Thursday, November 14, 2019

Impeachment: A brutal exercise in psychological exposure. By JOHN F. HARRIS

An impeachment inquiry is a constitutional exercise, a vindication of checks and balances, a living expression of rule of law. Yes, yes, sure - all of that. But the start of public hearings Wednesday was a reminder of what impeachment really is in the modern presidency: A brutal exercise in psychological exposure.

There was breaking news from the hearings, but it was mostly a matter of detail. There was a new anecdote from diplomat William Taylor about Trump allegedly haranguing a subordinate to keep up the pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Biden family. This was a validation of the existing narrative rather than a fundamental twist of plot.

In a more profound way, the day was a portrait - a vivid one, in an especially grave setting - of Trump being Trump: obsessive, hectoring, contemptuous of process and propriety, as bluntly transactional about military aid to a besieged ally as he would be about a midtown real estate deal. In that sense, this latest impeachment exercise fits neatly with the modern history of White House scandal. Presidents tend to be prosecuted for being themselves—men of compulsive and agitated ambition and need... read more:

Farah Naqvi - Ayodhya Verdict: India’s Muslims Sought Dignity, Not Land

the full theory of the good enables us to distinguish different sorts of moral worth, or the lack of it. Thus we can distinguish between the unjust, the bad, and the evil man… some men strive for excessive power, that is, authority over others which goes beyond what is allowed by the principles of justice and which can be exercised arbitrarily. In each of these cases there is a willingness to do what is wrong and unjust in order to achieve one’s ends. 

But the unjust man seeks dominion for the sake of aims such as wealth and security which when appropriately limited are legitimate. The bad man desires arbitrary power because he enjoys the sense of mastery which its exercise gives to him and he seeks social acclaim. He too has an inordinate desire for things which when duly circumscribed are good, namely, the esteem of others and the sense of self-command. It is his way of satisfying these ambitions that makes him dangerous.

By contrast, the evil man aspires to unjust rule precisely because it violates what independent persons would consent to in an original position of equality, and therefore its possession and display manifest his superiority and affront the self-respect of others. It is this display and affront which is sought after. What moves the evil man is the love of injustice: he delights in the impotence and humiliation of those subject to him and he relishes being recognized by them as the willful author of their degradation. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, (1999), p 385-6. (Emphases added)

“If the judgement had gone in favour of ‘the Muslim’ party, our blood would have flowed on the streets! Right-wing hordes would have descended on the land. No Muslim would have been allowed to take possession. That is the simple truth. Why is it that no one has the courage to just say that?” These angry words burst from a young Muslim student of Delhi University. He said it as only the young can – simply and directly, shorn of legal sophistry or academic qualifiers.

He then proceeded to speak, and I knew he would just burst if he didn’t, about how he felt, how humiliated, how small, how angry, how helpless. “Is this what Muslims are reduced to? You take our land, you destroy a historic mosque, burn our homes, lead riots against us, and then you get rewarded. Muslims have to fight this. We have to lead this fight. Let secular Hindus join us…” Lots of young educated Muslims I’ve spoken to in the last few days are saying some version of this.

They have ideas too about how they want to respond to the five acres of land being offered in lieu of justice. Some want to reject it outright. Others speak of building a hospital or a school. Several young people imagine creating in Ayodhya a memorial to the riot victims of 1992-93. Others want a memorial to all victims of the spree of lynching that directly preceded the judgment. Why not? A memorial to Akhlaq, Pehlu, Junaid and Tabrez. A memorial to enduring injustice. No one, not one single person I’ve spoken to, believes that what a young woman student calls the ‘mosque-monument-of-humiliation’ can ever be built on that land.... read more:

see also
Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Ram’s political triumph
SC judgment refers to Sikhism as a 'cult'
Democratic Liberties Only Belong To The Bold And Vigilant: Justice Chelameswar
Peace as a punctuation mark in eternal war
Arthur Rosenberg on Fascism as a Mass-Movement
Purushottam Agrawal: Being Hindu in a Hindu Rashtra

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Air pollution nanoparticles linked to brain cancer for first time

New research has linked air pollution nanoparticles to brain cancer for the first time. The ultra-fine particles (UFPs) are produced by fuel burning, particularly in diesel vehicles, and higher exposures significantly increase people’s chances of getting the deadly cancer. Previous work has shown that nanoparticles can get into the brain and that they can carry carcinogenic chemicals.

Brain cancers are rare, and the scientists have calculated that an increase in pollution exposure roughly equivalent to moving from a quiet city street to a busy one leads to one extra case of brain cancer for every 100,000 people exposed.

“Environmental risks like air pollution are not large in magnitude – their importance comes because everyone in the population is exposed,” said Scott Weichenthal, at McGill University in Canada, who led the study. “So when you multiply these small risks by lots of people, all of sudden there can be lots of cases. In a large city, it could be a meaningful number, particularly given the fact that these tumours are often fatal.”...

Richard Davies - Why is inequality booming in Chile? Blame the Chicago Boys

Milton Friedman thought his disciples had created an economic ‘miracle’ in Chile’. But their policies soon backfired

We thought that inequality would, in the end, disappear” says Rolf Lüders, recalling his time at the helm of the Chilean economy. Now in his 80s Mr Lüders is one of a group known as the ‘Chicago Boys’ who are held responsible for the extreme inequality seen in Chile and who tend to be vilified during protests and riots, including those of the past two weeks. I went to Santiago to spend time talking to people at both ends of the income spectrum, and the Chicago Boys themselves. Chile was once a pin-up economy, lauded as the model other emerging economies should copy - what went wrong?

