Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Here Are 16 of the Dumbest Things Americans Believe -- And the Right-Wing Lies Behind Them

Sarah Palin.Photo Credit: Today

HomeBy Sarah Seltzer / AlterNet-April 19, 2018

We’ve gone beyond Stephen Colbert's' truthiness' into a 'truth-be-damned' environment.
Americans are often misinformed, occasionally downright dumb, and easily misled by juicy-sounding rumors. But while the right wing is taking full advantage of this reality, the Left worries that calling out lies is "rude."

Remember when Congressman Joe Wilson stood up during Obama’s State of the Union address and shouted “You lie”? He was chastised soundly by the pundit class. But mostly he drew heat for being impolite, and was compared to Kanye West and other famous interrupters.
Revisiting Wilson's foolish tirade underscores the state of our upside-down political world. Wilson shouted “you lie” in the face of truth, but President Obama is hesitant to speak up when he’s being slandered with bald, glaring untruths. The dark irony will continue as the Republicans take over the House this winter and the rumors and insinuations from extremist right-wing pundits keep circulating. It feels like no one with a loud enough megaphone has the courage to call a spade a spade, or more accurately a lie a lie.

We’ve gone far beyond Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” into a more “truth-be-damned” environment; what Rick Perlstein described in the Daily Beast as a “mendocracy. As in, rule by liars.”
Here are some examples of recent ways we have made inroads in ignorance:
  • Polling data during and after last week’s midterm elections suggested that many Americans genuinely believe President Obama has raised their taxes -- even though the reality is that our president actually lowered them for most of us. This means that people trust pundits like Rush Limbaugh, a major force behind spreading that lie, over the numbers on their own tax returns.
  • Another recent phenomenon? Half of new Congressmen don’t believe in the reality of global warming. It’s not that they don’t just disagree on the source or the severity of the problem. They flat out don’t think the world is getting warmer--despite the evidence outside their windows.
  • The new Congress will probably try to restore millions of dollars of funding for scientifically inaccurate, largely disastrous abstinence-only curriculum in schools, many of which have been shown to spread lies like "condoms don't work" and "abortion causes cancer." 
  • News outlets picked up a wildly inflated and completely outlandish claim from an Indian blog that Obama’s trip abroad cost $200 million a day--and listeners have swallowed it. (In this case, the White House flat-out denied it.)
The scary thing is, these kinds of rumors have a way of taking root in the popular consciousness. Just as the election season began heating up earlier this year, Newsweek published a list of “Dumb Things Americans Believe.” While some of them are garden-variety lunacy, a surprising number are lies that were fed to Americans by our leaders on the far-Right. This demonstrates that media-fed lies can easily become ingrained in the collective memory if they’re not countered quickly and surely. Newsweek’s list included the following 12 statistics taken from recent and semi-recent polls and surveys. The first half are directly related to right-wing rumormongering.
  • Nearly one-fifth of Americans think Obama is a Muslim. Thanks, Fox news, for acting like this was a matter of opinion, not fact.
  • 25 percent of Americans don’t believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution while less than 40 percent do. Consider the fact that several of our newly elected officials, specifically newly elected Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, share that belief.
  • Earlier this year, nearly 40 percent of Americans still believed the Sarah Palin-supported lie about "death panels" being included in health care reform.
  • As of just a few years ago, about half of Americans still suspected a connection between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of September 11, a lie that was reinforced by none other than Dick Cheney.
  • While a hefty amount of this demonstrable cluelessness gets better as the respondents get younger, all is not well in the below-30 demographic. A majority of “young Americans” cannot identify Iraq or Afghanistan--the places their peers are fighting and dying--on a map.
  • Two out of five Americans, despite the whole separation of church and state being a foundation of our democracy thing, think teachers should be able to lead prayer in classrooms. So it seems those right-wingers clamoring to tear down the wall between church and state aren’t the only ones who don’t know their constitutional principles.
  • Many Americans still believe in witchcraft, ESP and other supernatural phenomena. Does that explain why Christine O’Donnell was so quick to deny her “dabbling”?
  • Speaking of antiquated religious beliefs, about a decade ago, 20 percent of Americans still believed that the sun revolves around the earth. That's just sad, considering that even the Vatican has let Galileo off the hook for being right.
  • Only about half of Americans realize that Judaism is the oldest of the three monotheistic religions. Other examples of wild misunderstanding about religion and the separation of church and state can be found in this fall’s Pew survey on Americans’ religious knowledge.
  • This one made a huge splash when it appeared. In 2006 more Americans were able to name two of the “seven dwarves” than two of the Supreme Court justices. And that was before Kagan and Sotomayor showed up. To be fair, Happy and Sleepy are easy to remember.
  • More Americans can identify the Three Stooges than the three branches of government--you know, the ones who are jockeying over our welfare.
So what to do in a political and cultural landscape in which well-told lies have more validity than fact-based truth? Perlstein explained how this environment gets created by explaining what happened on Election Day this year:
“ a two-to-one margin likely voters thought their taxes had gone up, when, for almost all of them, they had actually gone down. Republican politicians, and conservative commentators, told them Barack Obama was a tax-mad lunatic. They lied. The mainstream media did not do their job and correct them. The White House was too polite—"civil," just like Obama promised—to say much. So people believed the lie.”
We’ve entered a bizzarro world in which calling out lies is considered rude, says Perlstein, so liars are allowed to sit tight and dominate the discourse. This gels with Bill Maher’s critique of the Rally for Sanity, that calling for “balance for balance’s sake” ignores two important aspects of news reporting: facts and evidence.

