Friday, May 18, 2007

"The Assault on Reason" Al Gore, excerpt

Not long before our nation launched the invasion of Iraq, our longest-serving Senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate floor and said: "This chamber is, for the most part, silent - ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute in the United States Senate."
Why was the Senate silent?
In describing the empty chamber the way he did, Byrd invited a specific version of the same general question millions of us have been asking: "Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?" The persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of policy, even in the face of massive and well-understood evidence to the contrary, seems to many Americans to have reached levels that were previously unimaginable.
A large and growing number of Americans are asking out loud: "What has happened to our country?" People are trying to figure out what has gone wrong in our democracy, and how we can fix it.
To take another example, for the first time in American history, the Executive Branch of our government has not only condoned but actively promoted the treatment of captives in wartime that clearly involves torture, thus overturning a prohibition established by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
It is too easy - and too partisan - to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have a free press. Have they all failed us? Why has America's public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of reason - the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw power - remains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault.
American democracy is now in danger - not from any one set of ideas, but from unprecedented changes in the environment within which ideas either live and spread, or wither and die. I do not mean the physical environment; I mean what is called the public sphere, or the marketplace of ideas.
It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong. In 2001, I had hoped it was an aberration when polls showed that three-quarters of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on Sept. 11. More than five years later, however, nearly half of the American public still believes Saddam was connected to the attack.
At first I thought the exhaustive, nonstop coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial was just an unfortunate excess - an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. Now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time: the Michael Jackson trial and the Robert Blake trial, the Laci Peterson tragedy and the Chandra Levy tragedy, Britney and KFed, Lindsay and Paris and Nicole.
While American television watchers were collectively devoting 100 million hours of their lives each week to these and other similar stories, our nation was in the process of more quietly making what future historians will certainly describe as a series of catastrophically mistaken decisions on issues of war and peace, the global climate and human survival, freedom and barbarity, justice and fairness. For example, hardly anyone now disagrees that the choice to invade Iraq was a grievous mistake. Yet, incredibly, all of the evidence and arguments necessary to have made the right decision were available at the time and in hindsight are glaringly obvious.
Those of us who have served in the U.S. Senate and watched it change over time could volunteer a response to Senator Byrd's incisive description of the Senate prior to the invasion: The chamber was empty because the Senators were somewhere else. Many of them were at fund-raising events they now feel compelled to attend almost constantly in order to collect money - much of it from special interests - to buy 30-second TV commercials for their next re-election campaign. The Senate was silent because Senators don't feel that what they say on the floor of the Senate really matters that much anymore - not to the other Senators, who are almost never present when their colleagues speak, and certainly not to the voters, because the news media seldom report on Senate speeches anymore.
Our Founders' faith in the viability of representative democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry, their ingenious design for checks and balances, and their belief that the rule of reason is the natural sovereign of a free people. The Founders took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas so that knowledge could flow freely. Thus they not only protected freedom of assembly, they made a special point - in the First Amendment - of protecting the freedom of the printing press. And yet today, almost 45 years have passed since the majority of Americans received their news and information from the printed word. Newspapers are hemorrhaging readers. Reading itself is in decline. The Republic of Letters has been invaded and occupied by the empire of television.
Radio, the Internet, movies, cell phones, iPods, computers, instant messaging, video games and personal digital assistants all now vie for our attention - but it is television that still dominates the flow of information. According to an authoritative global study, Americans now watch television an average of 4 hours and 35 minutes every day - 90 minutes more than the world average. When you assume eight hours of work a day, six to eight hours of sleep and a couple of hours to bathe, dress, eat and commute, that is almost three-quarters of all the discretionary time the average American has.
