Category Archives: Elections

Climate Change Wows the Polls

Australia’s federal election May 18th turned left with a new power broker named climate change. Major networks refer to the election as: “Australia’s Climate Election,” with newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese vowing to turn Australia into a “renewable energy superpower.”

The incumbent PM Scott Morrison led the Coalition opposed by the Labor party behind the candidacy of Anthony Albanese. At the end of the day, Labor overwhelmed by capturing the two most significant burning issues: (1) climate change (2) political integrity (What a gorgeous setup for US Dems).

According to NBC News, polling in the lead-up to the election showed that 8 out of 10 Australians wanted significant climate policies from the government. Seventy percent (70%) said climate change was already impacting the country. The environment was the prevailing issue on social media; it captured more interests than the economy or corruption.  1

Analysts claim the public is increasingly demanding climate commitments from leaders in a pronounced shift of political sentiment that could hold lessons for lawmakers in other developed and developing countries. Worldwide climate system failure is too palpable to ignore any longer. It’s showing up at the ballot box.

Segueing to America’s upcoming midterm elections on Tuesday, November 8th:  What if America pivots on the same climate and integrity issues? Who wins? The better question may be: How quickly will Republicans pivot, for political expediency purposes only, to support climate mitigation efforts and thus abandon the fossil fuel gravy train of dark funding? Naw! Won’t happen. Instead of abandoning a steady flow of surreptitious green stuff labeled with lots of serial numbers they’ll lie about climate change to “confuse the public.” That’s worked like a charm for decades now. Create doubt. Will it work once again in 2022 and invalidate the great Aussie climate change political reset?

Meanwhile, when it comes to political trends, according to Australian Conservation Foundation’s CEO Kelly O’Shanassy: “The trends across the country show a majority of Australians care deeply for bolder climate action and integrity in politics – it is a huge win for the environment, at a time when nature needs us most.” 2

CEO O’Shanassy was quick to point out: “Australians were frustrated by the Morrison government’s inert response to the urgent climate crisis, its reckless support for a ‘gas-led recovery’ and its attempts to water down already weak nature protection laws.”

Whereas, in stark contrast to the Morrison government, the new government under the leadership of PM Albanese will stress “climate action,” It’s what Albanese wants as his legacy.

According to The Sydney Post (May 23rd): “Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will seek a new consensus on climate change with US President Joe Biden on Tuesday in a plan to co-operate on clean energy and build support for global climate talks to be hosted in Australia… Albanese used a phone call with Biden on Sunday, when the US president congratulated him on winning the election, to canvass ways Australia and the US could co-operate on clean energy, including gaining US support for the Labor proposal to host a future United Nations climate summit in Australia and the Pacific.”

On the heels of the Aussie federal election, in a remarkable coincidence of favorable political circumstances and fortuitous timing, Tokyo is holding the Quad Leaders’ Summit with newly elected PM Anthony Albanese and PM Narendra Modi (India), PM Fumio Kishida (Japan) and President Joe Biden.

The White House: “Quad countries share serious concern with the August Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report findings on the latest climate science… Quad countries will focus their efforts on the themes of climate ambition, including working on 2030 targets for national emissions and renewable energy, clean-energy innovation and deployment.”

It is the first time India, Japan, Australia, and the United States have joined hands in concert with the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as they agree to tackle a worldwide climate system that’s radically off-course for the first time in human history. But, will they succeed… soon enough? That is the sleepless night tossing turning crux of the matter.

One big loser in the Aussie election is Rupert Murdoch, whose powerful media outlets took a brutal whipping as Australians tossed his views aside and sought new sources of information. According to Bill Hare, CEO and senior scientist at Climate Analytics, a prominent think tank, the election demonstrated a transformation across the political spectrum: “We don’t have to believe that the Murdoch press controls public opinion.”

“The election outcome exposes a gaping disconnect between News Corp and Voters.” 3

“Anthony Albanese Defeats Rupert Murdoch to Become 31st PM of Australia.” 4

With America’s midterms right around the corner, the question arises, how will Fox News score?

According to Tom Rosenstiel, a media scholar and executive director at the American Press Institute, a non-profit focused on sustainable journalism: “Fox News is a propaganda machine for the far right and Republican Party.”5

Similar to Rupert Murdoch’s overpowering political clout in Australia, Fox News pounds the American airwaves with whatever “sells best du jour” while fulfilling the deepest suspicions of a rabid core of followers. Will Fox News’ far right extremists win in November or will Australian political sentiments sway America’s political fabric?

  1. “Australia’s ‘Climate Election’ Shows Shifting Priority For Voters”, NBC News, May 23, 2022.
  2. “Australians Have Voted For Bolder Climate Action and Integrity in Politics”, Mirage News, May 22, 2022.
  3. The Guardian, May 22nd.
  4. The Independent Australia, May 23rd.
  5. Sean Illing, “How Fox News Evolved into a Propaganda Operation”, Vox, March 2019.
The post Climate Change Wows the Polls first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Human Rights Activist Deported from Colombia in Run-up to High Stakes Election

While enroute to observe the presidential elections in Colombia, Teri Mattson was denied entry by Colombian authorities and had her passport seized. After arriving at 6:55 am on May 22, she was forced to spend the day and the night at the Bogotá Airport before being deported the following morning and flown out of the country.

Although Mattson resides in Mexico and first flown there, her tribulations did not end there. She was then held in Mexico without passport or phone while immigration waited for the first available flight to the US, because she is a US citizen. Only when Mattson exited the plane in the US were her phone and passport returned to her.

Colombian authorities falsely claimed that Mattson “represents a risk to the security of the State.” When contacted, the US embassy refused to aid her on the bogus grounds that they do not get involved when someone is accused of being a security risk.

There are serious security risk issues involving the presidential elections in Colombia, but Ms. Mattson was not one of them. The front runner in the election campaign is Gustavo Petro, a former mayor of Bogotá. Petro was at one time a left guerilla, whose politics have now shifted more to the center.  His vice-presidential running mate is Afro-descendent environmentalist Francia Márquez.

Were the Petro/Márquez ticket to win on May 29, theirs would be the first administration on the left elected in Colombian history, which has gotten both the current right-wing Colombian government and Washington apprehensive. There are credible rumors that the election may be cancelled.

Both Petro and Márquez have already survived assassination attempts on the campaign trail. Breaking the constitutional requirement for neutrality by the armed forces, the commander of the Colombian army issued a direct attack against Petro. This prompted Medellín’s mayor to warn: “We are one step away from a coup.”

