Thursday, 31 January 2019

Robert Fisk: As the UN jabs nervously at the truth about Khashoggi, remember how often journalists’ deaths are brushed aside

It’s encouraging to hear that Agnes Callamard, the UN’s execution expert, is at last in Istanbul to lead the “independent international inquiry” into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Better late than never, perhaps, but the old UN donkey clip-clops upon the world stage according to the politics and courage of the panjandrums beside the East River in New York.

Thus Callamard arrived all of four months after Khashoggi was butchered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. And she is now politely asking the Saudis themselves – “respectfully”, she tells us – to give her access to the murder scene “at some stage”. As we all know, Khashoggi wrote the truth about Saudi Arabia, was lured to his country’s consulate in Istanbul, got strangled, chopped up and secretly buried. And if we’re going to come down hard on those who kill members of our journalistic profession – alas, we’ll have to put aside for the moment all those Turkish journos banged up in their own country – Callamard has made a start. 

As opposed to all those like the boss of the Morgan Stanley investment bank, James Gorman, and the president of Switzerland, Ueli Maurer, who are keen to get back to business with Saudi Arabia. “We have long since dealt with the Khashoggi case”, Maurer has announced. Common sense, I suppose. But then there’s very little chance that Gorman or Maurer will be lured to a Saudi embassy, strangled, sawed into bits and dumped in an unknown grave.

But that’s not quite my point. What I’m really asking is why the killing of one Arab journalist is more equal than the killing of other Arab journalists? Why, for example, is the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, a friend and colleague of many of us, of infinitely more pressing importance than the fate of Yaser MurtajaThe first clue is that Yaser Murtaja was killed in Gaza. The second is that he is one of 15 reporters or camera crew, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, killed by Israeli fire since 1992, two of them last year. Shooting at reporters in Gaza has become so routine – four more were wounded by Israeli bullets between May and September 2018 – that western newspapers and television scarcely bother to record their suffering.

Just as the Saudis talked of Khashoggi’s links with “terrorism” – they meant the Muslim Brotherhood – so Israel talked of the dead Gaza journalist’s imaginary links with “terrorism”. In Yaser Murtaja’s case, this was supposed to be Hamas – which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood for whom Khashoggi worked in the never-never land of Saudi imagination.... read more:

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Hindu Mahasabha "Recreates" Mahatma Gandhi's Assassination In UP

NB: The gang known as Sangh Parivar was doing much the same thing in 2014-15:celebrating Gandhi's assassination. And Golwalkar's threat to Gandhi are part of the historical record. Now they are 'tactically' silent, or found singing Gandhi's praises. What a bunch of vicious hypocrites. DS

LUCKNOW: Even as the nation celebrated (Could NDTV's editors kindly consult the dictionary to learn the difference between 'celebrate' and commemorate'?) the 71st death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, a right-wing group shockingly re-enacted his assassination in Uttar Pradesh's Aligarh today. The Hindu Mahasabha - of which the assassin, Nathuram Godse, was once a member  also garlanded his statue and distributed sweets to hail what they claimed was a watershed moment in Indian history.

A video that has gone viral on social shows Hindu Mahasabha national secretary Puja Shakun Pandey shoot the effigy of Mahatma Gandhi amid cheers. She later told reporters that her organisation has started a new tradition by recreating the assassination, and it will now be practised in a manner similar to the immolation of demon king Ravana on Dussehra. The Hindu Mahasabha regards the day of Mahatma Gandhi's death as Shaurya Divas (Bravery Day), in honour of Nathuram Godse. The right-wing activist was one of the early members of the organisation, founded by Madan Mohan Malaviya way back in 1915.

Nathuram Godse was sentenced to death on November 8, 1949. Mahatma Gandhi's sons Manilal and Ramdas pleaded that his punishment be commuted, but the Jawaharlal Nehru-led government refused to relent. He was hanged at Ambala Jail on November 15 the same year. This is not the first time the Hindu Mahasabha has tried to glorify Nathuram Godse while trying to denigrate the celebrated freedom fighter. In 2015, outfit leader Swami Pranavananda had announced plans to install statues of Nathuram Godse across six districts of Karnataka. He also described the assassin as a "patriot" who had worked with the blessings of Hindu nationalist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi had earlier termed Mahatma Gandhi's assassination as independent India's "first terror attack" at the hands of a religious extremist. He also squarely blamed the incident on Savarkar, a right-wing personality who is said to have inspired Hindutva-based politics in the country. "Today is the date of independent India's first terror attack by Nathuram Godse, whose guru was Savarkar. Both were found guilty of Gandhiji's murder by the Justice Jivanlal Kapoor Commission. India's independence was hard fought, and it must be preserved from Savarkar's heirs," Mr Owaisi said. The nation marked the 71st death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on Wednesday. He was shot dead at the Birla House in New Delhi during his evening prayers.

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Poland’s democratic spring: the fightback starts here. By Christian Davies

From air quality to sex education and corruption, citizens across the country are taking on the authorities – and winning 
Back when Anna Gryta and Elżbieta Wąs started a local campaign to preserve a town square in south-east Poland, they had no idea it would turn them into potent symbols of democratic revival. But almost 10 years since their success in Lubartów, the sisters have become figureheads for thousands of Poles determined to secure the clean, democratic governance promised to them in the wake of the collapse of communism 30 years ago.