In the world of television, the massive flows of information are largely in only one direction, which makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation. Individuals receive, but they cannot send. They hear, but they do not speak. The "well-informed citizenry" is in danger of becoming the "well-amused audience." Moreover, the high capital investment required for the ownership and operation of a television station and the centralized nature of broadcast, cable and satellite networks have led to the increasing concentration of ownership by an ever smaller number of larger corporations that now effectively control the majority of television programming in America.
In practice, what television's dominance has come to mean is that the inherent value of political propositions put forward by candidates is now largely irrelevant compared with the image-based ad campaigns they use to shape the perceptions of voters. The high cost of these commercials has radically increased the role of money in politics - and the influence of those who contribute it. That is why campaign finance reform, however well drafted, often misses the main point: so long as the dominant means of engaging in political dialogue is through purchasing expensive television advertising, money will continue in one way or another to dominate American politics. And as a result, ideas will continue to play a diminished role. That is also why the House and Senate campaign committees in both parties now search for candidates who are multimillionaires and can buy the ads with their own personal resources.
When I first ran for Congress in 1976, I never took a poll during the entire campaign. Eight years later, however, when I ran statewide for the U.S. Senate, I did take polls and like most statewide candidates relied more heavily on electronic advertising to deliver my message. I vividly remember a turning point in that Senate campaign when my opponent, a fine public servant named Victor Ashe who has since become a close friend, was narrowing the lead I had in the polls. After a detailed review of all the polling information and careful testing of potential TV commercials, the anticipated response from my opponent's campaign and the planned response to the response, my advisers made a recommendation and prediction that surprised me with its specificity: "If you run this ad at this many 'points' [a measure of the size of the advertising buy], and if Ashe responds as we anticipate, and then we purchase this many points to air our response to his response, the net result after three weeks will be an increase of 8.5% in your lead in the polls."
I authorized the plan and was astonished when three weeks later my lead had increased by exactly 8.5%. Though pleased, of course, for my own campaign, I had a sense of foreboding for what this revealed about our democracy. Clearly, at least to some degree, the "consent of the governed" was becoming a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder. To the extent that money and the clever use of electronic mass media could be used to manipulate the outcome of elections, the role of reason began to diminish.
As a college student, I wrote my senior thesis on the impact of television on the balance of power among the three branches of government. In the study, I pointed out the growing importance of visual rhetoric and body language over logic and reason. There are countless examples of this, but perhaps understandably, the first one that comes to mind is from the 2000 campaign, long before the Supreme Court decision and the hanging chads, when the controversy over my sighs in the first debate with George W. Bush created an impression on television that for many viewers outweighed whatever positive benefits I might have otherwise gained in the verbal combat of ideas and substance. A lot of good that senior thesis did me.
The potential for manipulating mass opinions and feelings initially discovered by commercial advertisers is now being even more aggressively exploited by a new generation of media Machiavellis. The combination of ever more sophisticated public opinion sampling techniques and the increasing use of powerful computers to parse and subdivide the American people according to "psychographic" categories that identify their susceptibility to individually tailored appeals has further magnified the power of propagandistic electronic messaging that has created a harsh new reality for the functioning of our democracy.
As a result, our democracy is in danger of being hollowed out. In order to reclaim our birthright, we Americans must resolve to repair the systemic decay of the public forum. We must create new ways to engage in a genuine and not manipulative conversation about our future. We must stop tolerating the rejection and distortion of science. We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo-studies known to be false for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public's ability to discern the truth. Americans in both parties should insist on the re-establishment of respect for the rule of reason.
And what if an individual citizen or group of citizens wants to enter the public debate by expressing their views on television? Since they cannot simply join the conversation, some of them have resorted to raising money in order to buy 30 seconds in which to express their opinion. But too often they are not allowed to do even that. tried to buy an ad for the 2004 Super Bowl broadcast to express opposition to Bush's economic policy, which was then being debated by Congress. CBS told MoveOn that "issue advocacy" was not permissible. Then, CBS, having refused the MoveOn ad, began running advertisements by the White House in favor of the president's controversial proposal. So MoveOn complained, and the White House ad was temporarily removed. By temporarily, I mean it was removed until the White House complained, and CBS immediately put the ad back on, yet still refused to present the MoveOn ad.
To understand the final reason why the news marketplace of ideas dominated by television is so different from the one that emerged in the world dominated by the printing press, it is important to distinguish the quality of vividness experienced by television viewers from the "vividness" experienced by readers. Marshall McLuhan's description of television as a "cool" medium - as opposed to the "hot" medium of print - was hard for me to understand when I read it 40 years ago, because the source of "heat" in his metaphor is the mental work required in the alchemy of reading. But McLuhan was almost alone in recognizing that the passivity associated with watching television is at the expense of activity in parts of the brain associated with abstract thought, logic, and the reasoning process. Any new dominant communications medium leads to a new information ecology in society that inevitably changes the way ideas, feelings, wealth, power and influence are distributed and the way collective decisions are made.
As a young lawyer giving his first significant public speech at the age of 28, Abraham Lincoln warned that a persistent period of dysfunction and unresponsiveness by government could alienate the American people and that "the strongest bulwark of any government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectively be broken down and destroyed - I mean the attachment of the people." Many Americans now feel that our government is unresponsive and that no one in power listens to or cares what they think. They feel disconnected from democracy. They feel that one vote makes no difference, and that they, as individuals, have no practical means of participating in America's self-government. Unfortunately, they are not entirely wrong. Voters are often viewed mainly as targets for easy manipulation by those seeking their "consent" to exercise power. By using focus groups and elaborate polling techniques, those who design these messages are able to derive the only information they're interested in receiving from citizens - feedback useful in fine-tuning their efforts at manipulation. Over time, the lack of authenticity becomes obvious and takes its toll in the form of cynicism and alienation. And the more Americans disconnect from the democratic process, the less legitimate it becomes.
Many young Americans now seem to feel that the jury is out on whether American democracy actually works or not. We have created a wealthy society with tens of millions of talented, resourceful individuals who play virtually no role whatsoever as citizens. Bringing these people in - with their networks of influence, their knowledge, and their resources - is the key to creating the capacity for shared intelligence that we need to solve our problems.
Unfortunately, the legacy of the 20th century's ideologically driven bloodbaths has included a new cynicism about reason itself - because reason was so easily used by propagandists to disguise their impulse to power by cloaking it in clever and seductive intellectual formulations. When people don't have an opportunity to interact on equal terms and test the validity of what they're being "taught" in the light of their own experience and robust, shared dialogue, they naturally begin to resist the assumption that the experts know best.
So the remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way - a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.
Fortunately, the Internet has the potential to revitalize the role played by the people in our constitutional framework. It has extremely low entry barriers for individuals. It is the most interactive medium in history and the one with the greatest potential for connecting individuals to one another and to a universe of knowledge. It's a platform for pursuing the truth, and the decentralized creation and distribution of ideas, in the same way that markets are a decentralized mechanism for the creation and distribution of goods and services. It's a platform, in other words, for reason. But the Internet must be developed and protected, in the same way we develop and protect markets - through the establishment of fair rules of engagement and the exercise of the rule of law. The same ferocity that our Founders devoted to protect the freedom and independence of the press is now appropriate for our defense of the freedom of the Internet. The stakes are the same: the survival of our Republic. We must ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect to the Web. We cannot take this future for granted. We must be prepared to fight for it, because of the threat of corporate consolidation and control over the Internet marketplace of ideas.
The danger arises because there is, in most markets, a very small number of broadband network operators. These operators have the structural capacity to determine the way in which information is transmitted over the Internet and the speed with which it is delivered. And the present Internet network operators - principally large telephone and cable companies - have an economic incentive to extend their control over the physical infrastructure of the network to leverage control of Internet content. If they went about it in the wrong way, these companies could institute changes that have the effect of limiting the free flow of information over the Internet in a number of troubling ways.
The democratization of knowledge by the print medium brought the Enlightenment. Now, broadband interconnection is supporting decentralized processes that reinvigorate democracy. We can see it happening before our eyes: As a society, we are getting smarter. Networked democracy is taking hold. You can feel it. We the people - as Lincoln put it, "even we here" - are collectively still the key to the survival of America's democracy.

Source: Time

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Last Hope: The Need for Durable Solutions for Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal and India "

An extract from a latest report by New York based Human Rights Watch . The following is the conclusion from the report:

The U.S. offer to resettle up to 60,000 Bhutanese refugees is the first significant movement in 15 years toward resolving one of the world’s most intractable refugeesituations. But to be truly effective this offer cannot operate in isolation. The U.S.resettlement offer should be a catalyst for a comprehensive solution to theBhutanese refugee crisis.247 This requires a three-pronged strategy.

First, given that resettlement is likely to be the only feasible durable solution for themajority of the refugees at the present time, countries other than the U.S. should joinin a coordinated effort to maximize the total number of resettlement places availablefor this refugee population. In addition to more than 100,000 refugees living in thecamps in eastern Nepal, as many as 15,000 unregistered Bhutanese refugees liveoutside the camps in Nepal and another 30,000 live in India. Thus if the U.S. offer toresettle 60,000 stands alone and neither repatriation nor local integration becomeviable options, the majority of refugees will remain without durable solutions.While the government of Nepal should continue to demand that the government of Bhutan honor its obligation to permit refugee repatriation, Nepal should not makecooperation with resettlement contingent on the outcome of further rounds ofbilateral talks with Bhutan.248 As one refugee said, “The conclusion [of a new round of bilateral talks] might be that the government of Bhutan prolongs our refugee lifeby 15 or 20 years, by restarting the verification process. By that time our generationwill be ruined totally.”249

Nepal should work together with the resettlement countries to ensure that thoseBhutanese refugees in its territory who are offered resettlement places are issuedexit permits without delay.250 Nepal must respect refugees’ right to leave the country,in accordance with article 12(2) of the ICCPR, which provides: “Everyone shall be freeto leave any country, including his own.”251

Second, refugees need a real alternative in the form of local integration, includingguarantees of freedom of movement and the right to seek a livelihood in Nepal.Those refugees who express a preference for local integration over resettlementshould also be given the possibility to acquire Nepalese citizenship.252For the resettlement program to be truly voluntary, refugees need genuine choiceswhether to accept the offer of resettlement. Nepal’s willingness to integrate refugees would give the refugees real options. A refugee said, “I am fearful about the future. Ifthey [resettlement countries] will not take us, maybe we are in the street here inNepal or in India, maybe somewhere else, begging for food.”253

Third, the United States and other resettle countries should redouble their efforts toconvince Bhutan to allow refugees who want to repatriate to do so under conditionsthat are compatible with human rights law. The possibility, now, that the majority ofBhutanese refugees currently in Nepal will opt for durable solutions other thanrepatriation ought to make it that much easier for Bhutan to accept repatriation, andfor resettlement countries to press Bhutan for a genuinely comprehensive solutionthat utilizes all three durable solutions to resolve this protracted refugee situation.All relevant parties should emphasize to the refugees and the government of Bhutanalike that the options of local integration and third-country resettlement do notextinguish refugees’ right to return. Rather, refugees are offered these options onhumanitarian grounds, to allow them to end their refugee status. Refugees’ interimchoices do not deprive them of their right to return to Bhutan. Equally, no offer of adurable solution, be it local integration in Nepal or resettlement to a third country,extinguishes Bhutan’s obligations under international law to respect the refugees’right to return to Bhutan. Moreover, the options of local integration and third-countryresettlement do not extinguish refugees’ right to have restored to them any housing,land, or property of which they were arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived, and to becompensated for any housing, land, or property that cannot be restored to them.254To diffuse the current tensions in the camps between the proponents and opponentsof resettlement, the U.S. and other resettlement countries should emphasize that thedichotomy between resettlement and the right to return is a false one. A member ofthe Bhutanese Refugees Durable Solutions Coordination Committee observed:

Resettlement is not an option that is opposed to repatriation. We canlobby from other countries for change in Bhutan. If people areresettled to countries that respect human rights, they can exercisetheir right to go back. Moreover, there is nothing sure about beingtaken back to Bhutan from the camps in Nepal.

The resettlement countries should present the refugees with a clear message thattheir offer of resettlement is not intended to undermine the efforts to realizerefugees’ right to return to their own country. To enforce this message theresettlement countries should bring pressure to bear on the government of Bhutan torespect and protect the fundamental human rights of the remaining ethnic Nepalis inBhutan, and to allow those refugees who wish to repatriate to exercise their right toreturn. A young refugee man said:

The U.S. offer may be welcome to many of the refugees. People willbegin to experience a new life. But America should also work withequal force to enable those refugees who want to go back to repatriate.I hope that the U.S. will keep an eye on Bhutan, and that Bhutancomes in the frontline with respect to democracy and human rights.

Refugees voiced to Human Rights Watch persistent fears that Bhutan might use theresettlement offer as a pretext to force its remaining ethnic Nepali citizens to leavethe country. One refugee said, “Government officials in villages are saying toLhotshampas, ‘Your relatives are going to America, now is the right time to meetthem.’ So they are encouraging people to leave, saying, ‘This is your goldenopportunity.’”257 Another refugee said, “Subdivision officers are going toLhotshampas, saying to them, ‘Your relatives are going to America, why are you stillhere?’”258 Yet another refugee said:

The U.S. offer should not be an encouragement for the Bhutangovernment to evict more people. The U.S. and other countries shouldtalk to Bhutan that these people in Bhutan should not be evicted.These conditions should be there, otherwise Bhutan will evict morepeople. The purpose of the [2005] Bhutan census is to clear thesouthern Bhutanese away. Our concern is that our relatives in Bhutanshould not be made to suffer like us.

The international community, and in particular the U.S. and other resettlementcountries, and those countries who maintain diplomatic relations with Bhutan, mustput real pressure on the government of Bhutan to ensure respect for the rights ofBhutan’s ethnic Nepali population on a non-discriminatory basis, and in particular toensure that all ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan are protected from arbitrary denationalization.

To read the full report, please go here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"...a contest of ideas and not weapons" - Congressman James T Walsh

Congressman James T Walsh, a republican, has been in the Congress for the last 18 years. Perhaps, he is the only member in the Congress who speaks fluent Nepali and keeps a close tab on Nepal, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer during 1970–72. Walsh was instrumental in drawing considerable Congressional attention to the political developments in Nepal last year and the years before. As the Chairman of the United States Congress’ Friends of Ireland he was closely involved with the Northern Ireland peace process. He is an influential member of House Appropriations Committee of the Congress that controls the power of the purse. John Narayan Parajuli spoke to Mr. Walsh in his office recently in Washington, D.C. about his experience in the Congress, his connection to Nepal and his take on Nepal’s peace process.

Tell us about your experience in the new Congress.
It’s not as much fun as it was. Being in the minority, I don’t get to make the decisions, I made before. I have to work with my new [Democratic] Committee Chairman and Subcommittee chairman. I have been here for 18 years, and I think I have the respect of my colleagues. And in areas where I am knowledgeable, I think I am still able to help make policy, and certainly will continue to follow issues of importance to me, and certainly Nepal is one of them.

It’s my impression that the Republican Congress held more hearing on Nepal last year than the new Congress. Is it party politics, or just the timing of the events?
I think it’s probably timing and probably priorities. I was in a position where I can get other members to hold hearings because it was timely with the revolution and the ceasefire and there was a lot happening in Nepal in the last couple of years. And probably people think things are quieter now. But also I think there were Republicans members like myself, who wanted to get more public attention to what was happening in Nepal. Hopefully the Democrats will also do that.

Now you keep a close tab on Nepal. What is your connection with Nepal?
It goes back a long time. When I was just finishing up my college, I applied for the Peace Corps, and I was accepted in an agriculture program, which surprised me because I had very little practical agriculture experience. I was sent to Nepal. I lived in Nijgarh, Bara. Our district capital was Kalaiya. We had a dera in Birgunj that we shared with four-five of my Peace Corps friends. When we went to the district krishi bikas meeting, we would stay in the dera, and would take the bus back and forth to Kalaiya. It was a very bumpy ride. I worked with farmers in Nijgargh Pachayat. I worked with people who moved down from hills and people who were indigenous in the terai-- the tharus. I grew wheat, corn, rice vegetables. I did a little bit of everything. I was able to see a lot of Nepal while I was there. I traveled to the West: Pokhara and Annapurna, and to Namche and the Everest region. I try to, as best I could, maintain my ties with friends whom I lived with. I email back and forth. I obviously follow the politics and the recent changes in Nepal.

I understand that you are planning to go back to Nepal. Have you planned anything specific yet?
Actually my hope is that I could go and observe the elections. That would be ideal. I think the elections are the critical event in the near term history of Nepal. But when I first came back here in 1991, and the government changed and democracy was established, we wrote to the king, and asked the king to respect the students and people who went to streets asking for democracy. And I saw the impact that the United States had, and I think that the United States continues to play a positive role encouraging democracy. So if I could go for the election, that’s when I would go.

The Maoists have joined the government. What’s your take on it?
I think it’s very significant that they have decided to participate in democracy. It should now be a contest of ideas and not weapons. I am pleased to point that they have relinquished their weapons. I think it is very important that they honor that commitment; that they not continue to threaten violence.
They should forswear weapons, put them aside forever and participate in democracy truly and fully.

Do you agree with the administration’s policy of isolating the Maoists as long as they don’t swear-off violence?
I don’t know if I would be as strict as the administration. The Maoists have set aside their weapons, if that continues, that builds confidence. And there should be other confidence building measures for the Maoists, if they continue to respond in a positive way, I think we should engage them. I think the international community should engage them. But they have to continue to keep their word and swear-off violence, and not use the threat of violence. But the fact that they still have guns does make one pause.

You have been closely involved with the Northern Ireland peace process, what’s your experience? Is there a lesson Nepal can learn from it?
I think there are some parallels. In Northern Ireland, people think it’s about religion. It was not really about religion. It was more about national aspirations. There is a group of people who align themselves with England; others align themselves with the republic of Ireland.
Basically there is a difference of opinion amongst people. The Republican and the Loyalists paramilitaries fought for 30 years, killed thousands of people. But they came to the conclusion that it would never be resolved militarily. They decided to work things out through ceasefire, elimination of weapons, what they referred to as “putting weapons beyond use,” confidence building, dialogue, and comprise. And it has taken a lot time—13 years since the ceasefire and they still don’t have a government. But very soon they will. And it is going to require the same process [in Nepal]: patience and persistence. And it will require the international community to stay engaged, to watch what’s happening. Just as the United Nations has steeped-in in Nepal, a group of countries have involved themselves in the Northern Ireland.

Critics say the United States was rather soft on the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and that it is unwilling to be equally flexible on the Maoists. Does ideology play a role in such considerations?
There‘re subtle differences. My view is that if, as I said, if the Maoists continue to perform and keep commitments, we should engage them, we should talk to them. This is somewhat different than the administration. The administrations under President Clinton and President Bush, there were time when they would not deal with the IRA. They continued to consider them terrorists even after the ceasefire. I have always been of the opinion that you have to engage, you have to talk, break down barriers and build confidence.
I think the fact the Maoists are communists is more of a problem, although the IRA is very much a socialist organizations.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, will you be willing to sponsor a bill to increase funding for Nepal, if the Nepal government requests, or on your own initiative?
Yes. I have always supported the additional funding for Nepal. I think we need to be helpful with the election process.
I would very much like to see the United States working with international organization like the World Bank help Nepal to create and harness the hydroelectric power that it has. Nepal has vast hydro electric potential. Before the Maoists revolution began, there was some real movement on harnessing some of the rivers in Nepal. It’s somewhat environmentally controversial. But there are ways to harness that power that would make Nepal energy independent, in fact an energy exporter.

State Department officials say they don’t want to been seen as competing with India—in terms of assistance. Is that a fair benchmark?
India is certainly much closer to Nepal, physically, culturally and spiritually. But I think that the United States can play a positive role working with Nepal’s neighbors in helping to coordinate activities. When I was there, you had Soviet Union, India and U.S. building the east west highway. Everyone was building a section. We should be able to continue to do that sort of thing.

How optimistic are you about the peace process?

So far, so good. I really want to see the elections; I want to see the elections run fairly. I don’t want to see any ballot intimidations by the Maoists or anyone else. I think Prime Minister Koirala is a remarkable man. I have met him a number of times. I think he has got the country headed in the right direction, but there are a lot of pitfalls between here and there. But I very hopeful that once the elections are over, the people of Nepal, who this is really ultimately about, will have the confidence that the government they elected is the government they wanted.

Anything you would like to add?

Just dherai namaskar and namaste to mero daju bhai, didi bahinii, and I miss Nepal, and I am looking forward to coming back.
Source: The Blog

John Narayan Parajuli is a Nepali journalist. Click here to visit his blog.