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The Pakatan Harapan coalition general election victory almost a year ago was supposed to herald a new reform era in a country spavined by corruption, cronyism and racism.
Very soon after Mahathir Mohamed was returned as prime minister after a 15 year absence and in a new role, he quickly made good on Pakatan’s promises to eliminate the GST, re-introd15-year absence fuel subsidies, seek the immediate release of Anwar Ibrahim from jail and charge former Prime Minister Najib Razak over the 1MDB scandal.
However, public disenchantment of the new Pakatan government very quickly developed as the pace of reform appeared to slow. The government flip-flopped over child marriage, then backflipped over its intention to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination due to protests organized by the ousted United Malays National Organization and ultra-nationalist Malay groups.
Shortly afterwards, it backed down from ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court due to criticism from the Johor Royal Family. The report completed by the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) on reform was put under the Official Secrets Act, and has not been made public. More recently, Mahathir’s quick dismissal of the Suhakam Report finding that “state agents” where most probably responsible for the abduction and disappearance of religious leaders Amri Che mat and Pastor Anthony Koh disappointed many.
There is now a perception that the Pakatan government won’t deliver what it promised. The by-election result in the Semenyih constituency was an indication of this, confirming Medeka Centre polling that both the prime minister and Pakatan were rapidly losing popularity.
However those expecting the government to create a new Malaysia forgot about the complex nature of the Pakatan coalition itself, the electoral landscape and the institutional and attitudinal impediments to reform.
The leading party, in terms of influence but not numbers is Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, formed by Mahathir in the runup to the general election to give himself a political vehicle. Although the party manifesto talks in terms of maintaining fundamental rights and fighting corruption, Bersatu is really a nationalist-Malay organization, believing in Islam as the state religion, upholding the Malay monarchy, maintaining Malay privilege and that of natives of Sabah and Sarawak, and keeping Malay as the national language.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) has twice Bersatu’s representation in the Federal Parliament and supports the abolishment of the New Economic Policy, the instrument that provides special privileges for Malays and other indigenous groups. In practice however, the party most often reflects its leader Anwar Ibrahim’s views. PKR’s structure is very similar to UMNO’s, and is currently strongly factionalized between the Rafizi Ramli and Azmin Ali groups. Recent party elections brought accusations of vote buying.
Under the Pakatan agreement Anwar is due to take the reins of Power from Mahathir sometime in 2020.
The third member is a breakaway group from PAS called Parti Amanah Negara, primarily a Malay based party standing for progressive Islam. It has 11 members of Parliament, where its leader Mohamed Sabu is Minister of Defense.
Next, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) is primarily a Chinese based party, although it has sort to be multi-ethnic over the years. The DAP is based on social justice, democracy, and secularism. Its support comes from working class and professional urban voters, where the party played a major role in assisting Pakatan win the last general election.
The above coalition mix suggests that its orientation is going to be towards maintaining the current status quo, according to the various party manifestos and actions. Other than the fight against corruption and support of popular policies like the abolition of GST, the pressure for reform comes only comes from the DAP and some members of PKR.
Thus Pakatan is a paradoxical coalition where the push for reform comes from a minority. What’s more, Mahathir has dominated coalition, calling the major shots in terms of policy and administration.
If and when Anwar Ibrahim actually becomes the Prime Minister, it’s still very unclear as to whether he will follow the reform path or pursue his wishes to implement a more Islamic path in government administration and education.
Analysts close to government say it is attempting to buy time on reform by blaming the previous government and economic situation. However, talking reform is one thing, achieving it another. If the Pakatan government is going to firmly commit to reform, it has to overcome many impediments, some rarely discussed.
Although 65 percent of Malaysia’s population could be considered urban, cities’ parliamentary representation is well under that. About 70 percent ofy seats are rural based, thus heavily over-representing rural voters. Thus DAP and to some extent PKR representation are below what they should be, while UMNO, PAS, Bersatu, and Amanah are overrepresented, a legacy of decades of gerrymandering by the previous ruling coalition.
Thus any party or coalition group that wants to win a general election must win over a rural Malay electorate, making the politics of race and Islam of paramount importance. Until there is real electoral reform, race-based politics are crucial. Any reforms perceived as threatening Malay privilege would cost at the next election.
The current anomaly benefits Bersatu over PKR and the DAP. This is especially the case if more UMNO defections come and the party expands into Sabah, as Mahathir has vowed. It is vital electoral reform takes place to place to bring in the concept of “one vote one value” through rearranging constituency boundaries and/or implementing some form of proportional representation before Pakatan can undertake any serious reform in the area of ethnic-equality of opportunity.
This is a major barrier to reform and will allow Malay-nationalist groups to dominate the national narrative, and sabotage any new initiatives.
The Malaysian civil service is probably the most difficult barrier to overcome. There is an unspoken mission among offices and staff to protect the Malay agenda. Any policy or program is likely to be sabotaged if it is perceived to threaten Malay interests. The system has been built over the past 20 years on political nepotism, with civil servants clearly and openly aligned with the last government.
It is also a bloated service, employing nearly 1.8 million people, with duplicative ministries and agencies, wasting massive resources, built on job generation to keep ethnic Malays happy.
Although these problems have to be dealt with, retrenching staff would be politically costly. Thus it could take more than a decade to eliminate excessive numbers of employees, nepotism, and the culture of the Malay agenda.
Senior civil servants have been used to dealing with ministers who didn’t know their portfolios and were only interested in issues of personal benefit, swinging the balance of power from elected government to the bureaucracy. It is a daunting task for inexperienced ministers who don’t understand procedures and have little in-depth knowledge of their portfolios to manage their ministries.
There are nine quite diverse royal families in Malaysia, and an Agong (king) who is selected by the Conference of Rulers every five years as head of state. The respective sultans and raja primarily act as constitutional monarchs, and traditionally had a close relationship with the former government. A few members of UMNO and a former Prime Minister had royal blood, and it has long been rumored that backroom deals and concessions were given for favors done for the government of the day.
Governments traditionally kept the royalty happy through bargaining. There were only a few ripples during the 22 years of Mahathir’s previous reign, in which he passed constitutional amendments to cut royal immunity from the law and eliminate veto powers over parliamentary bills.
Royalty have on a few occasions asserted their power independently, as when the Raja of Perlis refused to accept the Barisan Nasional nomination for Chief Minister of Perlis Shahidan Kassim and appointed Md Isa Sabu after the 2008 election. Sultans have sometimes been partisan as was seen in the Perak Constitutional crisis in 2009.
Mahathir’s current spat with Johor’s crown prince over appointment of a new chief minister for the state, Malaysia’s second most populous, shows that royalty remains a potential barrier to reform, especially on matters of Malay position, religion and their own survival. Continuing to placate the royalty will be at the cost of reform.
Just recently Foreign Affairs Minister Daifuddin Abdullah and Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad talked about a “deep state” within Malaysia. They are referring to a network of royal family members, senior military personnel, senior police officers, GLC office holders, high ranking civil servants, politicians, intellectuals and business people who have a common interest and deep commitment in protecting the Malay position.
They are said to hold regular informal meetings around the country to deal with threats to the perceived order. This could be a discussion with someone who ‘needs to be pulled into line,” taking action within the law, or even through extrajudicial action through ex-police or ex-military people loyal to the cause.
To recapture the confidence of the electorate who voted Pakatan into power in the last general election, reform is needed on the New Economic Policy which grants financial advantages to bumiputeras. The government must again attempt to put through constitutional amendments to restore the original position of Sabah and Sarawak in the Federation if it is to count on the support of Sabah and Sarawak voters. The electoral system must be overhauled so a future government will not be shackled by the Malay heartland on reform.
It’s very difficult to see the Pakatan Government dominated by Bersatu being too interested in reforming the NEP, or even seriously tackling the inequality of the electoral system.
The state of the civil service is dismissal and the problems haven’t even been defined yet, let alone solutions found. Ministerial experience takes time, some patience is needed here. However criticisms are increasing when Pakatan ministers are seen to behave just like their predecessors.
When the sedition Act is now been used like Lese Majeste in Thailand, debate on the role of Royalty in Malaysia will be supressed. Expect a period of testing between the government and Royal Houses to continue until new boundaries are renegotiated. Finally the real secrets of government are still being kept secret. Reform begins with transparency and Mahathir himself doesn’t appear ready to step into that environment.
Originally published in the Asia Sentinel
Over the years, African Union officials have repeatedly urged African leaders to prioritise Africa’s Agenda 2063
– a strategic framework for delivering on Africa’s goal for inclusive
and sustainable development – and the United Nations’ Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs).