It’s a surprising revelation. Poland has become a byword for nationalist populism in recent years as the ruling Law and Justice party defies European democratic norms with its assault on the media and the courts. But away from the limelight, there is a flourishing grassroots movement against the flaws in the country’s democratic culture on which the populists feed. Tight groups of civic activists are notching up success after success across the country on a vast range of different issues – from sex education to air quality and the rule of law, from cycle lanes and public spaces to transparency and participation in local decision-making processes.

“Something is happening, something has changed,” says Patryk Białas, an environmental campaigner recently elected to the city council in the south-western city of Katowice. In the eastern region of Podlasie, local activists recently ran a disciplined, sophisticated and ultimately successful campaign against illegal state-sanctioned logging in the Białowieża forest. In Silesia, Poland’s industrial south-west, residents forced the closure of a toxic coking plant last year. In Poznań, in the north-west, citizens are campaigning to publicise allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. In Warsaw, a group of parents are running a campaign to put pressure on local authorities to combat the city’s terrible air quality... read more:

Martin Farrer - Historian berates billionaires at Davos over tax avoidance

A discussion panel at the Davos World Economic Forum has become a sensation after a Dutch historian took billionaires to task for not paying taxes. In a video shared tens of thousands of times, Rutger Bregman, author of the book Utopia for Realists, bemoans the failure of attendees at the recent gathering in Switzerland to address the key issue in the battle for greater equality: the failure of rich people to pay their fair share of taxes.

Noting that 1,500 people had travelled to Davos by private jet to hear David Attenborough talk about climate change, he said he was bewildered that no one was talking about raising taxes on the rich. 
“I hear people talking the language of participation, justice, equality and transparency but almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance, right? And of the rich just not paying their fair share,” 

“It feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water.” Industry had to “stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes”, he said, and cited the high tax regime of 1950s America as an example to disprove arguments by businesspeople at Davos such as Michael Dell that economies with high personal taxation could not succeed. “That’s it,” he says. “Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion.”

A member of the audience, former Yahoo chief financial officer Ken Goldman, challenged his comments and said it was a “one-sided panel”. He argued the fiscal settings across the global economy had been successful and had created record employment. But another panel member, Winnie Byanyima, an Oxfam executive director, took up the fight and said high employment was not a good thing in itself because many people found themselves in exploitative work. She cited the example of poultry workers in the US who had to wear nappies (diapers) because they were not allowed toilet breaks.

“That’s not a dignified job,” she said. “those are the jobs we’ve been told about, that globalisation is bringing jobs. The quality of the jobs matter. In many countries workers no longer have a voice.
Addressing Goldman, she said: “You’re counting the wrong things. You’re not counting dignity of people. You’re counting exploited people.” Billions of dollars were leaked by tax avoidance every year which should instead be going to alleviate poverty in the developing world, she added. After the panel Bregman tweeted a link to a opinion piece he wrote for the Guardian in 2017, saying “most wealth is not created at the top, but merely devoured there”

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Betwa Sharma: UP Cop Booked Yogi Adityanath Under NSA, Spent 20 Years In The Wilderness

NB: Our 'patriotic' leaders treat upright policemen like dispensable objects. His treatment at the hands of various elected representatives shows that corruption is not merely a financial matter, but refers more grievously, to the ongoing perversion of the Constitution. Jasvir Singh deserves our thanks and a salute from all conscientious offices and citizens. DS

" I am an IPS officer, it should stand for something"

LUCKNOW: In 2002, Jasvir Singh took over as the Superintendent of Police (SP) of Maharajganj district in eastern Uttar Pradesh. He was 34-years-old, unafraid and an idealist, so the young Indian Police Service (IPS) officer looked into the criminal cases pending against Yogi Adityanath, then Member of Parliament (MP) from Gorakhpur, and booked him under the National Security Act (NSA). Singh said he refused to withdraw his case for preventive detention against the sitting MP despite pressure from politicians of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who were in power at the Centre at the time, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which formed  the state government. Two days later, he was transferred to the Food Cell of the UP police.

In a recent conversation with HuffPost India, Singh said, “There can be no compromises in criminal offenses. I am an IPS officer, it should stand for something.” Sixteen years after his sixteen-day stint in Maharajganj, Singh continues to float in the backwaters of the Indian Police Service (IPS), and Adityanath is the chief minister of UP. His government has withdrawn a case related to Adityanath violating prohibitory orders in 1995, and has decided against prosecuting him for making a hate speech in the midst of the communal riots in Gorakhpur in 2007. Singh, meanwhile, has become a pariah of the IPS. The police officer says he has paid a price for trying to hold politicians and ministers to account.

One year after he slapped the NSA on Adityanath, Singh accused Raghuraj Pratap Singh aka Raja Bhaiya, then food minister in the Mulayam Singh Yadav government, of corruption in the Lakhimpur Kheri food scam. He was transferred out of the Food Cell of the UP police. In his 26 years of service, Singh has held posts - entailing actual police work - for only six months. For the remaining 20 years, the IPS officer has been stuck in dead-end postings, with little to do. Detested by his superiors, shunned by his colleagues, he has been written off as a troublemaker.

Asia Bibi: Pakistan’s top court upholds blasphemy acquittal

Asia Bibi, the Christian farm labourer who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy, is expected to leave the country after the supreme court upheld her acquittal. The court on Tuesday rejected a challenge to October’s ruling brought by an extreme Islamist party, which led violent protests across the country in the autumn and called for Bibi to be killed. Bibi, who has been held at a secret location since her death sentence was overturned, could be flown out of the country within hours. Two of her children are reportedly already in Canada, which has offered Bibi asylum.

