other countries’ borders are being closed to us and flights are being cancelled? That we’re being sealed in with our virus and our prime minister, along with all the sickness, the anti-science, the hatred and the idiocy that he, his party and its brand of politics represent?

When the first wave of Covid came to India and then subsided last year, the government and its supportive commentariat were triumphant. 

“India isn’t having a picnic,” tweeted Shekhar Gupta, the editor-in-chief of the online news site the Print. 

“But our drains aren’t choked with bodies, hospitals aren’t out of beds, nor crematoriums & graveyards out of wood or space. Too good to be true? Bring data if you disagree. Unless you think you’re god.” 

Leave aside the callous, disrespectful imagery – did we need a god to tell us that most pandemics have a second wave?

This one was predicted, although its virulence has taken even scientists and virologists by surprise. So where is the Covid-specific infrastructure and the “people’s movement” against the virus that Modi boasted about in his speech? 

Hospital beds are unavailable. Doctors and medical staff are at breaking point. Friends call with stories about wards with no staff and more dead patients than live ones. People are dying in hospital corridors, on roads and in their homes. 

Crematoriums in Delhi have run out of firewood. The forest department has had to give special permission for the felling of city trees. Desperate people are using whatever kindling they can find. 

Parks and car parks are being turned into cremation grounds. It’s as if there’s an invisible UFO parked in our skies, sucking the air out of our lungs. An air raid of a kind we’ve never known.

Oxygen is the new currency on India’s morbid new stock exchange. Senior politicians, journalists, lawyers – India’s elite – are on Twitter pleading for hospital beds and oxygen cylinders. The hidden market for cylinders is booming. Oxygen saturation machines and drugs are hard to come by.

There are markets for other things, too. At the bottom end of the free market, a bribe to sneak a last look at your loved one, bagged and stacked in a hospital mortuary. A surcharge for a priest who agrees to say the final prayers. 

Online medical consultancies in which desperate families are fleeced by ruthless doctors. At the top end, you might need to sell your land and home and use up every last rupee for treatment at a private hospital. 

Just the deposit alone, before they even agree to admit you, could set your family back a couple of generations.

None of this conveys the full depth and range of the trauma, the chaos and, above all, the indignity that people are being subjected to. 

What happened to my young friend T is just one of hundreds, perhaps thousands of similar stories in Delhi alone. 

T, who is in his 20s, lives in his parents’ tiny flat in Ghaziabad on the outskirts of Delhi. All three of them tested positive for Covid. His mother was critically ill. Since it was in the early days, he was lucky enough to find a hospital bed for her. 

His father, diagnosed with severe bipolar depression, turned violent and began to harm himself. He stopped sleeping. He soiled himself. His psychiatrist was online trying to help, although she also broke down from time to time because her husband had just died from Covid. 

She said T’s father needed hospitalisation, but since he was Covid positive there was no chance of that. 

So T stayed awake, night after night, holding his father down, sponging him, cleaning him up. Each time I spoke to him I felt my own breath falter. 

Finally, the message came: “Father’s dead.” He did not die of Covid, but of a massive spike in blood pressure induced by a psychiatric meltdown induced by utter helplessness.

What to do with the body? I desperately called everybody I knew. Among those who responded was Anirban Bhattacharya, who works with the well-known social activist Harsh Mander. 

Bhattacharya is about to stand trial on a charge of sedition for a protest he helped organise on his university campus in 2016. 

Mander, who has not fully recovered from a savage case of Covid last year, is being threatened with arrest and the closure of the orphanages he runs after he mobilised people against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December 2020, both of which blatantly discriminate against Muslims. 

Mander and Bhattacharya are among the many citizens who, in the absence of all forms of governance, have set up helplines and emergency responses, and are running themselves ragged organising ambulances and coordinating funerals and the transport of dead bodies. 

It’s not safe for these volunteers to do what they’re doing. In this wave of the pandemic, it’s the young who are falling, who are filling the intensive care units. When young people die, the older among us lose a little of our will to live.

T’s father was cremated. T and his mother are recovering.

Things will settle down eventually. Of course, they will. But we don’t know who among us will survive to see that day. The rich will breathe easier. The poor will not. 

For now, among the sick and dying, there is a vestige of democracy. The rich have been felled, too. 

Hospitals are begging for oxygen. Some have started bring-your-own-oxygen schemes. 

The oxygen crisis has led to intense, unseemly battles between states, with political parties trying to deflect blame from themselves.

On the night of 22 April, 25 critically ill coronavirus patients on high-flow oxygen died in one of Delhi’s biggest private hospitals, Sir Ganga Ram. The hospital issued several desperate SOS messages for the replenishment of its oxygen supply. 

A day later, the chair of the hospital board rushed to clarify matters: “We cannot say that they have died due to lack of oxygen support.” 

On 24 April, 20 more patients died when oxygen supplies were depleted in another big Delhi hospital, Jaipur Golden. 

That same day, in the Delhi high court, Tushar Mehta, India’s solicitor general, speaking for the government of India, said: “Let’s try and not be a cry baby … so far we have ensured that no one in the country was left without oxygen.”

Ajay Mohan Bisht, the saffron-robed chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who goes by the name Yogi Adityanath, has declared that there is no shortage of oxygen in any hospital in his state and that rumourmongers will be arrested without bail under the National Security Act and have their property seized.

Yogi Adityanath doesn’t play around. Siddique Kappan, a Muslim journalist from Kerala, jailed for months in Uttar Pradesh when he and two others travelled there to report on the gang-rape and murder of a Dalit girl in Hathras district, is critically ill and has tested positive for Covid

His wife, in a desperate petition to the chief justice of the supreme court of India, says her husband is lying chained “like an animal” to a hospital bed in the Medical College hospital in Mathura. 

(The supreme court has now ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to move him to a hospital in Delhi.) 

So, if you live in Uttar Pradesh, the message seems to be, please do yourself a favour and die without complaining.

The threat to those who complain is not restricted to Uttar Pradesh. 

A spokesperson for the fascist Hindu nationalist organisation the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – of which Modi and several of his ministers are members, and which runs its own armed militia – has warned that “anti-India forces” would use the crisis to fuel “negativity” and “mistrust” and asked the media to help foster a “positive atmosphere”. 

Twitter has helped them out by deactivating accounts critical of the government.

Where shall we look for solace? For science? Shall we cling to numbers? How many dead? How many recovered? How many infected? When will the peak come? 

On 27 April, the report was 323,144 new cases, 2,771 deaths. The precision is somewhat reassuring. Except – how do we know? Tests are hard to come by, even in Delhi. 

The number of Covid-protocol funerals from graveyards and crematoriums in small towns and cities suggest a death toll up to 30 times higher than the official count. 

Doctors who are working outside the metropolitan areas can tell you how it is.

If Delhi is breaking down, what should we imagine is happening in villages in Bihar, in Uttar Pradesh, in Madhya Pradesh? 

Where tens of millions of workers from the cities, carrying the virus with them, are fleeing home to their families, traumatised by their memory of Modi’s national lockdown in 2020. 

It was the strictest lockdown in the world, announced with only four hours’ notice. It left migrant workers stranded in cities with no work, no money to pay their rent, no food and no transport. 

Many had to walk hundreds of miles to their homes in far-flung villages. Hundreds died on the way.

‘We are witnessing a crime against humanity’: Arundhati Roy on India’s Covid catastrophe @guardian @gdnlongread [continued] 

This time around, although there is no national lockdown, the workers have left while transport is still available, while trains and buses are still running. 

They’ve left because they know that even though they make up the engine of the economy in this huge country, when a crisis comes, in the eyes of this administration, they simply don’t exist. 

This year’s exodus has resulted in a different kind of chaos: there are no quarantine centres for them to stay in before they enter their village homes. There’s not even the meagre pretence of trying to protect the countryside from the city virus.