15-member UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution
welcoming AU initiatives for infrastructure development and pledging
support for “African solutions to African problems” in an attempt to
achieve the SDGs.
officials note that many African countries have failed to substantially
reduce abject poverty, rising unemployment, marginalisation of social
groups and widening inequality – which constitute the primary root
causes of conflicts – in many regions of Africa.
economy, they argue, has remained largely based on subsistence
agriculture with little development of the industrial or service
sectors, while the continent’s huge infrastructure deficit could be
business for foreign investors.
a recent forum in Nairobi, Raila Odinga, AU high representative for
infrastructure development in Africa, urged African leaders to redirect
adequate funds from their financial budgets into infrastructure in
attempt to stimulate growth on the continent.
continues to be characterised by an infrastructural deficit, a
situation that remains critical, with an average gap standing at 170
billion dollars,” Odinga said. He called on infrastructure stakeholders
inside Africa and interested foreign partners to develop a more
comprehensive set of instruments and service delivery mechanisms to
enhance implementation of major infrastructure projects.
leaders have to create more dynamic mobilisation strategies and explore
domestic borrowing to accelerate the project implementation process. To
enable Africa to compete adequately, we must redirect more financial
resources towards completion of projects that form major connectivity to
the world,” Odinga said.
called for the completion of major development projects such as the
Tran-Saharan Highway from Algiers in Algeria to Lagos in Nigeria, an
intercontinental railway for fast trains, the Kinshasa-Brazzaville
Bridge, and the Lagos-Abidjan-Dakar Highway, all key links for
connecting Africa and creating jobs for young people from member states.
also called for a more united Africa, arguing that by uniting the
continent would increase its bargaining power. “A united Africa will be
able to pool its investment resources to ensure it has enough resources
to invest in large-scale projects,” he said.
foreign players have been very active in supporting the building of
infrastructure in Africa. While visiting Moscow, Southern Africa
Development Community (SADC)
Executive Secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax told IDN that “Russia and
Africa have been partners for many years, and have expressed a desire to
achieve a new level in their relations.”
observed that Russia has not been as visible in the region as China,
India or Brazil, but said it is encouraging that Russia has recently
repositioned itself to become a major partner with Southern Africa.
Russia’s interest is in line with SADC priorities as highlighted by the
following priorities of foreign economic strategy in the region:
SADC member countries have diplomatic offices in the Russian
Federation: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mauritius,
Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Southern African region is the integrated market resulting from a
combined population of approximately 327 million people, and a
collective GDP of 600 billion dollars (2016), which is supported by
generally favourable weather conditions in most parts of the region.
goal of SADC, an inter-governmental organisation headquartered in
Gaborone, Botswana, is to further socioeconomic cooperation and
integration as well as political and security cooperation among 16
Southern African states.
Bogdanov, Russian Special Presidential Representative for the Middle
East and Africa, and Deputy Foreign Minister, has urged the global
community to go beyond military cooperation to assist African countries
that are still facing a number of serious development problems
particularly in terms of infrastructure, social inequality, healthcare
to Bogdanov, transnational problems, the issues of arms smuggling, drug
trafficking, illegal migration and even slavery continue to escalate on
the African continent. “The joint efforts of the whole global community
are required for meeting those challenges. I am confident that the aid
to African states should go beyond military components,” the Russian
is necessary to fortify public institutions, engage in economic and
humanitarian fields, construct infrastructure facilities, and create new
jobs,” Bogdanov said, adding that “those are the ways of solving such
problem as migration, for example, to Europe.”
was contributing to discussions on “Engaging Africa in Dialogue:
Towards a Harmonious Development of the Continent” at the 2018 Dialogue
of Civilisations Forum held in Rhodes, Greece. Plenary discussion aimed
at identifying the priorities for and issues specifically holding
African countries back, and whether competition between the West and
Asia could benefit Africa, or whether a more collaborative effort was
advice to the global community to go “beyond military cooperation” came
at a crucial time in which, as part of the foreign policy, Russia has
increasingly stepped up exports of military equipment through its
“military-technical cooperation” instead of assisting with needed
investment in economic sectors in African countries.
March 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of the
Commission for Military-Technical Cooperation with Foreign States and
Kremlin’s website transcript pointed to the geographic reach of
military-technical cooperation as constantly expanding, with the number
of partners already in more than 100 countries worldwide.
has revived its contacts with its African comrades that used to be the
traditional buyers of Soviet weaponry. It is a similar policy, in the
sense, that they are using military diplomacy once again in order to
gain stature and influence in certain countries,” Scott Firsing, a
visiting Bradlow fellow at the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA), wrote in an e-mailed discussion.
Nzori, a Moscow-based foreign policy expert, arguably believes that
Russia’s military-technical cooperation with African countries is
appropriate in Russia’s foreign policy but African leaders should also
have to make rational choices, allocating enough money to spend on
priority development projects in Africa.
shows clearly Russia’s business engagement direction with Africa,”
Shaabani said in an interview. “Until now, we can’t point to completed
Russian infrastructure projects in Africa. There are many investment
areas. What is important these days is that Russia must go beyond
selling arms to Africa! Still, Russia has the chance to transfer its
technology to agriculture and industries in Africa.”
the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided huge deliveries of arms to a
number of African governments such as Angola, Algeria, Namibia,
Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. That Soviet-era form of
diplomatic engagement left many African countries indebted to the tune
of 20 billion dollars.
Borshchevskaya, an Ira Weiner fellow at the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy, explicitly observes that the military has been part of
the foreign policy of the Russian Federation, and Russian authorities
have been strengthening military-technical cooperation with a number of
major driver for Moscow’s push into Africa is military cooperation more
broadly. These often include officer training and the sale of military
equipment, though the details are rarely publicly available,”
President Putin has said that a major part of Russia’s weapons business
includes new equipment supplies, upgrades, and refurbishment of
Soviet-era technology and hardware. “Russia places special emphasis on
developing countries that gradually increase military procurement. We
understand that competition in this sector of the international economy
is very high and very serious,” he noted.
According to the Kremlin website,
Russia targeted global export contracts worth 50 billion dollars in
2018. Russia’s export priority is to expand its scope and strengthen its
position on the market. Last year’s results indicated that Russia has
been keeping its standards high, confirming its status as one of the
leading suppliers on the global arms market. The portfolio for Russian
arms and military equipment stands at 45 billion dollars.
plans “to enhance multifaceted interaction with African states on a
bilateral and multilateral basis with a focus on promoting mutually
beneficial trade and economic cooperation”.
Tariff retaliation is widely believed to be politically motivated. This column presents evidence that retaliation against the Trump administration’s tariff hikes seems to be systematically targeted against the Republican voter base. China appears to have been able to achieve a high degree of political targeting but likely harmed its own economy by targeting agricultural goods for which the US is a major supplier. The EU, on the other hand, appears to be more successful in navigating the trade-off. It also finds some evidence suggesting that Republican candidates fared worse in the mid-term elections in the US counties most exposed to retaliation.
By Thiemo Fetzer and Carlo Schwarz*
Trade wars, as an instrument of trade and foreign policy,
have returned to mainstream politics with the presidency of Donald
Trump. Changes to US trade policy under a potential Trump administration
were already allured to during the presidential campaign. Yet, it was
only in March 2018 that various simmering disputes escalated into a
full-scale trade conflict, most prominently involving China, Canada,
Mexico, the EU, India, and Turkey. Following the announcement of tariffs
on aluminium and steel, together with tariffs on Chinese imports,
President Trump suggested that “[t]rade wars are good, and easy to win”.1
Economist widely agree that tariffs, while able to help certain
individual industries, are not only harmful for trading partners but
also constitute an act of self-harm (Bown 2004, Breuss 2004).2 In
addition to the immediate negative impact of tariffs, the targeted
countries may retaliate in accordance with WTO rules. In our new paper
(Fetzer and Schwarz 2019) we carefully study the retaliation responses,
in particular, by the EU, China, Mexico, and Canada.
The European Commission transparently states the objectives it aims
to achieve in the context of trade disputes. EU Regulation 654,
published in 2014, outlines three objectives for commercial policy
measures in the context of a trade dispute:
“Commercial policy measures […] shall be
determined on the basis of the following criteria, in light of
available information and of the Union’s general interest:
a. effectiveness of the measures in inducing compliance of third countries with international trade rules;
b. potential of the measures to provide relief to economic operators within the Union affected by third country measures
c. availability of alternative sources of
supply for the goods or services concerned, in order to avoid or
minimise any negative impact on downstream industries, contracting
authorities or entities, or final consumers within the Union”
In other words, trade policy should aim to change the trade policy of
the opposing country, while minimising harm to the own economy. In the
case of Trump’s trade war, a possible way to affect the trade policy of
the US would be to introduce a political cost for the Republican party.
It is this political dimension in the choice of the retaliation
response, economists have not studied thus far – simply due to a lack of
recent historical precedent. We fill this gap by investigating to what
extent the retaliating countries or trading blocs managed to politically
target their tariffs and if the targeting was effective in influencing
Anecdotally, the fact that retaliation is politically motivated is
widely acknowledged. The retaliation response of most countries involved
in the trade-dispute targeted US exports, such as bourbon whiskey,
which is produced in Kentucky, the home state of Mitch McConnell’s (the
Senate majority leader). China (as well as Mexico) targeted pork and
soybeans, with the latter being one of the most important US
agricultural export to China, which disproportionately affected Iowa,
the home state of influential Republican Senate Agriculture Committee
Member Senator Charles E. Grassley.
