Monday, November 19, 2018

Aarti Tikoo Singh: Sabarimala and the Liberal Regression

Several secular liberal intellectuals in India are conflicted over the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala. Their main argument is that a secular state and judiciary must refrain from intervening in religious matters. First of all, India is not secular in the Western sense. Secularism in India means equality of and respect for all religions, as conceived by our Constitution. That is why in India, you can’t jest about religion, let alone, draw cartoons and paintings without risking serious consequences. 

You try satirizing religion and you will end up getting arrested like my “Hindu Right wing” friend was for cracking a joke on a Hindu temple, last week. Now in this scenario, religion remains deeply embedded in the state and the state remains attached to religion in both peace times and conflict too. The very nature of politics, hence, revolves around religious identity. This is no secularism; it is no separation of religion and state, of the European Enlightenment kind. 

Therefore, this absolutist position that the Supreme Court should have stayed away from intervening in religious practices of the Sabarimala temple, is wrong. Because, the noninterventionist position assumes that India is a secular state in the normative framework, where the state and religion leave each other alone to do whatever they want. Religion, for example, in the US, does not get the right to feel offended and the right to prosecute offenders for hurting religious sentiments. There is no such parity in India. As of now, there is slim possibility of getting rid of blasphemy laws and replacing it with a law on the lines of the First Amendment in India.

Be that as it may, what’s troubling here is that the liberals are taking a regressive line that the state and the judiciary should turn a blind eye to the customs, traditions and rituals which violate fundamental rights like the right to equality and the right to constitutional remedies. This non-
interventionist argument not only encourages the superficial secularism of India but also keeps India stuck in perpetual misogyny and other kinds of bigotry.

If it were left to the absolutists and noninterventionists, Dalits would have been still persecuted by not just upper castes but by a retrograde jurisprudence too. The Indian state cannot and should not let the tyranny of the male-dominated clergy and priests prevail in the name of religion. It would be travesty of justice if the Supreme Court of India had chosen to stay silent on the patriarchal notion that menstrual women are impure, and from a religious point of view, not eligible to pray to a god or deity. Such parochial beliefs sustain the culture of gender discrimination and disrespect for women even if it is forbidden by law. 

Most importantly, the Indian Constitution and law cannot treat menstruating women “impure” and lesser humans as considered by certain religious codes and cultural practices. Any religious or cultural practice that violates an individual’s fundamental rights, needs state and judicial intervention. Religion cannot and should not have unlimited autonomy and that too, at the expense of other fundamental rights. The Indian state and the judiciary must intervene in religious matters even if it is just one petitioner seeking justice on the grounds that a religious or cultural practice violates his/her fundamental rights. Nothing is more sacrosanct than an individual, as a unit of justice.

Arun Kumar - Two Years after Demonetisation, the Nightmare Continues for India's Informal Economy // With due respect, Finance Minister

Demonetisation is like a bad dream etched in our memories. Weddings were postponed and medical treatment was curtailed for lack of money. Long queues formed outside banks. Small businesses 
closed due to lack of working capital and their workers returned to their villages. Indians who never generated black money were the worst affected. Yet, the narrative that demonetisation would destroy the wealth of the corrupt was widely accepted.

This was because of the misperception that ‘black means cash’. If cash was squeezed out, the black economy would disappear at one stroke – justice being meted out to the corrupt. The Prime Minister said that for long-term gain one had to bear short-term pain. He likened it to ‘ahuti’ in a ‘yagya’. If the pain does not end in 50 days, Modi said, the public could give him any punishment and he would accept it. Two years later, the pain persists but the government only continues to justify its error. It has refused to admit to the long-term damage to the economy, especially to marginalised Indians in the unorganised sectors. Instead, data from the organised sector is used to claim that the economy has recovered to a 7-8% rate of growth. This is treated as evidence that the pain was temporary.
The government did not survey the unorganised sectors to find out what was happening there. The underlying assumption is that the shock to the economy did not require a change in the old methodology for calculating growth. In that methodology, the organised sector is more or less the proxy for the unorganised sector. But the shock to the economy changed the ratio between the organised and the unorganised sectors. So, the ratio used prior to November 7, 2016, was no more valid after November 8, 2016. Data from private surveys showed that the unorganised sector was hit hard. Surveys were conducted by Punjab Haryana Delhi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI), All India Manufacturers Organization (AIMO), State Bank of India (SBI) and many others including NGOs. The RBI survey released in March 2017 showed a sharp decline in deremand for consumer durables and so on.

Agriculture faced a crisis due to notes shortage. Produce could not be sold, the sowing of crops was delayed and the demand for the perishables like vegetables collapsed. Prices fell sharply, thereby impacting incomes of farmers. Banking also went into a crisis since normal banking operations stopped for months. With industry, trade and agriculture facing a crisis, the problem of NPAs only increased. According to the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy (CMIE), investment fell sharply during that quarter. In effect, output, employment and investment declined, sending the economy into a tailspin from which it has not yet recovered. The impact of the goods and services tax (GST) from June-July 2017 again impacted the unorganised sectors and deepened the crisis. So, now the twin impact of demonetisation and GST is being felt in the economy. .. read more:

Saturday, November 17, 2018

RONALD ARONSON - The Philosophy of Our Time: Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential Marxism

You don't arrest Voltaire: President Charles de Gaulle in May 1968, ordering Sartre to be released after he was arrested for civil disobedience

Nearly forty years after his death in 1980, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre is best remembered as the father of existentialism. We are most familiar with him as the theorist of freedom, authenticity, and bad faith in philosophical treatises such as Being and Nothingness (1943) and literary works such as Nausea (1938) and No Exit (1944). But eclipsed in this popular image is an appreciation of the staggering range of his dozens of volumes of published work, especially the fruit of his political activity from the end of World War II until his death - a period marked most notably by a rich and sustained engagement with Marxism.

Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir with Che Guevara in Cuba, 1960
(wikipeda commons)

Far from being consigned to the ash heap of history, the mid-century encounter between Marxism and existentialism remains vital today. As we seek political and philosophical bearings in this time of renewed calls for a socialist alternative to capitalism, postwar efforts to bring Marxism and existentialism together have much to teach us - not only because of the continuing importance of each mode of thought to political thinking and organizing, but also because their interaction in Sartre’s work deepens our understanding of how we exercise agency under conditions we do not control.

Existentialism’s Marxist Turn: The brilliant young Sartre began publishing in 1936 at age thirty-one. Over the next decade he would produce a stream of groundbreaking psychological, philosophical, and literary works and develop strong working relationships with other formidable young Parisian intellectuals including Simone de Beauvoir (who would become his lifelong partner) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Initially he showed little theoretical interest in either activism or Marxism. Instead he was passionately attracted to U.S. films and fiction, and he took his theoretical bearings from the German phenomenological philosophers Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger.

Marianne Schaefer Trench - The Cliché Is True: You Really Are as Young as You Feel

Aging, it turns out, is nothing but a cosmic mistake. Why? Because if you feel you are younger than your chronological age, then you actually are. And there’s a flood of new science to prove it.
One study from the University of Virginia states that at least 70 percent of more than 30,000 subjects reported to feel significantly younger than their chronological age - a divergence so drastic that the scientists invoked the red planet: “Past age 25 or so, subjective aging appears to occur on Mars, where one Earth decade equals only 5.3 Martian years.”

The discrepancy becomes more pronounced the older we get. We look at our chronological age and know with absolute certainty that we’re not there yet. This cosmic wrongness causes ennui every time a birthday comes around. Friends offer platitudes -“Age is just a number”- that turn out to be the truth. We do suffer from a mass delusion. And it happens to be beneficial for us.

After analyzing the mental and physical health of test subjects who feel younger than their chronological age, scientists are in agreement that our chronological age is irrelevant and our subjective age is what matters. Our subjective age is not how old we wish to be, but how old we feel. It is a multidimensional construct marked by one or more of the following indicators: felt age; biological age (looks and physical health); societal age (how we act and what we do); and intellectual age (interests and pursuits). Consider yourself lucky if you feel young, look young, participate in youthful activities and have the curiosity of a child - because those are the indicators for how old you really are.

Feeling younger has many benefits. According to an article in the Journal of Personality by researchers from Florida State University and Montpelier University, it makes us into better people because it fosters “openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness.” It makes us healthier because it corresponds directly to fewer chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and depression. It makes us stronger and yields greater benefits from fitness regimens. The next time you think Cher might be just another lifted-to-the-limit, wrinkle-free septuagenarian freak, keep in mind that she claims to have a rigorous fitness routine and is able to hold a plank for five minutes.

Arguably the greatest benefit of a younger subjective age is how it affects the aging of the brain. When MRI scans were used to predict chronological age, it turned out that brain aging is much more closely related to the subjective age than the chronological age, and it’s an important marker for mental and cognitive health… read more:

Debarshi Das & Prasenjit Bose - Assam NRC: Govt Clueless On How Many Illegal Immigrants Actually Live in India, RTI Shows

The process of updating Assam's National Register of Citizens (NRC) has been a difficult and distressing test for the state's population. Over 40 lakh people were left out of the draft published in July, leading to chaos and confusion as those not included try to find documents that will prove that they are legal residents of the country. When the Supreme Court said in December 2014 that the NRC should be prepared in a time-bound manner, its order underlined the magnitude of Bangladeshi infiltration by quoting a vital piece of statistics:

On 14th July, 2004, in response to an unstarred question pertaining to deportation of illegal Bangladeshi migrants, the Minister of State, Home Affairs, submitted a statement to Parliament indicating therein that the estimated number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants into India as on 31st December, 2001 was 1.20 crores, out of which 50 lakhs were in Assam.

However, a deeper dive into the numbers shows that the Supreme Court may have relied on hearsay to issue the order initiating the NRC updation process. A reply given by the Ministry of Home Affairs to an RTI application submitted by one of the authors shows that the government does not even know how many illegal immigrants are residing in the country.

Where did the '50 lakh' figure come from? : This is the only estimate of the number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam that the SC judgement contained. The rest of the judgement had references to documents where Bangladeshi infiltration is mentioned, but no estimate was provided.

Magnitude matters. "50 lakh" is a very large number for Assam, whose population was less than 2.70 crore in 2001. If nearly one-fifth of the state's population comprises illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, tough measures would appear reasonable and justified... read more:

'Death knell' of press freedom in Hong Kong has been a long time coming // Young Marxists are going missing in China after protesting for workers

Every day before work, Kevin Lau stopped for breakfast at a restaurant in Sai Wan Ho, a residential area in eastern Hong Kong. It was a routine as ingrained in him as brushing his teeth, and it nearly cost him his life. On a morning in February 2014, Lau -- a senior editor at the popular, upmarket daily Ming Pao -- had parked his car on a street near the restaurant when two men, wearing motorcycle helmets and gloves, rushed up to him. One slashed at Lau with a meat cleaver, knocking him to the floor, where he lay bleeding with deep wounds in his back and legs as his assailants ran off.

With what a court later described as "superhuman calm," Lau phoned for an ambulance, and was rushed to hospital. He survived, and two men with triad links -- Yip Kim-wah and Wong Chi-wah -- were arrested and charged with grievous bodily harm. While Yip and Wong were later jailed, they did not reveal who had commissioned and paid for the attack, one of several against journalists in Hong Kong at that time, including the firebombing of the home and office of Jimmy Lai, publisher of the Apple Daily, a tabloid highly critical of the Chinese government.