Blaming Americans for being ignorant unwashed masses--or taking potshots at an education system that doesn’t teach critical thinking-- would be the easy answer to this conundrum.

But the reality is that if messaging has such a big effect on Americans, then messaging matters. Folks on our end have to counter the lies with well-told, unabashed unironic, truth-telling. And we have to demand that our media, and our politicians, call out the other side. As Perlstein notes, “When one side breaks the social contract, and the other side makes a virtue of never calling them out on it, the liar always wins. When it becomes 'uncivil' to call out liars, lying becomes free.”

Even worse, once lies begin to spread, they become more than rumors--they become permanent beliefs.

Sarah Seltzer is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahmseltzer and find her work at

The Windrush Generation: Fighting to be British

-12 Apr 2018Senior Home Affairs Correspondent

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: a dictator in all but name seeks complete control

Turkey’s president is unlikely to lose an election that will make him more powerful than Atatürk

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: he remains Turkey’s dominant politician and a deeply divisive figure. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

 Simon Tisdall-Thu 19 Apr 2018

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of a crop of present-day political leaders who value the respectability an ostensibly democratic election confers but don’t want to risk actually losing the vote.

In this respect, Turkey’s president is no different from Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Their shared idea of democracy can be summed up by the motto: “You vote, I win.”
It is possible Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) could lose the snap presidential and parliamentary polls called for 24 June. But it is extremely unlikely. The AKP won a clear majority of seats in parliament in 2015 and is already assured of the support, should it need it, of the Nationalist Movement party (MHP).

As for Erdoğan, he remains Turkey’s dominant politician, a position he has occupied for a decade or more at home, in contrast to the steady decline in his international standing. He is also a deeply divisive figure. A recent survey by Metropoll gave him a nationwide approval rating of 49.8%. Just over 42% of respondents said they disapproved.

Even if there were a politician of sufficient power and prestige to effectively challenge Erdoğan – and there isn’t – the odds are stacked against any would-be usurper. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the likeable but ineffective leader of the main opposition Republican People’s party (CHP), gained only 19% approval in the same poll.

Erdoğan has sidelined old comrades such as Abdullah Gül and Ahmet Davutoğlu, formerly president and prime minister respectively, ensuring nobody within the AKP is in a position to rival him. And since the failed 2016 coup, he has systemically emasculated rival power bases and independent media, locking up pro-Kurdish lawmakers and journalists and sacking tens of thousands of civil servants, academics, military, police and judges on specious grounds of national security.

In such circumstances, the prospect of truly competitive, open, free and fair elections is slim to non-existent. In a very real sense, Erdoğan, himself a one-time prison inmate who came up the hard way, has been waiting for this moment all his life. If and when he wins, he will assume the full powers of the new “executive presidency” that was narrowly voted through in last year’s bitterly contested constitutional referendum.

Elections had not been due for another 18 months. By bringing the polls forward, Erdoğan is finally set to gain full, personal control of all key aspects of domestic and foreign policy. He will become a dictator in all but name, more powerful perhaps than even Kemal Atatürk, modern, secular Turkey’s founding father.

Worried politicians in Paris, Berlin, London and Washington no longer see a reliable friend and ally in Ankara. They see an autocratic figure exploiting nationalist and neo-Islamist sentiment, xenophobia and Europhobia, and feelings of public insecurity brought on by next door’s Syrian crisis, to justify egregious human rights abuses, institutional vandalism and anti-EU, anti-western policies.

Turkey under Erdoğan, though still a Nato member, is now closely aligned with Russia. In Syria, Erdoğan has backed Moscow and Tehran in pursuing a political and territorial settlement that would keep Bashar al-Assad’s regime in place, even though he had previously demanded the Syrian leader resign.