These are villages where people die of easily treatable diseases like diarrhoea and tuberculosis. How are they to cope with Covid? Are Covid tests available to them? Are there hospitals? Is there oxygen? More than that, is there love? Forget love, is there even concern? There isn’t. 

Because there is only a heart-shaped hole filled with cold indifference where India’s public heart should be.

Early this morning, on 28 April, news came that our friend Prabhubhai has died. Before he died, he showed classic Covid symptoms. 

But his death will not register in the official Covid count because he died at home without a test or treatment. 

Prabhubhai was a stalwart of the anti-dam movement in the Narmada valley. I stayed several times at his home in Kevadia, where decades ago the first group of indigenous tribespeople were thrown off their lands to make room for the dam-builders and officers’ colony. 

Displaced families like Prabhubhai’s still remain on the edges of that colony, impoverished and unsettled, transgressors on land that was once theirs.

There is no hospital in Kevadia. There’s only the Statue of Unity, built in the likeness of the freedom fighter and first deputy prime minister of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who the dam is named after. 

At 182 metres high, it’s the tallest statue in the world and cost US$422m. High-speed elevators inside take tourists up to view the Narmada dam from the level of Sardar Patel’s chest. 

Of course, you cannot see the river valley civilisation that lies destroyed, submerged in the depths of the vast reservoir, or hear the stories of the people who waged one of the most beautiful, profound struggles the world has ever known – not just against that one dam, but against the accepted ideas of what constitutes civilisation, happiness and progress. 

The statue was Modi’s pet project. He inaugurated it in October 2018.

The friend who messaged about Prabhubhai had spent years as an anti-dam activist in the Narmada valley. She wrote: “My hands shiver as I write this. Covid situation in and around Kevadia Colony grim.”

The precise numbers that make up India’s Covid graph are like the wall that was built in Ahmedabad to hide the slums Donald Trump would drive past on his way to the “Namaste Trump” event that Modi hosted for him in February 2020. 

Grim as those numbers are, they give you a picture of the India-that-matters, but certainly not the India that is. 

In the India that is, people are expected to vote as Hindus, but die as disposables.

Try not to pay attention to the fact that the possibility of a dire shortage of oxygen had been flagged as far back as April 2020, and then again in November by a committee set up by the government itself. 

Try not to wonder why even Delhi’s biggest hospitals don’t have their own oxygen-generating plants. Try not to wonder why the PM Cares Fund – the opaque organisation that has recently replaced the more public Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, and which uses public money and government infrastructure but functions like a private trust with zero public accountability – has suddenly moved in to address the oxygen crisis. 

Will Modi own shares in our air-supply now?

Understand that there were and are so many far more pressing issues for the Modi government to attend to. Destroying the last vestiges of democracy, persecuting non-Hindu minorities and consolidating the foundations of the Hindu Nation makes for a relentless schedule. 

There are massive prison complexes, for example, that must be urgently constructed in Assam for the 2 million people who have lived there for generations and have suddenly been stripped of their citizenship. 

(On this matter, our independent supreme court came down hard on the side of the government and leniently on the side of the vandals.)

There are hundreds of students and activists and young Muslim citizens to be tried and imprisoned as the primary accused in the anti-Muslim pogrom that took place against their own community in north-east Delhi last March. 

If you are Muslim in India, it’s a crime to be murdered. Your folks will pay for it. 

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‘We are witnessing a crime against humanity’: Arundhati Roy on India’s Covid catastrophe @guardian @gdnlongread [continued]

This time around, although there is no national lockdown, the workers have left while transport is still available, while trains and buses are still running. 

They’ve left because they know that even though they make up the engine of the economy in this huge country, when a crisis comes, in the eyes of this administration, they simply don’t exist. 

This year’s exodus has resulted in a different kind of chaos: there are no quarantine centres for them to stay in before they enter their village homes. There’s not even the meagre pretence of trying to protect the countryside from the city virus.

These are villages where people die of easily treatable diseases like diarrhoea and tuberculosis. How are they to cope with Covid? Are Covid tests available to them? Are there hospitals? Is there oxygen? More than that, is there love? Forget love, is there even concern? There isn’t. 

Because there is only a heart-shaped hole filled with cold indifference where India’s public heart should be.

Early this morning, on 28 April, news came that our friend Prabhubhai has died. Before he died, he showed classic Covid symptoms. 

But his death will not register in the official Covid count because he died at home without a test or treatment. 

Prabhubhai was a stalwart of the anti-dam movement in the Narmada valley. I stayed several times at his home in Kevadia, where decades ago the first group of indigenous tribespeople were thrown off their lands to make room for the dam-builders and officers’ colony. 

Displaced families like Prabhubhai’s still remain on the edges of that colony, impoverished and unsettled, transgressors on land that was once theirs.

There is no hospital in Kevadia. There’s only the Statue of Unity, built in the likeness of the freedom fighter and first deputy prime minister of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who the dam is named after. 

At 182 metres high, it’s the tallest statue in the world and cost US$422m. High-speed elevators inside take tourists up to view the Narmada dam from the level of Sardar Patel’s chest. 

Of course, you cannot see the river valley civilisation that lies destroyed, submerged in the depths of the vast reservoir, or hear the stories of the people who waged one of the most beautiful, profound struggles the world has ever known – not just against that one dam, but against the accepted ideas of what constitutes civilisation, happiness and progress. 

The statue was Modi’s pet project. He inaugurated it in October 2018.

The friend who messaged about Prabhubhai had spent years as an anti-dam activist in the Narmada valley. She wrote: “My hands shiver as I write this. Covid situation in and around Kevadia Colony grim.”

The precise numbers that make up India’s Covid graph are like the wall that was built in Ahmedabad to hide the slums Donald Trump would drive past on his way to the “Namaste Trump” event that Modi hosted for him in February 2020. 

Grim as those numbers are, they give you a picture of the India-that-matters, but certainly not the India that is. 

In the India that is, people are expected to vote as Hindus, but die as disposables.

Try not to pay attention to the fact that the possibility of a dire shortage of oxygen had been flagged as far back as April 2020, and then again in November by a committee set up by the government itself. 

Try not to wonder why even Delhi’s biggest hospitals don’t have their own oxygen-generating plants. Try not to wonder why the PM Cares Fund – the opaque organisation that has recently replaced the more public Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, and which uses public money and government infrastructure but functions like a private trust with zero public accountability – has suddenly moved in to address the oxygen crisis. 

Will Modi own shares in our air-supply now?

Understand that there were and are so many far more pressing issues for the Modi government to attend to. Destroying the last vestiges of democracy, persecuting non-Hindu minorities and consolidating the foundations of the Hindu Nation makes for a relentless schedule. 

There are massive prison complexes, for example, that must be urgently constructed in Assam for the 2 million people who have lived there for generations and have suddenly been stripped of their citizenship. 

(On this matter, our independent supreme court came down hard on the side of the government and leniently on the side of the vandals.)

There are hundreds of students and activists and young Muslim citizens to be tried and imprisoned as the primary accused in the anti-Muslim pogrom that took place against their own community in north-east Delhi last March. 

If you are Muslim in India, it’s a crime to be murdered. Your folks will pay for it. 

There was the inauguration of the new Ram Temple in Ayodhya, which is being built in place of the mosque that was hammered to dust by Hindu vandals watched over by senior BJP politicians. 

(On this matter, our independent supreme court came down hard on the side of the government and the vandals.) 

There were the controversial new Farm Bills to be passed, corporatising agriculture. 

There were hundreds of thousands of farmers to be beaten and teargassed when they came out on to the streets to protest.

Then there’s the multi-multi-multimillion-dollar plan for a grand new replacement for the fading grandeur of New Delhi’s imperial centre to be urgently attended to. 

After all, how can the government of the new Hindu India be housed in old buildings? While Delhi is locked down, ravaged by the pandemic, construction work on the “Central Vista” project, declared as an essential service, has begun. 

Workers are being transported in. Maybe they can alter the plans to add a crematorium.

There was also the Kumbh Mela to be organised, so that millions of Hindu pilgrims could crowd together in a small town to bathe in the Ganges and spread the virus even-handedly as they returned to their homes across the country, blessed and purified. 

This Kumbh rocks on, although Modi has gently suggested that it might be an idea for the holy dip to become “symbolic” – whatever that means. 

(Unlike what happened with those who attended a conference for the Islamic organisation Tablighi Jamaat last year, the media has not run a campaign against them calling them “corona jihadis” or accusing them of committing crimes against humanity.) 

There were also those few thousand Rohingya refugees who had to be urgently deported back to the genocidal regime in Myanmar from where they had fled – in the middle of a coup. 

(Once again, when our independent supreme court was petitioned on this matter, it concurred with the government’s view.)

So, as you can tell, it’s been busy, busy, busy.

Over and above all this urgent activity, there is an election to be won in the state of West Bengal. 

This required our home minister, Modi’s man Amit Shah, to more or less abandon his cabinet duties and focus all his attention on Bengal for months, to disseminate his party’s murderous propaganda, to pit human against human in every little town and village. West Bengal is a small state. 

The election could have taken place in a single day, and has done so in the past. But since it is new territory for the BJP, the party needed time to move its cadres, many of who are not from Bengal, from constituency to constituency to oversee the voting. 

The election schedule was divided into eight phases, spread out over a month, the last on 29 April. As the count of corona infections ticked up, the other political parties pleaded with the election commission to rethink the election schedule. 

The commission refused and came down hard on the side of the BJP, and the campaign continued. 

Who hasn’t seen the videos of the BJP’s star campaigner, the prime minister himself, triumphant and maskless, speaking to the maskless crowds, thanking people for coming out in unprecedented numbers? 

That was on 17 April, when the official number of daily infections was already rocketing upward of 200,000.

Now, as voting closes, Bengal is poised to become the new corona cauldron, with a new triple mutant strain known as – guess what – the “Bengal strain”. 

Newspapers report that every second person tested in the state capital, Kolkata, is Covid positive. 

The BJP has declared that if it wins Bengal, it will ensure people get free vaccines. And if it doesn’t?

Anyway, what about the vaccines? Surely they’ll save us? Isn’t India a vaccine powerhouse? In fact, the Indian government is entirely dependent on two manufacturers, the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech

Both are being allowed to roll out two of the most expensive vaccines in the world, to the poorest people in the world. 

This week they announced that they will sell to private hospitals at a slightly elevated price, and to state governments at a somewhat lower price. Back-of-the-envelope calculations show the vaccine companies are likely to make obscene profits.

Under Modi, India’s economy has been hollowed out, and hundreds of millions of people who were already living precarious lives have been pushed into abject poverty

A huge number now depend for survival on paltry earnings from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which was instituted in 2005 when the Congress party was in power. 

It is impossible to expect that families on the verge of starvation will pay most of a month’s income to have themselves vaccinated. 

In the UK, vaccines are free and a fundamental right. Those trying to get vaccinated out of turn can be prosecuted. 

In India, the main underlying impetus of the vaccination campaign seems to be corporate profit.

As this epic catastrophe plays out on our Modi-aligned Indian television channels, you’ll notice how they all speak in one tutored voice. The “system” has collapsed, they say, again and again. The virus has overwhelmed India’s health care “system”.

The system has not collapsed. The “system” barely existed. The government – this one, as well as the Congress government that preceded it – deliberately dismantled what little medical infrastructure there was. 

This is what happens when a pandemic hits a country with an almost nonexistent public healthcare system. 

India spends about 1.25% of its gross domestic product on health, far lower than most countries in the world, even the poorest ones. 

Even that figure is thought to be inflated, because things that are important but do not strictly qualify as healthcare have been slipped into it. 

So the real figure is estimated to be more like 0.34%. The tragedy is that in this devastatingly poor country, as a 2016 Lancet study shows, 78% of the healthcare in urban areas and 71% in rural areas is now handled by the private sector. 

The resources that remain in the public sector are systematically siphoned into the private sector by a nexus of corrupt administrators and medical practitioners, corrupt referrals and insurance rackets.

Healthcare is a fundamental right. The private sector will not cater to starving, sick, dying people who don’t have money. This massive privatisation of India’s healthcare is a crime.

The system hasn’t collapsed. The government has failed. Perhaps “failed” is an inaccurate word, because what we are witnessing is not criminal negligence, but an outright crime against humanity

Virologists predict that the number of cases in India will grow exponentially to more than 500,000 a day. They predict the death of many hundreds of thousands in the coming months, perhaps more. 

My friends and I have agreed to call each other every day just to mark ourselves present, like roll call in our school classrooms. 

We speak to those we love in tears, and with trepidation, not knowing if we will ever see each other again. 

We write, we work, not knowing if we will live to finish what we started. Not knowing what horror and humiliation awaits us. The indignity of it all. That is what breaks us.

The hashtag #ModiMustResign is trending on social media. Some of the memes and illustrations show Modi with a heap of skulls peeping out from behind the curtain of his beard. 

Modi the Messiah speaking at a public rally of corpses. Modi and Amit Shah as vultures, scanning the horizon for corpses to harvest votes from. 

But that is only one part of the story. The other part is that the man with no feelings, the man with empty eyes and a mirthless smile, can, like so many tyrants in the past, arouse passionate feelings in others. His pathology is infectious. 

And that is what sets him apart. In north India, which is home to his largest voting base, and which, by dint of sheer numbers, tends to decide the political fate of the country, the pain he inflicts seems to turn into a peculiar pleasure.

Fredrick Douglass said it right: “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” 

How we in India pride ourselves on our capacity to endure. How beautifully we have trained ourselves to meditate, to turn inward, to exorcise our fury as well as justify our inability to be egalitarian. How meekly we embrace our humiliation.

When he made his political debut as Gujarat’s new chief minister in 2001, Modi ensured his place in posterity after what has come to be known as the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. 

Over a period of a few days, Hindu vigilante mobs, watched over and sometimes actively assisted by the Gujarat police, murdered, raped and burned alive thousands of Muslims as “revenge” for a gruesome arson attack on a train in which more than 50 Hindu pilgrims had been burned alive. 

Once the violence subsided, Modi, who had until then only been appointed as chief minister by his party, called for early elections. 

The campaign in which he was portrayed as Hindu Hriday Samrat (“The Emperor of Hindu Hearts”) won him a landslide victory. Modi hasn’t lost an election since.

Several of the killers in the Gujrat pogrom were subsequently captured on camera by the journalist Ashish Khetan, boasting of how they hacked people to death, slashed pregnant women’s stomachs open and smashed infants’ heads against rocks. 

They said they could only have done what they did because Modi was their chief minister. Those tapes were broadcast on national TV. 

While Modi remained in the seat of power, Khetan, whose tapes were submitted to the courts and forensically examined, appeared as a witness on several occasions. 

Over time, some of the killers were arrested and imprisoned, but many were let off. 

In his recent book, Undercover: My Journey Into the Darkness of Hindutva, Khetan describes in detail how, during Modi’s tenure as chief minister, the Gujarat police, judges, lawyers, prosecutors and inquiry committees all colluded to tamper with evidence, intimidate witnesses and transfer judges.

Despite knowing all this, many of India’s so-called public intellectuals, the CEOs of its major corporations and the media houses they own, worked hard to pave the way for Modi to become the prime minister. 

They humiliated and shouted down those of us who persisted in our criticism. “Move on”, was their mantra. 

Even today, they mitigate their harsh words for Modi with praise for his oratory skills and his “hard work”. 

Their denunciation and bullying contempt for politicians in opposition parties is far more strident. 

They reserve their special scorn for Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party, the only politician who has consistently warned of the coming Covid crisis and repeatedly asked the government to prepare itself as best it could. 

To assist the ruling party in its campaign to destroy all opposition parties amounts to colluding with the destruction of democracy.

So here we are now, in the hell of their collective making, with every independent institution essential to the functioning of a democracy compromised and hollowed out, and a virus that is out of control.

The crisis-generating machine that we call our government is incapable of leading us out of this disaster. 

Not least because one man makes all the decisions in this government, and that man is dangerous – and not very bright. 

This virus is an international problem. To deal with it, decision-making, at least on the control and administration of the pandemic, will need to pass into the hands of some sort of non-partisan body consisting of members of the ruling party, members of the opposition, and health and public policy experts.

As for Modi, is resigning from your crimes a feasible proposition? Perhaps he could just take a break from them – a break from all his hard work. 

There’s that $564m Boeing 777, Air India One, customised for VVIP travel – for him, actually – that’s been sitting idle on the runway for a while now. 

He and his men could just leave. The rest of us will do all we can to clean up their mess.

No, India cannot be isolated. We need help.

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The unmaking of India @FinancialTimes @Ram_Guha
Law & Politics

By having a sports stadium named after himself within his lifetime, Modi put himself in the worst possible company, including Kim Il Sung and Saddam Hussein. 

Yet what truly made it in bad taste was that India had just come through a dire 12 months. 

Although the Covid-19 pandemic had not yet caused as much loss of life as in Europe and North America, the economy lay in ruins. 

Gross domestic product contracted by 23.9 per cent between April and June 2020. By some estimates, more than 100m people had lost their jobs.

India sets a world record for the most cases recorded in the previous 24 hours. These are “official” figures, issued by a government notoriously economical with the truth. 

One CNN report cited an expert who suggested deaths are under-reported by a factor of between two and five, meaning we may have already had 1m Covid-related deaths instead of the roughly 200,000 reported so far. 

And with the surge predicted to continue at least till the end of May, the magnitude of the disaster is almost impossible to contemplate.

As stories of oxygen shortages and photos of burning funeral pyres are carried across the world, the culpability of the Modi government becomes ever clearer. 

From the time the first reports of the virus emerged, our prime minister has consistently ignored the danger signs while focusing on building his own personal brand and image.

Like other populists, Modi has been sceptical of experts’ advice, saying he much prefers “hard work” to “Harvard”

Where previous Indian prime ministers actively consulted scientists and economists in the making of public policy, Modi has preferred to trust his own instincts. 

The professional civil service, and even the diplomatic corps, have become more and more politicised, with growing emphasis on loyalty to the leader and his ideology. 

The pandemic has in many ways brought into sharp focus a more existential crisis for India — the creeping erosion of its democratic traditions and values.

Let me take you back to February 2020, exactly a year before the inauguration of the Narendra Modi Stadium, when the prime minister visited Ahmedabad in the company of the then US president, Donald Trump. 

The virus was making its presence known, but the leaders of the world’s richest and largest democracies were unconcerned.

Modi wanted praise from Trump, and Trump wanted Modi to get Indian-Americans to vote for him in the 2020 presidential election

In Ahmedabad the two populist demagogues made a show of respect towards Mahatma Gandhi, visiting his ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati river. 

Then Modi took Trump to New Delhi, where, while they chatted and feasted, riots broke out in India’s capital, in which Muslims suffered disproportionately.

Throughout February 2020, Modi’s attentions were devoted to planning the visit of his friend from America. 

Throughout much of March, Modi and his Bharatiya Janata party were focused on bringing down a government ruled by the Congress party in the state of Madhya Pradesh, offering inducements to legislators to defect. 

On March 11 the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. The death toll was rising alarmingly in Europe. While now belatedly aware of the virus, Modi still wanted to wait to have the state of Madhya Pradesh in his hands. 

On March 23, a BJP government was sworn in in the state. The prime minister said he would address the nation the following evening. What might he say? 

Ever since he had announced, in November 2016, that 500 and 1,000 rupee notes (amounting to 86 per cent of the value of currency in circulation) would be rendered unusable in four hours’ time, the PM’s every speech had been awaited with a degree of nervous trepidation.

When speaking at public rallies, while canvassing votes for himself or his party, Modi works in the polemical mode, loudly mocking his rivals in an ever-increasing cascade of insults. 

When speaking on television, as prime minister, Modi adopts a gentler, paternal tone. He speaks softly, offering homilies to his fellow citizens. The sting is generally at the end. 

And so it was on the evening of March 24 2020, when he began by talking of the crisis that Covid-19 posed, before suddenly announcing that all of India, in just four hours’ time, would be locked down for three whole weeks. 

With their jobs taken away from them at one fell swoop, and no buses or trains running any more, tens of thousands of workers began to walk back to their villages. 

Photographs of poor Indians walking with their belongings on their head, and of their being stopped and brutalised by the police, went viral. 

Several commentators remarked on the chilling similarities between these images and those of refugees during the Partition of India. 

For our prime minister, Covid-19’s arrival in India became a further opportunity to reinforce the cult of personality. 

The choreographed speeches were one manifestation — with public broadcasting network Prasar Bharati crudely boasting that more people had tuned in to hear Modi speak than had watched the final of the hugely popular cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League.

 A second manifestation was the creation of a new fund with a diabolically well-crafted name — PM CARES, the acronym standing for Citizens Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations

Modi’s own photograph was prominently emblazoned on its website, and would be on the publicity collateral and perhaps on the packaging of the supplies bought with it too. 

The fund’s operations were opaque — nobody knew how much money was collected, or how it was to be spent. An appeal to the Supreme Court of India to mandate financial transparency was rejected. 

As 2020 progressed, a sense of complacency set in about the pandemic itself — not merely in government, but among the public at large.

Some experts had claimed that India would be ravaged by the virus, with several hundred million people being affected; but when the number turned out to be far fewer, they were scolded by our prickly patriots.

 “Our drains are not filled with bodies, our hospitals have not run out of beds,” wrote one prominent Delhi editor. 

“Our crematoriums and graveyards are not out of wood or space. There is not even a cricket field-sized sliver of India anywhere that might help you make a convenient or macabre comparison with the Spanish Flu of 1918.” 

He added “that good news, or absence of expected bad news, is the truth that so many in the international community, and also within India, seem unable to handle.”

In December 2020, the Indian cricket team defeated Australia in a Test series played Down Under. The next month, in an address to university students, Modi invoked this sporting victory as a prelude to the nation’s apparent triumph against Covid. 

“The Indian cricket team suffered crushing defeat, yet recovered equally fast and won the next match,” he said.

Likewise, “this self-confidence and absence of fear in trading the uncharted path and young energy has strengthened the country in its fight against corona . . . India took fast, proactive decisions instead of compromising with the situation and effectively fought with the virus.”

This sort of arrogant complacency permeated the Modi government’s actions and decisions. 

In the wake of the pandemic, a “Covid task force” of scientific experts had been constituted — yet there was no meeting of the body through February and March 2021. 

For the prime minister had given the signal that the virus had been defeated by Indians, just as the Australian cricketers had been.

It was by now well known that all countries, even the richest and with the best-equipped healthcare systems, had experienced a second wave of the virus, often worse than the first. 

“Had we anticipated this,” writes one distinguished Mumbai physician, “we could have buttressed our defences and increased our resources.” 

But “perhaps the powers that be felt that we are God’s chosen country and this could not happen to us”. 

And so, powered by faith in their living god, some 55,000 people, mostly maskless, came to cheer India play against England at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad in the last week of February.

Throughout February and March, Modi and home minister Amit Shah were busy with assembly elections in the state of West Bengal. 

They addressed large rallies in which they, like the audience, scorned the use of masks. 

On April 11 2021 the Covid task force finally met, after it was clear that a second wave had hit India. 

Modi remained focused on the West Bengal election: on April 17, he spoke at a rally in the industrial town of Asansol. “Maine aisi sabha pehli baar dekhi hai” (“I have never seen such big crowds at a rally”), he proclaimed.

By now, India’s crematoriums were out of wood and its graveyards out of space, and yet the prime minister was bragging about how loved he was.

Tragically, though, the boastfulness was not without foundation. Despite his failures on the economic front, despite his mishandling of the pandemic, Modi remains enormously popular among voters. 

An opinion poll conducted in late January showed “NaMo” as having approval ratings of above 70 per cent. 

Events of recent weeks may have caused a slide, but this is likely to be modest, rather than precipitous.

How does one explain this disjunction between performance and popularity? One reason for Modi’s appeal is that his ideology of Hindu majoritarianism is widely shared by voters, particularly in the populous states of northern India. 

The BJP has been especially successful in getting lower-caste Hindus into their fold, by offering them cultural superiority over Muslims.

India once stood out in south Asia for affirming — at least in theory, if less emphatically in practice — that faith and state were distinct in public matters. 

Now, under Modi, India is increasingly becoming a Hindu version of Pakistan. 

(In Covid times, this glorification of Hindu pride has revealed itself in the decision to allow a congregation of millions of worshippers in the Kumbh Mela, with costs that will steadily mount as infected devotees return to their towns and villages.)

Modi’s political success has also been enabled by a weak and fragmented opposition. Particularly culpable here is the Indian National Congress, once the great party of the freedom movement, now the property of a single family. 

In the general elections of 2014 and 2019, the BJP won easily because Modi was pitted against Rahul Gandhi, an entitled fifth-generation dynast with no administrative experience; he is also an indifferent orator. Yet it may still be Gandhi who leads the Congress into the 2024 elections.

Finally, Modi has been able to do what he wants because of the capitulation of the democratic institutions meant to keep authoritarianism in check. 

The principal culprit here is the Supreme Court, whose conduct in recent years has been nothing less than supine

Successive chief justices have refused to protect individual liberties and minority rights, been insensitive to the savage suppression of dissent by the state, and facilitated a secretive electoral bonds scheme whereby the ruling party can collect money from businesses in return for favours.

Incompetence, sectarianism and the cult of personality — these are the three defining traits of Modi’s regime

One constitutional scholar describes the Supreme Court of the Modi years as an “institution that speaks the language of the executive, and has become indistinguishable from the executive”; 

a second writes that the “Supreme Court has badly let us down in recent times, through a combination of avoidance, mendacity, and a lack of zeal on behalf of political liberty”.

Back in 2012, I exchanged a series of emails with a young entrepreneur, who, disgusted with the Congress party in power, desperately wanted Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, to become India’s next prime minister. 

The correspondence was long and instructive, but here I must quote only snatches. 

Thus my friend wrote: “Specifically, Narendra Modi could be our own Deng Xiaoping, unwedded to any ideology except economic growth. As a natural democrat and argumentative dissident, I shudder at that analogy, which is barely an unmixed compliment. But, as far as choices go, that will be my pick.”

The comparison of Modi to Deng provoked this anguished response from myself: “No, no, no, do not be so simple-minded and see Modi as the leader we need or want. What is good for business is not necessarily good for India. Deng was a genuine patriot, Modi is a bigot and megalomaniac.”

It turned out I was wrong on one count: Modi has been good for a few businessmen, not for business as a whole. 

During the pandemic, even as tens of millions of Indians lost their jobs, a handful of billionaires made windfall gains. 

Among them are Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani, both coincidentally from Modi’s state of Gujarat, and also, surely coincidentally, with their names emblazoned on the new Narendra Modi Cricket Stadium, where overs are bowled alternatively from the Adani and Ambani ends.

Modi may (or may not) win a third term as prime minister. But from what he has done so far, it seems pretty clear that the republic has been ill-served by his rule. Incompetence, sectarianism and the cult of personality — these are the three defining traits of his regime.

In the present wave of the pandemic, the city of New Delhi has been the worst affected, yet the sufferings of its citizens have not deterred Modi from going ahead with a vanity project dearer to his heart than any other. 

This is to radically reshape the landscape of the capital, so as to supplant the glorious architectural heritage of the Mughals and the British with the personal imprint of the new emperor of India. 

While shortages of oxygen, beds, medicines and vaccines abound, while the dead are being cremated in parking lots, a construction company has been instructed to get on with building a brand new house for the prime minister, their activities given legal protection under the “Essential Services Act”.

From cricket to Covid, no sphere of human life has escaped our eagle-eyed prime minister. Although India was slow off the mark in vaccinating its population, its programme will be unique in one respect — each certificate of vaccination carries a portrait of Modi. 

One Indian posted a photo of his certificate with the sarcastic line: “Sir Modi jee knows what to do, when to do, how to do”.

Another commentator was more brutal, tweeting: “Just as there is a photo of Modi on the vaccine certificate, there should also be a photo of Modi on the death certificate of those killed by Covid.” 

Grim and even ghoulish, this statement may yet serve as an appropriate epitaph for the reign of Narendra Modi.

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States with such rulers can get “seized by senility and the chronic disease from which [they] can hardly ever rid [themselves], for which [they] can find no cure”
Law & Politics

Ibn Khaldun explained the intrinsic relationship between political leadership and the management of pandemics in the pre-colonial period in his book Muqaddimah 

Historically, such pandemics had the capacity to overtake “the dynasties at the time of their senility, when they had reached the limit of their duration” and, in the process, challenged their “power and curtailed their [rulers’] influence...” 

Rulers who are only concerned with the well-being of their “inner circle and their parties” are an incurable “disease”. 

States with such rulers can get “seized by senility and the chronic disease from which [they] can hardly ever rid [themselves], for which [they] can find no cure”

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.2101

Dollar Index 90.621

Japan Yen 108.86

Swiss Franc 0.9087

Pound 1.3922

Aussie 0.7769

India Rupee 74.0155

South Korea Won 1113.41

Brazil Real 5.3384

Egypt Pound 15.6599

South Africa Rand 14.3920

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One Bank Warns Soaring Food Prices Will Lead To Social Unrest @zerohedge

In a nutshell, this is a problem since food is a large component of CPI baskets in Asia, and "this large inflationary impulse in the region that houses more than half the world’s population should result in higher wage costs in the factory base of the world. As CPI and PPI rise in Asia, it will feed through globally in the months ahead."

Today, DB's Jim Reid picked that chart as his "Chart of the day", repeating what readers already know, namely that Bloomberg’s agriculture spot index has risen by c.76% year-on-year, noting that "that’s the biggest annual rise in nearly a decade, and there are only a couple of other comparable episodes since the index begins back in 1991."

Like us, Reid then patiently tries to explain to all the idiots - like those employed in the Marriner Eccles building - that the importance of this record surge "extends far beyond your weekly shop, as there’s an extensive literature connecting higher food prices to periods of social unrest." 

Indeed, you’ll notice from the chart that the last big surge from the middle of 2010 to early 2011 coincided with the start of the Arab Spring, for which food inflation is regarded as a contributing factor.

While this is hardly new - we discussed it in "Why Albert Edwards Is Starting To Panic About Soaring Food Prices" and in "We Are Edging Closer To A Biblical Commodity Price Increase Scenario" - 

Reid also reminds us that emerging markets are more vulnerable to this trend, since their consumers spend a far greater share of their income on food than those in the developed world.

The DB strategist then goes all-in and says what everyone is thinking, namely that 

"this trend of higher food prices leading to social unrest extends far back into history and surrounds many key turning points. The French Revolution of 1789, which overthrew the Ancien Régime, came after a succession of poor harvests that led to major rises in food prices. It was a similar story at the time of Europe’s 1848 revolutions too, which followed the failure of potato crops in the 1840s and the associated severe famine in much of Europe. And the 1917 overthrow of the Tsarist regime in Russia took place in the context of food shortages as well."

