Monday, 30 September 2019

Trump ‘cannot be allowed to command the United States military’ after threatening civil war: Law and ethics expert // This isn’t a crisis of ‘civility’ – it’s the right whipping up violence

Noted law professor and former Bush chief White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter has issued a warning after President Donald Trump effectively threatened a civil war via Twitter Sunday nightTrump tweeted remarks from his top religious advisor, far right wing extremist Dr. Robert Jeffress, saying, “If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”

Professor Painter warned that in light of Trump’s threat, he “cannot be allowed to command the United States military,” and “should be removed from office immediately.”An associate professor of international relations and national security at the U.S. Naval War College, David Burbach, says Trump’s comments cannot be dismissed as “he just talks that way.”....

Putin reasserts his authority over Trump, reminding him where his true loyalties lie

MOSCOW, Sept 30 (Reuters): The Kremlin said on Monday that Washington would need Russian consent to publish transcripts of phone calls between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. That’s not a statement of fact from the Kremlin. The U.S. remains a sovereign nation, Trump’s efforts notwithstanding. No, that’s a direct warning to Trump. It’s an assertion that Putin made him, and that he can break him

This isn’t a crisis of ‘civility’ – it’s the right whipping up violence

As well as the murder of Jo Cox and other attacks, several rightwing plots have been foiled, and the police now say Britain’s fastest-growing terror threat is from the far right, which is bombarding public figures with threats of violence and death on a daily basis and harassing them on the streetHate crimes based on race have doubled, and on religion they have increased five-fold in the last 6 years. Boris Johnson’s defenders claim that objections to his rhetoric – whether it be of a “surrender bill” or “betrayal” – are simply hypocritical over-sensitivity from political opponents who are themselves not averse to hyperbolic rhetoric. 

But the difference is context: the far right openly sees Johnson’s language as legitimising its cause, lauding his tirades against what they describe as the “traitors in parliament”. Even his own sister has described his rhetoric as “tasteless”, and his former colleague Amber Rudd says it “legitimises violence”.  That’s before we discuss how a rightwing press - which dominates Britain’s media - has popularised terms such as enemies of the people, saboteurs
and “traitors”, whipped up bigotry towards Muslims, refugees, migrants and trans people....

see also
The Decline of the West - Boris Johnson takes to the airwaves to lie, lie and lie again / Donald Trump has now said more than 10,000 untrue things as president
Someone accused the US president of rape. The media shrugged

Thousands take to streets in Moscow demanding release of political prisoners

‘No one can get a fair hearing in Russian courts - injustice and lawlessness can happen to anyone now’

Thousands of Russians have taken to the streets in Moscow to demand the release of Kremlin critics apprehended in the run up to the country’s local elections. Waving flags while chanting “let them go” and “freedom for political prisoners”, monitors say 25,200 people marched in the Russian capital for a rally featuring opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The protest was approved by the city’s mayoral office – a change from those of previous months which saw some 2,000 people briefly detained in one of the largest crackdowns against opposition supporters in the country’s recent history. Activists assembled to challenge the detention of campaigners arrested at a series of rallies that flared across the city in July - when opposition politicians were barred from taking part in the local government poll.

Since then several have been given four year prison sentences, while others are being prosecuted for crimes including violence against police officers...

Sunday, 29 September 2019

An ordinary person stood up to protect the university as a space of free expression. By Sourav Roy Barman

Anti-nationals, urban naxals — these epithets are recent additions to our public discourse, but the tendency to pigeonhole voices of dissent and resistance as “leftists” or “Maoists” predates the Narendra Modi government. Much before Babul Supriyo heaped scorn on the vice-chancellor of Jadavpur University, Mamata Banerjee had called my friend, a student of Presidency College, a “Maoist” on national television, for questioning her government’s track record on women’s safety.

The disdain for critical thinking coming out of our universities aside, such statements advance the notion of a society besieged by inimical forces, in desperate need of a decisive and strong leader to tackle the imagined adversary. The project to demonise students of public universities as rootless elites falters on one count though. It fails to factor in the capacity of seemingly ordinary individuals, an intrinsic part of those ecosystems, to pull off extraordinary acts. Like one Pramod Sain did, nearly eight years ago. This is his story.

Having been elevated to university status in 2010, Kolkata’s Presidency College, founded in 1818, was then struggling to deal with the pangs of transition. The institution’s students’ union was dissolved during the upgradation, and the Trinamool government was in no hurry to hold fresh elections.... read more:

Howdy Modi: The PM may be leading the Indian diaspora into uncharted waters. By Bharat Bhushan

Overseas Indians have long been seen as strategic assets. They can act as mediators and facilitators for improving ties with the countries they are settled in. In 1999, the Indian diaspora in the US played an important role in the withdrawal of the Burton Amendment which sought to cut US aid to India by 25 per cent over its treatment of minorities and human rights record in Kashmir. In 2008, it played a significant role in the smooth passage of the India-US Nuclear Agreement. It was not always so.

In the early 1990s, the Pakistan lobby dominated Capitol Hill. India could count support among Congressmen on its finger tips. Congressman Gary Ackerman and Senator Larry Pressler were among the few well-known names who spoke up for India. Finally, in the early 1990s, a young diplomat in the Indian Embassy in Washington DC went to the US Justice Department and sought an open document -- a list of people who made and mandatorily declared their donation to political parties. Then he carefully sorted out the Asian-sounding names.