In return, Moscow gave tacit support to Turkey’s recent military incursion into Afrin, in north-west Syria, in furtherance of Erdoğan’s obsessive vendetta with the Syrian (and Iraqi) Kurds – all of whom he denounces as terrorists. On past precedent, inflammatory anti-Kurdish rhetoric will play a big part in Erdoğan’s re-election bid. The need to be “strong” in Afrin was one reason for calling early polls, he said on Wednesday.

Putin and, for example, China’s Xi Jinping, another executive president-forever, may be impressed by Erdoğan’s dubious ascendancy. Iran’s hardliners may cheer him on. But the western democracies, which Turks for many years aspired to emulate, will not. For them, Turkey is increasingly on the wrong side of a global argument between freedom and control.

The real problem with the Mexican presidential frontrunner isn’t his populism. It’s his old-fashioned ideas.

Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador delivers a speech at a campaign rally in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on April 6. (Julio Cesar Ahuilar/AFP/Getty Images)
No automatic alt text available.
|  Some see Andrés Manuel López Obrador as the Mexican Hugo Chávez — a dangerous radical who would threaten the country’s political and economic stability. Others see the controversial leftist as the only hope left for a nation marred by corruption, poverty, and drug violence. Now, after five years of drift and a seemingly endless series of corruption scandals under President Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, polls suggest that the 2018 presidential race will offer the two-time runner-up his best chance yet to lead his country. Last week, a poll by the newspaper El Universal showed an early lead of nearly 11 percent ahead of the July election.

López Obrador, who officially launched his campaign with a speech in Ciudad Juárez earlier this month, is running against José Antonio Meade of the incumbent Institutional Revolutionary Party, a Yale-educated lawyer and economist, and rising star Ricardo Anaya Cortés of the centrist Forward for Mexico alliance, which includes the center-right National Action Party and center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution. Either of the above would likely represent continuity with Mexico’s fiscally responsible, internationalist agenda of the past 30 years. Yet they would also surely disappoint: Mexico’s greatest challenges — inequality, education, rule of law — cannot be resolved within a single six-year term, only through steady progress.

For U.S.-born, Mexico City-based academic John Ackerman, a prominent leftist commentator in Mexico, López Obrador is a “progressive reformist” in the mold of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, while the political right portrays him as a populist who would lead Mexico down the same path as Venezuela. The most astute criticism of López Obrador, however, often comes from the very leftists he claims to represent, who lament a burgeoning cult of personality; a regressive attitude on social issues, such as abortion and LGBT rights; and a longing for the all-powerful presidency and statism of Mexico’s past.

These latter assessments identify the central problem of López Obrador’s candidacy. Despite concerns over his populist tendencies, he is focusing on the right issues. The real question is whether or not he has new solutions to offer — or only the same old ones, which will continue to fall short.
* * *
López Obrador is a political veteran whose career began within the former Institutional Revolutionary Party regime in the early 1970s, when corporatism, state planning, and high public spending, fueled by oil revenues, drove economic development. Yet the strategy, emulated across much of Latin America at the time, was built on sand, culminating in the 1982 Latin American debt crisis and the region’s subsequent so-called lost decade. The story of Mexico since then has been one of parallel transitions — from a de facto one-party state to a multiparty democracy, and from a relatively closed economy to wholesale market reforms.

Yet the intervening period has been one of contrasting fortunes, in many ways epitomized by the past five years under Peña Nieto, who in 2012 returned the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the country’s former ruling dynasty, to power democratically, on a fiscal responsibility and pro-market platform. Since 2009, Mexico has enjoyed the longest period of sustained economic growth in its history, albeit barely above 2 percent per year. Structural reforms have touched nearly every area of the Mexican economy, from the public education system to the energy sector. Yet where Peña Nieto, like his predecessors, has failed is in consolidating the rule of law. Drug violence has reached its highest levels in two decades. High-profile corruption scandals have decimated the government’s credibility.

“The rule of law is one area where we are not progressing,” says Macario Schettino, an economist at the Monterrey Institute of Technology in Mexico City. “And that affects many other aspects of the economy, such as the ability to generate taxes, reform public education, and secure the confidence of investors.”

López Obrador has been Mexico’s most prominent opposition voice throughout much of this period. In 1989, he joined a group of dissident ruling party members in founding the Democratic Revolutionary Party, which opposed the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s ideological shift to the right. He later served as the mayor of Mexico City, where he governed as a moderate, implementing popular social programs, instating incentives to increase investment in housing, and founding a new public university. He twice was the runner-up to the presidency, in 2006 and 2012. Following the second defeat, he broke away from his increasingly centrist party to found the National Regeneration Movement, officially registered in 2014.

His vision for Mexico is based on two fundamental ideas: that unchecked corruption by a rapacious elite has undermined much of Mexico’s potential, and that the neoliberal reforms the country has implemented under centrist governments since the 1980s have failed. As for the former, he has a point, and 80 percent of citizens agree. The latter claim requires nuanced examination.

The reality of Mexico today is that in regions where market reforms have been successfully implemented, and the rule of law strengthened, mostly in the north, the economy is performing well, buoyed by dynamic burgeoning sectors, including the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and tech industries. In its impoverished, mostly rural south, however, the country has barely moved on from the 1980s. Yet it is precisely in the latter region where the corporatism, clientelism, and political repression of one-party rule have proven hardest to shake. Like any modern country, Mexico requires a role for both the state and the private sector, yet the common denominator is the rule of law.
“In Mexico today, the name of the person who occupies the presidency is almost incidental,” says Carlos Bravo Regidor, a political scientist at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City. “Far more important is the need to strengthen institutions and checks and balances, and that is a long-term bet that will take decades.”
* * *
Following López Obrador’s previous runs for the presidency, in which he clashed fiercely with private sector interests in Mexico, many supporters point out that he has moderated his stance. In his recent book, 2018: La Salida, López Obrador makes a number of fairly business-friendly proposals, such as public-private partnerships on infrastructure and tax incentives for private investors. Most notably, he insists that Mexico can have a productive relationship with the United States, proposing a binational job creation program along the border to reduce both outward emigration and deadly drug cartels’ recruitment of youth. U.S. President Donald Trump would surely approve.

López Obrador “has come to the conclusion that in order to render himself enough of an attractive candidate for a majority of Mexicans, he needs to become more conciliatory, more centrist, more pragmatic,” Bravo says.

Yet there is also another side to López Obrador’s vision, which harkens back to Mexico’s so-called revolutionary nationalism of the 1970s. He wants to hold popular referendums on Mexico’s recent structural reforms, including its landmark 2014 energy reform, which ended a near 80-year state monopoly in the oil and gas sector. Energy revenues, along with a unilateral crackdown on corruption to reduce public sector waste, would finance ambitious social programs, such as the revival of Mexico’s agricultural sector and universal free education. Yet he wants to combat corruption by abandoning recent moves toward an independent anti-graft prosecutor, investing sole responsibility in the presidency, and putting all manner of social policies, including recent progressive legislation on gay rights and abortion, up for vote by referendum.

“I think his proposals amount to returning to 1970 from a closed economy to an all-powerful president,” Schettino says. “Those promises are impossible to fulfill, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t try.”

The most uncertain aspect of a López Obrador presidency is how his vision would interact with Mexico’s burgeoning, if still weak, democracy. The country’s institutions are increasingly independent; its political landscape is more competitive than ever. One of the most positive developments of the Peña Nieto era has been the emergence of an increasingly dynamic civil society, which, long suppressed by one-party rule, has taken the political elite to task on key reforms to public transparency, education, and criminal injustice.

López Obrador has repeatedly clashed with Mexican civil society, rejecting calls for a new transparency law to force public officials to reveal their assets and siding with opaque labor unions on an educational reform intended to reduce corruption and nepotism in Mexico’s notoriously dysfunctional public school system.

There are currently two leftist currents in Mexico — a progressive one that consists of reformist wings in all the major parties that looks to engage civil society and push ahead with vital democratic advances, and another that looks to concentrate power in the presidency and backs economic proposals that led to disaster in the past.

As such, a López Obrador presidency could have two outcomes: At best, it would merely bring disappointment and remind Mexicans that their country’s problems need long-term, grassroots, institutional solutions. At worst, it could mean turning back the clock on 30 years of genuine, if frustrating, progress.

Cambridge Analytica and Popular Happiness Industry

Truth and happiness don’t go together – truth hurts, it brings instability, it ruins the smooth flow of our daily lives. The choice is ours: do we want to be happily manipulated or expose ourselves to the risks of authentic creativity?

by Slavoj Zizek-
( April 18, 2018, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Now that our media is full of reports and comments on Cambridge Analytica, a key feature of the affair is, as a rule, ignored: the context of Cambridge Analytica makes it clear how cold manipulation and the care for love and human welfare are two sides of the same coin. Tamsin Shaw recently pointed out the central role played by researchers into happiness, like “The World Well-Being Project, a group at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center that specialises in the use of big data to measure health and happiness in order to improve well-being,” then there is “Aleksandr Kogan, who also works in the field of positive psychology and has written papers on happiness, kindness, and love (according to his résumé, an early paper was called ‘Down the Rabbit Hole: A Unified Theory of Love’).”
Why does such research on authentic happiness and well-being draw so much interest from intelligence agencies and defence contractors? This link is not externally imposed on the behavioural sciences by “bad” political manipulators but is implied by their immanent orientation: their aim is to discover “means by which we can be ‘nudged’ in the direction of our true well-being as positive psychologists understand it.” This “nudging” does not make individuals overcome their “irrationalities”: contemporary behavioural sciences “aim to exploit our irrationalities” since they view us “as manipulable subjects rather than rational agents.”
All this is extensively covered by our media, and we are getting a terrifying image of the new forms of social control which make the good old 20th-century “totalitarianism” a rather primitive and clumsy machine. To grasp the full scope of this control, we should move beyond the link between private corporations and political parties to the interpenetration of data processing companies like Google or Facebook and state security agencies. The biggest achievement of the new cognitive-military complex is that direct and obvious oppression is no longer necessary: individuals are much better controlled and “nudged” in the desired direction when they continue to experience themselves as free and autonomous agents of their own life.
But all these are well-known facts, and we have to go a step further. It is not enough to demystify the innocent-sounding research into happiness and to bring out a hidden gigantic complex of social control and manipulation that uses it. What is urgently needed is also the opposite move: we should focus on the form itself. Is the topic of scientific research of human welfare and happiness (at least the way it is practised today) really so innocent, or is it already in itself permeated by the stance of control and manipulation? What if sciences are here not just misused, what if they find here precisely their proper use? We should question the recent rise of a new discipline: “happiness studies.”
As is often the case, Bhutan, a developing Third World country, naively spelled out the absurd socio-political consequences of this notion of happiness: two decades ago, the kingdom of Bhutan decided to focus on Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than Gross National Product (GNP); the idea was the brainchild of ex-king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who sought to steer Bhutan into the modern world, while preserving its unique identity. The Oxford-educated new king, 27-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, ordered a state agency to calculate how happy the kingdom’s 670,000 people are. The main concerns were identified as psychological well-being, health, education, good governance, living standards, community vitality and ecological diversity: this is cultural imperialism, if there ever was one. No wonder that, two decades ago, ethnic cleansing was conducted since it was “discovered” that the presence of a strong non-Buddhist minority is an obstacle to the happiness of the Buddhist majority.
We should date to take an even further step and enquire into the hidden side of the notion of happiness itself – when, exactly, can a people be said to be happy? In a country like Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s and 1980s, people in a way effectively were happy: three fundamental conditions of happiness were fulfilled there. Firstly, their material needs were basically satisfied – not too satisfied, since the excess of consumption can in itself generate unhappiness. It is good to experience a brief shortage of some goods on the market from time to time (no coffee for a couple of days, then no beef, then no TV sets): these brief periods of shortage functioned as exceptions which reminded people that they should be glad that the goods were generally available. Life thus went on in a regular and predictable way, without any great efforts or shocks, one was allowed to withdraw into one’s private niche.
Secondly, the Communist Party was conveniently blamed for everything that went wrong, so that one did not feel really responsible – if there was a temporary shortage of some goods, even if there a stormy weather caused great damage, it was their guilt.
Thirdly, last but not least, there was an Other Place (the consumerist West) about which one was allowed to dream, and even visit sometimes – this place was just at the right distance, not too far, not too close. This fragile balance was disturbed – by what? By desire, precisely. Desire was the force which compelled the people to move beyond – and end up in a system in which the large majority is definitely less happy.
Happiness is something confused and inconsistent – recall the proverbial answer of a German immigrant to the US who, when asked “Are you happy?”, answered: “Yes, yes, I am very happy, aber gluecklich bin ich nicht…” It is a pagan category: for pagans, the goal of life is to live a happy life – no wonder Dalai Lama himself is having such a success recently preaching around the world the gospel of happiness, and no wonder he is finding the greatest response precisely in the US, this ultimate empire of the (pursuit of) happiness. In our daily lives, we (pretend to) desire things which we do not really desire, so that, ultimately, the worst thing that can happen is for us to get what we officially desire. Happiness is thus inherently hypocritical: it is the happiness of dreaming about things we really do not want.
Do we not encounter a similar gesture in much of leftist politics? In the UK, many leftists privately admit that the near-victory of the Labour Party in the last elections was the best thing it could have happened, much better than the insecurity of what might have happened in the Labour government would have tried to implement its programme.
The same holds for the prospect of Bernie Sanders’ eventual victory: what would have been his chances against the onslaught of the big capital? The mother of all such gestures is the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia which crushed the Prague Spring and its hope of democratic socialism. Without this intervention, the “reformist” government would have to confront the fact that there was no real possibility of a democratic Socialism at that historical moment, so it would have to choose between reasserting the party control and allowing Czechoslovakia to become one of the Western liberal-democratic capitalism.
The Soviet intervention saved the Prague Spring as a dream, as a hope that, without the intervention, a new form of democratic Socialism might have emerged. And did not something similar occur in Greece when the Syriza government organised the referendum against Brussels’ pressure to accept the austerity politics? The government was secretly hoping to lose the referendum, in which case it would have to step down and leave it to others to perform the dirty job of austerity. Since they won, this task fell to themselves, and the result was the self-destruction of the radical Left in Greece. Without any doubt, Syriza would have been much happier if it lost the referendum.
So, back to our starting point, not only are we controlled and manipulated, “happy” people secretly and hypocritically demand even to be manipulated for their own good. Truth and happiness don’t go together – truth hurts, it brings instability, it ruins the smooth flow of our daily lives. The choice is ours: do we want to be happily manipulated or expose ourselves to the risks of authentic creativity?
UK supermarket ban on palm oil angers producers in Indonesia, Malaysia

By  | 
PALM OIL producers have hit back at a UK supermarket’s announcement it will no longer use the ingredient in their home-brand products, claiming that the move was “discriminatory” and misleading.

The Guardian first reported on April 10 that Iceland would become the first major chain in the UK to pledge there would be no palm oil used in its own-brand foods, in order to help prevent further deforestation of Southeast Asian forests.
Iceland, which specialises in frozen food and operates around 900 stores, said it has already removed palm oil from half of its own-brand products.

The 10-member Council of Palm Oil Producer Countries (CPOPC) this week protested the announcement, declaring that Iceland was misleading consumers. Moreover, the body claimed that the move could actually speed up environmental degradation and boost CO2 emissions.

“The campaign to cease using palm oil by Iceland would even cause more excessive use of land and is unlikely to replace palm oil [by another vegetable oil] globally,” said CPOPC executive director Mahendra Siregar in a letter to Iceland’s managing director, as quoted by The Jakarta Post.

Palm oil is a highly productive crop with versatile uses in food, cosmetics and biofuels. 

Indonesia and Malaysia account for around 90 percent of the world’s oil palm production.

A woman walks past an Iceland store in London, Britain, November 25, 2016. Source: Reuters/Hannah McKay

The industry has, however, long been criticised by environmental activists who say it has contributed to the widespread destruction of prized rainforests in Borneo, Sumatra and Papua – home to some of the world’s most endangered species like orangutans, tigers and elephants.

Palm plantation are also often blamed for forest fires that regularly take place on Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia, blanketing large areas of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in a choking haze that can hang in the air for weeks.

Europe is the second-largest market for both Indonesia and Malaysian palm oil. India is the largest. Some experts have, however, raised concern that the removal of palm oil from Iceland’s products could backfire.

Dr Jake Bicknell and Dr Matthew Struebig, from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Biology at the University of Kent told Plant Based News that “Iceland’s move to ban palm oil products, rather than work with the industry to seek sustainably sourced solutions, could be viewed as a step backwards.”

“Environmentally conscious consumers should demand palm oil from certified sources, but avoiding it altogether runs the risk of putting pressure on other crops that are equally to blame for the world’s environmental problems.”

Palm oil production is expected to rise further in 2018, with ongoing strong demand from local consumption and exports to Asian countries.

Additional reporting from Reuters.

Fortis Healthcare to form committee to assess binding bids

FILE PHOTO: A Fortis hospital building is pictured in New Delhi, India, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

Arnab PaulAby Jose Koilparambil- 19, 2018 / 8:05

(Reuters) - Indian hospital operator Fortis Healthcare will set up an advisory committee to evaluate
binding offers from suitors lining up to buy the cash-strapped company or take a stake.

Fortis has become the target of a takeover battle that includes offers from China’s Fosun International and Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare. Both offers, however, are non-binding as yet.

The other two offers — from local rival Manipal Health Enterprises and a consortium of two prominent Indian business families, Hero Enterprise and the Burman Family Office — are both binding.

Manipal sweetened an earlier offer and now wants to buy Fortis for 155 rupees per share, valuing the company at 80.39 billion rupees ($1.2 billion).

Hero and Burman, which together hold a 3 percent stake in Fortis, upped their previous investment offer on Thursday. They want to invest 15 billion rupees ($228 million), or 156 rupees per share, for a stake of about 18.5 percent.

The advisory committee is expected to give its recommendation to the board on April 26.

The keen interest in Fortis comes as companies and investors look to tap soaring demand for private healthcare in India against the backdrop of a stretched public healthcare system.

