Monday, January 23, 2017

GAURAV VIVEK BHATNAGAR - Glaring Loopholes in Maruti Manesar Factory Case

The defence counsel in the Maruti factory arson and rioting case – in which a general manager Avnish Dev was brutally beaten and was burnt to death – presented significant challenges to the prosecution case at a Gurgaon court on January 23. Following the incident, the Haryana police had later arrested 148 people in connection with it. Appearing for the accused, senior advocate Rebecca John argued that from dramatically changing the weapons of offence as stated in the FIR, to not being able to prove who started the fire and how a matchbox, cited as evidence, was found completely intact in a burnt down room – the police had done everything to fabricate and embellish the case.

Her arguments also projected the prosecution, which had completed its arguments, in poor light. While 148 workers have been charged in connection with the grievous crime and nine of them are still behind bars, the prosecution has not been able to buttress its allegations with solid evidence.

Apart from John, two more advocates, Vrinda Grover and R.S. Cheema, are part of the defence team. Talking about the case, Grover said “The main foundation of the prosecution case were dislodged today by the arguments of Rebecca John. She opened the arguments on behalf of the defence. Basically it was shown how the entire case has been fabricated and evidence is completely missing in order to implicate these large number of workers.”

Change in weapons of offence: To begin with, Grover said “The First Information Report itself speaks about certain kinds of weapons like birja, lathi, danda and when the witnesses come to the court to depose they all start speaking about car-door beams and shockers and there is a dramatic change in weapons of offence – a change for which no explanation has been brought on record by the prosecution. This shows that in the prosecution case, right from the beginning there was an attempt to fabricate and embellish the case.”

No one knows who started the fire: Further, Grover said, the prosecution case is that a fire had broken out and in that, one official had died. “It is a fact that a fire had broken out. What the prosecution has to prove is who lit the fire. On that point the evidence was read in detail and the only conclusion that can be drawn from it is that firstly none of the witnesses saw the fire being lit. They say that when they saw, the fire had already started. They say the main four workers were there. But all the witnesses give different names and none of them say how the fire began.”

Grover said the prosecution has also not been able to establish the kind of inflammable material used. “Was it a matchbox or fuel, none of the witnesses speak about that. So the prosecution case just falls apart because its evidence on this aspect is completely missing.” The third most important point which was argued today was that while the accused workers are facing a charge of murder, they have only been accused of beating the official on the legs. “Now the death of one person has taken place due to asphyxiation because he died in the fire. None of the witnesses are saying how the fire happened and who lit the fire. What they are saying is that the person who died was beaten by these people on his leg. Now beating somebody on the legs or feet, which is a non-vital part of the body cannot attract the charge of murder. No human being is going to die because of being hit on the leg,” Grover said.

She said if the prosecution case is that the workers hit Dev because they were going to light a fire, then it should “lead evidence saying that they lit the fire. But none of the workers say that.” So the defence argued that “a murder charge is not made out against anybody.” As for the commission of the crime, Grover said, “yes there was a fire. I don’t know how it started. The prosecution has to prove that. Maybe the management lit the fire. How do we know. Simply if there was a fire, the accused cannot be held responsible for it unless you have the evidence to prove that.”

Allegations of foul play: Grover said the most interesting aspect about the case is the prosecution theory about a match-box. “They have shown that the next morning when the police is investigating, the IO (investigation officer) Om Prakash and the SHO (station house officer) take a photographer and they take photographs but they don’t find anything in a particular room where they say this man has died. His body is charred to death and they have some very gruesome photographs.”

However, the case takes a curious turn thereon. “At 12 noon a Forensic Science Laboratory man comes and he says, ‘I have found the cover of a matchbox in that room’. How interesting, the whole room is burnt, the body of the man is charred beyond recognition but the cover of a matchbox does not burn, even though it is made out of paper, and it is claimed that it was found in the same room. 
This is beyond any kind of human imagination.”