So while it remains to be seen what the consequences of today’s surge in food prices could be, Reid cautions that "given the hardship that’s already occurred thanks to the pandemic, a fresh wave of unrest would be no surprise on a historical basis."

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"With an expected increase in population, #Africa has to fight against hunger by investing massively in crop, livestock production, technology" - President of #Senegal, @Macky_Sall @AfDB_Group

"With an expected increase in population, #Africa has to fight against hunger by investing massively in crop, livestock production, technology and use of the English language to better communicate." - President of #Senegal, @Macky_Sall

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Alarm grows in Africa as it watches India’s COVID-19 crisis @AP

 Africa is “watching with total disbelief” as India struggles with a devastating resurgence in COVID-19 cases, the continent’s top public health official said Thursday, as African officials worry about delays in vaccine deliveries caused by India’s crisis.

The African continent, with roughly the same population as India and fragile health systems, “must be very, very prepared” since a similar scenario could happen here, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters.

“What is happening in India cannot be ignored by our continent,” he said, and urged African countries to avoid mass gatherings including political rallies. 

“We do not have enough health care workers, we do not have enough oxygen,” he warned.

Africa’s vaccine supply heavily relies on India, whose Serum Institute is the source of the AstraZeneca vaccines distributed by the global COVAX project to get doses to low- and middle-income countries. 

India’s export ban on vaccines “has severely impacted the predictability of the rollout of vaccination programs and will continue to do so for the coming weeks and perhaps months,” Nkengasong said.

“We are living in a world that is extremely uncertain now,” he added.

Just 17 million vaccine doses have been administered across the African continent for a population of some 1.3 billion, according to the Africa CDC.

The situation in India is “very sad to observe,” the World Health Organization’s Africa chief told reporters in a separate briefing. 

“We are very concerned about the delays that are coming in the availability of vaccines,” Matshidiso Moeti added.

Her WHO colleague, Phionah Atuhebwe, called the delay “quite devastating for everybody” and said most African nations that received their first vaccine doses via COVAX will reach a “gap” in supply while waiting for second doses as early as May or June.

“We call upon countries that have extra doses to do their part,” Atuhebwe said, adding that the WHO is reviewing the Chinese-made Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines this week.

One unexpected COVID-19 vaccine donor is Congo, which Nkengasong said wants to give back some 1.3 million doses so they can be distributed to other African nations since it hasn’t been able to do it at home.

There is “a lot of vaccine hesitancy” in the vast country, Nkengasong said. He didn’t immediately know how many people have received the doses there.

There is a five-week timeline to get the doses administered elsewhere, he said, and Congo is working with COVAX to hand them over. 

He expressed hope that the doses can reach other people quickly during what he called “an extremely critical time.”

Nkengasong didn’t know of other African countries saying they’re unable to use their doses but he urged them not to wait until the last moment to hand them back. 

Other countries in Europe, North America and Asia “can have their luxury” of vaccine options, he said, but “we do not have choices.”

Moeti with the WHO commended Congo for its decision, calling it “extremely wise of the government to make this estimation” in a country with gaps in its health care system.

She also warned that African countries must step up key public health measures to help avoid India’s scenario occurring here. 

The rate of testing for the coronavirus has dropped in “quite a few countries,” she said, and mentioned seeing data from one African nation in which the proportion of people not wearing face masks has risen to almost 80%.

Only 43 million tests for the virus have been conducted across the African continent since the pandemic began, the Africa CDC chief said, with a 26% drop in new tests conducted in the past week.

Nkengasong warned against travel bans, however, after Kenya this week announced it will suspend all passenger flights to and from India for two weeks starting midnight Saturday, while cargo flights continue.

“It’s really unfortunate we are reacting in a very ad hoc manner in respect to flight movements,” he said, emphasizing the strength of authentic negative PCR tests. “It’s not people who are a threat, it’s the virus.”

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Why Did Washington Let a Stolen Election Stand in the Congo? @ForeignPolicy H/T @MartinFayulu

The Biden administration has arrived with some grand promises for its foreign policy, among them to “rally the nations of the world to defend democracy globally” and “empower” U.S. diplomats who were “politicized” under the previous administration.

But a controversial recent election in one of Africa’s largest countries raises a fundamental question. Is the U.S. foreign-policy apparatus even capable of exploiting opportunities to assist potential democratic breakthroughs? 

How and why U.S. diplomats—mainly veteran career officers rather than Trumpian outsiders—decided to spurn such an opportunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2018 has important implications for the Biden administration.

It suggests that to fulfill his pledge, Biden will need to take steps to ensure his top foreign-policy appointees are strongly invested in democracy promotion and that career foreign service officers are not only empowered but also incentivized to think beyond short-term accommodations with local leaders.

The DRC’s December 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections were a long-awaited chance for Congolese to replace the unpopular, corrupt, and repressive government of then-President Joseph Kabila with one that would serve their interests. 

Kabila had designated Emmanuel Shadary as his preferred successor. Martin Fayulu and current Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi were the leading opposition candidates.

As the government-controlled election commission, the CENI, pondered what to do with ballots that threatened to end Kabila’s sway, the Catholic Church—the most important and trusted civil institution in the country—discreetly unveiled to its foreign donors the results of its 40,000 person-strong electoral observation project

Among the largest funders were the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Carter Center. 

Based on a scientific sample of 10 percent of polling stations and a compilation of 42 percent of the total vote, the church’s Episcopal conference, called CENCO, projected an overwhelming victory for Fayulu

Since it was illegal for anyone but CENI to publish voting results, the church publicly divulged only that it had determined a clear winner.

There ensued a remarkable conversation between Kabila and church leaders, one that foreshadowed the choice that U.S. diplomats would eventually make to “pragmatically” accommodate Kabila’s plausible short-term threats rather than pursue the more challenging path of supporting a longer-term democratic advance.

As CENCO secretary-general Abbé Nsholé remembered it, “Kabila told us if we publicly released our results, there would be blood in the streets, and the church would be responsible for it,” Nsholé said

“Archbishop (now Cardinal) Ambongo replied, ‘We have the same preoccupation with peace, but this comes from free and fair elections, not unfair ones.’”

Over the next three weeks, U.S. policy evolved toward an endorsement of Kabila’s eventual decision to anoint Tshisekedi his successor. 

Although USAID and the U.S. Treasury Department strenuously objected to the U.S. State Department’s portrayal of this choice as “democratic” and occasionally challenged some assumptions underlying the policy, they never offered a full-fledged alternative.

This account is based primarily on 20 interviews—including 10 with U.S. officials—that were conducted on background and without attribution to promote candor. 

Foreign Policy offered the U.S. State Department the opportunity to comment on passages stemming from interviews with U.S. officials, but it declined.

In a Jan. 3, 2019 press statement, the State Department urged CENI to transparently count votes and “ensure” its results “correspond to results announced at each of DRC’s 75,000 polling stations.” 

At the same time, the department ignored the one resource that could have held the Kabila-dominated, corruption-laden CENI to account: the church’s U.S.-funded election observation project.

Taking their cue from the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, the main State Department policymakers refused to accept the likelihood of CENCO’s conclusion that Tshisekedi had lost decisively. 

Nor did they modify their position in the following days as evidence accumulated in favor of the church’s assessment. This would prove fundamental for determining U.S. policy. 

According to two leading department officials, if it had been clear that Fayulu had won, the United States would probably or certainly have taken a different stance.

