Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Biden's Gaza Ceasefire Veto Defies American Public Opinion

Aaron Bushnell, an active serviceman in the United States Air Force, burned himself to death in front of the Israeli Embassy in protest against the US policy in Gaza. Before setting himself on fire in what he called an "extreme act of protest", he said he would "no longer be complicit in genocide". Polls show that the vast majority (63%) of Americans want an immediate end to the carnage being perpetrated by Israel in Gaza.  

USAF Engineer Aaron Bushnell

Although Bushnell resorted to this extreme form of protest against the Biden Administration's policy of unqualified support for Israel, he was not alone in opposing it. American public opinion polls confirm that the vast majority of Americans, including Jewish Americans, want an immediate end to the Gaza carnage. 

Gaza Ceasefire Poll. Source: ISPU

Overall, 63% of Americans support a ceasefire in Gaza, according to a recent poll conducted by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU). In terms of religions, 71% of Catholics, 61% of Non-Affiliated,  60% of Protestants, 58% of White Evangelicals, 50% of Jews and 75% of Muslims support an immediate ceasefire, according to the poll. 

Jewish and Muslim Democrats, like Democrats in the general public, favor an end to the violence in Gaza. The majority of Republicans in the general public also favor a ceasefire. 

So why is President Biden defying the will of the American people on Gaza?  The simple answer is AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most powerful lobby in Washington D.C. This Israel lobby has showered its friendly politicians with money from wealthy Jewish donors. It has also ensured the defeat of those politicians who dared to speak out against Israeli policies in the Middle East. As one former Democratic senator, Ernest Hollings, put it on leaving office, ‘you can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.’ Or as Ariel Sharon once told an American audience, ‘when people ask me how they can help Israel, I tell them: “Help AIPAC.”’

President Jimmy Carter who helped broker peace between Israel and Egypt knows the Israel lobby well. He told Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now" many years ago: "I think it’s accurate to say that not a single member of Congress with whom I’m familiar would possibly speak out and call for Israel to withdraw to their legal boundaries or to publicize the plight of the Palestinians or even to call publicly and repeatedly for good faith peace talks.....  And I would say that if any member of Congress did speak out, as I’ve just described, they would probably not be back in the Congress the next term ". 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Pakistan Elections: Imran Khan's Supporters Skillfully Used Tech to Defy Powerful Military

Independent candidates backed by the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) party emerged as the largest single block with 93 seats in the nation's parliament in the general elections held on February 8, 2024.  This feat was accomplished in spite of huge obstacles thrown in front of the PTI's top leader Imran Khan and his party leaders and supporters by Pakistan's powerful military to prevent their victory. 

Pakistan's Official Election Results 2024. Source: Aljazeera 

Imran Khan and his top party leaders were thrown in jail on trumped up charges, his party was denied a unified electoral symbol of cricket bat, his supporters' rallies were banned, the mainstream media were prevented from carrying PTI leaders' speeches and the Internet was repeatedly blocked when the party held online events. So how did they succeed in spite of it? The answer lies in how skillfully the PTI activists used technology to get the party's messages out to the country's young electorate. 

Well over 90% of Pakistan's adults have access to the Internet. This allows them to use a variety of  apps ranging from TikTok and YouTube to Facebook, Instagram and X. The PTI supporters used AI (Artificial Intelligence) to produce Imran Khan's speeches using his own voice and words and made them go viral. They used X Spaces to engage with the public. Here's how Uzair Younus, a Pakistani-American analyst at The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based Think Tank, describes what occurred:

"The result of PTI’s technological campaign strategy was a more engaged and informed electorate, which translated into significant electoral gains. Khan’s PTI managed to galvanize a significant part of the electorate, and the party’s success demonstrates the potential of digital tools to democratize political participation and challenge entrenched power structures". 

When it became clear that the PTI was headed for a massive victory with more than half of the 264 National Assembly seats as live results from the polling started to pour in on the evening of February 8, there was a sudden mysterious delay in real time reporting. Most political analysts in Pakistan believe that this delay was ordered by the Pakistani military to rig the results.  This belief is confirmed by the reports that the total votes reported cast for PTI  by the polling stations on "Form 45" add up to a lot more votes than those reported cast on "Form 47" for over 55 constituencies of the National Assembly. These 55 seats plus the officially reported 93 seats add up to 148 seats giving PTI more than half of the total 264 directly elected members in the National Assembly. 

Any coalition government formed by the PTI opponents is unlikely to be stable or long lasting. This unstable situation will likely prolong the deep economic crisis the country now faces. The best course of action for the Pakistani military is to release Imran Khan from jail and allow his party to form the next government. 

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Friday, February 2, 2024

Soaring Illegal Immigration of Indians into the United States

Illegal immigration from India to the United States is soaring. A record 96,917 Indians were detained while attempting to enter the US illegally from October 2022 to September 2023, representing a 50% jump from the corresponding period in the prior year. Vast majority of the arrested Indians came from Prime Minister Modi's state of Gujarat while others came from the state of Punjab. There are about 725,000 undocumented Indian immigrants in the US – the third-largest population of illegal immigrants after Mexicans and El Salvadorans – according to a Pew Research Centre report. 

Illegal Immigration to the US From India. Source: Strait Times

The number of Indians attempting to cross into the United States illegally has accelerated in recent years on Prime Minister Modi's watch. These immigrants take the Latin American route to reach the US-Mexico border before making a run for the US. They cross the Darien Gap, a dangerous thick forest region between Colombia and Panama, taking three days to a week while taking huge risks ranging from lack of food and drinking water, wild animals and violent gangs. 

There are multiple drivers of mass illegal migration of Indians to other countries. These include increasing violence under Mr. Modi's Hindutva rule and lack of jobs for thee growing working-age population. Human traffickers are exploiting these conditions to profit from vulnerable groups most impacted by political and economic problems in the country. 

Christians, low caste Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs are among the main targets of the far-right Hindu mob attacks across India. In 2023, the Modi government’s discriminatory and divisive policies led to  growing violence against minorities, creating a pervasive environment of fear and a chilling effect on government critics, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2024

India's labor force participation rate (LPR) has been declining for several years. Centre For Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data shows that the labor participation rate fell to 39.5% in 2022-23, from an already low 40.1% in 2021-22. This indicates that more than half of India’s working age population is not employed. This is especially the case for women 90% of whom are out of the labor force. India’s LPR is among the lowest in the world. The global average LPR is 60%.

Labor Participation Rate in India. Source: CMIE Via Reuters

The rapid GDP growth claimed by India is not creating enough jobs for its massive young population. The much-hyped "Make in India" initiative of the Modi government is just not working well enough to keep pace with the demand for jobs. Manufacturing’s contribution to India’s GDP has declined from 17% two decades ago to just 13% in 2022, according to the World Bank. India has added only 5 million factory jobs since Mr. Modi was first elected, for a total of 65 million such jobs now, according to the Wall Street Journal. Unable to find jobs in cities, a very large number of Indians are going back to subsistence farming to eke out a meager living.  

Indian economist Ritesh Kumar recently wrote a piece for Nikkei Asia titled "Few are benefiting from India's rapid GDP growth".  His conclusion: What India really needs is a growth trajectory that is inclusive, sustainable and can foster shared prosperity across all segments of the economy rather than benefiting only a privileged few.

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