After the ruling, Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, suggested that she could leave Pakistan imminently. “I think at this time she is here [in Pakistan] – but by tonight, I don’t know,” he told reporters outside the court. Extremists had “said they would kill her despite the judgment of the supreme court. Therefore, I think she should leave the country.” The supreme court’s decision was welcomed by Christian and human rights campaigners, who have lobbied western countries to offer sanctuary to Bibi, her husband and five children. In November, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, said his country was in talks with Pakistan about helping her. Australia, Spain and France are also thought to have offered sanctuary.

More posts on Asia Bibi

Chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa, one of a three-judge panel that considered the petition, said: “Based on merit, this review petition is dismissed.” He added: “The image of Islam we are showing to the world gives me much grief and sorrow.” Malook, who returned to Islamabad at the weekend after fleeing to the Netherlands amid death threats following October’s ruling, called the decision a victory for Pakistan’s constitution and rule of law. The court had “insisted on very strict proofs of blasphemy” and found none, he said. 

William Astore: The U.S. Military’s Lost Wars // Chris Hedges: The American Empire Will Collapse Within a Decade, Two at Most

One of the finest military memoirs of any generation is Defeat Into Victory, British Field Marshal Sir William Slim’s perceptive account of World War II’s torturous Burma campaign, which ended in a resounding victory over Japan. When America’s generals write their memoirs about their never-ending war on terror, they’d do well to choose a different title: Victory Into Defeat. That would certainly be more appropriate than those on already published accounts like Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez’s Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story (2008), or General Stanley McChrystal’s My Share of the Task (2013)... U.S. forces are engaged in an open-ended war on terror in 80 countries, a commitment that has cost nearly $6 trillion since the 9/11 attacks (Costs of War Project)

William J. Astore: The U.S. Military’s Lost Wars Overfunded, Overhyped, and Always Over There
Had there ever been an imperial power at the ostensible height of its glory that proved quite so incapable of effectively applying its military and political force globally to achieve its aims? At their height, the Roman Empire, China’s various imperial dynasties, and Europe’s colonial powers, however brutally, generally proved quite capable of impressing their wills and desires on those beyond their borders, even on relatively distant parts of the planet (at least for a time). 

In fact, in the Cold War years - think of Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, or Chile on the first 9/11 (September 11, 1973) - the U.S. proved no less capable, often in similarly brutal ways. And yet, from Afghanistan to Libya, Iraq to Somalia, Syria to Yemen, despite the endless application of U.S. power, the killing of tens of thousands of people (including key figures in various terror movements), the displacement of millions, the rubblization of whole cities, and the creation of a series of partially or fully failed states, nowhere, as TomDispatch regular Astore points out today, has U.S. power succeeded in successfully imposing its will, even as its wars only multiplied.

And here’s another thing I’ve come to wonder about: How did the hearts-and-minds moxie of the leftist national liberation movements of the previous century that decolonized much of the planet get transferred to the extreme Islamist groups of this one? Like the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (the “Vietcong”) and similar groups in the twentieth century, al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, and other terror outfits regularly suffer extreme casualties and yet somehow maintain their grip on the hearts and minds of significant numbers of people in riven, increasingly ruined lands. They can, it seems, even attract random Americans and Europeans into the fold. It’s a strange and unexpected phenomenon, a grim success story that hasn’t been faced in a serious way here.

I suspect that these two puzzles -- how the self-acknowledged greatest power of all time failed to deliver and the extremist resistance to it, against all odds, did -- may have to be left to future historians to fully unravel. In the meantime, check out Astore’s striking account of how the U.S. military has repeatedly turned promised victory into dismal defeat in these years. No question about it, it’s a tale for the history books... read more:

Monday, 28 January 2019

Chinese activist Liu Feiyue given five years' jail for 'inciting subversion'

The founder of a prominent Chinese civil and human rights website has been sentenced to five years in prison for inciting state subversion, according to human rights organisations. Liu Feiyue created and ran the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website, which covers a range of rights issues including protests, police abuses and government corruption – sensitive topics that are scrubbed from most Chinese media sites.

The Suizhou intermediate people’s court in central Hubei province sentenced him on Tuesday after he was found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power”, according to Human Rights Watch.  “The sentence … once again shows how the Chinese government abuses the judicial system to silence dissidents,” said Patrick Poon, a China researcher at Amnesty International. There were “serious flaws in the procedure of this case, without due process in line with international standards”, he added. Liu’s sentence came one day after human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was handed a four and a half year sentence on similar subversion charges. Wang is one of more than 200 lawyers and activists who were swept up in a 2015 crackdown aimed at courtroom critics of Communist authorities. 

Huang Qi, China’s first “cyber-dissident” and founder of human rights website “64 Tianwang”, is also facing charges. Arrested in 2016 for “leaking state secrets”, Huang has since been held in a detention centre in south-western Sichuan province and was expected to go on trial earlier this month. Liu was detained at about the same time, according to Poon. “Prosecuting the editor of a human rights website shows just how frightened the Chinese government is about independent reporting on abuses from inside China,” said Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement on Liu’s sentence. The court could not be reached for comment.

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Yuval Noah Harari extract: ‘Humans are a post-truth species’

NB: This is the first bit of YNH's writing that I've read, and it is good. I must add that if humans were indeed essentially given to deception at all times, then Yuval would not have been able to make this observation. As Stanley Rosen wisely observes: 'If there is no human nature that remains constant within historical change, and so defines the perspectives of individual readers as perspectives upon a common humanity, then reading is impossible.... If the contingent is intelligible, that is, if it is amenable to judgement, then the basis of intelligibility or judgement cannot itself be contingent. It is true that the wise decision under present circumstances may be foolish under other circumstances, but the wisdom of the decision under present circumstances is not arbitrary. To judge is to understand, not to create  ex-nihilo..' - Hermeneutics as Politics (1987), p 146, 149. DS

A cursory look at history reveals that propaganda and disinformation are nothing new, and even the habit of denying entire nations and creating fake countries has a long pedigree. In 1931 the Japanese army staged mock attacks on itself to justify its invasion of China, and then created the fake country of Manchukuo to legitimise its conquests. China itself has long denied that Tibet ever existed as an independent country. British settlement in Australia was justified by the legal doctrine of terra nullius (“nobody’s land”), which effectively erased 50,000 years of Aboriginal history. In the early 20th century, a favourite Zionist slogan spoke of the return of “a people without a land [the Jews] to a land without a people [Palestine]”. The existence of the local Arab population was conveniently ignored.
In 1969 Israeli prime minister Golda Meir famously said that there is no Palestinian people and never was. Such views are very common in Israel even today, despite decades of armed conflicts against something that doesn’t exist. For example, in February 2016 MP Anat Berko gave a speech in the Israeli parliament in which she doubted the reality and history of the Palestinian people. Her proof? The letter “p” does not even exist in Arabic, so how can there be a Palestinian people? (In Arabic, “F” stands for “P”, and the Arabic name for Palestine is Falastin.)

In fact, humans have always lived in the age of post-truth. Homo sapiens is a post-truth species, whose power depends on creating and believing fictions. Ever since the stone age, self-reinforcing myths have served to unite human collectives. Indeed, Homo sapiens conquered this planet thanks above all to the unique human ability to create and spread fictions. We are the only mammals that can cooperate with numerous strangers because only we can invent fictional stories, spread them around, and convince millions of others to believe in them. As long as everybody believes in the same fictions, we all obey the same laws, and can thereby cooperate effectively.

So if you blame Facebook, Trump or Putin for ushering in a new and frightening era of post-truth, remind yourself that centuries ago millions of Christians locked themselves inside a self-reinforcing mythological bubble, never daring to question the factual veracity of the Bible, while millions of Muslims put their unquestioning faith in the Qur’an. For millennia, much of what passed for “news” and “facts” in human social networks were stories about miracles, angels, demons and witches, with bold reporters giving live coverage straight from the deepest pits of the underworld. We have zero scientific evidence that Eve was tempted by the serpent, that the souls of all infidels burn in hell after they die, or that the creator of the universe doesn’t like it when a Brahmin marries an Untouchable – yet billions of people have believed in these stories for thousands of years. Some fake news lasts for ever.

I am aware that many people might be upset by my equating religion with fake news, but that’s exactly the point. When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month, that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that’s a religion, and we are admonished not to call it fake news in order not to hurt the feelings of the faithful (or incur their wrath). Note, however, that I am not denying the effectiveness or potential benevolence of religion.. read more:

Alexandre Koyre: The Political Function of the Modern Lie (1945)
Hans Magnus Enzensberger, The Industrialization of the Mind (1982)
Richard P. Tucker on War and the Environment
Hannah Arendt, Truth and Politics (1967)

Elites Gather In Davos To Rich-splain Poverty As The World Spirals Into Crisis. By Louise Roug

"The plutocrats who shattered the world order are gathering to make out in the mountains."

DAVOS, Switzerland ― This week, thousands of business leaders, lawmakers and activists will convene in Davos to discuss the greatest challenges facing the world.  At the yearly gathering hosted by the World Economic Forum, there is much talk of “worrying geopolitical and geo-economic 
tensions.” But, to its critics, Davos embodies everything that’s wrong with the current moment. “They gather to talk about making the world a better place. But instead they commandeer our conversation,” said Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, who will not be attending.

The U.S. government is in its longest shutdown on record. Britain is spiraling out of control over Brexit. Flames of rage engulf France. But “the plutocrats who shattered the world order are gathering to make out in the mountains,” Giridharadas said. According to a report from the anti-poverty coalition Oxfam, timed to coincide with Davos, the world’s 2,200 billionaires grew 12 percent wealthier last year. But the wealth is not trickling down. The poorest half of the world got 11 percent poorer in 2018, and today the top 26 billionaires own the same wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people.

“The economy we have today is fundamentally inhuman,” Paul O’Brien, Oxfam America’s vice president for policy and campaigns, told HuffPost. “You’re not going to get a decrease in extreme wealth until you have leadership committed to tackling its root causes, and right now we don’t.” 
In the U.S., wages have been essentially stagnant for decades while members of the Davos elite have gotten significantly richer. The fortunes of a dozen 2009 Davos attendees have jumped by a combined $175 billion in the years since, a Bloomberg analysis found.