According to the Task Force on the Americas, Colombia has been turned into a regional US military and political proxy in their regime-change hybrid war against Venezuela. Petro has pledged to reopen relations with Venezuela and adhere to the terms of the peace agreement with the FARC if he becomes president and survives.

Given this background, Teri Mattson traveled to Colombia with a group of international trade unionists to observe the election. Colombia, incidentally, is the most dangerous place in the world to be a union activist.

Mattson was a fully accredited election observer invited to Colombia by the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights. CPDH is a leading human rights group in Colombia founded in 1979.

Mattson had previously visited Colombia in 2021 on a delegation to investigate state violence against social movements. She has been an official accredited election observer to Honduras, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

Mattson is the host of the weekly podcast WTF is Going on in Latin America & the Caribbean. She is a Latin America organizer with Code Pink and on the board of the Task Force on the Americas.

The Task Force on the Americas, Code Pink, and COHA are among the organizations denouncing the deportation. The CPDH holds the Colombian government responsible for the “persecution and violation of Teri Mattson’s rights, and for the violation of democratic rights and the lack of democratic guarantees in the current elections.”

The post Human Rights Activist Deported from Colombia in Run-up to High Stakes Election first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Human Rights Activist Deported from Colombia in Run-up to High Stakes Election

While enroute to observe the presidential elections in Colombia, Teri Mattson was denied entry by Colombian authorities and had her passport seized. After arriving at 6:55 am on May 22, she was forced to spend the day and the night at the Bogotá Airport before being deported the following morning and flown out of the country.

Although Mattson resides in Mexico and first flown there, her tribulations did not end there. She was then held in Mexico without passport or phone while immigration waited for the first available flight to the US, because she is a US citizen. Only when Mattson exited the plane in the US were her phone and passport returned to her.

Colombian authorities falsely claimed that Mattson “represents a risk to the security of the State.” When contacted, the US embassy refused to aid her on the bogus grounds that they do not get involved when someone is accused of being a security risk.

There are serious security risk issues involving the presidential elections in Colombia, but Ms. Mattson was not one of them. The front runner in the election campaign is Gustavo Petro, a former mayor of Bogotá. Petro was at one time a left guerilla, whose politics have now shifted more to the center.  His vice-presidential running mate is Afro-descendent environmentalist Francia Márquez.

Were the Petro/Márquez ticket to win on May 29, theirs would be the first administration on the left elected in Colombian history, which has gotten both the current right-wing Colombian government and Washington apprehensive. There are credible rumors that the election may be cancelled.

Both Petro and Márquez have already survived assassination attempts on the campaign trail. Breaking the constitutional requirement for neutrality by the armed forces, the commander of the Colombian army issued a direct attack against Petro. This prompted Medellín’s mayor to warn: “We are one step away from a coup.”

According to the Task Force on the Americas, Colombia has been turned into a regional US military and political proxy in their regime-change hybrid war against Venezuela. Petro has pledged to reopen relations with Venezuela and adhere to the terms of the peace agreement with the FARC if he becomes president and survives.

Given this background, Teri Mattson traveled to Colombia with a group of international trade unionists to observe the election. Colombia, incidentally, is the most dangerous place in the world to be a union activist.

Mattson was a fully accredited election observer invited to Colombia by the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights. CPDH is a leading human rights group in Colombia founded in 1979.

Mattson had previously visited Colombia in 2021 on a delegation to investigate state violence against social movements. She has been an official accredited election observer to Honduras, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

Mattson is the host of the weekly podcast WTF is Going on in Latin America & the Caribbean. She is a Latin America organizer with Code Pink and on the board of the Task Force on the Americas.

The Task Force on the Americas, Code Pink, and COHA are among the organizations denouncing the deportation. The CPDH holds the Colombian government responsible for the “persecution and violation of Teri Mattson’s rights, and for the violation of democratic rights and the lack of democratic guarantees in the current elections.”

The post Human Rights Activist Deported from Colombia in Run-up to High Stakes Election first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Great Teal Tsunami: Arise Australia’s Independents

Rarely in Australian history has a governing party suffered such loss in the face of an opponent unable to claim complete victory.  It said much about the disillusionment, and plain disgust, from that nebulous centre of the country’s politics.  That centre roared on May 21, consuming sitting government members and inflicting a bloody reckoning.

That reckoning was made in traditional inner-city seats that have never known anyone other than conservative members.  It was part of a “teal” electoral tsunami, comprising candidates who would not necessarily wish to vote for Labor or the Greens, but who had found the Liberal-National government of Scott Morrison impossible to stomach on matters ranging from gender equality to climate change.

In the Melbourne seat of Goldstein, held by the Liberal Party’s Tim Wilson, former ABC journalist Zoe Wilson stormed through.  It was a showing most fitting: the electorate is named after Vera Goldstein, feminist and women’s rights campaigner who, in 1903, was the first woman to stand for election in a national parliament.  “She ran as an independent several times,” Wilson said in a telling reminder, “because she was so independent that she couldn’t bring herself to run for either of the major parties.”

In the same city, the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, was overwhelmed by Dr Monique Ryan in Kooyong.  (Postal votes are currently being tallied, but it does not seem likely that Ryan will lose.)  This loss for the Liberals will be keenly felt, given Frydenberg’s leadership aspirations.

The story was repeated in Sydney, with the same narrative directed like a dagger at the Morrison government: You, fossil fuel devotees, mocked climate change, disregarded gender equality, and sneered at policing corruption in federal politics.  Wentworth went to businesswoman Allegra Spender, who had, during the course of her campaign, managed to assemble an army of 1200 volunteers.

Spender’s team, comprising a number of company directors, many women, is a revealing sign that movements can take root in the arid soil of caution that is Australian politics.  “You said you were standing for the community, not the party,” she told supporters, “for taking responsibility, not blaming, for compassion, not division and for the future, not the past.”

In the seat of North Sydney, held by the mild-mannered Liberal Trent Zimmerman, a victorious Kylea Tink reiterated the laundry list issues that had motivated the teal revolution.  “The majority things for me,” she told Crikey, “are climate action, integrity and addressing inequality.”

The victory of the various independents was the Liberal Party’s version of the Trojan Horse, one that had found itself parked in their heartland seats and released on election night.  It was a triumph of community organisation, not rusted party politics, despite Wilson’s fulminations about sinister external forces at work. It was the apotheosis of a movement that began with Cathy McGowan, the Victorian independent who won the rural seat of Indi in 2013.