In the wake of the attack against Lau, several thousand journalists and supporters took to the streets, dressed in black and carrying banners which read "They Can't Kill Us All" in a defiant show of support for press freedom in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. It was a tense period for journalists in Hong Kong. The sense of despair was lifted, temporarily, by the so-called Umbrella Revolution mass pro-democracy protests that broke out in late 2014. Those demonstrations saw the international media spotlight swing onto Hong Kong, and the local press rose to the challenge, covering every aspect of the protests and their fallout, and winning multiple awards in the process.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Andrew Roth - Trial of Russian stage director seen as test for artistic freedom

Kirill Serebrennikov entered court this week in a black T-shirt bearing a message for Russia, a quote from Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls: “Rus’, what do you want from me?” It was an apt question from Russia’s leading avant-garde director, who faces a tortuous, months-long criminal trial seen as a bellwether for artistic freedom in the country. Serebrennikov has been charged with embezzlement and faces 10 years in prison. Supporters have compared his trial to the purge of directors during the Soviet Union and the censorship of leading writers under the Tsars.

“People of culture have always held the most dangerous position in Russia,” Liya Akhedzhakova, a celebrated actor who starred in Soviet classics like Office Romance, told the Guardian in court on Tuesday. “They are the first to be targeted.” Prosecutors claim that Serebrennikov and three co-defendants embezzled $1.2m (£937,000) from the Studio Seven theatre company from 2011-2014. The defence claims the money was spent on productions.

Critics think Serebrennikov’s problems have more to do with his politics than with money. The virtuoso director has made his name directing plays and films that challenged social norms, in a career that has been championed by some Kremlin officials but has also earned him powerful enemies. The Student, a 2016 production about a teenager who wields religion to subdue his classmates and teachers, was seen as a searing critique of the Orthodox Church. Nureyev, a 2017 ballet directed by Serebrennikov, saw its debut at the Bolshoi theatre delayed amid concerns over its overt portrayal of the dancer’s homosexuality.

J.K. Rowling asks us to remember George Orwell

J. K. Rowling went full 1984 to bash White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and President Donald Trump’s administration on Thursday. The Harry Potter author tweeted a sentence from George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel after Sanders circulated a doctored video that she falsely claimed showed CNN reporter Jim Acosta manhandling an intern during a fiery press conference exchange with Trump.

"And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed - if all records told the same tale - then the lie passed into history and became truth”

See also

Trump's Saturday Night Massacre is happening - in slow motion. By WALTER M. SHAUB JR.

whatever the outcome of Mueller’s investigation, America is establishing new precedents. One precedent is that President Trump fired the FBI director - and Congress did nothing. Another is that Trump admitted the FBI’s investigation of his campaign motivated the firing - and Congress did  nothing. A third precedent is that Trump fired the AG after having railed against him publicly for refusing to intervene in the investigation - and Congress has done nothing. A fourth precedent is that Trump circumvented the Justice Department’s order of succession so he could replace the AG with an individual who has directed partisan attacks at the special counsel.. has had a personal and political relationship with an individual involved in the investigation, and has been associated with a company that is the focus of a separate FBI investigation. We’ll see what a new Congress does about that 

If members of Congress or the American people fail to act, these precedents will become the guideposts for future presidents who follow the path President Trump is blazing. A new tenet of American democracy will become that a president is permitted to evade investigation by firing the heads of agencies that investigate the president’s close associates, even when the investigation is the reason for the firings. This cannot stand. Putting a president above the rule of law is a threat to democracy

With the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, America is in uncharted territory. The last time a president made a personnel change to undermine an investigation of his associates, Congress forced him to resign. That was when President Richard Nixon pushed out his attorney general and deputy attorney general so he could fire the special prosecutor. The fallout from this Saturday Night Massacre, as it is known, has stood as a warning to subsequent presidents. Yet President Trump has launched a piecemeal Saturday Night Massacre of his own. He first fired FBI Director James Comey last year for his handling of the Russia probe, then he fired the attorney general for failing to protect him from the Russia probe. His intent to undermine an investigation of his campaign has been clear throughout—he barely tried to hide it—but the difference this time is that he has acted with impunity. What comes next could be anything.

The thing about traveling in uncharted territory is that you don’t know where you’ll end up. This may seem like a simplistic observation, but it’s one worth making. Uncharted territory is the last place a conscientious government official wants to be and the first place an unscrupulous one wants to go. Precedents and norms are guideposts along well-traveled paths in government that lead to impartial decision-making. Conscientious officials find these guideposts helpful as they continuously check their motives to make sure they are putting the public’s interests ahead of their own and other private interests. If circumstances deliver them into uncharted territory, it becomes harder to gauge whether they are serving the public’s interest.

Forty-five years ago, the leaders of the Department of Justice found themselves in similar uncharted terrain. An unscrupulous president was attempting to abuse his authority to undermine a special counsel investigation of individuals associated with his campaign for reelection. Special prosecutor Archibald Cox had demanded President Richard Nixon’s tapes of White House deliberations. Nixon responded by negotiating a compromise with Attorney General Elliot Richardson that would have allowed him to withhold the tapes, summarize the contents of some of them, and let a third party verify his summary. But Cox rejected the compromise, so Nixon ordered Richardson to fire him... read more:

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Dostoevsky book among hundreds banned in Kuwait literature festival

Kuwaiti authorities have blacklisted nearly 1,000 books at a literature festival, including one by Fyodor DostoevskySaad al-Anzi, who heads the Kuwait international literary festival, said the information ministry had banned 948 books including Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a novel set in 19th-century Russia that explores morality, free will and the existence of God.

Dostoevsky joins a growing list of writers banned in the relatively moderate Gulf state, where there is a growing conservative trend in politics and society. The information ministry has blacklisted more than 4,000 books over the past five years, including Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

All titles on show at the 43rd edition of Kuwait’s book fair, which runs until 24 November, were screened in advance by a censorship committee as per Kuwaiti regulations.The committee works under a 2006 law on press and publications, which outlines a string of punishable offences for publishers of both literature and journalism. Offences include insulting Islam or Kuwait’s judiciary, threatening national security, “inciting unrest” and committing “immoral” acts.

Activists took to the streets of the capital twice in September to protest against rising censorship.
During the 1970s and 1980s Kuwait was a regional publishing hub, home to the high-brow, pan-Arab cultural journal al-Arabi and a string of popular scientific and literary books. But in recent years religious conservatives and tribal leaders have gained ground in parliament. Kuwait is the only Gulf state with elected lawmakers.

Julia Carrie Wong - Facebook reportedly discredited critics by linking them to George Soros

Soros has been openly critical of Facebook and Google. “The internet monopolies have neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions,” he said in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. “That turns them into a menace and it falls to the regulatory authorities to protect society against them

Robinson, whose organization has run online campaigns criticizing Facebook over racial discrimination in housing ads, privacy and surveillance, racist hate speech, and other issues, said he was deeply troubled by the report. “This narrative has really dangerous antisemitic undertones about Jewish people controlling the world,” Robinson told the Guardian by phone. “

Facebook hired a PR firm that attempted to discredit the company’s critics by claiming they were agents of billionaire George Soros, the New York Times reported Tuesday. Soros is a Jewish philanthropist who is the frequent subject of antisemitic conspiracy theories. At the same time, the social media company urged the Anti-Defamation League to object to a cartoon used by anti-Facebook protesters over its resemblance to antisemitic tropes. News of Facebook’s aggressive attempts to undermine critics came in a damning report by the Times, detailing how Facebook executives have struggled to manage the numerous and severe challenges confronting the company, all while lashing out at critics and perceived enemies.
Rashad Robinson, the executive director of one of the groups targeted by the PR campaign, Color of Change, called the antisemitic smear “outrageous and concerning”. Amid growing pressure from lawmakers over its role in Russian interference in the 2016 presidential  election, Facebook 
increasingly turned to Definers Public Affairs, a Washington DC based political consultancy founded by Republican operatives and specializing in opposition research, according to the report.

One of Definers’ tactics was to publish dozens of negative articles about other tech companies, including Google and Apple, in order to try to distract attention from Facebook’s public relations woes. Definers published the content on, a website that looks like a news site but is actually run by the PR firm. The narratives pushed on NTK Network were often picked up by conservative sites such as Breitbart. Another tactic was to cast Soros as the driving force behind groups critical of Facebook... read more:

Ramachandra Guha - If Krishna can’t sing

When a scholar is prevented from speaking, that is intolerance. But to prevent a great musician from performing in the national capital is not mere intolerance — it is barbarism.

NB: Guha's argument is sought to be refuted in an op-ed piece today, that refers to T.M. Krishna as a 'vicious political activist'. In his twitter page, Guha says: "You claim no one mentioned you were part of the programme; I did, clearly, in my piece in the Express. You claim the AAI 'specified' reasons; it did not. It gave no reasons whatsoever. Krishna was giving a musical concert, not giving a political talk. It was his concert that was cancelled. By bringing in his politics and his dislike of Modi, you indirectly gave the game away. When commercial film stars become apologists for the Government (any government) it is pathetic. When great classical dancers do so, it is tragic." 
Here are some examples of vicious behaviour by the 'Sangh's front organisations:
A letter to Jaitley: Why do students get jailed but RSS leaders who issue vile threats walk freely?
Ramachandra Guha - If Krishna can’t sing
An Indian institution I greatly admire is Spic Macay. Set up by Dr Kiran Seth, it has done remarkable work in taking the extraordinary riches of our music and dance traditions to young Indians. I first attended Spic Macay concerts in the 1970s, as a college student in Delhi; I continue to attend them in the second decade of the 21st century, as a 60-year-old in Bangalore. Under their generous auspices I have heard Padma Talwalkar sing and seen Leela Samson dance, gloried in the sarod of Amjad Ali Khan and in the flute of Hariprasad Chaurasia.

Another Indian institution I admire is T M Krishna. Krishna is a force of nature. He is, best known, of course, for his music. However, apart from being a singer of genius, he is a public-spirited individual with an abiding commitment to the greater good, whether it is the restoration of the forests of the Western Ghats or the restoration of social harmony in strife-torn Jaffna. I have heard T M Krishna sing many times. The concert of his that will stay with me until I die was performed in a village named Belavadi, in the district of Chikmagalur. Belavadi has a Hoysala-era temple, built on the human scale, and with exquisite sculpture. A friend of Krishna’s has a farm nearby; and he had the inspired idea of asking him to sing at this 1,000-year-old temple.

My wife and I drove down from Bangalore for the occasion. The music was sublime; the setting gorgeous. Behind where Krishna sat was the deity. After several minutes in deep contemplation, his eyes shut, he sang for us the music of the divine. Krishna is thoroughly trained in the classical tradition; and this evening he brought us the full range of the Carnatic oeuvre. We city folks listened, transfixed; as did the villagers of Belavadi, young and old, men and women, who had come to this public space for this special, and especially joyous, occasion.

Why Women’s Peace Activism in World War I Matters Now. By Anya Jabour

A hundred years ago, soon after winning reelection on the campaign slogan “He kept us out of war,” President Woodrow Wilson called on the U.S. Congress to authorize “a war to end all wars.”
The U.S. entry into World War I abruptly ended a different campaign to end war. Between the onset of hostilities in Europe in July 1914 and the U.S. declaration of war in April 1917, a determined group of women activists lobbied the president and Congress to maintain American neutrality and mediate a “negotiated peace.”

