India: Election Commission blows bugle, India takes poll position

(This Article Is Courtesy Of The Hindustan Times Of India)

 

Election Commission blows bugle, India takes poll position

Indian elections are not won or lost only on leadership and issues. It is a complex landscape with multiple states, multiple parties, and a battlefield where arithmetic often reigns supreme.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: Mar 10, 2019 21:31 IST

Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times
Election 2019 date,Lok Sabha Poll Schedule,Lok Sabha Poll Schedule Today
A para-military jawan guards EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) at a counting centre.(PTI File Photo)

In 2014, soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) historic win in the general elections, a senior leader of the party was asked what lay ahead. He said, “2019. As soon as you win, the clock starts ticking towards the next polls. We cannot be a one-term wonder. A second term will cement our legacy.”

Reeling from its worst ever performance, a Congress leader had a similar response about the next objective. “All our attention must be focused on 2019. We have to survive five years, and come back. Otherwise the party’s very existence will be under threat.”

A key feature of the Indian democratic system is periodic elections. This enables a smooth transfer of power. It ensures circulation of political elites. And it keeps both the incumbent under check (for it is always looking ahead to the next poll) and the opposition hopeful (for one electoral turn can bring them back to office). Both then remain invested in the stability of the democratic system and constitutional order.

Ever since 2014, it appears that both the incumbent, the BJP, and the opposition, the Congress, and a range of regional forces have been waiting for precisely this moment. With the Election Commission announcing the dates for elections to the 17th Lok Sabha, India formally enters poll season.

What will be the nature of this election? What are the issues at stake? How do the numbers stack up as campaigning begins? And what can India expect in the next 50 days?

Read more| Lok Sabha elections in 7 phases, voting starts April 11, results on May 23

Nature

Under the Indian parliamentary system, in theory, when a voter goes to the polling booth, all he is voting for is a representative from his constituency. This representative is meant to frame laws in Parliament.

But electoral competition is mostly between political parties, and the party with the highest number of parliamentarians, either on its own, or in a coalition, gets to form the government. So the voter is essentially selecting not just a candidate (MP), but also the party the candidate represents, and eventually the Prime Minister (PM). The legislature and the executive are conjoined, unlike a presidential system in which they are elected separately.

This may appear basic, but it is precisely this debate which played out in 2014. Were voters electing MPs, according to local factors and arithmetic, or were they electing a PM, in keeping with a larger national outlook? Did Narendra Modi turn Indian elections into a presidential race? And what will happen in 2019?

Modi is not the first leader who has made a general election all about leadership. Jawaharlal Nehru’s elections (1952,1957,1962) and Indira Gandhi’s elections (particularly the one in 1971) were essentially presidential in nature. Even the BJP’s electoral gambits in the 1990s under Atal Bihar Vajpayee were based on leadership. Modi refined this campaign plank and took it to another level.

In 2019, the BJP is attempting to do the same. It is asking voters a simple question: would you rather have Modi or an unknown leader in a weak coalition government? And it is hoping that the image of Modi will once again succeed in rebuilding a coalition across castes, classes, geographies and override local factors. The opposition is hoping to take the election in exactly the opposite direction. It would like voters to consider local factors, prioritise narrower concerns rather than focus on national leadership.

The outcome of the 2019 election, therefore, depends on its very nature. Will it be national or local? Will electing the PM or MP be important?

Read more| No assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir for now

Issues

But an Indian national election is too complex to be reduced to just one variable. As citizens grow more aware, aided by the spread of technology and mass media, the importance of issues will only grow. If the 2014 election was defined by anger against the past regime for its perceived corruption and inefficiency and hope for a new future, this election will be determined by a set of five issues, with sides pushing forward their competing narratives.

The first issue is national security, or, more generally, nationalism. This has shot up the charts in recent weeks in the aftermath of Pulwama.

The BJP’s story is straightforward and is following this script. The Modi government has cracked down on terror. It has also redefined the response for Pakistan-backed terror attacks, be it through the surgical strikes after Uri or air strikes after Pulwama. The following is the narrative of the government. The air strikes represented Modi’s decisiveness. He taught Pakistan a lesson. He also used India’s diplomatic strength to isolate Pakistan and bring back the pilot. Only a BJP government can keep India secure, a weak coalition government will preside over a weak security regime and would never have the strength to take on Pakistan. And any questions about the strikes come from a position of undermining national interest.

The opposition’s script on the issue is somewhat muddled. There are segments of the opposition which do not want to engage, refer to the air strikes as a matter of pride for the armed forces, and would like to shift the conversation. But there are others in the opposition who believe Modi needs be to questioned on his claims. They ask: Did the terror attack in Pulwama itself not represent an intelligence failure? What is India’s Pakistan policy, for Modi has swung from a surprise visit to the neighbouring country to talking tough? What was actually achieved in Balakot? Didn’t the fact that an Indian plane go down and an Indian pilot captured represent the government’s weakness? Did Pakistan actually land the final blow after the strikes? And what has the Modi government done to improve the situation in Kashmir or end terror decisively?

Read more | Model code of conduct now in force: What it means

The second issue is agrarian distress and rural India.

The opposition has a robust case and argues the following. The government has not implemented the Swaminathan Commission recommendations on Minimum Support Prices. Farmer incomes are at a low; either margins are so low that livelihood is difficult or farmers are actually getting less than their cost of production and are thus driven to despair and debt traps. The government has done little to make farming attractive, treats farmers as liabilities and is leaving rural India unprepared for the future. Farmer marches and protests across the country are a symptom of this distress, as is the BJP’s losses in the state polls last year. If elected to power, the Congress has promised a blanket farm loan waiver.