The defence argued that this shows fabrication of evidence. “Obviously,” Grover said, “it was planted there at some point beyond the fire theory was not holding up and this matchbox then makes an appearance in pristine condition with not a burn mark on it and the forensic man, who claims he saw it, is not produced as a witness. He does not come to the court.”

Lamenting that such “is the nature of evidence on which 148 workers are sought to be implicated for the death of a man and nine of them have been in custody since July 2012”, she added that “this is simply because Maruti company said a very serious incident and rioting had happened on the premises. Yes it happened, but who did it. Just because something has happened people cannot be punished without proper evidence.”

The defence arguments in the case would continue over the next two days. The prosection had argued the matter earlier, on five days, beginning on December 9 and concluding on January 10. While as of now nine workers have been in jail without bail for the last four and a half years, two others have been behind bars for over two years. These arrested persons include union leader Ram Meher and Jiyalal, a Dalit worker from Narwana, who is among the ‘main accused’. In all, 216 workers are awaiting the judgment in the case.

Some of the workers, like Satish, believe that state is deliberately targeting them. “It does not feel like we are talking of legal arguments,” but, he said, it rather feels that the outcome of the case was a foregone conclusion. They have also questioned the active role of Maruti in the case. For instance, they said when the application moved on December 21 when Ram Meher vs State of Haryana was being argued by a special public prosecutor, Maruti’s legal cell representative, Vikas Pahwa, who can only assist, also argued the matter and the sitting judge did not object to it.

The workers are also suspicious of how they were arrested on the basis of an alphabetical list that was allegedly provided to the police. Moreover, they have claimed that while no one had identified the accused, in the case of one Satbir, no one had named him and yet he was charged.

The prosecution case: The Supreme Court had, in an order in the case of State of Haryana versus Ram Meher and others, in August 2016, stated the facts in brief.

“The prosecution case before the trial court is that on July 18, 2012 about 7 pm the accused persons being armed with door beams and shockers went upstairs inside M1 room of the Manesar factory of Maruti Suzuki Limited, smashed the glass walls of the conference room and threw chairs and table tops towards the management officials, surrounded the conference hall from all sides and blocked both the staircases and gave threats of doing away with the lives of the officials present over there.”
It had added: “As the allegations of the prosecution further unfurl, the exhortation continued for quite a length of time. All kind of attempts were made to burn alive the officials of the management. 

During this pandemonium, the entire office was set on fire by the accused persons and the effort by the officials to escape became an exercise in futility as the accused persons had blocked the staircases. The police officials who arrived at the spot to control the situation were assaulted by the workers and they were obstructed from going upstairs to save the officials. Despite the obstruction, the officials were saved by the police and the fire was brought under control by the fire brigade.”

The court further observed: “In the incident where chaos was the sovereign, Mr Avnish Dev, general manager, human resources of the company was burnt alive. The said occurrence led to lodging of FIR No. 184/2012 at police station Manesar. After completion of the investigation, the police filed charge sheet against 148 workers in respect of various offences before the competent court which, in turn, committed the matter to the court of session and during trial the accused persons were charged for the offences punishable under Sections 147/ 148/ 149/ 452/ 302/ 307/ 436/ 323/ 332/ 353/ 427/ 114/ 201/ 120B/ 34/ 325/ 381 & 382 IPC.”

Tom Phillips - Your only right is to obey': lawyer describes torture in China's secret jails

On day one of his detention Xie Yang claims he was shackled to a metal chair and ordered to explain why he had joined an illegal anti-Communist party network. On day two he was moved to a secret prison and informed: “Your only right is to obey.” Finally, on day three, the violence began.