Although these women’s efforts proved futile, their persistence and passion still resonate today. By insisting that all citizens – even women, who did not yet have the right to vote – could and should participate in the highest levels of politics, they helped create a civic culture of engaged citizenship that continues to inform American politics today. The idea of arbitrating World War I may seem naive in hindsight. Yet for nearly three years, numerous pacifist groups and individuals in both the United States and Europe advanced proposals for neutral mediation.

Proponents of international mediation hoped diplomatic intervention could bring the war to a swift end and prevent additional loss of life. They also hoped to pave the way for a new type of diplomacy, based on international law and voluntary arbitration, that would ensure lasting peace. Men and women on both sides of the Atlantic participated in the campaign for neutral arbitration. Most memorably, American automobile magnate

Henry Ford collaborated with Hungarian feminist pacifist Rosika Schwimmer to charter a “Peace Ship” to take a private delegation to Europe to broker peace talks. The “Peace Ship” attracted media attention. However, my research on Sophonisba Breckinridge, a founding member of the Woman’s Peace Party, suggests that Breckinridge and other members of this feminist pacifist organization – including future Nobel Laureates Jane Addams and Emily Greene Balch – had a more lasting impact.

The Woman’s Peace Party

While not the first or the only peace organization in the United States, the Woman’s Peace Party, founded in January 1915, was distinctive in its focus on “peace as a women’s issue.” .. read more

Khashoggi killing: Strongest evidence linking murder to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman

NB: The Saudi Arabian state is a criminal enterprise buttressed by the Western powers and oil money. They have poisoned world politics for decades with a stinking mixture of religious fanaticism and  hard cash. We will all continue to pay the price until it disappears. DS

It A message captured in the audio record of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi is widely believed to be an instruction to notify the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman that the operation to slay the Washington Post journalist had been carried out successfully. In the recording, which Turkey has said was passed on to western allies, the comment “tell your boss” that the operatives had carried out their mission, is believed to be the strongest evidence connecting the Crown Prince, also known as MBS, to the murder of Khashoggi.

While the prince was not mentioned by name, American intelligence officials believe, reported by the New York Times, that “your boss” was a reference to Prince Mohammed. Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, one of 15 Saudis dispatched to Istanbul to confront Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate there, is reported to have made the phone call and spoke in Arabic to relay the message to “the boss” that the operation to kill Jamal was successful. A former CIA officer also told the newspaper the comment strongly incriminates MBS. “A phone call like that is about as close to a smoking gun as you are going to get,” Bruce Riedel, who now works at the Brookings Institution, told the Times. “It is pretty incriminating evidence,” he added. People familiar with the content of the recording revealed that Mutreb, who is a diplomat and is known to be very close to MBS, spoke to one of the aides of MBS. While translations of the Arabic may differ, people briefed on the call are reported to have said that Mutreb informed the aide that the “the deed was done”.

S Irfan Habib: Perversion of Islam

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed on Saturday the existence of an audio recording of Khashoggi’s death and said he had shared it with the United States, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France and the UK. “We gave the recordings, we gave them to Saudi Arabia, we gave them to Washington, to the Germans, to the French, to the English,” Erdogan said in a televised speech. “They listened to the conversations which took place here. They know,” he said.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Amnesty strips Aung San Suu Kyi of human rights award for ‘shameful betrayal of values’ in Myanmar

Amnesty International has announced it is stripping Aung San Suu Kyi of a prestigious human rights award over her “shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for”. The Ambassador of Conscience Award is the latest in a series of accolades to be withdrawn from Myanmar’s de facto leader, who has been criticised for failing to intervene to stop a campaign of violence against the country’s Rohingya Muslims. Amnesty said it was withdrawing the award “with great sadness” because of Ms Suu Kyi’s “apparent indifference to atrocities committed by the Myanmar military and increasing intolerance of freedom of expression”.

While living under house arrest in 2009, Ms Suu Kyi was named as Amnesty’s Ambassador of Conscience ”in recognition of her peaceful and non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights”. But now, half way through her term in office and eight years after being released from custody, Amnesty said it was disappointed she had not safeguarded human rights, justice or equality in Myanmar. The secretary general of the human rights group Kumi Naidoo said in a letter to Ms Suu Kyi: “Our expectation was that you would continue to use your moral authority to speak out against injustice wherever you saw it, not least within Myanmar itself.

“Today, we are profoundly dismayed that you no longer represent a symbol of hope, courage, and the undying defence of human rights.” He continued: “Amnesty International cannot justify your continued status as a recipient of the Ambassador of Conscience award and so with great sadness we are hereby withdrawing it from you.” Amnesty has been a vocal critic of Ms Suu Kyi, and has previously accused her of failing to speak out about military atrocities committed against the Rohingya population in the country’s Rakhine state. The Rohingya have been persecuted in the former British colony for decades, with the government denying them citizenship and excluding them from the 2014 census... read more:

Lynch mob Attack in Khan Market

NB: This incident took place within (approximately) a kilometre of the official residence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For me, it symbolises the chief marker of the BJP/RSS government: police apathy (or worse) in the face of lawlessness, and assumption of impunity by violent men indulging in lynching or attempts at lynching. Readers may also read the text in the source link below. DS

October 31, 2018, Khan Market; 5:18 PM

Chills run down my spine as I write this, forced to relive the moments which have changed my life. As a woman who has grown up in this city over the last three decades, I always considered Delhi to be my home. Today, I no longer feel safe in Delhi, a city whose people I foolishly thought I understood despite its worsening reputation. However, this story needs to be told. So here goes:

My husband, his friend who was visiting us, and I were in Khan Market. We were showing our friend around and decided to stop for a bite to eat. As we were looking for parking, my husband spotted a slot, and got out of the car to manage traffic behind me, while I reversed into the parking spot with the parking attendant’s help. While he requested the cars behind to wait for a minute, the impatient driver of the car he was standing in front of got enraged at being made to wait, accelerated and nudged his car into my husband’s legs. Losing his balance, my husband fell onto the road.

Following this, there was a heated exchange between my husband and the driver resulting in the driver calling out to some people standing around, some mechanics and a few other men arriving on the spot. Seeing the unsavoury crowd build up, I was concerned about our safety and asked my husband to get into the car to leave asap. As he got into the car, we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by at least 10-15 people, who were getting pretty aggressive.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Time After Time: Fritz Houtermans at the beginning (and nearly the end) of the world. By Jacob Mikanowski

The first full interrogation of German scientist Felix Houtermans by the NKVD took place in January 1938 in Kharkov, to which he had been transported after his arrest in Moscow a month before. It lasted eleven straight days, a procedure known to the secret police as a “Conveyor.” During those eleven days Houtermans was given only two breaks, of five hours on the first day and two hours on the second. The rest of the time he was kept awake. After the fourth day, he was also kept on his feet. By the end, he was falling into unconsciousness every twenty to thirty minutes, and his feet were so swollen that his shoes had to be cut off afterward. The interrogators told him they were going to arrest his wife, that his children were going to be sent to an orphanage under new names, so he would never see them again. As he would later tell his cellmate, this last threat is what finally broke him.

The interrogators only had two questions: “Who induced you to join the counterrevolutionary organization?” and “Whom did you induce yourself?” Fritz told them everything they wanted to hear about what he had been doing since arriving in the Soviet Union with his family three years before. He said that he was a spy and had been sent to the Soviet Union by the Gestapo. That he had designed a machine that could measure the speed of airplanes with lines of magnetic force. That the focus of his espionage was nuclear physics. That he knew how to bring about a chain reaction—even though this was 1938, when no such thing had been done before, and no one would actually accomplish it for another four years.

Sixty-Three Years: Born in Poland in 1903, raised in Vienna, and educated in Germany, Houtermans was deported from the Soviet Union as a German spy two years after his interrogation, in 1940. But once back in Germany, he was arrested again—this time as a Soviet spy. At the time of his death in 1966 he was living in neither country: he had left for Bern, Switzerland, where he ran a physics institute. During his sixty-three years, Houtermans work had reconnoitered the extremes of time, examined the lifespan of the world. He had once helped to give the Earth its birth date. Had he acted differently at one crucial juncture, he might have helped destroy it.

Book review: Francis Fukuyama on democracy imperilled.

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment
Reviewed by Wesley Yang

If “The End of History?” was “Marxist” in its framework, Fukuyama said, his neocon friends had become “Leninist” in believing the U. S. had the power to hasten the movement of history through military force. He believes they drew the wrong lessons from the Reagan years, specifically the belief that undemocratic societies would simply default toward democracy if we toppled their dictators...

Fukuyama’s grandfather was an immigrant from Japan. He came to the United States in 1905, when it was still a nation with mostly open borders, to evade the draft for the Russo-Japanese war. He built a successful hardware store in downtown Los Angeles and became a community leader in Little Tokyo. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was rounded up and sent to an internment camp by the U. S. government for the duration of World War II. Given two weeks to sell off his business, he did so to a white competitor for virtually nothing. “He basically lost his lifetime’s work,” Fukuyama said. After his release, Fukuyama’s grandfather was never able to establish himself in business again. When he finally became a naturalized citizen, he cast his first vote in the U. S. presidential election of 1964. The vote he cast was for Barry Goldwater….

….Back in 1992, Fukuyama was blithe about the “smallness of actually existing inequalities.” By the early 2010s, he had begun to sound the alarm about the rise of wealthy and powerful elites rigging the political system in their favor. This capture had led to “political decay,” in which special-interest groups were able to block the popular will, including on hot-button issues such as immigration, where polling indicated that a broad consensus existed. He began to call for a renewed left-wing movement to contest the growing consolidation of power.

Fukuyama is hardly a trusted figure among Democrats, though he has, in recent years, taken to railing against what conservatism has become. He is exasperated with the large faction of the electorate willing to be persuaded by the crude and dishonest appeals of a man he took to be “a total idiot completely unqualified to be president.” But while deploring the remedy to which these voters resorted, he acknowledges the grievances that fueled their resentments. “Both the financial crises in the U. S. and the Eurozone and the migrant crises in Europe were regarded as elite-leadership failures, and rightly so in both cases. They did screw up.”

Yet traditional parties of the Left have been hemorrhaging support throughout Europe despite a three-decade rise in economic inequality in countries all around the globe. Fukuyama noted that the left-wing Occupy Wall Street movement “marched and demonstrated, then fizzled out,” while the Tea Party “succeeded in taking over both the Republican Party and much of Congress.” Instead of articulating an overarching vision of economic justice, many on the Left seem intent on elaborating ever more fractionated identity categories demanding recognition—a move that is intrinsically at cross-purposes to one that seeks change through mass democratic means. “The Democrats have become the party of minorities, white professionals, and educated white women,” Fukuyama said, “while the Republicans are the white people’s party. It’s a moral disaster for American democracy.”.. 

More posts on 'the end of history'

Gillian Flynn Peers Into the Dark Side of Femininity. By Lauren Oyler

The novelist and screenwriter has built an enormous following, especially among women, by portraying women at their worst.

... If Flynn is particularly popular among women, it’s because she doesn’t make a big deal out of writing about women, because being a woman doesn’t really feel like a big deal, even when, unavoidably, it is one. Doing press for the film, Flynn was discouraged by how frequently she was asked beside-the-point questions, like, “What do you want women to take away from this movie?”

Audiences want some kind of lesson, conventional wisdom says, something easily digestible and repeatable, for all the usual reasons: social media, laziness, discomfort with ambiguity. People like to be able to say what it is they’re doing. Flynn’s popularity suggests otherwise. “This isn’t a movie that’s made for women,” she told me. “It’s not a women’s-issue movie. It’s unnerving, the idea that if there is a movie that has more than two women onscreen together, it’s a message movie.” Which isn’t to say that it contains no messages, only that it resists being defined by them…

The mainstreaming of feminism (and online surveillance thereof) has made many women I know — and myself — anxious about conforming to stereotypes, lest we perpetuate the same conditions we find so constraining. At the same time, self-consciously rejecting even harmless or positive ingrained ideas about women for the sake of doing so feels ridiculous, maybe even regressive. If there’s any way to escape this double bind and establish some agency, it may be to approach womanhood like Flynn does, as just another perversity among many. Ultimately, women’s issues are particular in the same way anyone’s are: How do we keep going, given the circumstances?.. read more..

Hilary Hanson: Scientists Discover Adorable Bird That's Actually 3 Species In One

A striking yellow, black and white bird spotted in Pennsylvania is actually a hybrid between three different species, according to a news release from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Extremely observant bird watcher Lowell Burket saw the male bird in the borough of Roaring Spring in May. He noticed that the bird had the physical attributes of the blue-winged warbler and golden-winged warbler, but sang like a third species, the chestnut-sided warbler. 

The bird piqued his interest enough that after taking photos and video, he contacted the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Lab at Cornell. “I tried to make the email sound somewhat intellectual so they wouldn’t think I was a crackpot,” he said in the release. Luckily, the lab did not think Burket was a crackpot, and researcher David Toews soon got in touch with him. Together, they found the bird again and took a blood sample and measurements for ID purposes.

As it turned out, Burket’s suspicion was right. DNA analysis showed that the bird’s mother was a hybrid between golden-winged warbler and a blue-winged warbler, while the father was a chestnut-sided warbler. The results of the analysis were published this week in the science journal Biology Letters. The paper notes that the mix is especially significant because the bird’s mother and father weren’t just different species, but also different genera. Golden- and blue-winged warblers are both part of the Vermivora genus, while chestnut-sided warblers are part of the Setophaga genus.

Researchers suspect this three-way hybridization ultimately happened in part because of declining numbers in the local population of golden-winged warblers, leaving females with fewer potential mates. In response, they may be “making the best of a bad situation” by selecting mates outside of their own species and genus, researchers wrote. As for the rare new hybrid, he’s hopefully enjoying some warmer weather at the moment. “The bird was released with a [United States Geological Survey] aluminum band and was seen on the property until about late August, after which it wasn’t seen again,” Toews told HuffPost in an email. “Presumably it migrated south for the winter!”

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Trump's insults of black Americans are disgusting and dangerous

President Trump, who regularly makes a point of personally insulting public figures who challenge or displease him in any way, taps into an especially toxic well of vitriol when aiming his attacks at black Americans. This week alone, Trump berated CNN correspondent Abby Phillip ("What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.") He said of April Ryan, a reporter and CNN contributor who has covered the White House for 21 years: "You talk about somebody that's a loser. She doesn't know what the hell she's doing."

And at a post-election press conference, when Yamiche Alcindor of "PBS NewsHour" began to ask about accusations that his rhetoric may have emboldened violent white nationalist groups, Trump interrupted with, "I don't know why you say that. That is such a racist question." The three women -- all of them gifted, accomplished professionals -- will be covering politics long after Trump has left the White House. They join a long list of athletes, entertainers, journalists and politicians who Trump routinely attacks as "dumb," "not qualified" or some such insult.

None of this is subtle or secret; that would defeat the purpose. For Trump, loudly and publicly denigrating black figures is the whole point. He is a classic example of a backlash politician: a leader who exploits real or perceived white anxieties by exhibiting a flamboyant hostility to the political and economic demands of black Americans. We've had a string of such politicians since the civil rights movement, and that is neither surprising nor coincidental: Like many social revolutions, America's expansion of civil rights in the 1960s and '70s gave rise to a potent counterrevolution.

We saw it in Ronald Reagan's decision to launch his 1980 campaign for president at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where an infamous triple murder of civil rights organizers had occurred in 1964. Reagan didn't mention the martyred civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner or James Chaney in his speech, which was all about state's rights. As columnist Bob Herbert later noted: "Everybody watching the 1980 campaign knew what Reagan was signaling at the fair. Whites and blacks, Democrats and Republicans — they all knew. The news media knew. The race haters and the people appalled by racial hatred knew. And Reagan knew. He was tapping out the code.".. read more:

Philippines to charge critical news site with tax evasion

The Philippines says it will charge the major news site Rappler, which has been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte, with tax evasion. Prosecutors said on Friday they also have grounds to indict founder Maria Ressa for violating tax laws after not declaring gains made in tax returns. Rappler has denied the charges, calling the case a "clear form of continuing intimidation and harassment".
If found guilty Ms Ressa could be fined and jailed for up to 10 years.

The government accuses Rappler and its chief executive of failing to pay tax on 2015 bond sales which resulted in 162.5 million pesos ($3 million; £2.3 million) in gains.

The English-language outlet's lawyer told journalists the case "has no legal leg to stand on" because Rappler did not evade any tax obligation. A justice department official told news agency AFP the charges would be filed in court next week. Earlier this year, the site had its licence revoked by the state, igniting a national debate about press freedom... read more:

Stephanie Merritt - Desperate for nuance, no wonder we are turning to the nonfiction shelves

When public discourse denigrates expertise, when politicians and Twitter trolls alike have learned to dismiss every criticism or uncomfortable truth as “fake” and media outlets compete for clickbait headlines, it’s not surprising to find a corresponding hunger for a deeper, more thoughtful form of engagement with ideas and for that – thankfully – there’s still no better medium than a book.