The BJP, for its part, cites the PM Kisaan Scheme — a promise of Rs 6000 to small and marginal farmers, of which the first instalment of Rs 2000 is in the process of being transferred — as a landmark income support initiative. It argues that structural problems in Indian agriculture are a legacy of the past, and, instead, it has attempted to address it through soil health cards, insurance, market reforms. Productivity has in fact shot up. In addition, the Modi story for rural India goes beyond agriculture and focuses on assets. The government cites construction of houses and toilets, the distribution of gas cylinders, and electricity connectivity as big accomplishments.

The third issue is jobs.

The opposition claims that despite promising millions of jobs every year, the government has been a dismal failure on employment creation. They point to both demonetisation and the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax as having actually destroyed jobs. A recently leaked official report appears to substantiate the claim that unemployment was at a low in the year following these initiatives. The lack of progress on Make in India, the stalled private investment, the persisting twin balance sheet problem are all cited by the opposition to make the case that the government has done little to kickstart the economy, and has only favoured a few crony capitalists.

The BJP has an entirely different narrative on jobs. It argues that there has actually been substantial job creation in the service sector; the Mudra loans indicate a spurt in entrepreneurship and self employment; the government has also improved India’s ranking in the ease of doing business, which facilitates investment, which, in turn, facilitates jobs. The Modi government claims that far from encouraging cronyism, it has actually brought in key reforms to institute cleaner capitalism — from the bankruptcy code to the GST — and this will slowly begin showing dividends. As proof of its sound economic management, the government also points to low inflation.

Read more| EVM ballot paper to carry candidates’ photographs to assist voters

The fourth issue is identity, which encompasses both caste and religion.

For the opposition, the BJP regime is marked by a strong element of Hindu upper caste domination, which is geared against Dalits. By suggesting that the BJP is against reservations, pointing to the presence of upper castes at the top echelons in the party, arguing that there is a tilt towards Thakurs in key states like UP, and claiming that caste atrocities have increased, the opposition hopes to wean away Dalits and perhaps even sections of OBCs from BJP.

On caste, the BJP has attempted to keep intact its wide coalition. By restoring the original provisions of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or restoring department wise reservations for marginalised in universities in the final cabinet meeting, the government hopes to convince Dalits its interests are supreme; by introducing 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections, it hopes to signal to ‘General castes’ – its old core vote – that the government has taken steps to make the system more just for then; by pointing to the ongoing work of the commission to sub categorise OBCs, BJP will tell OBC groups that it is drawing up a more equitable system where advantages are not monopolised by only the most dominant of the backward groups.

The identity debate will play out in the realm of religion too. Some opposition parties will be vocal in pointing out that BJP’s regime was marked by outright majoritarianism; state backed vigilantism in the name of cow protection; marginalisation of Muslims from the political sphere; and assault on their livelihoods. Most opposition parties – particularly Congress, but also key regional forces in UP like Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party – will seek to capitalise on the Muslim vote, but not make this an explicit part of the agenda for they fear that it will lead to counter-consolidation of Hindus in favour of the BJP. But make no mistake, as subtext, religion will matter. For its part, the BJP will make an attempt to play the Hindutva card, in order to construct a wide vote across caste and class cleavages. From the (temporarily stalled) Citizenship Amendment bill to promises of Ram Temple, from acting tough against illegal (Muslim) immigrants to blurring the line between nationalism and Hindutva and encouraging polarisation on the ground, expect the BJP machine to deploy a range of tools.

And the fifth issue is the state of Indian democracy or institutions.

For the opposition, the post 2014 period has been marked by increasingly authoritarian rule of Modi, aided by BJP president Amit Shah. They allege that all institutions – from the cabinet to Election Commission, from Central Bureau of Investigation to the Reserve Bank of India, from the judiciary to the media – have all been compromised in this quest to create an almost totalitarian set up where party faithful take over all spaces. The BJP argues that distortion and politicisation of institutions is once again a legacy of the Congress. These allegations are only a result of an old entrenched elite having lost power. And in fact, they claim, what is now visible is deeper democratisation with a new segment of people, away from Westernised urban centric backgrounds but more rooted to the soil, exercising power.

Read more| Lok Sabha election dates announced: Know when your state goes to polls

Arithmetic

But Indian elections are not won or lost only on leadership and issues. It is a complex landscape with multiple states, multiple parties, and a battlefield where arithmetic often reigns supreme.

The BJP begins its campaign way ahead of the rest of the pack. This is both the party’s strength and weakness. It swept north, west and central India in 2014. Replicating the performance in these regions will be particularly difficult because either the party now faces three tiers of anti incumbency in many of these states – it is in power at the centre, in the state, and has the MP from most constituencies across Bihar, UP, Uttarakhand, Himachal, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra – or has just lost power in states – be it MP, Rajasthan or Chhattisgarh. It also has an additional challenge in the form of alliances, especially the SP-BSP alliance in UP.

The Modi-Shah machine’s entire effort will be to defend its gains in this belt, and it believes the surge in nationalist sentiment post the air strikes will benefit them most precisely in this belt. The opposition’s entire effort will be to limit the BJP to the bare minimum here. This will either take the form of sharp bipolar contests in which the Congress is the principal challenger, or triangular contests in which the BJP will face a regional force with Congress playing a supplementary role.

If the game in the heartland for the BJP will be defence, in the east and south, it will be expansion. The BJP has invested remarkable energy in West Bengal and Odisha in particular. The opposition is more enthused here, however, for it believes that the BJP has not been able to make enough inroads independently in West Bengal or Odisha to take on the Trinamool or Biju Janata Dal; it has weakened its chances in the Northeast by pushing the Citizenship Bill; and it has minimal presence across all southern states except Karnataka where a Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance will take them on.

It would be foolhardy to make any predictions based on these regional variations at the moment. But what we can say is the following.

The BJP is likely to dip from its high of 282 seats in 2014, but the extent of the dip is not known. The Congress is likely to gain somewhat from its low of 44 seats in 2014, but the extent of the gain is not clear. There will be a coalition in power after 2019 with regional parties probably exercising more say unlike in the post 2014 arrangement, but whether they will indeed exercise the veto or get leadership or play a supplementary role to a national party is not clear. And there will be a reconfiguration of forces after the results are out, with many of those currently on the fence — the BJD, Telangana Rashtriya Samithi or YSR Congress Party — more willing to reveal their cards.

But beyond the outcome, Indian elections are a remarkable exercise in allowing society to have a voice in shaping who runs the state. It is a moment for social conflicts and fault lines to play out in a civil, non violent and democratic manner. It is a moment for the political elites to understand and adapt to the demands of a new, empowered citizenry. And it is the occasion to keep this utterly diverse landscape tied together to a common political unit. Both the campaign and the polling over two months will once again be a tribute to the foresight of the Constitution’s founding fathers, as India charts the path for the next five years.

First Published: Mar 10, 2019 20:11 IST

Are We On The Road To Civilization Collapse?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Studying the demise of historic civilisations can tell us how much risk we face today, says collapse expert Luke Kemp. Worryingly, the signs are worsening.

Great civilisations are not murdered. Instead, they take their own lives.

DEEP CIVILISATION

This article is part of a new BBC Future series about the long view of humanity, which aims to stand back from the daily news cycle and widen the lens of our current place in time. Modern society is suffering from “temporal exhaustion”, the sociologist Elise Boulding once said. “If one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future,” she wrote.

That’s why the Deep Civilisation season will explore what really matters in the broader arc of human history and what it means for us and our descendants.

So concluded the historian Arnold Toynbee in his 12-volume magnum opus A Study of History. It was an exploration of the rise and fall of 28 different civilisations.

He was right in some respects: civilisations are often responsible for their own decline. However, their self-destruction is usually assisted.

The Roman Empire, for example, was the victim of many ills including overexpansion, climatic change, environmental degradation and poor leadership. But it was also brought to its knees when Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and the Vandals in 455.

Collapse is often quick and greatness provides no immunity. The Roman Empire covered 4.4 million sq km (1.9 million sq miles) in 390. Five years later, it had plummeted to 2 million sq km (770,000 sq miles). By 476, the empire’s reach was zero.

Our deep past is marked by recurring failure. As part of my research at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, I am attempting to find out why collapse occurs through a historical autopsy. What can the rise and fall of historic civilisations tell us about our own? What are the forces that precipitate or delay a collapse? And do we see similar patterns today?

You might also like:

The first way to look at past civilisations is to compare their longevity. This can be difficult, because there is no strict definition of civilisation, nor an overarching database of their births and deaths.

In the graphic below, I have compared the lifespan of various civilisations, which I define as a society with agriculture, multiple cities, military dominance in its geographical region and a continuous political structure. Given this definition, all empires are civilisations, but not all civilisations are empires. The data is drawn from two studies on the growth and decline of empires (for 3000-600BC and 600BC-600), and an informal, crowd-sourced survey of ancient civilisations (which I have amended).

“Historic

Click/pinch to enlarge. Here’s the full list of the civilisations displayed above. (Credit: Nigel Hawtin)

Collapse can be defined as a rapid and enduring loss of population, identity and socio-economic complexity. Public services crumble and disorder ensues as government loses control of its monopoly on violence.

Virtually all past civilisations have faced this fate. Some recovered or transformed, such as the Chinese and Egyptian. Other collapses were permanent, as was the case of Easter Island. Sometimes the cities at the epicentre of collapse are revived, as was the case with Rome. In other cases, such as the Mayan ruins, they are left abandoned as a mausoleum for future tourists.

What can this tell us about the future of global modern civilisation? Are the lessons of agrarian empires applicable to our post-18th Century period of industrial capitalism?

Collapse may be a normal phenomenon for civilisations, regardless of their size and technological stage

I would argue that they are. Societies of the past and present are just complex systems composed of people and technology. The theory of “normal accidents” suggests that complex technological systems regularly give way to failure. So collapse may be a normal phenomenon for civilisations, regardless of their size and stage.

We may be more technologically advanced now. But this gives little ground to believe that we are immune to the threats that undid our ancestors. Our newfound technological abilities even bring new, unprecedented challenges to the mix.

And while our scale may now be global, collapse appears to happen to both sprawling empires and fledgling kingdoms alike. There is no reason to believe that greater size is armour against societal dissolution. Our tightly-coupled, globalised economic system is, if anything, more likely to make crisis spread.

Building falling into sea

Climatic pressures are worsening (Credit: Getty Images)

If the fate of previous civilisations can be a roadmap to our future, what does it say? One method is to examine the trends that preceded historic collapses and see how they are unfolding today.

While there is no single accepted theory for why collapses happen, historians, anthropologists and others have proposed various explanations, including:

CLIMATIC CHANGE: When climatic stability changes, the results can be disastrous, resulting in crop failure, starvation and desertification. The collapse of the Anasazi, the Tiwanaku civilisation, the Akkadians, the Mayan, the Roman Empire, and many others have all coincided with abrupt climatic changes, usually droughts.

ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION: Collapse can occur when societies overshoot the carrying capacity of their environment. This ecological collapse theory, which has been the subject of bestselling books, points to excessive deforestation, water pollution, soil degradation and the loss of biodiversity as precipitating causes.

INEQUALITY AND OLIGARCHY: Wealth and political inequality can be central drivers of social disintegration, as can oligarchy and centralisation of power among leaders. This not only causes social distress, but handicaps a society’s ability to respond to ecological, social and economic problems.

The field of cliodynamics models how factors such as equality and demography correlate with political violence. Statistical analysis of previous societies suggests that this happens in cycles. As population increases, the supply of labour outstrips demand, workers become cheap and society becomes top-heavy. This inequality undermines collective solidarity and political turbulence follows.

COMPLEXITY: Collapse expert and historian Joseph Tainter has proposed that societies eventually collapse under the weight of their own accumulated complexity and bureaucracy. Societies are problem-solving collectives that grow in complexity in order to overcome new issues. However, the returns from complexity eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. After this point, collapse will eventually ensue.

Another measure of increasing complexity is called Energy Return on Investment (EROI). This refers to the ratio between the amount of energy produced by a resource relative to the energy needed to obtain it. Like complexity, EROI appears to have a point of diminishing returns. In his book The Upside of Down, the political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon observed that environmental degradation throughout the Roman Empire led to falling EROI from their staple energy source: crops of wheat and alfalfa. The empire fell alongside their EROI. Tainter also blames it as a chief culprit of collapse, including for the Mayan.

EXTERNAL SHOCKS: In other words, the “four horsemen”: war, natural disasters, famine and plagues. The Aztec Empire, for example, was brought to an end by Spanish invaders. Most early agrarian states were fleeting due to deadly epidemics. The concentration of humans and cattle in walled settlements with poor hygiene made disease outbreaks unavoidable and catastrophic. Sometimes disasters combined, as was the case with the Spanish introducing salmonella to the Americas.

RANDOMNESS/BAD LUCK: Statistical analysis on empiressuggests that collapse is random and independent of age. Evolutionary biologist and data scientist Indre Zliobaite and her colleagues have observed a similar pattern in the evolutionary record of species. A common explanation of this apparent randomness is the “Red Queen Effect”: if species are constantly fighting for survival in a changing environment with numerous competitors, extinction is a consistent possibility.

Despite the abundance of books and articles, we don’t have a conclusive explanation as to why civilisations collapse. What we do know is this: the factors highlighted above can all contribute. Collapse is a tipping point phenomena, when compounding stressors overrun societal coping capacity.

We can examine these indicators of danger to see if our chance of collapse is falling or rising. Here are four of those possible metrics, measured over the past few decades:

Graphics showing collapse risk rising

Click/pinch to enlarge (Credit: Nigel Hawtin)

Temperature is a clear metric for climate change, GDP is a proxy for complexity and the ecological footprint is an indicator for environmental degradation. Each of these has been trending steeply upwards.

Inequality is more difficult to calculate. The typical measurement of the Gini Index suggests that inequality has decreased slightly globally (although it is increasing within countries). However, the Gini Index can be misleading as it only measures relative changes in income. In other words, if two individuals earning $1 and $100,000 both doubled their income, the Gini would show no change. But the gap between the two would have jumped from $99,999 to $198,000.

Because of this, I have also depicted the income share of the global top 1%. The 1% have increased in their share of global income from approximately 16% in 1980 to over 20% today. Importantly, wealth inequality is even worse. The share of global wealth from the 1% has swelled from 25-30% in the 1980s to approximately 40% in 2016. The reality is likely to be starker as these numbers do not capture wealth and income siphoned into overseas tax havens.

Homeless on Wall Street (Credit: Getty Images)

The rich are getting richer, which in past civilisations has created additional stress on societies (Credit: Getty Images)

Studies suggest that the EROI for fossil fuels has been steadily decreasing over time as the easiest to reach and richest reserves are depleted. Unfortunately, most renewable replacements, such as solar, have a markedly lower EROI, largely due to their energy density and the rare earth metals and manufacturing required to produce them.

This has led much of the literature to discuss the possibility of an “energy cliff” as EROI declines to a point where current societal levels of affluence can no longer be maintained. The energy cliff need not be terminal if renewable technologies continue to improve and energy efficiency measures are speedily implemented.

Measures of resilience

The somewhat reassuring news is that collapse metrics are not the entire picture. Societal resilience may be able to delay or prevent collapse.

For example, globally “economic diversity” – a measurement of the diversity and sophistication of country exports ­– is greater today than it was in the 1960s and 1970s, as measured by the Economic Complexity Index (ECI). Nations are, on average, less reliant on single types of exports than they once were. For example, a nation that had diversified beyond only exporting agricultural products would be more likely to weather ecological degradation or the loss of trading partners. The ECI also measures the knowledge-intensity of exports. More skilled populations may have a greater capacity to respond to crises as they arise.

There are some reasons to be optimistic, thanks to our ability to innovate and diversify away from disaster. Yet the world is worsening in areas that have contributed to the collapse of previous societies

Similarly, innovation – as measured by per capita patent applications– is also rising. In theory, a civilisation might be less vulnerable to collapse if new technologies can mitigate against pressures such as climate change.

It’s also possible that “collapse” can happen without violent catastrophe. As Rachel Nuwer wrote on BBC Future in 2017, “in some cases, civilisations simply fade out of existence – becoming the stuff of history not with a bang but a whimper”.

Factory workers welding (Credit: Getty Images)

Our technological capabilities may have the potential to delay collapse (Credit: Getty Images)

Still, when we look at all these collapse and resilience indicators as a whole, the message is clear that we should not be complacent. There are some reasons to be optimistic, thanks to our ability to innovate and diversify away from disaster. Yet the world is worsening in areas that have contributed to the collapse of previous societies. The climate is changing, the gap between the rich and poor is widening, the world is becoming increasingly complex, and our demands on the environment are outstripping planetary carrying capacity.

The rungless ladder

That’s not all. Worryingly, the world is now deeply interconnected and interdependent. In the past, collapse was confined to regions – it was a temporary setback, and people often could easily return to agrarian or hunter-gatherer lifestyles. For many, it was even a welcome reprieve from the oppression of early states. Moreover, the weapons available during social disorder were rudimentary: swords, arrows and occasionally guns.

Today, societal collapse is a more treacherous prospect. The weapons available to a state, and sometimes even groups, during a breakdown now range from biological agents to nuclear weapons. New instruments of violence, such as lethal autonomous weapons, may be available in the near future. People are increasingly specialised and disconnected from the production of food and basic goods. And a changing climate may irreparably damage our ability to return to simple farming practices.

Think of civilisation as a poorly-built ladder. As you climb, each step that you used falls away. A fall from a height of just a few rungs is fine. Yet the higher you climb, the larger the fall. Eventually, once you reach a sufficient height, any drop from the ladder is fatal.

With the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we may have already reached this point of civilisational “terminal velocity”. Any collapse – any fall from the ladder – risks being permanent. Nuclear war in itself could result in an existential risk: either the extinction of our species, or a permanent catapult back to the Stone Age.

Syria ruin

A woman walks in the ruins of a town in Syria following conflict between fighters (Credit: Getty Images)

While we are becoming more economically powerful and resilient, our technological capabilities also present unprecedented threats that no civilisation has had to contend with. For example, the climatic changes we face are of a different nature to what undid the Maya or Anazasi. They are global, human-driven, quicker, and more severe.

Assistance in our self-imposed ruin will not come from hostile neighbors, but from our own technological powers. Collapse, in our case, would be a progress trap.

The collapse of our civilisation is not inevitable. History suggests it is likely, but we have the unique advantage of being able to learn from the wreckages of societies past.

We know what needs to be done: emissions can be reduced, inequalities levelled, environmental degradation reversed, innovation unleashed and economies diversified. The policy proposals are there. Only the political will is lacking. We can also invest in recovery. There are already well-developed ideas for improving the ability of food and knowledge systems to be recuperated after catastrophe. Avoiding the creation of dangerous and widely-accessible technologies is also critical. Such steps will lessen the chance of a future collapse becoming irreversible.

We will only march into collapse if we advance blindly. We are only doomed if we are unwilling to listen to the past.

Luke Kemp is a researcher based at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge. He tweets @lukakemp.

Join 900,000+ Future fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter or Instagram.

If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Capital, and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

If You’re Children Don’t Stand And Pledge Allegiance To Our Flag: Arrest Them?

 

A couple of day ago I reblogged an article from NBC News out of central Florida about a 6th grade student who was arrested because she refused to stand or to pledge allegiance on the morning of February 4th of this year. Their headline was a bit of a tease to draw readers into the story. As it turns out there is more to the storyline. If you wish to read the whole story it was published on 2-19. The original story gives us quite a few facts about events that went on that morning.

Today I have a question for you, I would like to know what you think about this subject matter. This student in Florida was arrested on charges other than not giving any respect to Our Flag. As most folks here in the U.S. know that some NFL football players started a trend by not standing for Our Nation’s Anthem. The players are adults, fining or arresting them is a separate question than the one I am asking today, today I am talking about, asking about our Children and Grandchildren. If children whom are in Public Schools choose not to stand or salute Our Nation’s Flag should they be arrested, sent to ‘Reform School’, shot? Or, do we as a Nation, we as a People show mercy through our strength? Are we still the World’s Melting Pot? Melting Pots are not only about skin color they are also about things such as different religions, cultures, different foods, way of dressing and countless other things. Yet what we cannot become and still remain a Melting Pot, a true Democracy is if we insist that everyone else be exactly like us or should we, arrest all their kids at school? I am just saying, what is ‘the’/’our’ End Game gonna be? Where is ‘The Mark’, that crosses over our personal Line-in-The-Sand when it comes to the Government and our own children?

We’re Cracking Apart From The Inside, With Missiles Aimed At Our Back

We’re Cracking Apart From The Inside, With Missiles Aimed At Our Back

 

I’m sorry, but I don’t exactly like the Title either. Here in our Country we are acting like it is back in the 20’s or something ignorant like that. We have our HollyWood and our Politics, the never-ending battle between the Dems and the GOP and we pick Our Country apart. We have several outside State Players and other well-funded hate groups who are actually in the Chess Possession to make this play. Folks, I hope they do not push the ‘ignite’ button. This would be the end of the world as we all know it all because of a couple of dozen people from around whom have some Power in this world who hate us and hate everything’ the West’ stands for. Attacking us from the inside while we bicker among ourselves is a sure Cancer to our Cells.

 

Our current Government has weakened Us with our long-standing Allies and gotten off to a bad start with several other ‘not so friendly States.’ There is always the issue of other ‘unfriendliness’ such as Hezbollah, Hamas and many others. I pray for our Children, and Theirs. Hate, it is such a disgusting thing when we direct it at each other. Our System has many errors within it but it could be very much better. We need to address these things quickly before there is no tomorrow in which to be concerned about.

 

 

 

Full text of James Mattis resignation letter to Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Treat allies with respect: Full text of James Mattis resignation letter to Trump

In devastating note stressing importance of America’s alliances, Pentagon chief tells US president he should pick a defense secretary ‘whose views are better aligned with yours’

Part of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' resignation letter to President Donald Trump is photographed in Washington, on December 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Part of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation letter to President Donald Trump is photographed in Washington, on December 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

The full text of the resignation letter US Defense Secretary James Mattis submitted to President Donald Trump on December 20, 2018.

Dear Mr. President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong US global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

READ MORE:

Top European Rabbi sounds alarm on rise of far right

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Top European rabbi sounds alarm on rise of far right

‘We’re going back to 1914,’ says Pinchas Goldschmidt; laments EU’s instability and that the US ‘replaced the State Department with Twitter’

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, seen writing a new Torah scroll at an event attended by Israeli and European rabbis, marking the Hebrew date of 69 years since the liberation of Jews in Europe, in the Western Wall tunnels, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 21, 2014. (Flash90)

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, seen writing a new Torah scroll at an event attended by Israeli and European rabbis, marking the Hebrew date of 69 years since the liberation of Jews in Europe, in the Western Wall tunnels, in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 21, 2014. (Flash90)

Today’s political climate poses a genuine danger to democracy, according to a leading European rabbi, who warned of a return to “total dictatorships” such as those that existed before World War I.

“We live in a totally new world where there is no control or editing of any kind of information,” said Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis. “The public discourse has become much more shrill and extreme. What has been accepted and understood as being the basis of a liberal democracy yesterday is questioned today.”

In a recent interview with The Times of Israel, the Swiss-born scholar and communal leader also criticized the US administration for “replacing” the State Department with Twitter, said the European Union was “not stable,” and warned the State of Israel against warming up to far-right parties, saying the Jewish state must never place short-term political gains ahead of historical truth.

Speaking about the rise of populist far-right parties across Europe, Goldschmidt indicated that the continent is returning to an age of unbridled nationalism mixed with racism.

“We’re going back to the past; we’re going back to 1914 in Europe. I don’t think we can exclude the turn to total dictatorships, where the situation of Jewish communities is going to become similar to those times when there were no democratic governments,” he said. However, he added that there is one caveat, in that “today you have the State of Israel, you have where to go.”

His fears of Western democracy collapsing are based on recent political and societal developments, he explained.

“The memory of the Holocaust and World War II and World War I is receding. People are living well. People’s attention spans, thanks to the internet, has gone down. Instead of reading books, people read headlines. Instead of getting information, people get opinions and tweets,” he said.

Even the US administration has “replaced the State Department with Twitter,” he lamented, referring to policy decision and diplomatic repartee on the micro-blogging platform.

“I am not painting a black future. I’m saying there are big dangers,” stressed Goldschmidt, who has headed the Conference of European Rabbis since 2011.

“The European Union is not stable; we’re dealing now with Brexit,” he added, noting that many far-right parties on the content advocate leaving the EU and want to “go back to 1914, where it was every country on their own.”

Nationalism in itself is not bad, but it becomes problematic when it is mixed with racism and threatens the foundations of democracy, said the rabbi, who has written several books on religion and politics.

King Felipe VI of Spain (R) shakes hands with CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, at the Royal Palace El Pardo near Madrid, Spain, on December 13, 2016. (World Jewish Congress/File)

The walls that separate between the judiciary, the executive, and the legislative “are being broken down,” and the free press in under attack in today’s Western world, he went on. “All the institutions which give a guarantee to every citizen, and specifically to religious minorities, are in danger.”

Last month, Goldschmidt, who was born in Zurich and has served as the chief rabbi of Moscow since 1993, headed a delegation of the Conference of European Rabbis to Israel, which met with President Reuven Rivlin, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, and other senior government officials.

In Jerusalem, Goldschmidt announced the appointment of an “ambassador” to coordinate the campaign “against far-right ideologies and extremism.”

This person, who has not yet been named, “will bring together leading politicians and stakeholders from across Europe to make sure that we are equipped to take action against the far-right,” according to Goldschmidt.

Rabbi Goldschmidt, second from left, visits the Knesset as head of a European rabbinical delegation, November 2018. (Eli Itkin/CER)

At their meetings in Israel, the rabbis warned the government against cozying up to such parties, even when they purport to support Israel.

“If a party is intrinsically racist, bigoted against large parts of society and intolerant of minorities, if Jews are not the target now, they will be in the near future,” he said in a press release issued in late November.

“Israel is uniquely placed to put diplomatic pressure on a state and she needs to be careful, take the lead from local communities and analyze a party’s approach and make a long-term decision. It is not worth a short-term endorsement or for Israel to receive political support, only to put the Jewish community at risk.”

Speaking to The Times of Israel in the lobby of his Jerusalem hotel, Goldschmidt also cautioned against establishing contacts with Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, who is not a member of but affiliated with the far-right Freedom Party, or FPOe.

Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl (George Schneider)

“The FPOe was founded by SS officers. Some politicians in Israel are talking about mending relationship with the Diaspora. Supporting them would do just the opposite,” he said.

Goldschmidt was careful not to openly criticize the Israeli government, but he did express understanding for critics of some Israeli decisions, such as a July joint statement Jerusalem issued together with Warsaw about the role of Poles in the Holocaust.

At the time, Yad Vashem slammed the document for containing “highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field.”

He also had some misgiving about Israel seemingly turning a blind eye to distortion of the Holocaust in some Central and Eastern European countries in exchange for diplomatic support.

“It is natural that current political necessities do take precedence over historical rights and wrongs,” Goldschmidt said. “Not all Jews are religious. Many Jews are secular. However, if there is something that is holy to all of us, it is the memory of the Holocaust victims. And that’s something we should not play with.”

Israel derives its strength not only from its thriving start-up scene or its military, the rabbi went on.

“It’s its morality. The morality and historic justice of a persecuted people returning to their homeland after 2,000 years of exile, and I believe that the Israeli government, when formulating foreign policy, should include all historical and moral aspects of Jewish history in order to form a policy which is not only acceptable today, but also for the future.”

READ MORE:

The (Brief) Return of Civility

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT)

 

The (Brief) Return of Civility

Memorial services for former President George H.W. Bush highlighted the differences – and similarities – between Washington then and now.

By Susan Milligan Senior WriterDec. 7, 2018, at 6:00 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

The (Brief) Return of Civility

(ALEX BRANDON/POOL/GETTY IMAGES)

THE POLITICAL NEMESES sat in dignified, if chilly, silence at President George H.W. Bush’s funeral, as if the memorial of a man who called for a “kindler and gentler nation” reminded them, for one day, how to behave. President Donald Trump might have looked uneasy being a spectator, instead of the center of attention, at an event dedicated to honor a predecessor – and from a family that has been at sharp odds with him. But he was there in the front row, uncharacteristically mum, dutifully shaking hands with former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. There was no confrontation between Trump and grieving Jeb Bush, whom Trump openly mocked on the campaign trail as “low energy.”

Unlike the funeral for Sen. John McCain, the Bush memorial did not include such obvious criticisms of Trump and his presidency. To the extent the event was an implicit chiding of Trump, you had to look for it: Former Sen. Alan Simpson, for example, lauded the late Bush’s graciousness and loyalty – noting that loyalty for Bush meant standing by his friends. That was a subtle reminder that Trump’s professed idea of loyalty appears rooted in whether his aides and employees are protective of him. Historian Jon Meacham noted the late Bush’s “thousand points of light” celebration of American volunteerism – a program Trump ridiculed at a Montana campaign rally this summer.

It might have been an impetus to all the Washington politicians and power players at the event to dial back the anger and get down to doing the nation’s business. It wasn’t.

Judicial nominations scheduled for consideration Thursday were delayed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after departing Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he was standing by his threat to hold up such nominations until McConnell allows a vote on legislation to protect the job of special counsel Robert Mueller. The specter of a government shutdown because of a standoff over Trump’s desired border wall loomed – delayed only because of the Bush funeral.

“We think of [Bush] in this kind of weepy, sentimental way … but certainly people who worked for him could pull out all the stops and the long knives.”

The Senate is also pushing back angrily at Trump over the involvement of the Saudi crown prince, a Trump ally, in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A bipartisan Senate team has accused Trump of willfully ignoring evidence of Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the murder, and the chamber is moving on resolutions to condemn MBS, as he is known, and to curtail U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen.

House Democrats began gearing up for what is expected to be an aggressive investigation of Trump and his administration when the party takes control of the chamber in January. And the entire political city is shifting to presidential campaign mode, with several senators openly mulling runs.

“The death of a senior politician often becomes a time to mourn what we no longer have. We either remember the person with a nostalgia about how things used to be or use a shared appreciation of their service to call on our leaders to act in better ways,” says Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University. “But it never happens. Today the forces that generate intense partisan polarization are very strong. They are embedded in our institutions and culture – much stronger than the memory of a great figure can overcome.”

And while Bush’s death has been cast as the death, too, of a more conciliatory and cooperative Washington, the seeds of modern discontent had been planted in that era, experts say.

[

RANKINGS: 

The 10 Worst Presidents ]

For example, Bush famously backed a tax increase to raise necessary revenue, despite having declared, in Clint Eastwood-esque verbiage, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” That episode damaged Bush politically – likely contributing to his re-election loss in 1992 – and spooked fellow politicians afterward.

“The Bush tax increase paved the way for the surpluses we had” during the Clinton years, says Stan Collender, a former Capitol Hill budget analyst and founder of the “The Budget Guy” blog. “But more importantly, it set up the anti-tax-increase politics we have now. Short-term, [Bush] did a very good thing in terms of budgeting and leadership. Long-term, it probably had the opposite effect of what he had been hoping.”

Bush also presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. On its face, that was a great thing for America and the world, historians say – but it also deprived the nation of a unifying issue amid domestic disputes.

And the hand-wringing over negative campaigning and nasty personal attacks? Not only did that not start with Trump and his tweets and derisive nicknames, but Bush had his own role in that kind of politics, experts note.

Bush famously attacked his 1988 Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, for a prison weekend-furlough program, one which allowed convicted murderer Willie Horton to commit a kidnapping and rape during what was supposed to be a temporary break from custody. Since Horton is black, the ad was viewed at the time as an appeal to white voters’ fears of African-American criminals.

A PAC supporting Bush ran the original Willie Horton ad, and the Bush campaign itself followed with another, called “Revolving Door,” which did not mention Horton by name but clearly echoed the first, devastating ad.

Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater, dying of cancer, apologized for the racially tinged campaign and his pledge to “make Willie Horton [Dukakis’s] running mate.” But the successful impact of the ads was clear – and the tactic endured.

When Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, he was friendly with Roger Porter, who had worked for President Ronald Reagan when George H.W. Bush was vice president and then went on to work in the Bush White House, says Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

Porter, Perry says, called Clinton in 1991 and peppered him with questions about whether he would challenge Bush in 1992. Clinton hedged, and “Porter said, ‘Cut the crap – if you do [run], we will pull out all the stops against you,'” Perry says.

“We think of [Bush] in this kind of weepy, sentimental way” now that he’s died, Perry says, “and maybe that was the core of George H.W. Bush. But certainly people who worked for him could pull out all the stops and the long knives. From the playing field of Andover to the South Pacific to the presidential campaign, [Bush] is the most competitive person. You don’t become president of the United States without an edge,” she adds.

Former Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving House member in history, laments where that trend has led.

“In my six decades in public service, I’ve seen many changes in our nation and its institutions,” Dingell writes in a new book, “The Dean: The Best Seat in the House.”

“Yet the most profound change I’ve witnessed is also the saddest. It is the complete collapse in respect for virtually every institution of government and an unprecedented cynicism about the nobility of public service itself,” Dingell writes. One of the forewords, notably, was authored by the late President Bush.

Susan Milligan, Senior Writer

Susan Milligan is a political and foreign affairs writer and contributed to a biography of the   READ MORE

ON INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY, THE COUNTRY WILL ASK LULA LIVRE

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BRAZIL 247 NEWS)

(POLITICAL PRISONERS ARE SELDOM FREED NY THE DICTATORS WHO IMPRISONED)

Telangana assembly elections 2018: Can KCR take on Congress-TDP math?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Telangana assembly elections 2018: Can KCR take on Congress-TDP math?

With over 28 million eligible voters, Telangana will go to the polls on Friday.

INDIA Updated: Dec 07, 2018 07:22 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Hyderabad
Telangana,Telangana assembly elections 2018,Telangana Polls
Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao(HT Photo)

With over 28 million eligible voters, Telangana will go to the polls on Friday. It has a complex polity — the incumbent Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the Maha Kootami led by the Congress, which includes the Telugu Desam Party, Communist Party of India, and the Telangana Jana Samiti, and two other important forces, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Here are the six variables likely to shape the outcome of the elections .


KCR
: This election revolves around the personality of caretaker chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR). He led the political movement for Telangana and was rewarded for it in 2014. Since then, two things have happened. One, he has consolidated political power in himself and his family; become distant from the electorate; and is seen to have amassed wealth. Two, he has launched a slew of tremendously popular and innovative welfare schemes, ranging from monetary farm assistance to promises of housing. He is also seen to have provided electricity. Which version of KCR prevails for voters will matter.


The electoral arithmetic
: The Maha Kootami has an electoral advantage if you go by sheer numbers . If the TRS had 34% vote share in 2014, the Congress and TDP combined vote share is 38%. In many constituencies, the votes of both parties exceed that of the TRS. Will older TDP loyalists vote for Congress and will Congress supporters transfer their votes to TDP or other allies? Will arithmetic prevail or will voter choices change?


The Muslim vote
: Muslims constitute 12% of the population. They exercise influence in close to two dozen constituencies. In the Muslim-dominated pockets of Hyderabad, the AIMIM, or Majlis as it is called, is popular and it has decided to back the TRS. So any win for the Majlis boosts the TRS, especially if it is a hung assembly. But outside Hyderabad, the mood is mixed. While a section of Muslims cheer KCR’s schemes like Shaadi Mubarak (allowances for women for weddings), there is a substantial section that criticises him for not delivering on the promise of 12% reservation for the minority community. They also have loyalties to Congress and believe party president Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that the TRS has a deal with the BJP.

Click here for live updates on Telangana assembly election 2018


Subnationalism
: Telangana is India’s newest state. It has come into being after a long struggle against Andhra Pradesh. The emotive factor has now subsided. But the TDP’s active participation in the politics of the state changes things. Telangana has a big ‘settler’ population, those originally from Andhra. Will they back the TDP? Or will they follow the lead of other Andhra parties like the YSR Congress party which have decided to stay neutral and, in effect, back the TRS? More critically, the TRS has now used the TDP’s presence to allege outsider interference and claim there is a conspiracy by Andhra Pradesh to regain control of Telangana. Will this put off the locals?


Jobs or welfare:
 The Congress has made a sharp campaign pitch against the TRS for not creating jobs. It has promised over 100,000 jobs in a year; it has also committed to over ₹3000 as unemployment allowance. The TRS rebuts the claims and points to its governance record on welfare. Across constituencies, among younger people in particular, the desire for jobs, particularly government jobs, and the belief that the government has not delivered on this aspect is deep. How much will it hurt the incumbent?


Local anti-incumbency:
 The biggest challenge for the TRS is the fact that its local legislators appear to be unpopular. It had 63 seats in the 2014 polls but managed to engineer enough defections to increase its strength to 90. Most of the former MLAs are re-contesting. Will this local anti incumbency hurt the TRS or will KCR’s personality eventually offset this resentment?

In sum, the election is about governance, identities and subnationalism. It’s about personalities. It’s about local and micro factors. Voters today will determine what matters to them most.

First Published: Dec 07, 2018 07:08 IST

Ky Senator: Rand Paul blasts ‘deep state’ for shutting him out of CIA briefing

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘POLITICO’)

 

CONGRESS

Rand Paul blasts ‘deep state’ for shutting him out of CIA briefing

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) lashed out at the “deep state” Tuesday for excluding him and other senators from a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

The briefing was limited to a select group of lawmakers, including leaders of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, Foreign Relations Committee and Intelligence Committee.

The meeting comes after bipartisan outrage that Haspel didn’t attend an administration briefing for senators last week on Khashoggi’s killing, which took place at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Turkey earlier this year.

Haspel was also sent to Capitol Hill as part of a bid to stave off a Senate vote on whether to pull U.S. support for Saudi-backed forces in Yemen.

Paul said that the exclusion of most senators was undemocratic and that Haspel should have testified before all senators.

“There are eight people in Congress who get briefings on intelligence,” Paul said. “That is not democracy. That is not democratic representation nor is it democratic oversight.

Paul added that he only heard about the meeting from media reports.

“I think the very definition of the deep state is when the intelligence communities withhold information from Congress,” he said.