The Chicago Boys were exchange students who travelled to the US to study economics, the idea being that they would return home to teach, driving up standards and encouraging their peers to abandon socialism-inspired ideas. Their impact would be far greater than anyone imagined. After General Augustine Pinochet seized power in 1973 the dictator quickly promoted the Chicago-trained economists to ministerial positions. A thick book of market-orientated policies they had put together, known as El Ladrillo (‘the brick’) became a blueprint setting out how the Chilean economy must be run.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sarbpreet Singh: The Curious Connection Between Sikkim’s Lake Guru Dongmar & Guru Nanak

I am back in Gangtok after many years. As I grew up here, I call it home. During a whirlwind book tour in India to talk about my new book, The Camel Merchant of Philadelphia, I decided to take a few days off to go home. It is raining heavily. I sit with a few friends at the Tashi Delek, the first posh hotel to be built in Gangtok bazaar. These are friends that I was with in school from kindergarten until I completed high school. A couple of them are doctors, one is a successful businessman. All still live in Gangtok, by the way. Nobody leaves this Himalayan paradise unless they are foolish, or perhaps in search of something.
Image result for gurudongmar lake
Speaking of myself, I have been living in the US for many years. I was one of the few who left. The conversation is convivial. We sit under a canopy, the rain cascading down around us, taking in the glorious vista of mistcovered mountains and impossibly verdant valleys that stretch before us. The view from the Tashi Delek terrace is quite something. We talk about old friends, our school days, our teachers and high school romances, successful or otherwise, until one of my friends, out of the blue says: ‘I’m going to ask you something that’s a bit controversial; what do you think of Guru Dongmar?’

I am a bit nonplussed. What do I think of Guru Dongmar? It is a remote lake in the northernmost, most inaccessible part of Sikkim, that Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru, is said to have visited. Of late, it has been the subject of a most unseemly controversy, that I am only tangentially aware of. This is what the Sikkim Chronicle had to say about the controversy:  "Gurudongmar lake, one of the highest and the holiest lakes in the world situated at 5430 m is a popular religious pilgrimage for many Sikkimese. The lake which has been known for its piousness now stands at a center of conflict between two communities. It all started in 1997 when army allegedly built a  Gurudwara at the shore of the lake claiming it to be related to the Sikhism founder, Guru Nanak. Likewise, news was fanned across the country of this very Gurudwara being demolished by locals. This led to the court’s intervention with the case still going on at the High Court of Sikkim.

Although status quo has been maintained, Sikh groups and political parties particularly Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has continued to pursue this case in all levels. The Sikkimese believe that the lake is blessed by none other than Guru Padmasambhava, who is said to have visited the lake to test an omen. He is regarded by the believers as the patron saint of Sikkim. Sikh groups have also written to high-profile ministers and the President of India to intervene in this matter, it is learnt. However, in Sikkim many see this as an attempt to destroy the unique historical and religious heritage of the state."

And this is what the World Sikh News had to say: "The Sikkim High Court hearing a bunch of petitions by Sri Guru Singh Sabha Siliguri, acting on behalf of the SGPC and Amritpal Singh Khalsa Advocate and social activist Ajmer Singh Randhawa, in the case of attempted usurpation of historic Gurdwara Sahib Gurudongmar, Sikkim by a Buddhist sect, ordered a  status quo for two weeks restraining both the Sikhs and the Buddhists from worshipping at the place till 6 October 2017, enabling the two sides to take necessary steps in the matter."

I guess now it is clear why my friend asked the question somewhat apologetically. And then he explained his rationale for asking: ‘You are a Sikh and yet as much a Sikkimese as any of us. Especially because you are a student of history and a writer, I would love to see you write something about this. Before sharing my opinion I would like to reiterate what I know about Guru Nanak’s visit to Sikkim.. read more

Monday, November 11, 2019

Piyush Srivastava: In Ayodhya, a silent grief On Prophet’s birthday, temple town offers prayers but shuns celebrations

Several Muslims in Ayodhya stayed indoors on Saturday and refused to step out even on Sunday, opting not to celebrate Barawafat or Milad-Un-Nabi, Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. The occasion usually witnesses processions along decorated streets, with people wearing new clothes, to be followed by feasts. But The Telegraph found the town’s Muslim neighbourhoods desolate and muted on Sunday. Residents declined to react to Saturday’s Supreme Court verdict that accepted the Hindus’ right to build a Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid was demolished in December 1992.

Some of them spoke of unsuccessful efforts by the local administration to present a Kashmir-style “all is well” narrative. “A group of policemen came to my neighbourhood and insisted that residents take out the usual Barawafat procession,” a shoe-store owner in the Beniganj area of Ayodhya said, asking not to be named. “They said that although there was a ban on assemblies of more than four people (Section 144 has been in place since Saturday), they wouldn’t stop the procession because it was a festival. We told them it was our festival and we didn’t want to celebrate it.”

Many neighbourhoods had been illuminated on Friday to celebrate the festival, and a Barawafat-eve qawwali (music) programme had been planned on Saturday night in Chowk, the town’s old quarters. But after the Supreme Court judgment, most of the lights were removed on Saturday evening. “We had already paid Rs 2 lakh to a qawwali party. More than 20 cooks had been hired to prepare biryani and kabab for over 20,000 people,” a Muslim resident of the Subhas Nagar locality said on Sunday.
“But the organising committees, which had collected money for the celebrations, decided to cancel it all. The food was not used.” The man, who wished to stay unnamed, said: “We are praying in mosques on the occasion of Barawafat but don’t want to celebrate it in the usual, big way.”

कश्मीर की जनता को साथ देने के लिए उपवास की शुरुवात , आज रात

कश्मीर की जनता  को साथ देने के लिए  उपवास की शुरुवात , आज रात
"कश्मीर के  लाखो लाख स्त्री पुरुषों ( जिनमें बच्चे , बूढ़े जवान नागरिक शामिल हैं) के जेल जैसे जीवन  उनके मानवाधिकार से हमारा सरोकार है। में आज रात से शुरू कर जे १२.११.२०१९ के दिन और रात तक उपवास पर रहूंगा।  इस तरह , कश्मीर की जनता के साथ होने के लिए राष्ट्रव्यापी प्रोटेस्ट का हिस्सा बनते हुए , मैं २४ घंटे के उपवास पर रहूंगा।

 इस तरह  सामूहिक  सोलिदारिती / साझा करने  के कार्यक्रम की घोषणा हमारे संगठन  जनमुक्ति संघर्ष वाहिनी ( ज स वा )  ने अपने १९ वें राष्ट्रीय परिषद (४-५ नवम्बर २००९, सेवाग्राम वर्धा बैठक  से ) घोषित किया है।

पटना से वयोवृद्ध शिक्षक, श्री रामनरेश झा ने यह तरीका सुझाया । इस तरह की ही बात हमने मुंबई पहल के रूप में भी सुनी है।

इस तरह  १०० दिनों से जेल में तब्दील कर दिए गए कश्मीर की जनता के प्रति अपनी एकजुट भूमिका लेंगे।

यहां इस तरह , हम पटना , राज्य या देश के नागरिक कष्ट सह कर, भारत देश भावना, और भारत में राष्ट्र निर्माण

व्यक्तिगत सत्याग्रह से शुरू कर के हम लोग  कश्मीर के संदर्भ में अलग अलग संकल्पित हों।

सरकार से हम मांग करते हैं,

१. सभी राजनीतिक बंदियों और नागरिकों को रिहा करें। सभी अवेध  डिटेंशन को खत्म कर , थाना , पुलिस , सेना के कस्टडी में रखे गए लोगों को रिहा करें।

२. संचार संपर्क के सभी माध्यम, सभी  लैंड / मोबाइल  फोन सेवा, सभी इंटरनेट कनेक्ट , को शीघ्र बहाल करें।
अखबार के संचार प्रसार को खोल दिया जाय।

३. सेना को नागरिक जीवन से वापस  लीजिए।

४. जम्मू को पूर्ण अधिकार संपन्न विधान सभा और पूर्ण राज्य के दर्जे में वापस ले लिया जाए।

हम दो सप्ताह का समय लेते हैं, इसके बाद सड़कों पर उतरते हुए अपने प्रोटेस्ट / प्रतिरोध  कार्यक्रम को सामूहिक रूप से मिल कर  चलाएंगे।

 सी ए प्रियदर्शी

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Bad Infinity: The endurance of the liberal imagination. By James Duesterberg

Since the global political unraveling in 2016, liberalism has lost its voice. From the “basket of deplorables” to the “#resistance” pins to the eat-pray-love liberalism of “a thousand small sanities,” public defenses of the West’s regnant political ideology ring hollow and desperate. Read the Times or the Post, listen to politicians, sit for a second and catch the mood in the airport: the absence is in the air, not just in our language. Max Weber called twentieth-century governance the “slow boring of hard boards”: they have been bored, and so are we.

To literary critics and political theorists—those whose job it is to front-run the zeitgeist—liberalism now seems not so much an opponent to battle as a corpse to put to rest. It is something to be, at most, anatomized, if not simply buried and forgotten. The new right tends toward the former: Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, published in 2018 and blurbed by everyone from David Brooks to Cornel West, blames the very idea of America, with its manic commitment to a radical and spiritually empty freedom. For millennial socialists and fully automated luxury communists, liberalism is, instead, a kind of dad joke, a boomer blooper: faintly embarrassing and best ignored. Maybe we grew up believing in Obama, but that’s all over; now we’ve grown up and moved out.

Wake up! critics seem to say; Get Real. Liberalism is dead. All you have to do is look around: the world we live in is one our old categories can’t explain. Liberalism envisions the tools of reason—science, public debate, law—liberating individuals, tempering passions and leading, however slowly and unevenly, to a world felicitously governed, in harmony with itself. It is very hard to square such a vision with the present world, in which governments have been captured by grifters and demagogues, algorithms move markets and ambient anxiety reigns... read more:

'He saved our lives': Canadian woman among 1,000 Polish children adopted by Indian maharaja during WW 2. By Belle Puri

A pot of fresh borscht simmers on the stove. The aroma fills Karolina Rybka's two-bedroom apartment in Kelowna, B.C. The walls are adorned with frames full of colourful needlepoint the great-grandmother did herself. Everywhere there's something to see — arrangements of dried flowers, knick-knacks and endless family photographs. 
It's an atmosphere in stark contrast to decades-old memories that remain vivid in Rybka's mind. She remembers the squalid orphanage where she landed after the Soviets deported her family to Siberia at the start of the Second World War. "They gave us only one slice of bread," she said."There were lots of children in a big room lying on the floor." Life was bleak until an Indian maharaja came to the rescue. Rybka, of Kelowna, B.C., is one of an estimated 1,000 Polish children provided refuge by the Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji, the ruler of Nawanagar, after their release from the Soviet orphanage in 1942. "He saved our lives," said Rybka.

Cast/e in the sewers: The deaths of Sewer/Septic tank workers in Delhi. Research talk by Shahana Bhattacharya

School of Law, Governance and Citizenship
Ambedkar University Delhi 

invites you to a talk on

  Cast/e in the sewers: The Un-accidental deaths of Sewer/Septic tank workers in Delhi  
Shahana Bhattacharya 
(Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi) 

November 14, 2019 (Thursday), 2 pm
Venue:  G3, Karampura Campus

About the talk:
A large number of workers have died in the last few years in Delhi while manually cleaning septic tanks and sewers without safety equipment. These repeated deaths have occurred despite strong laws and judgments that prohibit such conditions of work. This talk will focus on how assumptions about the work of caste underlie the functioning of the city. Caste based notions of stigma, attitudes to human waste and those who handle them create conditions in which these workers' deaths become inevitable and routine, and their lives, expendable.

About the speaker:
Shahana Bhattacharya is a historian and teaches at the Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi. She has worked on issues of caste and labour with particular emphasis on the notion of stigmatized work. Shahana has also been associated with the democratic rights movement for decades. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Samar Halarnkar: Narendra Modi and the unsurprising politics of vendetta // Aatish Taseer: I am Indian. Why is the Government Sending Me Into Exile?

NB: The term corruption means 'perversion from fidelity'; and is thus not limited to financial matters. The perversion of justice is also a manifestation of corruption. DS

In September 2019, chief justice of the 75-judge Madras High Court, Vijaya Tahilramani, resigned after she was transferred to the four-judge Meghalaya High Court. In 2017, Tahilramani upheld the conviction and life sentences handed out of 11 suspects in 2002 murders and a gang-rape and set aside the acquitals of rioters, policemen and doctors.

The appointment or transfer of HC and SC judges is made by a collegiums... but the collegium’s decisions are increasingly made in secret at the instance of “confidential” government notes opposing its choice. This week, after two such notes, the collegium rescinded its decision to appoint Justice Akil Qureshi as chief justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court and sent him instead to the far smaller Tripura high court. In 2010, Justice Qureshi ordered Home Minister Shah remanded to police custody for his alleged involvement in an extra-judicial killing.

Of all the laughable – and they are laughable – charges levelled by the Indian government against Kannan Gopinathan, the most preposterous is the one that says he failed to apply in time for a prime ministerial award on innovation in public administration. “I think I’ll be the only officer in history who has been chargesheeted for not applying for an award,” he said 
this week. Gopinathan, who resigned in August 2019 from the elite Indian Administrative Service to protest against the crackdown in Kashmir, was a respected, capable officer who had been graded 9.5 out of 10 in his latest appraisal and achieved fame for anonymously – a colleague revealed his identity – volunteering at relief camps during a 2018 flood in Kerala.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Ram’s political triumph // Purushottam Agrawal: Being Hindu in a Hindu Rashtra

... does this judgment deepen the fusing of religion and politics?... the institutional fusion has been deepening for a while - the political, legal and religious movements have all intermingled. But with a central government trust now in charge of effectively building a temple, the state is the medium through which Hindu sovereignty is now being exercised. 

No one disputed Ram. But making the fate of 2.77 acres of land a litmus test of respect for Ram, and for the fate of a civilisation, was an act of vandalism on Hinduism as well.. The political reconfiguration of Hinduism, where political rather than spiritual forces now represent it, is now complete.

The birth of the Ramayana, as we know it, is in an act of grief. A nishada hunter strikes down the male of a pair of krauncha birds. The unslain female bird utters a mournful cry. Unable to bear the separation, she too dies. This primal scene of crime, and the anguish it generates, prompts Valmiki to compose the Ramayana. But the deep sorrow of that crime haunts the story. Ram has his triumphal moments - vanquishing Ravana, establishing Ram Rajya. Ram always sides with duty, some exalted high ideal that makes his own desires irrelevant. That is his greatness. 

But there is also no escaping the fact that Ram himself never finds inner repose. His deepest moments of anguish arise precisely when he acts as a sovereign, overcoming his natural karuna, sidelining it for some kingly duty. It is almost as if his most political of acts, the banishment of Sita, is contrary to his own nature. It is when Ram acts as a political agent, that his torment is most pronounced. His political acts, sometimes, make him guilty of wrongdoing. He is saved, if at all, only by the forgiveness of Sita as Bhavabhuti perceptively noted. It is Ram in the end who is most in need of karuna. The fact that Ram politically triumphs is not always the moment that he is morally redeemed, or made whole... 
read more:

Purushottam Agrawal: Being Hindu in a Hindu Rashtra
For Hindutva, which is not a spiritual or religious world view but a doctrinaire, authoritarian political programme, Hinduism is a mere prop.
On the face of it, being Hindu in a 'Hindu rashtra' might sound good to Hindu ears. You might think you are in a rashtra (nation) that is in sync with your faith, values and way of life. However, closer examination and some reflection on the nature of Hinduism as it is lived by hundreds of millions of Hindus will present a very different picture. To put it bluntly, for the sahaj Hindu, being Hindu in a Hindu rashtra is more likely going to be a nightmare. Etymologically, the word sahaj means something one is 'born with'.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Mikhail Gorbachev tells the BBC: World in ‘colossal danger’

NB: The world should respect this man: he steered the USSR to a peaceful end, the implosion could have been catastrophic. This warning shows how foolish are those who think Trump is a harbinger of peace: his total disrespect for American law is paralleled by a equal disregard for treaties and obligations laid down for controlling the nuclear arm race. He is a scam artist and petty con-man who breeds and fosters others like him All of us should beware of ultra-nationalist theatrics. DS

The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that current tension between Russia and the West is putting the world in "colossal danger" due to the threat from nuclear weapons. In an interview with the BBC's Steve Rosenberg, former President Gorbachev called for all countries to declare that nuclear weapons should be destroyed.

Lucian Truscott: Trump wants to end the forever wars - except the one about oil and money
Richard Wolffe: The Trump-Ukraine scandal is a taste of how dirty the US elections will get

Sunday, November 3, 2019

How capitalism created the post-truth society — and brought about its own undoing. By Keith Spencer

Capitalism, to function, requires us to collectively deny the sheer idea of the collective good. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “There’s no such thing as society
No economic system has lasted forever. And I imagine that some day, when historians are studying the rise and fall of capitalism, they might look back at Glenn Beck’s 2010 Earth Day meltdown as a seminal moment - an exemplar for how capitalism created the post-truth society that seems destined to doom its ability to function. Though it was only 8 years ago, we have largely forgotten how far-right firebrand Glenn Beck essentially prophesied the brand of spite politics that animates much of the right today. 

On his radio show, Beck gleefully shared with his listeners his plans to turn on as many lights as possible in his home during Earth Hour, and to intentionally pollute as much as possible on Earth Day. “I’m going to burn garbage in my backyard with Styrofoam,” Beck 
told a caller on his April 22, 2010 radio program. “Have you cut down your Earth Day tree yet and put it in your living room? It’s great. I decorate mine with heat lamps, but that’s a different story,” he bragged. “You know, in our Earth Day, what we’ve decided to do is turn on every light in the studio because we have some cockroaches to expose tonight..”

Consider, for a moment, the kind of political position one must take in order to find joy and purpose in willfully burning something as caustic as Styrofoam in one’s yard. Such an act has no functional purpose, besides spite; yet Beck seems to believe it is his individual choice - his individual freedom, he believes (or is told to believe), and that burning Styrofoam is somehow as American as apple pie. Beck, of course, doesn’t own the atmosphere. We all have to breathe the same one. Hence, the chemicals released in the burning of these toxic plastics spread across the planet.... we have all inhaled their carcinogens by now. If future historians look back at this moment, surely they will marvel at what kind of confused ideological belief system could compel someone to do something so selfish and, frankly, stupid. Yet capitalism begat this culture, this notion that we alone have the individual right to do whatever we want with our time, money, or our lighters — even (or especially) if it hurts others.... read more:

see also
Duflo & Banerjee - If we’re serious about changing the world, we need a better economics
Trump to Johnson, nationalists are on the rise, backed by billionaire oligarchs
Do our leaders want to certify political assassination?

Mitali Saran: The little NGO that couldn’t, and other sad stories (Sickular Libtard)

Five short months after a big general election victory, nothing is going right for the dark lords of India. The economy is crap, nobody liked the budget, the Haryana and Maharashtra state elections were damp at best, the government’s own economists are grumbling—and one with a “totally left-leaning” mindset won the Nobel Prize. Social media is mutinous: a Twitter poll conducted by a ‘Proud Hindu’ showed that a mortifying 70% of respondents don’t think the national anthem should be played in movie halls... read more:

Bharat Bhushan - In Kashmir, New Delhi is searching for a modern day Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad

In keeping with a Dogra tradition initiated by Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1872, the Darbar in the now Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will move from the summer capital of Srinagar to the winter capital of Jammu from November 4. But a more significant shift that should not go unnoticed is the firm and relentless displacement at ground level of bureaucrats appointed from the Prime Minister’s Office as control passes into the hands of the Union Home Ministry.

The Governor and most appointed to run the state have been shifted out. Satya Pal Malik, who was expected to continue to hold joint charge of J&K and Ladakh as Lieutenant Governor has been moved to Goa. Also gone are his advisors appointed by the PMO – retired police officer K Vijay Kumar, former bureaucrats Khurshid Ganai and K Skandan and Farooq Khan, a retired police officer and former BJP Secretary. Dineshwar Sharma, a former Chief of the Intelligence Bureau and Kerala cadre police officer like the National Security Advisor, was PMO’s Interlocutor for J&K. His inputs developed from forays into J&K will have little relevance as he has been moved away as far possible as Administrator of Lakshadweep. Only Chief Secretary B V R Subramaniam, remains from the ancien regime.

China approves seaweed-based Alzheimer's drug. It's the first new one in 17 years

Authorities in China have approved a drug for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, the first new medicine with the potential to treat the cognitive disorder in 17 years.

The seaweed-based drug, called Oligomannate, can be used for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer's, according to a statement from China's drug safety agency. The approval is conditional however, meaning that while it can go on sale during additional clinical trials, it will be strictly monitored and could be withdrawn should any safety issues arise.

In September, the team behind the new drug, led by Geng Meiyu at the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said they were inspired to look into seaweed due to the relatively low incidence of Alzheimer's among people who consume it regularly.

In a paper in the journal Cell Research, Geng's team described how a sugar contained within seaweed suppresses certain bacteria contained in the gut which can cause neural degeneration and inflammation of the brain, leading to Alzheimer's.... read more:

German novelists on the fall of the Berlin wall: ‘It was a source of energy we lived off for years’

Thirty years ago, the people of Berlin brought down the wall that had cut through their city since 1961. Here five writers, from both sides of the divide, recall those heady days and assess their legacy

Heike Geissler was born in 1977 in Riesa in the former German Democratic Republic. She is the author of four novels, most recently Seasonal Associate, a highly acclaimed fictionalised account of a period she spent working in an Amazon warehouse in Leipzig.

Oh, it’s all so long ago, isn’t it? When the wall came down I was 12 years old and crazy about belongings and about the world. I was embarrassed about coming from the GDR. I was embarrassed about going into shops in West Germany and being a grey and dark-blue complex of drab timidity amidst all the colours. With my first western money I bought myself a neon-coloured rucksack and a cassette recorder. I was already more colourful when I travelled with my mother in a packed train to Oberhausen in West Germany to see the acquaintances who had for years been sending us parcels for feast days and birthdays. I ate yoghurt for the first time, and liked it, and I draped myself in colours. Autumn colours were chic at the time: purple, ochre, etc.

Maybe I’d just lost interest in politics. If only I knew. At any rate Ernst Thälmann (the leader of the Communist Party who was later shot in Buchenwald) had recently been my hero, I’d wanted to be like him, and I’d thought about how he had managed to fashion a little inkwell with the bread that a prison warder had given him, fill it with milk and thus have a source of invisible ink that he could eat straight away if he had to. I wondered about that, and a moment later I wondered what it would be like to live with Martin Lee Gore (of synth-pop band Depeche Mode). I papered my room with posters of him, I dreamt about him, I was, even though I wasn’t quite a grown-up, Martin Lee Gore’s wife..... read more:

Mukul Kesavan: What sets BJP apart is its endorsement of exclusion

From the government’s point of view, all initiatives show Muslims their place and Hindus their pre-eminence 

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s contribution to policy-making can be divided into three parts: continuity, spectacle and communalized change.  There are passages of continuity between the United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance in the domain of policy. Three obvious examples are the MGNREGA, Aadhaar and GST. These were signature policies initiated by the UPA that were adopted by the NDA. Aadhaar was adopted enthusiastically because the NDA, even more than the UPA, is keen on collecting big data about desis for governance and surveillance. 

MGNREGA was adopted grudgingly because Narendra Modi came to power as an enemy of subsidy and dependency, who explicitly saw the MGNREGA as the embodiment of both evils and who wanted to do away with it. Given the catastrophic decline in income and livelihood in rural India, he was forced to accept the logic behind the rural employment guarantee scheme. And having loudly opposed the UPA’s bid to introduce the goods and services tax, the NDA passed its own baroque version. There are several other examples of Modi’s government repackaging prior schemes, renaming them and marketing them as new avatars of progress but to its credit, these schemes are more visible, better advertised and often more vigorously and expansively implemented.

The Modi government’s claims to policy novelty, its departures from the UPA norm, are driven by its attachment to the spectacular and its commitment to a majoritarian remaking of the republic.

New study finds rising sea level predictions much worse than anyone imagined

In practical terms it is necessary to account for human migration, as well as the fact that the population of the world is expected to increase by two billion people by 2050. 

The error was in estimating the impact of sea rise based primarily on 3-D satellite imagery from NASA, which led scientists to erroneously establish “the planet’s upper surfaces—such as treetops and tall buildings,” as ground level. This, as New York’s Intelligencer 
summarizes, was the elevation data that scientists generally relied on when estimating the degree of incursion that rising seas would represent. Scientists Scott A. Kulp and Benjamin H. Strauss, in affiliation with Princeton University and the organization Climate Central, recently discovered and corrected for this error and, with the assistance of artificial intelligence technology, were able to correct prior estimates.

When extrapolated to show the effect of sea rise on human populations, the data now indicate “that many of the world’s coastlines are far lower than has been generally known.” This means that “sea level rise could affect hundreds of millions of more people in the coming decades” than was already feared. That’s a three- to four-fold increase over estimates based on the erroneous NASA data.

In terms of actual numbers, by 2050, as many as 150 million to 340 million people living below annual high-tide or flood levels could be subject to displacement by higher sea levels, depending on which scenario—“optimistic” (reflecting lower rates of continued greenhouse gas emissions) or “pessimistic” (reflecting higher rates of such emissions)—is considered. The projections for 2100 roughly double these numbers, if that can be imagined.

Southern and southeastern Asia will be the areas first and most severely impacted—Bangkok, Thailand, and much of southern Vietnam, for example, will disappear by 2050, according to these estimates—but these regions are hardly alone. The study indicates that Brazil and the United Kingdom could permanently lose land to the rising waters by the end of this century. Sooner than that, in 2050, Kulp and Strauss estimate, over 3.6 million people in Great Britain alone could face annual flooding. Additionally, the study predicts that “even in the U.S.,” the sea rise impact could lead to climate-driven migration from the coastlines.... read more:

Lucian Truscott: Trump wants to end the forever wars - except the one about oil and money

Remember the lengths the Bush administration went to counter the argument that the real reason we invaded Iraq in 2003 was the oil? It was about weapons of mass destruction, until there turned out to be no WMDs. Then it was about bringing democracy to the Middle East, until that turned out to be harder than we thought it would be. Then it was about rebuilding Iraq, which wouldn’t have needed it if we hadn’t blown the place up to begin with. Then it was about fighting terrorism, which Iraq had had no part in exporting to the rest of the world in the first place.

It was about anything at all except the oil, even after it was revealed that the first thing Vice President Dick Cheney did at the very first meeting of the Bush cabinet after he took office was to pass around a map of Iraq showing its oil reserves divided up between major United States oil companies. This was in February of 2001, months before the attacks of 9/11, and more than two years before the first American units would cross the Kuwait border in the invasion of Iraq.

Oil had nothing to do with it, we were told. Our hands were clean. Our motives were pure. One guy knew better. Donald Trump. He tweeted back in 2013, “I still can’t believe we left Iraq without the oil.” “It used to be, ‘To the victor belong the spoils,’” he said at a “commander in chief forum” in New York during the campaign in 2016. “Now, there was no victor there, believe me. There was no victor. But I always said: take the oil.”.... read more:

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

Andrew Bacevich: Too Inept to end the fruitless US Forever Wars
NB: This is another interesting article by Bacevic, but for some reason, neither Turkey & Saudi Arabia, (nor the latters' brutal war against Yemen with Trump's approval), get a mention. Bacevich is projecting his wish to see the end of US imperialism onto Trump. He fails to see that Trump is only interested in making money for himself and his family. He's for sale. Its not imperial fatigue that is the hallmark of this regime, but 'law-fatigue' - he aims at putting an end to lawful governance altogether. DS

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Russia rolls out its 'sovereign internet.' Is it building a digital Iron Curtain?

On Friday, a controversial new law took effect in Russia: The so-called "sovereign internet" law, which mandates the creation of an independent internet for Russia. In effect, Moscow has given itself the power to erect a sort of digital Iron Curtain around its networks. But will it force the change from a freewheeling internet to a purely Russian one?

That's what tech companies and Russian internet users alike will be watching as the law takes effect. Here's what the measure entails: Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law new rules that would enable the creation of a national network that can operate independently from the rest of the world. Among other things, the law allows Roskomnadzor, Russia's telecoms agency, to shut the country off from external traffic exchange, creating a purely Russian web.

The government has said the regulations are part of an effort to protect Russia by creating the ability to sustain a fenced-off national network, in the event that a foreign power interferes with Russian cyberspace. The official newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta said the law coming into force should not affect internet users, but it "will ensure the availability of communication services in Russia in case of threats." That's clear in theory, but just how the new measures will be applied remains ambiguous. Critics have warned that this could make it easier for the Russian government to censor, reroute or switch off internet traffic to block access to politically sensitive content....

1984 - Thirty five years after

November 2, 2019 marks 35 years and a day that many of us went on a peace march in south Delhi to stop the carnage that had unfolded since late evening on October 31, 1984. I post this piece in memory of those painful events, and to pay respects to the dead.

IN 2014, on the 30th anniversary of 1984, I wrote an article that appeared in EPW. It was titled The Broken Middle, and its contents remain as relevant today as five years ago. 
Here is the Hindi version: मध्यमार्ग का अवसान : दिलीप सिमियन 
Download a PDF of the essay here

On November 24, 1984, we took out a citizens march for justice, from Red Fort to Boat Club, that had at least 5000 participants. It was blacked out by the media, except for a few lines in an inside page of the Indian Express. Details of the march are given in the article above. 

Some weeks afterward, many students, teachers, journalists and other concerned citizens founded the anti-communal citizens action group, Sampradayikta Virodhi Andolan; two documents relating to which may be read below:
A Brief History of the Sampradayikta Virodhi Andolan (SVA)
CONSTITUTION OF the Sampradayikta Virodhi Andolan 1989

I also attach links to some more of my articles on communalism in contemporary politics. One was on the disturbances in JNU campus in February 2016, relating to Kashmir. I posted it as What is to be Undone. It was subsequently re-published by Quartz and Scroll

The Abolition of truth सत्य की हत्या  was a comment on the shameless celebration of Gandhi's assassin that unfolded after the NDA victory in 2014. I posted it in 2015. And here are some more related comments: Do our leaders want to certify political assassination?

And this was a comment on an ongoing court case: The Supreme Court, RSS and Gandhi

After 1994 I was unable write at length about 1984. I post below what I wrote in 1994
The tenth winter: THE SUNDAY TIMES OF INDIA, JANUARY 16, 1994

Those familiar with the streets of Delhi will have noticed the contempt with which the police vehicles, large and small, treat traffic rules, to say nothing of the ubiquitous white Ambassadors bearing the middle bureaucracy. This is not only true of officialdom – buses stop in the middle of the road, stop signals are regularly violated, and lanes totally ignored. There is no awareness that traffic rules are for everyone’s safety. When the very authority which is paid to uphold these laws does the opposite, when the lack of civic sense appears to be all – pervasive, one begins to wonder if there is some deeper malaise at work.

Some forms of social derangement underpin all the others. The gap between the claim to being law-governed and the actual observance of rules is one of them. Traffic rules are the least of them. Electoral laws and the Penal Code regulations governing incitement have, until the last general elections, been flouted without compunction. It remains to be seen whether the Election Commission can prevent the misuse of religion and election symbols in future.

When certain top police officers took to preaching inter-religious warfare after they retired, one wondered how they could have functioned impartially while in service. College principals engage in the practice of discretionary admissions, bypassing established procedures, and inculcating amongst the youth the gentle art of queue-jumping. Opinion makers applaud the handcuffing of students who cheat in examinations, but not much is heard of the need to make accountable those teachers who neglect their classes. Elite groups of businessmen and officials mysteriously obtain prime urban land at throwaway prices. The list is endless.

Why grumble at all this? The flouting of rules is accepted with various degree of resignation. Like black money, it is assumed to have its functions. What the ruling castes/classes do not realize is that this attitude has an indelible impact upon popular perceptions of right and wrong. I remember as a child seeing Pandit Nehru and senior leaders moving about in the city and at public exhibitions with ease. Today’s leaders and senior officials live in glorified prisons. Do they realize that this predicament is of their own making?

Across the enormous linguistic distances in our society, certain messages get through clearly enough – some people live above the rules, while the rest of us have to negotiate them somehow. And for the mass media, there are some crusades which may be launched, while grievous issues may conveniently be forgotten.

Thus, Naxalite violence is awful, but if a few thousand people are murdered in a couple of days in the name of God Almighty, this is unfortunate, but inevitable. The greater the enormity, the larger the number of publicists who may be found rationalizing it, using it to make money, or putting their consciences to sleep. I was aghast at the number of gruesome and provocative photographs published by the Gujarati press in Surat, where I happened to be resident in December 1992. In Bombay, Doordarshan telecast a Marathi programme on Shivaji’s weapons on one of the worst mornings during the violence a year ago.

I sometimes wish that the intellectuals, who rationalize brutality could be made witnesses to these ‘nation building’ activities when they take place; as for instance, when little girls were heinously done in on a train at Udhna, near Surat, on December 9, 1992 (the details are too painful to recount). But I doubt whether this will make any difference. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, Hitler’s notorious terror arm, which presided over the annihilation of European Jews, once asked for about a hundred victims to be machine-gunned in front of him. The carnage caused him to faint and suffer a nervous fit. But, there was no change in his character or activities.

This is the tenth winter since the slaughter of innocents in India’s capital, an event which, in my view, carried as much import for ‘midnight’s children’ as Partition did for our seniors. (May I repeat here, in passing the demand that the ban on The Satanic Verses be lifted?). For years afterwards, there was a conspiracy of silence about it, matched by the shameless determination of the national government to thwart the judicial process. There is no sign that Parliament will even pass a resolution of condolence. None of the national parties has carried out a sustained agitation for justice. And does it sit easy upon the conscience of the politicians making the latest gestures in that direction that they were themselves the prime movers of violence and mayhem directed against Muslim citizens? These matters are not party issues any more. They concern the legitimacy, not of this or that government, but of the Indian Union. Those who swear by national unity must seriously consider the effect upon state institutions of the undermining of constitutional rules and processes.

Let me underscore the difference between civil and criminal law. The first concerns disputes within relationships of a social or commercial nature. The second relates to the physical safety of the citizens and their property. If there is no such uniform criminal law in India – and such is indeed the case factually, though not technically – there can be no common civil law either, and the moral fabric of society will be torn apart. 

Yet there is no life without optimism, and Indian society has always carried its own antidotes. I shall make reference again to Gujarat. The purohit of a small temple in Baroda, wrote a moving account of his anguished reactions to the events of December 6, 1992. His views were humane, compassionate and steeped in his own religiosity. He remains a common man, worthy of the respect of many of our VIPs. A news report dated January 12, 1994 tells us that tens of thousands of citizens in Sidhour, Mehsana, took a public pledge of peace, with killers openly repenting their crimes and the families of the victims declaring their forgiveness. The ends of justice and social order requires nothing more.

In the tenth winter since 1984 and the first since the demolition of the desolate Babri Masjid, the citizens of Sidhpur have reminded us of the delicate, tenuous, and profoundly ethical nature of the ties that bind us. Rules must apply to everyone, or there is no point having them at all. And the first rule has to be a respect for human life and dignity.

Dilip Simeon