On Wednesday, the Baillie Gifford prize will be presented, Britain’s most prestigious award for nonfiction writing. Whichever of the six shortlisted authors takes home the £30,000 prize and the resulting boost to sales, it’s an opportunity for booksellers and publishers to remind the public of the current robust health of nonfiction writing. Not so long ago, nonfiction bestseller lists were dominated by cookbooks and celebrity memoirs, but over the past couple of years a noticeable shift has taken place. Books about evolution (Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens), medicine (Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt), geopolitics (Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography), physics (Stephen Hawking’s Brief Answers to the Big Questions) and philosophy (Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life) have all held on in the top 10. 

Harari’s book in particular, with sales of more than three quarters of a million copies, heralded a renaissance of what the Bookseller magazine this year called the “brainy backlist”. Serious nonfiction is back in fashion, with essayists such as Rebecca Solnit and Teju Cole building devoted followings for work that addresses political turbulence in the US, and a new generation of British writers – among them Laurie PennyReni Eddo-Lodge and Nikesh Shukla – speaking to new, younger, diverse readerships on issues of race, feminism and activism.

Rakesh Sinha - History Headline: The familiar drumroll of Ayodhya

“Sometimes, justice delayed amounts to injustice… it would be better if the court decides early, for the sake of peace and harmony in the country. But I don’t see it happening at this stage.” That was Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on October 30, a day after the Supreme Court deferred hearing on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit saying a bench will decide a date in January. These lines could well have been from 26 years ago when Mahant Avaidyanath, Adityanath’s mentor, the head of the Gorakhnath Math and one of the leading lights of the Sangh Parivar’s temple movement, had hit out at the “delay”.

And eight years ago, when the Supreme Court asked the Allahabad High Court to delay its verdict on the title suit — it was delivered a week later and is now in appeal before the top court — that was also Ashok Singhal of the VHP, angry at what he thought was “another bid to delay justice”. As Adityanath lends weight to the Parivar chorus for an early decision on the title suit in the run-up to 2019, reporters like me, who camped weeks in Ayodhya in the final months of the Babri Masjid, are struck by the uncanny resemblance between the utterances then and now.

The matter then was before the Allahabad High Court, now before the Supreme Court. But the larger message has been the same, the utterances a re-run of attempts to ratchet up the pressure for an early decision on, what the High Court called, “a small piece of land… where angels fear to tread… full of innumerable land mines” which “we are required to clear”. In July 1992, five months before the demolition of the Babri Masjid, leaders of the VHP and Hindu religious heads oversaw a kar seva at a spot facing the three domes on the disputed 2.77 acres — it was where the Rajiv Gandhi government, trying to reach out to Hindus after his government overturned the Shah Bano ruling to surrender to Muslim orthodoxy, had allowed the shilanyas ceremony in November 1989 for a future temple.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Lawyer Rebecca John Recounts The ‘Very Very Difficult’ Journey Of The Hashimpura Massacre Trial

On the night of 22 May, 1987, the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary rounded up 42 Muslim men from Hashimpura in Meerut, put them in a truck, drove them to a canal in Ghaziabad and shot them. It took seven years for the Uttar Pradesh government to complete its investigation, and another two years for the state to file a charge sheet against the 19 accused policemen in a local court in Ghaziabad, where the case was stuck until 2002, when the Supreme Court moved it to New Delhi.

It would be another 15 years before a trial court in Delhi ruled that 42 Muslim men were indeed executed, but there was no clinching evidence against the 16 surviving policemen accused in the case. This week, on 31 October, 2018, the Delhi High Court, sentenced the accused men to life 
imprisonment for the "targeted killing" of the Muslim victims. While, on the one hand, it has taken 31 years for the victims to get justice, the Hashimpura verdict is one of the rare instances where mass violence in India might not go unpunished.

In a conversation with HuffPost India, Rebecca John, who has represented the families of the victims for 15 years, spoke of the "very very difficult" journey of the Hashimpura case, the joy after the verdict, and the hidden evidence which made the Delhi High Court overturn the trial court's ruling.

What does justice after 31 years mean, as the lawyer in this case?
The fact that these men have been convicted, it means a lot to me. When you are officers of the court, and when you are part of a system, this is what we fight for. People who are innocent should be acquitted and people who are guilty should be convicted. In a case as gross as this, where police officers were involved in the gruesome murder of these men, it was a very tough journey because it was very difficult to answer the victims as to why it was taking as long as it was taking. Why one court chose to acquit these people although they were conscious of the fact that the state of UP had not put up its best efforts to give evidence before the court, and had spent the large majority of its time suppressing evidence. It's been a very very difficult journey, but the verdict, 31 years too late, was still a verdict we welcomed and overjoyed about.

How do you see getting a verdict in this case, when other cases of mass violence, 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Kunan Poshpora, have not been resolved?
You can't compare two criminal cases. The only limited thing that I can say is that criminal cases must be investigated within a reasonable time frame. You cannot take 10-12 years to investigate a case and that's happened in all cases of mass violence. Secondly, courts must show a sense of urgency because these are not ordinary cases. I'm not saying one death is less important than another death, but courts must be cognizant of cases of mass violence, and they must approach this differently from ordinary criminal cases and at least push the prosecution within a reasonable time frame.That is not happening. And that is why you see the kind of delays you see in our country.

Criminal trials take forever to complete, but in cases of communal violence, mass custodial violence, these delays are compounded even further because it does not suit anyone to ensure quick justice particularly when the other side, people accused of the crime are either police officers or people whom the state wants to protect... read more: