Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Simon Tisdall: Erdoğan’s calamitous Syrian blunder has finally broken his spell over Turkey // JUAN COLE: Netanyahu’s Himalayan Miscalculation on Iran: Bringing China into the Mideast

If Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s belligerent president, were a true patriot with his country’s security and wellbeing at heart, he would resign immediately. He has made an appalling hash of things. His Syrian misadventure, while unusually calamitous, is but the latest in a long line of foreign blunders. Erdoğan abuses his position. He harms his country. He is still in office not because he is popular but because of the fear he instils and the power he crudely wields. It’s time for him to go.


Getting rid of Erdoğan is a matter for the Turks. And it wouldn’t be quite as difficult as it might sound. Having said that, doing the decent thing is not Erdoğan’s strong suit. His 16 years in power – as prime minister and then president – have been marked, at home, by growing authoritarianism and repression. The economy is an indebted mess. Corruption and nepotism thrive. After a 2016 military-led coup failed, Erdoğan exploited it to purge political opponents, the judiciary, civil society and the media. Tens of thousands of supposed plotters were jailed....
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/15/erdogan-syria-turkey-democracy-dictatorship

JUAN COLE: Netanyahu’s Himalayan Miscalculation on Iran: Bringing China into the Mideast
The Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is one of the world players who pushed Trump to breach the 2015 treaty with Iran. Trump then slapped the severest economic sanctions on Iran ever imposed on any country in the absence of war. Trump went around the world menacing other countries into ceasing to buy Iranian petroleum and threatening billions in fines against any company anywhere in the world that invested in or traded with Iran.

Amerexit? Trump and the End of the Anglo-American Order. By Tom Engelhardt

Tomdispatch.com : Donald Trump may prove to be the ultimate Brexiteer. Back in August 2016, in the midst of his presidential campaign, he proudly tweeted, “They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!” On the subject of the British leaving the European Union (EU) he’s neither faltered nor wavered. That June, he was already cheering on British voters, 51.9% of whom had just opted for Brexit in a nationwide referendum. They had, he insisted, taken “their country back” and he predicted that other countries, including you-know-where, would act similarly. As it happened, Mr. “America First” was proven anything but wrong in November 2016.

Ever since, he’s been remarkably eager to insert himself in Britain’s Brexit debate. Last July, for instance, he paid an official visit to that country and had tea with the queen (“an incredible lady… I feel I know her so well and she certainly knows me very well right now”). As Politico put it at the time, “In just a matter of a few hours, he snubbed the leader of the opposition - who wants a close relationship with the EU after Brexit and if he can’t get it, advocates a second referendum on the options - in favor of meeting with two avid Brexiteers and chatting with a third.” Oh, and that third person just happened to be the man who would become the present prime minister, Brexiteer-to-hell Boris Johnson.


Since then, of course, he’s praised Johnson’s stance - get out now, no deal - to the heavens, repeatedly promising to sign a “very big” trade agreement or “lots of fantastic mini-deals” with the Brits once they dump the European Union. (And if you believe there will be no strings attached to that generous offer, you haven’t been paying attention to the presidency of one Donald J. Trump.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

How Palestinian women successfully defended their village from demolition

By Sarah Flatto Manasrah  Waging Nonviolence 

One year after Israel gave the green light to demolish Khan al-Amar, the small Bedouin village survives thanks to a bold and creative women-led campaign. Just over one year ago, photos and videos of Israeli border police violently arresting a young Palestinian woman went viral. She appeared to be screaming as they ripped her hijab off and wrestled her to the ground.

It captured a moment of crisis on July 4, 2018 when Israeli forces arrived with bulldozers in Khan al-Amar, poised to expel and demolish the tiny Palestinian village at gunpoint. It was an indelible scene in a theater of cruelty that has defined the beleaguered village. Army and police were met by hundreds of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists who mobilized to put their bodies on the line. Together with clergy, journalists, diplomats, educators and politicians, they ate, slept, strategized and sustained nonviolent resistance against the impending demolition.

Immediately after police arrested the young woman in the photo and other activists, residents filed a Supreme Court petition to stop the demolition. An emergency injunction was issued to halt it temporarily. The Supreme Court asked the parties to come up with an “agreement” to resolve the situation. Then, the court declared that Khan al-Amar residents must agree to forcible relocation to a site adjacent a garbage dump in East Jerusalem. They refused to accept these conditions and re-asserted their right to stay in their homes. Finally, on September 5, 2018, judges dismissed the previous petitions and ruled that the demolition could move forward.

Book review: Selected Writings of Ding Ling (1904-1986). Reviewed by Susan Brownmiller (1989)


I MYSELF AM A WOMAN Selected Writings of Ding Ling
Edited by Tani E. Barlow with Gary J. Bjorge
Reviewed by Susan Brownmiller
(Scroll down for a brief historical account of Ding Lings' experience as a writer in 1940's Yenan)
A model of the modern emancipated woman in prerevolutionary Shanghai, and an author of scandalous romantic fiction, the Chinese writer Ding Ling joined the Communists in Yanan in the 1930's and edited the literary columns of Liberation Daily, the party newspaper. At a critical juncture in party affairs, she allied herself with Mao Zedong's famous dictum that all art must hasten the revolution. Despite her efforts at political rectitude, she was hounded, exiled, and periodically imprisoned from the late 1950's onward.

''I Myself Am a Woman,'' augmented by a long interpretive essay by Tani E. Barlow, an assistant professor of history at the University of Missouri, is the most comprehensive selection of Ding Ling's work yet published in America. We now can ponder at close range the literary progression of a tempestuous rebel caught up in a revolution she believed to be necessary and good, who willingly sacrificed her ironic detachment and subtlest perceptions to the Maoist principle of ''serving the people.''