During several interagency “policy coordination committee” and “deputies committee” meetings first reported on by Foreign Policy on Feb. 1, 2019, the State Department’s resistance to the CENCO results was criticized by representatives of USAID, which managed an annual half billion-dollar program in the DRC, and the Treasury Department, which had previously blocked U.S. assets of Kabila associates for undermining democracy. 

They felt the department’s stance contradicted U.S. democratic values, risked damaging Congolese perceptions of the United States, and undermined the credibility of U.S. support for democratic elections in Africa and other places, such as Venezuela.

Three embassy officials explained the main bases for their skepticism. 

First, although they did not trust CENI to deliver accurate results, they took seriously misleading information from CENI officials that CENCO likely had only 10,000 to 16,000 accredited observers rather than 40,000 accredited observers. 

Secondly, they believed CENI President Corneille Nangaa’s accusation that CENCO was conducting itself “as if it was acting on behalf of a political party.” 

They also complained the church did not, at first, respond to certain questions or reveal detailed results and was vague about its methodology.

Upon investigation, including interviews with and documents provided by CENCO staff and those who knew the church project best, I found the embassy’s overall mistrust could not be sustained. 

The Carter Center, renowned for its expertise in international election observation, had been working with CENCO since the disputed 2011 elections that kept Kabila in power.

It provided technical assistance and financial support for the 2018 observation project, including recruitment and training of observers; methodology for the polling station sample; and design of the structure for data collection, transmission, uploading for tabulation, and analysis. 

Before and during the election, the center had several staff on the ground observing recruitment and training and providing technical backup. 

The center’s project managers concluded, “we have confidence in [CENCO’s] work and their result.”

Moreover, within the embassy, USAID, which had managed the CENCO project since 2014, did not share the predominant view. 

It noticed that development colleagues in other Western embassies that had supported the project were not skeptical of its findings. It communicated its opinion to its Washington headquarters.

Nevertheless, USAID officers conscientiously probed further. After mid-January 2019, when the church released more detailed results to the press and donors, it examined its database of polling station reports and asked CENCO to recover official badges from the 15,000 observers financed by USAID. 

The church over-complied, producing 23,000 badges before running out of money to retrieve the rest from the furthest corners of the vast country. It also commissioned an independent audit for its foreign donors.

What made the State Department’s stance even more problematic was a secret meeting that occurred at the very moment of the church’s report. Nangaa paid a visit to a U.S. embassy official. 

He said if he announced the real winner of the presidential election, he would be killed. 

Arrangements were made for possible political asylum through the British Embassy. 

Four U.S. diplomats, based in both Kinshasa and Washington, report Nangaa stated or implied that Fayulu had won.

There was one finding from the church project that the United States agreed with and acted on. 

A few months before the election, the embassy had been prepared to swallow an expected Shadary victory, even with some CENI cheating. At least Kabila would be gone. 

But after the vote, it found Kabila’s associates deeply worried that Shadary had done so badly that rigging a Shadary victory would trigger massive protests and bloody confrontations

Fearing spreading violence, embassy officials and the U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region made it clear to Kabila as well as concerned regional African states that the U.S. opposed Shadary’s designation.

Kabila then decided to abandon Shadary in favor of Tshisekedi, the far weaker opposition candidate and the one whom Kabila believed from past dealings he could manage more easily. 

The outgoing president retained strong political assets. Through fraud and corruption, his political coalition had won control of two-thirds of the parliament, and his loyalists dominated the security forces.

Without saying so publicly, the United States backed CENI’s Jan. 10, 2019 provisional declaration of Tshisekedi’s victory. 

Despite key European and African partners’ dissatisfaction with Kabila’s choice, the U.S. State Department feared if the international community questioned the president’s decision, he would use it as an excuse to annul the election, perpetuating his misrule and provoking widespread violence. 

The latter was the very consequence the U.S. government had sought to avoid in opposing Shadary. S

Since Kabila would never accept Fayulu, the most realistic option, in their view, was to accept Tshisekedi. 

An authentic—albeit inexperienced—opposition leader, the State Department hoped he would eventually challenge Kabila’s influence.

Consequently, the United States did not back statements by Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Germany at a Jan. 11, 2019 U.N. Security Council meeting that supported CENCO’s call for CENI to release individual polling station results to officially verify the overall count. 

(Actually, according to two State Department officials, the United States had information that CENI could not have complied with that demand because it lacked the technical capacity to create false results.)

The U.S. position did not change on Jan. 15, 2019 when the Financial Times compared detailed CENI election results, leaked by a credible whistleblower, to figures provided by CENCO, discerning “a near perfect correlation.” 

According to that report, Tshisekedi had gotten around the same number of votes as Shadary; each received just a third of Fayulu’s total.

Nor did the U.S. budge on Jan. 17, 2019 when a stunning communique flowed from the headquarters of the African Union (AU), the continent’s regional organization. 

A meeting of heads of state and government had “concluded there were serious doubts on the conformity of the provisional results as proclaimed with the votes cast.”

The DRC was called on to suspend its proclamation of final election results. A delegation, including the chairperson of the AU and other heads of state and government, would be urgently dispatched to Kinshasa to “interact with all Congolese stakeholders, with the view to reaching a consensus on a way out of the post-electoral crisis.” 

The European Union quickly endorsed the initiative. The State Department’s special envoy to the region, an outside political appointee, thought it a constructive step, as did his Belgian counterpart. Still, the State Department remained silent.

In interagency meetings, according to four participants, USAID and Treasury Department representatives at times raised the possibility of wielding sanctions against Kabila to further democracy. 

One representative shocked a senior State Department official who warned of violence by observing that some people may have to die to achieve democratic change.

 Another pointed out that an international response could affect whether violence was used.

One of these dissenters remembers being excited by the African Union initiative. 

Still, USAID and the Treasury Department never proposed a full-fledged alternative policy, including backing the AU. 

This was not completely surprising. Their agencies lacked personnel on the ground—in the DRC and its region—who knew the situation and were familiar with the key political players.

There was another less certain but potentially productive path that could—and, in my opinion, should—have been taken. 

The United States, the most influential Western power on the DRC, could have determined the announced election results were not credible. 

It could have worked with concerned European partners and regional governments (particularly Rwanda, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, and a wavering South Africa) to carefully press Kabila to negotiate a political solution with Fayulu and Tshisekedi.

Kabila had a recent record of eventually backing down when confronted with substantial internal and international pressures. 

Thus, he had abandoned plans to revise the constitution to allow him a third term; negotiated—with church mediation—an agreement with the opposition to move toward elections, which were reluctantly conducted; and then thrown his political heir under the bus. 

He knew annulling the election could spark intense, unrelenting Congolese and foreign reactions.

When I presented this alternative to two key State Department officials, they defended their stance but allowed that Kabila possibly could have retreated. 

The 2019 Foreign Policy article indicated “several current and former U.S. officials said the Trump administration could have coordinated an international response to the election rigging and pressured the government in Kinshasa to back away from trying to install Tshisekedi in office.” 

An experienced top official of a non-U.S. agency who was on the ground agreed: “I would have gone with the votes. Worked to make it acceptable so the country holds together. Used diplomatic leverage. If it were me, I would have tried.”

On Jan. 18, 2019, Kabila rejected the AU mission, and the group postponed its visit. 

The next day, an obedient Constitutional Court certified Tshisekedi’s victory. In a joint press conference on Jan. 22, 2019, EU and AU representatives coolly “took note” of the court’s decision, indicating they would continue to work closely with the country.

The following day, a State Department press release sounded quite different. “The United States welcomes the Congolese Constitutional Court’s certification of Felix Tshisekedi as the next President,” it began. 

While encouraging the new government to be inclusive and “address reports of electoral irregularities,” it saluted “a peaceful and democratic transfer of power,” praising Kabila as the first DRC president to “cede power peacefully through an electoral process.”

A senior State Department policymaker recalled being lambasted for the press release in calls from his counterparts in Britain, France, and the EU.