Intellectual paths in central Europe - By SAMUEL ABRAHÁM

The position of the intellectual in central Europe today is quite marginal and muted. One way to understand it is to examine the legacy of two towering figures, Václav Havel and Viktor Orbán, who represent diametrically opposed reactions to the post-communist politics which followed 1989. The choices and legacies of both figures leave contemporary intellectuals in a quandary when addressing the politics of their respective countries. I propose an alternative, illustrated by the deeds of an Austrian intellectual and editor, Walter Famler. 

But first, let us compare the status of intellectuals in the west and in central Europe and then, quoting from a 1996 debate in Kritika & Kontext, define the concept of the intellectual and the options available during and after the communist era. In the West, the term ‘intellectual’ has been viewed with suspicion since Julien Benda’s damning book La Trahison des Clercs (1927) blamed intellectuals for all the ills of the modern world. Democratic societies are slightly uncomfortable with intellectuals. It is stable democratic institutions and not heroic intellectuals that are supposed to symbolize a grounded political order. Brecht’s remark that one should pity a country that needs heroes works precisely because such countries are in a dangerous and dysfunctional state and heroes-intellectuals are sought and catapulted to the forefront in order to save it.

In recent decades in the West, in a poignant twist, indicating an almost central European malaise, there emerged the category of ‘public intellectual’. These individuals enter the political discourse as the political climate is becoming more and more unpredictable, as the dark demons of the past in the form of nationalism and neo-fascism feel confident enough to venture back in a variety of populist disguises to the public square of Western Europe and North America. Curiously enough, a number of these public intellectuals have spent an extended time in and have written about central Europe. Tony Judt, Timothy Garton Ash, Anne Applebaum, Timothy Snyder directly, and Bernard Henri-Levi, John Gray and Roger Scruton from a distance – but all with great interest – have examined the aftermath of fin de siècle central Europe where, according to some, all the important ideas and ideologies of the 20th century emerged. By default, these still define the present century which, so far, has offered no new ideas, merely regurgitated the old ones. 

And so these intellectuals, knowing the genesis of demons and angels in central Europe, are able to eloquently analyze developments on both sides of the Atlantic. They are aware of the irony that while central Europe is giving up on the virtues of western liberal democracy, the region’s worst impulses are gradually infecting the West...

A kind of revolution Some thoughts on solidarity. By LEONARD NEUGER

When strikes broke out across Poland the autumn of 1980, it was difficult to find a name for the new phenomenon. The story is simple enough. In August 1980, a strike broke out at the shipyard in Gdansk. The workers, who were among the fairly well paid, wanted a raise. In the People’s Republic of Poland, such a matter was not difficult to resolve. Either one agreed to the demands of the workers, or one called in the police, the military; this had been done before and claimed victims. The workers demanded a meeting with high-ranking politicians in order to solve the conflict, and the politicians agreed to it. 

But they were in for a surprise. The negotiations took place in public: apart from the strike committee, other workers also participated (through the internal radio at the shipyard). And the workers moved between the room where the negotiations took place and other places in the shipyard. Every decision made by the strikers’ committee was a joint decision.

Among other things, it transpired that a female worker had been sacked for political reasons. The strike committee demanded that she be reinstated. The politicians agreed. But it turned out that many of those who had cooperated with the workers at the shipyard in Gdansk had been imprisoned, and the strike committee demanded that the politicians free them, along with all other political prisoners.

The authorities would not agree to this. Now the issue was no longer Gdansk, the shipyard or money. It was no longer a strike, but a kind of revolution: all strike rules were broken, it was no longer a struggle based on self-interest, and before the politicians had time to find a solution (either agree to the demands or suppress the revolt by force), strikes had broken out across the country, primarily in big enterprises: mines, ironworks and other sectors of great importance for the economy. In these cases as well, the strikers were among the fairly well paid. Money and economic exchange ceased to be the foundation or model for representation. Some strikes demanded compensation for low-wage groups, instead of simply a rise in wages.

I am not going to relate the whole history of the Solidarity movement. What I want to point out here is that this is where the attachment, the inner connection contained in the word solidarity is most clearly manifested. One begins by acting out of self-interest, and suddenly this horizon is transcended. What was this new phenomenon to be called?.. read more:

Civil rights 'under serious attack' across the globe

Nearly six in 10 countries are seriously restricting people’s freedoms, according to a new report that warns of a growing repression around the world. According to the study, there is little or no space for activism in countries such as Eritrea and Syria, and also worrying signs in countries where democracy is considered well established, such as France, the US, Hungary and India.

The report by Civicus Monitor, an alliance of civil society groups, found that fundamental rights – such as freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – were under attack in 111 of 196 countries.
Countries were also found to be passing repressive laws and using new technologies to control public debate. In China, censorship using new technologies had reached unprecedented levels since President Xi Jinping took power, the report warned.

Cathal Gilbert, civic space research lead at Civicus, said such measures were only the tip of the iceberg, with states more frequently resorting to harassment and violence. “Extra-legal measures, such as attacking journalists or beating up protestors, are much more common,” he said. “These tactics are cynically designed to create a chilling effect and deter others from speaking out or becoming active citizens.”

Among the countries listed as a concern were the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where authorities have clamped down on dissenting voices following the political crisis that began in 2015, and Guatemala, where at least 21 human rights defenders were killed during 2018. read more:

‘We've dug ourselves a really deep hole’ – David Neiwert on the rise of the far right // One in 20 Britons does not believe Holocaust took place, poll finds

David Neiwert has lived in his Seattle neighbourhood for decades. But it, like the US, has changed beyond recognition around him. Once upon a time, the journalist and author of the book Alt-America explains, “most of the houses were older, but they were cheap. They were places where working-class people who work on these fishing boats out here” – he gestures towards the docks at Salmon Bay – “could live, right? You know, 500 bucks a month. It all got torn down during the gentrification phase and replaced with multistorey condos that cost $1,500 or $2,000 a month.”
Amazon, whose headquarters are in Seattle, “changed the city”, he says. “All the folks who work on those fishing boats are still in the neighbourhood, but they’ve got no place to live. They’re all living on the street.” He offers a characteristic wry grin. “We’ve got a lot of motor homes around the neighbourhood now.”

Neiwert has spent his career studying far-right movements. Alt America analyses their growth over the past several decades, and looks at how authoritarianism and conspiracy thinking have come to hold sway over US politics. Neiwert believes that the far right’s surge, the election of Donald Trump and mass homelessness in Seattle all spring from a common root: the deliberate assault on democracy by the US right and the Republican party. 

For several decades following the Great Depression, when capitalism and liberal democracy teetered on the brink, Republicans and Democrats “agreed to defend democracy, and defend the values of democracy because it benefited them all by following basically FDR’s program. Now, we’ve lost that because conservatives have decided they are no longer willing to submit to any kind of government run by liberals,” Neiwert says. “The current conservative movement has decided it no longer wishes to be part of a liberal democracy.”

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber review – the myth of capitalist efficiency

I had a bullshit job once. It involved answering the phone for an important man, except the phone didn’t ring for hours on end, so I spent the time guiltily converting my PhD into a book. I’ve also had several jobs that were not bullshit but were steadily bullshitised: interesting jobs in the media and academia that were increasingly taken up with filling out compliance forms and time allocation surveys. I’ve also had a few shit jobs, but that’s something different. Toilets need to be cleaned. But to have a bullshit job is to know that if it were to disappear tomorrow it would make no difference to the world: in fact, it might make the world a better place.

When I read David Graeber’s essay On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs in Strike! magazine in 2013, I felt somehow vindicated. I had sat in the pub on many a Friday evening moaning to colleagues about data entry and inefficient meetings. But with the Martian gaze of the anthropologist, Graeber managed to articulate my plight in a way that made me feel part of some grand, absurdist outrage.

I wasn’t alone. The essay went viral, receiving more than 1m hits, and was translated into a dozen languages. “Guerrilla” activists even replaced hundreds of ads in London tube carriages with quotes from the essay, presumably in order to jolt commuters out of their apathetic stupor. As is the way in the world of reactive non-fiction publishing, a book followed. As well as documenting personal misery, this book is a portrait of a society that has forgotten what it is for

The argument of both essay and book is this: in 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological advances would enable us to work a 15-hour week. Yet we seem to be busier than ever before. Those workers who actually do stuff are burdened with increasing workloads, while box-tickers and bean-counters multiply. In an age that supremely prizes capitalist efficiency, the proliferation of pointless jobs is a puzzle... read more:

What Workers Can Learn From “the Largest Lockout in U.S. History”

NB: All those who had forgotten about working class movements and workers rights, may please consider this: what just happened in the US was a lock-out called by the highest executive official in the country - all to blackmail his own political system. Millions of people - workers and their families were made to pay the cost of this rascal's egotistical blackmailing tactics - and they will continue to pay, since the interest on debts will not be reimbursed by the employer. DS

An interview with Sara Nelson, the US flight attendant union head who called this week for a general strike. Flight attendants work for airlines, and so they have, of course, been getting paid for the past five weeks, setting them apart from airport colleagues like TSA screeners, air traffic controllers, and customs agents. But it was Sara Nelson, the head of the flight attendants’ union, who made the most forceful call for worker solidarity in the face of the shutdown. At an award dinner on Sunday, she called on the labor movement at large to stand up for federal workers:

Some would say the answer is for them to walk off the job. I say, “What are you willing to do?” Their destiny is tied up with our destiny—and they don’t even have time to ask us for help. Don’t wait for an invitation. Get engaged, join or plan a rally, get on a picket line, organize sit-ins at lawmakers’ offices. Nelson asked AFL-CIO leaders to talk to their locals about a general strike - a tactic that hasn’t been tried in the United States for more than 70 years. Then again, it’s been longer than that (never) since the federal government was closed for five weeks.

On Friday afternoon, I spoke to Nelson about why she spoke up, what needs to change, and how this dismal 35-day stretch can serve as a catalyst for a resurgent American labor movement. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Grabar: I guess the government’s up and running again, so that’s good news.

Sara Nelson: It’s good news that a million people that have been locked out of work with no paychecks are going to get paid, back-paid, and hopefully have a chance to put their lives back together. We’re going to be working very hard to make sure this never happens again because they should have never been put in the crosshairs here.

Flight attendants have been getting paid, because you’re private-sector employees. Where does the sense of solidarity with federal workers in aviation come from, for you or for your members? 
Our country doesn’t run without the federal workers who make it run, and there’s no industry where that’s more evident than the airline industry, where our private airlines work in tandem with the federal agencies. One really doesn’t work without the other. My comments were fully rooted in the workers that I represent. As we saw this morning, when capacity was pulled down and planes were stuck, it’s a very quick unraveling of flight attendant, pilot, mechanic, customer service jobs. Everyone’s jobs were on the line and that includes the people I directly represent.