We formally investigate the political targeting of tariffs by
construction a county-level measure of tariff exposure. Using this
measure, we find that retaliation seem to be systematically targeted
against the Republican voter base. Figure 1 plots share of exports of a
county that were affected by tariffs dependent on the Republican vote
share in that county in the 2016 presidential election. It is apparent
that the counties with a higher Republican vote share were also more
heavily targeted by retaliatory tariffs. This provides a first
indication that tariffs were indeed targeted against Republicans.
Systematic regression evidence further highlights that targeting of
tariffs was indeed sharply affecting counties where voters swung to
support Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential elections (vis-à-vis the
performance of the Republican presidential candidate in 2012).
Interestingly, the degree of political targeting is associated with
swings to Donald Trump in 2016 (vis-à-vis 2012), but not to areas that
swung to support the Republican party candidates more broadly, for
example, in House or Senate elections that were also held in 2016. This
highlights that retaliation was sharply targeted to affect areas that
markedly swung to Trump. This highlights a degree of sophistication in
the design of the retaliation response. Yet, one key open question may
be whether the retaliation response is optimal regarding the degree of
Countries can only meaningfully produce pressures by putting up
tariff barriers against goods that are being imported from the US. A
potential concern with the previous finding is that the observed
targeting could be a mechanical result of the US export mix to a
respective country. Consider for example the case of China, which is a
major importer of soybeans from the US. Any retaliation bundle that
includes soybeans will appear to politically target Republicans as
soybeans are grown in Republican counties.
To assess this possibility, we compare the chosen goods basket to
counterfactual simulated baskets that countries could have chosen.
Ideally, all potential set of retaliation bundles could be simulated.
Yet, it is computationally infeasible to derive all possible solutions
to what is, in essence, a subset sum problem. In our paper, we use a
sampling method to simulate alternative retaliation baskets. The
simulation approach requires the sampled basket to match key moments of
the actual basket: it should be similar in terms of size of the number
of different products that are selected and it should affect a similar
overall US export trade volume.
This sampling procedure allows to assess the degree of political targeting relative to the simulated alternative baskets. Motivated by the previously cited EU Regulation 654, we can also investigate whether the potential negative impact on the own economy is also considered when selecting goods for retaliation. To do so we construct a measure of the share of goods imported from the US for each of the retaliation baskets. Conceivably, retaliation should exclude products for which the US is the dominant supplier in order to mitigate domestic economic harm.
Figure 2 plot the joint distribution of measures capturing the degree
of political targeting on the horizontal axis as well as the average US
market share in the imports affected on the vertical axis across the
simulated alternative retaliation baskets. An ‘optimal’ retaliation
basket bundle would lie in the lower right corner indicating both, a
high degree of political targeting and, a low degree of likely economic
harm to ones’ own economy. The vertical and horizontal lines indicate
the values associated with the actually chosen retaliation bundle. The
contour lines illustrate the distribution of the values associated with
the individual simulated retaliation bundles and are informative about
the likely choice set. The figure suggests that China was able to
achieve a high degree of political targeting, but it likely caused harms
to its own economy by targeting agricultural goods for which the US is a
major supplier. The EU, on the other hand, appears to be more
successful in navigating the trade-off, since it retaliated against
goods for which the US is only a minor supplier while still achieving a
modest degree of political targeting.
Lastly, we investigate if retaliatory tariffs where successful in
affecting political as well as economic outcomes. On the economic side,
we document that exports hit by retaliatory tariffs declined
significantly relative to exports that were not targeted by tariffs.
Figure 3 visualises this finding from a difference-in-difference design.
Overall, our results suggest that each month $2.55 billion worth for US
exports did not take place or were diverted as a result of retaliatory
tariffs. We further show that also the export prices of US goods were
negatively affected by the trade war. Together these results suggest
that retaliatory tariffs were likely to have a negative impact on the
local economy of affected counties.
More importantly, to understand if the tariffs were effective as a political instrument, we investigate whether the retaliatory tariffs were able to harm the electoral outcomes of the Republican party in the 2018 midterm election. We find some suggestive evidence that Republican candidates fared worse by between 1.4 and 2.7 percentage in counties most exposed to retaliation.
*About the authors:
Baldwin, R E (2004), “Openness and Growth: What’s the Empirical Relationship?”, in R E Baldwin and L A Winters (eds), Challenges to Globalization: Analyzing the Economics, Chapter 13.
Bown, C P (2004), “On the economic success of GATT/WTO dispute settlement”, Review of Economics and Statistics 86(3): 811–823.
Breuss, F (2004), “WTO Dispute Settlement: An Economic Analysis of Four EU US Mini Trade Wars”, Journal of Industry, Competition and Trade 4(4): 275–315.
Fetzer, T and C Schwarz (2019), “Tariffs and Politics: Evidence from Trump’s Trade Wars”, CEPR Discussion Paper 13579.
Grossman, G M and E Helpman (1994), “Protection for sale”, American Economic Review 84(4): 833–850.
Grossman, G M and E Helpman (1995), “Trade wars and trade talks”, Journal of Political Economy 103(4): 675–708.
Maggi, G and A Rodriguez-Clare (1998), “The value of trade agreements in the presence of political pressures”, Journal of Political Economy 106(3): 574–601.
 See for example “Trump accuses China of ‘raping’ US with unfair trade policy”, BBC News, 2 May 2016.
 Given the large literature on the welfare enhancing effects of
trade (Baldwin 2004), to offer an explanation why politicians
nonetheless often favour tariffs, the work by Grossman and Helpman
(1994, 1995) highlighted the influence of domestic politics and special
interest groups on trade policy. In the same spirit, Maggi and Rodriguez
(1998) argue that trade agreements could work as a commitment device
for politicians against domestic interests.
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Despite battlefield losses and reversals in Iraq and Syria, the multiple suicide bombings in Sri Lanka on 21 April 2019 demonstrated that the so-called Islamic State (IS) is entering a new phase of global expansion.
By Rohan Gunaratna*
Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka on 21 April 2019.The coordinated near-simultaneous suicide attacks killed more than 350 and injured nearly 500. The attacks on Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury, the luxury hotels in the heart of the capital aimed to kill westerners. The attacks targeting St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, and Zion Church in Batticaloa aiming to kill Christians. They were all crowd-pulling places on Sunday. The targets were iconic, strategic and symbolic.
In classic IS-style, IS photographed the bombers, some with their
faces covered and others smiling. Five of the six bombers were
identified as Sri Lankans belonging to one of the IS support groups
operating in Sri Lanka. Against the backdrop of an IS flag, all the six
suicide bombers carrying automatic weapons pointed to the sky, raising a
single index finger denoting their cause. They were identified by their
IS names − Abu Barra As Sailani, Abu Muktar As Sailani, Abu Ubaida As
Sailani and others. ‘As Sailani’ at the end of the names denoted that
five of the six attackers were Ceylonese, the previous name for Sri
The IS attacks targeting luxury hotels and Catholic churches in Asia
demonstrate the new face of IS-style terrorism. A decentralised IS
mounted similar attacks on churches in Indonesia’s Surabaya on 13 May
2018 and Philippines’s Jolo on 27 January 2019. To seek revenge for the
losses it suffered in its heartland, IS focused on Sri Lanka, a
lucrative target in Asia. Some of its supporters justified their strikes
on Catholic targets in Sri Lanka to the white supremacist terrorist
attack in New Zealand on 15 March 2019. Having stealthily built its
capabilities over three years, the Sri Lankan branch of IS responded
with revenge and retaliation.
Since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) on 26 May 2009, Sri Lanka
faced a new threat. IS’ declaration of a caliphate on 29 June
2014 appealed to a tiny segment of Sri Lankan youth. From 2014-2018, IS
steadfastly exploited Sri Lanka by recruiting and radicalising its
vulnerable young. The international coalitions working with Iraqi and
Syrian forces militarily fought and defeated IS in the physical space.
With a vengeance, the returnees from Iraq and Syria and diehard
supporters and sympathisers in their homelands responded to the call by
the IS leadership to avenge Baghouz, the last IS stronghold. The
indoctrinated personalities and cells attacked Buddhist shrines and
broke Buddha images.
The nucleus of the Sri Lankan support group of IS was seeded by Abu
Shuraih Sailani, a Sri Lankan recruit who travelled to Syria. He was
killed in a coalition strike on 12 July 2015. Together with 40 other Sri
Lankans, he had travelled to Turkey and then to Syria. When the
self-anointed caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi invited Muslims from all over
the world to migrate to Syria and Iraq, a total of 41 Sri Lankan Muslims
from two extended families travelled to Iraq and Syria.
When the security situation in Iraq and Syria deteriorated, the flow
of Sri Lankan recruits diminished and a few residing in Syria wished to
return. The Sri Lankan leader of IS was killed in a US air strike and a
few returned through Turkey. Before most of the Sri Lankans who joined
IS in Iraq and Syria were killed, they continued to instigate and
inspire their families and friends to join IS.
The IS propaganda spread mostly through social media radicalising a
few hundred Sri Lankans. By joining IS, they were indoctrinated into
believing that they were serving God. Determined to fight for their
faith and the faithful, they believed that martyrdom was the highest
sacrifice. Educated and mostly from well-to-do families, they turned
into killers. They formed the IS core in Sri Lanka. Six members of the
IS branch staged the attacks on Easter Sunday.