It is easy to see why the audacious stories from the 1920's established Ding Ling's literary reputation.
In ''A Woman and a Man'' (1928) the newly married, bored and provocative Wendy (she has dropped her Chinese name) arranges an assignation with Ouwai Ou, a pretentious, dissipated poet who has given himself a Japanese nom de plume. Ouwai Ou, alas, finds easier sexual satisfaction with Aijin, a back-alley prostitute who is grateful for his money. Her chastity, if not her feelings of sexual desirability, intact, Wendy returns to her husband armed with the small crumb of insight that Ouwai Ou is ''afraid of me! Afraid of me!''

‘The Bob Dylan of Genocide Apologists’ - By Aleksandar Hemon

The choice of Mr. Handke implies a concept of literature safe from the infelicities of history and actualities of human life and death. War and genocide, Milosevic and Srebrenica, the value of the writer’s words and actions at this moment in history, might be of interest to the unsophisticated plebs once subjected to murder and displacement, but not to those who can appreciate “linguistic ingenuity [that] has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.” For them, genocide comes and goes, but literature is forever.

Back in my previous life in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, I read the Austrian writer Peter Handke’s books, was pleasantly baffled by his plays and watched the movies he wrote. I loved the shimmering emptiness of his novel “The Goalie’s Fear of the Penalty Kick.” I loved the beauty of the Wim Wenders’s masterpiece “The Wings of Desire,” which Mr. Handke worked on. In the late 1980s, I was young and invested in the pursuit of the smart and cool. Mr. Handke seemed not only smart and cool but also a writer who was expanding the frontiers of literature. He was the kind of writer I was angling to become.


But things changed for Mr. Handke and me in 1991, when Slovenia and Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav People’s Army, responding to Slobodan Milosevic, president of Serbia, engaged in a brief war in Slovenia, then in a longer and much bloodier one in Croatia, leveling cities and committing atrocities. Unwilling to stay in Yugoslavia, a majority of the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina decided in a 1992 referendum to declare independence. Mr. Milosevic pounced.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Bharat Bhushan: Silent anger: Kashmiri civil disobedience has become a headache for Delhi

The Kashmiris have Delhi confounded. They have refused to engage the security forces in street confrontations. Their children are not queuing up to take up arms and by and large there has been no significant targeting of security posts and establishments. Having taken a ‘bold’ step in Jammu and Kashmir, decision makers in New Delhi seem undecided about how to deal with the evolving civil disobedience in the Valley.

More than two months after the lockdown, upset Kashmiris are refusing to open their business establishments, notwithstanding the government’s exhortations through newspaper advertisements. Wherever restrictions are lifted in the Valley, people impose their own brand of civil disobedience they call “civil curfew”. This involves closure of business establishments for most of the working day. Shops open either a couple of hours in the morning or evening. The market closure is spontaneous. This form of passive resistance to the state, denying it the symbols of normality – was never witnessed in Kashmir earlier.

The full page newspaper advertisements issued in J&K enjoining people to open their shops and establishments disingenuously suggest that the shopkeepers are under pressure from armed militants. While there have been stray incidents of militants urging people to shut shops – a shopkeeper was even killed in the early days of the lockdown – but subsequently there is no evidence that their influence is widespread. If the militants are really to blame then the government must ask itself how a hundred-odd militants are able to control more than 80 lakh people in the Valley? And it must further ask what then does the state administration control with the assistance of an estimated 9 lakh security personnel deployed there?

Sunday, October 13, 2019

James Gelvin: Turkish attack on Syria endangers a remarkable democratic experiment by the Kurds

Turkey’s attack on Kurdish-run territory in northern Syria will likely snuff out a radical experiment in self-government that is unlike anything I have seen in more than 30 years studying the Middle East.
In a surprise Oct. 6 statement, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw its troops from northern Syria. Approximately 1,000 American soldiers had been stationed in that region as a buffer separating Kurdish forces – who had been working with the Americans in the fight against the Islamic State – from Turkish troops. Turkey feared that the Syrian Kurds would link up with Turkey’s Kurdish minority who have demanded autonomy or independence.

On Oct. 9, the Turkish military began its assault, pummeling Kurdish-held territory with artillery and airstrikes. Kurds are rapidly evacuating the region and at least 24 people have been killed in northern Syria. Retaliatory strikes from Syria have killed civilians in southern Turkey. According to Turkish president Recep Erdogan, Turkey’s goal is to create a buffer zone separating Syria’s Kurds from the Turkish border. But his country’s attack will do much more than that. If successful, it will destroy the most full-fledged democracy the Middle East has yet to see.

The Kurds call their autonomous region in Syria Rojava, meaning “the land where the sun sets.”

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Ed Vulliamy: A Nobel prize that dishonours the victims of genocide // George Orwell: Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali (1944)

NB: Holocaust denial is alive and well in the modern world. The Nobel Prize is now as valuable as poison gas. DS Truth is endangered these days. Untrue “facts” are easily manufactured and spread. Politicians blur and manipulate the difference between truth and lies. Handke’s equation of Srebrenica with lesser outrages by the Bosnian army is like Donald Trump blaming “all sides” for Charlottesville and finding “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis. In fact, the current political zeitgeist of refusal to live with “the other” can be seen to have roots in the post-Yugoslav carnage.

So, the highest award in literature goes to a writer who denies the existence of concentration camps that it was my accursed honour to find in Bosnia in 1992, who lauded Slobodan Milošević, mastermind of the hurricane of violence of which they were part, and contests the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995. Peter Handke is an apologist for genocide within living memory, at the heart of Europe. He says one thing, while earth across the Balkans gives up its mass graves. While Handke proffers his views, the bones are facts.

Does this matter? Literature must exist independent of politics; the Nobel prize could be awarded regardless of morals or ideology. But that’s not what the prize sets out to be or do. It is awarded, according to the will of Alfred Nobel, for outstanding work “en idealisk riktning” – in an ideal direction or direction of an ideal. The prize does have moral, as well as literary, pretensions: Seamus Heaney won it in 1995 for work of “lyrical beauty and ethical depth”. Ezra Pound was among the greatest poets of the past century, but never won the prize, possibly because of his fascism and hideous antisemitism.

World's top three asset managers oversee $300bn fossil fuel investments

The world’s three largest money managers have built a combined $300bn fossil fuel investment portfolio using money from people’s private savings and pension contributions, the Guardian can reveal. BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street, which together oversee assets worth more than China’s entire GDP, have continued to grow billion-dollar stakes in some of the most carbon-intensive companies since the Paris agreement, financial data shows.

The two largest asset managers, BlackRock and Vanguard, have also routinely opposed motions at fossil fuel companies that would have forced directors to take more action on climate change, the analysis reveals. The investment rise is driven by the success in the last decade of tracker funds that use algorithms to follow major stock exchange indices such as the FTSE 100 and S&P 500.

The Guardian has worked with the thinktank InfluenceMap and the business data specialists ProxyInsight to analyse the role played by asset managers in the financing and management of some of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies. Figures compiled by InfluenceMap show how Blackrock, Vanguard and State Street – known as the big three – have become crucial climate actors in the financial world. They are the largest money managers in the $74tn industry.... read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/12/top-three-asset-managers-fossil-fuel-investments

Standing Rock Chairman gifts Greta Thunberg with a Lakota name meaning “woman who came from the heavens”


We stand with you. We appreciate you. We love you as a relative

FORT YATES, N.D. — Nearly 500 Indigenous students stood in a circle surrounding two 16-year-old climate activists and their fathers Tuesday morning, Oct. 8, in the Standing Rock High School gym.
A medicine man blessed the girls — Tokata Iron Eyes and Greta Thunberg — in what’s known as a smudging ceremony. Then, a circle of men played the drum as everyone in the gym slowly turned to face the four sacred directions.

One of the drummers, Hans Young Bird Bradley, of the Standing Rock Environmental Protection Agency, said the tribe has “no choice but to support them, hold them up” on their mission to spread awareness about climate change. “We shouldn’t leave it on the back of two little girls to do this,” he said. “It’s too much weight to carry for them. It should be all of us doing our part.”
Greta and Arvol Looking Horse
Thunberg, a Swedish climate activist who came to fame after traveling to the U.S. on an emissions-free boat, spoke to world leaders at the United Nations climate action summit in New York last month and has since traveled North America to continue talking about climate change. She told the crowd of Indigenous students she was honored to be speaking at “this symbolic place of resistance” where just three years earlier thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Though the line was eventually installed, the tribe has continued to fight it in court as others from the Standing Rock Sioux Nation have built on momentum from the protest to create a more sustainable future.

Oliver Milman: Political polarisation over climate crisis has surged under Trump // 'If they don't do it, we will': Greta Thunberg rallies climate strikers for long haul

Donald Trump’s presidency has ushered in an era of unprecedented polarisation between Republican and Democrat lawmakers when it comes to voting on measures to tackle the climate crisis, while the fossil fuel industry now almost entirely favours Republicans in campaign contributions. The two main US political parties regularly voted along the same lines on clean air and clean water provisions in the 1970s but started to diverge in the 1990s. They now occupy opposite ends of the spectrum, according to data collated by the nonpartisan group the League of Conservation Voters 

Amid Trump’s zeal for environmental deregulation and an unfolding climate crisis that is now more divisive than abortion for many Americans, this polarisation is at record levels. Since Trump’s election, Democrats across Congress have voted for pro-environment legislation 92% of the time on average, compared with 5% for Republicans, according to an analysis by LCV. It said 2017 was a particularly extreme year, with Republicans in the Senate voting for environmental protections just 1% of the time. Forty-six Republican senators voted against environmental protections at every single opportunity....
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/11/political-polarisation-climate-crisis-trump

'If they don't do it, we will': Greta Thunberg rallies climate strikers for long haul
Young people must be prepared to strike for a long time for action on climate change and not back down, the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has told a rally in Denver. Thunberg said she and fellow youth activists would not beg those in power to act because she expected leaders to keep ignoring them. “We will instead tell them, if they won’t do it, we will,” the 16-year-old said to loud cheers on Friday. “The world is waking up and we are the change. The change is coming whether you like it or not.”

Thunberg spoke for several minutes to a crowd of several thousand at Civic Center Park near the state capitol building. The rally highlighted Colorado activists, like Madhvi Chittoor, 8, who has campaigned in the state against plastics. Thunberg again scolded leaders for not doing enough to fight climate change and for ignoring science. Echoing a line from an angry speech at the United Nations last month that drew global attention, she said several times of leaders, “How dare they,” with some in the crowd repeating the line.


Friday, October 11, 2019

The rebuilding of Delhi: An imperial syndrome? Bharat Bhushan

Animals mark their territory with scents - spraying urine, scattering faecal pellets, rubbing secreting glands. Humans also mark territory by building boundary walls, naming roads, or even by just leaving a bag or handkerchief on a seat in an auditorium or a café. Nations mark their space through carefully demarcating and guarding boundaries - like the Qin dynasty’s Great Wall of China and more recently the Donald Trump inspired wall on the US-Mexican border.

