Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Michael Fuchs - Trump's family separation policy is as damaging to America as Abu Ghraib

The words “Abu Ghraib” have become synonymous with torture, a black eye for America that has damaged US national security. Donald Trump’s policy of ripping children away from their parents at the border is a new black mark on America that could also undermine US national security.

America’s power comes from its values: freedom, the rule of law, respect for human rights. Whatever problems America may face at home, America’s democratic system enables itself to correct wrongs in the pursuit of a fair, just society. Whatever mistakes the United States makes in its foreign policy, America still endeavors to infuse its foreign policy with these values. When America does not live up to these values, it is less safe. The experience of the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib is instructive. After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, it used Saddam Hussein’s jail as a place to torture Iraqi prisoners. The torture of prisoners – the picture of a US soldier holding a naked Iraqi on a leash, for instance – became international symbols that shattered America’s image as a global defender of human rights.

These illegal acts hurt US national security. Abu Ghraib was used as a rallying cry by terrorist groups who were fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. As one US military interrogator wrote: “I learned in Iraq that the No 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo … The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on September 11, 2001.” 

Today, America is in a moral crisis as its government takes children away from undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers at the US border. It is difficult to imagine something crueler than taking a child away from parents. These people are often fleeing violence and danger and are in search of a better life. The sounds of children crying in US jails while guards crack jokesare eerily evocative of US guards at Abu Ghraib posing smiling for pictureswith naked Iraqi prisoners in humiliating positions. As George Takei – who was imprisoned by the US government in an internment camp as a child during the second world war – pointed out, not even those Japanese-Americans imprisoned during the war were separated from their parents. In America today, border agents reportedly told parents their children were getting bathed and then never came back, evoking Nazis taking away children in death camps and telling people being led to the gas chambers that they were going to take a shower... read more: 

The best books on Hegel: recommended by Stephen Houlgate

G W F Hegel is one of the most divisive figures in western philosophy. He influenced Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Adorno and countless others. And yet, he is seen as perhaps the most obscure and inaccessible philosopher to read. Is he worth engaging with? How should we read him? Stephen Houlgate, a philosopher at Warwick University, gives us an in-depth look at Hegel.

Who was Hegel? What sort of philosophical context should we place him in?
Hegel was born in Stuttgart in 1770, an exact contemporary of Beethoven and Wordsworth. He was almost nineteen when the French Revolution broke out and this had a great impact on him. There’s a story that he and Schelling and Hölderlin, who were contemporaries of his, went out and planted a ‘freedom tree’ on 14 July, 1793 and danced a revolutionary French dance around it. Even if this story is not true in all its details, it indicates that they responded enthusiastically to the French Revolution.

“People often describe Hegel as a kind of Aristotle of the modern age. ”
Hegel lived through the Napoleonic wars and took quite a long time to get a job. From the age of about thirty to thirty-six, he worked as an unsalaried lecturer in Jena. Then he was the head of a gymnasium – a secondary school – from 1808 to 1816, during which time he wrote theScience of Logic. And then in Berlin he flourished, becoming a very prominent figure. He knew Goethe and a number of the Romantics, and both Felix Mendelssohn and Ludwig Feuerbach went to his lectures. 

Hegel got married in 1811, which needs to be pointed out because Kant wasn’t married, Nietzsche 
wasn’t married, and Kierkegaard wasn’t married. In that sense, he was quite bourgeois in the life that he led and this is reflected in the institutions of the state he describes in his Philosophy of Right.
People often describe Hegel as a kind of Aristotle of the modern age. He had an insatiable desire to learn and understand things. So he was interested in mathematics, science and politics. He was also interested in art, and he would travel far in order to see it. He went on long coach journeys to Vienna and Paris and Leipzig to see people but also to go to art galleries.

He was very gregarious, and when travelling he would tell engaging stories in the letters he wrote to his wife about the people he’d met and conversed with. So he was quite personable, though he could also be fairly irascible and was not averse to picking fights with people. He was steeped in history, and very aware of the constitutional developments that were going on at the time and, of course, the expansion of Napoleon’s influence.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Stephanie Kirchgaessner - Outcry over far-right Italian minister's call for Roma 'register'

On Monday Salvini ordered the census and the removal of all non-Italian Roma – which he called an “answer to the Roma question” – and said he wanted to know “who, and how many” there were.
“Unfortunately we will have to keep the Italian Roma because we can’t expel them,” Salvini said on Telelombardia. Salvini is on record as having praised Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist leader, and his new policy has sparked comparisons by the centre-left Democratic party to ethnic cleansing rules introduced in the late 1920s that also targeted the Roma.

“The interior minister does not seem to know that a census on the basis of ethnicity is not permitted by the law,” Carlo Stasolla, president of the Associazione 21 Luglio, which supports Roma rights, told the Ansa news agency. “We also recall that Italian Roma have been present in our country for at least half a century and sometimes they are ‘more Italian’ than many of our fellow citizens.”

Francesco Palermo, a former senator in Italy and human rights expert who has defended the rights of Roma, said it would be legally impossible to pursue the creation of an ethnic-specific census and expulsions as Salvini described, because the issue had already been taken up by Italian courts in the past, where it was rejected. But he said the bigger problem was that the reaction to Salvini was generally positive, and that his popularity was growing despite the extreme nature of his positions.
“It is very simple and very scary. Except for intellectuals and certain journalists, most people would say there is nothing wrong with this, and that is the tricky point. Salvini knows this. It is a just a means to get political support,” Palermo said.

He added that reactions would be different if Salvini was targeting other groups of people who face discrimination, but that racist views about the Roma are “innate” among many people in Italy.
Up to 180,000 Roma live in Italy, about 43% of whom are Italian citizens. About 4,000 Roma live in state-sanctioned ghettos in Rome, according to a 2013 report by Amnesty International. These out-of-city ghettoes consist of pre-fabricated containers or mobile homes in fenced-off areas, often without adequate sanitation or clean drinking water. Inhabitants are excluded from other social housing despite many having lived in Italy for generations. An Italian court in 2015 ordered the city of Rome to dismantle some of the state-sanctioned Roma facilities, after it said the capital was guilty of ethnic discrimination... read more:

see also
Hitler's annihilation of the Romanis (the Gypsies of Europe)

51st Victim: IB Officer Investigating Vyapam Scam Killed In A Road Accident

58-year-old Ajay Kumar Khare, a senior Intelligence Bureau inspector who was involved in the investigation of the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh, was killed on Sunday evening  when a speeding car hit him in Trilanga area, said the police on Monday. (NB: This report is dated June 9, 2018). The accused car driver fled the scene after the accident and investigation are still on to nab him. 
Khare was riding his scooter on his way to visit his under-construction house in Akriti Retreat Township at Kolar Road. Officials from Shahapura police station told The Asian Age, “A black car hit the scooter he was riding from the rear and dragged him for a few metres. He sustained grievous injuries to his head and several parts of the body and died on the spot.” A passer-by rushed Khare to nearby Kolar Community Health Centre, where the doctors pronounced him dead.

However, the incident was informed to police headquarters was much delayed. A police officer said that the reason for the delay is also being probed. He was investigating into undisclosed information related to the probe. Doctor Anand Rai, Whistleblower – Vyapam Scam, tweeted when a govt & its ppl are involved, they can go to any limit to cover it up #VyapamKills51

More posts on Vyapam

see also

Monday, June 18, 2018

Pratap Bhanu Mehta |- A crisis in plain sight Delhi saga showcases poison of recrimination, institutional subversion

The political and constitutional crisis over the powers of the Delhi government is not just a small drama being enacted in Lutyens’ Delhi. It is an ominous sign for Indian democracy and its institutions. It is also a story of how a sordid pettiness and politics of recrimination can so easily subvert institutions. The Delhi saga is institutionalising a new culture in Indian politics.

Look at the big institutional picture. A government in Delhi is elected with an unprecedented mandate. One can concede that because of Delhi’s special status, there might be areas of ambiguity, in the allocation of powers between the Lt Governor and the chief minister. But whatever those grey areas, under no circumstances can the allocation of power be interpreted to mean that the Lt Governor can act like a tyrannical Viceroy, subverting an elected government at every step. The Lt Governor has done exactly that. The Supreme Court allowed yet another constitutional subversion by simply delaying the clarification of Delhi’s constitutional status to a point that defies logic. The Election Commission, that most hallowed of institutions, passes an order that subverts natural justice and arbitrarily disqualifies a number of AAP MLAs. The president signs without question. Fortunately, the Delhi High Court sees through the charade and restores a modicum of justice. But no one is held responsible for this attempt at institutional subversion. The most serious checks and balances in our democracy nearly failed.

The saga continues. Some AAP MLAs may have a lot to answer for. But on the surface, the patterns by which the CBI and Delhi Police seem to have been used against them, is a reminder that these days you don’t have to declare an emergency. The chief minister is made to eat humble pie through that most controversial of mechanisms: Defamation suits. The institutions of law will follow political diktats. Then the civil service comes into the picture. Then there is an incident in which the chief secretary is allegedly manhandled. But the incident seems to become a pretext to politicise the bureaucracy.

The aftermath, instead of resolving the issue, creates an even deeper crisis. The bureaucracy claims it is not on strike but is being victimised. The Delhi government claims that IAS is not carrying out its duties; it may not be on strike but is striking against it. This formal breakdown of relationship between the bureaucracy and the elected government is another first; whatever the circumstances, this was a solvable problem. The chief minister, meanwhile, goes on dharna in the LG’s office and does not get so much as a hearing. The issue, then, becomes national with four other chief ministers, rightly sensing there is a major constitutional crisis, stepping in. Such a deep institutional crisis that has subverted every institution should have shaken us up. But we reduced it to another clash of personalities... read more:

Syed Badrul Ahsan - In Dhaka, return of a spectre

The murder of Shahjahan Bachchu in his village in Bangladesh’s Munshiganj district, last week, raises the spectre of Islamist fanaticism after several months. Close to 50 bloggers, writers and publishers in Bangladesh had been assassinated till late 2016. The latest act of criminality driven by religious hate has rekindled fears of terrorism, which the government has been trying to root out over the past two years.

After the horrific killing of 22 people, Bangladeshis as well as foreigners, at Dhaka’s Holy Artisan Bakery, two years ago, the government sat up and took notice. That seemed to have assured people who felt that religious fanaticism was being brought under control. Operations by the police and security agencies, such as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), against Islamist terrorists, have been a sustained affair in these two years. A good number of people, alleged to be militants, have died while they were making explosives or planning to stage attacks in various regions of the country. Not long ago, two people were taken into custody after the police received information that these alleged militants were planning a large-scale attack targeting Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leading members of her cabinet and members of the Awami League on the day when tributes are paid to the country’s founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Given that several hideouts of militants were busted in security operations and individuals - including women driven by radical Islam that has absolutely no tolerance for other people’s beliefs - suspected of involvement in planning hate attacks on liberals, government installations and other institutions were arrested, it was easy to believe that things were under control. People began to feel that the government was on top of the situation. But the authorities and people from a cross-section of the society had also warned against complacency. The murder of Shahjahan Bachchu, a publisher, writer and an activist of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, puts paid to any thought of religious militancy being a thing of the past.

Bachchu’s killing comes at a difficult time for the government. With the general elections expected to be held in December, the Hasina government is facing criticism on several fronts. There have been demands, both in the country and abroad, that the government must ensure that the electoral exercise is a transparent and inclusive affair. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) stayed away from the last election in January 2014 when its demand for a caretaker regime to oversee the voting was dismissed by the government. The result was the constitution of a Parliament in which 153 of the 300 lawmakers were returned to the House without any opposition. For all its defence of the last election as a constitutional necessity, the government remains acutely conscious of the fact that there can be no repeat of the 2014 exercise… read more:

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Richard Wolff - Capitalist employers are economic dictators

Few businesses show the skewed dynamics between employer and employees as clearly as Amazon. Its CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person, with his wealth estimated at around $130 billion. He admits the near impossibility of spending these riches and commits $1 billion a year of his “Amazon winnings” to fund a personal project of space travel. Back on Earth, Amazon’s 560,000 employees earn a median salary of $28,000, its warehouse workers face strict efficiency targets that lead some to relieve themselves in trash cans, and hundreds of Ohio, Arizona and Pennsylvania-based workers are on food stamps.

To understand why the relationship between employer and employee is so severely screwed, we have to look to capitalism. Capitalist businesses are starkly undemocratic. Employers are economic dictators. They wield enormous power and control that is unaccountable to the social majority around them: their employees and the communities in which they live. Employees’ labor produces profits, which belong 100 percent to the employers. Yet workers are excluded from decisions about how to use those profits. Instead, they depend on wages (set and controlled by the employer) as compensation for the work they produce. 

Employers’ decisions shape major aspects of employees’ lives, both at work and away from it. The employer alone decides which commodities to produce, what production technology to use (with what side effects), where to locate the workplace, as well as what to do with the profits. Celebrations of employers’ risks, used to justify their profits, rarely even recognize that workers, too, take risks in their dependence on employers (but without getting profits for doing so).

The skills employees develop, the personal connections they make, the seniority they accumulate, the home they invest in, their personal connections (in neighborhoods, schools, churches, etc.) ― always risk being lost or diminished by decisions exclusively in employers’ hands. Above all is the decision to end a worker’s job. While an employee deciding to leave a business will likely make little or no impact on an employer; employers’ decisions to, for example, relocate production overseas, or sell or close a business, carry huge risks for employees.

This undemocratic organization of production increasingly concentrates income and wealth, as well as economic power, in a tiny percentage of the population. Those concentrations dominate politics as well. Fundraising for political campaigns and policies tends to rely on those with the most resources to offer. Wealth translates into political influence. The result is a system of decisions that protect and strengthen capitalism…. read more:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Mukul Kesavan - Killing conversation The death of Shujaat Bukhari

The deaths of Shujaat Bukhari and Gauri Lankesh have different local histories and a few all-India similarities. Lankesh and Bukhari were both journalists who had worked for what passes as the national English press before committing themselves to publications principally aimed at readerships in their states. After a career working for The Times of India and later Sunday, Lankesh took over her father's magazine, Lankesh Patrike, and then went on to edit the Gauri Lankesh Patrike, while Bukhari moved from being a correspondent with The Hindu to founding Rising Kashmir, an English newspaper based in Srinagar.

It isn't clear who Gauri Lankesh's killers were. Recent newspaper reports suggest that the police have closed in on a suspect affiliated to a vigilante organization notorious for communal goonery, the Sri Ram Sene, but there has been no trial or conclusive verdict. Similarly, no one has taken responsibility for Bukhari's assassination, though online suspicion ranges from jihadi separatists to the deep state. They were both shot by murderers on motorcycles, seemingly the preferred modus operandi for Indian assassins looking to silence dissenting journalists, intellectuals and rationalists. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, Malleshappa Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh are now joined in their violent deaths by Shujaat Bukhari.

These killings show that the journalists most at risk in India are those who report from a ground zero that is also their home. Bukhari, like Lankesh, was a journalist who had gone out into the world and then chosen to return, to produce a Kashmiri newspaper that wasn't a partisan mouthpiece, one that produced news about Kashmir which couldn't be dismissed either as jihadi press releases or inspired leaks from a sarkari stool pigeon. This didn't mean that he was a neutral; it would have taken inhuman detachment for a Kashmiri Muslim from the Valley to be even-handed about the violence visited upon his people by the State. What it did mean was that he was committed to keep the news flowing, to keep dialogue going, to supporting any process that would mitigate the violence that had engulfed the place he called home.

To stand up for his principles as a journalist in a conflict zone took courage of an order that few of us possess. To continue to do this despite having a young family, despite having been kidnapped before, living under armed guard, suspected of being a traitor both by fanatical militants and the increasingly communalized agencies of the State, was everyday heroism of an order that we're either too cynical or too embarrassed to acknowledge. For the social media choruses of the security State and think tank hawks, Bukhari was a 'soft-separatist' or a 'quasi-Islamist'. These hyphenated terms belong to a class of conspiratorial neologisms coined to demonize positions that right-wing Hindu supremacists dislike. 'Pseudo-secularist' is the most famous of these. In the same way as Bukhari was classified as a soft-separatist, Gauri Lankesh was tagged as an 'urban-Naxal' in the unhinged echo-chambers of the Hindu Right, hours after she was murdered.

In an article he wrote for the BBC in July 2016, immediately after the killing of Burhan Wani, Bukhari bore witness to the dangers of being an independent journalist in Kashmir... read more:

Dan Sabbagh - British government ordered to open Amritsar massacre files

A tribunal has ordered that secret Downing Street files relating to Anglo-Indian relations at the time of the 1984 massacre at the Golden Temple of Amritsar must be made public.Campaigners say the Margaret Thatcher-era documents could reveal further information about the UK’s military role in the deaths of hundreds and possibly thousands at Sikhism’s holiest site following a violent assault by the Indian army in June 1984. 

The information tribunal said this week there was “a high public interest” in disclosure – partly in response to the “strength of feeling of the Sikh community in the UK and beyond” – and set aside objections from the Foreign Office, which said declassification could adversely affect the UK’s relations with India. The decision, which followed an appeal brought by journalist Phil Miller, is the latest step in a lengthy disclosure battle that began in 2014 after it emerged that an SAS officer had been dispatched in February 1984 with the approval of Thatcher to advise on Indian army plans to remove dissident Sikhs occupying the temple. 

Delhi gurdwaras to hail Indira Gandhi 's killers as martyrs? Why complain when Mahatma Gandhi's killers are lionised?

David Cameron, then prime minister, immediately ordered an inquiry by the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, who examined government files and concluded that UK involvement was limited to the visit by the SAS officer. However, the official files were not made public as part of the Heywood review and there have since been legal attempts to force their disclosure.Bhai Amrik Singh, the chair of the Sikh Federation in the UK, said the judgment “confirms the Heywood review was limited and will add to the evidence we have already presented to prove it was a whitewash”. Singh called on Theresa May to consider holding a public inquiry. He said the prime minister “should not listen to those paranoid about our relations with India”.

KP Ramanunni - ‘Hindus have to come out and say: not in our religion’s name’

Some weeks ago, this year’s Sahitya Akademi winner and Malayalam novelist KP Ramanunni said he intended to atone for the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in a temple in Kathua, Jammu. This, he said, was his response as a Hindu and a believer. He said he was following the Gandhian tradition of personal atonement for a public evil. He said he would do a shayana pradakshinam (circumambulation of the sanctum sanctorum by rolling on the ground) along with others at the Sreekrishna Temple in Kadalayi, Kannur. In an appeal, he stated the reasons for his penance:

“The Hindus have a responsibility to show an example of resistance from their own platform of faith against the forces of evil. Because, the fundamental dharma of Hinduism is to pray for the well-being of all the world and stand with truth,” he wrote. He found support from the Kerala Samskrita Sanghom, an organisation of Left-leaning Sanskrit lovers, and a section of intellectuals, including poet and scholar K Satchidanandan. 

But when Ramanunni and two others, including a Hindu monk, declared that they would undertake the penance on June 7, many Hindutva bodies opposed the decision. On the designated day, the writer, accompanied by a large posse of police, activists and believers against and in support of the act, undertook the penance by following all the rituals and traditions of the temple.

Ramanunni’s act of atonement has raised a slew of questions. The Hindu right saw it as an anti-BJP political protest. Some felt it was a vacuous spectacle. A few felt secular politics ought not to enter temple spaces or engage with rituals, since that would lead to a validation of Hindu right-wing politics. Even the claim of the circumambulation being a Gandhian act of atonement has been questioned: Can such a singular, individualistic act revive the Gandhian political tradition in a state where the tradition has been marginalised? How different is it from the instrumentalist use of religion by politicians? There are no easy or simple answers to these questions.

For the 63-year-old Kozhikode based writer, this was one way to engage with other Hindus and believers. It was very much in line with the religious syncretism that underlines his fiction, from the much-celebrated Sufi Paranja Katha (A Tale Told By a Sufi, 1995) to his last work, Deivathinte Pustakam (The Book of God, 2017). A recent paper by the Left thinker, B Rajeevan, Sarva Dharma Samabhavana, which called for reclaiming religion from bigots by combining the thoughts of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Sree Narayana Guru and Marx and positing its subaltern self against communalism, inspired him. In this interview, Ramanunni speaks about his attempt to wrest back religious thought from hate. Excerpts:

What made you undertake the act of penance at the Kannur temple?
Every religion, I believe, is getting more and more radicalised and places of worship are increasingly turning into centres of crime. How does one address this issue? I don’t think a purely rationalist approach that excludes religious thought can provide any solution. There are democratic spaces and revolutionary strands within the religious sphere that could help resist communalism. I see Mahatma Gandhi as a practitioner of this sort of a politics. He called himself a sanatani Hindu and revolutionised Hinduism. The fraternal feelings he espoused for Muslims were part of his revolutionary understanding of religion. It was also a carefully thought-out moral and political strategy. The idea was to repair the communal divide the British had created in India. But this strand of political activism ended with him, there was no continuity. It also allowed Hinduism to become reactionary and communal. We need to revive the Hinduism of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Sree Narayana Guru, Gandhiji and so on.

Many Muslim groups openly declare that what organisations like the Islamic State preach and do is not Islam. Hindus, too, have to come out and say what is being done today in the name of Hinduism is not Hinduism.. read more:

Unassuming Australian nun takes on Rodrigo Duterte

Sister Patricia Fox, who has been threatened with deportation for crossing the Philippine president, vows she won’t go quietly

On Monday, Sister Patricia Fox is likely not to be at home. Normally, she spends the morning sitting in the walled front yard of the modest home in Quezon City, north-east of Manila, that she shares with six of her fellow nuns. Mornings, she says, are “lazy” time. She drinks tea, takes calls from friends and colleagues and prepares for an afternoon of voluntary work.

But on Monday, if her legal appeals fail, officers of the Philippines Government are expected to arrive, take her away and forcibly deport her – or worse. Jails in the Philippines are tough places.
The stick-thin 71-year-old nun doesn’t plan to let it happen. “I will go to ground,” she says. “I won’t tell you more, but I won’t be sitting around talking to journalists. They should not deport me when I have an appeal underway. And it won’t happen if I can help it.” Sister Fox has been living and working in the Philippines for more than 28 years without receiving a word of publicity. Now, she has sprung to international attention as the Australian nun who has riled a president.

In person, it is hard to imagine anyone less threatening. She needs her glasses to read, admits to scattiness and a forgetfulness when it comes to names. She used to be a school teacher, but claims she was “hopeless” – too soft and no discipline. She says she isn’t scared, though she has lost weight due to stress. Under it all, though, she is determined – and brave. In a turn of events that she admits to finding completely bemusing, her personal story has overshadowed the facts she was trying to bring to international attention when she managed to annoy the president.

For the first time in this interview, Fox revealed that hers is not the only case of deportation. Five other foreign nationals who worked with her have been targeted. One is in detention, two others have had their passports withdrawn, and two have left the country, one deported and one voluntarily. In all these cases, it has been judged for various reasons that publicity will not help. Fox will not reveal their identities... read more:

Friday, June 15, 2018

Prem Shankar Jha - If Modi Assassination Plot Letter Is Fake, Indian Democracy Is in for Dangerous Time

A two decade-long history of using false allegations, faked evidence, videos and news to manipulate public sentiment proves that the BJP will stop at nothing to ensure its return to power.

The letter allegedly recovered from the house of Rona Wilson, the Delhi-based public relations secretary of the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), which details a meeting in which Maoist leaders ‘decided to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’, needs to be treated with the utmost of scepticism. This is not only because of its suspicious convenience, for the discovery has come at a time when the BJP has lost a string of elections and by-elections to an increasingly unified, secular opposition. It is also because the letter contains virtually irrefutable evidence of having been doctored.

Holes in the narrative: Written by someone who signs off as ‘R’, it falls into two completely separate sections with not a single connecting word, reference or idea.  The first section – one single long paragraph – is a “nuts and bolts” discussion of tactics between “comrades”, where every word suggests that it is a part of a continuing conversation over day-to-day issues facing the party leader-ship. It contains numerous references to past meetings and decisions, to the need to provide relief to Maoist prisoners languishing in jails in Delhi, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh and to the legal strategy to be employed in their defence. It derides a key Maoist leader “Prashant’ and accuses him of foisting an “egoist agenda” upon the party that has ‘harmed its larger interests”.

It gives details of a programme formulated to defend the wheelchair-bound and 90% disabled professor of English from Delhi University, G.N. Saibaba, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by a sessions court in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, in March 2017 and to mobilise public opinion in his defence. At the end of this paragraph, the letter switches registers and refers to a meeting that discussed the need to raise Rs 8 crore to be exchanged for the next batch of M4 rifles and 400,000 rounds of ammunition, at “the APT crossover”. 

This stark jump continues in the second section, which is a grand, airy, declaration of strategic aims that is not only devoid of tactical detail, but is filled with inaccuracies. It begins by saying that “defeating Hindu fascism has been our core agenda and a major concern for the party”. This is factually and textually wrong. The aim of the Maoists has always been “to overthrow the government of India through people’s war”. Its opponent is not specifically Hindu fascism, but any “bourgeois” government that oppresses the poor.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rs 1.44 lakh crore: That’s the record bad loan write-off by banks in 2017-18. Who is the BJP/RSS government working for?

WEIGHED DOWN by huge losses and non-performing assets (NPAs), banks have written off a record Rs 1,44,093 crore of bad loans in the financial year ending March 2018 — up 61.8 per cent from Rs 89,048 crore in the previous year. The total loan write-off by private and state-owned banks in the last 10 years since 2009 has touched a whopping Rs 4,80,093 crore as on March 31, 2018 – 83.4 per cent of this amount, or Rs 400,584 crore, was from public sector banks, according to figures compiled by rating agency ICRA for The Indian Express. Of the write-off for 2017-18, Rs 1,20,165 crore loans were written off by public sector banks.

Banks normally resort to write-offs in the case of loans which are in the doubtful recovery category. “It is technical in nature. It’s a book adjustment. When a bad loan is written off, it goes out of the books of the bank. The bank will also get tax benefits. However, the bank will continue the recovery measures even after the loan is written off,” said Pradeep Ramnath, former chairman and MD of Corporation Bank. The last financial year was also the worst for the sector as banks were forced to stop evergreening of bad loans and go for NPA recognition amid huge losses to their government securities portfolio following the rise in bond yields… read more:

India has 53,000 manual scavengers spread across 12 states; a four-fold rise from the last official count (data from 121 out of over 600 districts)

AN INTER-MINISTERIAL task force has counted up to 53,236 people involved in manual scavenging in India, a four-fold rise from the 13,000-odd such workers accounted for in official records until 2017. While the numbers are an improvement from before, when a majority of states denied the existence of the practice, it is still a gross underestimate as it includes data from only 121 of the more than 600 districts in the country. 

More importantly, it does not include those involved in cleaning sewers and septic tanks, and data from the Railways, which is the largest employer of manual scavengers. Of the 53,000 identified so far through the national survey, only a total of 6,650 have been confirmed officially by states in keeping with the tendency to under-report the prevalence of this practice.

The task force is expected to submit its final tally on the National Survey of Manual Scavengers by the end of this month.The survey was to be undertaken in 170 districts of 18 states where the maximum number of “insanitary latrines” were demolished and converted into “sanitary latrines”. However, according to official records, only 121 districts in 12 states have been covered — Bihar, J&K, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Telangana and West Bengal are yet to participate in the survey.
“Of the 12 states that cooperated with us for the survey, there was reluctance when it came to verifying the numbers identified by us,” a task force member said.

The maximum number of manual scavengers — 28,796 — have been registered in UP. States such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand, which had earlier reported zero or about 100, have now upped their count. Moreover, much of urban India has not been included. This is because while data on insanitary to sanitary toilet conversion has been made available for rural areas, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, which is in charge of Swachh Bharat (Urban), has informed the Social Justice Ministry that such “data for is not maintained separately.”

Chris Hedges - The Coming Collapse // Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Trump’s disruptions may have more significance than who he is

It is impossible for any doomed population to grasp how fragile the decayed financial, social and political system is on the eve of implosion.

The Trump administration did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count. We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience, like that demonstrated by teachers around the country this year. If we do not stand up we will enter a new dark age.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Trump’s disruptions may have more significance than who he is
Trump’s disruptions signify three mutually reinforcing trends. First, he has signalled “end of the west” as a coherent ideological and geo-political entity by disrupting the G-7. Second, he is making it clear that America does not want to sustain Pax Americana. It is not willing to pay the price for it in terms of troops or financial commitments. Third, he is... rolling back post-Cold War globalisation. In any other context, these three trends would have warranted more reflection. The starkness with which he pursues them has also exposed the contradictions of dominant liberal approaches to international order...

The Democratic Party, which helped build our system of inverted totalitarianism, is once again held up by many on the left as the savior. Yet the party steadfastly refuses to address the social inequality that led to the election of Trump and the insurgency by Bernie Sanders. It is deaf, dumb and blind to the very real economic suffering that plagues over half the country. It will not fight to pay workers a living wage. It will not defy the pharmaceutical and insurance industries to provide Medicare for all. It will not curb the voracious appetite of the military that is disemboweling the country and promoting the prosecution of futile and costly foreign wars. It will not restore our lost civil liberties, including the right to privacy, freedom from government surveillance, and due process. It will not get corporate and dark money out of politics. It will not demilitarize our police and reform a prison system that has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners although the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population. It plays to the margins, especially in election seasons, refusing to address substantive political and social problems and instead focusing on narrow cultural issues like gay rights, abortion and gun control in our peculiar species of anti-politics.

Israel is about to destroy this Palestinian village. Will Britain step in? By David Zonsheine

Israel is intent on destroying the homes of the 173 Palestinians who live in the small shepherding 
community of Khan al-Ahmar, along with the school that serves 150 children from the area. Last month, Israel’s high court of justice removed the last obstacle to this barbaric act of demolishing an entire community in order to forcibly transfer its residents and take over their land. Israel has announced that the land from which these Palestinians will be evicted will serve to expand the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim.

The story of Khan al-Ahmar exemplifies Israel’s policy of expelling dozens of Palestinian communities from areas it plans to formally annex. To keep international criticism to a minimum, Israel usually tries to evict residents slowly by creating unbearable living conditions that force them to leave their homes, allegedly of their own free will. To that end, the authorities refuse to connect these communities to running water and power grids, do not authorise construction of homes or other structures and restrict their pastureland.

Now, emboldened by Donald Trump’s overt disdain for human rights – or basic human decency for that matter – and bolstered by the Israeli idea that the European Union is too weak to act decisively, the authorities have stepped up their efforts and issued demolition orders for all the structures in Khan al-Ahmar. Justice Noam Sohlberg, who wrote the ruling that rejected the petition against the execution of these orders, noted the “undisputed” premise that “construction in the Khan al-Ahmar compound, both the school and the dwellings, is unlawful”. He went on to argue that the court should not interfere in the state’s “law enforcement” actions… read more:

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Tim Whitmarsh - Black Achilles

The Greeks didn’t have modern ideas of race. Did they see themselves as white, black – or as something else altogether?
Few issues provoke such controversy as the skin-colour of the ancient Greeks. Last year in an article published in Forbes, the Classics scholar Sarah Bond at the University of Iowa caused a storm by pointing out that many of the Greek statues that seem white to us now were in antiquity painted in colour. This is an uncontroversial position, and demonstrably correct, but Bond received a shower of online abuse for daring to suggest that the reason why some like to think of their Greek statues as marble-white might just have something to do with their politics. This year, it was the turn of BBC’s new television series Troy: Fall of a City (2018-) to attract ire, which cast black actors in the roles of Achilles, Patroclus, Zeus, Aeneas and others (as if using anglophone northern European actors were any less anachronistic). 

The idea of the Greeks as paragons of whiteness is deeply rooted in Western society. As Donna Zuckerberg shows in her book Not All Dead White Men (2018), this agenda has been promoted with gusto by sections of the alt-Right who see themselves as heirs to (a supposed) European warrior masculinity. Racism is emotional, not rational; I don’t want to dignify online armies of anonymous trolls by responding in detail to their assertions. My aim in this essay, rather, is to consider how the Greeks themselves viewed differences in skin colour. The differences are instructive – and, indeed, clearly point up the oddity of the modern, western obsession with classification by pigmentation.

Homer’s Iliad (a ‘poem about Ilion, or Troy’) and Odyssey (a ‘poem about Odysseus’) are the earliest surviving literary texts composed in Greek. For most other Greek literature, we have a more or less secure understanding of who the author was, but ‘Homer’ is still a mystery to us, as he was to most ancient Greeks: there is still no agreement whether his poems are the works of a single author or a collective tradition. 
The poems are rooted in ancient stories transmitted orally, but the decisive moment in stabilising them in their current form was the period from the 8th to the 7th centuries BCE. The siege of Troy, the central event in the mythical cycle to which the Homeric poems belong, might or might not be based on a real event that took place in the earlier Bronze Age, in the 13th or 12th century BCE. Historically speaking, the poems are an amalgam of different temporal layers: some elements are drawn from the contemporary world of the 8th century BCE, some are genuine memories of Bronze Age times, and some (like Achilles’ phrase ‘immortal glory’) are rooted in seriously ancient Indo-European poetics. There is a healthy dollop of fantasy too, as all Greeks recognised: no one ever believed, for example, that Achilles’ horses really could talk.... read more:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bangladeshi communist writer Shahzahan Bachchu gunned down

The murder of Shahzahan Bachchu, a publisher, writer, and activist known for his support of secularism, is proof that free expression remains under grave threat in Bangladesh, PEN America said in a statement today. Bachchu, a writer and outspoken proponent of secular principles, owned the Bishaka Prakashani publishing house, which specialized in publishing poetry, and was a former district general secretary of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, was shot to death by unidentified gunmen on a motorcycles as he sat in a tea-shop in his home village Kakaldi in Munshiganj district 
on Monday evening. He died instantly, according to news reports

Although no group has claimed responsibility, police officials from the counter-terrorism department are investigating the murder as a possible targeted attack by Islamist extremists. Bachchu had previously received threats from extremist groups due to his outspoken support for secularism.

“The shocking news today of Shahzahan Bachchu’s murder is a grim reminder that the severe threat to individuals who express dissident views in Bangladesh remains unacceptably high,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We urge authorities to do everything in their power to investigate the killing and bring those responsible to justice, and for the government to state unequivocally that such attacks will not be tolerated. Impunity in such cases only encourages further assaults on free expression.”

Since 2013, religious extremists in Bangladesh have killed more than a dozen secular, atheistic, or non-Muslim writers, bloggers, and activists; in most cases, the government has been slow to respond or even condemn the attacks. In addition, the draconian Information and Communication Technology Act has served only to legitimize these assaults by criminalizing the very speech for which these writers face persecution from extremists. 

Though the government has increased efforts to curb fundamentalist violence, it has done so while concurrently expanded criminal prosecution of blasphemous speech, with dozens of cases filed in the past several years. PEN America has previously condemned the brutal killings of Bangladeshi writers, professors, and activists such as Xulhaz MannanAvijit Roy, and Rezaul Karim Siddique, among others, and continues to work on cases of other writers driven into exile by these threats.

Giant African baobab trees die suddenly after thousands of years

Some of Africa’s oldest and biggest baobab trees have abruptly died, wholly or in part, in the past decade, according to researchers. The trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years and in some cases as wide as a bus is long, may have fallen victim to climate change, the team speculated. “We report that nine of the 13 oldest … individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years,” they wrote in the scientific journal Nature Plants, describing “an event of an unprecedented magnitude”. 

“It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages,” said the study’s co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babeș-Bolyai University in Romania. Among the nine were four of the largest African baobabs. While the cause of the die-off remains unclear, the researchers “suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular”. Further research is needed, said the team from Romania, South Africa and the United States, “to support or refute this supposition”.

Between 2005 and 2017, the researchers probed and dated “practically all known very large and potentially old” African baobabs – more than 60 individuals in all. Collating data on girth, height, wood volume and age, they noted the “unexpected and intriguing fact” that most of the very oldest and biggest trees died during the study period. All were in southern Africa – Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia.

The baobab is the biggest and longest-living flowering tree, according to the research team. It is found naturally in Africa’s savannah region and outside the continent in tropical areas to which it was introduced. It is a strange-looking plant, with branches resembling gnarled roots reaching for the sky, giving it an upside-down look. The iconic tree can live to be 3,000 years old, according to the website of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, a natural baobab habitat.

The tree serves as a massive store of water, and bears fruit that feeds animals and humans. Its leaves are boiled and eaten as an accompaniment similar to spinach, or used to make traditional medicines, while the bark is pounded and woven into rope, baskets, cloth and waterproof hats... read more:

Monday, June 11, 2018

They saw their schoolmates shot dead - and they sing of love. Parkland Shooting Survivors at Tony Awards

At this year’s Tony Awards, students from the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School drama department in Parkland, Florida, survivors of the school’s Valentine’s Day massacre, performed the emotional Rent classic “Seasons of Love,” to remember their slain classmates and also celebrate their strength, resilience, and hope for the future.

How do you measure that year? In hate, in injustice, in bullets, shitty men, and darkness. But also, as those students proved, in compassion, grace, in education, fortitude, and so much love... Listen:

Matthew d'Ancona - The ‘bad boys of Brexit’ have some big questions to answer

under our noses, a well-developed network of far-right and nationalist forces seems to have arisen, apparently digitally mobilised and funded by Russian state actors; the law regulating elections, campaigns and referendums is woefully out of date (passed 4 years before Facebook was launched); Moscow is laughing at the rest of the world as Trump pleads its case at the G7; the far-right swoons over Vladimir Putin; and Jeremy Corbyn misses no opportunity to give the Russian president the benefit of the doubt over the use of nerve agents on British soil..

NB: Worth considering: Putin, lifelong communist and KGB man, is now a Russian nationalist and promoter of racism and fascism. What remains is the KGB - under a new name. How smoothly ideological reflexes change! The West was led by the US-UK bloc for decades and interfered all over the world, both via subterfuge and direct military action. Greece, Chile, Congo, Iran, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Iraq etc.. an endless list. Now the boot is on the other foot and we are waxing eloquent and indignant about Russian interference. A dose of honest reflection is needed. DS

As Verbal Kint says in The Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.” And, as we have fresh reason to reflect this weekend, it appears that certain key Brexiteers may have played a similar trick. The popular view of them as a bunch of cheeky chaps is being challenged: their actions increasingly regarded as fitting the agenda of a global network of the populist right that stretches from Moscow to the Trump White House via the surging nationalist parties of continental Europe.

Stories in the Observer and Sunday Times about key figures in the Leave.EU campaign and their connection to Russian diplomats and businessmen are scoops of degree rather than kind. We have known for two years that Arron Banks, the pro-Brexit tycoon, and his closest henchman, Andy Wigmore, visited the Russian embassy in November 2015, just as we have long been aware of the links between Leave.EU and the Trump campaign.

What has now been revealed is the sheer scale of these contacts – including a lunch between Banks, Nigel Farage and Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador, just three days after the Leave.EU team had been granted an audience with president-elect Trump in November 2016. It appears that there were multiple meetings between Banks, Wigmore and senior Russian officials between 2015 and 2017. It also appears that the ambassador offered to help Banks broker a deal involving six goldmines in Siberia. This does not seem, in other words, to be routine schmoozing or glad-handing. It has the whiff of a nexus, suggesting a purpose, or multiple purposes… read more: