Tuesday, 31 July 2018

SherAli Tareen - There's no reason to fear Pakistan's new prime minister

The lead-up to philanthropist turned politician Imran Khan's election as Pakistan's new Prime Minister generated copious alarming prognostications across international media. These vilifying accounts must be taken with a grain of salt. Rest assured, the sky is not falling in Pakistan. To the contrary, Khan's decisive victory represents a monumental moment in the country's checkered history.

The dominant international narrative, stitched together by self-professed foreign experts such as Indian journalist Burkha Dutt and Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute, followed these lines: the Pakistani election represents a battle between puppets of the Pakistani military establishment, exemplified by the figure of Imran Khan, and champions of democracy such as the recently convicted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The corruption scandals engulfing Sharif, this narrative held, represent the product of a conniving campaign engineered and executed by the military, in cahoots with the judiciary, to punish Sharif for his efforts to mend relations with India.

Dhume, in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, went so far as to say that Khan is "playing a fixed match," and that Sharif had been "railroaded."  No doubt, the monstrosities of the Pakistani military, past and present, are indefensible. However, viewing Pakistani politics solely through the lens of a pro/anti-military binary is egregiously reductive.  The Panama documents, which exposed Sharif's and his family's off-shore companies and millions of pounds worth of properties in the UK, were not the military's making. The ensuing legal saga that led to the former premiere's jail sentence lasted almost two years.

GARY SAUL MORSON - Pig and People: The rise and fall of the first Russian populists.

The populists’ efforts to “go to the people” failed utterly. Far from embracing their revolutionary ideology, the peasants turned their worshippers in to the police. In despair, many populists established the Russian terrorist movement. If Russian history demonstrates anything, it is that nothing causes more evil than the attempt to abolish it altogether. The scarlet flower blooms in the Gulag. To this day the idea persists that the Russian people, especially the simple rural ones, somehow carry the moral solution to all the world’s ills. Under what Dostoyevsky called their “alluvial barbarism” lies the purest spirituality. For Russians, faith in the people’s virtue is equalled only by another belief: in the moral glory of Russian literature. That belief is warranted.
Russian populism (narodnichestvo, from narod, the people) began in the 1870s. The narodniks dominated Russian thought for two decades, and their successors, the Socialist Revolutionaries, became the country’s most influential political party until the Bolshevik coup. The importance of Russian populism lies less in its programs than in its ethos, a guilty idealism that can teach us a lot today - not only about populism itself but also about the clash of any idealism with recalcitrant reality.
Vsevolod Garshin (painted by Ilya Repin in 1884) wrote with deep compassion and without sentimentality.
Vsevolod Garshin (painted by Ilya Repin in 1884) wrote with deep compassion and without sentimentality
Russia’s greatest writers, painters, and composers all reflected on, if they did not participate in, what one historian called “the agony of populist art.” “Agony” is the right word to describe a movement whose greatest artists drank themselves to death, committed suicide, or went insane. Russians’ natural extremism makes the problems inherent in all idealistic movements especially visible.
Jolting from one panacea for evil to another, Russian intellectuals at last arrived at worship of “the people,” a term usually meaning the peasants, who constituted the overwhelming majority of the population. Today, the word “populist” is often used as a term of abuse disparaging boorish, mindless followers of a demagogue, but “narodnik,” though originally pejorative, was soon adopted by the populists themselves to indicate their reverence for the Russian people’s innate wisdom. To argue for a policy it was common not to demonstrate its effectiveness but to show that it was supported by “the people,” as if the people could not be wrong. In Anna Karenina, everyone is shocked when Levin, Tolstoy’s hero, rejects this whole way of thinking. “That word ‘people,’” he says, “is so vague.”
Ilya Repin’s painting ‘Barge Haulers on the Volga’ (1870-73) became for the Russian populists an iconic depiction of the people’s suffering.
Ilya Repin’s painting ‘Barge Haulers on the Volga’ (1870-73) became an iconic depiction of the people’s suffering
Any ideal worth adopting had to explain the meaning of life. In one of his best stories, “On the Road,” Chekhov reflected on such idealism by telling the story of Grigory Likharev, who finds himself snowed in at an inn on Christmas Eve. There he encounters a noblewoman, Madame Ilovaiskaya, on her way to her father and brother, who without her wouldn’t take basic care of themselves. She listens with rapt attention to the charismatic Likharev’s account of his lifelong embrace of one set of beliefs after another.

Today, the word ‘populist’ is often used as a term of abuse disparaging boorish, mindless followers of a demagogue. But the early Russian populists described themselves that way to indicate their reverence for the people’s—that is, the peasants’—innate wisdom. Likharev always lives “on the road,” journeying from place to place to preach idea after idea. Some people, he explains, possess a talent for faith, a special faculty of the spirit that compels them to believe totally in one thing or another. “This faculty is present in Russians in its highest degree. Russian life presents us with an uninterrupted succession of convictions and aspirations and, if you care to know, it has not yet the faintest notion of lack of faith or skepticism. If a Russian does not believe in God, it means he believes in something else.”.. read more:

Alison Flood - 'Spectacular' ancient public library discovered in Germany

The remains of the oldest public library in Germany, a building erected almost two millennia ago that may have housed up to 20,000 scrolls, have been discovered in the middle of Cologne. The walls were first uncovered in 2017, during an excavation on the grounds of a Protestant church in the centre of the city. Archaeologists knew they were of Roman origins, with Cologne being one of Germany’s oldest cities, founded by the Romans in 50 AD under the name Colonia. But the discovery of niches in the walls, measuring approximately 80cm by 50cm, was, initially, mystifying.

“It took us some time to match up the parallels – we could see the niches were too small to bear statues inside. But what they are are kind of cupboards for the scrolls,” said Dr Dirk Schmitz from the Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne. “They are very particular to libraries – you can see the same ones in the library at Ephesus.”

It is not clear how many scrolls the library would have held, but it would have been “quite huge – maybe 20,000”, said Schmitz. The building would have been slightly smaller than the famed library at Ephesus, which was built in 117 AD. He described the discovery as “really incredible – a spectacular find”.  “It dates from the middle of the second century and is at a minimum the earliest library in Germany, and perhaps in the north-west Roman provinces,” he said. “Perhaps there are a lot of Roman towns that have libraries, but they haven’t been excavated. If we had just found the foundations, we wouldn’t have known it was a library. It was because it had walls, with the niches, that we could tell.”

The building would have been used as a public library, Schmitz said. “It is in the middle of Cologne, in the marketplace, or forum: the public space in the city centre. It is built of very strong materials, and such buildings, because they are so huge, were public,” he said. The walls will be preserved, with the three niches to be viewable by the public in the cellar of the Protestant church community centre, which is currently being built...

Monday, 30 July 2018

World's largest king penguin colony has declined by 90%

The planet’s largest colony of king penguins has declined by nearly 90% in three decades, researchers have warned. The last time scientists set foot on France’s remote Île aux Cochons – roughly half way between the tip of Africa and Antarctica – the island was blanketed by 2m of the penguins, which stand about a metre tall.

But recent satellite images and photos taken from helicopters show the population has collapsed, with barely 200,000 remaining, according to a study published in Antarctic Science.  Why the colony on Île aux Cochons has been so decimated remains a mystery. “It is completely unexpected, and particularly significant since this colony represented nearly one third of the king penguins in the world,” said lead author Henri Weimerskirch, an ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize, France, who first set eyes on the colony in 1982.

Climate change may play a role. In 1997, a particularly strong El Niño weather event warmed the southern Indian Ocean, temporarily pushing the fish and squid on which king penguins depend south, beyond their foraging range. “This resulted in population decline and poor breeding success for all the king penguin colonies in the region,” Weimerskirch said... read more:

NRC: No Clarity on What Awaits the 40 Lakh People Excluded from Assam's Citizen Register

The nation-state, incapable of providing a law for those who had lost the protection of a national government, transferred the whole matter to the police. Hannah Arendt in 1948 

Over the past three years, 3.29 crore, (32.9 million) people in Assam have submitted a bewildering array of documents to prove they are Indian citizens - a process that sounds like a routine bureau-cratic practice, but in reality has disrupted the lives of millions. On Monday, it emerged that over 12 percent, or 40 lakh, of those who applied have been excluded. 

Of these, Hajela said 2.48 lakh were persons declared foreigners by 100 tribunals across the state, or marked doubtful voters by the election commission, and their descendants were automatically excluded from the NRC process. In the hour-long press conference, officials said those excluded would not be subject to punitive action, detention or deportation — yet.

Satyendra Garg, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, quoted Minister Rajnath Singh's assertion last week that the latest list was a "final draft", implying the application process had ended, but those left out could still appeal their exclusion. "Based on this draft, there is no question of anybody being taken to detention or foreigner's tribunals," said Garg.

"I repeatedly repeat that anyone who is excluded will have adequate opportunity to file claims and objections with the NRC," said Sailesh, the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India. "No Indian citizen should have any fear or panic." Yet there is little clarity on what will finally happen to those who lose the appeals process — called 'claims and objections' — and are termed foreigners in a country they have lived in for decades. The Union and Assam government are silent on the fate of those who fail to reclaim their citizenship when the process is finally complete… 
read more: 

सोशल डेमोक्रैसी के एजेण्डे का मसौदा

सोशल डेमोक्रैसी के एजेण्डे का मसौदा

लोकतंत्र ख़तरे में
1/ आज देश में न्याय प्रणाली दिन--दिन तेज़ी से टूटती जा रही है इसके कई कारण हैं, जो जटिल भी हैं, लेकिन आम नागरिक पर इसका एक ही असर होता हैः. न्याय व्यवस्था के निचले स्तर पर ग़रीब आदमी को अपना बचाव करने के लिए वकील तक नहीं मिल पाता, ईमानदार पब्लिक प्रोसीक्यूटरों को सताया जाता है और कहीं कहीं जज भी बेक़सूर लोगों के दमन में हाथ बँटाते हैं. केसों के आबंटन को लेकर उच्चत्म न्यायालय में संकट की स्थिति, चार वरिष्ट जजों द्वारा इसका खूले मंच पर से विरोध, अरुणाचल प्रदेश के पूर्व मुख्य मंत्री कलिखो-पुल के सुसाइड नोट कि उपेक्षा और जज लोया की रहस्यम्य मौत ये सूचित करते हैं कि  न्याय प्रणालि में सेंध लग चुकी है. आज न्याय व्यवस्था में जजों की कमी है, लेकिन न्याय के संकट से इसका कोई लेनादेना नहीं है. भारत के संघ राज्य की वैधता के लिए न्यायपूर्ण और सक्रिय न्याय व्यवस्था आवश्यक है, जिसे केवल न्यायतंत्र ही सही ढंग से बचा सकता है, जिसे ठीक लगा वह न्यायाधीश बन जाए इससे अथवा राज्य की हिंसा से नहीं. न्याय व्यवस्था को होने वाली हानि से राजतंत्र की नींव को स्थायी रूप से क्षति पहुँचेगी. इस बात को लोगों को समझाना सिविल सोसाइटी के कार्यकर्ताओं की महत्वपूर्ण ज़िम्मेदारी है.

2/सांप्रदायिक राजनीति, ख़ास कर के शासकीय अथवा अर्ध-शासकीय प्रोत्साह्न से न्याय प्रणाली और क़ानून के शासन को ख़त्म कर देगी. 1947, 1984, 1992, 2002 की घटनाएं इसी सांप्रदायिक राजनीति के पेट से पैदा हुई हैं. इस विवादास्प्द सवाल पर खूले मन से चर्चा होनी चाहिए. आज तो, हाल यह है कि माहौल में नफ़रत है. अपराधियों को विश्वास है कि उन्हें सज़ा नहीं होगी, (एन. डी. . सरकार और उसके ग़ैर-संवैधानिक आक़ा, आर. एस. एस. के खूले समर्थन से) के सब बंधन टूट चूके है जिसका मक़सद वैध और अवैध हिंसा के बीच की भेदरेखा मिटाना है. भारतीय प्रजातंत्र और संविधान के अनुच्छेद 21 में निर्दिष्ट जीने के अधिकारसमेत हमारे मूल अधिकारों के लिये यह स्थिति भयावह है. ग़ैर-सरकारी संगठनों और श्रमिक आंदोलनों पर भी सांप्रदायिक सोच का प्रभाव पड़ा है, जो चिंता का विषय है.

3/ प्रजातांत्रिक संगठन मेहनतकश, ग़रीब और महिलाओं समेत समाज के वंचित वर्गों के लिए कहीं ज़्यादा आवश्यक है, बनिस्बत उनके, जो आर्थिक और राजनीतिक रूप से समर्थ हैं. इसी लिये प्रत्येक नागरिक के लिए यह समझना ज़रूरी बन जाता है कि एक ओर से सांप्रदायिक हिंसा और आपराधिक न्याय प्रणाली का टूटना, तो दूसरी ओर, प्रजातांत्रिक संस्थाओं के अवमूल्यन, दोनों के बीच क्या संबंध है. आज ज़रूरत इस बात की है कि ऐसे क़दम उठाए जाएं जिससे जजों में निर्भयता पैदा हो. जेल सुधार भी उतने ही आवश्यक हैं. पुलिस अधिकारियों और कर्मचारियों को संवैधानिक मानदण्डों और एक सार्वजनिक सेवक के कर्तव्यों के बारे में प्राथमिक तालीम दी जानी चाहिए.
चुनाव संबंधी सुधार

1/ केवल चुनावों से लोकतंत्र मज़बूत नहीं बनता. लेकिन लोगों के पास अपनी राय देने का यही एकमात्र ज़रिया है. भारतीय चुनावों ने आश्चर्यकारी परिणाम भी दिये हैं, जैसे 1977 में इंदिरा गांधी की हार. परंतु चुनाव अक्सर भावनात्मक मुद्दों पर लड़े जाते हैं. तो, हमें 1977 में परिवार नियोजन के विरुद्ध जनाक्रोश को नज़रअंदाज़ नहीं करना चाहिए.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Bharat Bhushan - Rafale deal row: Why procedure should be seen as no less crucial than price

Why procedure should be seen as no less crucial than price  Both CAG and Parliament should closely examine the processes of decision-making; should they fail in this regard, it would be open to public-spirited citizens to file a petition in the courts 

The Rafale fighter jet deal controversy is unlikely to die down in the run up to the general elections. The Opposition has already questioned the price of the deal and the secrecy clause, and made charges of crony capitalism. There is an oblique suggestion of kickbacks involved. Normally such allegations would be par for the course in any lively democracy. So would the privilege motion moved in the Lok Sabha by the Congress party against the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence. However, the defence minister’s over-the-top reaction during the no-confidence debate prompted several observers to wonder whether “the lady doth protest too much”.

Despite the furore over the past two weeks, several significant issues of procedure need to be addressed in public and in Parliament. The first question to ask for such a large deal would be: When did the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) clear it? It is the CCS which deals with capital expenditure of more than Rs 10 billion in defence-related purchases and projects. At 7.87 billion euros (over Rs 580 billion), this deal was valued several times over that limit. A Cabinet note would have been moved for clearance by the CCS and the Cabinet.

Draft Agenda on social-democracy: July 2018

NB: This comment on current developments in India was discussed at an extended meeting of concerned citizens early in July, 2018. It is part of a series of such non-partisan discussions taking place in various parts of the country. Readers are welcome to use it - and add to it - to debate issues that have disappeared from the mainstream media. DS

सोशल डेमोक्रैसी के एजेण्डे का मसौदा

Draft Agenda on social-democracy
Threat to democracy:
1/ The current situation in India exhibits an incremental breakdown of justice. The causes for this are complex, but it has serious consequences for ordinary citizens. At lower levels the poor do not even have access to lawyers. Honest public prosecutors are harassed and in some cases judges have been complicit in the harassment of the innocent. The crisis in the Supreme Court over the allocation of cases, the public protest by four senior judges; and the manner in which the suicide note of ex-CM Kalikho Pul and the mysterious death of Judge Loya have been dealt with are indications of this breakdown. The shortage of judges has nothing to do with the crisis of justice. A fair and functional justice system is crucial to the legitimacy of the Indian Union, which can be maintained only by proper functioning of justice, not vigilantism and state-sponsored violence. The erosion of justice will permanently damage the basis of the state. Educating public opinion about this is a crucial task for civil society activists.

2/ Communal politics will destroy justice and the rule of law – especially when communal ideologies receive official or semi-official encouragement. These politics are related to the events of 1947, 1984, 1992, 2002 – it is a controversial question which needs to be discussed frankly. Currently, hatred, impunity and suspension of all restraint are fast converging (with direct support by the NDA government and its extra-constitutional authority, the RSS); to destroy the distinction between legal and illegal violence. This is extremely dangerous for the fate of Indian democracy and our fundamental rights including Article 21, the right to life. The influence of communal ideologies on NGO’s and workers movements is also a matter of grave concern.

3/ Democratic institutions are far more important for the poor and victimised sections of the population including women, than to the elite. Understanding the link between communal violence, criminal justice and the decline of democratic institutions should be a prime concern for all democrats. Necessary steps should be taken to ensure fearlessness among judges. Jail reform also needs urgent attention. Police officials require basic training in constitutional norms and obligations of public servants.

Electoral Reforms
1/ Elections alone cannot strengthen democracy. However, elections are important means of expressing opinion. Indian elections have achieved stunning results, like in 1977 when Mrs Gandhi was defeated. But elections tend to be fought on emotional issues. Thus, in 1977, popular anger against the family planning atrocities cannot be underestimated.

Amiya K Kushwaha - High Court pulls up Delhi Police for separating Hindu-Muslim couple

The Delhi High Court has slammed Delhi Police for forcibly separating an inter-faith couple despite knowing well that the Muslim woman is above 21 years and had married the Hindu man of her own free will. A bench of Justice S Muralidhar and Justice Vinod Goel has sought an explanation from Delhi Police over allegations that they kept the husband in the police lock-up from July 3 to 5 without presenting him in any court. The court order came while hearing a habeas corpus filed by the man who was seeking the wife's whereabouts.

The couple got married in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, on June 28, 2018 and then started residing at the man's residence at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in New Delhi. On July 3, at around 8 pm, policemen accompanied by JNU security personnel and others in civilian clothes forcibly took away the woman and handed over the man to police, who was taken to Loni police station and kept in the lock-up for three days.

The man alleged that he was abused and beaten in custody and threatened he would be implicated in a false case of rape if he tried to reunite with his wife. The police action came after a complaint was lodged at Loni police station by the woman’s brother that his sister was missing

The court has asked the police to explain how it proceeded to act on the complaint received from the woman's brother despite knowing that she was an adult and entitled to take her own decisions. The bench met the young woman in the judge’s chamber. She told the judges that she had married the man of her own choice and the marriage was registered at Ghaziabad. To ensure that there was no untoward or unpleasant incident hereafter, the court has directed the police to provide security to the couple as well as their family and listed the matter for further hearing on August 7.

The bench spoke to the young woman's mother and explained to her that although she may have reservations about her daughter's marriage to someone from a different religion, the latter is entitled to make her choices as she was an adult. The girl's mother told the court that it would be up to her daughter to decide what she wanted to do with her life.

As the young woman wished to return to her husband, the bench gave her the permission to reunite with her husband, who was also present in the courtroom.

Shiv Vishwanathan -Time, modernity and the BJP

The party is addicted to the ideas of nation state, progress and development pickled in the formal-dehyde of the 19th century. Its patriotism is a deep devotion to repeating these ideas in the present. No other regime is as idolatrous of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to ‘Make in India’ is an invitation to the likes of them to make India’s future because India as a regime is clueless about it — we are being out-thought and out-fought in every forum.

Sociologists have often commented that outsiders have a more clear-sighted view of everydayness than us. Recently, I was ranting against the communalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when a European friend of mine, a philosopher, observed that the categories of left and right were grossly overdrawn in India. They emphasised a world of deep dualisms, or even a richness of traditional thought, that does not exist in India. India, he said, cannot claim a Gramsci or a Rosa Luxemburg. Worse, our rightist parties have no sense of the creative traditions of conservatism. An Indian Edmund Burke is unthinkable. Beyond its corrosive communalism, the BJP has no idea of the right as a systematic ideology. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s idea of capitalism is adequate. Mohandas Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore were more creative nationalists than Veer Savarkar or K.B. Hedgewar. My friend noted that Indian parties were more vehicles for modernity, and it is as exponents of modernity that they make sense. One has to explore how these parties use time, history, linearity as modernising forces. It is as vehicles of modernity that parties come to power.

Surrogate moderniser
When the Congress lost its modernising impetus, the BJP became the surrogate moderniser. It is in terms of its claims to modernity that the BJP has to be assessed. The BJP’s attitude to time has always intrigued me. So far, it has been dealt with eclectically. If the left saw economics as a classic force, history was always the collective impetus for the BJP. Its obsession with history confuses myth and the rationality of logos. At one level, it contemporarises the ancients by creating equivalences to current achievements in ancient times. The examples range from test-tube babies and plastic surgery to biotechnology. India is seen as one fluid continuity from the Vedic Age to now. While ancient history is rendered current, it rewrites the history of the last 500 years, unable to accept defeat. It desperately wants Maharana Pratap to win the Battle of Haldighati, and it insists Ram was a historical figure. It is perpetually encouraging people to rectify history at every stage, where even murder becomes an act of rectification, for instance of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri in 2015 or Afrazul Khan in Rajsamand in 2017.

Often the BJP’s use of time is more strategic and complex. It fetishes 2019, which it sees as the end of Congress history and the beginning of Ram Rajya. Everything focusses on 2019, and BJP president Amit Shah is the time-keeper, the impresario of 2019 as the beginning of a Congress Mukt Bharat. This is not just an electoral strategy. The BJP genuinely believes that a millennial moment it has prophesied is coming.

Attitude to time
Oddly, for all its fetishisation of 2019, the BJP is one party that has no systemic idea of the future. It might borrow a few glib ideas such as smart cities, yet it has no sense of the future as a set of strategies. The fetishisation of 2019 has to be understood in this context — 2019 is its end of history thesis. It has no sense of the future except of the NRI who combines modern consumerism with ancient history. The future is 2019 repeated. The attitude to time is best caught in the complete absence of ecological thinking. It is content with linear time and progress. It dissolves the Planning Commission not because it was a Congress idea but because it was a futurist notion. The party is addicted to the ideas of nation state, progress and development pickled in the formaldehyde of the 19th century. Its patriotism is a deep devotion to repeating these ideas in the present. No other regime is as idolatrous of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to ‘Make in India’ is an invitation to the likes of them to make India’s future because India as a regime is clueless about it — we are being out-thought and out-fought in every forum... read more: 

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Rowan Moore - Naked geology, dazzling light… my journey into the Arctic

The Arctic can have this effect on people: its function in the imagination of the world is as a place to test or define, to look for some truth about existence by viewing it from its limit. The challenge of its otherness might explain why Mary Shelley chose to open Frankenstein in the Arctic wastes, and why the Soviets built the showcase coalmining town of Pyramiden more grandly and formally than its function required. Now the significance of the Arctic is above all about climate change, its effects there being particularly visible, significant and dangerous.

What if we couldn’t stand each other, on this vessel alone on icy seas? Agatha Christie would have loved the scenario

The belief that the Arctic has something to tell us motivates the Arctic Circle residency, a programme whereby artists, scientists and writers can, for half the actual cost, take part in expeditions aboard a tall sailing ship, around the coasts and islands of Svalbard. Feeling the need for new perspectives on life, I applied – and in early June joined 28 other participants, plus guides and crew, on the three-masted barquentine Antigua. Two weeks without night or internet, ignorant of World Cup results and the latest Trump eruptions, voyaging between 78 and 81 degrees north, going where the wind suggested, marvelling at glaciers in shades of blue beyond the power of words or cameras to capture – cobalt? cerulean? sapphire? “Are you going to find yourself,” teased a friend, “under an iceberg?”

read more:

Friday, 27 July 2018

Pratap Bhanu Mehta: State and Capital Modi government has added an insidious dimension to the nexus

The relationship between state and capital is an important capillary of power in a modern democracy. This relationship is governed by many contradictory impulses. In a democracy, politicians need capital for elections and for sustaining politics as a career choice. But politics also has to be responsive to the demands of social legitimation. There is a second issue. There is often a tension between seeking policies that favour particular businesses and policies that favour a level playing field based on principles that produce growth. The third tension is between the imperatives of looking business friendly on the one hand, and incorporating genuine public goods into regulation on the other — like environment and human rights. These tensions are perennial in any democracy.

The UPA mismanaged these tensions. Corruption had reached a point where the demands of social legitimation had become nearly impossible; the state became an outright plutocracy. This spawned not just an anti-corruption movement that delegitimised Congress at the time. It led to a whole series of hit and miss judicial interventions. The inability to meet the demands of legitimation produced a policy paralysis of sorts. The second tension was manifest largely in the way the government doled out credit. The exercise of discretionary power in this area brought the banking system to its knees. It produced a protracted crisis that continues: Private investment is still tepid. And third, on labour and environment, the government doled out symbolic protections but, by and large, capital had the upper hand... The BJP, therefore, had the task of re-managing these tensions. 

The jury is still out on whether India is less plutocratic than before. But the BJP has sought to manage the tensions by three devices. The first lesson they learnt from the Congress debacle was this. During Congress rule, individual Congressmen were benefitting from using state power, but the party was losing. This was double jeopardy for the Congress. On the one hand, it meant lots of Congress leaders were exercising their individual channels of influence without the benefit accruing to the party. The result was that individual Congressmen were rich but the party was poor. This still haunts the Congress. On the other hand, the system created a free-for-all which magnified perceptions of corruption. The BJP has the advantage that its state-capital dealings are more centralised, so the more benefits accrue to the party and its centralised leadership, it also has the advantage of reducing the appearance of transactional corruption since, if the party has an efficient resource mobilisation strategy, it can often afford to rein in on more transactional corruption by individual leaders. The second device was to create new instruments like electoral bonds that are opaque to the public but provide a new channel of financing. Third, it tried to occupy the space of anti-plutocratic politics with decidedly mixed results. Demonetisation was one element of this gambit. There has also been a slew of measures that empower governments to go after economic offenders (attaching properties, making bribe-giving as much an offence as receiving it). But the results are yet to accrue… read more:

Extreme global weather is 'the face of climate change' says leading scientist

The extreme heatwaves and wildfires wreaking havoc around the globe are “the face of climate change”, one of the world’s leading climate scientists has declared, with the impacts of global warming now “playing out in real time”. Climate change has long been predicted to increase extreme weather incidents, and scientists are now confident these predictions are coming true. Scientists say the global warming has contributed to on the scorching temperatures that have baked the UK and northern Europe for weeks.

The hot spell was made more than twice as likely by climate change, a new analysis found, demonstrating an “unambiguous” link. Extreme weather has struck across Europe, from the Arctic Circle to Greece, and across the world, from North America to Japan. “This is the face of climate change,” said Prof Michael Mann, at Penn State University, and one the world’s most eminent climate scientists. “We literally would not have seen these extremes in the absence of climate change.”

“The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle,” he told the Guardian. “We are seeing them play out in real time and what is happening this summer is a perfect example of that.” “We are seeing our predictions come true,” he said. “As a scientist that is reassuring, but as a citizen of planet Earth, it is very distressing to see that as it means we have not taken the necessary action.”.. read more:

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Barry Lynn - Google and Facebook are strangling the free press to death. Democracy is the loser

After Europe’s top monopoly buster Margrethe Vestager fined Google more than $5bn for abusing its dominance over mobile phone technology, it’s tempting to relax about the power of big tech. Not only is there a cop watching these giants, she’s carrying a really big stick. But this week’s firing by the New York Daily News of half the paper’s staff shines a different light on the matter. 

The reason given by the publisher – a sharp decline in revenue – is largely the result of Google abusing its monopoly over online advertising, in tandem with Facebook. Vestager’s move against Android does nothing to protect the free press in Europe or America. This means it’s time for other regulators and legislators in America and in Europe to speed the process of bringing Google to heel.

To be sure, the decision by Europe’s Directorate General for Competition (DG Comp) last Wednesday is important. The fat fine was the clearest statement yet that Google’s practices break the law. Further, the restrictions DG Comp imposed on Google’s business model will crimp its behavior in key ways. Vestager and her team deserve thanks. Given the political power of Google, their actions took courage. 

But it’s vital to put the fine into perspective. In an industry that changes by the day, the case took eight years to complete. Further, it deals with just one part of a problem that is now very large and sprawling. And even after the fine Google will be left holding more than $95bn in cash. Vestager’s fighters put out the fire on the first floor, but only after the blaze had spread to the rest of the building.

Of all the social goods now in flames the one we must protect first is trustworthy journalism. In the nine years since Google bought mobile ad company AdMob, annual ad revenue at Google and Facebook has soared, to more than $95bn and almost $40bn, respectively. During this period, ad revenue at newspapers fell around $50bn in 2005 to under $20bn today.

This means fewer reporters on the streets. The number of people working in America’s newsrooms dropped from more than 400,000 in 2001 to fewer than 185,000 today. In New York, the picture is especially bleak. The number of reporters at the Daily News is nearly 90% below 1988 levels. The New York Times cut local reporting staff by more than half over the last decade, from 90 to 40... 
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Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Mars: huge underground lake raises prospects of life on planet, astronomers say

Astronomers have found compelling evidence that there is a huge reservoir of liquid water buried a mile under the ice near the south pole on MarsRadar measurements taken from the European 
Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter spotted the 12 mile-wide stretch of water at the base of a thick slab of polar ice in a region known as Planum Australe.

It is the first time that researchers have identified a stable body of liquid water on the red planet. The finding raises the likelihood that any microbial life that arose on Mars may continue to eke out a rather bleak existence deep beneath the surface.  “We discovered water on Mars,” said Roberto Orosei at the National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna. Any other explanation for the bright reflections the scientists saw in their radar observations was “untenable”, he added. Details of the finding are reported in the journal, Science.

Today, the most obvious signs that Mars was once a wet world are the ancient waterways that sculpted the planet’s surface many millions of years ago. In 2015, Nasa announced that it had spotted water seeping down slopes and gullies on the planet, but that interpretation was cast into doubt last year when US Geological Survey researchers argued that the mysterious dark streaks were no more than tumbling grains.. read more:

Lying in Politics: Hannah Arendt on Deception, Self-Deception, and the Psychology of Defactualization

Maria Popova - Lying in Politics:Deception, Self-Deception, and the Psychology of Defactualization
“The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people,” Adrienne Rich wrote in her beautiful 1975 speech on lying and what truth really means“are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting thing in life. The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.” 

Nowhere is this liar’s loss of perspective more damaging to public life, human possibility, and our collective progress than in politics, where complex social, cultural, economic, and psychological forces conspire to make the assault on truth traumatic on a towering scale. Those forces are what 
Hannah Arendt (1906 -1975), one of the most incisive thinkers of the past century, explores in a superb 1971 essay titled “Lying in Politics,” written shortly after the release of the Pentagon Papers and later included in Crises of the Republic (public library) - a collection of Arendt’s timelessly insightful and increasingly timely essays on politics, violence, civil disobedience, and the pillars of a sane and stable society... read more:

The Pentagon Papers, like so much else in history, tell different stories, teach different lessons to different readers. Some claim they have only now understood that Vietnam was the “logical” outcome of the cold war or the anticommunist ideology, others that this is a unique opportunity to learn about decision making processes in government. But most readers have by now agreed that the basic issue raised by the Papers is deception. At any rate, it is obvious that this issue was uppermost in the minds of those who compiled the Pentagon Papers for The New York Times, and it is at least probable that this was also an issue for the team of writers who prepared the forty-seven volumes of the original study.

The famous credibility gap, which has been with us for six long years, has suddenly opened up into an abyss. The quicksand of lying statements of all sorts, deceptions as well as self-deceptions, is apt to engulf any reader who wishes to probe this material, which, unhappily, he must recognize as the infrastructure of nearly a decade of United States foreign and domestic policy. Because of the extravagant lengths to which the commitment to non-truthfulness in politics went on the highest level of government, and because of the concomitant extent to which lying was permitted to proliferate throughout the ranks of all governmental services, military and civilian - the phony body counts of the “search-and-destroy” missions, the doctored after-damage reports of the air force, the “progress” reports to Washington from the field written by subordinates who knew that their performance would be evaluated by their own reports - one is easily tempted to forget the background of past history, itself not exactly a story of immaculate virtue, against which this newest episode must be seen and judged.

For secrecy - what diplomatically is called discretion as well as the arcana imperii, the mysteries of government - and deception, the deliberate falsehood and the outright lie used as legitimate means to achieve political ends, have been with us since the beginning of recorded history. Truthfulness has never been counted among the political virtues, and lies have always been regarded as justifiable tools in political dealings. Whoever reflects on these matters can only be surprised how little attention has been paid, in our tradition of philosophical and political thought, to their significance, on the one hand, for the nature of action and, on the other, for the nature of our ability to deny in thought and word whatever happens to be the actual fact. This active, aggressive capability of ours is clearly different from our passive susceptibility to falling prey to error, illusion, the distortions of memory, and to whatever else can be blamed on the failings of our sensual and mental apparatus... read more:

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Swami Agnivesh On Lynch Mobs, Modi's 'Hate Mongering Campaign' And Fake Saffron

NB: The RSS-led Government of India is openly allowing hooligans to indulge in violence with impunity. Lynchings have become an everyday affair. This may well be their method of preparing for the next elections - after all, communal tension is their staple diet. Maybe Pranab Mukherjee can ask them to stop, having certified their patriotism so recently. DS
Arya Samaj leader Swami Agnivesh was attacked by a mob on July 17 in Pakur, Jharkhand, as he stepped out of a press conference on tribal rights. Leveling blame at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Yuva Morcha and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the 78-year-old social activist said they had falsely accused him of supporting cow slaughter and beaten him up. Agnivesh, a former lawmaker and education minister in Haryana, told HuffPost India that his assault in BJP-ruled Jharkhand was a "state sponsored attack". The eight men who were arrested in connection with the violence were released on the same day. The circumstances of their release are unclear. In a recent conversation, Agnivesh, who has been a crusader against bonded labor and the caste system for decades, talked about his ordeal on June 17 and why he believes it to be a consequence of Hindutva politics and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "hate mongering campaign." Over the weekend, another man, Akbar Khan, was killed by cow-vigilantes in Rajasthan. DS

Can you describe the attack?
I couldn't believe my eyes. A menacing crowd of 100 and 150 people just pounced on me. I folded my hands, but they were so angry, they were shouting nasty abuses, hurling mother-sister abuses at me. They hit me, punched me, kicked me, and threw me to the ground. When I was on the ground, they climbed on top of me and kicked me. They tore my clothes and threw my turban on the ground. I was shell shocked. It all happened in a few minutes. I thought it was the end. I was prepared to die that day. It was a typical lynch mob. Someone was saying 'gau-maas ke samarthak, Bharat chodho' (supporter of cow flesh, leave India). I have never supported beef. The dominant slogan was Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram.

What happened next?
For the next half hour, they were just sitting there. Some people took me back inside the hotel. The hotel people locked it from inside. I was hurt very badly. My backbone and my ribs were deeply injured, and several injuries on my legs and backs. When I recovered a little, I tried to contact Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, but that was not possible, maybe he was busy. I left him a message, saying that it is something very urgent, but he hasn't called me back till now.

Then, I contacted the SP (Superintendent of Police) Pakur. I told him this has happened to me, a murderous assault has taken place and I don't see any security around. He said we did not know, no one told us about your arrival. I asked my organizer friends and they said we have the receipts for each one of the letters we have given. So then, he said, I will send the DYSP (Deputy Superintendent of Police). I asked him to come and see what had taken place. I called up the District Magistrate and even he did not come. Then, I complained to the Chief Secretary Jharkhand and told him that I'm calling your district officials and nobody is turning up. What am I supposed to do? Then, I think he called and admonished them. Nearly half- an-hour to one hour later, only the police chief (SP) came. And he sat down, smug, as if nothing happened. Then, they took me to a hospital. The DC (District Collector/Magistrate) came to see me at the hospital. I found the attack state sponsored and party sponsored without any provocation…read more

More on lynching

Monday, 23 July 2018

Indian Writers Forum condemns the intimidation of Malayalam writer S Hareesh

Writers against Self-censorship: “We have to fight against hounding writers into self-censorship with every word we have…”

The thugs policing our cultural fraternity have struck again. In response to the violent threats against his family, Malayalam writer S Hareesh has now withdrawn his novel Meesa (Moustache) being serialised by Mathrubhumi, stating that he will publish it when “the climate is congenial”. Meesa is the first novel written by Hareesh, winner of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award for short fiction​. The first three chapters of this novel were published in serial form by Mathrubhumi weekly, raising great expectations among readers. 

Then right​-wing groups began a campaign of intimidation that has become only too familiar in recent years. Hareesh was accused of “hurting religious sentiments” and “maligning Hindus”. He was threatened that his hand would be chopped off ​to “teach him a lesson”. He was abused and threatened on social media, forcing him to deactivate his accounts. Members of his family were viciously trolled. Copies of the weekly were burnt, prompting the editor to tweet that literature is being mob lynched. ​

Hareesh has been attacked for a reference one of the characters in the novel makes to women's visits to the temple. It was a character speaking, not the author; the serialisation of the novel had just begun and the characters were getting established. Such disintegrated reading would make all of literature, cinema and art vulnerable to similar dastardly attacks. Moreover, disagreement with and disapproval of a novel cannot take the form of harassment or threats. 

The goons who attack expressions of our multiple cultures want us to lose more than one novel.
Several writers in Kerala have already expressed their solidarity with Hareesh. As writers and readers, as citizens of a democracy, we cannot wait for “the climate” to change. It is we writers and artists who create the cultural climate and not communal politicians.​ We have to insist that we have the freedom of expression essential for a diverse society to express itself; the critical imagination required to examine the divisions in our society, past and present; and to exercise the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution.

We cannot have a repeat of the Perumal Murugan story where the writer was hounded into declaring himself dead as a writer. We cannot have more attacks like the recent one on poet Kureeppuzha Sreekumar in Kerala or other writers in different parts of the country. The list is growing. We appeal to all our colleagues in the cultural fraternity to resist being hounded by the right​-​wing groups into self-censorship. We call on the central government and state governments to commit to a safe milieu for writers and artists to do their work.

No writer should be hounded into putting down his or her pen. No democracy, indeed no culture, can live if its writers are silent. This is why we have to fight against this hounding of writers into self-censorship with every word we have.

K Satchidanandan                 Githa Hariharan                        Romila Thapar
​Paul Zacharia                        Nayantara Sahgal                     NS Madhavan
TM Krishna                           Perumal Murugan                     Shashi Deshpande
Kiran Nagarkar                     Ganesh Devy                            Keki Daruwalla
Sunil P Elayidom                  KP Ramanunni                         Sethu
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar   Ritu Menon                           Jerry Pinto
Chandan Gowda                  Atamjit Singh                            Arshia Sattar
Damodar Mauzo                  Rafeeq Ahammed                    Meena Alexander
Manoj Kuroor                       Rubin D’Cruz                            Dona Mayoora
Megha Pansare                   Shekhar Pathak                        Sandesh Bhandare
Banani Chakravarty            Ajit Magdum                              Madhav Palshikar
Vinu Abraham                     Pramod Munghate                    Pramod Nigudkar
Srilata K                              Arundhati Ghosh                       Kavitha Murlidharan
Shanta Gokhale

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