Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Obama

Trump Triumphant Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday January 12 2017.

Colman's Column3

The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States will take place on Friday, January 20, 2017, in Washington DC. The election result was immediately followed by street protests and legal attempts to challenge the result. A friend commented on one of my previous articles to the effect that these people should “accept ballot results like mature adults”. It is not immature to be alarmed at the prospect of the radical changes Trump is likely to make on the strength of a very meagre mandate.


Some people have coped with the result by saying Trump will not really make a difference or that he will not do half of the things he promised (threatened). Perhaps he will not follow the Sri Lankan example; perhaps he will not put his defeated opponent in jail. Now that we see who Trump will have in his cabinet, we have a better idea of what the future might be like. Trump’s cabinet choices are mostly recognised enemies of the departments they will be heading – foxes in charge of the henhouse.



Tom Price, a Republican congressman from Georgia, is Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, which means he will lead the federal agency overseeing Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Price has long been a critic of Obamacare and in every Congress since the Act was passed he has put forward his own bills to replace it. The common theme of Price’s plans has been something that does more to benefit the young, healthy and rich to the disadvantage of the sick, old and poor. Price is a doctor and knowledgeable about the system. Doctors have always fought health reform because they usually see it, whatever high-flown reasons they express, as endangering their own financial interests. Remember Nye Bevan “stuffing their mouths with gold” to persuade them to allow the NHS to function. About 5.5 million of the victims of repealing the Affordable Care Act. would be Trump supporters.


Attorney General

The new Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, was junior Senator from Alabama. Jeff Sessions has a history of turning his personal bigotry into political reality. Senator Edward Kennedy, called him a “throw-back to a shameful era” and a “disgrace”. In 1984, as US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, he supported an investigation of black voter fraud in Alabama. On the basis of only 14 allegedly tampered ballots, Sessions prosecuted three African-American community organizers including Martin Luther King Jr’s former aide Albert Turner. The defendants, known as the Marion Three, were acquitted by a jury.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to be a judge of the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. Sessions became only the second nominee to the federal judiciary in 48 years whose nomination was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee. At Sessions’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, four Department of Justice lawyers testified that he had made racially offensive remarks.

Sessions was elected Attorney General of Alabama in November 1994 and led the state’s defence of a schools funding model found unconstitutional because of disparities between rich, mostly white, and poor, mostly black, schools. As Attorney General of Alabama, Sessions argued that funding should not be provided to student groups that advocated unlawful behaviour, including the breaking of sodomy and sexual misconduct laws. As a Senator, he voted against the Matthew Shepard Act, which added acts of bias-motivated violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate-crimes law.

Sessions voted against strengthening the ban on torture and against criminal-justice reform. He worked to block immigration reform. Sessions is against legalizing marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use – “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Sessions believes “that sanctity of life begins at conception.” Sessions was one of 34 Senators to vote against the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007.

Sessions is sceptical of the scientific consensus on climate change. He has voted in favour of legislation that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. He has voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.



Andrew Puzder, Donald Trump’s choice as Secretary of Labor was the CEO of CKE Restaurants, parent company of fast-food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Puzder donated to Trump’s campaign and served as an adviser on job creation. Puzder has complained about regulations and overtime laws and opposed minimum wage increases. Puzder is even critical of the federal relief programs, such as food stamps, that subsidize the poverty wages that he pays his employees. He has talked openly about replacing workers with automated ordering kiosks. Puzder supports repealing the Affordable Care Act and has been critical of paid sick leave policies. He is a determined opponent of trade unions. Unlike the rest of the cabinet, he is in favour of immigration because it provides him with cheap labour.



Betsy de Vos, who has been named as Education Secretary, is known for her advocacy of school choice, home schooling, voucher programmes, and her ties to the Reformed Christian community. She is the daughter-in-law of Richard De Vos, the founder of Amway (the pyramid -selling organisation that has been accused of fraud and cultism). Her brother, Erik Prince, is the founder of Blackwater Worldwide the private military contractor accused of killing civilians in Iraq.

The person charged with overseeing the education of 50 million American children has, since the early 1990s, been active in supporting the charter school movement. Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press, wrote a searing indictment of the Detroit experiment supported by de Vos. “This deeply dysfunctional education landscape—where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and ‘choice’ means the opposite for tens of thousands of children—is no accident. It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.”



Trump placed Scott Pruitt in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, effectively outsourcing his environmental policy to the oil-and-gas companies who funded Pruitt’s campaigns in Oklahoma. After his election as Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt established a “Federalism Unit” in the Attorney General’s office dedicated to fighting President Barack Obama’s regulatory agenda, suing the administration over its immigration policy, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Pruitt’s office has sued the EPA to block its Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States rule. Pruitt has also sued the EPA on behalf of Oklahoma utilities unwilling to take on the burdens of additional regulation of their coal-fired plants, and criticized the agency in a congressional hearing. All of Pruitt’s anti-EPA suits to date have failed but now he can demolish it from within.


Secretary of State

The chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, will be Secretary of State. Like the tobacco companies, the oil companies have been adept at hiding the truth about their product. ExxonMobil in particular has a long history of peddling misinformation on climate change. Investigations by the LA Times and Inside Climate News showed that the company had conducted extensive scientific research that proved the reality of climate change but publicly stuck to the official line: “Currently, the scientific evidence is inconclusive”.

Tillerson, like his president, has no experience in politics. However, he has been the head of an organisation that has had its own foreign policy independent of the official government of the USA. Tillerson has favoured doing business in countries that offer political stability, even if this stability was achieved through dictatorships with no regard for human rights.

Like his president, Tillerson has forged a friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin. As Secretary of State, Tillerson would be in a position to benefit ExxonMobil by, for example, easing sanctions against Russia. He has also established close relations with Igor Sechin, the close Putin ally who runs Rosneft, one of Russia’s oil-and-gas giants. In 2011, Tillerson signed a joint-venture agreement with Putin under which ExxonMobil would partner with Rosneft to produce oil from the Arctic.


These people are out to destroy our world for their own profit. Should we just accept without complaint?

Chuckle Muscles Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on July 22 2015

Colman's Column3It’s being so cheerful as keeps me going – Mona Lott, a character on the 1940s radio show ITMA (It’s that Man Again).

Legal scholar and behavioral economist Cass Sunstein wrote in the New York Review of Books that in 2010, when he was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration, he asked a colleague how things were going. The reply was: “My moment-by-moment happiness is pretty low, but my life satisfaction is great.” The colleague was an expert on  research into happiness, and he was referring to two different measures of “happiness”.

Can’t Buy Happiness?

In the US and in many other industrialized countries, happiness often means money. Economists have assumed that they can measure progress and public welfare by looking at consumer confidence. The Beatles sang that money could not buy you love. Can it buy you happiness?

In 1974, economist Richard Easterlin published a paper, “Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot?” Above a low level of income, Easterlin found no correlation between happiness and GNP per head. In 1972, two economists, William Nordhaus and James Tobin, introduced a measure that they called “Net Economic Welfare,” which showed that a society with more leisure could have as much welfare as one with more work.

Lord Layard of Laughs

Kenneth Clark was an art historian who won international fame with a BBC TV series called Civilisation. Such was his subsequent fame and prestige that he won a peerage. Although he took the title Baron Clark of Saltwood, the satirical magazine Private Eye facetiously dubbed him Lord Clark of Civilisation. Richard Layard should be Lord Layard of Laughs.

Some people make a living studying happiness. I wonder if they are happy in their work.  It is of some significance that Richard Layard’s early work was on unemployment and inequality. In the early 1970s, Layard became interested in Easterlin’s work and, in 2005, he published the book Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, in which he emphasised the importance of non-income variables. In 2012, he co-edited, with Jeffrey Sachs and John Helliwell, the World Happiness Report for the UN. Layard cites three factors that economists often fail to take into consideration:

  • Happiness depends on relative as well as absolute income. Constant compulsory competition makes work and life unpleasant.
  • People will invest more time at work than is good for them if they do not accept that their idea of what is a sufficient income will change.
  • The relative values of one’s accumulated possessions depreciate and consequently the store of happiness depreciates.

It’s All Relative

At a conference on happiness in Nova Scotia, Siddiqur Osmani, a professor of applied economics from the University of Ulster in Ireland, said, “Even in a very miserable condition you can be very happy if you are grateful for small mercies. If someone is starving and hungry and given two scraps of food a day, he can be very happy.” That reminded me of the closing scene of the film of Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of  Ivan Denisovich. Tom Courtenay looks back on a wretched day in the gulag on the icy tundra and remarks: “Well, it wasn’t so bad. I managed to get two bowls of porridge”.

Taxing for Happiness

Layard argues that government can, through tax policy, help citizens preserve a healthy work-life balance. One purpose of taxation is to counteract the cognitive bias that causes people to work more than is good for their happiness. What we see in the USA and the UK is that taxation is bad, inequality acceptable and redistribution through taxation anathema.

A common measure of happiness is to ask people to say how satisfied they are with their lives, on a scale of 0 to 10. One concern has always been that people’s responses to happiness surveys are unreliable. Through these self-evaluations, social scientists are not measuring people’s actual feelings as they experience their lives.


Paul Dolan’s contribution to the debate is a book called Happiness by Design.  Dolan is an economist who is now a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics. He has worked with UK public officials on their efforts to measure happiness. To Dolan, the purpose of our activities affects how we perceive the quality of our experiences. The idea of attention is crucial. This reminds me of something WH Auden wrote: “To pray is to pay attention to something or someone other than oneself. Whenever a man so concentrates his attention — on a landscape, a poem, a geometrical problem, an idol, or the True God — that he completely forgets his own ego and desires, he is praying.” Whether we have a sense of pleasure or purpose depends on where we are focusing our attention. To be truly happy, Dolan concludes, we need to experience both pleasure and purpose, and when the balance is wrong, or when people focus on one at the expense of the other, their lives will be impaired.

Dolan’s Idea of Happiness

Like mygoodself Dolan was brought up in a working class Irish household on council estates and was the first of his family to go to university. However, we have very different ideas of how to achieve happiness.  In a Guardian article, Dolan wrote: “I have never read a novel in my life. There are only so many hours in the day and I have decided to fill them with activities other than reading made-up stories.” Fair enough. He goes to the gym four times a week and enjoys partying and holidays (without the kids) in Ibiza. He loves his wife and children but scoffs at the delusion that they are an unalloyed joy. Having got the science out of the way, he concludes: “the most important and yet most underappreciated ingredient to being happy – luck. I am a very lucky man: not because I have a great job and family and all that stuff but because I have a sunny disposition.” Someone commented: “Hey look it’s a bloke who likes doing some stuff but doesn’t like doing other stuff, yeah? Mind-blowing.”


Gross National Happiness

As long ago as 1972, Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to make his nation’s priority GNH, or gross national happiness. His aim was to share prosperity across society and balance it with preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and maintaining a responsive government. While household incomes in Bhutan remain among the world’s lowest, life expectancy increased by 19 years from 1984 to 1998, jumping to 66 years.

Happiness Equation

Many happiness economists believe they have solved the problem of culture difference comparison by using cross-sections of large data samples across nations and time to demonstrate consistent patterns in the determinants of happiness. Objective measures such as lifespan, income, and education are often used as well as or instead of subjectively reported happiness.

A research team, led by Dr Rob Rutledge, at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, backed up by the Max Planck Society, combined their analysis  of subjective surveys with brain scans to correlate happiness-resulting decisions with brain activity. They found significant activity in the ventral striatum and the insular cortex.

The team came up with an equation:

Happiness = baseline average mood + what you can settle for (CR) + what you’ll get on average if you gamble (EV) + the difference between that and what you actually get (RPE). The recurring ∑-function weights each factor in turn by its recent history


Happiness in Europe


The New Economics Foundation (NeF), using over 40,000 interviews from the 2006/07 European Social Survey, found that Denmark topped the league for  overall well-being, with the UK ranked 13th out of 22 countries . The Nef study placed Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Austria and Sweden after Denmark with the highest levels of overall well-being


The study found the UK was among the bottom four of the 22 nations when it came to feelings of trust and belonging. While the over-75s scored highly on trust, for the 16-24 age group, the UK reported the lowest levels anywhere in Europe. The Nef researchers said the UK’s poor performance on this “key element of social well-being” was indicative of a “highly individualistic culture”. Britons also recorded the second lowest energy levels in Europe and were fourth highest when it came to feeling bored. This does not augur well for Britain’s future.  Nef said the results show UK government policies have focused too much on economic growth at the expense of overall well-being.


The Almost Nearly Perfect People

The Scandinavian countries (and Ireland) usually come out well in surveys of happiness. British journalist, Michael Booth, is somewhat skeptical. Booth is married to a Dane and has lived in Copenhagen for ten years. Booth says Danes “tend to approach the subject of their much-vaunted happiness like the victims of a practical joke waiting to discover who the perpetrator is.” In The Almost Nearly Perfect People, he explores the rest of Scandinavia.

Thin Line between Relaxed and Smug


Newspaper editor Anne Knudsen cast a cynical gaze on those happiness surveys: “In Denmark it is shameful to be unhappy. If you ask me how I am and I start telling you how bad I feel, then it might force you to do something about it. It might put a burden on you to help me.” Kaare Christensen, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Southern Denmark, suggested that the Danes might have been drunk when responding to happiness questionnaires. A similar comment was made about the Irish. “If expectations are unrealistically high they could also be the basis of disappointment and low life satisfaction. Year after year they are pleasantly surprised to find that not everything is getting more rotten in the state of Denmark.”


Happichondria –Are We Having Fun Yet?

John Updike wrote: “America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy”. JD Salinger confessed: “I’m a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people are plotting to make one happy.”Americans are destroying the planet because of their “inalienable right” to seek happiness through rampant consumerism. The Danish corrective – satisfaction with the achievement of low expectations is more attractive than boundless ambitious craving.


Inequality and Unhappiness

The Nordic Noir crime novels of Jo Nesbo, Stig Larson and Arnaldur Indriasson show that the Scandinavian countries fall far short of paradise. Sjowall and Wahloo were finding something rotten in the state of Sweden back in the 60s in their Martin Beck series.


Inequality has risen in Sweden in the past decade and a half, at a rate four times as high as in the US. In Finland, too, the Gini coefficient has climbed four points since the late nineteen-eighties. Something is going wrong.

Inequality makes us crave for goods by constantly reminding us that we have less than the next person. Health professionals report epidemics of ‘hurry sickness’, ‘toxic success syndrome’, the ‘frantic family’, the ‘over-commercialized child’ and ‘pleonexia’. John Stuart Mill wrote in the 19th Century: “The best state for human nature is that in which, while no one is poor, no one desires to be richer, nor has any reason to fear being thrust back, by the efforts of others to push themselves forward.”

The Cult of Happiness

In his recently published book, The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business sold us Well-Being, William Davies writes about governmental and corporate entities working hard to convert the concept of happiness into a “measurable, visible, improvable entity.” He says that the notion of “happiness” has moved from being an add-on, to being a measurement useful in the business of making money. Being depressed will no longer be socially acceptable. The state or big business will deal with that. Governments and business are ready to exploit the “science of happiness” to manage the dislocations of contemporary capitalism. Marcuse wrote about “repressive tolerance” – keeping the masses comfortable enough materially to stop them rebelling. Huxley published Brave New World in 1932, recognizing even then that it was inimical to individual freedom when governments became interested in promoting happiness as a means of social control. Further back than that in 1920 Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian fantasy We depicted the horror of a society where happiness was compulsory.

We still have not learnt.

Britain Teaches the World to Torture

This article appeared on Page 10 of Ceylon Today on Wednesday January 28 2015

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There was a time when the British army adopted a somewhat superior attitude to the US army’s conduct after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Much was made of Britain’s experience in conducting a war against insurgents in urban conditions in Northern Ireland. To boast about that suggests either supreme arrogance or selective memory. British tactics were not successful in Northern Ireland or Basra and certainly did not have the “moral authority” to which David Cameron referred in his statement about the US Senate report on torture.

Britain’s torture laboratory in Northern Ireland

In 1971, Operation Demetrius involved the mass arrest and imprisonment without trial of people suspected of connections with the Provisional IRA. Fourteen of those imprisoned were interrogated at a site formerly known as RAF Ballykelly, which was handed over to the British Army as Shackleton Barracks on 2 June 1971. On their way to the interrogation centre in 1971, the British army hooded the men and threw them to the ground from helicopters. The captors told the hooded men they were hundreds of feet in the air, but the helicopters were actually just a few feet from the ground. Granted, this was better behaviour than that of the Argentinian junta who threw prisoners to their death from helicopters at high altitude.

The British security forces during the Irish Troubles developed five techniques of “deep interrogation”: prolonged wall standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink. For seven days, when not being interrogated, the detainees were forced to wear hoods while handcuffed in a cold cell and were forced to stand in a stress position for many hours. There was a continuous loud hissing noise. They were repeatedly beaten, their heads banged against the wall. The interrogators kicked them in the genitals. The treatment caused long-term trauma.

In 1976, the European Commission of Human Rights ruled that the five techniques amounted to “torture”. However, in 1978, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the five techniques were “inhuman and degrading” and breached the European Convention on Human Rights, but did not amount to “torture”. The Court’s ruling, that the five techniques did not amount to torture, was later cited by the US and Israel to justify their own methods. Britain exported the techniques to the military dictators of Brazil.

Never again?

In 1972, prime minister Edward Heath promised to the House of Commons: “[The] Government, having reviewed the whole matter with great care and with reference to any future operations, have decided that the techniques … will not be used in future as an aid to interrogation… The statement that I have made covers all future circumstances.”

Despite Heath’s promise, the British Army used the five techniques in Iraq. As recently as December 2014, human rights lawyers sent a dossier of claims to the ICC (International Criminal Court) alleging that British soldiers abused and tortured Iraqi men, women and children, aged from 13 to 101. Defence secretary Geoff Hoon told MPs in 2005 that hooding had not been used in Iraq since May 2004. In reality, there were more than 70 cases of hooding between June 2004 and September 2008.

There were, the report alleges, dozens of mock executions; many described how dogs were used to attack or threaten detainees. There are also allegations of sexual assault or rape by British soldiers. One man who was “repeatedly beaten” and “electrocuted”, suffered “severe psychological injuries as a result of his treatment”. He set himself alight and killed himself a year after his release.
Phil Shiner, a solicitor with the law firm PIL (Public Interest Lawyers), which is handling the claims, said: “The UK mindset in Iraq appears to be one of savage brutality and a sadistic inhumanity, irrespective of whether it was women, children or old men being tortured, abused or callously subjected to lethal force. The systemic issues must now be dealt with in public.”

A long history of torture

Britain has an extensive and unlovely record of brutality in the “war on terrorism” that goes back at least as far as the Tudors. Henry VIII tried to bring all Ireland under his control to prevent its use as a base for a Catholic invasion of England or a haven for pretenders trying to depose him. His daughter Elizabeth had similar fears and thought the Jesuits might try to overthrow her. Some versions of the story of Edmund Campion (now a Catholic saint) have it that the Queen was actually present when Campion was tortured on the rack.

Obama tortured by British

Neil Ascherson wrote: “The myth that British colonialism guaranteed a minimum standard of behavior toward ‘natives’ cannot—or should not—survive the evidence of twentieth-century Kenya. In the field, the security forces behaved like Germans on an antipartisan sweep in occupied France. In the detention and work camps, and the resettlement villages, the British created a world no better than the universe of the Soviet Gulag.”

Hussein Onyango Obama, Barack Obama’s paternal grandfather, was arrested in 1949 by the British during the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya and subjected to horrific violence, which left him permanently scarred and embittered against the British. “The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed,” Sarah Onyango, 87, Hussein Onyango’s third wife, the woman President Obama refers to as “Granny Sarah” said. “He said they would sometimes squeeze his testicles with metallic rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together with his head facing down.”

Mau-Mau militants killed 32 British civilians. The British killed 20,000 Mau-Mau fighters and persecuted large numbers of Kikuyu not directly involved in the rebellion. Lawyers acting for Kenyans suing for compensation documented 5,228 cases of abuses including fatal whippings, blindings, castrations and rapes.

In 2009, Kenyan victims filed a lawsuit, but the British government asked the judge to throw out the case, saying it had transferred all liability to Kenya when the country gained independence. The Kenya government denied responsibility and stood behind the victims. The three men, including one whom the British had castrated, who filed the original case made numerous trips to London to give their testimony. Britain could not deny the atrocities because there were immaculate records kept by the torturers themselves that revealed systemic human rights violations. The High Court ordered the Foreign Office to produce all relevant evidence, including hundreds of boxes of files, secretly smuggled out of Kenya ahead of independence in 1963. The British government’s defence until recently was that the statute of limitations had expired. Eventually, after four years of dogged resistance, Britain announced a £19.9 million settlement. Many of the beneficiaries, who are in their 80s, will not have long to enjoy the compensation.

Extraordinary rendition

In 1971, the British evicted all 2,000 inhabitants of the Chagos Islands from their homes in order to give Diego Garcia to the US as a military base. In his book Island of Shame, David Vine quotes military analyst John Pike telling him that the US military’s goal is “to run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia by 2015, even if the entire Eastern Hemisphere has drop-kicked us from every other base.”

Stephen Grey, author of Ghost Plane disclosed the journeys of a Gulfstream aircraft, registered N379P, as part of a list of more than 3,000 flight logs. The logs show the same aircraft flew from Washington via Athens to Diego Garcia. Though there have been persistent reports in the US that detainees have been secretly held in Diego Garcia, the British government has always dismissed the claims. The then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw denied that the Diego Garcia base was used for rendition and torture. “There simply is no truth that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition, full stop.”

David Miliband war criminal?

When David Miliband became foreign secretary in June 2007, there were already allegations about possible British involvement in overseas torture. Sami al-Saadi claimed that, in 2004, MI6 handed him and his family over to authorities in Libya who tortured him. Documents show that MI5 gave Tripoli reports on Libyan dissidents living in Britain.

Gareth Pierce is a human rights lawyer who had defended Giuseppe Conlon against the flawed prosecution led by Sir Michael Havers. She is dishonoured by the ridiculous caricature of her by Emma Thompson in the film In the Name of the Father. She wrote in the London Review of Books about Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian given leave to reside in the UK. “British intelligence and the Americans and Moroccans for 18 months slashed the most intimate parts of his body with razors, burned him with boiling liquids, stretched his limbs causing unimaginable agony, and bombarded him with ferocious sound.” Techniques seem to have become more brutal since the days of St Edmund Campion. As David Miliband was personal advisor to Tony Blair while Labour was in opposition and played a major role in the election victory of 1997, it seems unlikely that he was unaware of what was happening before he became foreign secretary.

As human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, who represented Binyam Mohammed, writes, Miliband cannot avoid charges of complicity demonstrated by his actions as foreign secretary. Miliband personally approved some interrogations involving countries with poor human rights records. He was a senior member of a government that later actively resisted calls for an inquiry. “He put considerable energy into defending a number of claims relating to torture in the English courts against his department.”

While campaigning for the Labour leadership Miliband was forced to confront claims that he allowed the interrogation of three terror suspects who allege they were tortured in Bangladesh and Egypt. Faisal Mostafa, a chemistry lecturer from Manchester, who was twice cleared of terrorism offences in court, was detained in Bangladesh. He claims he was hung upside down and electrocuted while interrogators interrogated him about two Islamist groups.

Britain and the US Senate report

There is no reference at all in the Senate’s 500-page summary report to UK intelligence agencies or the British territory of Diego Garcia. There is no reference to Binyam Mohamed, or to the abductions and extraditions to Libya of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami-al-Saadi. Heavy redactions to the executive summary encouraged speculation that references to US allies were deleted.

The British government commissioned an inquiry by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson to look at the UK’s treatment of detainees after 9/11. In his preliminary report, he raised 27 serious questions about the behaviour of the UK security services. The Gibson Inquiry was replaced by an investigation handled by the ISC (Intelligence and Security Committee). The ISC’s report will not, however, be completed before the 2015 general election, so it is unclear how many members of the nine-strong panel of MPs and peers will still be in parliament to complete the work. Release of the Chilcot Report into the Iraq war is also being delayed until after the election.

Gareth Pierce on the UK’s hypocrisy: “We inhabit the most secretive of democracies, which has developed the most comprehensive of structures for hiding its misdeeds, shielding them always from view behind the curtain of ‘national security’. From here on in we should be aware of the game of hide and seek in which the government hopes to ensure that we should never find out its true culpability.”

For Argument’s Sake

This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday December 5 2011

Critical Thinking

Recent encounters in the blogosphere led me back to my shelf of books on critical thinking. The most accessible of these is philosopher Nigel Warburton’s Thinking from A to Z.

Current usage of the term “liberalism” is an example of what rhetoricians term “lexical ambiguity”. A whole book could be written on how this applies to liberalism but I will deal with that in another article.

Lexical Ambiguity

The word “argument” itself is an example of lexical ambiguity. In common parlance, an argument can be a rowdy fracas, in which all reason is abandoned. In philosophy, an argument is a set of reasons supporting a conclusion. This is in contrast with an assertion which is an unsupported statement of belief. Asserting something loudly does not make it true.

Anthony Weston’s A Rulebook for Arguments would provide a useful guide to writers and politicians or indeed anyone whose mental health, and the sanity of those around them, would be improved by clarity of thought.

Lexical ambiguity occurs when a word with more than one meaning is used in the same sentence. One often finds that people are discussing totally different topics using the same words so there is no chance of agreement. “Discrimination” can be a good thing when it comes to appreciating art, but a bad thing when practising racial injustice. When Dr Johnson saw two harridans shouting from their respective doorsteps, he said they were “arguing from different premises”. A character in a Flann O’Brien novel dismisses an argument because it was made on “licensed premises” i.e. the disputant was probably drunk.

I examined the subject of critical think on a blog some time ago using as a peg arguments about Israel. This brought out quite a variety of comments in which people allowed sloppy thinking to muddle their arguments.

Tu Quoque– the Companions in Guilt Ploy

Defenders of Israel tend to use a category of rhetoric known to philosophers of critical thinking as tu quoque or “the companions in guilt move”. This is brought into play in order to dilute the force of an argument by demanding a spurious consistency that the arguer may not feel is germane. Some people use it  to excuse bad behaviour on the grounds that other people also behave badly. Just because many people do something that is wrong , that does not make it right or less dangerous – for example, the defence that everyone has driven while under the influence of drink. First of all not everyone really has done so and, more importantly, it would be very dangerous if everyone took that as permission to drive under the influence.

One often hears in Sri Lanka a refusal to accept criticism of human rights failings because the critics are American or British and are guilty of worse crimes. I have argued this way myself. In my defence, I believe it is not the same as Israel’s tu quoque. Israel’s defenders say if you are going to criticise us you must also criticise the Arabs. Sri Lankans are saying look at the beam in your own eye and prove your “credible allegations”.

Straw Men

Another stale old rhetorical device is  the straw man. You set up a caricature of your opponent’s viewpoint and knock it down. There is this lefty, bleeding heart, NGO, do-gooder, who hates Israel and turns a blind eye to the iniquities of Arabs and Muslims and Arabs just love to kill innocent children.

Are Hamas bombers to be condemned because they are, in killing innocent children, adopting the low moral standards of Israel? Or does it mean that, just because Palestinian terrorists kill innocent children, that Israel should refrain from killing innocent children? Israel seems to have failed morally on that score.

Opinions divorced from facts or knowledge.

Voltaire said  “prejudice is opinion without judgement”. Opinion without knowledge, truth or logic can also foster prejudice. An adage often touted on blogsites is “Opinions are like #*!eholes. Everyone has one and they all stink”.

I have long felt a general dismay at people putting forward opinions without the knowledge to back them up and proceeding with specious arguments based on faulty logic and fallacious premises.

People who are blogging clearly have access to the internet. A few minutes on Google and Wikipedia should prevent basic  errors of fact.

The Cambridge philosopher, Jamie Whyte wrote: “You are entitled to an opinion in the epistemic sense only when you have good reason for holding it: evidence, sound arguments and so on. Far from being universal, this epistemic entitlement is one you earn. It is like being entitled to boast, which depends on having something worth boasting about.”

Confusion between explanation and approval

I had to state  quite plainly that I do not believe that historical and contemporary acts of violence against Palestinians by Jews justifies the blowing up of Jewish children in pizza parlors. Nevertheless, the explanation of current terrorist actions has to take account of the terrorism and ethnic cleansing involved in the foundation of the state of Israel. The actions of the Jewish paramilitaries have a bearing on the current situation and help to explain Palestinian discontent.

When I tried to explain in another article how Tamil militant separatism took hold in Sri Lanka and described stated Tamil grievances, I was condemned by some as a terrorist sympathiser. Explanation is not the same as justification or approval. When I explained the government viewpoint I was condemned as a government lackey.

Truth Matters- National Myths

In their book Why Truth Matters Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom write:

“History is not simply a narrative about the past; it is a research-driven form of empirical enquiry. Mythic or invented or ‘wishful’  history is thus not history at all, but a different thing – a branch of literature or story-telling. History is not propaganda, myth-making or a self-esteem inflation device, though it has often been pressed into service for those tasks. History is highly interpretative, to be sure, but it is always, when done properly, grounded in evidence. The questions are empirical ones, and the interpretation is of evidence, not of daydreams or fantasies. There has been quite a lot of glorious past-invention in the name of history recently”.

How the Buggers Lie to Us

Sam Leith has a new book titled You Talkin’ to Me? Leith argues that the advertising copywriter is no less a rhetorician than the statesman, they both employ persuasive words to fulfil their own ends. Leith’s own title is an example of a trope known as erotema, a figure of speech where something is asserted by asking it as a question. It also demonstrates the use of the demotic by charlatans such as Tony Blair. “You know I’m a straight kind of guy, don’t you?”

When he was our hope for change, Obama’s signature rhetorical figure was “anaphora”, or the repetition of words or a phrase at the beginning of a clause or sentence – although his monumental “Yes we can” was its opposite, or “epistrophe”.

Obama’s rhetoric all seems a bit feeble now. Fine words butter no parsnips and solve no economic crisis. Understanding rhetoric is probably the most vital tool any of us can possess that we can have some inkling of how they are shafting us.




Nuclear Bunkum

This article was published in The Nation on Sunday, 11 March 2012




Delusions are particularly scary when they take over whole nations. Growing up in the 1950s, I often heard the phrase “living under the shadow of the bomb”. It was used to excuse all kinds of irresponsible individual behaviour, hedonism and mass hooliganism.

Much satirical fun was had with the British government’s ludicrous public information campaigns. In the satirical revue Beyond the Fringe in 1960, Dudley Moore, from the audience, asks a panel, “Following the nuclear holocaust, could you tell me when normal public services would be restored?” Another question casts doubt upon the value of the four-minute warning. Peter Cook responds: “Let me tell you that in this great country of ours, some people can run a mile in four minutes”. Cook advises, in the event of a nuclear attack, to crawl under the kitchen table and place a brown-paper bag over the head.

Alan Bennett fields another question thus: “Now I can see one or two of you are thinking, now look here, what if one of our American friends makes a boo-boo, presses the wrong button, and sends up one of their missiles by mistake? It could not happen. You see, before they press that button they’ve got to get on the telephone to number 10 Downing Street, and say, ‘Now look, Mr. Macmillan, Sir, can I press this button?’ And Mr. Macmillan will say ‘yes’ — or ‘no’ — as the mood takes him.”

Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent

In Beyond the Fringe, Peter Cook announced: “That is not to say that we do not have our own Nuclear Striking Force — we do, we have the Blue Steel; a very effective missile, as it has a range of 150 miles, which means that we can just about get Paris — and, by God, we will.”

Today, 52 years later, British governments are still wasting taxpayers’ money on that kind of delusion. During the Cold War, we had MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Because Britain and the USA had the bomb, the USSR would not dare to use theirs. Who will be deterred today, now that the Soviet Union is no more?

A secret review into the future of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent is underway. Trident is British in the sense that it cost the taxpayer in 1994 £14.9 billion and costs another £2 billion a year to run. The submarines carrying the missiles were only designed to last 25 years and so will have to be replaced by 2020 at a probable cost of £25 billion. One critic of Trident has called it the UK’s “stick-on hairy chest”. What folly in these belt-tightening times!

The 58 Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles are operated by the Royal Navy (from four Vanguard-class submarines) but the Americans make them, maintain them and provide the satellite intelligence to target them. According to a US diplomatic telegram released by WikiLeaks last year, President Obama handed over the unique serial numbers of the UK’s missiles to the Russians as part of an arms-reduction deal.

One wonders what kind of ally the US would be for Britain in a nuclear war. In April 1982, they even refused their poodle permission to use the US operated airfield on Ascension Island (a British Crown Colony) to refuel RAF aircraft. In 2012, the US does not recognise Britain’s claim to the Falkland Islands, which Hillary insolently refer to as ‘Las Malvinas’.
NGO mafia

A vast collection of think-tanks, charitable foundations, academic courses and government departments are supposedly dedicated to the noble aim of non-proliferation. In reality, this means objecting to the likes of Iran and North Korea having nuclear weapons, but not the USA, the UK, France and Israel.

One of the reasons Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 was “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. The committee highlighted his efforts to promote nuclear disarmament. When the New Start Treaty between Russia and the US was ratified in 2010, William Perry, a defence secretary under President Clinton and one of the chief advocates of non-proliferation, remarked that even though the treaty was “small, it was vital, because … we are serious about bringing our own nuclear stockpiles down.” Perry must have known that the Obama administration had recently announced that it was committing $85 billion to the modernisation of the US nuclear arsenal over the next ten years.

Perry was silent and, there was no protest from the non-proliferation mafia. Their main business is not actually working towards abolition, but managing junkets associated with the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Every five years, delegates from member states meet to discuss ‘progress’. The reality is that there is merely much fractious debate over minor rewordings to produce ‘final documents’, which everyone ignores.


Nuclear Alarmism


The task of discouraging states like South Africa, Brazil and Argentina from going nuclear, felt worthy, but was irrelevant. In Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to al-Qaida, John Mueller argues that the non-proliferation regime was responsible for the disaster that is Iraq. The non-proliferation mafia kept quiet about the invasion of Iraq but continue to put together costly but unthreatening programmes to keep themselves in work – programmes like the Global Zero project, which consists of “300 political, military, business, faith and civic leaders, and 400,000 citizens worldwide working for the phased, verified elimination of all nuclear weapons”. The mafia has institutionalised a bogus solution, which allows leaders to avoid reality and has cultivated the false belief that nuclear peace can be accomplished without the need for political action, and without any sacrifice.

Sri Lankans have to make sacrifices because the US wants to prevent us buying Iranian oil until Iran stops its nuclear programme.


Behavioural Economics

I had this article published in The Island newspaper on October 31 2008

In the run-up to the US presidential election, commentators are wondering what kind of economic policy Barack Obama might pursue. He taught at the University of Chicago but that does not mean that he is of the Chicago school of Milton Friedman. Obama is not a doctrinaire monetarist.

There is a new Chicago school. Behavioural economics combines the insights of psychology with the rigour of economics, factoring human unpredictability into market analysis. This centre ground between the Friedmanites and the Keynesians appeals to politicians.

Richard Thaler teaches at the University Of Chicago Graduate School Of Business and is close to Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s economic advisor. Thaler wrote a column called Anomalies (sometimes in collaboration with Daniel Kahneman, the first psychologist to win the Nobel Prize for economics) in which he described economic behaviour that did not fit in with the accepted norms of economic theory. Anomalies showed how, in reality, homo economicus failed to pursue his own self-interest. Decisions were based on received wisdom or bizarre rules of thumb rather than logic.

Thaler has collaborated with Cass R Sunstein on a book called Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Sunstein was for ten years a colleague of Obama’s at the University of Chicago Law School (he is also affianced to Professor Samantha Power, who was Obama’s foreign policy adviser until she resigned after calling Hillary Clinton a ‘monster’).

“People often make poor choices – and look back at them with bafflement!” Thaler and Sunstein write in Nudge. “We do this because as human beings, we all are susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of embarrassing blunders in education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, happiness, and even the planet itself.”

Dan Ariely of MIT, author of a bestselling book Predictably Irrational, describes an experiment where customers were thrown into confusion by an abundance of choice. “Jams are hardly complex things, but people saw 24 stacked together and thought: ‘I have no idea how to deal with this.'”

Markets go haywire when the choice is more complicated than buying jam. The world-wide credit crunch following the sub-prime mortgage fiasco is a recent example. The followers of John Maynard Keynes would want tight regulation and prohibition of excessive borrowing. To the followers of Milton Friedman any interference with market forces would be anathema. Behaviouralists argue that a gentle nudge works. Behaviouralists tend to be more hopeful than Keynesians about redeeming free enterprise.

In the eighties, UK orthodoxy was to force people to take responsibility for their own pensions. Now most will be automatically enrolled in a retirement-savings scheme. They can opt out, but the inertia that stopped them taking up a pension plan will keep them in. George Osborne, who would doubtless take over from the hapless Alistair Darling as Chancellor of the Exchequer if there were to be a UK general election today, is a believer in ‘libertarian paternalism’ and the PM himself (at the time of writing, Gordon Brown) has expressed an interest in Sunstein’s concept of ‘presumed consent’.

The customer is king but what if the king is confused? Is the customer an emperor with no clothes, no sense, no savings, and huge debts accrued against the security of property that is now plummeting in value? Daniel Gilbert and Tim Wilson have coined the term ‘miswanting’. Dramatic increases in consumption failed to lift the collective mood. George W Bush’s instinctive response to 9/11 was to command the American people to go out and shop for their nation as the best way to defend it against the infidel. The result has been worldwide recession.

Britain is stricken with pleonexia – destructive consumerism. Binge drinking has become the main national sport and alcohol-related deaths continue to rise. The overall death-rate from alcohol has almost doubled from 6.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 1991 to 13.4 in 2006. Dr Christopher Record, a liver disease consultant says “Alcohol now is 50% less expensive than it was 25 years ago and, needless to say, consumption has gone up by 50% pro rata.”

The Economist’s columnist, Bagehot, suspects that the theories of behavioural economists appeal to politicians because they provide a cover for a hands-off approach to problems they should be facing head-on. “Nasty behaviour—such as the propensity of some British teenagers to drink too much, get pregnant or stab each other—is often symptomatic of a deeper malaise: skewed values, social atomism, despair and so on.” Problems of this kind might require the smack of firm governance, rather than a gentle nudge, but the term “nanny state” has long been part of the dictionary of political abuse.

From the perspective of behavioral economics, the key factors are inertia, overconfidence, and loss aversion. In their everyday existences, people tend to stick with what they are doing, even if trying something different wouldn’t be difficult.

Behavioural economists have taught politicians and policy-makers that the ‘invisible hand’ of the market is not infallible. Their theories and experiments are of interest to politicians because of their relevance to decisions in the public sphere – whether to grant patients buying power in the health service, whether to compel individuals to save for their old age. They also have relevance to business in the private sector for what they can reveal about consumer behaviour.

Thaler has an investment company, Fuller and Thaler’s Asset Management Inc. whose mission statement says: “Investors make mental mistakes. Fuller and Thaler’s objective is to exploit them”.

Let us hope that Sri Lankan businesses do not use the findings of Thaler, Sunstein, Ariely, and Kahneman et al to manipulate customers and seek unethical advantage. Providers must respond with justice to the rational concerns of their customers.

The UK’s chief consumer watchdog, the Office of Fair Trading, launched a behavioural economics unit and the National Audit Office has called for more government agencies to apply the discipline’s findings. Watch this space.

Now the markets themselves have gone completely haywire and have lost any pretence of rationality or conforming to text-book theories. Those who demanded deregulation are running to governments for bail-outs. It will be interesting to see how the behavioural economists will help Obama through this mess.


Obama, Osama, Blake and Prabakharan

This was posted on The Agonist on May 23 2011

Death of Bin Laden

President Obama decided not to release any photographs of Bin Laden’s body or video footage of the burial. He said it was important to keep photographic evidence from “floating around as incitement or a propaganda tool”.

The body was prepared for burial “in conformance with Islamic precepts and practice”, then placed in a weighted bag and dropped into the water from the vessel’s deck. Officials said this was to avoid his grave becoming a shrine.

Leon Panetta , Director of the CIA, said that, “Obviously, under the rules of engagement, if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn’t appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But they had full authority to kill him.”

Death of Prabakharan

May 18 2011 marked the second anniversary of the death of Vellupillai , leader of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) at Nandikathal lagoon north of Vellamullivaikkal near Mullaithivu.

For some Tamils, Prabakharan had the status of a demi-god. A Tamil Catholic priest (Fr SJ Emmanuel, former Vicar-General of Jaffna, now living in Germany) compared him to Jesus. The surviving LTTE initially claimed that Prabakharan was alive but the government published pictures of the corpse which was conclusively identified by former LTTE commander in the Eastern province ”Colonel Karuna” (Vinayagamoorthy Muaralithan) now deputy leader of the governing SLFP party). Further confirmation was through DNA testing against genetic material of Prabakharan’s son, Charles Anthony, who had been killed earlier by the Sri Lanka army. Circumstantial evidence suggested that Prabakharan senior’s death was caused by massive head trauma, perhaps from a shot at close range. There are also allegations that he was executed.

Sutirho Patronobis, wrote recently in the Hindustan Times: ”army chief Sarath Fonseka had initially told me that Prabakharan and a few of his remaining lieutenants were shot dead in an ambulance while they were trying to crash through a Sri Lankan army deployment. The official version changed a day later: Prabakharan was killed inside a mangrove forest near the bank of a lagoon in a last burst of gunfire. His body was then burnt and the ashes scattered across the sea.

A month later, the defence ministry said it was after the chance discovery of the body of Prabakharan’s bodyguard that the army realised that the LTTE chief was possibly dead. Unlike the attack on Bin Laden, in which four or five others were killed, hundreds of LTTE cadres died in attempting to save Prabakharan; no stealthy helicopter strike, it was a bloody fight. Fonseka is currently on trial for saying in an interview that surrendering LTTE leaders with white flags were executed.

Prabakharan was a Sri Lankan citizen who had been at war with the Sri Lankan government since 1975. In that year, he made his first known killing. The ensuing conflict led to around 100,000 deaths (although it is impossible to arrive at a definitive figure) . He was killed by the legitimate armed forces of a sovereign nation answerable to a democratically elected government on its own territory.

The USA was rather lukewarm in its reaction to this major victory in the global war on terrorism: “The Department of State welcomes the fact that the fighting has ended, and we are relieved that the immense loss of life and killing of innocent civilians appears to be over. This is an opportunity for Sri Lanka to turn the page on its past and build a Sri Lanka rooted in democracy, tolerance, and respect for human rights. Now is the time for the government to engage the Tamils, Sinhalese, and other Sri Lankans to create a political arrangement that promotes and protects the rights of all Sri Lankans”.

The Rise and Crimes of the LTTE

In 1972, a group of students formed a militant group called the Tamil New Tigers (TNT). One member of this group was Prabakharan, who was born in Jaffna in November 1954. On July 27 1975, the former mayor of Jaffna, SLFP politician Alfred Durayappah, a Tamil, was assassinated.  Later Prabakharan claimed that he had fired the fatal shot.

The TNT became the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and by means of murder and intimidation became the dominant group. Separatist militancy was further fanned by the anti-Tamil riots which followed the 1977 general election, in which the UNP came to power. The LTTE were proscribed in 1978 by which time most of its rivals had been eliminated. The anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983, Black July, sent many Tamils into exile from where they funded the growth of the LTTE.

Over many decades, Prabakharan used cease-fires to regroup and re-arm. Unlike the IRA leaders, he had no interest in compromise and would settle for nothing less than a separate state of Tamil Eelam, comprising one third of the island’s land mass and two thirds of its coastline, including the strategic harbour of Trincomalee. The LTTE continued to murder Tamils as well as Sinhalese. The distinguished foreign minister, Lakshman Kadigarmar, was one of the Tamil victims.

The LTTE was guilty of many crimes over the thirty years of the conflict. They assassinated Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lanka President Premadasa. An attempt on the life of President Kumaratunga failed but she lost an eye. In that attempt, 23 civilians were killed.

In 1985, LTTE gunmen shot dead 146 Sinhalese civilians and injured 85 others as they were praying at a sacred Buddhist shrine in Anuradhapura. A further 18 people fleeing from that massacre were shot dead in Wilpattu forest. Later in the same year, in Dehiwatta village, 100 LTTE men hacked to death 15 women and children as they were sleeping.

In 1986, an LTTE bomb exploded aboard an Air Lanka flight carrying mainly French, British and Japanese tourists killing 21 (including 13 foreigners – of whom 2 British, 2 German, 3 French, 2 Japanese, 1 Maldivian and 1 Pakistani) and injuring 41.

Throughout 1988 and 1989, there seemed to be an LTTE massacre of villagers every day. In June 1990, the LTTE marked the breakdown of ceasefire talks by overrunning police stations throughout the north east of Sri Lanka. The LTTE killed 600 police officers who had surrendered. On June 10, over 400 unarmed police officers were shot dead in police stations across eastern Sri Lanka.

On August 3, 30 Tigers attacked four mosques in the Kattankudi area, where 300 Muslims were prostrate in prayer. The Tigers sprayed automatic fire and hurled hand grenades at the worshipers. Most of the victims were shot in the back or side. Speaking to the New York Times, Mohammed Ibrahim, a 40-year-old businessman said, “I was kneeling down and praying when the rebels started shooting. The firing went on for 15 minutes. I escaped without being hit and found myself among bodies all over the place.” Mohammed Arif, a 17-year-old student who also survived the massacre said : “Before I escaped from a side door and scaled a wall, I saw a Tiger rebel put a gun into the mouth of a small Muslim boy and pull the trigger.”

Killings continued on a daily basis over the years. In 1994, presidential candidate and opposition leader Gamini Dissanayake (we know his son-in-law) was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber who exploded herself at a campaign rally in Colombo. Fifty others were killed in the blast and a further 75 were seriously injured.

The most deadly LTTE attack on a civilian target in the history of the group’s operations occurred in 1996. The Central Bank (located in the twin towers of the Colombo World Trade Centre) was bombed and 90 people were killed and 1,400 injured. In 1997, another bombing at the WTC killed 13 and injured hundreds.

In 1998, a Black Tiger squad drove an explosives-laden truck into the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, a major Buddhist shrine, killing seven and injuring 25. The attack took place just days before foreign dignitaries were expected to attend celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Sri Lankan independence at the temple.

Later that year the LTTE shot down a plane with 55 passengers (including 48 Tamils) and crew while it was flying over LTTE held territory. Everyone onboard was killed.

In 1999, Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam, a Tamil, who was working on a constitutional package aimed at ending the decades-long conflict, was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber.

In May 2000, the LTTE celebrated the holiest day of the Buddhist calendar, Vesak Poya, by detonating a bomb hidden inside an ice-cream box on a bicycle killing 20 people and injuring 75.

In 2001, a 14-man suicide squad attacked an air force base and the adjoining international airport. They destroyed many aircraft, crippling the country’s economy and reducing tourism.

In 2006, the award-winning author Nihal de Silva and seven Sri Lankan tourists were killed by an LTTE land mine in Wilpattu National Park.

In the same year, The LTTE bombed a bus carrying 140 civilians in the north east. The blast killed 68 civilians including 15 school children, and injured 78 others. It was caused by two claymore mines placed side by side on the bus by LTTE cadres, which sprayed the packed bus with millions of ball bearings upon manual detonation. Survivors, including school children, of the blast were shot as they ran away.

In the same year, a suicide bomber in a truck killed 103 sailors on buses going or returning from leave at a transit point and wounded 150 other sailors. Several civilians were killed. Two people were killed and 14 others wounded, mostly civilians who were passing by the site in an attempt on the life of defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

There are many more instances of LTTE cadres hacking to death unsuspecting villagers at home or at prayer, or on buses or trains (often using multiple bombs in several carriages) on the way to work or school.

The Military Solution

President Rajapaksa decided in 2006 that a negotiated settlement was impossible and began a military campaign against the Tigers.

By the early months of 2009, the LTTE was on the verge of certain defeat but  would not give up, perhaps hoping that other countries might save him. There was constant pressure on the government from the USA, UK, EU and Norway to call a cease-fire. The government resisted because the LTTE had a history of using cease-fires to regroup and re-arm and also to continue killing. The government argued that it was doing its best to get food and medicine to civilians in the north who were being held hostage by the LTTE.

The LTTE had always employed forcible recruitment, every family had to sacrifice a child to the cause of Eelam. This gained pace as defeat loomed. Children under twelve were recruited. Civilians who resisted were executed.
Civilians turned on the LTTE who attempted to forcibly recruit men and women in the Puthumathalan area. Several LTTE cadres were killed and many injured. This incident occurred when the LTTE attempted to forcibly recruit a young girl, despite her protests. According to civilians who escaped from the area, the LTTE had dragged the girl and torn her clothing until she was almost naked. This incident had incited her relatives and people in the vicinity who then attacked the LTTE cadres. At least six vehicles in which the group had come had been set on fire by the angry civilians. Later the people surrounded an LTTE political office in the area and set it on fire. In retaliation, a group of armed LTTE cadres came to the area and indiscriminately attacked unarmed civilians, killing and causing injuries to several of them in the presence of the humanitarian agencies working in the area.

In Outlook India Ashok Mehta, former GOC of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka wrote: “The LTTE’s principal handicap has been Prabakharan . Because of him, the Tigers missed several opportunities for a political settlement””from the devolution package to even better offers later from president Chandrika Kumaratunga and prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. Chasing the chimera of Eelam,  became a liability.”

Robert Orris Blake and Human Rights

Assistant Secretary of State, Robert O Blake, recently visited Sri Lanka. Blake was previously US Ambassador in Colombo. In February 2007, he received minor injuries from a mortar blast while disembarking from a helicopter at a Sri Lankan air base in Batticaloa, where he was to attend a development meeting. The Tigers claimed they were not informed by the government that the ambassador was present and were only returning fire from the Sri Lankan Army.

Blake had been anxious for some time to visit Sri Lanka to lecture the government about the report to the UN General Secretary on human rights violations in Sri Lanka. That was before his government shot dead without trial a man who was not a US citizen in a nation that was not the USA.

Blake was asked at a press briefing whether his country’s battle against international terrorism was likely to be undermined by accountability issues on the grounds that Bin Laden was unarmed at the time he was shot. Blake’s six-foot seven frame swayed in the breeze somewhat. Although Pakistan comes within his area of responsibility, it was obvious that he had not been in on the plan to assassinate Bin Laden in that country.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (a South African Tamil who has long been a stern critic of Sri Lanka) and groups such as the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have raised such issues. Pillay has urged the White House to make public the “precise facts surrounding Osama’s killing to ensure the operation adhered to international law”.

A discomfited Blake dodged questions and hurried away after only a brief session. Blake said that he had been travelling around Sri Lanka so he wasn’t aware of specific allegations levelled against the US over the Osama killing. “Let me tell you, that Osama bin Laden was the leader of an armed group that was engaged in armed conflict against the government of United States. He was therefore a lawful target. We certainly stand by our actions”.

Was Prabakharan not engaged in armed conflict with the government of Sri Lanka? Was he not a lawful target?

Blake caused some alarm in Sri Lanka when he made a statement before the Senate subcommittee on the Middle East (West Asia) and South Asia. His address included a telling phrase. This is the first time he has gone on record to publicly state, “Positioned directly on the shipping routes that carry petroleum products and other trade from the Gulf to East Asia, Sri Lanka remains of strategic interest to the U.S.”

Once in Sri Lanka he tried to soft-pedal. ”In my official meetings today, I assured the Sri Lankan government that the U.S. is committed to a strong long-term partnership with Sri Lanka and that reports of our alleged support for ”˜regime change’ have no basis whatsoever. I expressed support for the government’s efforts to recover from its devastating civil war, and encouraged further steps towards reconciliation, and a peaceful, united, democratic Sri Lanka. I think the government has made some positive progress. It is very important that this progress be sustained. ”

Bin Laden has been hunted for ten years, Afghanistan and Iraq have been invaded and occupied because Bin Laden has been held responsible for the death of 3,000 people on 9/11. Prabakharan was responsible for countless more deaths, but Sri Lanka is accused of war crimes in defeating his evil campaign. Since the death of Prabakharan two years ago there have been no terrorist incidents in Sri Lanka and most of the Tamil groups fighting for a separate state of Eelam are now working with the government.

We shall see whether the assassination of Bin Laden will end Islamic terrorism.


Dawn and Disillusion: the Bathetic Blair and Brown Era

I published this on Open Salon in the days of hope shortly after Obama’s first  presidential election victory.


“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.”

William Wordsworth: The Prelude. Book xi.

I remember another election victory. It was another time, another country. I remember the new hope that many of us living in the United Kingdom felt when the Labour Party won the 1997 general election and Anthony Charles Lynton Blair became prime minister.

On the BBC’s election night programme Professor Anthony King described the result of the exit poll, which accurately predicted a Labour landslide, as being akin to “an asteroid hitting the planet and destroying practically all life on Earth”. Blair entered Downing Street on a wave of optimism and good will, on 2 May 1997.  He promised to restore trust in politics and breathe new life into Britain’s tired institutions.


May 2 1997 at the Imperial War Museum

 On the bright morning of 2 May 1997, I wandered down to the Imperial War Museum. A complete stranger, a very tall man conducting a poll for MORI embraced me, shouting “Isn’t it great”. I was as enthralled as he was. This was like a new dawn after so many years of Tory rule. I only once (tactical voting) voted for any party but Labour. I have never voted for the Conservative Party. My father had been a staunch Labour supporter for the whole of his too-short life. I voted for Labour in that 1997 election and felt that I had personally achieved something. Many of us were drunk with joy.

It was sobering experience to walk around the Imperial War Museum and to see the remembrance of so many lost lives. The reconstruction of a Great War trench was particularly sobering. My grandfather had fought in that war. I wonder if  my father’s experience in the Second World had helped to truncate his life so cruelly.

Eighteen Years of Tory Misrule

 The Conservative party had been in power since 1979, first under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher and then under John Major. Thatcher’s radical approach had led to the death of manufacturing industry, which in turn helped her to annihilate the unions and destroy all vestiges of working class power. The north of England became a wasteland. There were record levels of unemployment and  homelessness; there were beggars in the streets of every city and increased rates of suicide, particularly amongst young men.

Nationalised industries were dismantled and sold off at a loss with the taxpayer footing the bill. The health service, long the pride of the nation, was fragmented and subjected to mad concepts of ‘quasi markets’.

In 1981, there were riots all over the country, fuelled by racial and social discord. Later, The Poll Tax Riots were mass disturbances, arising out of opposition to the Community Charge (commonly known as the poll tax).

Whatever positive changes Thatcherism achieved, the social costs to the British population were severe. The poverty rate doubled. Britain’s childhood-poverty rate in 1997 was the highest in Europe.  Industrial production fell sharply and unemployment tripled during her premiership. When she resigned in 1990, 28% of children in Great Britain were considered to be below the poverty line, reaching a peak of 30% in 1994 during the Conservative government of John Major, who succeeded Thatcher.

The Major Years: a Nation Ill-at-Ease with Itself

Major abolished the poll tax but otherwise things got no better. Major’s slim majority proved to be unmanageable, particularly after the  UK’s exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism on 16 September 1992, Black Wednesday, when billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was wasted in a futile attempt to prop up the currency’s value.

In its dying years, the Conservative administration lost none of its arrogance, despite its ineffectuality. John Major is often described as mild-mannered and decent, if ineffectual. Tony Banks (a politician, not the member of Genesis) was noted as an MP for his irreverent wit. He had known Major when he they were both on Lambeth Council. Banks said of Major in 1994 that “He was a fairly competent chairman of Housing. Every time he gets up now I keep thinking, ‘What on earth is Councilor Major doing?’ I can’t believe he’s here and sometimes I think he can’t either.”

Major’s greatest crime was destroying the rail network.

Destroying the integrated network and selling it off to private companies caused immense difficulties. Nobody wanted it except Tory ideologues and those who stood to make a fat profit at the taxpayers’ expense. After a series of rail disasters with many fatalities, there was a growing consensus that maintenance work was not being done properly and the complex plan to split the railways into 25 different companies was a horrendous mistake. After the Paddington rail crash, in October 1999, a Guardian/ICM poll found that 73% of all voters would support renationalizing Railtrack. The megalomania of nice, decent, grey, boring John Major was killing taxpayers who had paid out their hard-earned money to make rich people richer when he sold off the nation’s railways for the sake of profit and political dogma.

The Conservative Secretary of State for Health, Kenneth Clarke, (he later made a bid for the party leadership but was hampered by the fact that he was in Vietnam peddling cigarettes to the third world on a retainer of 100,000 GBP a year from British American Tobacco) had set about dismantling and fragmenting the National Health Service in the same way that the railways had been smashed.

How naïve could we be?!

So on that day in May many of us were overjoyed that the scoundrels were out of office and a bright, shiny, clean, new team could put things right.


During the Blair years Britain was less bleak than in the days of Thatcher. There was rising individual prosperity but it was all based on bubble of credit from unsustainably high house prices.

The Blair government introduced some social policies seen by the left of the Labour Party as progressive, such as the minimum wage and measures to reduce child poverty and money has been pumped into public services. The effort has been undermined by madcap experiments in neo-liberalism which have undermined health services, education and transport by the attempt to introduce quasi-markets. Prisons have been privatized and there are record numbers of people occupying them – how else to make a profit?

New Boss- Old Boss

Soon after taking office, the new administration announced that it would be continuing the economic policies of the outgoing administration in the interests of stability. One of Blair’s “triumphs” had been to abolish Clause IV of the party constitution. This dealt with nationalization of the commanding peaks of the economy. By getting rid of this central pillar of Old Labour principle, the party became New Labour. On attaining power there would be no attempt to re-nationalize privatised industries, like the railways or water, even though 73% of the population wanted that. New Labour brought further privatization by stealth. Blair and his finance minister, and later successor, Gordon Brown, pursued with great zeal the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), using private capital to fund public projects.

Private Finance Initiative

In practice this is a bad deal for taxpayers and involves a hidden privatisation of public services. The UK Accounting Standards Board has called PFI an “an off-balance-sheet fiddle” because the government can move the cost of public works out of the public sector borrowing requirement. PFI can only be implemented through an anti-competitive process which inevitably leads to corruption. The big corporations wouldn’t be interested if it were otherwise. For a small investment, companies can be sure of long-term profit guaranteed by the taxpayer.

The financial pressures of PFI directly caused 93 deaths at Maidstone and Stoke Mandeville hospitals. Clostridium difficile is spread by poor hygiene – basically patients were eating traces of other patients’ faeces. The official report said both hospitals were “preoccupied with finances”, instead of being preoccupied with faeces and were seriously impeded by the PFI. Nurse numbers were slashed and patients were constantly moved around; the combination of these two factors was a foolproof way of spreading infection.

Profits (as high as 58%) for the private companies comes from the budgets of the hospitals, so less is available for direct care. Beds reduced by 30% with the first wave and budgets for clinical staff reduced by 25%. Most National Health Trusts are in serious financial difficulty and many will become insolvent.

New Labour continued and extended ‘reform’ of the health service which had been one institution that united, whatever their grumbles, the entire nation in pride. Perry Anderson once remarked: “the very term ‘reform’ now means, virtually always, the opposite of what it denoted fifty years ago; not the creation but the contraction of welfare arrangements once prized by their recipients”.

Bribery and Corruption

 Much of the reason for the voters’ distaste for the Major administration was because of what became known as the “sleaze factor”. There was what seemed like an endless succession of sex scandals. It was later revealed that boring old Major himself had had a four-year affair with health minister Edwina Currie.

New Labour had profited from all this but soon became bemired in sleaze itself. Julian Glover wrote: “If the Tories gave birth to modern sleaze, we now know that New Labour educated it into adulthood.”

There was the “cash for honors” investigation. It was alleged that Lord Levy (formerly a pop music entrepreneur) was tasked with raising funds for the party and was offering knighthoods and peerages in return. Levy became known as Lord Cashpoint.

Blair himself was interviewed by police. He and the Labour party were not exonerated from acting illegally. The decision of the Crown Prosecution Service was made solely on the basis of a lack of evidence and an assessment of the likelihood of a conviction. Some of the police officers involved in the inquiry claim there was political pressure applied to them and that some of the politicians interviewed were less than helpful.

In 1997, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was involved in a political controversy over the Labour Party’s policy on tobacco sponsorship. Labour had pledged to ban tobacco advertising. Health minister Tessa Jowell was said to be fiercely anti-tobacco but was forced to argue the case for exempting Formula One from the tobacco advertising restrictions. Ecclestone had donated a million pounds to the Labour Party. Blair apologized and the money was returned but it was later proved that he lied about the timing of decisions in this matter. Jowell herself was forced to resign when she displayed alarming levels of ignorance about large bribes her husband had received from Silvio Berlusconi.

The government stopped an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office which seemed to be leading to prosecutions of senior executives at British Aerospace over bribes to Saudi princes in relation to arms deals.

Blair’s Philosophy

Rick Lowry described John McCain as a conviction politician without any convictions. Blair was a career politician with no trace of socialist principles or ethics who joined a socialist party as a career move. His father had been a prospective Conservative candidate and his political leanings appeared to have rubbed off on the young Tony, who stood in a mock school election as the Conservative candidate.

Blair liked to portray himself as “a straight kind of guy” and was a committed Christian who eventually became a Catholic. He could have joined any political party. The historian, Tony Judt, wrote of him: “Tony Blair is a political tactician with a lucrative little sideline in made-to-measure moralising.” Judt also called Blair: “the garden gnome in England’s Garden of forgetting…the inauthentic leader of an inauthentic land.”


Blairism incorporated most of the political and social tenets of Thatcherism. Peter Mandelson was often thought of as New Labour’s Prince of Darkness. It was his media savvy that helped to make the party electable. He famously declared, “We are all Thatcherites now”. The curtailing and large-scale dismantling of elements of the welfare state under Thatcher largely remained under New Labour and the privatization of state-owned enterprises was not reversed by any programme of nationalization.

Iraq and Afghanistan

In December 2006, John Major led calls for an independent inquiry into Tony Blair’s decision to join the USA in the invasion of Iraq. Blair’s reputation for honesty and integrity, already damaged by allegations of excessive “spin” because of his reliance on the dark arts of Mandelson and Alistair Campbell, was dealt a severe blow.

His defenders argue that he sincerely believed before the war that the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged WMDs was accurate; that the dossiers informing his decision were not dishonest in their presentation of the intelligence evidence. Nevertheless, Blair continues to be condemned internationally as a proven liar and a war criminal.

The second Lancet study published on in October 2006 estimated 654,965 excess deaths related to the war, or 2.5% of the population, through the end of June 2006.

I could never have imagined on that day in May at the Imperial War Museum that Blair could do this.

There has been a strong feeling in the British military that they are unappreciated. There have been stories of soldiers being advised not to wear their uniforms when they have been home on leave because some have been physically attacked.

There have been many complaints about inadequate equipment and inefficiency in the Iraq and Afghan theatres. In 2006, the household cavalry in Helmand were expected to operate in Scimitar light tanks without air-conditioning. Soldiers have been killed wearing inadequate protective gear. An SAS commander in Afghanistan recently  resigned blaming a lack of adequate resources for the deaths of four service personnel, including Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first British female soldier to die in Afghanistan. They were killed on 17 June when their Snatch Land Rover struck a roadside bomb in Helmand Province earlier this year. In his resignation letter, he is understood to have accused ministers of “gross negligence” in allowing soldiers to go into battle without adequate resources.

Coroner Andrew Walker, criticizing a lack of military equipment at the inquest of Cpl Mark Wright, who died after the wrong helicopter was sent to rescue him from a minefield in Afghanistan, said, “Those responsible should hang their heads in shame”.

Many British soldiers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. An article marking the 25th anniversary of the Falklands campaign claimed that 300 veterans had since committed suicide: 50 more than died in the conflict itself. Far greater numbers can be expected as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Britain’s jails are overcrowded.  Nowhere in Western Europe jails more of its population than England and Wales, where about 147 people per 100,000 are in prison. A National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) study showed that one in 11 prisoners- 8,500 people—are former members of the armed forces: double the proportion just five years ago. The vast majority are guilty of drink or drug-related offences.

A Man of Peace

That decent Christian gentleman Blair is now trying to bring peace to the Middle East after sending British troops to Iraq and Afghanistan against the wishes of most of the British people. Lord Levy, who has been described as “a leading international Zionist”, has praised Blair for his “solid and committed support of the State of Israel”. In 2004, Blair was heavily criticized by 50 former diplomats, including ambassadors to Baghdad and Tel Aviv for his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraq war.

Hope Springs Eternal

It is ironic that Gordon Brown was so desperate to get Blair’s job and when he did it all turned to shit in his hands. His popularity ratings plummeted to the lowest of any prime minister. He was only saved by the financial crisis. New Nobel laureate Paul Krugman praised him. His stock soared. How did he achieve this? He achieved it by abandoning the policies he had always pursued and turned to nationalization. The banks in their greed had caused the crisis. After screaming for de-regulation for so long they were now coming to the government to be bailed out. Gordon Brown in effect nationalised the British banking system – with taxpayers’ money of course.

Celebrate a new dawn but watch out. The nights draw in quickly.

Reconciliation in Honduras

Malign Influence of US in Latin America.

Honduras, like many another Latin American nation, has suffered from its proximity to its powerful northern neighbour. The US commitment to capitalism and opposition to communism has meant that it has been prepared to support the use of terror and torture in Latin America.  In 2012, however, perhaps the greatest danger to the citizens of Honduras arises from the drug-taking habits of US citizens.

Ousting of Manuel Zelaya

The Honduran Truth and Reconciliation commission was set up to investigate the  constitutional crisis in 2009 which culminated in the ousting of democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya. However, the troubles of this benighted nation go back much further than 2009.

Zelaya was popular in some quarters and his  economic and social policies earned him praise from labour unions and civil society groups. He  planned to convert the Soto Cano Air Base, where one of the three US Southern Command Task forces is based, into a civilian airport. His attempts to forge alliances with the leftish administrations of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, caused anxiety in some US circles.

There was widespread international condemnation of the “coup”. All Latin American nations (with the exception of Honduras itself), as well as the US, United Nations, and others, publicly condemned Zelaya’s ousting. Every country in the region, except the US, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country. President Obama said: “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras.” A good detailed description of the events can be found at

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in May 2010 to investigate the crisis of 2009.  The Commission concluded that Zelaya’s  removal from office was a coup but also criticised Zelaya. It said the move was illegal and not a constitutional succession as some of Zelaya’s opponents said. The Commission identified Zelaya’s decision to press ahead with a referendum on constitutional change as “a point of no return”. Zelaya’s opponents  argued that the referendum was aimed at removing the current one-term limit on serving as president. Zelaya  repeatedly denied this. The report also said that 20 people were killed in the repression which followed the coup.

Michael Kergin a retired Canadian career diplomat,  was a member of the Honduran TRC. He wrote: “There are indeed factors which might explain, but do not excuse, the excessive use of force during this period: a traditional culture of violence in Honduras, decentralized control over a widely and thinly dispersed police force; and a lack of professional training at the operational level. The small country was also suffering collective paranoia out of its isolation from the international community, exacerbated by its former president testing its borders with support from South American heavy hitters such as Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina.”

The Power of Fruit

The USA has bullied  Honduran governments  since the late 19th century mainly to support the dominance of US companies, like the United Fruit Company, who built an enclave economy in the north controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to national economic growth, but attracted thousands of workers from other parts of the country. The fruit companies also encouraged immigration of workers from Jamaica and Belize thus introducing  an African descended, English speaking and largely Protestant population into the country, fuelling ethnic tensions.

Defending Freedom against Communism

Honduras did not suffer as horrific a conflict as neighbouring El Salvador  but the Honduran army  quietly waged a campaign against  communist  militias like the  Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement, who employed kidnappings and bombings in their fight against the government.  The Cinchoneros claimed to represent the country’s poor and opposed Honduras’ right-wing governments, though their revolutionary agenda was never a serious threat. However, their links with other Latin American guerrilla groups caused the US anxiety.

During the early 1980s, the US maintained a military presence in Honduras in order to support the Nicaraguan contras. There was  a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units, most notably Battalion 316. Battalion 601 had collaborated in assassinations with the Chilean DINA. They also collaborated with the Argentinian Anti-Communist Alliance. At least 19 Battalion 316 members were graduates of the US School of the Americas. Training was also  provided in Pinochet’s Chile.


Reconciliation was moved along in May 2011 when a court decided to drop the last of the charges, these relating to corruption, that were levelled against Zelaya following his removal. Zelaya returned to Honduras in May 2011 and told a roaring crowd: “The problem of poverty, of corruption … will not be solved with violence, but through more democracy, greater citizen participation and better transparency.”

Current President Porfirio Lobo was democratically elected, but the legality of his position is compromised by the ousting of Zelaya. Under President Lobo, Zelaya returned to a country that has enacted many of the changes he advocated before his removal, including a change in the procedures for amending the constitution. In a recent demonstration of Honduran progress, Zelaya spoke to a National Popular Resistance Front rally and encouraged peaceful change.

Crime, Drugs  and Human Rights

According to Guatemala’s planning minister, Fernando Carrera: “Honduras is today one of the most violent countries in the world, and the principal thoroughfare for drugs on their way from the producing countries in the south to the consuming countries in the north.” Drug cartels bribe security forces and judges to look the other way. Honduran security chief Oscar Álvarez resigned because he said he lacked the resources to stem police corruption.

Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world at 82 homicides per 100,000 people in 2010, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Some, such as Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, suggest the only answer is to stop fighting drug trafficking and legalize it.

Despite growing support for de-criminalisation in the US, the US is standing firm against it. Many Latin American governments are calling legalisation to ease the problems they have because of the drug culture of US citizens.

Obama Calls for more Human Rights

In an April 26 conversation with President Lobo, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his concern about human rights in Honduras. A number of journalists and civic activists have been killed.  President Lobo has responded by naming a special human rights advisor to ensure that these killings and other acts of intimidation are investigated. He welcomed a team from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to visit Honduras
Current  news is that Obama decided to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants no older than 30 with high school degrees and no criminal history a chance to stay and work in the US. The president has said that as many as 800,000 young illegal immigrants living in the U.S. could benefit from the change. However, this was too late for Marlon Roberto Cortes who is back in Tegucigalpa. Cortes handcuffed and hauled to a holding centre in Boston and deported to Honduras  in March without being able to say goodbye to his family.

“The country in which I could have had the chance to get ahead is the United States,” Cortes said. “I did everything I had to do to get that and I don’t understand why they wouldn’t let me … I feel more American than Honduran.”

Trade Imbalance, Sweat Shops and Export of Workers

In 2003, Honduras sent around 370 soldiers to Iraq to support the US invasion. This was largely an attempt to improve foreign relations with the US over the issue of the many thousands of Hondurans working in the US . The money these migrants send back to their families in Honduras is a crucial factor in the Honduran economy.
The relationship between the US and Latin America is a complex and unequal one. The USA is Honduras’s chief trading partner, with two-way trade in goods increasing to over $7 billion in 2006. Trade is dominated by the maquila industry, which imports yarn and textiles from the US and exports finished clothing. Two-thirds of the foreign direct investment comes from the US.

Reconciliation and the Future

According to Michael Kergin: “Lack of confidence in the instruments of government to effect reform remains widespread throughout the country. Hondurans often look to the international community to address domestic problems … Audiences were not impressed with the commissioners’ observation that change imposed from outside and without the support of the Hondurans themselves and their institutions of government would not endure or prosper.”

Kergin believes: “The chances of avoiding the mistakes of the past are improved when Hondurans discuss ways of strengthening their institutions of government. By looking to the future, rather than by exhuming past divisions, Hondurans are more likely to reach some form of lasting accommodation. To the extent that the Honduran Commission has facilitated a dialogue of reconciliation, its work will have been worthwhile.”
However, while President Lobo  has some  popular support, there is a general view that he will be unable to prevail against entrenched interests. There is little  confidence that legislators will be prepared to undertake the necessary institutional reforms or liberate the political party structure from the preponderant influence of the economic oligarchs.

Liberation of Libya



This article appeared in the December 4 edition of the Sri Lankan  newspaper The Nation.




How is  that liberation of Libya thing working out?

Now, I am well aware that Muammar Qaddafi may have had a few little faults. I have no wish to downplay  his  darker side. I have written about this in some detail at:

He armed many terrorist groups and bankrolled the genocidal leader of Ethiopia, Mengistu Haile Mariam, trained Charles Taylor of Liberia, gave sanctuary to Idi Amin.

The plus side was that Libya’s oil revenues were distributed very widely, creating  a welfare state from which virtually all Libyans benefited, with  high standards of healthcare, high rates of schooling for girls as well as boys, a literacy rate of 88% per cent, more opportunities for women than in other Arab countries and the highest per capita income in Africa.

How  does Colonel Gadfly compare to other monsters around the world? Saddam Hussein was hanged; Osama Bin Laden was shot; many other bad people have been assassinated. What was his kill rate compared to GW Bush, Tony Blair and Barack Obama?

Would he have fallen if he had not given up his nuclear weapons? Hugh Roberts, writing in the London Review of Books, said:

“Numerous states in Africa and Asia and no doubt Latin America as well (Cuba and Venezuela spring to mind) may wish to consider why the Jamahiriyya, despite mending its fences with Washington and London in 2003-4 and dealing reasonably with Paris and Rome, should have proved so vulnerable to their sudden hostility. And the Libyan war should also prompt us to examine what the actions of the Western powers in relation to Africa and Asia, and the Arab world in particular, are doing to democratic principles and the idea of the rule of law.”

Western intervention was justified by the news that , on 21 February, the regime was using its air force to slaughter peaceful demonstrators in Tripoli and other cities. The main purveyor of this story was al-Jazeera, but the story was quickly taken up by Sky, CNN, the BBC, and ITN. At this point, according to Human Rights Watch,  the total death toll since 15 February was 233. The total death toll in Tunisia was 300 and in Egypt at least 846. According to Roberts, the “‘genocide’ claim was histrionic rubbish which none of the organisations with an interest in the use of the term was moved to challenge”.

Sound familiar?

Roberts again: “The slanted coverage in the British media in particular, notably the insistence that the regime was faced only by peaceful demonstrators when, in addition to ordinary Libyans trying to make their voices heard non-violently, it was facing politically motivated as well as random violence (e.g. the lynching of 50 alleged mercenaries in al-Baida on 19 February), was consistent with the destabilisation theory. And on the evidence I have since been able to collect, I am inclined to think that destabilisation is exactly what was happening.”

“It is tendentious and dishonest to say simply that Qaddafi was ‘killing his own people’; he was killing those of his people who were rebelling. He was doing in this respect what every government in history has done when faced with a rebellion. We are all free to prefer the rebels to the government in any given case. But the relative merits of the two sides aren’t the issue in such situations: the issue is the right of a state to defend itself against violent subversion. That right, once taken for granted as the corollary of sovereignty, is now compromised.”

A  report has been prepared for the attention of  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Yes, another one. This one apparently says there have been war crimes in Libya. Yes – Libya. Not Sri Lanka.

Who has been committing the crimes? The freedom fighters supported by NATO seem to have been doing their share.

According to the UN report, thousands of people, including women and children, are being illegally detained by rebel militias, that is the victors supported by NATO,  in Libya. The Independent reports that many of the prisoners are suffering torture and systematic mistreatment while being held in private jails outside the control of the country’s new government. A UN resolution was secured in March in order to protect civilians from merciless suppression  by the Qaddafi regime. Political prisoners  held by the Qaddafi regime have been released, but their places have been taken by up to 7,000 new “enemies of the new state” under the control of revolutionary brigades, “with no access to due process in the absence of a functioning police and judiciary”.

The report states that  both sides committed war crimes in the bitter battle for Colonel Qaddafi ‘s hometown, Sirte. Armed militias continue to  control many towns settling  internecine feuds through gun battles.

The city of Tawerga, whose residents were mainly black, was largely destroyed by rebel fighters from neighbouring Misrata. A number of black Africans were lynched following claims, often false, that they were hired guns for the Qaddafi regime. “Cases have been reported of individuals being targeted because of the colour of their skin.” Blacks have been targeted  for torture and  “ revenge killings, or taken by armed men from their homes, checkpoints and hospitals, and some allegedly later abused or executed in detention”.

The report acknowledges the brutality of the outgoing regime. Ban Ki-Moon said: “I was deeply shocked by my visit to an agricultural warehouse in the Khallital-Ferjan neighbourhood of Tripoli where elements of the Qaddafi regime had detained civilians in inhuman conditions, had subjected some to torture and had massacred as many as they could and burned their bodies”.

Quadaffi  strongly opposed the installation of the US military’s ‘Africom’ on the soil of any African country. He funded a wide range of development projects in sub-Saharan countries. Libya is rich not only in oil. Quadaffi  planned to exploit the immense water reserves under Libya’s Sahara and to transform the economic prospects of the Sahel countries. Western , particularly French, water companies are now salivating at the prospects of profit.

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