A letter was sent to this shortlist irrespective of whether they supported Republicans or Democrats. It praised them for leadership of their communities and enquired whether the Embassy could occasionally seek their advice on Indian policy towards the US. There was overwhelming response from US-based Indians. The first exhaustive database of potentially politically influential US-Indians was created in this way.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Greta Thunberg leads 500,000 strong climate march in Montreal: ‘We’ve become too loud for people to handle’

Greta Thunberg has marched alongside an estimated 500,000 people at a global climate strike
demonstration in Montreal, telling protesters she did not understand why adults mock children for campaigning against global warming.

Donald Trump had taken aim at the teenager earlier this week, tweeting sarcastically: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” Mr Trump's favourite TV network, Fox News, was forced to apologise to the teenager after one of its guests suggested she was mentally unwell. And on Friday Bernard Arnault, the richest man in Europe, claimed the 16-year-old's efforts were "demoralising" for young people....

Friday, 27 September 2019

The latest New Yorker cover is a real hit job

The October 7 issue of The New Yorker Magazine features artwork by cartoonist Barry Blitt

New Yorker magazine cover, Oct. 7, 2019, cartoon by Barry Blitt.

Very interesting. The "whistleblower" may not be just one person, but rather a group
Richard Wolffe: The Trump-Ukraine scandal is a taste of how dirty the US elections will get

300 national security officials say Trump’s actions are ‘unconscionable abuse of power’
Whistleblower report reveals how far Trump’s dubious ethics have spread
Trump's mafia-style

Sally Weale: The Finnish education system is the envy of the world

Finland’s influence is spreading far and wide. Last month a school opened in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam based on the Finnish curriculum and pedagogical approach, with Finnish staff on the teaching team. Kuusimäki tells me Finland’s schools are well-funded and built around the principle of equality of opportunity for all pupils. He is baffled when I try to explain that some state schools in England are so strapped for cash that they are asking parents for donations. “As you may know, everything is free in Finland,” he says, university included.

There is just one fee-paying school in the country, the International School of Helsinki, which has mainly catered for international employees of Nokia and other industries. Otherwise, charging fees is illegal and parents are happy by and large to send their children to their local school. “We really don’t have bad schools,” Kuusimäki says.

In class children are listened to and respected, school lunches are free, detentions are rare and exclusions pretty much unheard of. Kuusimäki gave his last detention 15 years ago, and is visibly horrified at the idea of excluding a child from school. “As a principal, you can’t think like that. We are responsible for these children and their lives. We can’t give up.”

But things are changing slowly. Schools are becoming more diverse – 20% of pupils at Lintulaakson school are from immigrant backgrounds, elsewhere it is 75%. The curriculum has been revised and Kuusimäki says more has had to be done to stretch gifted children. A compulsory pre-school year for six-year-olds has been introduced to help with school-readiness, and there is talk of starting even earlier, while the minimum school leaving age has recently been raised to 18. Meanwhile, parents “shopping for schools” is on the increase.

Finnish education experts would be the first to admit they do not have all the answers and methods in one country do not always translate to another. John Jerrim, professor of education and social statistics at the University College London Institute of Education, does not believe England should be looking to Finland. “Its Pisa scores have actually been in decline. And there is no reason to believe their high scores on international tests are due to their schools. So there is no reason to try to copy Finland.”....

Open Letter from Iranian Workers and Labor Activists to International Workers, Labor Organizations, Syndicates, and All People of Conscience

International working class solidarity calls on workers of all countries,  especially countries in which workers still have the basic rights of free speech, protest and association,  to support the struggles of their fellow working class members, condemn the anti-labor and anti-democratic policies of the Islamic Republic.

September 14, 2019
A Wave of increasing repression, arrests and  inhuman prison sentences of workers, teachers,  retirees, women, students, writers, journalists and environmental activists in Iran continues. The repression, imprisonment and court convictions of  workers are a clear and continuous violation of basic  labor rights and principles  by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO),  the Iranian state is obliged to respect these principles and rights.    However, Independent labor organizations,  including the Syndicate of Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Workers and the Syndicatie of Tehran Vahed Bus Workers which were established  some years ago and have the sole purpose of defending the rights of workers and toilers, are  treated by the judiciary  and security officials  as worse than criminals.   History is our witness.  The bitter experiences that have ruined the lives of the majority of toilers in Iran prove that the most basic rights of workers and toilers in Iran are not respected.

The repression of activists,  members of syndicates and other labor organizations,  striking workers,  women, teachers, retirees has intensified and has reached ominous proportions.   A large number of workers have turned to strikes, protests,  marches and sit-ins.  The demands of workers in general have been the following: 

1.The payment of unpaid wages and benefits.  
2. Improvement in labor conditions.   
3. Opposing the privatization of state-owned companies which has in many cases led to shutting down the companies and expelling the workers.  
4. The release of imprisoned workers, political prisoners,  prisoners of conscience and civil rights activists.  
5.   The right to form independent organizations.

For years,  the workers of Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Factory have been subjected to the most intense forms of discrimination and repression for the crime of fighting for their basic legal rights.  Despite the U.N. charter on human rights,  basic labor laws and ILO Conventions  87 and 98 concerning the right to free speech, association, protest and  strike,  the work places and homes of workers  are under occupation by military and security forces and workers have been subjected to a barracks-like life.  

Despite this,   the workers of Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Factory, went on  strike for over a month and protested to demand their unpaid wages, to oppose privatization and the corrupt management,  and to demand the release of imprisoned workers.  The authorities responded by arresting, beating and torturing many of these workers and the activists who supported them. The following workers and labor activist supporters were arrested in relationship to these protests:...  read more:

Fresh wave of climate strikes takes place around the world

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are taking place in the latest wave of climate strikes to demand urgent action on the escalating ecological emergency. Last week, millions walked out of schools and workplaces, uniting across timezones, cultures and generations in the biggest climate protests in history before a special UN conference in New York.
Organisers said they were expecting another huge turnout on Friday, with demonstrations planned from Canada to the Netherlands, Sweden to Morocco, Italy to India. In New Zealand, record numbers of protesters were reported to have taken to the streets on Friday. Greta Thunberg, the teenager who inspired the school strike movement with her solo protest outside the Swedish parliament last year, said 3.5% of the country were taking part.

An open-letter signed by 11,000 New Zealanders was delivered to parliament on Friday morning calling on the government to declare a climate emergency – following the lead of numerous councils around the country. “Our representatives need to show us meaningful and immediate action that safeguards our futures on this planet,” Raven Maeder, the School Strike 4 Climate national coordinator, said. “Nothing else will matter if we cannot look after the Earth for current and future generations. This is our home.”...

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Samira Shackle - ‘The way universities are run is making us ill’. British student's mental health crisis

British universities are experiencing a surge in student anxiety, mental breakdowns and depression. There has been a sharp rise in students dropping out – of the 2015 intake, 26,000 left in their first year, an increase for the third year running – and an alarming number of suicides. In the 12 months ending July 2017, the rate of suicide for university students in England and Wales was 4.7 deaths per 100,000 students, which equates to 95 suicides or about one death every four days.

The crisis in student mental health hit the news in 2017 after a high number of suicides at Bristol University. Over 18 months, starting in October 2016, 12 students are believed to have killed themselves. While the university tried to tackle the crisis, it struggled to keep up with the rising demand for help. In November 2018, a group of students gathered on a chilly Bristol street holding placards demanding better access to psychological support. The students told reporters that despite promises of more investment in student wellbeing, services were still badly overstretched....

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Greta Thunberg's 495-word UN speech points us to a future of hope – or despair

Will you recognise the necessity of the enormous task which must start now, or will you say nothing, do nothing?
Greta Thunberg’s address to the UN’s Climate Action Summit on Monday may well prove to be the climate change movement’s Gettysburg Address. Like Abraham Lincoln’s revered speech, which ran to 273 words, Thunberg’s was also very short, only 495 words long. Lincoln famously spoke at the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery, following the leading orator of the day, Edward Everett, who took two hours to deliver the official address, a 13,000 word oration. Lincoln’s speech, simply described in the day’s official program as Dedicatory Remarks, lasted less than three minutes.

Thunberg would similarly have had some good acts to follow at a UN talk-fest, but her presence would not, at first glance, seem to be of the same significance as those of the various world leaders who had gathered for the event. And yet it is Thunberg’s speech, which took just four-and-a-half minutes to deliver, which, one suspects, will resonate long into the future. In the manner that was then traditional, Everett’s marathon speech, deemed very good by the standards of the day, was rich with classical allusion. But Lincoln used no classical reference. Instead, in a way that it is hard to appreciate from this distance of time, he was profoundly modern, using Biblical phrasing and rhythms that appealed to a population for whom the Book was the word, not Sophocles. 

Thunberg’s speech was similarly phrased in the contemporary argot pitched to the polarising force of social media’s algorithms, suffused with a contained rage. For she came not with a dream, but a nightmare, the scientific truth of climate change succinctly put in five paragraphs. Her dreams, she said, had been stolen from her along with her childhood.

Thunberg’s speech was damned by many, a Fox News commentator responding to the speech by calling Thunberg “a mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and by the international left”. (See her response). So too Lincoln, the London Times in 1863 not so very distant from Fox News in 2019, when, echoing some US newspapers, opined : “The ceremony [at Gettysburg] was rendered ludicrous by some of the luckless sallies of that poor President Lincoln.”... listen to her speech, and read more:

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Nick Baumann: The Trump Whistleblower Scandal Is Proving Edward Snowden Right // Donald Trump has put whistleblower in danger, lawyers say

Edward Snowden did it all wrong, his critics thundered. The former National Security Agency subcontractor should have used “other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions,” then-President Barack Obama claimed in an August 2013 press conference, citing an executive order he had signed that - in theory at least  - gave intelligence officers some whistleblower protections for the first time ever. “Snowden could have come to me,” George Ellard, then the NSA’s inspector general, claimed in 2014

Donald Trump has put whistleblower in danger, lawyers say“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistle-blower the information because that’s close to a spy,” Trump said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? With spies and treason, right? We used to handle them a little differently than we do now.”

Snowden did, in fact, try to report his concerns through official channels. He questioned the legality of surveillance programs 10 times, he later testified before the European Parliament. He said he was brushed aside. So in 2013, he leaked reams of national security information to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, revealing the details of multiple surveillance programs and launching a global debate on privacy. Thanks to Snowden, people all over the world now know far more than they otherwise would have about the NSA’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone records, its use of data from internet giants like Google and its spying on the phone calls of world leaders like Angela Merkel. Snowden’s reward was criminal charges and effectively permanent exile from the U.S. But his concerns were aired publicly and the proper scope and scale of massive government surveillance programs was debated in the open. 

So far, the latest fight over an intelligence community whistleblower seems to be vindicating Snowden’s decision. Recently, the intelligence community’s inspector general received a whistle-blower complaint that he deemed “urgent and credible.” The inspector general then sent it up to the acting director of national intelligence. The law says the director of national intelligence “shall” at that point pass the complaint on to Congress. But Trump and his administration are blocking that complaint - which reportedly concerns a call Trump made to the president of Ukraine in which he asked for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden - from being seen by Congress. 

That sort of politicization “is precisely the reason so many [whistleblowers] go to the press,” said Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department legal ethics adviser and whistleblower who now works as a lawyer for whistleblowers....

see also
Pratap Bhanu Mehta: The regime reveals itself

Monday, 23 September 2019

Richard Wolffe: The Trump-Ukraine scandal is a taste of how dirty the US elections will get

NB: 'In some corner of his (Trump's) orange-tipped cranium there are surely a handful of brain cells that are fully aware that his entire family has engaged with foreign dictators and their oligarchs for personal profit...Trump apparently knows nothing about his own officials lining his own pockets. But he does know a thing or two about Ukraine.' 

Yes, this is the man whom India's Prime Minister chooses to endorse while in the USA! What would the RSS & Co. have said if the boot were on the other foot, and an American President had endorsed the Congress Party on an official visit to India? Speaking of boots, Modi's sickening display of sycophancy toward the racist neo-Nazi buffoon who currently occupies the White House must be a record in shameless flattery, even for patriots like him. What a joke. DS

America has a grand tradition of the brazenly dumb criminal: the kind who is so desperately needy that he brags about his guilt. Back in the earliest days of the new media known as newspapers, a certain Chicago mob boss rose to fame by calling a press conference to proclaim everyone else’s guilt, if not exactly his innocence. Al Capone claimed he played no role in the gunning down of a young state’s attorney called Bill McSwiggin. 

In fact he said he could have killed him any time but preferred to keep him alive. “I paid McSwiggin,” Capone said. “I paid him plenty and I got what I was paying for.” Sure enough, Capone was cleared of the murder and became the darling of an insatiable press pack. If you don’t act guilty, will anyone really think you’re guilty? Especially if everyone else is guilty too.

Almost a century later, Donald Trump has cornered the Scarface strategy. If he didn’t think neo-Nazis were very fine people, Trump could win a Maccabiah medal for chutzpah. In some corner of his orange-tipped cranium there are surely a handful of brain cells that are fully aware that his entire family has engaged with foreign dictators and their oligarchs for personal profit.

But the rest of Trump’s brain is an irony-free zone entirely empty of self-awareness. So he and much of his Cabinet fanned out across the gullible media to proclaim everyone else’s guilt in a Ukraine scandal that would normally lead to certain impeachment...

Lily Kuo: China footage reveals hundreds of blindfolded and shackled prisoners

Drone footage has emerged showing police leading hundreds of blindfolded and shackled men from a train in what is believed to be a transfer of inmates in Xinjiang. The video, posted on YouTube last week, shows what appear to be Uighur or other minorities wearing blue and yellow uniforms, with cleanly shaven heads, their eyes covered, sitting in rows on the ground and later being led away by police. Prisoners in China are often transferred with handcuffs and masks covering their faces. 

Nathan Ruser, a researcher with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s international cyber policy centre, used clues in the footage, including landmarks and the position of the sun, to verify the video, which he believes was shot at a train station west of Korla in south-east Xinjiang in August last year.
Much of the focus of international criticism of China’s far-reaching anti-terrorism campaign in Xinjiang has centred on the extrajudicial detentions of more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in internment and political re-education camps.

The number of formal arrests and prison sentences has also increased. According to analysis by the New York Times, local courts sentenced 230,000 people to prison or other punishments in 2017 and 2018, as the campaign got under way. Xinjiang accounts for less than 2% of the country’s population but about 21% of all arrests in 2017. Ruser said the detainees were most likely being transferred to prisons in Korla from Kashgar, where the crackdown has been particularly severe. The area is believed to be home to several re-education camps but fewer detention centres.

“It counters the propaganda offensive China is trying to show,” he said, underlining the treatment of those within the penal system. China has been taking diplomats and select groups of journalists on carefully orchestrated tours of Xinjiang and has defended its anti-extremism methods, describing them as a model for other countries to follow. On Sunday, Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, described the video as “deeply disturbing”. The video was posted on YouTube by an account named War on Fear, whose stated goal is to fight fear inspired by hi-tech surveillance.

Ayush Chaturvedi: Main Gandhi ke saath hun // Samar Halarnkar: In the time of Godse, a search for Hindus who will stand with Gandhi

NB: Thank you Ayush. You are a brave and conscientious boy. Many of us are proud of you - DS
Ye kisne kahaa aapse aandhi ke saath hun //  Main Godse ke daur me Gandhi ke saath hun
If the Danish child who swam against the adult tide to speak the truth about the  Emperor’s New Clothes is reborn in India, he will probably look like Ayush Chaturvedi. Ayush’s face is now familiar to many social media users, thanks to a speech the Class XI pupil delivered at his school on September 9 on Mahatma Gandhi. Among the lines that are making waves, two stand out: “I want to say that there was no bigger Hindu than Gandhi. But the people of other religions didn’t fear his ‘Hey Ram’ because Gandhi was a symbol of secularism in India.”

Ayush had begun with a bang but the opening lines are not on the clip that has been circulated:
Ye kisne kahaa aapse aandhi ke saath hun,
Main Godse ke daur me Gandhi ke saath hun
(Who told you that I am swept up in the storm
I stand by Gandhi in the time of Godse)

“Actually, the recording of my speech was started when I had already spoken this line,” Ayush, 17, told The Telegraph from his home on the phone on Wednesday. His home happens to be in Varanasi, represented in the Lok Sabha by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ayush, a student of the Central Hindu Boys School in Varanasi, explained why he chose the couplet penned by Imran Pratapgarhi, an Urdu poet: “Kyonki kuchh takatwar log aaj kal Godse ki pooja kar rahe hain (It is because these days some powerful people are worshiping Godse).” 

Bharat Bhushan: Now, govt's Kashmir rhetoric is directed at international audience

Having turned life upside down for the people of the Kashmir Valley, under siege for more than six weeks, what exactly did Prime Minister Narendra Modi mean when he said we will have to hug every Kashmiri? It rings even hollower than his “goli se nahin gale se” speech on Independence Day in 2017 when he first enunciated a policy of embracing Kashmiris rather than subduing them with bullets. This time Modi’s public rhetoric may not be directed at Kashmir or even the rest of India. The public relations exercise could be to counter the accusations against Modi of being a Hindu supremacist. There may be some urgency to refurbish his international image before his address to the UN General Assembly.

The New York Times has carried an article by Imran Khan which refers to Modi as Hitler. It follows a series of tweets and speeches where Khan recalled the condition of the Jewish community in Nazi Germany and accused Modi’s government of emulating the Fascists in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
The Indian Ambassador to the US who was fielded to rebut Khan in the NYT claimed that Kashmir was on the road to progress and prosperity, and rather lamely pointed to “the irony of seeing Islamabad refusing to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and tolerating anti-Semitic sentiment, but now invoking images of European fascism.” Clearly the Fascism barb has hit where it hurts.
It has taken more than 15 years for Prime Minister Modi to live down his uninspiring role as Chief Minister during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat. It has taken innumerable photo ops hugging world leaders to position himself as a statesman strutting the world stage. It is to conserve those gains that he is forced to declare that Kashmiris need a hug. There are other clues that international diplomacy has been mobilised to counter the charge of Fascism.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Kenan Malik: Think only authoritarian regimes spy on their citizens?

The mass surveillance system installed by the French city of Marseille goes by the Orwellian name of Big Data of Public Tranquility
Almost half the world’s countries now deploy AI surveillance systems. So says a new report, The Global Expansion of AI Surveillance, from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Such technologies vary from “smart city” projects, which use real-time data on residents to aid delivery of public services and enhance policing, to facial recognition systems, to border security, to governments spying on political dissidents.

The main driver is China. The tech company Huawei alone is responsible for providing AI surveillance technology to at least 50 countries. But it’s not just Beijing pushing such technology. Western companies, from IBM to Palantir, are deeply involved. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, Huawei is helping create smart cities, Google and Amazon are building cloud computing servers for government surveillance and the UK arms firm BAE is providing mass monitoring systems.

While authoritarian countries are investing heavily in such technology, it is most widespread in democracies. “Liberal democratic governments,” the report observes, “are aggressively using AI tools to police borders, apprehend potential criminals, monitor citizens for bad behaviour and pull out suspected terrorists from crowds.” Projects range from Baltimore’s secret use of drones for daily surveillance of the city’s residents, to Marseille’s mass monitoring project, built largely by the Chinese firm ZTE and given the very Orwellian name of Big Data of Public Tranquility, to the array of advanced surveillance techniques being deployed on the US-Mexico border.

The technologies raise major ethical issues and questions about civil liberties. Yet even before we’ve begun to ask such questions, the technology has become so ubiquitous as to render the debate almost redundant. That should be as worrying as the technology itself...

'The mystery must be resolved': what befell Swede who saved Hungarian Jews?

Seventy-five years after the amateur Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg embarked on his desperate mission to rescue Budapest’s Jews, his descendants still do not know how, when or why he died. This week, they are travelling to Stockholm to demand the government finally does a bit more to help them find out. “I want specific answers to specific questions,” said Marie von Dardel-Dupuy, the niece of the young architect and businessman whose humanitarian operation is thought to have saved the lives of as many as 30,000 Hungarian Jews as the second world war neared its end. 

Von Dardel-Dupuy, who lives in Switzerland, told the Guardian: “He was a great man who wasn’t afraid to do the impossible. He deserves for us to know what happened to him. His story is unfinished - the mystery must be resolved. There are still so many closed doors, and we must have help in opening them.”
Raoul Wallenberg
Raoul Wallenberg disappeared in 1945 after being summoned to 
Soviet military occupation headquarters in Budapest. Photograph: EPA
No formal, official announcement has ever been made about the fate of Wallenberg, who has become an honorary citizen of four countries and the subject of countless books and films since vanishing in early 1945 into the the Soviet prison system, where he is presumed to have died.Together with historians, the diplomat’s closest family have for decades wrestled with Soviet, and subsequently Russian, authorities, who they are now certain have withheld crucial information and, at times, actively misled researchers....

Jharkhand again: A man is lynched, two injured over suspicion of cow slaughter

One man was killed and two others injured in Khunti district of Jharkhand Sunday after they were assaulted by a mob that accused them of “slaughtering” a cow. Police said the men were attacked around 10 am in Jaltanda Suari village, when villagers spotted them allegedly carving out meat from an animal carcass.

“The three villagers, identified as Kalantus Barla, Philip Horo and Faagu Kacchap, are alleged to have been carving an animal prohibited for slaughtering. Other villagers spotted them and started beating them. However, police reached the spot as we got information and rushed them to hospital. Barla sustained grievous injuries and he died before reaching hospital.  The other two are said to be stable,” said DIG (Chhotanagpur Range) Homkar Amol Venukant. The DIG said that there was no clarity on the “sequence of events” and that the matter is under investigation. He said no arrests have been made and that “there are a few persons detained for questioning”.