Federal workers are not allowed to strike or participate in any kind of sickout. Did you speak to anyone from those groups about what it was like to work without pay and be prohibited from taking any kind of concerted labor action to protest those conditions?  
It was incredibly frustrating. What we heard from all over the country was, “They could end this. Why are they staying on the job? We did away with slavery with the 13th Amendment.” There was a lot of confusion about how this could even take place. No other country in the world would put up with this. They felt really stuck. Don’t forget, if they struck, they were putting it all on the line. Not only were they sacrificing potentially their health care, their pensions, the right to ever work for the federal government again, but they could be prosecuted for striking. That’s how fundamentally they are not able to take action when there is such an egregious act against them. That’s outrageous and that’s something that has to change.

Do you think the legacy of the air traffic controllers strike under Reagan was something people were thinking about? 
Of course that’s something people were thinking about. There were strikers in 1981 who were indicted. There’s history here that people were following. Reagan made that a really popular move in the private sector as well, and that’s when the right to strike was diminished in this country, and when labor rights and labor membership hit a steady decline. Are we better off for it? I think what we’re seeing, with the teachers strikes, the hotel workers who took on Marriott and won, is that people are not willing to put up with it anymore. People are willing to do more to fight for their families because they have been pushed so far, and there has been so much productivity put on the backs of the American worker without any increases in wages... read more:

Saturday, 26 January 2019

What Citizen Pranab Mukherjee said, and didn't say, at the RSS headquarters

I rarely watch television news anymore, because it makes my brain try to eat itself. But I made an exception to watch ex-President Pranab Mukherjee at the RSS headquarters, trying not to fall asleep during the worst parade and drill ever put up in independent India. No offence, I’m just kidding! He was actually wide awake. People are wondering what Mr Mukherjee, a staunch Congressman, was doing playing footsie with the RSS. What was he thinking? Well, you know how the Prime Minister’s translator recently ‘translated’ a paragraph that the Prime Minister had not actually said, during a question and answer session in Singapore? I’m also going to translate things that Citizen Mukherjee didn’t actually say, but hopefully less embarrassingly. Here goes:

Dear god, do these people really claim they can mobilise for war in three days? They can’t stand in a straight line, can’t march for nuts, and that chap with the whistle would have to go with them. Having yourself broadcast all over India for free, thanks to me, is a double-edged sword. 

As per RSS preferences there was no national flag or anthem which, to be honest, is a bit of a relief after my last job. I didn’t do the weird salute with everyone else, but my daughter says the visuals will be morphed to spread lies. Well, at least they’ve given up the spread shorts! Small mercies.

I’m glad I came to Nagpur, foxing everyone. The Congress is sweating bullets. They didn’t make me Prime Minister when they should have, but I’m going to show them that an ex-Every Other Kind of Minister with a brain the size of a galaxy can be larger than his grudges. The RSS is also sweating bullets, dying to be accepted and respected by the secular intellectuals they can’t stand. So needy.

I have written a nice thing about Hedgewar in the visitors’ book. This will incense one lot, and flatter the other, so much that neither will be able to see straight. While everyone reels about slapping their own heads, I will ensure that, in the most tense pre-election year since forever, everyone is only talking about me - and I’m retired! I am very wily. I have the highest post in the land on my resume, but I can’t choose my own entertainment. They are plying me with poetry and song and speeches. I’ve checked what looks to viewers like my programme sheet, twice already.

Bhagwat’s speech has been going for ages! Mine is shorter - but to be fair, it takes more time to speak with a forked tongue. We like pluralism, but etc. We are all Indians, but etc. 

Okay, I’m up. Oops - I just said “Ladies and gentlemen” out of habit, before I remembered that this is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sausagefest. Next go I’ll just make it ‘Dear guests’.

First, a history lesson, since that’s not their strong point. A lesson in pluralism being the soul of India and erstwhile ‘invaders’ now being inextricably part of our syncretic culture. Also a lesson in how patriotism flows from the Constitution. A lesson in civility and non-violence, and the dangers of mistrust and fear. A call to youngsters to work for harmony and peace.

In other words I’ve marched into the lion’s den, smacked the lion on the bottom, and sent it to stand in the corner with a bucket over its head—while forcing it to admire me hugely in order to milk my presence. I’ve also rattled the rafters of my political home, defying an unspoken rule, yet sticking to its politics. When everyone is part-happy, part-mad at you, you’ve either screwed up, or nailed it.
I’m really very wily.

Bharat Bhushan - Did Pranab make a Faustian bargain?
RSS and Modi brazenly intimidating the Supreme Court

Book review: The Mushroom at the End of the World review – life in capitalist ruins

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins 

Written in “a riot” of short chapters, “like the flushes of mushrooms that come up after rain”, Anna Tsing’s highly original study explores ruined industrial landscapes and precarious livelihoods in this age of economic decline and globalisation. She travels the world in search of matsutake mushrooms and the people who forage for them in the forests of Oregon, Yunnan, Lapland and Japan, where they have become “the most valuable mushrooms on earth”, prized as gourmet treats and exclusive gifts.

