Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Bulandshahr violence: After a BJP MP backed accused, another takes aim at murdered SHO. (So Maoist violence is anti-national, but when Sanghi's kill policemen they're being patriotic?)

NB: Indian citizens, IAS, IPS and judicial officials may note the brazen hypocrisy of the RSS and its allies - they condemn Naxalism from one side of their mouths whilst from the other side they defame police officials murdered trying to control mob violence. Open hooliganism is practised by those who make a big drama of their so-called patriotism. What a bloody joke! This murderous gang is dragging India into a cesspit of hate and lawlessness. Let us be warned - now that they are suffering electoral defeat, they will step up the communal rhetoric, which is the only language they know. They must not be allowed to destroy the Indian Constitution. DS

Days after a BJP MP came out in support of the main accused in the killing of SHO Subodh Kumar Singh following a brutal attack by a mob over the alleged killing of cows in Bulandshahr, another MP from the party, has chipped in, this time to point fingers at the slain policeman. Meerut MP Rajendra Agrawal told The Indian Express Sunday that the team investigating the violence last Monday should also check whether the SHO became a target because the station under his charge allegedly failed to check cow slaughter and cattle smuggling.

“Whatever has happened in Bulandshahr on December 3 leading to the death of the Siana Station House Officer in mob lynching is highly deplorable. But the probe team should also include within its purview why no action was taken by the SHO in connection with the FIR lodged regarding cow smuggling at the Siana police station before the violence,” Agarwal said. “If cow slaughter has been declared by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as a serious crime, then we will have to look into the working of police stations, including Siana, over a broader time period. If we have to uproot the menace of cow slaughter, we will have to look at all aspects, down to the police station level,” Agrawal said.

RSS Is Running Govt, PM Modi Can’t Go Against It: Savitribai Phule

NEW DELHI - Dalit MP Savitribai Phule, who resigned from the BJP last week, has called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a "puppet" in the hands of the RSS. "The RSS is ruling this country today. Yogi (Adityanath) and Modi do exactly what they are asked to do by the RSS and the RSS people do not believe in the Constitution of India. They follow 'Manusmriti' (an ancient Indian legal text which advocates caste hierarchies)," she said while speaking to HuffPost India.

The Lok Sabha MP from Bahriach seat in Uttar Pradesh said she was insulted and ignored by her party members when she tried to raise the issues of backward communities in Parliament. "Since 2014 Lok Sabha elections, there has been a steep increase in violence against Dalits, backwards and minorities in our country. People are being killed, women are being raped almost every day in Uttar Pradesh and in other parts of the country. The atrocities against Dalits have reached an insane level. Villages are being burnt, people are being lynched and women are being raped openly. But when I tried to raise these issues in the parliament, the BJP people looked at me with contempt and tried to demoralize me," Phule added.

Phule also said that no action has been taken against RSS and BJP leaders who said the Constitution should be reviewed. She cited all of these as reasons for her resignation. Earlier in the year, Phule had held rallies and protests against what she claimed was a "conspiracy to end reservations". She had also protested against the Supreme Court's March ruling to regulate the use of the SC/ST Act—nine people were killed in protests that broke out in reaction to the order. In August, the cabinet was forced to approve an amendment to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to overturn the top court's ruling.

Phule also accused the BJP of using Dalits, OBCs and tribals as just a vote bank. "They (BJP-RSS) don't have any vision. They come to power only on emotive issues. Now they are raking up the Ram Temple issues because they haven't done anything in the last four and half years. They say they want to make India a 'Hindu Rashtra' but where will Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, Parsis, and Buddhists go then?" she questioned.

Arvind Kala - Modi's become India's biggest bore... Even our night sleep rings with cries of “Mitron”

Has Modi's downfall started?

Most certainly yes. One reason is that Modi's become India's biggest bore. From sheer TV over-exposure. Switch on any TV news channel and Modi's nasal voice rings out. And a million irritated Indians snap: “Uff, this fellow again!”

Modi's over-exposure has actually made him an intrusion in our daily lives. We can't get away from  him. Even our night sleep rings with cries of “Mitron”. TV's very dangerous. It makes and unmakes politicians. TV brought Modi to power. The same TV's going to sweep him away. There's one simple rule of politics. Voters don't vote for a tedious bore. And India's voters see Modi as one.

That apart, Modi's impending downfall comes from a dozen other reasons. One reason is his total incompetence. He bungles everything. I'm not talking of Modi's demonetization or GST. One was a disaster and the other is a catastrophe. I'm talking of Modi's daily bungling. He even bungled on Lord Ganesh. Millions of Hindus revere Lord Ganesh. . How did it matter why Ganesh has the trunk of an elephant? But Modi must yakk. So he even had a comment on how Lord Ganesh got his elephant trunk. “We had plastic surgeons who attached an elephant's trunk onto Ganesh's face,” Modi told the world while extolling the glories of a Hindu ancient India.

A Prime Minister talking such nonsense? Mercifully at Diwali, Modi didn't amplify his nonsense by attributing Laxmi's four hands to plastic surgery. But the damage was done.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Toby Stirling Hill - 'We’re going to kill you': Nicaragua's brutal crackdown on press freedom

Nicaraguan TV journalist Miguel Mora was driving home from work when he was pulled over by armed police. “They ordered me take off my glasses and put a hood over my head,” says Mora, who directs the 100% Noticias news channel. “Then they took me by the neck and forced me into a pickup, where an officer told me: ‘You’re responsible for the death of police. If you keep fucking around, we’re going to kill you and your whole family.’” It was the sixth time Mora had been detained by police in the space of a week. He also faces criminal charges of “inciting hate”, while drones have filmed his house and armed men on motorbikes track his movements.

Such intimidation is part of an escalating assault on press freedoms in Nicaragua, unleashed in the wake of the civil revolt that paralysed the country earlier in the year. Journalists have been beaten
arrested, and robbed; radio stations raided by police. This week, both the UN and the IACHR 
condemned the intensifying harassment. “This government has banned protest, captured opposition leaders, and now the only thing preventing a totalitarian dictatorship is the independent media,” says Mora. “This is the stage where they try to silence us.”  The family of journalist Angel Gahona, who was killed working in an area of Nicaragua roiled by violent anti-government protests. Photograph: Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters

Anti-government protests broke out in April, sparked by the mismanagement of fires in a protected reserve and fuelled by fiscal reforms that slashed social security. They spread after police used live ammunition on demonstrators, killing dozens. As the crisis worsened, 100% Noticias beamed police and paramilitary violence into homes across the country. Newspapers exposed the state’s lethal tactics: one investigation drew on radiographic evidence to show that many of the deaths were the result of a single gunshot to the head, neck or chest – proof that state forces were shooting to kill.

From the start of the unrest, the government tried to control coverage, pressuring media bosses to self-censor. Journalists at Channel 10 – owned by Mexican tycoon Remigio Ángel González – were initially barred from reporting on demonstrations… read more

Dom Philips: Illegal mining in Amazon rainforest has become an 'epidemic'

An epidemic of illegal artisanal mining across the Amazon rainforest has been revealed in an unprecedented new map, pinpointing 2,312 sites in 245 areas across six Amazon countries.
Called garimpo in Brazil, artisanal mining for gold and other minerals in Amazon forests and rivers has been a problem for decades and is usually illegal. It is also highly polluting: clearings are cut into forests, mining ponds carved into the earth, and mercury used in extraction is dumped in rivers, poisoning fish stocks and water supplies. But its spread has never been shown before.

“It has a big impact seeing it all together,” said Alicia Rolla, adjunct coordinator at the Amazon Socio-environmental, Geo-referenced Information Project, or RAISG, which produced the map. “This illegal activity causes as many social as environment problems and we hope there can be coordinated actions from the countries impacted to prohibit it.”

Its publication comes weeks before Brazil’s far-right president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, takes office on 1 January. Last year Bolsonaro said he practised artisanal gold mining during his holidays in the 1980s and he has won support from garimpeiros (artisanal miners) with promises to help them work with “dignity and security”. He also wants to legalise mining on protected indigenous reserves where it is currently banned.

The map was produced by a network of non-government, environmental groups in six Amazon countries – FAN in Bolivia, Gaia in Colombia, IBC in Peru, Ecociência in Ecuador, Provita and Wataniba in Venezuela, and Imazon and the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) in Brazil. It also includes information where available on what was being mined and when, citing sources that vary from government registers to satellite imagery.

In 37 cases, the groups say illegal artisanal mining took place in protected indigenous reserves, 18 of which were in Brazil. Another 78 reserves showed garimpo taking place along their limits and borders – 64 of them in Peru – and 55 nature reserves also had illegal mining… read more:

Interview Ai Weiwei: 'The mood in Germany is like the 1930s'

The artist has battled surveillance, underground exile and even irate Berlin taxi drivers. He thinks the world has forgotten what human rights mean, which is why he has designed a new flag

The wallpaper image on Ai Weiwei’s mobile phone is a black and white photograph showing the entrance to an underground home in Xinjiang. It was here where the Chinese activist artist and his family were exiled for five years when he was a boy. “We were put underground here as a punishment,” he says. “This is where I grew up. Now they put the Uighurs in these kind of camps.” 

He enlarges the picture showing a bunker-like structure jutting out of the ground in an arid, inhospitable landscape. Ai’s father, Ai Qing, was a poet and political radical who, although no activist, was seen as a threat to society. “So I’ve always been involved with human rights issues, not initially out of choice but out of personal experience,” he says.

Many of Ai’s works over a career spanning more than 40 years have been investigations into human rights transgressions, including his own imprisonment by Chinese authorities. But now he has taken his interest a step further by accepting the invitation from UK arts organisations and human rights charities to design a flag to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 “I don’t recall any kind of symbol for human rights,” he says, sitting at a long wooden table in his studio in Berlin, where he has lived in exile since 2015. “So it was time we gave it one.”

He lays out a series of photographs. They show the muddy footprints of Rohingya refugees who have been forced to flee attacks by Myanmarese soldiers and take refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.
“These are the footprints of some of the barefooted children, women and young people who we met, who had no shoes,” he says. “Of course it’s very difficult to design something to illustrate such a large, abstract concept. But I thought a footprint relates to everybody who has been forced to flee, whether in Africa, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. There is nothing more human than a footprint.”
read more:

Sunday, December 9, 2018

'Wise and humane': Soviet dissident Lyudmila Alexeyeva dies aged 91

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a Soviet-era dissident who became a symbol of resistance in modern-day Russia, has died at the age of 91 after a long illness. In a career emblematic of the country’s turbulent history, she defended human rights in the Soviet Union from the 1950s, and continued to do so in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Kremlin Human Rights Council, said Alexeyeva died on Saturday in a Moscow hospital. “This is a huge loss for the entire human rights movement in Russia,” Fedotov said. “She had been struggling with illness recently, but her mind was always stronger than her body and far stronger than any disease.” Alexeyeva had been the chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, one of Russia’s oldest human rights organisations, which she helped found in 1976. The group lamented the loss of a “legendary, wise and humane person who remained a defender of human rights until the last moments of her life”.

Alexeyeva trained as an archaeologist and in the late 1950s, her apartment became a meeting place for the Soviet dissident intelligentsia, and a point for storing and distributing banned publications.
She campaigned against trials for dissidents, losing her job as a science publisher and enduring numerous searches and interrogations by the KGB. With her security under threat, she left the USSR in 1977 for the United States. Alexeyeva returned to Russia in 1993 after the Soviet Union collapsed, and became a strong critic of Putin.

She criticised Moscow’s seizure of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 for “bringing shame on my country”. The following year, she denounced the “awful political killing” of the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. She also tried to shed light on the fate of accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after accusing Russian officials of tax fraud, and denounced the imprisonment of anti-Kremlin tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had sent a message of condolences to her family. The president “greatly appreciates Lyudmila Alexeyeva’s contribution to the development of civil society in Russia and had great respect for her point of view on several issues concerning the life of the country”, Peskov said. In 2009, the European parliament awarded Alexeyeva the prestigious Sakharov prize for defenders of human thought, along with the Memorial human rights group. “If I save even one person, it’s already a true joy,” she said at the time.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

‘May 1968 was a revolution – now the violence is just frightening’: Daniel Cohn-Bendit

As a student, he led the 1968 uprising in Paris. Now he has Macron’s ear, but ‘Dany le Rouge’ is not afraid to speak out on why both sides are at fault

The last time Paris burned, his was the face of insurrection. Dany le Rouge (Danny the Red – a nickname that partly reflected his politics and partly his hair) was the hero of a generation. Even when Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the May 1968 student uprising, changed his colours to Danny the Green and went mainstream – representing ecology parties in France, Germany and Brussels – he never quite shook off his reputation as a rebel and political trouble-maker. Half a century on, Paris is burning and barricaded again and the city’s cobble stones are being prised up to be hurled at police once more, but Cohn-Bendit sees little comparison with the clashes of 50 years ago. 

He views the gilets jaunes not as revolutionaries but as a movement veering dangerously into authoritarianism. In an interview with the Observer, Cohn-Bendit, now a friend and adviser to President Emmanuel Macron, said: “This movement is very different to May 68. Back then, we wanted to get rid of a general (Charles de Gaulle); today these people want to put a general in power,” he said, referring to calls by certain gilets jaunes for the former chief of defence staff General Pierre de Villiers, who resigned after falling out with Macron in July 2017, to be made prime minister.

“And nobody in 68 made death threats against those who want to talk. This is the power of force. All those on the left thinking this is a leftwing revolution are wrong: it’s veering to the right. To hear that gilets jaunes who want to negotiate are receiving death threats is evidence of this authoritarian right.
“I hear people from la France Insoumise (hard left), talking about this being a great people’s revolt and how the people are speaking, but these are the same ordinary people who pushed Trump into power. “We saw in Germany in 1933 what ‘ordinary’ people did. Not all ordinary people are good … it’s not an accident that this movement has proposed General de Villiers as an alternative leader.”

Cohn-Bendit speaks from family experience. He was born in France to German-Jewish parents who fled Nazi Germany in 1933. Now 73, he holds dual nationality and splits his time between the two countries... read more:

Mueller Is Telling Us: He's Got Trump on Collusion

NB: It is worth noting that despite wielding Presidential powers, Donald Trump is unable to control major investigations (at Federal and State level) into his own conduct. This is not because he does not want to, but because the investigators are functioning as independent judicial executives, performing their duties under the law and constitution, regardless of whether or not it displeases the President of the USA. Our own police, IAS officials and judiciary may kindly take note - and many of them do indeed remember their oath of office - you are servants of the Constitution, not of the Prime Minister or his ideological mentors in the RSS. It takes a long time building institutions, but they can be destroyed by a handful of unscrupulous rogues. Act in such a way that you can retire from service with your head held high. The Indian Union is not the fiefdom of any group, party or paramilitary. DS

For nearly two years, since the U.S. intelligence community released its report on the Russian campaign to assist Donald Trump in the 2016 election, the American people have been seeking an answer as to whether the Trump campaign colluded with its Russian counterpart. In the endless speculation about the direction of the investigation, a common view was that maybe the investigation would never implicate President Trump or find any collusion.

But a flurry of recent activity this past week all points in the same direction: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will likely implicate the president, his campaign, and his close associates in aiding and abetting a Russian conspiracy against the United States to undermine the 2016 election.

First, Mueller has clearly identified collusion in the efforts of top Trump aides and associates to contact WikiLeaks. In a draft plea agreement provided to conservative operative Jerome Corsi, Mueller details how Roger Stone, who the special counsel notes was in frequent contact with Donald Trump and senior campaign officials, directed Corsi to connect with WikiLeaks about the trove of stolen materials it received from Russia. Corsi subsequently communicated WikiLeaks’ release plan back to Stone, and the Trump campaign built its final message around the email release. That is collusion.

Second, we now know that Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn have provided evidence to Mueller related to collusion. In Cohen’s sentencing memo, Mueller said that Cohen provided his office with “useful information” on “Russia-related matters core to its investigation.” The core of Mueller’s investigation is collusion. In Flynn’s sentencing memo Mueller said that Flynn’s false statements to the FBI about his calls with the Russian ambassador during the transition were “material” to the investigation into links or coordination between Russia and “individuals associated with the Trump campaign.”... read more:

Legal Experts: Mueller, Feds Just Upped Trump’s 'Legal Exposure' 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Ian Jack - Our age lacks gravitas. That’s why we cannot deal with crisis

.... In their irreverence and sentimentality, and their interest in celebrity and the sensational, British newspapers and the broadcast media are now much closer to the audiences they pursue. News – including political news – has become a kind of entertainment. How many ministers will resign today? Did you see Corbyn mess up again? It may be no less informative, but in the telling a formal style of address has almost vanished, to be heard occasionally and eccentrically in the announcements of royal birthdays that come before the early-morning bulletins. And sometimes formality is desirable, as a way to dignify our grief or apprehension: not for nothing do undertakers wear black.

The present crisis will shrink soon enough. Compared with other crises circling in the stack and waiting to land – species extinction, human population growth, mass migration, resource exhaustion – Brexit is small stuff, a pointless distraction. But how can news bulletins cope with these things? How should they be ranked? A bearded man carrying a sandwich board – “The End is Nigh” – was once a familiar character in cartoons, but now the joke falls flat. “Collapse of civilisation is on the horizon” was how the Guardian headlined its report of David Attenborough’s speech this week to the UN’s climate summit in Poland. It appeared on the front page, though it was not the lead item.

If we want to see the world differently and, just possibly, avert the collapse, we need different kinds of information. What has mattered until now is money. The indices that appear without fail – fixed on the printed page and changing on the screen – show the fluctuations of the FTSE 100, the Nikkei, the Dow Jones, Nasdaq and the currency exchange rates. Imagine if instead the same little boxes showed the average global temperature, the extent of Arctic sea ice, the rise in sea level and the parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Day by day, the changes would be tiny – consoling in their minuteness. Comparison with the same set of figures for the same day 20 years before would be needed to show their ominous development...

There they would be: sober, factual, grave and rarely consulted; but always warning against the ultimate crisis, like an old-fashioned sermon on hell... read more

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Bulandshahr: Police Eyewitnesses Detail How Bajrang Dal Set Up Inspector’s Death

BULANDSHAHR, Uttar Pradesh — Nine eyewitnesses, including two policemen, gave HuffPost India granular details on how the Bajrang Dal, an affiliate of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), orchestrated the mob attack on a police outpost in Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh, resulting in the death of a policeman and a civilian on 3 December. Station House Officer Subodh Kumar Singh was killed as he sought to quickly disperse an angry mob that was primed to attack a small group of Muslim men returning from a nearby Muslim congregation, the policemen who accompanied him said. Had the mob succeeded in attacking the Muslims, a policeman said, the district would have erupted in a full-blown communal carnage. "If not for his martyrdom, entire Bulandshahr would be burning now," said the policeman, who was part of SHO Singh's posse. The policemen appeared visibly scared as they spoke and sought anonymity as they feared for their lives and employment.

Their testimonies reveal how the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government has lost control of the Hindutva forces it once used to enforce its writ. The violence in Bulandshahr began soon after villagers found cow carcasses in the fields owned by Raj Kumar, a farmer from Mahav village. Raj Kumar, who has since been named as one of the accused in SHO Singh's death, rushed to the spot and (his family members told HuffPost India) immediately informed the Chingaravati police post about the incident. SHO Singh, and a small group of police officers, arrived soon after. A policeman present at the spot told HuffPost India that it was clear that the carcasses were of cows killed at a different place and then transported to the area.

But the police were on alert because they knew that tensions were high as lakhs of Muslim men had gathered for a three-day congregation, called Tablighi Itjema, on the outskirts of Bulandshahr.
"The sense that we got after reaching the spot was that cows were slaughtered somewhere else and brought there," said the policeman who, along with SHO Singh, was amongst the first to reach the spot. "Kotwal Sahab understood that it was a conspiracy to foment communal tensions in the area as Tablighi Itjema was going on in the district." "Kotwal" is the local term for station house officer, the rank held by Subodh Kumar Singh.

Singh convinced the villagers to calm down and bury the carcasses, the policeman said, but members of the Bajrang Dal, particularly the prime accused Yogesh Raj, the district convener of the Dal insisted that the carcasses be loaded in a tractor trolley and taken to the nearest police outpost.
Raj then instigated the crowd to block the highway, the policeman said, prompting fears that they were firing up the mob of Hindu villagers to attack a group of Muslim men returning from the Tablighi Itjema. "Kotwal Sahab understood their conspiracy and ordered a lathi charge to disperse the crowd," the policeman said. "Imagine what would have happened if lakhs of Muslims, gathered in the district for Tablighi Ijtema, would have got the news of the attack on these three men." Instead, the mob turned on the police. Videos of the incident show young men, armed with sticks and bricks, storming the police compound. .. read more:

Venu Madhav Govindu - A larger freedom: Gandhi’s thinking on constructive work

Amongst left-leaning historians, David Hardiman’s engagement with Gandhi is rather unique. A founding figure of the once influential Subaltern school, Hardiman has been an important historian of modern India with a specialisation in the social history of Gujarat. His account of the Kheda satyagraha and its aftermath (Peasant Nationalists of Gujarat: Kheda District 1917-34, 1981) was rich in empirical detail but was also shaped by leftist shibboleths against Gandhian nationalism. Over the decades since, Hardiman has engaged in a reassessment of his views on the significance of revolutionary violence as a means of political transformation, and specifically on the role and significance of Gandhian non-violence in India’s struggle for freedom. This ability to question one’s own certitudes is an altogether rare trait, especially amongst intellectuals. Hence, one must seriously reckon with his current project of examining Indian nationalism through the lens of non-violent resistance.