This year in April, a tribal Christian Prakash Lakra was killed after being lynched by a mob allegedly after he along with other villagers were allegedly “carving a dead ox” in Jhurmo village of Gumla district. In the case, the police booked the injured under the Jharkhand Bovine Animal Prohibition of Slaughter Act. In September alone, at least three similar incidents have been reported across the state. On September 11, a 70-year-old man was beaten to death after he was suspected to be a child lifter in Sahibganj district on September 11, while on September 3, a man in his 40s was assaulted by a mob of over 50 people in Ramgarh district and he died on the way to hospital. On September 6, a man in Kagti Pahari village of Dhanbad died after he was thrashed over similar rumours.

In the last three years, at least 21 people have died in mob violence across the state. The lynchings have stemmed from accusations of animal slaughter, theft and child lifting rumours among others. In addition, more than 90 people have been killed by mobs on suspicion of practising witchcraft in Jharkhand since January 2017....

F***ing sold out: Minister to editor

Union minister of state for environment Babul Supriyo on Saturday said the editor of The Telegraph had “f***ing sold out” after the journalist refused to apologise for a statement wrongly attributed by the minister to the newspaper. The minister, who is caught in a controversy associated with his visit to Jadavpur University on Thursday, tweeted on Saturday around 6.30pm: “This is the video which shows: 1. I WASN’T elbowing anyone rather I ws being pushed & manhandled with my shirt torn. 2. It wasn’t a girl either-it was BEARDED GUY as clearly seen in the VDO. If @Telegraph doesn’t apologise tomorrow for their false biased reporting, I’ll sue them.”

The Telegraph could not find any article in the newspaper that said the minister had elbowed anyone.
Around 7.50pm, the minister called The Telegraph editor R. Rajagopal on his mobile phone during the evening news meeting. Supriyo introduced himself and said he would like an “amicable apology”.
‘“What should we apologise for?’ I asked the minister,” the editor recounted. When the minister referred to the elbow complaint, the editor told him the newspaper had not published any such report and categorically refused to apologise.

The editor told the minister firmly to send a letter or a legal notice, following which established processes could be pursued, especially in the light of the public threat by the minister to sue the newspaper. (This is the established procedure to articulate any concern or complaint.)

Recounting the conversation, Rajagopal said Supriyo construed his categorical assertion as arrogance and reminded him that he was speaking to a “central minister”, to which the editor said it did not make any difference. ‘“Aren’t you a gentleman?’ the minister asked me,” the editor said. The editor replied: “I am not a gentleman, I am a journalist…. You may be a central minister but I am also a citizen of this country.”

Asked where the newspaper had said the minister had elbowed anyone, Supriyo said it was mentioned along with a front-page picture. The editor said the picture showed the minister grabbing a student by his shirt and that was what the caption had said. The minister changed his stand and said he was offended by the headline “Babull at JU”. The editor asked the minister what made him assume the headline was referring to him as the line below also spoke of “untamed protesters”.

The editor made it clear no apology would be forthcoming until the minister established what mistake the newspaper had made. In keeping with the established tradition in journalism, the newspaper does apologise when it makes mistakes. The minister told the editor that he was recording the conversation. The editor asked Supriyo to upload the conversation so that people would know who said what. The editor said that at one point, the minister asked: “Are you sold out? Are you f***ing sold out?” The minister used at least one more expletive.

The editor said an article would be written about the conversation. The editor disconnected the phone.
A few minutes later, Supriyo tweeted: “Mr Rajagopal, the arrogant editor of @ttindia jst abused me in filthy lingo on the Telephone when I called him asking him 2 print an amicable small apology for falsely publishing a first page report accusing me of grabbing the shirt of a JU student when it’s the other way round.” The minister added: “He threatened me to hand write an article against me tmrw about me calling him !!!”

Between 6.30pm and 8.30pm, the minister had changed his original complaint about “elbowing” a girl to “grabbing a student’s shirt” and the headline -– all of which are on Twitter. The original tweet threatening to sue the newspaper had not mentioned either the shirt-grab or the headline. The editor said he did not use a single “filthy” word as alleged by the minister. Several journalists in the newsroom could hear what the editor was saying to the minister. Since Supriyo said he was recording the conversation, the minister can easily prove - or disprove - his charge by making the entire and unedited recording public.

The Telegraph is publishing this report because the phone call goes far beyond an exchange between two individuals. The call shows how a representative of the government was employing intimidation tactics, cloaked as a request for an “amicable small apology”, to make a newspaper fall in line.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Donald Trump is no hero of the working class. And the GM strikers know it : Robert Reich

Corporate profits have reached record levels but most Americans have not benefited. Profits now constitute a larger portion of national income, and wages a lower portion, than at any time since the second world war. These profits are generating higher share prices (fueled by share buybacks) and higher executive pay, resulting in wider inequality. The richest 1% of Americans own about 40% of all shares of stock; the richest 10%, around 80%. The demise of unions explains much of this.

Donald Trump pretends to be a tribune of the working class, standing up for American jobs. Last week nearly 50,000 General Motors workers went on strike to get what they see as their fair share of its profits and stop further layoffs. Trump’s response? A shrug. In 2009, when GM was on the brink of collapse, the United Auto Workers (UAW) agreed to let the company hire new workers at about half the prevailing hourly wage and with skimpier retirement benefits, hire temp workers at even lower rates, and outsource more jobs abroad. American taxpayers also forked over $10bn to save the company.

When GM went public again in 2010, it boasted to Wall Street that 43% of its cars were made outside the US in places where labor cost less than $15 an hour, while in America it could now pay “lower-tiered” wages and benefits for new employees. The corporation came roaring back. Over the last three years it’s made $35bn in North America. But its workers are still getting measly pay packages and GM is still outsourcing like mad. Last year it assigned its new Chevrolet Blazer, a sport utility vehicle that had been made in the US, to a Mexican plant, while announcing it would lay off 18,000 American workers. Earlier this year it shut its giant plant in Lordstown, Ohio, which Trump had vowed to save. “Don’t move. Don’t sell your house,” he told a Youngstown rally in 2017....

The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea: slavery in the Thai fishing industry

A survivor’s graphic memoir and a feature film reveal horrific exploitation and violence on the high seas – and the shame of the world’s complicity..  An estimated 200,000 migrant workers from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos are prone to such exploitation by the $6.5bn Thai fishing industry, according to the Raks Thai Foundation

In 2006, a young Cambodian sculptor, Vannak Anan Prum, left his village to look for labouring work. He needed to earn enough money to pay for his wife Sokun’s impending hospital stay to give birth to their first child. He intended to be away for two months. He would not see his wife again for 5 years. After a middleman on the Thai-Cambodian border promised he could earn a lot of money drying fish, Prum was sold into slave labour, sent to sea on a fishing trawler. He was forced to work around the clock and through storms, allowed a maximum two hours’ sleep by day and two hours at night.

Violence happened on the boat every day for the next 4 years as a way of keeping those enslaved in line, Prum tells Guardian Australia through a translator. He says people would disappear off the boats without warning, and were assumed to have been killed and thrown into the sea. One night, Prum says he saw one Thai worker cut another man’s head off with a cleaver.

Prum writes about and explicitly draws these horrific experiences in his new graphic memoir of modern slavery, The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea. The story includes his experience of jumping ship to attempt to swim to his escape, only to be sold by his “rescuers” into slavery on a palm oil plantation on the Malaysian coast. His return home to his wife and the daughter born in his absence was eventually secured by LICADHO, a Cambodian human rights organisation, in 2011.

“There are many slaves who die in the ocean, and their children don’t know where they have gone,” says Prum. “If we don’t share these stories, the world doesn’t know what’s going on in the middle of the ocean.” The rest of the world is implicated in this slavery....

Ruth Michaelson: Egyptian forces fire teargas on anti-government protesters

Hundreds of Egyptians took to the streets in Cairo and other cities in rare protests against the country’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, responding to an online call for a demonstration against government corruption. Videos shared on social media showed protesters in central Cairo as well as the port cities of Alexandria and Suez, demanding that Sisi leave office. Protests also occurred in the towns of Damietta, Damanhur and Mahalla.

Demonstrations are all but illegal in Egypt after a broad crackdown on dissent under Sisi, who seized power following the overthrow of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Sisi’s rule has been marked by the repression of political opposition, civil society and any perceived criticism. Those taking to the streets risked arrest as well as the lingering threat of force by the Egyptian authorities.

Security forces moved to disperse the small and scattered crowds in Cairo late on Friday using teargas but many young people stayed on the streets in the centre of the capital. At least 55 people were arrested on the charge of demonstrating without permission, according to one local media outlet citing Egypt’s ministry of the interior. The Cairo-based Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights recorded at least 56 arrests in Cairo and outside of the capital. The number of those arrested is expected to rise....

Lily Kuo: Chinese journalists to be tested on loyalty to Xi Jinping

Chinese journalists will soon be required to pass a test grading their understanding of Xi Jinping Thought, the socialist teachings espoused by the country’s leader. A notice from China’s media regulator has been sent to more than a dozen state-owned news organisations in Beijing over the last month. It instructs employees to prepare to take an exam on the “study Xi” propaganda applaunched earlier this year, in order to have their press credential renewed.

Most believe the regulation will soon apply to Chinese reporters across the country. Journalists from three media organisations, two of which were outside Beijing, told the Guardian their publications had also received informal notices to register on the app. “From the top down to the bottom, I don’t think anyone will be able to escape it,” said one reporter from a broadcaster in the eastern Shandong province who said he was not authorised to speak on the topic.

The on-site, closed-book exam, to be administered by news organisations in early October, will be divided into five parts, including two on Xi Jinping’s teachings on socialism for the new era and Xi’s “important thoughts on propaganda”, according to Media Reform, a self-published news account on WeChat. News of the test, first reported by the South China Morning Post and the research programme China Media Project, comes as Chinese media face increasing restrictions. 

China is considered one of the least free countries to operate as a journalist, ranked 177 out of 180 in 2019 by Reporters Without Borders, above Eritrea and North Korea. While Chinese journalists face jail time and self-censorship is common, journalists especially from independent publications often push the envelope, investigating cases of local or corporate corruption. To get a press credential, journalists have previously been tested on their understanding of “Marxist journalistic ideals.”...

Across the globe, millions join biggest climate protest ever // As Millions Join Climate Strike, Top Activist Warns: ‘It Could Get Ugly’

NB: This is a political event of great magnitude. It is is also philosophically loaded. The quest to 'master nature' to serve human needs has come full circle; and a large section of humanity - especially the young - understands that the mindless technological poisoning of the air, water and forests will result; and has already resulted, in disaster. The world order hangs in a tension between a gobal economy and a political 'enemy system' founded upon nation-states. Unlimited growth based on limited resources will destroy the life-preserving capacity of the earth. The political focus on enmity as a defining feature of nationalism undermines the requirement of cooperation - and it is reflected in the massive expenditures devoted to armaments.
What’s It Like to See a Democracy Destroyed? Susan Glasser interviews Hannah Dreier

Nationalism is detrimental to the health of the environment. Ecological issues are global, but nationalism makes us think that natural resources like clean air, water and forests are the property of 'nations'. We have forgotten that the national state is a recent phenomenon. In the last chapter of The Rebel, Albert Camus reminded us that 'real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present'. This was the clue he gave us for understanding ideologies - thought systems that motivate us to focus on an ever-retreating Glorious Future, while we destroy the Present.

We must also be alert to the misuse of this warning, its distortion by nationalism. Ideologies like that of Trump and Bolsonaro can also, in the name of respecting the present and the immediate interests of their voters, play havoc with the very possibility of a sustainable future. The ideological trick is to pretend that not only cultures and peoples, but even space and time are 'national'; that we can have global warming in one country, and a healthy climate in another. The health of the Amazon delta or the Tibetan plateau or the Arctic ice, or the Himalayan river systems is not merely the business of the countries that exercise sovereignty over these places, their health concerns all the species that depend upon them. Nuclear contamination and the ozone hole are not national phenomena. "Giving all to the present" is meaningless unless the idea of the present embraces all of us who live in it, not just those who voted for these mindless demagogues. We cannot nationalise time.

Book review - Muhammad Qasim Zaman. Islam in Pakistan: A History.

Muhammad Qasim Zaman. Islam in Pakistan: A History 
Reviewed by Justin Jones in H-Asia (September, 2019) 

How can Islam in Pakistan, with its overwhelming heterogeneity, be discussed meaningfully within a single study, if indeed it can be defined as a coherent enquiry at all? These are the questions hinted at by Muhammad Qasim Zaman in the early pages of this encyclopedic work. Trying to elucidate a subject so broad and complex is a feat so ambitious that no previous author has attempted it, and Zaman tries to make sense of this complex panorama through a series of densely detailed chapters. In doing so, he produces a rich intellectual history, focusing upon a range of Muslim thinkers and figureheads who inhabit the religious landscape of Pakistan and situating their formulations of Islam within Pakistan’s evolving social and political topography.

Throughout the book, there is a tangible point of reference that informs the whole study: Pakistan’s foundational identity as a would-be cradle of “Islamic modernism.” The latter is a broad category that refers loosely to the kinds of religion held to by a range of Pakistani intellectuals and the governing elite, who have aspired to formulate a form of Islam defined by a particular progressive “ethic” or “spirit” that is responsive to changing conditions. Zaman argues that since Pakistan’s creation, Islamic modernists - usually establishment intellectuals and stakeholders - have tried to shape the Islam known and practiced in Pakistan. Ever since the Objectives Resolution of 1949 (cited in both the opening and closing pages) proclaimed Pakistan to be a “laboratory” for developing Islam as a “progressive force in the world,” Pakistan’s Islamic modernists have tried to “put their ideals into practice” (pp. 5, 265) by seeking to shape this Islam: formulating its laws, articulating its social role, and governing its institutions.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Ed Pilkington: Ukraine imbroglio confirms Giuliani's as Trump's most off-kilter advocate

On Thursday night Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and troubleshooter-in-chief, went on CNN to defend his boss against the latest scandal swirling round him. Hours before Giuliani went on air, it had been reported that Trump had provoked a whistleblower complaint within the US intelligence services by pressuring the government of Ukraine to provide dirt that could help his bid for re-election. The information is thought to have related to Trump’s main presidential rival, the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. 

A few minutes into the interview, pugnacious anchor Chris Cuomo got to the point.
Cuomo: “Did you ask the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?”
Giuliani: “No. Actually I didn’t.”
Crystal clear. Except that 83 words and about 30 seconds later, Cuomo asked the question again.
Cuomo: “So, you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?”
Giuliani: “Of course I did.”

That Giuliani was prepared so blatantly to contradict himself on live TV in the service of the president perfectly encapsulates his transformation. “America’s Mayor”, the hero of 9/11, has metamorphosed into what the New Yorker dubbed “Trump’s clown”.

The day after Mueller’s testimony, Trump called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and pressured Zelensky to help him win the 2020 election by investigating former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. In the weeks that followed, Trump refused to grant Zelensky a meeting and halted $250 million of authorized military aid to the country, raising the possibility that the president was, as The Washington Post put it in an unsigned editorial, “not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign” but using U.S. military aid to “extort it.” That allegation, if true, would unambiguously constitute an impeachable offense,” national security expert Benjamin Wittes wrote Friday. “That would be a very big deal indeed.”

This is not the first time Giuliani has incurred ridicule and rebuke in the cause of protecting his longtime friend – no, client. In the final days of the 2016 election the lawyer was almost the only person willing to speak in favor of Trump after the “grab ’em by the pussy” tape was aired.

As the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in that election reached its climax, Giuliani threw lawyerly restraint to the winds and repeatedly denounced the inquiry as a witch-hunt. Last August, he uttered words that will forever haunt him: “Truth isn’t truth.”

But of all the scraps in which Giuliani has engaged in recent months, of all the obfuscations and verbal sleights of hand, this week’s performance could prove the most damaging, both for him and for his White House buddy. America’s Mayor has tied himself in ever-tighter knots over claims that at Trump’s behest he improperly sought to coerce Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden in the hope of dredging up damaging information....