Private hospitals could also be boosted from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plans to implement a healthcare programme aimed at providing insurance cover to about half of India’s population.

Fortis, which runs about 30 hospitals in India, said in a statement on Thursday that the evaluation committee will be chaired by PricewaterhouseCoopers India’s former chairman and CEO Deepak Kapoor.

Fortis grew rapidly for several years but has lately struggled with insufficient cash and increased debt, while regulators investigate allegations that its founders took funds without board approval. The founders, who have since left the company, deny wrongdoing.

Standard Chartered Bank, financial adviser to Fortis, will assist the advisory committee and the board, Fortis said.

Fortis shares closed 2.5 percent up at 148.45 rupees.

($1 = 65.7900 Indian rupees)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018




If readers may wonder what my headline means, I refer to the rat-pack who led others up the garden path to support the recent No confidence motion, by assuring them of victory. Numbers they said they had in abundance, in every statement and at every media briefing, many UNPers they said were in their hands and would support the motion. As an UNPer, born and bred who has never swayed or wavered in my support for the party and all its Leaders, ‘through its slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, I have never been prouder of being an UNPer than when this motion was soundly defeated.
  • UNPers stood as a team, in spite of their varied personal feelings
  • Everyone is equal; there are no first or second class citizens
  • When NCM failed, a certain media tried to get public sympathy
  • There was no attack at all, as UNPers abide by the rule of law
  • RW emerged a more stronger personality with popularity
  • RW has more experience in governance and in the school of life than any other politician
The UNPers stood together as a team,in spite of their varied personal feelings, the party came first as it always should! I was reminded of a line from W. S. Senior’s famous poem; ‘One man from shore to shore’ The Stranger become a brother. The task of the tutor o’er’. The UNP, as its very name, suggests is for all citizens of this country, irrespective of race or creed. Everyone is equal; there are no first or second class citizens. This is why one of the former great leaders of the party, the late Dudley Senanayake once said that it his wish and hope that all citizens would be able to say with pride and joy ‘This is my own, my native land’. Unity and strength are an unbeatable combination. 
The Prime Minister has come through this ordeal through the past two gruelling months with his usual cool composure
I was glad than no UNPer fell prey to media moguls and others trying hard to be king-makers in this scenario, in order to have Leaders they can control and get favours from.When the motion failed, a certain media station tried to get public sympathy, by announcing that a jubilant crowd who lit crackers in celebration of their Leader’s victory were there to attack them. There was no attack at all as UNPers abide by the rule of law. It is on the contrary, those sacked from the party who break the law, allow their children to do so too, and carry guns while taking part in so-called peaceful marches! The jubilant crowd also made their way to the Prime Minister’s private residence, where he lives in a house which has remained the same, ever since his father built it for him. They lit crackers there too. Was this an attack? 

The Prime Minister has come through this ordeal through the past two gruelling months with his usual cool composure. Never resorting to slander and fabrications against those who slandered him, day after day in no uncertain terms, with the vilest of lies. He just turned the other cheek in his customary style! He has emerged a stronger person with unprecedented popularity. He must ride on the crest of this wave and show that he is a stronger, decisive Leader and not a vacillating one as his enemies keep saying. 

This is not a time for complacency either for him or for the government. We were the laughing stock of the entire democratic world by trying to get rid of a Prime Minister and party leader after a local government election. It has hindered all progress, development and brought everything to a standstill for two long months. No work was done. It has hurt the economy, hindered tourism and investment and instilled a sense of instability. The former ruler’s group comprising of more than two parties got 44.6 % of the vote which was less than what they got at the last election.

The SLFP with 2 parties got only 13% of the vote while the UNP on its own got 32% while other Ranil bashing groups got 0.1%! Some among those who got the 13% shamelessly joined the JO in bringing this No confidence motion.

Those who enjoyed the perks and privileges of power and those basking in the reflected glory of it, who never had enjoyed this kind of luxurious flamboyant lifestyles ever before in their lives, did this in an attempt to return to the luxury they enjoyed with the corruption and murders that were an integral part of their horrific rule. How can anyone try to put the whole blame on the PM for the results of the elections? Surely there is something called collective responsibility, which is part and parcel of a democratically elected government?

All Minister and MPs have to share the blame as it is their duty to get down to the grassroots and tell the people what has been done, as a great deal has indeed been done and remind the people of the misdeeds, corruption, white vans, murders and so on during the tenure of the regime which was ousted in 2015. It is time now for hard work on the part of one and all in the government. The people want more than ever to see the wrongdoers of the last regime punished.This was an election promise that must be fulfilled. Otherwise there is no hope even of a distant dawn!
The SLFP with 2 parties got only 13% of the vote while the UNP on its own got 32% while other Ranil bashing groups got 0.1%!  
Pomp and glory are not new to Ranil Wickremesinghe, he did not get these things through politics or power. He was born with a silver spoon and has had them all his life. He has been brought up on the solid virtues of self restraint and obedience. He has more experience in governance and in the school of life than any other politician. His ancestors have contributed more to the nation and to Buddhism than that of any other politician. In thought, word and deed, his vision is for the future generations and not only geared to the next election. This is what makes him different as he is a statesman of no mean stature and not a mere politician like the majority of his peers. He has stayed loyal to his party through thick and thin, and served all past leaders with loyalty,dedication and commitment to all tasks assigned to him. 

I would like to mention a few sentiments expressed to me after the defeat of the No confidence motion. A young man I know was at a dinner celebration with his family of his birthday which was on that day, when he heard the news. He said ‘This is my best birthday gift. I certainly don’t want my daughter to live in a country ruled by those in the last dictatorial regime.’ At two other events I attended, the majority of ladies present came up to me, knowing well where my loyalties were, they said they were all so happy and had prayed unceasingly for Ranil ever since they heard about the No confidence motion.

Several other men also expressed the same sentiments including a well known SLFPer, I was surprised to hear that he too shared the same view as the rest of us. In lighter vein, I use a Churchillian phrase ‘a collective abomination’ to describe the Ranil-bashers. I have noticed that besides their hatred of him, another common feature they share is that none of them are oil paintings. Perhaps therein lies the birth of the green eyed monster from where their hatred stems!  

Sri Lanka Committed To Preventing Financial Crime

Mangala Samaraweera – Minister of Finance & Mass Media
logoSri Lanka has long identified the risk of financial crime as a priority area, given the country’s history in battling a sophisticated terror organization.  A number of measures were taken over the years and the government is currently working on bringing on necessary amendments to some of the existing regulations with the objective of preventing financial crimes.
Minister of Finance and Media Mangala Samaraweera made these remarks at a roundtable discussion on ‘Financial Regulation: Working Together to Address De-Risking,’ held on the sidelines of the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), at the Mansion House in London, today (17).
Full speech below:
Financial Regulation: Working Together to Address De-Risking
It is a pleasure to participate at this roundtable on an important and timely topic. 
As the dynamics of the finance industry and technology constantly evolve, it is essential that financial regulations remain one step ahead. The sophistication of financial crimes has increased exponentially in recent years and is a threat to all nations, be it developing or developed nations. This has resulted in a number of negative fallouts for international finance.
One such negative fall-out is “de-risking”, the scenario of global banks selectively withdrawing from the business of correspondent banking. This can have highly detrimental implications for banks in developing countries in particular as it can shut them out of the global financial architecture. 
This is largely attributed to the shortcomings of the existing structure of the financial system. Given the importance of correspondent banking in a globalized world, it is important to take measures to enhance respondent banks’ capacity to manage risks, improve communication between correspondent and respondent banks, strengthen and effectively implement regulatory and supervisory frameworks in line with international standards, particularly for Anti Money Laundering and counter-terrorist financing.
Distinguished Delegates,
Sri Lanka has long identified the risk of financial crime as a priority area. Given the country’s history in battling a sophisticated terror organization, addressing terrorist financing has long been on the agenda. A number of measures were taken over the years and the government is currently working on bringing on necessary amendments to some of the existing regulations with the objective of preventing financial crimes. Those measures include the introduction of Prevention Of Money Laundering Act in 2006, Convention On The Suppression Of Terrorist Financing Act in 2005, introduction of Financial transaction reporting Act in 2006 and setting up the Financial Intelligence Unit at the Central Bank.
More recently, steps have been taken to address emerging issues in internationalization of financial crimes, and to meet our global obligations as well. Since November 2017, Sri Lankan authorities have taken a number of measures to enhance Anti Money Laundering compliance such as introducing amendments to the Trust Ordinance, Companies Act, enactment of the Proceeds of Crimes Act, enhancing Customer Due Diligence Rules, and regulations on targeted financial sanctions on proliferations. 
Distinguished Delegates,
The challenge for countries like Sri Lanka is how to ensure continued progress of financial inclusion in this context. At a more micro-level, one of the major objectives of our government, embodied in the 2018 Budget themed Enterprise Sri Lanka, is to empower entrepreneurs by providing access to finance. In order to ensure access to finance at grass roots level, it is important for the Sri Lankan financial system to have robust access and engagement with the global financial architecture.
As the financial system develops, the laws and regulations aimed at preventing financial crimes need to be updated. Sri Lanka very well understands this reality and is taking every necessary measure to keep abreast of the regulatory developments.

Read More