It’s said that after Hiroshima was obliterated by an atomic bomb, “the first living thing to emerge from the blasted landscape was a matsutake mushroom”. They only grow in forests disturbed by humans and were first mentioned in an eighth-century Japanese poem celebrating “the wonder of autumn aroma”. The smell is unique, though Tsing admits most Europeans can’t stand it: “It’s not an easy smell. It’s disturbing.” This book brilliantly turns the commerce and ecology of this most rare mushroom into a modern parable of post-industrial survival and environmental renewal.

Friday, 25 January 2019

John F. Harris - Davos Elites Fear They're on a Toboggan Ride to Hell // 26 Billionaires Own The Same Wealth As The Poorest 3.8 Billion People

DAVOS, Switzerland—Populist movements around the world, left and right, disagree in detail but are united around one big idea: The political and economic elites running modern societies are very powerful people who know what they are doing. What they are doing is often bad: greedy, exploitative, short-sighted - but they are doing it with purpose and confident control. A different possibility, however, hung in the alpine air this week at the annual convening of elites here at the World Economic Forum: These alleged masters of the universe came off nearly as perplexed and anxious about the future as the populist forces inveighing against them. They have money. They have entourages. They have commanding views, both literal (from mountain chalets here) and metaphorical (from government offices and CEO suites back home). 

That doesn’t mean they have a clue.
Foreboding about the future was a prevailing theme at this year’s Davos, sometimes even with a dash of dystopian prophecy. This brooding was accompanied often, in speeches and interviews, by a rueful acknowledgment that government leaders are desperately improvising—often with bleak results—to meet the political crises of the moment, much less the long-term technological and climatological challenges of the age. In key Western capitals, governance is failing. China is exploiting. Global temperatures are rising. Tech titans are groveling. Prospects for economic downturn are rumbling.
Little wonder that, instead of triumphant optimism about the forces of globalization sometimes 
associated with Davos, some voices here made it sound like modern life is on a toboggan ride to hell.

'Our house is on fire': Greta Thunberg, 16, urges leaders to act on climate

Swedish school strike activist demands economists tackle runaway global warming. Read her Davos speech here

Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire. According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes. In that time, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society need to have taken place, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50%.

And please note that those numbers do not include the aspect of equity, which is absolutely necessary to make the Paris agreement work on a global scale. Nor does it include tipping points or feedback loops like the extremely powerful methane gas released from the thawing Arctic permafrost. At places like Davos, people like to tell success stories. But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag. And on climate change, we have to acknowledge we have failed. All political movements in their present form have done so, and the media has failed to create broad public awareness.

But Homo sapiens have not yet failed.  Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around. We can still fix this. We still have everything in our own hands. But unless we recognise the overall failures of our current systems, we most probably don’t stand a chance. We are facing a disaster of unspoken sufferings for enormous amounts of people. And now is not the time for speaking politely or focusing on what we can or cannot say. Now is the time to speak clearly.
Solving the climate crisis is the greatest and most complex challenge that Homo sapiens have ever faced. The main solution, however, is so simple that even a small child can understand it. We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases.

Either we do that or we don’t... read more:

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Reflections on Fault-lines of Partition Historiography: Venkat Dhulipala responds to critics

NB: The essay below contains a detailed rebuttal of the critical reviews of Venkat Dhulipala's seminal book Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India; Delhi, 2015. The book was the product of meticulous research and received critical praise as well as much criticism. (Some reviews may be read here). The author's response is thorough and speaks for itself; however, given the tone and content of some of the criticisms levelled at him and his work, I have the following observations to make.

I have commented on the overall bent of this hostile reception in a prefatory note to this review. A more recent attack ('attack' is the right word for it, unfortunately) on his work was made by some academicians who seized upon his attendance at a recent conference in Chicago. I have commented on this at length here. Finally let me add that since the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 has been for many years the most oft-cited line of defence for apologists of the Pakistan scheme, it would be appropriate for them to read the Communist Party of India's characterisation of that plan as a scheme for Princistan, and a device to perpetuate imperial control even as the Empire collapsed. (In 1942, the CPI had supported the 'just essence' of the Pakistan demand). More on this may be read in Anil Nauriya, Some Portrayals of Jinnah: A Critique; in Minority Identities and the Nation- State, ed. D. L. Sheth and Gurpreet Mahajan (Delhi, 1999). There is a great deal more to be said on the matter of the communal partition, but it is best for interested readers to go through the essay for themselves. DS

Here is the abstract of the essay:
This essay responds to various questions and criticisms that have been articulated regarding my book, Creating a New Medina, over the last nearly four years since its publication. It locates the book in the field of Partition studies and clarifies its arguments and contributions to the debates on Partition and Pakistan. It then addresses the most prominent criticisms—be they methodological, historiographic or political—by choosing four reviews by scholars in the field. These reviews have appeared in a variety of venues- an online news portal, a long form narrative journalism magazine, and a literary journal devoted to reviews of books in India, besides a professional scholarly journal in the U.S. 

In the process of replying to critiques, the essay also indexes a range of extensive and thoughtful comments by scholars in various fields thus pointing to the nature of conversations that have happened in the aftermath of the book. It concludes that arguments on the Partition are by no means over and bound to continue. It consequently calls for a civil debate based on careful historical research that is communicated in clear writing, to keep up the robust conversation on what remains a compelling subject in which not just scholars but the general public at large in the subcontinent along with its far-flung diaspora remain passionately interested and invested.

Read the essay

see also
The law of killing - a brief history of Indian fascism
What is to be Undone
Communist Party of India's resolution on Pakistan and National Unity, September 1942