By mounting operations to hunt the perpetrators, imposing curfew and
blocking Facebook, Instagram, Viber, and WhatsApp after the attacks,
government demonstrated resolve to act. Nonetheless, the Sri Lankan
government will have to develop a comprehensive strategy to respond to
the IS build-up in the country.
Hitherto, the Sri Lankan Muslims have been a model community. They
had worked together with the government to defeat the Tamil Tigers. They
had suffered ethnic cleansing and endured intermittent massacres
including horrific attacks by the Tamil Tigers against their mosques in
Five capabilities are needed to manage the threat:
First, restoring the security and intelligence services vital to
fight the threat. Second, regulating the religious space to prevent
radical preachers, especially foreign preachers, from preaching hatred.
Third, managing the cyber space, both taking down extremist content and
holding service providers accountable for hosting extremist content.
Fourth, creating national education rather than having separate
schools for Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. Fifth, a rehabilitation
programme to deradicalise terrorists and a community engagement
programme to counter-radicalise supporters in the community.
The IS blow back from Iraq and Syria is similar to Afghanistan when
al Qaeda was dismantled. The al Qaeda-centric threat spread with attacks
from Bali to Madrid and London. Similarly, the manifestation of the
IS-centric threat will witness attacks akin to what the world has just
seen in Sri Lanka.
Contrary to assessments by western leaders, most notably by President
Donald Trump, that IS has been defeated, IS is actually entering a new
phase. It is re-emerging to fight the world with a vengeance. The threat
group many believed would disappear after its fighters were decimated
in Bargouz in the Euphrates Valley has, in fact, returned.
Sri Lanka is not an exception to the global build-up of IS. As IS has
created a deep network in South Asia with nodes in South India,
Maldives and Sri Lanka, the governments will need to exchange and share
intelligence and dismantle the terrorist support and operational
structures. To fight back, the security agencies of the region will need
to work with the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and other
partners that have mapped the international links. Working with the
Muslim community, Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans will have to work hard to
secure their country from this new phase of threat.
What Sri Lankan leaders should guard against is reciprocal
radicalisation or the tit-for-tat attacks. Although IS had hitherto
attacked places of religious worship, the massacre of Muslims in the
Christchurch mosques in New Zealand has upped the ante. The government
leaders should work with Muslim, Christian and Buddhist communities
especially their leaders not to be trapped in a cycle of revenge.
*Rohan Gunaratna is a Professor of Security Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. He is also the co-author of “The Three Pillars of Radicalisation: Needs, Narratives and Networks” (New York, Oxford University Press, 2019)
Singapore’s commitment to multiracialism and inter-faith harmony is not just about keeping the peace but about its identity as a nation. It has achieved much over the last 50 years but serious challenges remain. The speed in which fake news and hate speech are spread online can easily create enmity among the races and religious groups. Much depends on whether Singaporeans are merely tolerant of each other or have developed deep trust and understanding.
By Han Fook Kwang*
It was, fittingly, President Halimah Yacob who announced that Singapore would be holding its first international conference on social cohesion and inter-faith harmony in June this year. It shows the high level of support from the country’s leadership on issues related to religious harmony.
Indeed, soon after making the announcement, she spoke at a
remembrance ceremony organised by the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO)
to honour those killed during the terror attack on two mosques in
Christchurch, New Zealand last month. The IRO, formed in 1949, with 10
major religions represented, has had a long history in Singapore of
promoting understanding and goodwill. Why is inter-faith harmony taken
so seriously in Singapore, including at the highest level of government?
There are several reasons:
First, Singapore is a multiethnic, multi-religious state where more
than five million people live in one of the most densely populated
cities in the world. When so many citizens of different races and
religions live side by side, in the same housing estate, working in the
same company, enjoying the same recreational facilities, and with
children going to the same school, it is a matter of national survival
that they co-exist peacefully and respect each other’s differences.
It was not so not long ago, in the early years of Singapore’s
independence in the 1960s, that racial tension between ethnic Chinese
and Malays led to clashes and deadly riots. Since those divisive days,
the country’s leaders and people have strived to ensure racial harmony
is not taken for granted.
But multiracialism is more than about keeping the peace. For
Singapore, it is nothing less than what defines it as a nation, with an
inclusive outlook that is accepting of people from all over the world.
That was how it grew as a city under British rule, attracting people
from all parts of Asia, especially India, China and Southeast Asia.
Singapore’s largely immigrant stock was a major factor in making it a
thriving society open to changes and new ideas, always striving to be
better than its neighbours.
But diversity also meant that misunderstanding and distrust was only a
neighbouring household away, and had to be carefully managed by the
community and the authorities. This reality shaped Singapore’s identity
from the beginning, and its founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was its
most committed proponent.
When asked during an interview in 2010 for the book Hard Truths To
Keep Singapore Going, which I co-authored, how he would define a
Singaporean, he replied:
“My definition of a Singaporean, which will make us different from
any others, is that we accept that whoever joins us is part of us…An
acceptance of multiracialism, a tolerance of people of different races,
languages, cultures, religions, and an equal basis for competition.
That’s what will stand out…”
Note that he did not define Singapore in terms of meritocracy or
clean, competent government or economic success, which many people might
identify more strongly with. For him, racial and religious harmony
ranked foremost. Subsequent generations of Singaporeans have continued
to uphold this, which explains why inter-faith issues are taken so
So, how has Singapore managed the diversity even as it tried to forge
a nation out of these differences? The Government played a critical
First, the Constitution protects the right of every citizen to
practise his or her religion. But there are also strict laws such as the
Sedition Act and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act which make it
an offence to say or do anything that might cause ill feeling or enmity
between different groups.
Over the years the police have investigated and taken action against
over zealous Christian and Muslim preachers alike. In a speech in
Parliament last month, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam summed
up the Singapore approach:
“We have the current harmony because we did all this…We took no
chances. We brook no agitation of race and religion. We refused to let
the State bow to any religious or racial group, minority or majority.”
But it would be a mistake to believe that the Singapore way is all fire
and brimstone. In fact, tough action has been required in only a few
More important, the State has worked with religious leaders to tackle
common problems through organisations such as the IRO and the
Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCC), a local level
inter-faith platform formed in every electoral constituency to promote
racial and religious harmony.
These interactions have enabled the Government to work with religious
leaders to tackle serious problems such as self-radicalisation of
individuals by extremist groups, and more mundane municipal issues such
as the use of public spaces for funeral rites, the wearing of religious
attire and symbols and the conduct of religious processions outdoors.
These discussions do much to build trust and understanding between
the various stakeholders and among leaders of the different religions.
Two challenges will test this peaceful state of affairs.
First, the ease with which fake news and hate speech can be
propagated online will make it harder to insulate Singapore and
Singaporeans from outside influence. Much of this is organised by
extremist groups across national boundaries.
While many governments including Singapore are planning new laws to
protect their societies, there are no easy solutions. Indeed, the
problem is expected to get worse because there is popular distrust
worldwide of governments which are perceived as elitist and detached
from the citizenry.
When economic and social challenges are not addressed, vulnerable
people are most susceptible to false claims and radicalisation.
Singapore will not be immune to this problem.
The second inter-faith challenge is internal and concerns the
strength of its social cohesion. Is it based on mere tolerance of each
other or is there deep and genuine understanding? The question has often
been raised, including as far back as in 1972 by the late President
“Tolerance can be based on ignorance and lack of faith. But active tolerance seeks what there is in common…”
Almost 50 years later, the issue is still, if not even more,
relevant. A society overly dependent on tough laws and an over-active
Government can breed apathy and complacency.
Such a people when truly tested, for example in a terror attack
claiming many lives, may not have truly developed the instinct to come
together and overcome their prejudices. With the increasing number of
incidents worldwide involving attacks on religious groups, including the
latest in Sri Lanka where more than 350 were killed, the work to
strengthen resilience and social cohesion has become more urgent.
For Singapore, as Mr Lee put it, it is ultimately about what defines a Singaporean.
*Han Fook Kwang is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore and Editor-At-Large, The Straits Times.
The noose is tightening around the WikiLeaks world, yet another dedicated attempt to strangle the channels of information that might cast light over the dastardly deeds of state. Connections are being targeted; associates are being brought in. Officials of the United States, having found heart in the revocation of Julian Assange’s asylum courtesy of Ecuadorean weak will and an accommodating United Kingdom, still deem it appropriate to keep Chelsea Manning in custody.
The object here, given the indictment against Assange, seems clear: the conspiracy charge is set to expand, not merely including the current allegations against Assange, but roping in Manning to assist in the endeavour. The project, in other words, will be expanded. Josh Gerstein, writing for Politico, made the obvious point: “Prosecutors appear to be pressing for Manning’s testimony in order to bolster their case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.”
Even now, the prosecution persists on an absurd tack; the alleged hacking of a classified government computer system pursuant to conspiracy supposedly did not work, even though Manning did supply WikiLeaks with classified documents from the US government’s Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIRPNet) in 2010.
Such sloppiness has been encouraged, in no small measure, by the US-UK extradition treaty treaty.
