Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Greta Thunberg tells Congress to 'listen to the scientists' during testimony – live

Young climate activist Vic Barrett just gave opening remarks, warning of rising seas, in particular as a result of climate change. Barrett is a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit, Juliana v the US, that charges the federal government with violating the constitutional rights of youth by perpetuating systems that contribute to climate breakdown….

American youth activist Jamie Margolin has come steaming in with her prepared opening statement. She is suing her state, Washington, over climate change. “People who say we have a great future ahead are lying to my face,” she told the congressional hearing. She points out that the destruction already seen in the world from the climate crisis “will get worse” and her generation is being left a terrible legacy. “The government cannot even begin to imagine the size of the political shift that needs to happen to act on the climate crisis, she says. 

“The youth are calling for a new era altogether...we only have a few months left to transfer to a renewable energy economy. People call my generation Generation Z as if we are the last generation, but we are not, we are the GND Generation - the green new deal generation,” she said...

Michael H Fuchs: The latest Iran-Saudi flare-up exposes Trump's bankrupt Middle East policy

The fact that the United States is up in arms over an attack with no reported casualties on an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia – while at the same time supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen that has killed tens of thousands – tells us everything we need to know about how messed up US priorities in the Middle East are…. Trump summed up why he always sides with Riyadh, even after the Saudi leader ordered the murder of US journalist Jamal Khashoggi: “Saudi Arabia pays cash.”

One of the most devastating results of US policy has been the humanitarian disaster in Yemen. Because Saudi Arabia entered the war on one side, while Iran supports the other, the United States has blindly followed Saudi Arabia in fueling this conflict that is starving children and killing innocent civilians. The conflict has taken the lives of at least tens of thousands of people, and a United Nations panel recently said that all sides might be committing war crimes.

Israel – and Trump’s relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu – are at the center of this as well. Israel is a close and important ally, but Trump and Netanyahu have personalized, politicized and radicalized the US-Israeli relationship. While Trump attempts to use the relationship as a political wedge by falsely painting his opponents as enemies of Israel, Netanyahu pushes for conflict with Iran and takes steps that make peace with Palestinians all but impossible – steps that Trump openly supports. The two feed off each other and support one another’s agendas, which are bad for the region.... 

Trump's deference to Saudi Arabia

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Save the Oceans, Feed the World.

Restoring the ocean could feed 1 billion people a healthy seafood meal every day
Oceana: the largest international advocacy organisation dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-third of the world’s wild fish catch. With over 200 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that one billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world

Bangka Island, off northern Sulawesi in Indonesia, would be paradise, if not for the plastic. Single-use bags and disposable diapers tangle...

Photos exposing our planet's problems – from climate change to poverty

Revealed: catastrophic effects of working as a Facebook moderator

NB: These are the working conditions in what can justly be named 'IT coolie jobs'. DS
The task of moderating Facebook continues to leave psychological scars on the company’s employees, months after efforts to improve conditions for the company’s thousands of contractors, the Guardian has learned. A group of current and former contractors who worked for years at the social network’s Berlin-based moderation centres has reported witnessing colleagues become “addicted” to graphic content and hoarding ever more extreme examples for a personal collection.

They also said others were pushed towards the far right by the amount of hate speech and fake news they read every day. They describe being ground down by the volume of the work, numbed by the graphic violence, nudity and bullying they have to view for eight hours a day, working nights and weekends, for “practically minimum pay”. A little-discussed aspect of Facebook’s moderation was particularly distressing to the contractors: vetting private conversations between adults and minors that have been flagged by algorithms as likely sexual exploitation.

Such private chats, of which “90% are sexual”, were “violating and creepy”, one moderator said. “You understand something more about this sort of dystopic society we are building every day,” he added. “We have rich white men from Europe, from the US, writing to children from the Philippines … they try to get sexual photos in exchange for $10 or $20.”

Gina, a contractor, said: “I think it’s a breach of human rights. You cannot ask someone to work fast, to work well and to see graphic content. The things that we saw are just not right.”... read more:


Estera Flieger: The populist rewriting of Polish history is a warning to us all

Populists treat the past like fast food: they go straight for what’s tasty and comforting for them, leaving aside the bits that might be healthier and more nutritious for all. But the honest study of history is not about making you feel good. Take the case of the second world war and how, 80 years after the invasion of Poland, a dispute in Gdańsk over a museum about the war is playing out.

The populists in Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party have meddled so much in redrafting the narrative conveyed both by the museum and its main exhibition that four Polish historians involved with the institution’s creation and launch have been left with little choice but to go to court.
The courts are hardly the best place to adjudicate on the lessons of history. Universities, academies, libraries and museums are surely more suited to such debates. So let me explain how things got to this point.

The Gdańsk Museum of the Second World War opened in 2017 to some fanfare; its distinguishing and unconventional features were to be its special focus both on the global context of the war and on the fate of civilians in the bloody conflict. The main exhibition took eight years to put together. The American historian Timothy Snyder called the project a “civilisational achievement” and “perhaps the most ambitious museum devoted to the second world war in any country”... read more:

see also

Car in Mohan Bhagwat’s convoy hits bike, kills 6-year-old in Rajasthan

NB: Let us see how quickly this case disappears from public view, and whether any action will be taken against the driver of the car. DS

A six-year-old boy was killed and his grandfather injured after their two-wheeler was hit by a car in the cavalcade of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in Alwar district of Rajasthan on Wednesday, police said. Mr. Bhagwat was returning from a programme in Tijara area when the incident happened and there were eight to ten cars in the cavalcade, police said.

“One of the cars in the cavalcade hit a motorcycle leaving six-year-old Sachin dead and his grandfather injured,” said Ramswaroop Bairwa, Sub-Inspector of Mandawar police station. The cavalcade went towards Behror after the incident, he said. The car involved in the accident is yet to be seized, police said. “An FIR has been lodged against the driver of the car on the basis of the vehicle’s registration number,” Mr. Bairwa said, adding that further investigations are underway...

Martin Chulov: Drones signal end to era of fast jet air supremacy / Simon Tisdall: The world ignored the warning signs, now the Middle East is on the brink

the west – turning a blind eye for decades to pitiless autocracy, legalised misogyny and religious bigotry – has continued to court Riyadh and its corrupting riches. Here again Trump jumped in, making shockwaves. Not content to cement the Saudi alliance during his first overseas visit as president, Trump made crown prince Mohammed bin Salman his new best friend. When the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents, Trump turned defence attorney. He is even trying to sell Salman nuclear technology. What would you think, were you in Iran’s shoes?

In the history of modern warfare, “own the skies, win the war” has been a constant maxim. Countries with the best technology and biggest budgets have devoted tens of billions to building modern air forces, confident they will continue to give their militaries primacy in almost any conflict. Tiny, cheap, unmanned aircraft have changed that, especially over the battlefields of the Middle East. In the past three months alone, drones have made quite an impact in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and possibly now Saudi Arabia, where half the country’s oil production - and up to 7% of the world’s global supply – has been taken offline by a blitz that caused no air raid sirens and seems to have eluded the region’s most advanced air warning systems...

Tess McClure: Madagascar and 'healing crystals' - the human cost of mumbo-jumbo

In the US, demand for overseas crystals and gemstones has doubled over the past three years, and quartz imports have doubled since 2014. (Those numbers capture raw stone, but not the crystals imported under many other categories: jewellery, home goods, decorations.) Daniel Trinchillo, owner of Fine Minerals International, a high-end crystal dealership, told me that his business makes between $30m and $40m in sales each year. Trinchillo caters to a growing cohort of celebrities, collectors and investment buyers who want rare and valuable crystals. The most expensive single piece he has sold went for $6m, but he knows of some that have sold for $10m. Trinchillo estimates that high-end dealers now account for about $500m in annual sales. Include the lower end, he said, and you are talking about a highly profitable, multi-billion dollar industry.

Believers say crystals conduct ambient energy – like miniature phone towers picking up signals and channelling them on to the user – thus rebalancing malign energies, healing the body and mind. First popularised in the west in the 1970s, crystal healing’s recent resurgence has coincided with growing interest in alternative spirituality and healing practices. According to Pew Research Center data, more than 60% of US adults hold at least one “new age” belief, such as placing faith in astrology or the power of psychics, and 42% think spiritual energy can be located in physical objects such as crystals. Not surprisingly, then, scientific criticism of crystal healing has done little to dim demand. Last year, Paltrow faced (and settled) a misleading advertising lawsuit for claiming that Goop’s vaginal egg crystals had the power to balance hormones and regulate menstrual cycles. But still, the rise of crystals continues.

Celebrating Dissent Festival in Amsterdam

The epic ‘Celebrating Dissent’ Festival took place between 30 August -1 September in Amsterdam, a collaboration between the prestigious art and debate institute De Balie and Maryam Namazie.
Consisting of a mixture of intense, probing conversations, comedy, art, poetry and dance perform-ances, films, lectures and protest, the weekend was an education in the issues facing dissenters fighting religious constraints and the religious-Right. The work of ex-Muslims and women campaigners was particularly evident.

More than 50 speakers from 30 countries worldwide discussed Women’s Dissent; Touching the Holy Subject; Comedy, the Sacred and Islamophobia; Separation of Religion from the State; Women against Gods; Identity; and Fighting the Far-Right. The deep wound left by silence within families was portrayed in a gut-wrenching film ‘No Longer Without You’ by Nazmiyeh Oral. Nadia El Fani’s brave film ‘Neither Allah nor Master’ explored the importance of laicité. Speaker upon speaker showed how some of the most vibrant responses to fundamentalism have come from the universal desire for freedom – especially where survival has become synonymous with challenging religion and the religious-Right.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Juan Cole: Trump Awaits orders from Saudis; and Why the Houthis could have Done It

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Trump’s bizarre infatuation with strongmen and dictators was on full display in his response to Saturday’s drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. As our foremost Gulf expert, Kristian Ulrichsen, noted, Trump actually said that he was waiting on the Saudis to determine the guilty party and to tell him what to do! 

We all kept saying it is dangerous to have an erratic person like Trump in the White House in case there was a major global crisis. This might be it, folks. The responsibility for the ten drone strikes on the Abqaiq and Khurais facilities is in dispute, with the Israelis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fingering Shiite militias in Iraq, whereas the Houthi rebels of north Yemen claimed they sent the drones. One anonymous Trump official even told ABC on Sunday that Iran directly launched drones and cruise missiles on Saudi Arabia. 

We await forensics, but this allegation should be provable from forensics. It hasn’t been, and sounds Gulf of Tonkinish to me. If it is true, buy an electric car quick. One of the arguments for the Iraqi provenance of the drones is that the Houthis were not known to have this capability before now. This allegation is not true. As I discussed in May, the Houthis used drones to hit Aramco pumping stations in al-Duwadimi (853 miles from Sana’a) and Afif (764 miles from Sana’a). The Houthis only had to go another hundred miles or so to reach Abqaiq from their stronghold at Saada (about 1,000 miles).

In May, the Houthis must have used Iran’s Shahed 129 UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) or something very like it, which has a range of 1100 miles and has been used for similar strikes by Iranian forces in Syria. The advantage of drones for smuggling weapons to the Houthis by Iran is that they could simply be flown to them from a vessel offshore in the Red Sea.

If the drone can go 1,100 miles, there is no advantage to taking off from Iraq rather than Yemen.

In murder mysteries we look at means, motive and opportunity. The Houthis have the most motive of any of these actors, since the Saudis have dropped thousands of bombs on them for nearly four and a half years. Moreover, the Houthis have nothing to lose. They are already being hit as hard by the Saudis as they can be hit, and they have no resources that the Saudis can destroy….

Bharat Bhushan: Where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise? On institutional promotion of ignorance in India

Arguing against ignorance in his politically trenchant manner, the irrepressible Justice (Retd.) Markandeya Katju recently tweeted: “Children must be taken to the Zoo to ensure that when they grow up they don’t confuse a Donkey with a Lion.” Growing up is the process of escaping ignorance. India, however, increasingly seems to be a nation where ignorance continues well past adulthood and is even celebrated. Too much education, it is being suggested, can blind one to recognising real social and economic change.

Selling the government’s ambitions to make India a 5-trillion dollar economy to participants at a Board of Trade, Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal warned his audience that they must not be deceived by figures and data to the contrary. His clinching argument was “Maths did not help Einstein to discover gravity.” Though he eventually apologised for confusing Einstein with Newton, he did not regret his public contempt for “maths” and “calculations” of economic growth as means of ascertaining the health of the economy.

Other worthies too have been quite at ease making ignorant pronouncements and taking a dig at what they perceive as too much intellectualism. The Prime Minister remains unabashed about his boo-boos on a variety of subjects. In an interaction with school students when asked about his views on climate change, he claimed that climate does not change, it’s just that with age people become more sensitive to changes in temperature. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Just Do It! Debating How Much Time We Have to Avert Climate Disaster is a Waste of Time

Megafires in Canada’s Northwest Territories in 2014 scorched more than 7 million acres of forest, releasing half as much carbon back into the atmosphere as all the plants and trees in Canada typically absorb in an entire year.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, released a report earlier this month regarding the effects of the rise in global temperatures on land and agriculture and found that 25 percent of the rise in CO2 emissions comes from deforestation and farming. A consensus of some 700 scientists from around the world agreed that 1.5 degrees Celsius has already baked into the land. They said the earth is dangerously heating up as a result of feeding ourselves in the most inefficient ways (wasting 25 percent of the food produced).

The IPCC is expected to release another report in September on the effects of man-made CO2 emissions on the oceans. We get 50 percent of our oxygen from oceans, and oceans have thus far absorbed 93 percent of human CO2 emissions. In October of 2018 the IPCC advised that to avoid irreversible changes to the environment, “human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. 

This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.” The 2016 Paris Climate Conference was based on holding global temperatures to an increase of no more than at 2 degrees Celsius, but the 2018 report showed that we need to cap the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

Missing Factors: These IPCC findings, while alarming, still don’t take many things into account. For instance, none of the IPCC studies consider how much methane gas is being released from fracking sites in the U.S. and elsewhere. And methane gas is 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide....

JUAN COLE: US Manipulatively blames Iran as Saudi Arabia loses 58% of Oil Production to Houthi Attack

Yemen’s Zaydi Shiite Houthi rebels, who control the northwest of Yemen, including the capital of Sana’a, claimed on Saturday to have launched the 10 drones that struck the major Saudi petroleum production and refining installations at Abqaiq and Khurais.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied that the drones came from Yemen, blaming the attack on Iran instead. Iran provides some minor aid to the Houthis, but the latter lack control of a port or secure overland routes out of the country and so Iran couldn’t possibly have given that much help. The Houthis are an indigenous Yemeni movement with Yemeni discontents with Saudi Arabia.

Attack on Saudi oil field a game-changer in Gulf confrontation: The attack on the world's largest oil processing plant early Saturday morning is a dramatic escalation in the confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia -- even if the Iranians didn't fire the drones.. Several projectiles struck the Abiqaiq plant, starting a series of fires that quickly took out nearly half Saudi's oil production - 5% of the global daily output -- and sparking fears about the security of the world's oil supplies. It's unclear when Abiqaiq, which is operated by Saudi giant Aramco, will be fully operational again.

Pompeo’s impetuous tweet, like the ones coming from his president, was itself not accompanied by any evidence and configured a local conflict as major geopolitical one. Pompeo has long looked for a pretext to overthrow the Iranian government and to make war on Iran. What Pompeo won’t tell you is that current Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman had launched a brutal air war on Yemen in 2015 in hopes of dislodging the Houthis, not because of any alleged Iranian connection but because Saudi Arabia had been used to having major influence on Yemen through dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and had lost control when Saleh was overthrown by the 2011-2012 youth revolution.

The Saudis, the United Arab Emirates and other allies have for nearly four and a half years intensively bombed Sana’a and other civilian towns and cities in north Yemen. About a third of the airstrikes have hit civilian structures, including apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, ports and bridges. Some 10 million Yemenis out of 28 million are food insecure as a result of the war, with cholera and other debilitating diseases rampant, and some estimates for the death toll from direct military action on all sides run to 80,000.

The Houthis do not have an air force.. But somehow they have acquired drones... Drones don’t set off anti-aircraft systems because they are too small to detect. The US Congress had called on the US to stop supporting the Saudi war on Yemen, but Pompeo insisted on it continuing and Trump vetoed the resolution. Pompeo himself therefore bears some of the blame for the Abqaiq attack, which is a Houthi counter-attack, replying to years of intensive Saudi bombing of Yemen (one of poorest and weakest countries in the world)... read more:

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Thirteenth IESHR Lecture by Philippe Buc: Civil war and religion in Medieval Japan and Medieval Europe

The Indian Economic and Social History Association
are pleased to announce the
Thirteenth IESHR Lecture
Philippe Buc
Professor of Medieval European History at the Universität Wien (Austria)
7:00 pm, Monday, 16th September 2019
Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre
(Please join us for tea at 6:15 pm)

Civil war and religion in Medieval Japan and Medieval Europe

Abstract: Japan and West-Central Europe, two small ensembles placed at vast Eurasia's extremities, have often been compared with reference to their respective "middle ages". Between ca. 1880 to 1970, the juxtaposition was motivated by the sometime ideological desire to account for Japan's exceptional and swift modernisation and its entry into the exclusive club consisting of European and New World military and economic powers. One axis of comparison was then self-evident: the shared importance of the warrior class. While also focusing on the wider culture of warfare, this lecture, however, addresses the differential role played by religions in Japan prior to ca. 1600 and Europe before ca. 1550 in internal warfare ("civil war" or "intra-cultural" war). To what extent and in what manner did the locally present religions -- Buddhism alloyed with what came to be called Shinto and Christianity -- shape conceptions and practices of war in both ensembles?  Did differences (or sometime analogies) between Japanese and European religious beliefs and practices impact, for instance, the scale of atrocities, care for the defeated or the dead, loyalty or side-switching, and willingness to fight? How, in this context, was rebellion justified?

Book review: Thirteen Months in China: A Subaltern Indian and the Colonial World

Anand A. Yang, Kamal Sheel, Ranjana Sheel:
Reviewed by Emily Whewell 

Thirteen Months in China is an annotated translation of Gadadhar Singh’s 1902 self-published book, Chῑn Me Terah Mᾱs, a British Indian soldier’s perspective and experience in China during the Boxer Uprising. The Boxer Uprising at the turn of the twentieth century was a key moment in Sino-foreign relations. The rebellion ended with the suppression of the anti-foreign Boxers and the liberation of the foreign legations by a military force comprising of eight foreign nations. This “International Expedition” included British forces, with the majority of British soldiers belonging to Indian regiments. The uprising’s suppression also came at a cost to lives, homes, and livelihoods. Singh’s account gives an insight into how one Indian man understood his engagement with China.

The eyewitness account is a fascinating insight into the event and a description of China precisely because it is the voice of a somewhat ordinary Indian man. There have been many Western accounts of the Boxer Uprising and its suppression, as well as other key moments in modern Chinese history. Whether these were from missionaries, merchants, or government officials, they have provided a number of foreign perspectives. Yet Indian voices pale in comparison. From policemen to soldiers and merchants, Indians were a key part of the British presence in China. This text therefore adds another “on the ground” perspective, but one that appears to differ from other foreign accounts. For example, there appears to be a fuller detailing of atrocities—something that is often glossed over by other Western military accounts and which provides more insight into the potential nature and extent of the violence in the course of the military campaign.

Naomi Klein: 'We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism'

The author talks about solutions to the climate crisis, Greta Thunberg, birth strikes and how she finds hope. Read an extract from her new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal here

Why are you publishing this book now?: I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?: 
When I look back, I don’t think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It’s more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that’s always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What’s stopping the left doing this?: In a North American context, it’s the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we’ve got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what’s left, we’ve got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we’re not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there are going to be benefits: we’ll have more livable cities, we’ll have less polluted air, we’ll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side....

The Saudi Crown Prince plans to make us forget about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi before the US election

NB: The Prime Minister of  Pakistan has chosen to indulge in a globalised communal mobilisation of 'the Muslim world' over the Kashmir issue. This is a shameful effort to stoke up violence for the ends of the Pakistan military, whose own record includes genocidal conduct towards Bangladeshis in 1970-71; and against Baluchi's for many decades thereafter. The Saudi government, with whom the Indian government too enjoys close relations; has promoted extremist Islamism for many years, an activity that has always enjoyed the support of the Western powers; that continue to sell it military ordnance. The report below is a reminder of what Imran and his mentors mean by 'Muslim interests'. In recent times, several right-wing governments all over the world have tried to cast us all in the role of sheep and cannon-fodder for their nefarious designs. It is high time we learned to dismiss this kind of politics. DS

The Saudi Crown Prince plans to make us forget about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi
The hideous cruelty of the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi death squad almost a year ago still jumps from the pages of the latest apparent transcript of the conversation between his killers as they wait for him to arrive at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. “Is it possible to put the body in a bag?” enquires Lieutenant-Colonel Maher Mutreb, a leader of the operation and a senior member of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s team of bodyguards. He later asks if “the animal to be sacrificed” has arrived at the consulate.

Mutreb speaks to Salah al-Tubaigy, the forensic pathologist in charge of cutting up the body, who calmly lists the professional challenges he will face. “No,” he replies to the query about putting body in a bag. “Too heavy, very tall too. Actually, I’ve always worked on cadavers. I know how to cut very well. I have never worked on a warm body, but I’ll also manage that easily.” Tubaigy explains to Mutreb what should be done to Khashoggi’s corpse: “After I dismember it, you will wrap the parts into plastic bags, put them in suitcases and take them out [of the building].”

This disgusting exchange comes from a bugging device said to have been placed in the consulate by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation which has been systematically leaking their recordings to the Turkish press ever since the murder of Khashoggi on 2 October 2018. Some of the conversations were revealed earlier in the year to the UN investigator Agnes Callamard who confirmed in her report that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the “deliberate premeditated execution” of Khashoggi. 

She found “sufficient credible evidence” for the crown prince and his assets to be subjected to “targeted sanctions” until “evidence is provided and corroborated that he carries no responsibility for this execution”. US officials have said that the operation could not have been carried out without the crown prince’s knowledge. The Saudi government has said that neither he nor King Salman knew about the killing in advance. They have blamed a “rogue” operation... read more:

see also

Friday, September 13, 2019

Interview with the world’s most famous whistleblower, Edward Snowden,

The man whose state surveillance revelations rocked the world speaks exclusively to the Guardian about his new life and concerns for the future

The world’s most famous whistleblower, Edward Snowden, says he has detected a softening in public hostility towards him in the US over his disclosure of top-secret documents that revealed the extent of the global surveillance programmes run by American and British spy agencies. In an exclusive two-hour interview in Moscow to mark the publication of his memoirs, Permanent Record, Snowden said dire warnings that his disclosures would cause harm had not come to pass, and even former critics now conceded “we live in a better, freer and safer world” because of his revelations. 

In the book, Snowden describes in detail for the first time his background, and what led him to leak details of the secret programmes being run by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s secret communication headquarters, GCHQ. He describes the 18 years since the September 11 attacks as “a litany of American destruction by way of American self-destruction, with the promulgation of secret policies, secret laws, secret courts and secret wars”. Snowden also said: “The greatest danger still lies ahead, with the refinement of artificial intelligence capabilities, such as facial and pattern recognition... read more

Shobhit Mahajan: Article 370

The cavalcade seemed unending- 10 am  Sunday morning is an  unusual time to be stuck in a traffic jam. The reason it turns out are a huge number of SUVs blocking the road. Each vehicle is  adorned with big posters informing us that this is a rally being taken out by one of the prospective candidates for the upcoming VidhanSabha elections due in a month. The rally is to go to Rohtak to impress the party leader who is having his own roadshow there.  Young lumpens wearing saffron T-shirts with the prospective candidate’s photograph are energetically hanging out of the SUVs, a la Bollywood heroes. Going by the chaos and noise that is already being generated, I shudder to imagine what we are in for over the next few weeks.

I shouldn’t have been surprised though. For the last couple of months, the whole city has been humming with election related activity. The number of ticket seekers for the ruling party’s nomination, since that seems a no-brainer, has been growing every day. And each of these prospects is outdoing the other by showering the electorate with goodies as well as plastering the whole city with their hoardings. T-shirts, clocks, badges, caps and saffron scarves are all the rage it seems.

Why is India bent on bailing out the French nuclear industry at the cost of its own citizens’ lives?

Even as the French nuclear regulator ASN has put the nuclear power company EDF on a safety watch after repeated warning in recent years about vulnerabilities in the EPR design, the Modi government in India continues to push for the purchase of 6 EPRs for setting up in Jaitapur. This open letter written by the former Union Power Secretary Dr. EAS Sarma to the Secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India deserves wider circulation. 

E A S Sarma
14-40-4/1 Gokhale Road
Visakhapatnam 530002

To: Shri Kamlesh Nilkanth Vyas
Secretary, Dept of Atomic Energy (DEA) &
Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)
Govt of India

Dear Shri Vyas,
I have written numerous letters to your Department cautioning on the safety concerns arising in the case of EPR reactors to be supplied by EDF/ Areva for the proposed Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra. A copy of my last letter dated 8-7-2019 addressed to the Prime Minister, who heads DEA, and copies of my earlier letters are forwarded here for your reference. I find that DEA has not cared to respond to any of my letters nor it appears that the officers of DEA have cared to brief the Prime Minister on the safety concerns that plague EDF/ Areva.

During his recent visit to France, the Prime Minister signed a joint agreement with his French counterpart on August 22, 2019. From a reading of that agreement, it appears that there was no discussion whatsoever between the two leaders on the safety aspects of the EPR reactors being manufactured by EDF. The agreement also failed to refer to any possible exchange of information between the nuclear regulators of the two countries on the subject.

I have enclosed copies of the technical notices issued by ASN (herehere, and here), the French nuclear regulator to EDF on the numerous faults and deviations in the manufacture of EPR reactors supplied for the Flamanville nuclear power project in Finland. Extracted below is a para that highlights the multiple failures on the part of EDF.

“In the case of Flamanville 3, failures occurred at various steps in the production of these welds: in the specification of the requirements for the subcontractor in charge of producing the welds, during qualification of the weld procedures, in the choice of filler materials and during the acceptance tests, during production of the control assemblies and during the non-destructive inspections. These failures led to deviations not only from the break preclusion requirements, but also from the manufacturing code used by yourselves”

The problems faced by EDF in the manufacture of the reactors seem to be of a generic nature that could extend to the EPR reactors being supplied to China and other countries including India.

In the Indian context, the concern about safety has two dimensions... read more:

Robert Fisk: The world is suffering under Trump and his fellow fragile tyrants

The Sick Man of Europe – as the Russians and then the British once called Turkey for its gradual impotence amid the crazed political and military decisions taken during and after the First World War – has now been replaced by another Sick Man of Europe and another Sick Man in America. That’s how empires dissolve: when satraps still take their false caliphs seriously, ignore their incurable mental distress, and pay no attention to the outrageous behaviour of their attendant lords. Goodbye to the poor and huddled masses.

The sanest comment to emerge this week from the latest fandango in the Washington lunatic asylum came from Iran. Asked for an official response to the political murder of John Bolton – these Richard III killings, in which the characters are either smothered or stabbed by tweets, are, after all, routine to the point of absurdity – the Iranian foreign ministry ponderously replied that it did not “interfere in internal American affairs”. It was a wonderful po-faced response to the ever more outrageously comic Trumpian theatre. True, the various supreme and less supreme leaders of Tehran performed a little dance of joy at the demise of Bolton the “warmonger”, but at least the description was spot-on.

Normally sane western correspondents, however, performed their own routine: having all admitted (rather late but many times) that Trump is a crackpot, they resorted to their usual bland circus of reporting “tensions” in the Trump asylum, as if there actually was a Bolton “policy” or a Trump “policy” on the Middle East. Having abandoned ink, this is the new kind of journalism, in which reporters must fill their pens with mercury – and write.

Off we went again (this from a great western news agency) on the whirligig clichés of Trumpian “foreign policy”. Trump had faced “a cascade of … global challenges” while experiencing “a trying moment … on the world stage”, and Bolton had opposed his president’s desire to talk to “some of the world’s most unsavoury actors”. After the great North Korean leader, for heaven’s sake, and the deputy Iranian supreme leader and the heroic Taliban, who might Trump want to chat to next? The great Syrian leader, perhaps? I will leave readers to savour the adjective “unsavoury” – which western experts will never use about Messers al-Sissi (with his 60,000 Egyptian political prisoners) or Mohammad bin Salman (of surgical fame) or various other democrats in Brazil and elsewhere.

But the clichés of “stages” and “actors” innocently betrayed what this was all about. Foreign policy doesn’t exist any more in many world capitals. Only the ghostly wreckage of the theatre remains...

see also
Pratap Bhanu Mehta: The regime reveals itself

Alex Clark - Nazism, slavery, empire: can countries learn from national evil? Interview with Susan Neiman

Moral philosopher Susan Neiman has studied how Germany came to terms with the crimes of nazism. She explains why the US and Britain should take note
“I really do see that our relationship to our nation is like a grown-up relationship to our parents. We have to sort this through and say: ‘These parts of my national history I can be proud of and I can stand by, and these parts I’m sorry for and I’d like to do my best to somehow make up for.’ 

When Susan Neiman’s German friends discovered she was working on a book called Learning from the Germans, they laughed. “They told me: ‘You cannot publish a book with that title. There’s nothing to learn from the Germans; we did too little and too late.’ And there is something paradoxical about saying: ‘Well, we committed this terrible crime, but weren’t we great at coming to terms with it?’ You can’t really say that. But someone who’s a semi-outsider as I am, can, in fact, say that.”

Neiman, a moral philosopher, spent part of her childhood in the American south and she has written a comparative study of how Germany has come to terms with the crimes of nazism, and why the US, in failing to confront its own human rights abuses, should take note. Ambitious and detailed, it ranges from the initial reluctance of German citizens to begin the process of truth and reconciliation to small-town Mississippi, and the shooting of nine African American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, four years ago. It was that massacre, carried out by a white supremacist, that prompted Neiman, whose previous books include an examination of the concept of evil, to begin researching and writing Learning from the Germans. From her home in Berlin, where she has lived for the past 22 years, Neiman watched Barack Obama give a heartrending eulogy to the dead, and then followed as governors began to order the taking down of Confederate flags, and Walmart announced that it would stop selling Confederate memorabilia. It struck her that amid the horror lurked a hopeful moment – a moment of potential change – and that she herself had “some knowledge and experience that I could share, that might be helpful”.

Neiman’s mother campaigned for the desegregation of Atlanta’s public schools – an activity that earned her, as Neiman recalls, several late-night phone calls from the Ku Klux Klan. One hot summer’s day, her mother invited an African American friend and her children over for the afternoon, and Neiman asked if they could all go to the outdoor swimming pool. No, came the answer. The lake, then? Still no. Imploring and questioning did not change the answer. In the end, the children played beneath the garden sprinklers; only years later did Neiman realise that it would have been against the law for them to have swum together.... read more:

Susan Neiman - Evil in Modern Thought // Lecture: 'Hannah Arendt's Disruptive Truth Telling'
Kwame Appiah's review of Moral Clarity

World losing area of forest the size of the UK each year, report finds

An area of forest the size of the UK is being lost every year around the world, the vast majority of it tropical rainforest, with dire effects on the climate emergency and wildlife. The rate of loss has reached 26m hectares (64m acres) a year, a report has found, having grown rapidly in the past five years despite pledges made by governments in 2014 to reverse deforestation and restore trees.

Charlotte Streck, a co-founder and the director of Climate Focus, the thinktank behind the report, said: “We need to keep our trees and we need to restore our forests. Deforestation has accelerated, despite the pledges that have been made.”

The New York declaration on forests was signed at the UN in 2014, requiring countries to halve deforestation by 2020 and restore 150m hectares of deforested or degraded forest land. But the rate of tree cover loss has gone up by 43% since the declaration was adopted, while the most valuable and irreplaceable tropical primary forests have been cut down at a rate of 4.3m hectares a year.

The ultimate goal of the declaration, to halt deforestation by 2030 – potentially saving as much carbon as taking all the world’s cars off the roads – now looks further away than when the commitment was made. In Latin America, south-east Asia, and Africa – the major tropical forest regions – the annual rate of tree cover loss increased markedly between 2014 and 2018, compared with 2001 to 2013. While the greatest losses by volume were in tropical Latin America, the greatest rate of increase was in Africa, where deforestation rates doubled from less than 2m hectares a year to more than 4m... read more

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Frauds worth Rs 32,000 crore rattle 18 public banks within three months, reveals RTI

A total of 2,480 cases of fraud involving a huge sum of Rs 31,898.63 crore rattled 18 public sector banks in between April and June this year, an RTI query has revealed. The country's largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) remained the biggest prey to frauds with 38 per cent share, Neemuch-based activist Chandrashekhar Gaur told PTI on Sunday quoting an official of the RBI who furnished him replies to his RTI application.

As many as 1,197 cases of cheating involving Rs 12,012.77 crore were detected in SBI in the first quarter, according to the RTI reply. After SBI, Allahabad Bank faced the heat with 381 cheating cases involving Rs 2,855.46 crore. Punjab National Bank stood third in the list with 99 sham cases worth Rs 2,526.55 crore. However, the information provided by the RBI does not give specific details of the nature of banking fraud and the losses suffered by banks or their customers.

On losses suffered by PSU banks due to frauds, the RBI said it did not have figures available as to how much amount was lost by theses banks during the period under review. A total of 75 cases of fraud involving Rs 2,297.05 crore were reported in Bank of Baroda in the first quarter, while 45 cases of fraud amounting to Rs 2,133.08 crore in Oriental Bank of Commerce, 69 cases worth Rs 2,035.81 crore in Canara Bank, 194 cases worth Rs 1,982.27 crore in Central Bank of India, 31 cases of fraud of Rs 1,196.19 crore in United Bank of India were witnessed.

Likewise, Corporation Bank detected Rs 960.80 crore worth fraud in 16 cases, Indian Overseas Bank Rs 934.67 crore in 46 cases, Syndicate Bank Rs 795.75 crore in 54 cases, Union Bank of India Rs 753.37 crore in 51 cases, Bank of India, Rs 517 crore in 42 cases and UCO Bank detected Rs 470.74 crore fraud in 34 cases. Other banks, which fell victim to fraud included Bank of Maharashtra, Andhra Bank, Indian Bank and Punjab and Sind Bank.... read more:

see also
MD HIZBULLAH AND ATUL DEV: How the Vyapam SIT chief, judges and journalists benefited from government largesse in Madhya Pradesh

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

Another major focus of The Guardian’s energies under Viner’s editorship has been to attack the leader of the UK Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. The context is that Corbyn appears to have recently been a target of the security services. In 2015, soon after he was elected Labour leader, the Sunday Times reported a serving general warning that “there would be a direct challenge from the army and mass resignations if Corbyn became prime minister”. … On 20 May 2017, a little over two weeks before the 2017 General Election, the Daily Telegraph was fed the story that “MI5 opened a file on Corbyn amid concerns over his links to the IRA”. It formed part of a Telegraph investigation claiming to reveal “Mr Corbyn’s full links to the IRA” and was sourced to an individual “close to” the MI5 investigation, who said “a file had been opened on him by the early nineties”.  Then, on the very eve of the General Election, the Telegraph gave space to an article from the former director of MI6, under a headline: “Jeremy Corbyn is a danger to this nation..." 

Analysis of YouGov surveys in 2015 and 2017 shows that anti-Semitic views held by Labour voters declined substantially in the first two years of Corbyn’s tenure and that such views were significantly more common among Conservative voters. Despite this, since January 2016, The Guardian has published 1,215 stories mentioning Labour and anti-Semitism, an average of around one per day

The Guardian, Britain’s leading liberal newspaper with a global reputation for independent and critical journalism, has been successfully targeted by security agencies to neutralise its adversarial reporting of the ‘security state’, according to newly released documents and evidence from former and current Guardian journalists. The UK security services targeted The Guardian after the newspaper started publishing the contents of secret US government documents leaked by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in June 2013.

Snowden’s bombshell revelations continued for months and were the largest-ever leak of classified material covering the NSA and its UK equivalent, the Government Communications Headquarters. They revealed programmes of mass surveillance operated by both agencies. According to minutes of meetings of the UK’s Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee, the revelations caused alarm in the British security services and Ministry of Defence.

“This event was very concerning because at the outset The Guardian avoided engaging with the [committee] before publishing the first tranche of information,” state minutes of a 7 November 2013 meeting at the MOD. The DSMA Committee, more commonly known as the D-Notice Committee, is run by the MOD, where it meets every six months. A small number of journalists are also invited to sit on the committee. Its statedpurpose is to “prevent inadvertent public disclosure of information that would compromise UK military and intelligence operations”. It can issue “notices” to the media to encourage them not to publish certain information.

The committee is currently chaired by the MOD’s director-general of security policy Dominic Wilson, who was previously director of security and intelligence in the British Cabinet Office. Its secretary is Brigadier Geoffrey Dodds OBE, who describes himself as an “accomplished, senior ex-military commander with extensive experience of operational level leadership”. The D-Notice system describes itself as voluntary, placing no obligations on the media to comply with any notice issued. 

This means there should have been no need for the Guardian to consult the MOD before publishing the Snowden documents. Yet committee minutes note the secretary saying: “The Guardian was obliged to seek … advice under the terms of the DA notice code.” The minutes add: “This failure to seek advice was a key source of concern and considerable efforts had been made to address it.” These “considerable efforts” included a D-Notice sent out by the committee on 7 June 2013 – the day after The Guardian published the first documents – to all major UK media editors, saying they should refrain from publishing information that would “jeopardise both national security and possibly UK personnel”. It was marked “private and confidential.. read more:

see also
Nitin Sethi resigns from Business Standard: Here is a link to more than a 100 stories, over a hundred thousand words of investigations, deep dives, analysis, exclusives, long form and opinion by him
US-Russian surveillance wars
Jacques Camatte: The Wan­dering of Humanity