However psychologists say that though animals struggle to keep their DNA alive, they do so instinctively. They do not have enough neurons to really think about the future. They cannot conceive of the world continuing to exist after they are gone. Human beings, on the other hand, are acutely conscious of their mortality. Many of them want to be remembered by future generations through their legacies -- physical artefacts, splendid buildings and gardens.

The plan to rebuild or redevelop the Central Vista in New Delhi as well as Parliament House is best understood in this context as an attempt to leave one man’s physical stamp on the world on a grand scale. One of his ministers has claimed in an interview that the idea of rebuilding Delhi is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream project. Perhaps he wants to place himself in a long imperial tradition of capital building Prithviraj Chauhan and Qila Rai Pithora, Qutubuddin Aibak and Mehrauli, Allahuddin Khilji  and Siri Fort, Mohammad bin Tuglaq and Tuglaqabad, Firoze Tuglaq and Firozabad, Sher Shah Suri’s Shergarh or Purana Qila and Shah Jahan’s Shahjehanabad.

Harish Khare: Gandhi Will Have to be Killed, One More Time // Khaled Ahmed: Why India must not reject Gandhi and imitate Pakistan

If he was an eyesore in 1947, the Mahatma remains a bigger irritant 70 years later in “new India” About two weeks ago, the world’s most morally deformed politician anointed a new “father of the nation”. This was the grossest of insults to India – a real-estate-mogul-turned-president of the United States daring to rearrange our national icons. Yet our political establishment and its aggressively noisy cheerleaders, who wear their nationalistic sensitivities on both sleeves, quietly gulped down this disparagement of the Mahatma, the greatest moral voice of the 20th century.

And, horror of horrors, this grotesque man who momentarily occupies the White House was very much visible in the backdrop in Ahmedabad when the prime minister kicked off the 150th birth centenary of the actual ‘father of the nation’. It would appear that Donald Trump’s rhetorical besmirching was not all that unsynchronised, and this “father of the nation” business is seen, in some quarters, as a licence to explore the possibility of a different kind of canonisation. 

If there has to be a new “father of the nation” then the question arises: what are we to do with the old ‘Sabarmati sant’? A strong case will have to be made for banishing Bapu from our national pantheon, to make place for someone else to become our nation’s father. The original ‘father’ will need to be stripped of his high spiritual status. The Mahatma was the original eyesore for the old Hindu Mahasabha crowd. And the January 30, 1948 assassination has to be seen beyond Nathuram Godse, the man who fired those shots. 

Wardha varsity expels six students who protested against Govt, wrote letter to PM

NB: The serial Emergency imposed by the Sangh Parivar government continues. This is an assault on our constitutional freedoms. The RSS never stops complaining about Indira Gandhi's aothoritarianism. Are the actions of their government any different? DS


In an unusual interpretation of the model code of conduct, six students of the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya (MGAHV) in Maharashtra’s Wardha have been expelled for organising a dharna and writing a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi protesting, among other things, rising incidents of mob lynching and “shielding” of leaders accused of rape. In an order issued October 9, Acting Registrar Rajeshwar Singh said the students were being expelled for “violating the 2019 assembly election code of conduct and interfering in the judicial process” by organising a group dharna. 

Chandan Saroj, one of the six students thrown out, said though some 100 students were present at the dharna on October 9, university authorities took action “selectively against three Dalit and three OBC students”. He said “there were many upper caste students too in solidarity with us”. The expulsion order identified the students as Chandan Saroj (M Phil, Social Work); Neeraj Kumar (PhD, Gandhi and Peace Studies); Rajesh Sarthi; Rajneesh Ambedkar (Women’s Studies Department); Pankaj Vela (M Phil, Gandhi and Peace Studies); and, Vaibhav Pimpalkar (Diploma, Women’s Studies Department).

The All India Students’ Association, in a Facebook post, said Rajesh Sarthi is an AISA activist. It called for reversal of the university order, saying “freedom of expression of the students cannot be curtailed”. Stating that women who complained of rape by BJP’s Kuldeep Singh Sengar and Chinmayanand were being “brutally victimized”, it went on to list issues such as Kashmir, “communal and casteist mob lynchings”, the murder of Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand, the attack on Dalits in Bhima Koregaon and the demolition of a Ravidas temple in Delhi.... read more:
https://indianexpress.com/article/india/maharashtra-varsity-expels-six-scholars-who-wrote-letter-to-pm-modi-over-lynching-6064880/

see also
Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Serial authoritarianism picks out targets one by one
State protected hooliganism in Ramjas College
Khaled Ahmed: Why India must not reject Gandhi and imitate Pakistan
Pakistan’s universities are not counted among the world’s top universities. In fact, even in Pakistan nobody in pursuit of knowledge sets much store by them. The reason is an ideology based on religion which doesn’t brook revision. One thought India would learn from this negative example but it has actually succumbed. Following religion, India can start looking like Pakistan. But what will happen to the Indians and Pakistanis deeply convinced by the “inclusive” faith of Mahatma Gandhi who believed in Hindus and Muslims living together as one nation?

John le Carré, MI6 and the fact and fiction of British secret intelligence // 'My ties to England have loosened': John le Carré on Britain, Boris and Brexit

Sir Richard Dearlove, a former chief of the Secret Intelligence Service - SIS or MI6 - recently 
launched a critical broadside at John le Carré, accusing the acclaimed author of award winning spy fiction of producing “corrosive” novels that “are exclusively about betrayal”. The blurring of intelligence fiction and intelligence fact has long been a double-edged sword for the real world of British intelligence , particularly in terms of its impact upon recruitment. 

Sir Colin McColl, chief of SIS from 1989 to 1994, once described the most well-known fictional secret agent, James Bond, as “the best recruiting sergeant in the world”. But it’s likely that the image of the martini-drinking, fast car driving Bond was attracting the wrong type of applicant.  More recently, SIS has made efforts to distance itself from the fictional secret agent. In October 2016, the current chief of SIS, Sir Alex Younger, explained that James Bond: wouldn’t get through our recruitment process … whilst we share his qualities of patriotism, energy and tenacity, an intelligence officer in the real MI6 has a high degree of emotional intelligence, values teamwork and always has respect for the law… unlike Mr Bond. Bond’s 'severe chronic alcohol problem', recently diagnosed by the Medical Journal of Australia, probably wouldn’t help his case, either....
https://www.alternet.org/2019/10/john-le-carre-mi6-and-the-fact-and-fiction-of-british-secret-intelligence/

John le Carré on Trump: ‘Something seriously bad is happening’: “I think of all things that were happening across Europe in the 1930s, in Spain, in Japan, obviously in Germany. To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary. There’s an encouragement about.” Even today, Le Carré said, Ang Sang Suu Kyi is speaking of “fake news” in Burma. “These are infectious forms of demagogic behaviour and they are toxic.”

The United States of America Has Gone Mad (2003)
John le Carré to tackle 'division and rage' of 2018 in new novel

'My ties to England have loosened': John le Carré on Britain, Boris and Brexit
I have always admired John le Carré. Not always without envy – so many bestsellers! – but in wonderment at the fact that the work of an artist of such high literary accomplishment should have achieved such wide appeal among readers. That le Carré, otherwise David Cornwell, has chosen to set his novels almost exclusively in the world of espionage has allowed certain critics to dismiss him as essentially unserious, a mere entertainer. But with at least two of his books, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and A Perfect Spy (1986), he has written masterpieces that will endure.

Which other writer could have produced novels of such consistent quality over a career spanning almost 60 years, since Call for the Dead in 1961, to his latest, Agent Running in the Field, which he is about to publish at the age of 87. And while he has hinted that this is to be his final book, I am prepared to bet that he is not done yet. He is just as intellectually vigorous and as politically aware as he has been at any time throughout his long life. In the new book there is a plotline that is predicated on covert collusion between Trump’s US and the British security services with the aim of undermining the democratic institutions of the European Union. “It’s horribly plausible,” he says, with some relish when we meet in his Hampstead home. .. 
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/oct/11/john-le-carre-truth-was-what-you-got-away-with

How the UK Security Services neutralised the country’s leading liberal newspaper. By Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Andrew Bacevich: High Crimes and Misdemeanors of the Fading American Century

NB: The author of this piece is what might be called an enlightened conservative critic of American military interventionism abroad. Though I empathise with much of what he says, I can see where his argument resonates with (and exemplifies the problem with) a certain kind of left-wing stance on the unfolding American political crisis. What about the System? is what it says, much like a recent comment on the Trump impeachment made by Slavoj Zizek. It is necessary to engage with this posture and spell out its implications. (The global nature of the implosion of institutions based on the division of powers and answerability before the law exposes the nationalist pretensions of all the political patriots).

Bacevich's article refers to the hypocrisy of the 'elite' - as if Trump, and Murdoch and the Republican Party aren't members of the global elite. (Its ironical how ruthless mafiosi portray themselves as victims and representatives of the underdog). It ignores the systematic efforts of the ultra-right to deprive the poor of voting rights (gerrymandering), pack the courts with ideologically 'correct' judges; instigate violence against ethnic minorities and political critics, propagate racism, mysogyny and murderous hatred; and manipulate the news media to the point where the very concept of truth disappears completely.

In a word: we are witnessing a violent insurrection against democracy, not against capitalism! This is what intellectuals such as Zizek fail to speak up about. One reason is that there has always been a strong authoritarian streak in Marxist-Leninist politics

How exactly do critics of the System propose to deal with the situation? Does it help to say 'what about the crimes of the anti-Trump elite'? Would they rather the concept of law-governed democracy disappeared? The argument misses the basic political problem: that Trump, and leaders like him, represent the uprising of a prominent section of the global ruling classes (yes, the elite) not only to evade accountability, but to demolish the concept of accountability altogether - i.e. to rule with a refurbished monarchy. Contrary to the view that 'free markets' and free istitutions complement each other, capitalism and democracy are not complementary - now that the Cold War is long over, capitalism is undermining not only the natural enviroment, but many tenuous democratic institutions too. Enroute to tyranny, the new breed of neo-fascists will pervert established institutions of justice, election machinery, criminal law, etc., in order to completely destroy their true functions.

Trump's politics resonates with that of India's 'Sangh Parivar' government (hence the Howdy Modi circus); not to mention with that of Duterte, Erdogan, Boris Johnson, Putin, Netanyahu, M. B. Salman, etc. For too long a time radical democratic thought has side-stepped the complex problem of law and governance, replacing it with talk about Systems; and failing to reflect upon whether the ideal society of their conception will be devoid of institutions of justice and accountability.

George Orwell summed up the problem in 1937: We have got to admit that if Fascism is everywhere advancing, this is largely the fault of Socialists themselves. Partly it is due to the mistaken Communist tactic of sabotaging democracy, i.e. sawing off the branch you are sitting on; but still more to the fact that Socialists have, so to speak, presented their case wrong side foremost. They have never made it sufficiently clear that the essential aims of Socialism are justice and liberty. With their eyes glued to economic facts, they have proceeded on the assumption that man has no soul, and explicitly or implicitly they have set up the goal of a materialistic Utopia. As a result Fascism has been able to play upon every instinct that revolts against hedonism and a cheap conception of ‘progress’. From The Road to Wigan Pier, (1937), ch 12. DS

Andrew Bacevich: High Crimes and Misdemeanors of the Fading American Century
As I wrote about a month before the 2016 presidential election, “As a phenomenon, Donald Trump couldn’t be more American... What could be more American, after all, than his two major roles: salesman (or pitchman) and con artist? From P.T. Barnum... to Willy Loman, selling has long been an iconic American way to go. A man who sells his life and brand as the ultimate American life and brand... come on, what’s not familiar about that?”

And then, in that fateful October, I added: “In relation to his Republican rivals, and now Hillary Clinton, he stands alone in accepting and highlighting what increasing numbers of Americans, especially white Americans, have evidently come to feel: that this country is in decline, its greatness a thing of the past... Under such circumstances, many of these voters have evidently decided that they’re ready to send a literal loose cannon into the White House; they’re willing, that is, to take a chance on the roof collapsing, even if it collapses on them. That is the new and unrecognizable role that Donald Trump has filled. It’s hard to conjure up another example of it in our recent past. The Donald represents, as a friend of mine likes to say, the suicide bomber in us all. And voting for him, among other things, will be an act of nihilism, a mood that fits well with imperial decline.”

Looking back, so much of what I wrote then has become the essence of now.... read more:
http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176613/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich%2C_high_crimes_and_misdemeanors_of_the_fading_american_century/

see also
Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Serial authoritarianism picks out targets and tires out challenges
How the UK Security Services neutralised the country’s leading liberal newspaper
A Final Warning by George Orwell

Abdulwahhab Badrakhan: Iraq protests expose the crisis in the regime’s integrity

A third wave of protests in Iraq, following those in 2015 and 2018, continues to shake the three pillars of the regime - the constitution, electoral law and an independent judiciary - although protesters’ basic demands are not political. There is, nevertheless, a general conviction that they are impossible to achieve without a profound change in the so-called political process.


This is evident in the debate accompanying the demonstrations which has covered the need to review the pillars on which the state’s actions are based, and activate the decisions of the anti-corruption bodies. There is also a need to resolve the controversy over the duality of the military and security establishment with the Popular Mobilisation Forces, the umbrella of around 40 mainly Shia militias.

It is, therefore, a regime related crisis. It would have been contained if the government, political powers and the PMF’s Iranian backers had realised that the benefit and spoils system they have created has led to huge expenditure from limited budgets and neglect of the people, with all their sectarian and ethnic affiliations. Livelihoods have been subjected to the interests of a small minority.


Young Sunni Muslims and Kurds have not taken part in the protests as they feel that the authorities and political parties will simply exploit their participation for sectarian purposes. Primarily, this would be to bring an end to the protest movement, which is important to everyone on many levels...
https://www.juancole.com/2019/10/protests-regimes-integrity.html

Juan Cole - Not Just Ethnicity: Turkey v. Kurds and the Great Divide over Political Islam v. the Secular Left

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Turkey’s incursion into Syria has roiled the Middle East and NATO countries, demonstrating one key polarizing divide on both sides of the Mediterranean. As far as I can tell, that divide is between supporters of political Islam and its opponents. By political Islam I mean movements like the Muslim Brotherhood that make Islam more than a matter of private worship and belief, seeking to turn it into a political ideology that aspires to come to power and rule a country. Political Islam in the Middle East is analogous to the Christian Right in the United States.

The Turkish invasion of northeast Syria began on Wednesday, with 14 said to be killed, 8 of them civilians, in heavy Turkish aerial and artillery bombardment of 6 Kurdish towns along a 290-mile stretch of the Syrian border with Turkey such as Tel Abyad. Thousands of Kurds were said to have fled their homes, heading south away from the border. Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan plans to occupy a swathe 30 miles deep and to send in large numbers of Sunni Arab Syrian refugees now living in Turkey, who had fled the government of Bashar al-Assad.

Although Turkish propaganda advertises that Ankara is returning displaced Syrians to their homes, it is doing no such thing. Turkey is displacing hundreds of thousands of indigenous Kurds and then stealing their land and homes and giving them to Sunni Arab refugees who were originally from elsewhere in Syria entirely. Erdogan seeks to establish a Sunni Arab buffer zone between the Syrian Kurds and the Turkish border. To the north of the Turkish border are millions of Turkish Kurds that Erdogan suspects of having separatist tendencies, and whom he is afraid the Syrian Kurds will infect with their Bookchinite leftist ideology and strong Kurdish nationalism.

Erdogan is behaving in Syria, in other words, precise as Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had behaved in the significantly Kurdish province of Kirkuk, to which he brought in large numbers of Arab settlers from elsewhere so as to dilute Kurdish political claims. In both cases authoritarian leaders used ethnic cleansing and population displacement as a political tool...read more: 
https://www.juancole.com/2019/10/ethnicity-political-secular.html





Brexit is a necessary crisis – it reveals Britain’s true place in the world: David Edgerton

Since the 1970s things have changed radically. Today there is no such thing as British national capitalism. London is a place where world capitalism does business – no longer one where British capitalism does the world’s business.

Who backs Brexit? Agriculture is against it; industry is against it; services are against it. None of them, needless to say, support a no-deal Brexit. Yet the Conservative party, which favoured European union for economic reasons over many decades, has become not only Eurosceptic – it is set on a course regarded by every reputable capitalist state and the great majority of capitalist enterprises as deeply foolish. If any prime minister in the past had shown such a determined ignorance of the dynamics of global capitalism, the massed ranks of British capital would have stepped in to force a change of direction. Yet today, while the CBI and the Financial Times call for the softest possible Brexit, the Tory party is no longer listening.

Why not? One answer is that the Tories now represent the interests of a small section of capitalists who actually fund the party. An extreme version of this argument was floated by the prime minister’s sister, Rachel, and the former chancellor Philip Hammond – both of whom suggested that hard Brexit is being driven by a corrupt relationship between the prime minister and his hedge-fund donors, who have shorted the pound and the whole economy. This is very unlikely to be correct, but it may point to a more disconcerting truth. The fact is that the capitalists who do support Brexit tend to be very loosely tied to the British economy. This is true of hedge funds, of course – but also true for manufacturers such as Sir James Dyson, who no longer produces in the UK. The owners of several Brexiter newspapers are foreign, or tax resident abroad – as is the pro-Brexit billionaire Sir James Ratcliffe of Ineos.

But the real story is something much bigger. What is interesting is not so much the connections between capital and the Tory party but their increasing disconnection. Today much of the capital in Britain is not British and not linked to the Conservative party – where for most of the 20th century things looked very different. Once, great capitalists with national, imperial and global interests sat in the Commons and the Lords as Liberals or Conservatives. Between the wars, the Conservatives emerged as the one party of capital, led by great British manufacturers such as Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain. The Commons and the Lords were soon fuller than ever of Tory businessmen, from the owner of Meccano toys to that of Lyons Corner Houses.

After the second world war, such captains of industry avoided the Commons, but the Conservative party was without question the party of capital and property, one which stood against the party of organised labour. Furthermore, the Tories represented an increasingly national capitalism, protected by import controls, and closely tied to an interventionist and technocratic state that wanted to increase exports of British designed and made goods. A company like Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) saw itself, and indeed was, a national champion. British industry, public and private, was a national enterprise....read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/09/brexit-crisis-global-capitalism-britain-place-world#comment-134115104

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Serial authoritarianism picks out targets one by one, and tires out challenges

The government engages in... serial authoritarianism, picking out targets one by one. The advantage of this strategy is not just that others are complacent that they will not be the victims of civic oppression. It tires out protest, by making each transgression require a separate and discrete form of protest. So we don’t yet have a contest between democracy and authoritarianism. What we have are protests against individual transgressions - sedition, lynching, NRC, Kashmir. These are still seen as individual transgressions in a system that is still, overall, legitimate.

But even as we prepare our legal challenges, write in public, organise protests, mobilise and look for slivers of social resistance that can be harnessed in the service of civic freedom, we should be prepared that things will have to get worse before they get better. After all, if we still have the luxury of acting as if the system is legitimate, the system will hoist us with our own petard of legitimacy. This is not a counsel of despair, only an analytic judgement, that the crisis will have to be projected as deep, systemic and wide-ranging, before resistance finds a focal point.

The noose is tightening around all independent institutions in India. The episode featuring sedition charges against eminent writers and directors — now belatedly withdrawn — is a reminder of the peculiar nature of the crisis of liberal institutionalism in India. The true register of the crisis is not that liberal ideas might be losing, or that elites identified with liberalism might be discredited. Both those phenomena have occurred in the past. What is new is the choking up of the channels of protest in the time of civic oppression. Where does a politics of resistance to civic oppression go?

We cannot rely on the law. A liberal polity relies on unglamorous institutions and processes to keep open the windows of light against the darkness of untrammelled power. We have often relied on some putative motivating power of the law to deliver a modicum of protection, if not justice. The law has often disappointed deeply; and it often protects elites more than others. But the cowardly, almost impeachable, abdication of the judiciary in the face of threats to civil liberties has now made an appeal to the law akin to an appeal to the majestic benevolence of an odd judge at best, and a laughing joke at worst.

We cannot rely on discussion. The liberal faith in discussion is not so much that liberal ideas might win, as it is a faith that there is something addictive about the commitment to discussion itself; it is the habit itself that is the triumph of a liberal sensibility. This is why authoritarian politics disdains discussion. Again, this space will privilege some more than others, but its availability is a form of insurance against worse evils. So long as there is a commitment to “politics through speech,” some basic norms of reciprocity will be preserved. But the idea of public discussion is itself under severe threat. There is direct intimidation using law and violence. The main channels of public debate — the media — are now, for the most part, supply-side driven propaganda. Social media can accelerate tribalisation even faster than it accelerates democratisation....read more
https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/sedition-charge-against-celebrities-mob-lynching-narendra-modi-6061361/

see also

The Abolition of truth सत्य की हत्या



Father demands justice after student beaten to death in Bangladesh

The father of an engineering student who was beaten to death at his university halls in Bangladesh 
has demanded justice for his son, as protests against politically motivated attacks on campuses continued. Abrar Fahad, 22, who was allegedly targeted after he criticised the government in a Facebook post, was found dead at his university halls of residence in Dhaka on Monday.

It is claimed that he was attacked by students linked to the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), an influential student wing of prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League. Barkat Ullah, Fahad’s father, said his son had hoped to study a PhD, and wanted to serve his country. “The university administration has to take strict measures to stop such incidents,” he said. “They should know what’s happening inside their dormitory. They have to hold them accountable. “If they can do that, then maybe these kind of incidents will stop happening.”

Fahad’s death has caused outrage across the country, prompting protests this week by students at the universities of Dhaka, Chittagong and Rajshahi, and demands for authorities to clampdown on political violence on campuses. Human rights groups have condemned groups such as BCL, which have been accused of beating student protesters and stifling debate. Last year, university and school students who had launched a protest calling for greater road safety were beaten with sticks and machetes in attacks widely blamed on the Awami League and its youth wing.

Authorities took no action against those carrying out the violence, according to Human Rights Watch, but instead detained the protesting students. A first year student from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) in Dhaka, where Fahad was studying, said students did not feel safe in halls of residences. “We never speak freely,” he said. Fahad was in his second year at Buet, the most competitive university in the country, where he was studying electrical and electronic engineering....
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/10/father-demands-justice-after-beating-to-death-of-student-in-dhaka

Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions

The Guardian today reveals the 20 fossil fuel companies whose relentless exploitation of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves can be directly linked to more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era. New data from world-renowned researchers reveals how this cohort of state-owned and multinational firms are driving the climate emergency that threatens the future of humanity, and details how they have continued to expand their operations despite being aware of the industry’s devastating impact on the planet.
The analysis, by Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in the US, the world’s leading authority on big oil’s role in the escalating climate emergency, evaluates what the global corporations have extracted from the ground, and the subsequent emissions these fossil fuels are responsible for since 1965 – the point at which experts say the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known by both industry leaders and politicians.

The top 20 companies on the list have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide, totalling 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) since 1965... 
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/revealed-20-firms-third-carbon-emissions


President Trump is at war with the rule of law. This won't end well - Rebecca Solnit

At the top there’s corruption, down below there’s dismantling and disarray. Americans are entering a period of immense danger... the federal government has become a subsidiary of Trump Incorporated... Passivity and disengagement got us here; political engagement will get us out.. 
Do Americans still have a government? I do not know. What I do know is that President Trump and the upper echelons of the executive branch are at war with the legislative branch, the rule of law, the constitution, federal civil servants and the American people. It’s a conflict that pulls in many directions, and if the president threatened civil war the other day as something that could happen if he doesn’t get his way, we can regard the ordinary state of things as a low-intensity civil war or a slo-mo coup that’s been going on from the beginning. Tuesday’s White House refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry only escalates their defiance and their chaos.


The chaos takes so many forms. Innumerable stories have made it clear that even the president’s own aides and cabinet members treat him like a captive bear or a person having a psychotic breakdown – like someone unstable who must be kept from harming himself and others. They have done that by heaping on the flattery, and by warping and limiting the information he receives, and often by doing their best to prevent his directives from being realized. The New York Times recently reported on a March meeting about the border. According to aides, Trump “suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down”. When he was told that wasn’t allowed, he ordered that the border be closed. That set off a “frenzied week of presidential rages, round-the-clock staff panic and far more White House turmoil than was known at the time. By the end of the week, the seat-of-the-pants president had backed off his threat but had retaliated with the beginning of a purge of the aides who had tried to contain him.”

This is the kind of story we’ve become used to – outrages and viciousness and inanity and all – but it’s worth reading another way, as a story about a bear lashing out at whatever’s around him and gobbling up the scraps they feed him while he is still chained to the wall. When we refer to the “president” we really mean whatever ad hoc group of people with proximity is manipulating him, lying to him, or preventing him from knowing or doing something. They sometimes prevent harm or illegality. But this is only half of the administrative “team.” The other half consists of those serving his personal agenda, and in this respect the federal government has become a subsidiary of Trump Incorporated.... read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/09/trump-government-executive-branch-rebecca-solnit


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Over 180 Cultural, Literary Persons Endorse Letter to PM by 49 Celebrities, Condemn FIR

185 members of Cultural Community, including actor Naseeruddin Shah, dancer Mallika Sarabhai, authors Ashok Vajpeyi, Nayantara Sahgal and Shashi Deshpande, historian Romila Thapar, singer T.M. Krishna, and artist Vivan Sundaram, have endorsed an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by 49 eminent citizens against mob lynching, and have condemned the FIR against them in Muzaffarpur in Bihar, alleging "sedition" among other charges. 


Read the full statement: An FIR has been lodged against forty-nine of our colleagues in the cultural community, simply because they performed their duty as respected members of civil society. They wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, expressing concern about mob lynching in our country. Can this be called an act of sedition? Or is harassment by misusing the courts a ploy to silence citizens’ voices?

All of us, as members of the Indian cultural community, as citizens of conscience, condemn such harassment. We do more: we endorse every word of the letter our colleagues wrote to the Prime Minister. This is why we share their letter here once again, and appeal to the cultural, academic and legal communities to do the same. This is why more of us will speak every day. Against mob lynching. Against the silencing of people’s voices. Against the misuse of courts to harass citizens....

Text of open letter written to Prime Minister Modi on 23 July 2019 by 49 eminent citizens:
We, as peace loving and proud Indians, are deeply concerned about a number of tragic events that have been happening in recent times in our beloved country.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Leo Tolstoy: The Three Questions (1885) // Lu Xun: Waiting for a Genius (1924)


NB: These two beautiful writings were sent to me by my friend T Vijayendra, to whom I owe thanks. DS

The Three Questions, by Leo Tolstoy
It once occurred to a certain king that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.
drawing of a kings throne room
And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to anyone who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do. And learned men came to the king, but they all answered his questions differently. 

In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right time for every action, one must draw up in advance a table of days, months, and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time. Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action, but that, not letting oneself be absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was going on, and then do what was most needful.

Others, again, said that however attentive the king might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action, but that he should have a council of wise men who would help him to fix the proper time for everything.

But then again others said there were some things which could not wait to be laid before a council, but about which one had at once to decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide that, one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only magicians who know that; and, therefore, in order to know the right time for every action, one must consult magicians.

Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said the people the king most needed were his councilors; others, the priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the most necessary. To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation, some replied that the most important thing in the world was science. Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was religious worship…. 
read more: 


By Lu Xun (A lecture delivered to the alumni of Beijing National University’s middle school on January 17, 1924)

I am afraid my talk will be of no use or interest to you, for I really have no special knowledge; but after putting this off so long I have filially had to come here to say a few words. It seems to me that among the many requests shouted at writers and artists today, one of the loudest is the demand for a genius.