The document is an exquisite piece of unequal drafting, making UK prosecutors furnish “such information as would provide a reasonable basis to believe that the person sought committed the offence for which extradition is requested” while making no such demands of US prosecutors. As former Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland of Asthall QC warned, “If this order is approved, the United States will no longer be required to supply prima facie evidence to accompany extradition requests that it makes to the United Kingdom.”
What may save Assange is the hope that greed and vanity prevails in the prosecution effort; with more charges, the case starts looking distinctly political in the extradition process. If so, “political” offenses are excluded from the extradition treaty between the US and the UK under Article 4(1). Paragraph 3 of the same section further notes that, “extradition shall not be granted if the competent authority of the Requested State determined that the request was politically motivated.”
A good number of US politicians have made it clear that Assange’s role as publisher, or even his disposition as a hacker, is less relevant to their jaundiced worldview than making him account as an annex of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections. Assange poked the US national security establishment, and must pay. “So now he’s our property,” rejoiced Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, “and we can get the facts and truth from him.” That, it would seem, is a purely political affair. Assange’s lawyers, take note.
Manning, quite rightly, had asserted her rights not to answer another round of vexatious questions from a grand jury upon a subject the US court martial system deemed fit to convict her on. Having seven years of her sentence, one reduced by President Barack Obama, she is now being kept further as Assange warms the cold environs of Belmarsh prison in the United Kingdom.
Manning, for her part, has been in Alexandria, Virginia jail since March 8. Since then, her spell has been marked by periods of prolonged solitary confinement. After 28 days, her period of “administrative segregation” was concluded, and it was reported that she had “finally been moved into general population at Truesdale Detention Center.”
Her legal team have been busy trying to find a means of freeing her since US District Court Judge Claude Hilton found her in contempt for not testifying. A few voices of support in Congress have also been forthcoming. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claimed that the conditions of Manning’s imprisonment amounted to torture. “Chelsea is being tortured for whistleblowing, she should be released on bail, and we should ban extended solitary [confinement] in the US.”
Manning’s reasons – the stifling secrecy of the grand jury process itself, not to mention the fact that she had already been through the entire affair in 2013 – did not impress the judicial ear. Prosecutor Tracy McCormick, keener on process than principle, explained that this whole fuss could be dispensed with by simply testifying. “We hope she changes her mind now.”
On Monday, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals considered, if you can even use that term, arguments from Manning’s counsel that Judge Hilton had “improperly denied her motion concerning electronic surveillance, failed to properly address the issue of grand jury abuse, and improperly sealed the courtroom during substantial portions of the hearing.”
Her attempt to overturn the contempt order was given short shrift. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals did not tax itself too much, giving no reasons for swallowing the conclusions reached in the lower court. In a two-page ruling, the bench found that Judge Hilton had not erred. “Upon consideration of the memorandum briefs on appeal and the record of proceedings in the district court, the court finds no error in the district courts rulings and affirms its findings of civil contempt. The court also denies appellant’s motion for release on bail.” Not exactly the high water mark of US jurisprudence.
Manning can appeal the ruling in taking her case via the full Fourth Circuit bench, or the Supreme Court itself. Given the latter’s current conservatism, the chances for release seem slim. Manning may have to wade it out and hope the prosecutors slip in their efforts to lard their case against Assange. And that has been known to happen.
Among Western foreign policy establishment elites, a growing realism has developed on the shortcomings evident in Ukraine. This reality partly explains the somewhat limited Western mass media coverage of the just completed Ukrainian presidential election, when compared to the ones that brought Viktor Yushchenko and Petro Poroshenko to power.
Notwithstanding, there’re some holdouts who cling to an inaccurate impression. Paul Goble’s April 21 Eurasia Review presentation of Russian and Belarusian jealousy over Ukraine’s’ presidential election, is part of an ongoing misread on the standing of the three former Soviet republics, who trace their history back to Rus. As has been true with a number of his other pieces, Goble (in this one) uncritically references the questionable opinions of some others. Upon his victory, the newly elected Ukrainian President Volodoymyr Zelensky has pretty much said the same thing, about Ukraine as a role model for some other parts of the former Soviet Union.
This depiction echoes what the late Zbigniew Brzezinski said of the so-called Orange Revolution back in 2004. At the time, Brzezinski spun a democratically spirited Ukraine eventually having a positive influence over Russia. Over the course of the post-Soviet period, a segment of the US foreign policy and media establishments have overhyped Ukrainian positives (real, exaggerated and false), while disproportionately highlighting the negatives in Russia and Belarus (real, exaggerated and false). The April 22 Imran Khan hosted Al Jazeera show Inside Story, with Valentin Yakushik, Uly Brueckner and Dmitry Babich, is an eclectically healthy break from the idealistic BS presented elsewhere. (I can’t quite say the same about the April 22 Nick Schifrin hosted PBS NewsHour segment with Matthew Rojansky.)
In his aforementioned Eurasia Review piece, Goble portrays a lively political discourse between the two main candidates (Zelensky and Petro Poroshenko) for Ukraine’s presidency. This take overlooks the limits of that dialogue, in addition to ignoring some other tangential factors. If anything, Ukrainians in Ukraine are more jealous that Russia has a president who has (to some noticeable degree) stood up to the oligarchs. Related to this point is the fact that since the Euromaidan in late 2013 (as well as beforehand), more Ukrainian citizens have migrated to Russia than Russian citizens moving to Ukraine.
Likewise, Belarus has relative stability when compared to Ukraine. The level of Russian economic assistance to Belarus is a contributing factor to this situation. Note that the Russian-Belarusian relationship has included Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko periodically making provocatively negative comments about Russia. Yet, his presidency remains in tact, which is a far cry from an overreaching great power, overthrowing the leader of a much smaller nearby country, because of the latter’s lack of subservience.
Within reason, Ukraine’s newly elected president is seen as a front for the major Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. Zelensky’s predecessor Poroshenko fits the image of of an oligarch. Let’s see if Zelensky will break from that trend. For now, it’s quite premature to see him and his country as a positive model for Russia and Belarus.
As for the matter of political diversity (brought up by Goble), Russian President Vladimir Putin, has over the years faced live confrontational comments and questions from numerous individuals, including Megyn Kelly, George W Bush and Yuri Shevchuk. Putin has also had such interactions with accredited Ukrainian journalists. One case in point being Putin’s live end of year press conference in 2018. Compare that dialogue with the Kiev regime’s support for banning Russian media in Ukraine.
Regarding the rebel held Donbass territories, Zelensky’s call for an “information war” is an ill advised term. War is the direct opposite of peace. Part of his appeal is the belief that he might’ve a better chance for ending the Donbass conflict than Poroshenko. It’s foolhardy to believe that the rebel Donbass areas will succumb to the predominating Kiev regime slant via an increased propaganda campaign. Rather, some creative give and take, serves as a more successful option for bringing piece to the former Ukrainian SSR. Just how and when this could happen is something for Zelensky and his team to work on.
Pomerantsev’s hyperreal journey “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia”between kabbalists, supermodels and conscripts holds many keys to Putin’s Russia and what Putinism’s bequest to the West may be.
The more Western media write and speak about Russia and more they seem keen to use “misleading historical analogies” and offer “one-sided interpretations of complex processes”. This would be disposable even if Russia was just the largest country in the world, but it is also a nuclear power and a “resurgent global player.” However, the mass of TV authors and producers who lack sufficient knowledge about the topic their shows often focus on is balanced by intellectuals like Peter Pomerantsev. A TV producer himself, with his first book, whose style is as evocative and effective as hyperrealist filming, Pomerantsev offers a unique perspective on Putin’s Russia.
Pomerantsev’s literary debut is so rich and all-encompassing that summarising its almost 300 pages is almost impossible. Taking aside the quest to find out the nature of contemporary, post-soviet Russian identity the book does not have a pivotal axis around which its entire narrative revolves.
Instead it is built on personal stories, fragments of more or less ordinary people’s biographies — which, as if they were pieces of one of the many mosaics of Moscow’s metro, while openly contrasting with one another create a paradoxically coherent picture. In the middle of the book Pomerantsev describes the social and political function of compulsory military service in twenty-first-century Russia, whose military is among the most technologically advanced in the world. In doing so he highlights something that greatly contributes to differencing Western European politics and collective subconscious from that of post-Soviet societies:
even if you manage to avoid the draft, you, your mother, and your family become part of the network of bribes and fears and simulations; […] And that’s fine for the system: as long as you’re a simulator you will never do anything real, you will always look for your compromise with the state, which in turn makes you feel just right amount of discomfort. Whichever way, you’re hooked. Indeed, it could be said that if a year in the army is the overt process that moulds young Russians, a far more powerful bond with the system is created by the rituals of avoiding military service
Taken out context this passage may feel meaningless. However, with a few sentences Pomerantsev sums up the peculiar social contract of Putin’s Russia. Indeed, the idea that nothing “done” will ever be “real”, that “you can protest all you like; it won’t change anything. You can scream and scream, but no one will hear you.” (p. 116) is the basis of every authoritarian regime; but in post-Soviet it means way more. It is the everyday manifestation of the “blistering progression from communism to perestroika to shock therapy to penury to oligarchy to mafia state to mega-rich” Russian society experienced in the “wild ‘90s” and early 2000s — life in post-Soviet Russia “is just one glittering masquerade, where every role and any position or belief is mutable”. (p. 4)
This single fact is, ultimately, the one and only perspective from which Pomerantsev’s account of post-modern Russia makes sense. But, while most Western would, in a rather naïve fashion, consider such a “liquid” social structure as “the expression of a country liberated” (p. 4) the Author better qualifies them as forms of delirium. A schizophrenic relation with reality that gets elevated to paramount since – in a country that spans 11 time zones peopled by all kinds of people from peasants stuck in the Middle Ages to cosmopolite billionaires – no one is immune from it. The result, which Pomerantsev beautifully describes with patience and attachment, is a “great show” at the centre of which stands “the President himself,” who morphs “among his roles of soldier, lover, bare-chested hunter, businessman, spy, tsar, superman.” (p. 7)
In other words, nowadays everyone has developed the “ability all KGB men have, to split [their] personality at will”. (p. 111) To be truthful, it was a gift which the generation who grew up in the USSR was unaware of. As someone recalls while speaking with the Author: “when we sang” the party’s songs it “felt good […] And then straight after we would listen to Deep Purple and the BBC.” (p. 233) The fact that communism was, for many Russians, not some kind of secular faith but a modus vivendi or mere social convention and yet almost no one dared to denounce this farce is “the great drama of Russia.” (p. 234) The psychological effect is the fragmentation of the self into “little bits” so that one “can never quite commit to changing things”; is something Westerners won’t care to understand but it is also the real reason for which “they can only create a society of simulations” and simulacra. (Ibid.) Even the political elite seem “as if they have been turned and twisted in so many ways, they’ve spun right off the whirligig into something clinical.” (p. 274)
For all its modernity and “offshore-ness” post-Soviet Russia remains a country whose youth is made up of orphans who do not believe in anything and seem disillusioned about everything. To them, the way Putin’s Kremlin handled the shocks that followed the First Chechen War, the Kursk or the Nord Ost Theatre siege so that “No longer would there be anything uncontrolled, unvetted, un-thought-through” (p. 67), together with “All the shirtless photos hunting tigers and harpooning whales” felt and still feel like “love letters” that project on the President the image of “the ultimate protector with whom you can be as “behind a stone wall”.” (p. 17)
In Pomerantsev’s account Putin’s dictatorship isn’t like anything political scientists and historians have ever seen. No, it isn’t just “a world designed by the political technologists. A fragile reality-show set that can seem, if you squint, almost genuine. […] a simulacrum of the whole democratic thing” (p. 101–102) as Pomerantsev suggests quoting the well-known French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. It is the by-product of the context in which “the first Russian generation that not only flies but even flies abroad as a matter of course” (p. 72) was raised. The struggles and aspirations of this whole generation, the highs and lows of their lives are well represented in their choses as to where to live. Most of them, in fact, come from “the representative, cross-section town of Russia, the country where a third of males have been to prison” (p. 35) but eventually settle down (or at least try to) in the “new Moscow” (p. 4) The capital is, just like the youngsters who spend their nights dreaming to live there, “psychotic” and keen to “self-destruction” in its “search for a style”. (p. 123)
Notwithstanding its ever-shifting appearance, Moscow remains the capital of a pachyderm country with a “still feudal social structure defined by needing to be within touching distance of the tsar, the general secretary of the Communist Party, the President of the Russian Federation.” (p. 125) In the West “power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location […] The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value,” while in Russia the opposite is true: in the real estate “Property prices are measured by distance from the Red Square” (p. 125).
Under Putin’s evident leadership and with the unnoticed support of the President’s inner circle – whose tendency to backstabbing constantly menaces to put an end to the Vertikal – Russia turned from what political scientists of the past would define “a country in transition” to “some sort of postmodern dictatorship that uses the language and institutions of democratic capitalism for authoritarian ends.” (p. 50) Moscow is defined postmodern as it “has problems with its memories” (p. 130) which reflect in the lack of an architectural identity and is inhabited by young people who were given “no traditions, no value systems” and whose “triumphant cynicism” and “ideology of endless shape-shifting” translates in “despair.” (p. 260)
But also, and more relevantly, because there both the elites and the ordinary people and can feel like there is “an oligarchy in the morning and a democracy in the afternoon, a monarchy for dinner and a totalitarian state by bedtime.” (p. 78) The Kremlin has a unifying story telling that most disillusioned Russians can easily accept — and if someone really cannot there is a plethora of civic forums, human rights NGOs and club for modern artists as well as movement for Orthodox fundamentalists, communists and ultra-nationalists. Some of them may seem anti-Putin, but they are all funded, sponsored and directed by the country’s leading political technologist, Aleksandr Sokurov, who happens to be another son of the mesmerising post-Soviet odyssey.
It is the very same idea shared by all the post-Soviet sects: “all the suffering, all the shocks Russia had gone through made it the […] birthplace for a new, messianic consciousness” (p. 212–213). The concept has existed “since Ivan III’s Muscovy” was to be “the Third and Final Rome” and lasted through the centuries. (Ibid.) Even the October Revolution and international communism were nothing more that the “most geopolitically ambitious expression of this idea: Moscow as the shining city on the hill of socialism, the churning forge of the new era to end all eras.” (p. 213)
Nowadays even protesters and the dissidents have fallen victim of this myth in its umpteenth chameleonic adaptation to the muting Zeitgeist. In fact,
if once upon a time they used the phrase “the West” in general, and the word “London” in particular, to represent the beacon of what they aimed towards, now the words “London” and “the West” can be said with a light disgust, as the place that shelters and rewards and strengthens the very forces that oppress them. And so, in the classic Third Rome twist, the Russian liberal can become the last true liberal on Earth, the only ones still believing in the preaching of […] the international development consultants
Western ex-pats are, probably, the best metaphor of the average Westerner’s reaction when s/he gets to know Russia. At first, they pretend “to teach Russia how to be civilised”. But, overnight, they end up not being “even sure who won the Cold War after all.” (p. 41, 42) The Gulf Wars, the invasion of Afghanistan, the financial crash, everything conjured so that all “the words that had been used to win the Cold War – like “freedom”, “democracy” and “free market” – seemed to have swelled and mutated and changed their meaning, to become redundant.” (p. 55)
The libertarian, liberal story telling that won the Cold War has now disappeared since “the unity of the Western story seems unwound” without an enemy against whom it would be brandished like the mythical Excalibur. Pomerantsev writes that to defeat the USSR it was necessary to push “into one package” all of the West’s virtues or pretend ones: “parliaments, investment banks, and abstract expressionism fused to defeat the Politburo, planned economics, and social realism.” (p. 88) But, now the West does not believe in itself anymore and on the creatures of its arrogance, Surkov, used all his “genius”
to tear those associations apart, to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose.
The world order built in the decades after the second world war by Washington’s corporate elites is not working anymore for neither its natural beneficiaries nor its secondary recipients. The Kremlin’s narrative aims at convincing itself and the resto of the world that it is the “great corporate reider inside globalisation, […] that it can [be …] The twenty-first century’s geopolitical avant-garde.” (p. 276) It is more likely than not that Russia will never abandon its “messianic” aspiration. Russian elites and large swathes of its population alike won’t accept rules that others have made for it and the West, as of now, hasn’t a solid counter-narrative of its own. Perhaps “nothing is true and everything is possible” is for real —but how to tell true from simulacra when there is no moral compass left?
*Fabio A. Telarico is university student currently attending a BA in Political Science and International Relations
In keeping with accepted standards in debates on economic policy, we are now getting a debate on Medicare for All that is doing a wonderful job of ignoring the relevant issues. The focus of this debate is what Medicare for All will pay hospitals.
As The New York Times tells us, if Medicare for All pays hospitals at Medicare reimbursement rates, many will go out of business.
The reason why this is a bizarre way to frame the issue is that the payments to hospitals are not going to buildings. They are going to pay for prescription drugs (close to $100 billion a year), for medical equipment and supplies, for doctors and other health care personnel. They also pay for hospital administrators, and in the case of for-profit hospitals, some of the money goes to profits.
Also, in recent years a growing chunk of the money has gone to buildings, as many hospitals have sought to attract high-end patients by making themselves more upscale than a facility that exists primarily to provide health care.
Anyhow, a serious discussion of payments to hospitals should focus on
the costs that hospitals face. There are enormous potential savings on
prescription drugs and medical equipment and supplies if the government
were to pay for research upfront
and allow these items to be sold at free market prices, rather than
granting patent monopolies that allow manufacturers of these products to
charge prices that are tens or hundreds of times their cost of
We could save close to $100 billion a year if we allowed free trade in physicians services (i.e. remove the barriers that prevent qualified foreign doctors from practicing in the United States). We could also save some money on the high pay received by hospital administrators, especially if we reformed the corporate governance structure so that seven and eight-figure salaries were less common.
A Medicare for All system also would presumably not be reimbursing hospitals for lavish facilities.
Anyhow, if we are going to have a serious debate on what Medicare for All would pay hospitals then it must focus on the prices and wages that hospitals pay for goods and services.
Debating what the government pays hospitals without asking about the cost of these inputs is entirely pointless.
This article first appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.
By Ed Condon
On Saturday night, the Church celebrated its most solemn and joyful liturgy.
As it does every year, the Vigil Mass of Easter began when the paschal candle was lit from a fire burning outside the church.
That candle led the assembly in silent procession into the darkened
church. The priest turned toward the faithful and announced “The light
“Thanks be to God,” responded the assembly, as the light of the paschal
candle was passed throughout the assembly, flooding the darkened room
with the new light of the resurrection, aglow in the small flames of
hundreds of candles.
At the same time I attended the Easter Vigil Saturday night, a series of
suicide bombs exploded in churches across Sri Lanka, killing nearly
hundreds. The attacks were timed to coincide with Easter Sunday
The transition of the vigil liturgy, from darkness to light, reflects
the procession of the Church from death to life, illuminated by the
light of the Resurrection.
The Easter Exsultet, sung across the world as the bombs detonated in
Colombo, hailed the arrival of the “night in which Christ has destroyed
Of course the blood-spattered walls and ceiling of St. Anthony’s Shrine
in Sri Lanka offered what appeared to be a macabre juxtaposition to the
empty tomb of the gospel. But through the eyes of faith, and of the
Church, the horrific violence was a witness to the Resurrection of
Those Catholics mourning in Sri Lanka know that light — the light — has come into the world, and darkness cannot overcome it.
Sri Lanka is not the only place where churches are burning and
Christians are dying. From Mosul to Cairo, to France, to Kaduna and
Columbo, Christians, the world over, face violence and persecution. But
somehow, in many parts of the West, that reality goes unseen.
The reason is complicated.
The Anglican Bishop of Truro, Philip Mountstephen, has been charged by
the British government with reviewing its foreign policy failures to
address the persecution of Christians worldwide.
Ahead of the publication of his conclusions, and before the Easter
bombings, he told the Times that there is an indifference in the secular
liberal establishement to the plight of Christians around the world. It
is, he suggested, a studied indifference, which misunderstands the
Christian faith as “an expression of white western privilege,”
undeserving of protection.
In a western secular culture defined increasingly by anti-Christian
moral norms, the slaughter of Christians – or “Easter worshippers” to
those too squeamish to use the word – presents a paradox: how can the
religion of white western wealth and privilege be the faith of poor
minorities around the globe? Can the suffering of Christians be
legitimately understood as persecution?
“Actually,” Mountstephen observed, “the Christian faith is
overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the global poor and people who, by their
very socio-economic status, are vulnerable.”
Pope Francis has spoken often of his desire to see “a poor Church of the poor.” In reality, this is what the Church already is.
The killing of the Sri Lankan Mass-goers, like the execution of the
Coptic martyrs in 2015, is a sign of contradiction to a world ready to
believe – and in some cases to print – that Christianity is inseparable
from a kind of capitalistic white supremacy. But the Church is called to
be a sign of contradiction, and such a sign can bear great fruit.
The first Easter vigils in Rome were held in catacombs not cathedrals;
an empire was converted by the witness of uncounted martyrs, whose
unshakable confidence that Christ had risen, destroying death, was a
sign of contradiction to the pagan world.
In his recent essay on the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis, the
pope emeritus noted the “today’s Church is more than ever a ‘Church of
the Martyrs’ and thus a witness to the living God.” Joseph Ratzinger
also famously recalled looking around the Vatican as a young priest and
foreseeing a time in which the signs of wealth and status would be
Caught between the hammer of violent oppression in many parts of the
world and the anvil of a secularized West suspicious if not downright
hostile to the Church, many Catholics see a besieged faithful fighting
But in reality, in the gathering darkness, the light of the faith – like
the hundreds of candles light during the Easter vigil – becomes ever
brighter. The violence of persecution stokes the fires of faith.
Many alive now may live to see Ratzinger’s prediction come true:
Francis’ poor Church of the poor once more gathered in the catacombs,
real or metaphorical.
While the world will, like the pagan emperors before, scorn her
seeming defeat and irrelevance, the Church will instead draw renewed
strength as she becomes ever more truly herself.
The witness of its suffering – as in Sri Lanka – offers the same
witness the martyrs of the early Church offered pagan Rome, and it will
achieve the same result. The experience of the Church in the first
centuries of the third millennium will likely come to resemble that of
the first centuries AD. And from the forge of persecution will come a
New Evangelization to rival the old.
Wedded to her risen spouse and called to share in his glory, those now
confidently burying the Church as a remnant of history are destined to
find her tomb empty. Through death, Christ has already conquered death,
and with him the Church rises victorious.
Humans settled in southwestern Amazonia and even
experimented with agriculture much earlier than previously thought,
according to an international team of researchers.
“We have long been aware that complex societies emerged in Llanos de
Moxos in southwestern Amazonia, Bolivia, around 2,500 years ago, but
our new evidence suggests that humans first settled in the region up to
10,000 years ago during the early Holocene period,” said Jose Capriles,
assistant professor of anthropology. “These groups of people were hunter
gatherers; however, our data show that they were beginning to deplete
their local resources and establish territorial behaviors, perhaps
driving them to begin domesticating plants such as sweet potatoes,
cassava, peanuts and chili peppers as a way to acquire food.”
The archaeological team conducted its study on three forest islands
— Isla del Tesoro, La Chacra and San Pablo — within the seasonally
flooded savanna of the Llanos de Moxos in northern Bolivia.
“These islands are elevated above the surrounding savanna, so they
do not flood during the rainy season,” said Capriles. “We believe people
were using these sites recurrently as seasonal camps, particularly
during the long rainy seasons when most of the Llanos de Moxos become
The team’s excavations of the forest islands revealed human
skeletons that had been intentionally buried in a manner unlike that of
typical hunter gatherers and instead were more akin to the behaviors of
complex societies — characterized by political hierarchy and the
production of food. Their results appear today in Science Advances.
“If these were highly mobile hunter gatherers you would not expect
for them to bury their dead in specific places; instead, they would
leave their dead wherever they died,” said Capriles.
Capriles noted that it is rare to find human or even archaeological remains that predate the use of fired pottery in the region.
“The soils tend to be very acidic, which often makes the
preservation of organic remains very poor,” he said. “Also, organic
matter deteriorates quickly in tropical environments and this region
completely lacks any type of rock for making stone tools, so even those
are not available to study.”
According to Umberto Lombardo, earth scientist at the University of
Bern, when the researchers first published their discovery of these
archaeological sites in 2013, they had to base their conclusions on
indirect evidence — mostly geochemical analyses — rather than direct
evidence such as artifacts.
“Because of the lack of direct evidence many archaeologists were
skeptical about our findings,” said Lombardo. “They did not really
believe that those forest islands were early Holocene archaeological
sites. The current study provides strong and definitive evidence of the
anthropocentric origin of these sites, because the archaeological
excavations uncovered early Holocene human burials. These are the
definitive proof of the antiquity and origin of these sites.”
Capriles noted that the human bones on these forest islands were
preserved despite the poor conditions because they were encased within
middens — or trash heaps — containing abundant fragments of shell,
animal bones and other organic remains.
“These people were foraging apple snails during the wet season and
disposing of the shells in large heaps, called middens,” said Capriles.
“Over time, water dissolved the calcium carbonate from the shells and
those carbonates precipitated over the bones, effectively fossilizing
Because the human bones were fossilized, the team was unable to date
them directly using radiocarbon dating. Instead, they used radiocarbon
dating of associated charcoal and shell as a proxy for estimating the
time range that the sites were occupied.
“The abundant remains of burned earth and wood suggests that the
people were using fire, likely to clear land, cook food and keep warm
during long rainy days,” said Capriles.
According to Capriles, a gap exists between the people his team
studied who lived on the forest islands between 10,000 and 4,000 years
ago and the rise of complex societies, which began around 2,500 years
“This paper represents the first step in the effort to learn more
about the people who inhabited southwestern Amazonia for thousands of
years but we know nothing about,” said Lombardo.
Capriles added, “Are the people we found direct predecessors of
those later, more complex societies? There are still questions to be
answered and we hope to do so in future research.”
(RFE/RL) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says he hopes his first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin will be “successful and useful.”
The two will meet on April 25 in Russia’s Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok after Kim arrived a day earlier and was greeted by a group of girls in Russian folk costumes who presented him a bouquet of flowers and a traditional loaf of Russian bread and salt.
Speaking to Russia’s state-owned Rossiya-24, Kim said he hopes to speak with Putin about the “settlement of the situation in the Korean Peninsula,” as well as bilateral ties with Russia.
Moscow and Pyongyang have traditionally had close ties, although those relations became frayed somewhat after Russia’s financial support was slashed following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In recent years the two countries have grown closer, although Moscow generally does not carry the influence of Pyongyang’s main ally, China.
Russia often mixes criticism of North Korean actions with calls on the United States, South Korea, and Japan to refrain from any steps that might increase tension or provoke Pyongyang.
In 2017, it voiced opposition to increasing international sanctions on Pyongyang and denounced what it called the international community’s “military hysteria” following Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear bomb test.
Kim’s father, the late Kim Jong Il, met with Putin in Moscow in 2001 and in Vladivostok in 2002 when he led the reclusive regime. The elder North Korean leader again visited Moscow in 2011 and met with then-President Dimitry Medvedev, traveling by train both times.
Kim Jong Un traveled from North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, to Vladivostok on a private armored train for the nearly 700-kilometer trip along with a delegation of government and armed forces officials.
Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told reporters on April 23that the two leaders would hold face-to-face talks before being joined by broader delegations, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
State-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on April 23 that no agreements or joint statements were expected from the meeting.
The expected meeting comes as U.S. President Donald Trump’s
administration is pushing for a deal to end nuclear tensions on the
At summits in June 2018 and February 2019, Trump and Kim failed to reach an agreement on a denuclearization deal.
The Trump administration has suggested the possibility of a third
summit, but North Korea on April 18 demanded that Washington remove
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from any future negotiations.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun was in
Moscow last week to meet Russian officials to discuss ways to advance a
“final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”
In March, the United States imposed fresh sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.
The Police, Tri-Forces and other branches of the security apparatus would be restructured within a week and changes will be made to those heading security institutions within the next 24 hours, Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena said.
President Sirisena was addressing the nation in the wake of Sunday’s devastating bombings targeting several churches and hotels in the country.
At least 359 people were killed and over 500 injured in attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. The government has said that 60 people have been arrested in connection with the Sunday blasts and that the attacks were carried out by a Islamist splinter group, despite the Islamic State claiming responsibility .
The President said he would take stern action against officials who failed to heed and act on warnings from intelligence agencies from a friendly neighbouring country about the threat of an attack.
“The information received from the state intelligence agencies of that country was not passed on to me by relevant officials. If they had done so, I would have taken immediate action. I have decided to take strict action against those who failed in their duty.”
The President revealed that already eight countries with experience, intelligence skills and high technology capabilities to fight terrorism have assured Sri Lanka that they would provide assistance in the fight against the menace of terrorism.
“I am confident that with such reorganization of the security sector and with the assistance of foreign expertise, the threat of terrorism could be curbed soon,” he added.
The President assured that that the limited emergency regulations gazetted on Monday night will only be used to apprehend terror suspects and ensure security and they will not be used to curtail the freedom of the people or democratic rights. Recalling the difficulties faced during the country’s three decades of terror, the President said since the war ended, during the last 10 years the country has had a very peaceful time.
“Especially in the four years after January 8, 2015 you all know that that the people enjoyed freedom, democracy, media freedom and their rights to the maximum” he added.
On this backdrop the President said the tragedy which occurred last Sunday came as an unexpected shock to everybody. Revealing more details regarding the terrorist organization which allegedly carried out Sunday’s bombings the President said since 2017 security officials were alert to their activities.
“In 2017 security officials received
information about this organization and their alleged links with certain
foreign terrorist outfits. They were investigating this group’s
activities,” he added. The President said security authorities however
did not have enough evidence on any atrocities committed by them to take
legal action against them.
The President also commended the efforts of Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the Catholic clergy and other religious leaders to maintain peace and calm within the Christian community and the people in general following Sunday’s bombings.
President Sirisena stressed that Sunday’s mayhem was caused by a small group of extremists and the Muslim community as a whole should not be blamed for the incident.
He said that reconciliation and
co-existence among all communities was vital to defeat such extremists
and terrorists in the future.Expressing grief, shock and deep dismay
over the loss of lives, the President stressed the need for the support
and unity of everybody in this national endeavour.
President Sirisena also praised the swift action taken by the Tri-Forces and the Police to apprehend the suspects and bring the situation under control. The President expressed his condolences over the death of three Police officers who died while carrying out investigations in the aftermath of the terror attacks. He said the fight ahead was different to the one which was waged to defeat LTTE terrorism. He said this was a fight against an extremist, terrorist group with international links.
He said this fight has to be waged using high tech equipment, intelligence units and with foreign assistance.The President stressed that it was not the time for finger pointing or fight over political, ethnic, religious or other differences but to work in unity to defeat the scourge of terrorism and oput the country back on the right track.
President Sirisena also announced that he would invite all political party leaders to discuss the matter and inform them of the steps taken by the government.
Similarly, the President said he would have a round table discussion with religious leaders and intellectuals in this regard.
President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said he anticipates Trump’s re-election bid will cost at least $1 billion. “I definitely think we’re …
“Trump digital operations” – Google News
Trump digital operations from Michael_Novakhov (2 sites)
Trump Investigations from Michael_Novakhov (84 sites)
By Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg*
To be in Washington these days is to experience one of those epic
periods when the American political system works to heal itself. The
release last week of the Mueller Report on Russian and other foreign
interference in the 2016 presidential election created a maelstrom of
debate on whether it provided enough grounds for the US House of
Representatives to commence proceedings to impeach President Donald
Trump, launch public exploratory hearings, or wait until American voters
make their own judgment in the 2020 election.
I was in Washington when the redacted report was released on April 18,
and the reactions to its release reminded me of other times when reports
of weighty investigations were released, such as the Iran-Contra report
during President Ronald Reagan’s time, the report on President Bill
Clinton’s relationship with a White House intern, or the Sept. 11
commission’s report. The Mueller report has it all — consequential
international intrigue, shady commercial deals, and moral
The report left no doubt that there was malign foreign interference in
the 2016 election, but did not indict the president for involvement in
that meddling, or explicitly exonerate him. Several of the other
characters in the report have been indicted, prosecuted and convicted,
but Robert Mueller was unable to indict Trump because the Department of
Justice believes that only Congress can prosecute a sitting president.
Mueller’s report is, in a way, challenging the House of Representatives,
now controlled by a Democratic majority, to take action. Democrats were
hoping that Mueller would indict the president, thus saving them from
taking the risky step of trying to impeach him.
Not fully knowledgeable about the political calculus of American
elections, I was surprised that some Democratic Party representatives
were hesitant about going through with impeachment for fear that it
Some eminent constitutional scholars, such as Laurence Tribe and Cass
Sunstein, have also weighed in. Long before the Mueller Report came out,
they had consistently made the case, in books and articles dedicated to
the issue, as well as on social media, for the need to start the
process of impeaching President Trump. The long list of indiscretions
catalogued in the report helped them make the case again for
impeachment, arguing that the US Constitution now requires it, and not
merely allows it.
As an outsider, I was quite in awe of the ability of the American system
to investigate itself and take corrective actions. I know that many in
the US are cynical about their political process but, compared with
other countries, such as Russia, France or many developing countries, it
has been able to self-correct over and over again. Take the scandals
involving spy agencies in the 1960s and 1970s, when the CIA was accused
of assassinating foreign leaders and plotting coups d’etat, and Congress
subsequently passed laws that made such acts more difficult. The
Watergate scandal led to greater limits on presidential powers and a
strengthening of the oversight of federal elections. Similarly, the
investigation of Oliver North and Robert McFarlane’s shenanigans, when
they tried to help arm and fund the Contras of Nicaragua by concocting
an international carousel of shady deals, resulted in greater
transparency on such actions.
In some ways, the actions listed in the Mueller Report are a throwback
to the days when the White House had more leeway than it has now. For
example, in reference to his actions during the Watergate scandal,
President Richard Nixon used to say: “Well, when the president does it,
that means that it is not illegal.” Subsequent administrations avoided
such assertions, for fear that they would incriminate themselves
politically and violate the rule that nobody was above the law. But
those claims of presidential legal infallibility underline much of the
Mueller Report. Recently, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, told the New
Yorker magazine: “Even if he did do it, it wouldn’t be a crime.” On
another occasion, New York magazine quoted him as saying that the
president “can’t be indicted, can’t be questioned because it interferes
with the presidency.”
According to Giuliani and other supporters, ordinary laws do not apply
to the president: The only check on a sitting president is impeachment
proceedings by the House of Representatives and, if impeached, removal
by the Senate. Of course, such assertions are challenged by legal
scholars, but in some way Giuliani is challenging Congress to act.
The coming days and weeks will be interesting to find out whether
Congress does act and start impeachment, or if it lets the fog over the
scandals contained in the Mueller Report drag on during election season,
which has started early. Alternatively it could take the middle ground
by holding investigative hearings, rather than impeachment, to gauge
voter reactions before taking a tougher stand. Most likely, Congress
will insist on getting the full Mueller Report, not the redacted
Another likely escalation would be for Congress to ask Mueller to
testify. Mueller can be an imposing witness, especially if he speaks
publicly under oath. At 74 years of age, he is a decorated soldier,
prominent lawyer, federal prosecutor and, for 12 years, the FBI director
under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And he is a
Republican. It would be difficult to question his credibility. His
refrain from indicting the president can make him more credible and may
make the case for impeachment more compelling, as the only legal
For outsiders, it will be supreme public theater. For Americans, it will
be a momentous undertaking, not only for Trump’s presidency and
re-election prospects, but for future elections and how to immunize them
from foreign interference.