In a recent article (A different way to fight), Hardiman sheds light on the efficacy of non-violent resistance in political transformation. He also states, in passing, that Gandhian constructive workers helped “people in their everyday needs”, thereby gaining “the sympathy of the masses”. He further argues that “it requires long years of patient organisation in constructive work that gains mass sympathy for a cause — the protest comes only as a culmination”. Such a characterisation might lead the reader to believe that the primary objective of constructive work was to gain mass sympathy, only to be deployed towards the anti-colonial project. Indeed, both the British rulers and many Congressmen often saw it as a mere tool for furthering the politics of the Congress. However, we get a very different picture if we move beyond the 1920s and examine the evolution of Gandhi’s own thinking and activities in the 1930s.

Throughout his public life in India (1915-48), Gandhi devoted his energies to both the political campaign for India’s freedom as well as a range of socio-economic interventions that were clubbed under the rubric of constructive work. Such activities included communal harmony, the removal of untouchability, sanitation, khadi, village industries and basic education or Nai Talim. While much scholarly attention has focussed on Gandhi as a political leader, relatively little research has been carried out towards understanding constructive work. Even the little attention devoted to khadi is primarily owing to its symbolic significance in the political struggle against the Raj... read more:

Lauren Aratani: Donkey and emu that 'fell in love'

“Where one goes, the other follows.” So describes the love between Jack and Diane, a donkey and an emu that fell in love on an abandoned farm in South Carolina. Though the unlikely couple was in danger of becoming star-crossed lovers, they have now found a permanent home after being adopted by a celebrity.

The Walking Dead star Jeffrey Dean Morgan adopted the pair after hearing about a relationship that breaks the species barrier. He and his wife, former One Tree Hill actress Hilarie Burton, have now given the lovebird and the donkey a new home at their farm in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Jack and Diane were rescued from a farm in the beginning of November by Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, an animal rescue non-profit based in North Carolina, along with other animals that were suddenly abandoned by the renter of the property... read more:

Tom Phillips - 'A slow-motion catastrophe': on the road in Venezuela, 20 years after Chávez's rise

... a humanitarian crisis unprecedented in modern Latin American history... The United Nations estimates 3 million have fled the country since 2015 to escape chronic food and medicine shortages, crumbling healthcare and transport systems and an economy in freefall.

The latrines at Simón Bolívar international airport in Caracas overflow with urine; the taps are bone dry. In the departures hall, weeping passengers prepare for exile, unsure when they will return. At customs, a sticker on one x-ray machine warns: “Here you don’t speak badly about Chávez!” But even before stepping outside the terminal it is obvious his Bolivarian revolution, like the airport’s immobile escalators, has ground to a halt.

On 6 December 1998, Hugo Chávez proclaimed a new dawn of social justice and people power. “Venezuela’s resurrection is under way and nothing and nobody can stop it,” the leftwing populist told a sea of euphoric supporters after his landslide election victory. Two decades on, those dreams are in tatters. The comandante is dead and his revolution in intensive care as economic, political and social chaos engulf what was once one of Latin America’s most prosperous societies. 

Almost 10% of Venezuela’s 31 million-strong population have fled overseas; of those who remain, nearly 90% live in poverty. To understand Venezuela’s collapse, the Guardian travelled hundreds of miles across the nation Chávez dreamed of transforming, from the spot in downtown Caracas where he gave his first speech as president-elect to his birthplace in the country’s sun-scorched southwestern plains. On the way, we encountered lingering affection for a charismatic populist still celebrated as a champion of the poor, and a determination among Venezuelans from all walks of life to somehow weather the economic cyclone ravaging their country.

But above all, there was deprivation, hunger, profound apprehension and seething anger – even among proud chavistas – at a government now incapable of fulfilling its citizens’ most basic needs, and in denial over a humanitarian crisis unprecedented in modern Latin American history..
read more:.. 

Exquisite Maps The World Has Ever Seen. By Lee Moran

Edward Brooke-Hitching acknowledges he’s a man on a mission when it comes to antique maps.
The British author spent two years painstakingly researching the most exquisite and expensive ones ever made for his new book, The Golden Atlas: The Greatest Explorations, Quests and Discoveries on Maps. Many of the original versions of those featured in his book are worth millions of dollars and are kept securely under lock and key.

“The world of antique maps, dealers and auctions can seem quite an intimidating, stuffy and elitist arena closed off from the general public,” the 35-year-old told HuffPost this week. “It’s important they’re seen outside the world of private collecting, that their beauty is broadcast to anyone who might be curious,” he added. “They provide a sense of their period like no other document can offer. They’re snapshots of everything we knew of the world at that time, as well as everything we believed.”

Brooke-Hitching’s passion for maps was sparked at a young age by his rare tome-dealing father. It provided the inspiration for his previous book, The Phantom Atlas, which noted the epic blunders made on maps over the years. Modern maps don’t have quite the same pull for Brooke-Hitching, who also works as a writer for BBC quiz show “QI.” He said they lack the artistic and narrative elements because “with satellite photography, mapping has achieved its ultimate goal: true accuracy.”

“There’s no room for artistic flourishes, rumors, myths and uncorrected errors, and pretty much every other element that make antique maps so fascinating, on the modern map,” the London-based writer said. “Of course it’s sad in a way, but it’s also astounding that I can use a small device in my pocket to scour every square inch of the planet,” he added.

Check out nine of the stunning maps featured in the book below:

Erin Brockovich: The weedkiller in our food is killing us

On a recent Saturday afternoon, in an estuary near Tampa Bay, Florida, I watched airboats move up and down the river banks, spraying massive plumes of weedkiller on to the vegetation. The state of Florida was trying to control and kill off scores of plant species. Nearby, children were lying out in the sun, though they knew better than to swim in the water, which has recently been blooming with toxic algae. Mists of weedkiller drifted downwind toward them.

The main active ingredient in that mist, and in the weedkiller being sprayed throughout Tampa Bay, is glyphosate, one of the most widely used herbicides in the US. First registered for use here in 1974, it is now an ingredient in more than 750 products, including the most widely deployed herbicide in the world, Monsanto’s Roundup. For more than a generation, Americans have been using Roundup and other glyphosate-based chemicals to improve agricultural yields, manage forests, ripen fruit and kill the dandelions sprouting from our front lawns.

This August, the jury in a civil trial found Monsanto, which was acquired earlier this year by the German chemical behemoth Bayer, guilty of causing the cancer of Dewayne Johnson, a school groundskeeper. The jury awarded Johnson $289m (a judge later reduced the award to $78m, citing statutory limits). Roughly 8,700 similar cases against Monsanto are also before the courts... 
read more:

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Oliver Basciano: Cuban artists on hunger strike after Tania Bruguera arrest

Three Cuban artists including Tania Bruguera have gone on hunger strike in protest at a new law that will require all artists and musicians to apply for government-issued licences. Described by Amnesty International as “dystopian”, the law, Decree 349, is expected to be ratified this month by Miguel Díaz-Canel, the country’s president.

Bruguera, whose work currently fills the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern, was taken by police from her home in the Cuban capital on Monday morning ahead of a planned demonstration outside the ministry of culture. Her fellow artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Yanelys Núñez Leyvawere also picked up on the street by police on Monday and transported to the Vivac prison on the outskirts of Havana, a move that suggests they will be detained for a longer period. 

Bruguera was released within 24 hours but taken back into custody as she headed to the ministry of culture to protest. All three – along with fellow activists Amaury Pacheco and Michel Matos – have vowed to go on hunger strike. “The decree criminalises independent art activity,” the Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco says. “It allows a cadre of roving censors to go around issuing fines, to take away your equipment. These are not liberal individuals – if you are a rap musician and they simply don’t like your lyrics, they will shut you down. These draconian actions already take place but this law systemises it.”

Decree 349 marks a backwards step from a number of reforms made by Raúl Castro, after the former president met with Barack Obama in 2015 – only the second time in 50 years a Cuban leader had met his US counterpart. The ensuing optimism has been short-lived. In May – a month after Díaz-Canel became the first leader from outside the Castro family since the revolution in 1959 – the Cuban government dismissed recommendations by the United Nations that it establish an independent national human rights institution, release political prisoners and end the harassment of artists and activists... read more:

Abhinav Kumar, IPS: Death of an SHO

UP has a dysfunctional criminal justice system. The mob lynching of a police officer underlines it

The badlands of Western UP are in the news again. This time for the fact that a full-fledged SHO of Uttar Pradesh police, Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh, posted in Bulandshahar district was shot dead, allegedly by a mob of cow vigilantes. Apparently they were so angry at the allegations of cow slaughter in their locality that they could not but help give expression to their rage by actually killing a human being. That too one in uniform.

We have been here before. Neither lynchings, nor cop killings are unknown in India’s most populous state. All that is required is a self-righteous cause. After all, this is the state that in 1922 brought the Civil Disobedience movement to a halt by burning alive an entire station full of policeman at Chauri Chaura. Even Gandhi was helpless before the might of a lynch mob from UP. Lesser mortals like policemen simply don’t stand a chance.

But why go that far back in history. The districts of Western UP could very well start a Indian Lynch a Cop League. Moradabad did very well in 2011 when they nearly beat an SSP to death over the alleged desecration of the Quran. He had nearly two dozen fractures and barely survived. The good residents of Mathura went one step further and actually killed an Additional SP in 2016. Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Ghaziabad — all of them have their own tales of exemplary savagery against the police. All, of course, for some “noble” cause or another.

Predictably, even before the funeral pyre of Singh turned to ashes, the political blame game has begun. The mobilisation of cow vigilantes is the obvious culprit. And in the context of this particular crime it makes perfect sense to question the culture of impunity that has grown around cow vigilantes, from the days of the first lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri. Five accused have been arrested, a few with clear links to right-wing outfits. However, to blame this cop killing culture of UP on the right-wing alone would be to confuse the symptoms for the disease. This incident is at the intersection of two sub cultures, the first a culture of impunity of the lynch mob, and the second a culture of servility of an emasculated and politicised police... read more

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Not heeding 'advice' of Constitution will result in 'descent into chaos', warns CJI Gogoi
Police Officer Who Busted Sohrabuddin Encounter Case Says State Trying to Silence Him

भारतीय संविधान के जनम की 69वीं सालगिरह पर: हिन्दुत्वादी राजनीती का सरग़ना RSS प्रजातांत्रिक-धर्मनिरपेक्षभारत के लिए सब से घातक आतंरिक खतरा 

'Killed for speaking the truth': nine journalists murdered in 2018

Malali Bashir, a journalist, TV and video producer for RFE/RL’s Afghan service and a colleague of Durrani: “The bomb was a deliberate attack on journalists. As they lost their lives one by one, the whole office was in shock. I can’t explain the situation we were in. We didn’t stop the broadcast. Everything was live ... We were being professional, we were giving the facts, we were being balanced, but still, it was emotional because you lost a colleague that was in contact with you yesterday.
“Maharram had been hired to work on a weekly programme focused on women’s rights and women’s issues. She was the main financial supporter of her family. She told her father she would be like a son, she would be the breadwinner. Her father said she refused to get married because she wanted to keep supporting her family financially. He said she was very courageous and brave.

“She was a soft-spoken, very modest person but with great potential as a journalist. We don’t have many females on the ground, especially women who are very interested in covering issues related to women. This is a tragedy. She was still in training ... she didn’t even finish the first programme.”… read more:

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Bulandshahr violence: 'CM Yogi only says cow cow cow, my brother was killed for investigating Akhlaq case'

The sister of a police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh who lost his life in Bulandshahr violence has slammed Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and said that they don't need any money.
A police inspector, who had probed the Akhlaq lynching case initially, and a 20-year-old local man died of gunshot injuries on Monday as a rampaging mob protesting alleged illegal cow slaughter torched a police post and clashed with cops.
"My brother was investigating Akhlaq case and that is why he was killed, its a conspiracy by Police," said Subodh Singh's sister. She also said that her brother should be declared martyr and memorial should be built. "We do not want money," she added. Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh, who was posted at Siana Police Station, suffered a gunshot injury in addition to wounds from hard and blunt objects. Meanwhile, four persons were arrested after police lodged an FIR against over two dozen people for rioting and murder in connection with the violence here, officials said.

As many as 27 people have been named in the FIR, registered around 3 am, while cases have been lodged against 50 to 60 unidentified people. Expressing grief over the incident, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is in Rajasthan for the election campaign, said strict action will be taken against the guilty after the probe reports are received. In Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh government announced a total of Rs 50-lakh assistance to the kin of Inspector Singh. The government said Rs 40 lakh would be given to his wife and Rs 10 lakh to his parents.

Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Bulandshahr, Krishna B Singh said police were probing the matter and raids were being conducted to arrest the other accused.

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Purushottam Agrawal - Nehru's Spectacularly Indian Vision and the Wrath of the RSS

Monday, December 3, 2018

Jill Abramson - The Mueller investigation is closing in on Trump

The rogues’ gallery exposed in Robert Mueller’s court filings last week make the Watergate burglars look positively classy. Even veteran lawyers who were involved in the investigations of Richard Nixon say they’ve never seen this level of chicanery. Most importantly, last week’s events showed that Special Counsel Mueller is getting closer to exposing the scope and depth of it all. His most recent filings make clear that considerable evidence touches the president himself.

The disclosures from Michael Cohen, the former Trump fixer who is now a cooperating witness, 
drew the connection tighter. In his guilty plea to an additional charge of lying to Congress, Cohen revealed, and Trump confirmed, that the Trump Organization was pursuing a luxury skyscraper deal in Moscow while Donald Trump, identified as “Individual 1” in the latest court filings, was sewing up the Republican party presidential nomination.

As a candidate, Trump repeatedly reassured voters that he had no business dealings in Russia. But as he uttered those lies, he knew Cohen was planning to sell Russian kleptocrats $250m units in a future Trump Tower Moscow by luring Putin into the project with a free $50m spread. This was all unfolding as emails from Democratic officials, hacked by the Russians, disrupted the Democratic convention and the Republican party was making its party platform much kinder to Russia.

Trump tried to dismiss this Moscow real estate bombshell, saying it was fine for him to pursue his business affairs while running for president, because if he lost, he expected to return to the throne of the Trump Organization. Could this help Mueller close the circle of collusion between Trump and Russia?.. read more:

Intercepts solidify CIA assessment that Saudi Prince ordered Khashoggi killing

The CIA has evidence that Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, communicated repeatedly with a key aide around the time that a team believed to have been under the aide’s command assassinated Jamal Khashoggi, according to former officials familiar with the intelligence.
The adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, topped the list of Saudis who were targeted by US sanctions last month over their suspected involvement in Khashoggi’s killing. US intelligence agencies have evidence that Crown Prince Mohammed and al-Qahtani had 11 exchanges that roughly coincided with the hit team’s advance into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where Khashoggi was murdered.

The exchanges are a key piece of information that helped solidify the CIA’s assessment that the crown prince ordered the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and Virginia resident who had been critical of the Saudi government. “This is the smoking gun, or at least the smoking phone call,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official now at the Brookings Institution. “There is only one thing they could possibly be talking about. This shows that the crown prince was witting of premeditated murder.”

The existence of the intercepts was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, which reviewed a highly classified document on the CIA assessment of Khashoggi’s killing. The leak of the secret report, according to officials, infuriated Gina Haspel, the CIA director. It has also intensified calls by members of Congress to have Haspel go to Capitol Hill to brief them. Al-Qahtani has been one of Crown Prince Mohammed’s closest advisers. When the head of the hit team, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, was recorded by Turkish intelligence saying “tell your boss” that the team had carried out the mission, he was believed by U.S. intelligence agencies to have been communicating with al-Qahtani.

People briefed on the intelligence said they believed that the 11 exchanges between Crown Prince Mohammed and al-Qahtani could have been the time when the aide shared the news. Current and former officials insisted that while the communications are suggestive and reinforce the intelligence agency’s conclusions about the culpability of the crown prince, they are not the kind of definitive, direct evidence President Donald Trump has suggested would be needed to convince him that Crown Prince Mohammed ordered the killing... read more:

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Central European University forced out of Hungary

The Central European University, founded by George Soros, said on Monday it had been forced out of Hungary in “an arbitrary eviction” that violated academic freedom, and it confirmed plans to enroll new students in neighboring Austria next year. CEU’s statement is the culmination of a years-long struggle between Hungarian-born but U.S.-based Soros, who promotes liberal causes through his charities, and the nationalist, anti-immigrant government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

“CEU has been forced out,” said CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff in a statement.
“This is unprecedented. A U.S. institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU.” “Arbitrary eviction of a reputable university is a flagrant violation of academic freedom. It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary,” the statement added.

CEU’s legal status has been in limbo for more than a year since changes to a higher education law that meant a foreign-registered university could no longer operate in Hungary unless it also provided courses in its home country. Orban’s critics say the changes deliberately target CEU, which is regularly ranked as the top university in Hungary and offers U.S. degrees. Orban accuses Soros of encouraging mass immigration into Europe, a charge the philanthropist denies.

Earlier this year, Open Society Foundations, Soros’ main funding network, was also forced to leave Hungary. CEU, founded in Budapest in 1991, has repeatedly said it has complied with all the new regulations set by Orban’s government, which has refused to sign off on an already agreed document with the State of New York that would allow CEU to stay. Hungary’s government has dismissed the university’s move as a “Soros-style bluff”.

CEU said it would start enrolling students for U.S. degrees at its new campus in Vienna for the next academic year. Students already enrolled will complete their studies in Budapest. The university retains accreditation as a Hungarian university and will seek to continue teaching and research activity in Budapest as long as possible, it said.

George HW Bush thought the world belonged to his family. By Ariel Dorfman

Bush had operated as head of the CIA from 30 January 1976 until 20 January 1977. He was undoubtedly privy to exhaustive information about the devastation being inflicted by the US supported Pinochet regime in Chile, at a time when opponents were being disappeared, concentration camps were still open and torture was rampant. During his tenure, the American government facilitated the infamous Operation Condor, run by the intelligence services of six Latin American dictatorships to coordinate their repression of dissidents. 

Perhaps most inexcusable was that Bush remained unrepentant of his country’s involvement in so much suffering. Had he not stated – when an American missile had blown up an Iranian aircraft with 290 innocent civilians aboard in 1988 – that he would “never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”

As the world says goodbye to George HW Bush, I am tempted to add my own personal memories to the mix, and illuminate perhaps his legacy by recounting the two intense nights that my wife and I spent in close proximity to the former president at the end of October 2001. It was at the Park Hyatt hotel in Sydney, where I had been invited to deliver the Centennial Lecture celebrating the Federation of Australia. The day after our arrival, the hotel manager – a corpulent, affable man of Spanish extraction – asked us if we wouldn’t mind exchanging our suite, only for the next two days, he said, for another one, just as nice, he promised, elsewhere on the premises.

Having already unpacked, and enjoying the most spectacular view of the bay and the Opera House, it wasn’t hard to respond that we had no intention of moving. Was there any reason for such an unexpected request? The manager could not elaborate further, “due to reasons of security”. Though he would honor our wishes, he regretted that our dinner reservation for that evening had been cancelled, as the dining room would be closed for a restricted event.

It was only that evening, when our centennial hosts had rescued us for a meal at another location, that their head of protocol mentioned, in passing, that we were sharing the Hyatt with none other than Bush the elder, who was in Sydney, with a large entourage, to attend a meeting of the Carlyle Group, the gigantic global asset management firm that he had been advising for the last three years (months later we realized that this was the summit where the Bin Laden family was “disinvested” from the firm)… read more:

Victor Jara murder: ex-military officers sentenced in Chile for 1973 death

Giulio Regeni murder: Egypt rejects naming of its agents as suspects

Egypt has rejected the addition of members of its security services to an Italian list of suspects in the murder of the student Giulio Regeni, in a statement that spelled his name incorrectly. “Egyptian law does not recognise what is called ‘the record of suspects’,” the state information service (SIS) said, citing an anonymous member of the judiciary. The statement was titled “Julio [sic] Regeni’s case: charges should be based on evidence and not suspicions.”

Regeni’s mutilated corpse was found on a desert road outside Cairo nine days after he disappeared, on 25 January 2016. His parents could identify him only from “the tip of his nose”, his mother has said. There have been longstanding suspicions – denied by Egypt – that Egyptian authorities were responsible for his death.

After a meeting on 28 November between Rome’s deputy public prosecutor and his Egyptian counterparts, Italy added several members of Egypt’s national security agency (NSA) to a list of preliminary suspects last week. Italian investigators had previously expressed suspicions that Regeni was followed by agents from the NSA, who also deployed Ahmed Abdullah, the head of the street vendors’ union, to surveil and film Regeni while he researched trade unions in Egypt, a politically sensitive subject.

The Italian paper Corriere della Serra outlined last week how Italian intelligence researched Regeni’s movements in his final days. In its statement released on Sunday night, the SIS cast doubt on the quality of the Italian investigation and whether it was possible to list the suspects under the Italian legal system. Paz Zarate, a friend of Regeni, tweeted: “Egypt not only continues to lie but also to show disrespect by not writing his name right. It’s easy to spell, so this must be a deliberate gesture to indicate where the investigation is going: nowhere.” 

ROME—In a murder case shrouded in secrecy and steeped in sometimes outrageous conspiracy theories, one thing remains clear: Italian Ph.D. candidate Giulio Regeni died a slow and excruciating death.