This was also an election which delivered the highest Greens vote ever.  Queensland, almost always the deciding state, may well furnish two, possibly three Greens members in the House of Representatives.  The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, put much of it down to the turbulent, vicious weather of recent times.  “We’ve just had three years of droughts and then fires and then floods and then floods again and people can see that this is happening.”

Remarkably for the group, they managed to win the Liberal-held seat of Ryan in the process.  They are also on the hunt in the Labor-held Melbourne seat of Macnamara.  “We are now on planet Greensland,” exclaimed the Greens candidate Elizabeth Watson-Brown on realising her triumph in Ryan, “and we are taking it forward.”

While the Labor opposition have good reason to cheer the prospect of forming government in almost a decade, other facts are impossible to ignore.  The Greens continued their now established historical trend of eating away at Labor’s vote in inner suburban areas, notably in Queensland.

Across several states, the party actually suffered, along the Liberal National coalition, a precipitous fall in the primary vote.  To form government on such a low primary return is staggering and says much about the loss of appeal of the established parties.  “It would be an unusual win for Labor,” noted a sour editorial from the Australian Financial Review, “with no grand policy ambitions or sweeping difference from the incumbent Coalition government.”  Only Western Australia, keen to punish the Morrison government, arrested that tendency, and may end up giving Anthony Albanese a majority.

Labor also bungled in the previously safely held south-west Sydney seat of Fowler, where Kristina Keneally, who had only lived in the electorate for a brief spell, missed out to local grassroots independent, Dai Le.  The swing of almost 18 per cent away from Labor shows that Keneally, when she suffers defeat, does so in grandly catastrophic fashion.  The story of this debacle is also salutary to major parties who parachute heavy weight politicians into seats as part of party and personal ambition, rather than the interests of voters.

While the bruised LNP will lick their wounds and rue their ignorance of the community movement that gathered pace under their noses, Australia’s major parties will have to consider a new phenomenon: the non-career parliamentarian, one who enters parliament, not for party allegiance and faction but for voter representation and change.  For the Westminster model of government, this is indeed a stunning novelty.

The post The Great Teal Tsunami: Arise Australia’s Independents first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Australian Disinformation Wonderland: The Federal Election 2022

All elections are filled with the half-truths, mistruths and full-fledged lies.  Victory is rarely bought on a platform of complete honesty.  But the road to the current Australian federal election has been potholed by more deception than most.  This is bound to happen when policy platforms are weak and rickety, leaving the opponents large scope to undermine each other.  The personal prevails over the substantive; ideas play little to no role.

Much of the influence of misinformation and its more aggressive twin, disinformation, is given a legendary status ahead of time.  Commentaries abound about how to spot “fake news” from outlets that have themselves been prone to promote counterfeit material.

A study commissioned by Digital security and privacy company Avast filled electors with little confidence about either the content of news or their talents in spotting irregularities and fictions.  38 percent of those surveyed revealed they were not confident in identifying fake news online.  The age group between 18-24 were said to be the least confident.

Misinformation has a tendency to multiply and amplify in the wildfire environs of the Internet.  “In recent research,” claimed Avast security expert Stephen Ko, “our AI team found that 17.9 percent of hyperlinks of misinformation sites link to other misinformation domains.  If users visit a misinformation site, the risk is higher that they end up in a rabbit hole of misinformation sites.”  His advice, resembling those cautionary words of an impatient parent to an inattentive child, is to check such matters as the publication date.  News should, he remarked, be “current”.

The Australian Electoral Commission has also gone out on a limb in establishing what it calls a “disinformation register”.  Doing so comes with a caveat.  “The AEC is not the arbiter of truth regarding political communication and does not seek to censor political debate in any way.”  A fine objective, except that the AEC is also authoritative in pointing out that, “when it comes to the election process we conduct, we’re the experts and we’re active in defending Australia’s democracy.”

A list of “prominent pieces of disinformation” follows, though the actual source is not overly specific beyond the platform.  The first example: “The AEC has sent multiple copies of unsolicited postal votes to a single voter proving voter fraud occurs.”  The unsurprising source: Facebook.

Others include claims that First Nations people “have been wiped from the electoral roll without their knowledge”; that applications for postal votes “are being submitted and processed for deceased Australians” and “Dominion voting machines will be used and will be ‘rigged’ to favour one of the major political parties.”  That old favourite – that the AEC is itself politically aligned – also features.

Various ethnic groups have been the subject of interest in disinformation strategies.  The ABC has reported instances of Liberal Party supporters using the WeChat platform to spread falsehoods about a number of Labor supporters and critics of the Morrison government.

Not to be outdone, some Labor supporters have targeted the incumbent Liberal member for the seat of Chisholm, Gladys Liu, the first ethnic Chinese woman to serve a term in the House of Representatives.  According to a Facebook page hosted by an ALP branch located in the Queensland electorate of Wright, Liu’s loyalties were malodorously suspect.  A post from April 19 insinuated that Liu was potentially linked to a Chinese plot to infiltrate the Australian parliament.

A particularly aggressive campaign of media disinformation has also blown through some seats where independents are running against threatened incumbents.  Earlier this month, the New South Wales electorates of Mackellar, Warringah and Hughes woke up to a number of posters with independent candidates branded with the Greens logo.  A statement from the Greens leader Adam Bandt made much of the deception, suggesting that there was “a good chance that whoever is behind this has also committed a criminal act.”

In the Melbourne electorate of Kooyong, a simmering campaign alleging the hidden allegiances of independent Monique Ryan has also been marked by the stain of inaccuracy and mistruth.  Stickers have emerged at points claiming that a vote for Ryan is a vote for Labor.  This has not been helped by an aggressive campaign waged by the Liberal Party and the Murdoch-News Corp cheer squad alleging much the same thing.

Zoe Daniels, running against the Liberal Party’s Tim Wilson in the Victorian seat of Goldstein, expressed dismay in a tweet about voting strategies set to undermine her candidacy.  “In a new low, ‘people’ on social media are spreading the lie that it’s only necessary to mark me number 1 for the vote to be valid.”  This was a matter of “orchestrated DISINFORMATION,” she capitalised in anger, “designed to cause informal voting.”  Every box, she fumed, had to be numbered.

In its response to the message from Daniels, the AEC expressed its own disappointment. “Formality rules are very clear – in addition to them being printed on our ballot papers, our staff will also walk voters through what’s required.”  In some cases, it will take more than just a walk through to dispel the miasma of falsehoods that will mark this election as voters cast their ballots.

The post Australian Disinformation Wonderland: The Federal Election 2022 first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why Are Colombian Election Candidates Auditioning in Washington?

Staging a vice-presidential candidates debate in the run-up to Colombia’s May 29th national elections was entirely appropriate.  Nevertheless, the location of the event in Washington and its promotion by US-state functionaries requires some explanation. Because of its venue and sponsors, the affair had elements of an audition or a vetting process overseen by the US government.

Along with the Washington consensus crowd, members of the Colombian diaspora attended the May 13th event, especially supporters of popular vice-presidential candidate Francia Márquez. Afro-descendent environmentalist Márquez is running with presidential candidate Gustavo Petro. Their frontrunning ticket could be the first administration on the left in Colombian history.

Vice-presidential debate hosts

The debate was hosted by the US Institute of Peace, a federal agency entirely funded by the US Congress. The board of the institute must by law include the US secretaries of defense and state along with the head of the Pentagon’s National Defense University. Activities include spreading “peace” in such oases of made-in-the-USA tranquility as Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Libya.

If these officials pass for peacemakers in Washington’s inside-the-beltway world, who, one might ask, would be left to lead a military academy? Answer: the very same people, which is entirely the point of a US government “peace” agency.

Co-hosts of the event were the Atlantic Council and the Woodrow Wilson Center. The former is known as “NATO’s think tank.” Its board of honorary directors is composed of four former secretaries of defense, three former secretaries of state, a former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a former Homeland Security official.

The Woodrow Wilson Center is a semi-governmental entity, whose current head, Mark Andrew Green, was executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership and before that head of the CIA front organization USAID. Rounding out their board are Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education, and Antony Blinken, Biden’s current secretary of state.

Colombia – US client state

Colombia is the leading client state of the US in the Americas. The South American nation was touted by both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in their US presidential campaigns as a model for the rest of Latin America. This so-called model nation was partially paralyzed for four days starting on May 5 when the private paramilitary group Clan del Golfo imposed a national armed strike in retaliation for the extradition to the US of its leader on drug trafficking charges.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, for example, boasted in 2013 in reference to Colombia’s regional role as a US client state: “If somebody called my country the Israel of Latin America, I would be very proud. I admire the Israelis, and I would consider that as a compliment.”

According to the Task Force on the Americas, Colombia has been turned into a regional US military and political staging area. Plan Colombia and Plan Patriota constructed one of the most sophisticated armies in the world even though Colombia has no external wars.

As the US’s leading regional proxy, Colombia is appropriately a land of superlatives. It is the leading recipient of US military and foreign aid in the hemisphere. According to Colombian academic Rena Vegas, the US has approximately 50 military units along with US agencies, headed by the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which “operate daily and freely to intervene in the country.”

Also, not inconsequently, Colombia is the most dangerous place to be a union activist. North American corporations there (e.g., Chiquita, Coca Cola, Drummond) have employed paramilitaries to do their dirty work.

Colombia likewise gets the largest allocation of DEA funds. Also, not inconsequently, it is the world’s largest source of illicit cocaine, according to the CIA. The US war on drugs in Colombia has served as a smokescreen for massive repression against popular movements by the country’s military and allied paramilitary organizations.

In 2017, Colombia became one of NATO’s Global Partners and its first in Latin American. In February, Colombia conducted a provocative joint naval drill with NATO near Venezuela, which included a nuclear submarine. Then on March 10, Colombia became a “Major Non-NATO Ally” of the US, giving the narco-state special access to military programs. Biden explained: “This is a recognition of the unique and close relationship between our countries.”

Summit of the Americas

In short, Colombia is the poster child for the US Monroe Doctrine, an assertion of US hegemony over the hemisphere dating back to 1823. Biden recently made a cosmetic change to the Monroe Doctrine risibly proclaiming that our southern neighbors are no longer in our “backyard” but rather in our “front yard.”

However, many Latin American and Caribbean nations believe that they are sovereign countries. So Biden’s recent call for a Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on June 6-10, which would exclude Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela, faces significant pushback. Mexican President Lopez Obrador said he’ll shun the meeting along with the heads of state of over a dozen Caribbean countries, Bolivia, Guatemala, and possibly Brazil.

Over half of the chief execs in the Americas have tentatively spurned the imperial summons. Unless Biden makes amends or more likely twists some arms, he’ll find Los Angeles a lonely place.

Meanwhile counter-summits have been organized by social movements in Los Angeles on June 8-10 and followed by another in Tijuana on June 10-12, which may be attended by nationals barred from entering the US.

Colombia’s relations with Venezuela

Colombia has served as the main staging ground for US destabilization efforts against Venezuela. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused Colombian President Iván Duque of plotting to sow unrest through the targeted killing of Venezuelan security forces along their shared border. A year ago, US-backed mercenaries trained in Colombia were caught in Venezuela before they could follow through on their plan to assassinate the Venezuelan president.

Despite tremendous pressure from the US, the leading Colombian presidential candidate, Gustavo Petro, has stated that he intends to restore relations with neighboring Venezuela. Nevertheless, Petro has regularly made critical remarks about Venezuela, a country slated for regime change by Washington. While not mentioning Petro by name, Venezuelan President Maduro has called those who capitulate to US pressures “the cowardly regional left.”

More recently Petro falsely characterized political prisoner Alex Saab of being allied with the far right. Venezuelan diplomat Saab is currently imprisoned in the US even though he should be afforded diplomatic immunity from prosecution under the Vienna Convention. The Venezuelan National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning Saab’s treatment as what its president, Jorge Rodríguez, called an “act of immeasurable hypocrisy” by the US.

Petro/Márquez campaign survives assignation attempts

Given the domination of Colombia by its US-backed military, Petro is concerned not only about winning the election but surviving afterward. Both Petro and his running mate Márquez have already survived assassination attempts on the campaign trail.

Breaking the constitutional requirement for neutrality by the armed forces, the commander of the Colombian army issued a direct attack against Petro. This prompted Medellín’s mayor to warn: “We are one step away from a coup.”

Petro, a former leftist guerilla and onetime mayor of Bogotá, has since shifted toward the center politically. But in comparison to the far-right rule of former President Álvaro Uribe and his successors in Colombia, Petro and Márquez appear relatively left and their election would be a sea change for the better.

Colombia has had leftist candidates assassinated – that is the genesis of the guerilla opposition – but none have survived to assume the presidential office. The win would be a necessary step in the left’s long struggle to free their troubled country from its erstwhile subjugation to the colossus to the north. Then, perhaps, their political candidates won’t feel compelled to audition in Washington.

The post Why Are Colombian Election Candidates Auditioning in Washington? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

COVID Brain Fade at the Australian Elections

It’s the last week of an election between the uninspiring and the unspeakable.  Australia’s conservative incumbents – the unspeakable ones – are even desperate enough to concede to a lack of popularity.  Dislike us, but for heaven’s sake, vote us in.  The times are wretched, the cost of living is rising, and we are going to look after you in the spiral.  The opposition, in contrast, is being stingy on detail and sparing on scope.  Memories of 2019 continue to traumatise the Australian Labor Party.

Scouring the election platforms, statements, and town hall debates, is a glaring absence of one particular field of policy.  Virtually no candidate or major political party is mentioning that troubling issue of COVID-19 and the global pandemic.  That was the dark past, and, like released jailbirds, voters find themselves preoccupied with other matters.

Sporadically, mention is made about the Morrison government’s tardy ordering and supply of COVID-19 vaccines – at least in the initial phase.  At that time, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, rather infamously, dismissed the slow rollout.  This wasn’t, he opined, a race.

In his first campaign video, Morrison burnished his own credentials as a warrior against COVID-19, having been responsible for saving thousands of lives.  (The States and Territories, all far more engaged in the matter than Morrison ever was, are ignored.) But the primary message was that of,  “A choice between an economic recovery that is leading the world, and a Labor opposition that would weaken it, and risk it.”

Despite Australia’s enviable record, the emergence of the furiously transmissible Omicron variant and a death toll this year surpassing the combined figures of 2020 and 2021, have seen a departure from previous policy.  As Raina MacIntyre of the Kirby Institute remarked in January, Australia “swung from one extreme in pandemic control to the other – having great control of COVID, to now having the world’s highest rise in daily cases.”

Scenes of chaos ensued.  The vulnerable had to queue for hours as testing centres were overwhelmed.  A number of such centres were also closed, often without good reason.  The Commonwealth and State governments tinkered with definitions on eligibility regarding testing, all the time refusing to expand capacity.  MacIntyre was distinctly unimpressed.  “There was no planning for expedited third-dose boosters, expanded testing capacity, rapid antigen tests, hospital in the home, opening of schools or even guidance for people to protect their household when one person becomes infected.”

None of this has made a difference in the political platform, nor, it seems, in voter interest. The COVID brain fade has well and truly set in.  According to data generated by the ABC’s Vote Compass, a mere 1 per cent of Australians consider COVID the most important issue in this election.  Vulnerable members of society are being seen as “collateral” to the overall scheme.  Living with the virus has also meant suffering and even perishing from it.

The only party making much of COVID-19, and not from the perspective of praising vaccines and sound pandemic management, is the United Australia Party. Bankrolled by the quixotic mining magnate Clive Palmer, millions have been spent on media campaigns that have seen no discernible shift in the polls.

By default, health officials and experts have become crying Cassandras and the concerned oracles.  Virologist Stuart Turville has observed, with exasperation, that the federal election campaign has been afflicted by “a case of COVID Fight Club.  Don’t talk about it.”  Future policies on the subject are virtually absent. “What will happen if we don’t get our third or fourth dose?” wonders Turville.  “Will we see the death rate creep up from 40, to 60, to 80 before we start to talk about this again?”

Another figure of some woe and worry is Burnet Institute director, Brendan Crabb, who claims that politicians and governments have resolutely kept their “heads in the sand”.  There was a dangerous sense of “COVID now”.  Continuing high rates of transmission was “bad for business”.  The longer health impacts were also being neglected.  “How many of the 350,000 plus active cases in Australia right now will have chronic impacts?  Overseas data suggests 20 per cent of them.”

Epidemiologist Nancy Baxter, based at the University of Melbourne, is another who can always be relied upon to deter any emerging complacency.  “We’re at a point,” she gravely states, “where COVID is now one of the major killers of Australians, and probably by the end of the year is going to be one of the top three.”  She adds further lashings of doom.  “And with increasing case numbers, new sub-variants [will be] coming in.  This may drive it even further, which would have a bigger impact.”

If the current mood prevails till May 21, we can expect little purchase from such attitudes at the ballot box.  Fiscal responsibility, the consumer price index, climate change and the China bogeyman, are likely to feature ahead of the most disruptive pandemic in a century.

The post COVID Brain Fade at the Australian Elections first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Bongbong Politics: Rehabilitating the Marcos Family

Children should not pay for the sins of their parents.  But in some cases, a healthy suspicion of the offspring is needed, notably when it comes to profiting off ill-gotten gains. It is certainly needed in the case of Filipino politician and presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, who stands to win on May 9.

Bongbong’s father was the notorious strongman Ferdinand Marcos, his mother, the avaricious, shoe-crazed Imelda.  Elected president in 1965, Ferdinand Marcos indulged in murder, torture and looting.  He thrived on the terrain of violent, corrupt oligarchic politics, characterised by a telling remark from the dejected Sergio Osmenã Jr, whom he defeated in 1969: “We were outgunned, outgooned, and outgold.”

In 1972, martial law was imposed on the pretext of a failed assassination attempt against the defence secretary, an attack which saw no injuries nor apprehension of suspects.  It was only formally lifted in 1981.  Under the blood-soaked stewardship of the Marcos regime, 70,000 warrantless arrests were made, and 4,000 people killed.

The Philippines duly declined in the face of monstrous cronyism, institutional unaccountability and graft, becoming one of the poorest in South-East Asia.  While Marcos Sr’s own official salary never rose above $13,500 a year, he and his cronies made off with $10 billion.  (Estimates vary.)  When revolutionaries took over the Presidential palace, they found garishly ornate portraits, 15 mink coats, 508 couture gowns and over 3,000 pairs of Imelda’s designer shoes.

Fleeing the Philippines in the wake of the popular insurrection of 1986 led by Corazon “Cory” Aquino, the Marcoses found sanctuary in the bosom of US protection, taking up residence in Hawaii.

Opinion polls show that Bongbong is breezing his way to office, a phenomenon that has little to do with his personality, sense of mind, or presence.  A Pulse Asia survey conducted in February showed voter approval at an enviable 60 percent.  This would suggest that the various petitions seeking to disqualify him have had little effect on perceptions lost in the miasma of myth and speculation.

All this points to a dark concatenation of factors that have served to rehabilitate his family’s legacy.  For the student aware of the country’s oligarchic politics, this is unlikely to come as shocking.  For one, the Marcoses have inexorably found their way back into politics, making their way through the dynastic jungle.

Imelda, for all her thieving ways, found herself serving in the House of Representatives four times and unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in 1992. Daughter Imee became governor of the province of Ilocos Norte in 2010, and has been serving as a senator since 2019.  Marcos Jr followed a similar trajectory, becoming a member of congress and senator and doing so with little distinction.  In 2016, he contested the vice presidency and lost.

Bongbong has already done his father proud at various levels, not least exhibiting a tendency to fabricate his past.  On the touchy issue of education, Oxford University has stated at various points that Marcos Jr, while matriculating at St. Edmund Hall in 1975, never took a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.  According to the institution’s records, “he did not complete his degree, but was awarded a special diploma in Social Studies in 1978.”

A statement from the Oxford Philippines Society remarks that, “Marcos failed his degree’s preliminary examinations at the first attempt.  Passing the preliminary examinations is a prerequisite for continuing one’s studies and completing a degree at Oxford University.”  The issue was known as far back as 1983, when a disturbed sister from the Religious of the Good Shepherd wrote to the university inquiring about the politician’s credentials and received a letter confirming that fact.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, whose own rule has been characterised by populist violence and impunity, has played his role in the rehabilitative process.  In 2016, almost three decades after dying in Hawaii, Duterte gave permission for Ferdinand Marcos to be buried with full military honours in Manila’s National Heroes’ Cemetery.  The timing of the burial was kept secret, prompting Vice President Leni Robredo to describe the ceremony as “a thief in the night”.

A coalition of Jesuit groups claimed that the interring of Marcos in Manila “buries human dignity by legitimising the massive violations of human and civil rights… that took place under his regime.”  Duterte would have appreciated the mirror-effect of the move, a respectful nod from one human rights abuser to another.  Under his direction, thousands of drug suspects have been summarily butchered.

Bongbong has also taken the cue, rehabilitating his parents using a polished, digital campaign of re-invention that trucks in gold age nostalgia and delusion.  Political raw material has presented itself.  The gap between the wealthy and impoverished, which his father did everything to widen, has not been closed by successive governments.  According to 2021 figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority, 24 percent of Filipinos, some 26 million people, live below the poverty line.

Videos abound claiming that his parents were philanthropists rather than figures of predation.  The issue of martial law brutality has all but vanished in the narrative.  Social media and online influencers have managed the growth of this image through a coordinated campaign of disinformation waged across multiple platforms.

Gemma B. Mendoza of the Philippine news platform Rappler has noted the more sinister element of these efforts.  Even as the legacy of a family dictatorship is being burnished, the press and critics are being hounded.  The only movement standing in the way of Family Marcos is Vice President Robredo, who triumphed over Marcos Jr in 2016.  Her hope is a brand of politics nourished by grassroots participation rather than shameless patronage.

The same cannot be said of the political classes who operate on the central principle of Philippine politics: impunity.  This, at least, is how the political scientist Aries Arugay of the University of Philippines sees it. “We just don’t jail our politicians or make them accountable … we don’t punish them, unlike South Korean presidents.”  The opposite is the case, and as the voters make it to the ballot on Monday, the country, if polls are to be believed, will see another Marcos in the presidential palace.

The post Bongbong Politics: Rehabilitating the Marcos Family first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Panic in Kooyong: The Threat to the Australian Liberal Party

He has been seen, not always accurately, as the more moderate in an otherwise conservative Liberal Party, which has governed Australia since 2013 in an at times troubled alliance with the Nationals.  He has served as party deputy to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and proudly promotes his role as the country’s treasurer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Josh Frydenberg is nervous.  There is also reason to suggest that he might even be panicking.  The electorate he represents – that of Kooyong – is not quite so warm towards the sitting member as it has been in the past.  The sitting MP has resorted to his home party base for comfort.  “Incredible sea of Liberal blue at our Kooyong Campaign Launch, with more than 1,000 people present,” he tweeted on May 1.  “So much energy in the room.”

The sitting member was certainly correct about the energy, in so far as it went to the head of one of his supporters in attendance.  After voicing public approval for Frydenberg (“Liberals will win because of Josh”), volunteer Phil Elwood proceeded to become an impromptu “birdman”, imitating the sound of a Kookaburra and Sulphur-crested Cockatoo with gusto.  Many political candidates have feared the distractions of the eccentric, dedicated supporter.

The seat has also been given licks and lashings of Liberal blue, with posters, placards and paraphernalia saturating the suburb. But all this extravagant expense of reminder in a seat traditionally held by the Liberals, there is a nagging feeling that a rude shock awaits on May 21.

That rude shock comes in the form of independent candidate Monique Ryan.  “A vote for Dr Monique Ryan,” runs the standard line, “is a vote for climate action, integrity and a strong economy.”  From her perspective, and those of similar candidates in other safe Liberal Party seats – Goldstein, Wentworth, North Sydney – the first two priorities, which have tended to find their way at the bottom end of the government’s list, stand out.

The Morrison government has made a name for itself in the field of corruption and a lack of accountability verging on the grotesque.  Its members have shown little contrition on being exposed.  In December 2020, when it was revealed that Morrison and Frydenberg had run up a bill of almost $5,000 for using the PM’s jet to attend Lachlan Murdoch’s 2018 Christmas party, it barely stirred a murmur.

Writing with some disgust about the episode, Nick Feik asked the relevant question: “How did we get to the point where the misuse of public money by our two most senior politicians provoked neither contrition nor embarrassment, and it scarcely even registered as a scandal?”

This is certainly not the case for the “teal independents“, who are insisting that the Liberal Party account for its sins and call out scandals and sleaze.  They also support the establishment of an integrity commission with fangs, something which, according to a poll conducted by The Australia Institute, is endorsed by three in four Australians.

The momentum of such candidates has caused an outbreak of sweat among the sitting members.  Frydenberg, for one, has resorted to attacking Ryan in a coarse, personal way.  A central strategy, one fabulously juvenile and ill-informed, is to assume that an independent candidate can never, by definition, be independent.  She would, for instance, have been incapable of flirting with various sides of politics in the past, to have voted for different and differing parties at different elections.  She could not have been a swinging voter, but instead an unwavering member of a tribe from the outset.

This ossified veneration of the unchanging political mind came to the fore in remarks made by Frydenberg about Ryan’s own alleged lack of independence, telling his supporters that he was not “up against a true independent.  I’m up against a political party.”  Dark forces, he insinuates, lurk, and he risks being a victim of puppetry – the workings of the Climate 200 group created by clean energy advocate Simon Holmes à Court, or the “Voice of” movement.

He has even gone so far as to throw in anecdotes of desperation, including a chance meeting with the independent candidate’s mother-in-law, whom he had apparently bumped into at a “local café”.  On receiving the good news that she would be voting for him, he recalled the answer: “Because you know what you’re doing and you’re a nice person.”

This march of the independents has terrified other former politicians such as John Howard, Liberal Prime Minister of Australia between 1996 and 2007.  He has made it his personal mission to convince voters that the independent candidates are “anti-Liberal groupies” who do not represent the “middle ground”.

Showing a total lack of understanding as to how reactionary his own party became, largely due to his own demagogic handiwork, Howard could only wonder why the independent movement had not expressed an interest in running candidates against the Labor Party.  “The only consequence of a victory for one of these will be to reduce the prospects of the Liberal Party forming the next government.  It’s simple as that.”  That, you would think, is the point of the matter.

The post Panic in Kooyong: The Threat to the Australian Liberal Party first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Corruptio Optimi Pessima

… wrong is what really pays …

— Plato, Republic (ii. 366)

“During the 1990s, the World Bank changed course to address the ‘cancer of corruption.’”

I’m not surprised. This was the end of the Cold War — and the end of the generals, like General Ershad in Bangladesh.

As The Economist observed: “…the cold war’s end prompted western donors to stop propping up anti-communist dictators and to start insisting on democratic reforms.” And it was only in 1991 in Harare, Zimbabwe that heads of states declared that the Commonwealth should promote democracy and human rights.

But that’s just surface stuff.

The real insight came from two anthropologists, Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz in their book Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument (Oxford: James Currey, 1999) where they say: “It cannot simply be a coincidence that, now that the West ties aid to democratisation under the guise of multi-party elections, multi-party elections are taking place in Africa.” (p 118)

Money that had hitherto been channeled through the state now began to flow to non-state actors – NGOs. Unsurprisingly, these have proliferated. Again, Chabal and Daloz make an astute observation: “The political significance of such a massive proliferation of NGOs in Africa deserves closer attention. Our research suggests that this expansion is less the outcome of the increasing political weight of civil society than the consequence of the very pragmatic realisation that resources are now largely channeled through NGOs.” (p 22) In other words, a rational response to monetary rewards.

Bangladesh tells a similar story. According to The Economist: “There are about 20,000 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Bangladesh, probably more than in any other country.”

You can take a business to court for corruption, but you can’t haul Congress or Parliament to court.

These NGOs (aka civil society) have been paid to “look the other way.” Notice their deafening silence on political violence in this country.

You may (but probably have not) heard of hartals in Bangladesh: violence unleashed on innocent bystanders by the opposition to bring down the government (“strikes-cum-blockades enforced by partisan thugs” was The Economist’s tortured definition).

“Politicians are not human.”

Such was the pronouncement of the brother of Salahuddin (33), a fisherman, who was killed in a skirmish between the two student wings of the political parties in a hartal (Prothom Alo, 6th April, 2001). Two rickshaw-pullers – one of them unidentified, the other Badaruddin (32) – were bombed while they were pulling their rickshaws during hartal hours. It took them 24 to 48 hours to die (The Daily Star, April 4, 2001). An auto-rickshaw was burned to ashes, and when the driver, Saidul Islam Shahid (35), tried to put out the flames, he was sprinkled with petrol, and burned to death. It took him more than two days to die (The Daily Star, April 5, 2001). Truck driver, Fayez Ahmed (50), died when a bomb was thrown on his truck (The Daily Star, April 4, 2001). And Ripon Sikder, a sixteen-year-old injured by a bomb, died on 4 May at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital after struggling for his life for eleven days (The Daily Star, May 6, 2001).

A headline in The Daily Star reads: “Arson attack on bus kills 9; bomb hurled on transport in several city areas.” On the night of June 4, 2004, a double-decker public bus full of passengers in front of the Sheraton Hotel in Dhaka blew up in flames. “The fire caught my wife Yasmin and burnt her alive before my eyes on the upper deck,” said Abdur Rahim, bursting into tears. Six people were incinerated inside the bus, and a burnt man jumped to his death; two others, including a two-year-old child, Meem, died at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (June 5, 2004).

The leader of the opposition at the time, Sheikh Hasina, had called a hartal. “This sort of incidents [sic] take place before every hartal and you also know the perpetrators,” said Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ashraful Huda, careful not to name the Awami League, Sheikh Hasina’s party, who were destined to be his future boss.

According to the Banglapedia (“Hartal”) online, 80% of all hartals after 1947 occurred between 1990 and 2011. Of the 721 national hartals recorded by the Banglapedia since the country came into being as East Pakistan in 1947, 591 occurred after the democratic transition of 1990 – that is, 82% in a mere 21 years (1990-2011). The article needs updating for there have been many and severe hartals as recently as 2015, when, according to David Bergman, a journalist, 61 people died, most of them burnt alive, in January alone (Bergman notes that altogether 119 people died through political violence, including hartals, in January and February, 2015. Bergman’s blog is blocked in Bangladesh.) The Economist article on the violence quotes a similar figure of “about 60” killed, though does not mention how.

Free and fair elections?

Not a single word appeared in the newspapers of Bangladesh about the findings of Walter Mebane and his team at Cornell was reported in The Economist. Mebane and others studied the figures for the three elections in this country in 1991, 1996 and 2001. The first was clean, the second showed that some 2% of results were problematic and the third, a glaring 9%. Yet the elections had been vetted by the Carter Center and the European Union.

“We are blessed to be living in a democracy like Bangladesh…,” US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas said in an interview, according to the The Bangladesh Observer of June 25, 2005.

Fed up, the people yearned for military rule. An editor at the most widely circulated English daily (motto: YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW), told me bluntly, “We know people want martial law, but we can’t print that”.

The executive editor and his wife, who heads a mammoth NGO, Manusher Jonno, are beloved of western donors.

My gleanings from newspaper headlines between 2000 and 2019 show that 888 student politicians, who have formed a mafia of extortion and other crimes, have been murdered — by each other. (Body-counting has led to moral and emotional exhaustion, so I have since discontinued the grim census.)

The NGOs regularly publish grisly stats at the end of each year — but these young deaths are never mentioned. That would expose democracy in Bangladesh, which western donors do not pay them to do.

It has been estimated by economist Abul Barkat that only 25% of donor money reaches the poor in Bangladesh (New Nation, September 26, 2003); the remainder goes towards meeting administrative costs, including salaries. Chabal and Daloz observe that “…there is today an international ‘aid market’ which Africans know how to play with great skill. Indeed, there is very little doubt that NGOs spend an excessive proportion of their budget on furnishing their members with sophisticated and expensive equipment (from computers to four-wheel drives), leaving all too little for the development projects which justify the work of the NGOs in the first place.” (p 23) This observation can be made of Bangladesh verbatim. Dr. Mozaffer Ahmed, economist and former chairman of Transparency International Bangladesh, echoed Abul Barkat when he observed that “Beneficiaries get only 20 to 22 percent of the foreign funds while [the] rest are used as ‘cost of fund’ meaning house rent, salary and other expenses” (Daily Star, July 11, 2009).

Therefore, it is not surprising that a BBC survey found that every section of society was suspicious of NGOs. Only three percent surveyed wanted to give them more power — and only two per cent admired social work, the ‘least admired’ of all kinds of work” (Daily Star, December 9, 2005),

“People respect other people with high moral standards,” says the Oxford University blog quoted in this article’s first line.. Well, they respect money more. And these NGOs (and wider civil society) are not breaking the law. They’re turning a blind eye for the benefit it brings.

The manifest function of NGOs is to promote civil society and development; their latent function is to purchase the loyalty of the elite — and, in not a few cases, the masses, exploiting their poverty.

Consider the late, award-winning Father Timm (1923-2020). He and the priests at Notre Dame College valiantly fed 1,000 people daily during the man-made famine of 1974 (as I learned from conversations with the late principal Fr. Peixotto and vice-principal Fr. Banas).

Yet, in the 1990s, he appeared in The Economist pages (where he was inaccurately described as a Jesuit) boasting of having got so many women to vote! He believed in democracy — despite the evidence.

NGOs like ASA, with support groups in 40,000 villages, are canvassing women to back the secular Awami League. “In a Muslim state,” says Father Timm, ASA’s American Jesuit (sic) president, “we’ve managed to ensure more rural women cast their vote than men.” It is, he says, “a social revolution to combat the medievalism of the fundamentalists.”

Apparently, he had learnt nothing from the fact that 1.5 million people had starved to death under a democratically elected​​ — and fanatically anti-Islamic — government of the same party, run by despotic pere, now by despotic fille (Sheikh Mujib and his daughter, Sheikh Hasina). To pater patriae, senior’s honorific, must be added a second: auto-genocidaire. It is as though Pol Pot junior had succeeded Pol Pot senior.

Fr. Timm’s single-minded pursuit of democracy and secularism, in the teeth of evidence, reminds one of the intellectuals of the last century. “We are familiar with those intellectuals of the twentieth century who were willfully blind to the crimes of totalitarianism.” This succinct observation comes from the pen of Justin E. H. Smith in his aptly-titled book Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017, p 462).

“By the end of the year [1974], the Bangladesh government stood exposed as inept, indifferent and heartless. All its political credit had vanished. Seventy distinguished Bangladeshi economists, lawyers and writers issued a statement saying that the famine was man-made and had resulted from ‘shameless plunder, exploitation, terrorization, flattery, fraudulence and misrule.’ They added that the government was ‘clearly dominated by and…representative of smugglers and profiteers’ (Willem van Schendel, A History of Bangladesh, (Cambridge University Press: 2009), p 181).’

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (“famine”, 15th edition, 1988), after the floods of 1974, “The government did not make available to the hungry people large quantities of rice that were available, and merchants exported it to India.”

Notre Dame College, where Fr. Timm taught and resided (I often saw him playing basketball with the boys), is famed not only for academic excellence, but for keeping students out of politics (two reasons why a recommendation by the principal carries great weight with American universities considering enrolling students from Bangladesh). These juveniles are routinely exploited by the political parties as thugs — Notre Dame, unlike the infamous Dhaka College, keeps parents informed if kids get into politics (students enroll at16 and leave at 18: they’re minors during their stay).

Indeed, in my talks with the padres, I learned how Sheikh Mujib’s son, Sheikh Kamal, and his thugs descended on the college in the early 1970s and demanded student politics on campus. The priests, in cassocks, such was the dread occasioned by the scion and his cohorts, who had the entire state machinery behind them, decided that night to leave the country rather than run a criminalised institution headed by student leaders. Sheikh Kamal, sensing this, never returned. The wisdom of the fathers of the Holy Cross averted the fate that overtook Dhaka University: on its centenary of founding, a journalist observed, “These days, student leaders even control their teachers, although only around 10 percent of teachers are involved in politics, while the rest are devoted to carrying out their jobs.”

Fr.Timm, therefore, was uniquely privileged to know how “democracy” and “politics” function in Bangladesh. He knew about the hartals enforced by student thugs who burn people alive. (He was, as we have seen, intimately familiar with the famine of 1974 during our first democracy – he, in fact, started the feeding centre at the college when he witnessed a woman fighting off dogs to get at food in a dustbin.)

​​Yet he never spoke out on the subject. He was vocal against child labour in the garments factories, but that children were being exploited by the political parties seemed not to matter given the “greater” cause of democracy, the Big Picture dwarfing the Little People, the grand narratives of the last century unleashed on the hapless. Unsurprisingly, these boys, once criminalized, end up killing each other over turf and spoils (see chart).

Today, in totalitarian Bangladesh, under Sheikh Hasina, Mujib’s daughter, dissidents are at risk of being disappeared. According to The Economist, “Under her 12-year tenure at least 600 Bangladeshis are reckoned to have been “disappeared””. The newspaper added a new word to its Espresso edition for the week: goom. The Persian word literally means “lost”. State-sponsored abductions, observes Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, have become a systematic tool of oppression in this country.

The prime minister’s vade mecum appears to be Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell writes: “More commonly, people who had incurred the displeasure of the Party disappeared and were never heard of again”.

What I’m struggling to articulate here has recently been brilliantly portrayed by Eviatar Zerubavel in The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

“Hush money,” he observes, “always flows down the power ladder….Furthermore, silencing is also used “as a weapon of subjugation…the suffocation of the Other’s voice.” (p 41).

That Fr. Timm and his NGO, and assorted civil society like Manusher Jonno, serve as conduits for western government lucre to corrupt our best and brightest says a great deal about how hush money wends its way into our pockets.

No monopoly western publication ever printed any of my articles, poems or short stories on these subjects – but the Indy-media did. They have shoestring budgets and frequently go bust or the publisher, a one-man or one-woman show, dies, and the journal folds.

If a writer is willing to accept obscurity without pay, neither cash nor kudos, then he or she will be heard by a few friends who might bother to read the material.

But silence and denial run deep – even among friends and family.

And that reminds me of those inimitable lines by Robert Burns:

The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

— “A Man’s A Man For A’ That”, 1795

The post Corruptio Optimi Pessima first appeared on Dissident Voice.