As Foreign Policy reported at the time, USAID and Treasury Department representatives were upset the secretary of state had substantially altered the interagency committee’s draft press release at the prompting of senior diplomats. 

The latter considered the usual compromise language as too many oars pushing in different directions. The agreed draft had only “taken note” of Tshisekedi’s election while referencing its “deeply flawed and troubling” nature. 

Also, according to a USAID official, it had not referred to a “democratic” power transfer or praised Kabila. 

Anxious to move forward in its working relationship with Tshisekedi by not casting doubt on his legitimacy, the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa appreciated the secretary’s firmness.

The State Department correctly anticipated the Congolese people would not take to the streets and risk death once rid of Kabila. 

But Tshisekedi, lacking a strong popular mandate and shackled to Kabila’s political coalition and security forces, struggled for two years to make critical executive appointments. 

Recently, he exploited divisions within the Kabila grouping and wielded presidential patronage to formally bring most pro-Kabila elected officials into his political orbit.

There remains a significant danger, however, that the absorption of a corruption-fueled political network and the persistence of Kabila loyalists in the military will subvert the reform impulse. 

U.S. diplomacy can help ensure political leaders know they will have to answer to the people in the 2023 elections. 

It should therefore support current proposals for broad electoral reforms, including depoliticization and transparency of the CENI, and state its intention to dispatch congressional and other election observers to back up Congolese ones.

The factors that drove top U.S. officials to ignore credible evidence of fraud and endorse the supposed victory of a candidate who had decisively lost are deeply rooted. 

Lagging U.S. support for a democratic outcome in the DRC cannot be dismissed as an African anomaly. 

In both Washington and Kinshasa, key State Department officers had relevant experience elsewhere in the world. 

Furthermore, it is well known that U.S. diplomats have often been slow to grasp the potential for nonviolent democratic breakthroughs, from apartheid South Africa to the Marcos and Mubarak dictatorships in the Philippines and Egypt, respectively.

Those three climactic weeks in the DRC provide insights into U.S. diplomacy’s deficiencies and how they can be remedied. 

The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa offered valuable perspectives on the thinking of Kabila, his entourage, and their possible options. 

But it gave little attention to how international actors might influence those choices. Most importantly, it failed to provide Washington with an adequate analysis of election results.

Officers extrapolated from limited observations and took the word of people close to the government instead of relying on the expertise of USAID officers, European donors, and Carter Center staff. 

Anxious to solidify its standing with the new regime, the embassy was fine with welcoming a false democratic transition.

Senior career diplomats in Washington failed to ask the right questions about the embassy’s analysis of the election and prized short-term “stability”—namely preventing violence, including Kabila attempting to stay in power—over longer-term democratic progress. 

Although possessing a broader view of African reactions to the crisis than the embassy had, they did not try to partner with dissatisfied regional and European actors to carefully pressure Kabila toward an inclusive negotiated political settlement.

They thought the outcome less certain than accommodating the local power structure. 

Although former U.S. President Donald Trump has been rightly reviled for his violations of democratic norms, it was, ironically, his political appointees in USAID and the Treasury Department who worried most about sacrificing democratic values.

If the Biden administration wishes to “defend democracy globally,” especially in those rare instances when dramatic transformations may be achievable, it needs to ensure its top foreign-policy appointees and career diplomats are aware of, and rewarded for, making this a high priority. 

It has to empower diplomats to better serve democratic purposes. Otherwise, its noble rhetoric will ultimately ring as hollow as that of so many of its predecessors.

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07-JAN-2019 :: Why DR Congo delayed election results

“It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes,” said Joseph Stalin.

President Kabila having anointed his preferred successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, was giving ‘’exclusive’’ interviews to the world’s press. In one interview he alluded to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous quote ‘’I’ll be back.’’

V.S. Naipaul, in A Bend in the River wrote “It isn’t that there’s no right and wrong here. There’s no right.”

all indications are that the opposition led by Martin Fayulu has won the election.

‘’Early results indicate a win for the opposition after government plans to fix the poll went awry,’’ said Africa Confidential

If President Kabila’s Man is at only 20%, then we are talking about single digits in reality. 

Therefore, we are actually talking a compelling victory for Martin Fayulu, an open and shut case as it were.

this is a clear cut case, where the will of the people is being subverted. It’s egregious, outrageous

$750b of a defence budget can be put to good use here. 

If President Trump and his team from Bolton through to Secretary Pompeo want to regain influence on this vast continent, this is that moment.

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21-JAN-2019 :: Martin Fayulu who received about 60%. told the FT’s @thomas_m_wilson “I won’t let the victory of the Congolese people be stolen. If they don’t get the truth now, no one will trust any election ever again.”

The announced result is the equivalent of overturning @anc_party’s @CyrilRamaphosa [who will surely win the election in 2019] and inves- ting @Our_DA’s @MmusiMaimane as President.

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South Africa a surprise safe haven in emerging market maelstrom @Reuters.
Emerging Markets

"The rand has been trading very, very well, like a safe haven almost, within the high-yield part of the index," 
James Lord, global head of FXEM strategy at Morgan Stanley, said.

The South African currency has strengthened 2.4% this year and soared some 30% over the past 12 months, while an index of emerging market currencies is down around 2% 

And rand-denominated government bonds have delivered handsome returns despite this year's hefty rise in U.S. Treasury yields, which roiled other emerging markets. 

South Africa offers some of the highest real yields in major emerging markets, with 10-year government bonds yielding just over 9% with inflation at 3.2% year-on-year

"Russia and Turkey obviously have huge amounts of domestic risk ... and people are a little bit hesitant to get too involved in these markets, which leaves South Africa as the default option if you want to invest in a big, liquid market that has yield," Lord added.

Morgan Stanley calculations show that South African bonds grew to 1.8% overweight - the largest in the index - by the end of March. Lord says this trend has accelerated again in the first two weeks of April.

Commodity price gains have bolstered South Africa's case, said Manik Narain at UBS, who points to metal fuelled export growth being up 20% year-on-year in February. That has lifted the country's trade surplus to 6% of GDP, its highest in more than three decades.

South Africa now appears to be a far cry from its time among the so-called Fragile Five, a group of countries roiled by the 2013 taper tantrum due to their reliance on foreign capital to plug funding deficits.

Meanwhile stocks have given bonds a run for their money. The MSCI South Africa (.dMIZA00000PUS) is up 15% this year, in dollar terms one of the best performing in the emerging world.

But Africa's most industrialised economy faces challenges, with the government trying to rein in public sector salaries to arrest a rapid debt build-up exacerbated by the pandemic.

And one of South Africa's largest public sector trade unions is preparing for a strike over stalled wage talks. read more

"Further progress on the public sector wage bill is key," said Narain, adding the fiscal arithmetic raised more flags with trend growth of 5-6% below effective funding rates of 7.5%.

JPMorgan's Sonja Keller predicts the economy might grow just 0.4% in the first quarter, and that the rand could soften to 16 to the dollar in the forth quarter, from currently 14.32.

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The passing of the bill implementing recommendations of the Building Bridges Initiative should have been a formality paving the way for a referendum. @Africa_Conf

Instead, several embarrassing setbacks for the 'handshake' duo President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, have prompted concerns that the project could yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The longer the wait for the BBI referendum, the greater the risk that it becomes wrapped up in next August's presidential elections. 

The delays in getting the bill through parliament, a process which had been expected to be fast-tracked, means that a referendum on BBI has already been delayed to July, BBI co-chair Junet Mohamed has admitted.

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Airtel Kenya's net loss from voice and data increased by 55% pushing the telco's combined loss to Ksh 5.61 billion @BD_Africa @MwangoCapital
Information & Communication Technology

Loss from voice and data business increased by 55% to Shs 4.45 billion. 

Mobile money posted Shs 1.16 billion in Losses.

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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April 2021

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