“We’ll torture you to death just like an ant,” one inquisitor allegedly warned the Chinese human rights lawyer during a punishing marathon of interrogation sessions and beatings designed make him confess to crimes he denies. “I’m going to torment you until you go insane,” another captor allegedly bragged. “Don’t even imagine that you’ll be able to walk out of here and continue being a lawyer. You’re going to be a cripple.” The claims – impossible to verify but which human rights activists say are consistent with previously documented forms of abuse in China – are contained in a transcript of lawyers’ interviews with one victim of the country’s ongoing crackdown on human rights attorneys.

Xie Yang, a 44-year-old lawyer, was detained in the central city of Hongjiang on 11 July 2015, on day three of what campaigners describe as an unprecedented Communist party assault on civil rights attorneys. More than 18 months after that crackdown began, at least four of its key targets, including Xie, remain behind bars facing trial for crimes including subversion. Xie’s legal team decided to release the explosive and highly detailed transcript of their conversations with him last week – in defiance of authorities – in protest at the refusal to set their client free.

His statement paints a devastating portrait of the tactics allegedly being used to wage China’s so-called “war on law”. It comes after Peter Dahlin, a Swedish human rights activist who worked with several of the detained lawyers, gave the most detailed account yet of his 23-day imprisonment in an underground jail in Beijing. Speaking to the Guardian at his new home in northern Thailand, Dahlin claimed that after being detained by state security agents in January 2016 he was deprived of sleep and forced to endure exhausting late-night interrogation sessions; denied the right to exercise, sunlight and access to his embassy; and questioned using lie-detection equipment with the Orwellian name of a “communication enhancement machine”. “These facilities are built to break you,” Dahlin said of the covert centre where he was held under 24-hour guard in a padded cell.

In a series of interviews with his lawyers at the start of this year, Xie, whose Chinese nationality appears to have exposed him to far more brutal treatment than Dahlin, described a range of physical and mental abuse. After being picked up by security agents on 11 July, he said he was taken to a police station, chained up and questioned about his involvement in an “anti-party and anti-socialist” group of lawyers.

The next day he was moved to a secret interrogation facility inside a guesthouse in the state capital, Changsha, where the alleged torture began. Xie claimed he was forced to sit in stress positions on a stack of plastic chairs in which it was impossible for his feet to touch the floor. “I had to sit there for more than 20 hours, both legs dangling in such pain until they began numb,” he recounted. 

Traditional beatings were also allegedly doled out. “They’d split up the work: one or two would grab my arms while someone used their fists to punch me in the stomach, kneed me in the stomach, or kicked me with their feet,” Xie claimed, according to a translation of his testimonypublished on China Change, a human rights website.

“This is a case of counterrevolution! Do you think the Communist party will let you go?” he quoted one of his captors as saying. “I could torture you to death and no one could help you.” Xie, who remains in custody, claimed agents also issued thinly veiled threats against his family and friends. “Your wife and children need to pay attention to traffic safety when they’re out in the car. There are a lot of traffic accidents these days,” one agent reputedly told him.

Chinese authorities have not responded to Xie’s allegations and security officials rarely address such claims. But in a recent editorial, Xinhua, Beijing’s official news agency, rejected criticism of China’s current human rights situation, which some observers describe as the worst since the days following the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. “Certain western countries, while turning a blind eye to their own deep-rooted human rights issues, such as rampant gun crime, refugee crises and growing xenophobia, have a double standard on human rights, alongside a sense of superiority,” Xinhua said.

Terry Halliday, an American Bar Foundation scholar who recently published a book about China’s human rights lawyers, said the abuse described by Xie was now “par for the course” for those deemed enemies of the Chinese Communist party. “It all rings true,” he said. “Nothing would surprise me about the degree to which the authorities will go in order to get the kind of response they want. “It seems to me that part of the evil genius of the Chinese security apparatus has been that they have perfected forms of enormous pressure on individuals that are so powerful that they can compel almost any individual to comply, but yet they are not so manifest with broken bones, or the shedding of blood or external marks that can be used by the media or advocates around the world to criticise the government for inhumane treatment,” Halliday added.

“It’s torture behind a veil. We are left in the position of having to believe or not the person describing what happened to them, with very little evidence externally that allows us to validate that.” Halliday said one case where there did appear to be clear and dramatic proof of abuse was that of Li Chunfu, another attorney who was seized during the crackdown and recently emerged from 500 days of secret detention.

Li, whose brother, Li Heping, was one of the operation’s best-known targets, was taken on 1 August 2015 during the initial wave of arrests of lawyers and activists. He returned home on 12 January after being granted bail. But relatives claim nearly 17 months of severe abuse have transformed the 44-year-old lawyer into a shadow of his former self. “His mind is shattered,” his wife, Bi Liping, is quoted as saying in one online account of the lawyer’s ordeal. A local hospital offered a preliminary diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Halliday said that in meetings Li Chunfu had always struck him as “a very poised, very articulate, sophisticated person”. In photographs taken following his release he was unrecognisable. “He looked like a different man; someone a generation older. Five hundred days of total isolation. Who can withstand that?” Xie Yang admitted that he, for one, had not been able to withstand it. Speaking to his lawyers, he claimed he had suffered a “complete mental breakdown” and, facing a barrage of violence and threats, had caved in. “I wanted to be done with the interrogations as quickly as possible … so whatever they wanted me to write, I wrote,” he said. “I told them to type something up and I’d sign it, no matter what it said … I didn’t want to go on living.”

Social activist Bela Bhatia threatened, asked to leave Bastar in 24 hours

Social activist Bela Bhatia was allegedly threatened by a group of men who barged into her home in Bastar on Monday morning. Around 30 men arrived at Bhatia’s home in Parpa village and gave her 24 hours to vacate the house.  They threatened to burn it down if she refused to comply. This comes days after Bhatia accompanied an National Human Rights Commission team to Bijapur to record statements of rape and assault victims. The NHRC recently released a report, accusing Bastar Police personnel of raping 16 tribal women in the area.

Bhatia reportedly called the local police for help, but they failed to restrain the men, except for when they tried to enter her house again. Similar intimidation tactics have been used in the past to apply pressure on activists fighting for tribal rights in Bastar. In 2016, lawyers representing the Jagdalpur Legal Aid group were also similarly asked to leave after a few unidentified persons had put pressure on their landlord.

see also
Read more posts on naxalism

Book review: The Thrill of Discovery

Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Sub-Continent 
Pranay Lal

Reviewed by Mahesh Rangarajan

WRITING IN Nautilus, the popular science magazine, last summer, the freelance writer Shruti Ravindran bemoaned the widespread resource illiteracy in India among lay persons and decision makers alike about India’s astonishing geo- diversity. Now, while ‘biodiversity’ refers to extant creatures great and small, ‘geodiversity’ is about the rich variety of fossils of the past that lie buried under rocks and stones. India’s coal mines and highways are chipping away at or paving over a rich fossil record that might yield deep insights into how life evolved over the aeons. In particular, Ravindran wrote of the key events that led the ancestors of whales from the land to the sea, a journey key staging points of which lay along the west coast of what is now India.

Well, there is now a book that is both a visual delight and treat to read that will awaken us to the deep, aeons-old natural history of the lands that now make up the Subcontinent of India. Pranay Lal takes us on journeys across landscapes and waters at once most familiar and yet unknown. Again and again, he shows how the places we think we know conceal a rich vein of history that unfolded here as life evolved, adapted and colonised the lands, the waters and the air above.

Taking off from an analogy of the 4.6 billion-year-old planet earth as a 46-year-old woman, he reminds us of how just transient we are as a species. Homo sapiens arose as a distinct species barely four hours ago, on such a time map. Even this happened due to a mix of circumstances, the extinction of several competing hominids such as Homo erectus occurring even earlier than the dying out of several mega mammals, and it led eventually to the ability of some of our ancestors to move, adapt and survive a range of places beyond their point of origin in Africa. Yet, so small is the genetic gap with many ape species, our not-so- distant cousins—as little as 0.3 per cent with the chimpanzee—that we are not quite so apart from other life forms as we imagine in our conceit.

Where Lal stands out is the way he gives us a lens to look at India afresh. The Nandi Hills near Bengaluru are a remnant of rocks called the Dharwar Craton that is 3.5 billion years old. We live in a subcontinent where a journey of less than 3,000 kilometres can take us across a span of three billion years. Stories tie in events in the history of land with those who put the plot together. Take the case of palaeontologists Ashok Sahni and Vijay Mishra. In 1975 in Harudi, a village in Kutch, Gujarat, they unearthed whale fossils that lay alongside those of grazers like rhinos and pigs. These graveyards of whales provide a small window to the amazing evolutionary journey of which the giant mammals of today are the result.

Some 40 million years ago, herbivores and carnivores somewhat familiar to us dominated north India. The author guides us to Nahant near Ambala and onwards to the exquisitely named Kala Amb or ‘black mango’ village. Thirty million years ago, there was an explosion of variety. Among the inhabitants of Shivalik hills: ‘a giraffe on steroids’, the 20 tonne heavy Baluchitherium. Early big cats included the great Megantereon; over 150 kg, it was a scourge of grass eaters and primates alike.
Indica is embellished with maps, illustrations and photos and a delight to simply leaf through. Lal has the depth of a scholar but the book has the thrill of a detective novel. It is ironical that these treasure troves of fossils are being taken apart just when we are learning so much from them. If the work serves as wake-up call, it will have been more than an epitaph to our deep past.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Armando Iannucci on Donald Trump: 'This is the best moment, isn't it?'

NB: An essay that would be appropriate for 'media managers' (truth managers?) in Mr Modi's government. Maybe one of them will read it, and get it. Maybe. DS

What you’ve done is started a revolution, a movement. You’ve taught people to believe not what is empirically true but what is emotionally true, which is a better truth. You’ve set free the credulity of the people.  So here is another undeniable fact. Soon the consequences of what you are doing will spread throughout the world. And, once done, they can’t be undone. Yes, you will be remembered for a very, very long time. Fact.

Even when silent, you sound loud. You are, in fact, an avalanche of contradictions: real and unreal, scary yet amusing, fact and fiction rolled into one – like a little rubber Mount Rushmore blown up to actual size by the use of helium. You confuse us. We want to laugh at your stumbles, but are petrified by what those stumbles may lead to. You are the worst person ever; and yet not as bad as Mike Pence.

But you do have a definite sense of purpose. While Hillary Clinton hedged and played the game, you said it straight. You’ve been very clear: deport, build, repeal, replace. Everywhere you go, you shatter ossified politics. You slice through frozen convention like an icebreaker: set on a steady forward direction, leaving a stinking slick of oil and dead fish parts in its wake.

Caricature in a Swiss newspaper From

It was worth it, though, because of where you are now. This is the best moment, isn’t it? Just as you’ve taken the oath of office, but still not worn down by that office. Frozen in your moment of history. All those doubters, the mewling enemies and haters, are silenced now: you are the 45th president of the US. That’s a fact. It’s true. They used to tease you about your attitude to the truth, didn’t they? All your post-reality fictoid-facts, like how global warming was a myth invented by the Chinese, how you respected all women without exception, except the greedy, grasping, ugly ones who were trying to suck you dry, how Obama wasn’t born in America, and also how you put everyone right when you said he was. And that rigged election: you had evidence the election was rigged against you and you were going to lose, and then, when you won it fair and square, you had proof you would have won it even more fairly and squarely had it not been rigged against you so you couldn’t win so bigly. And now they say the Russians rigged the election, and you say the election wasn’t rigged, it was never rigged, and you’ve been saying for months: it was never rigged.
Yes, you were mocked nightly by damp-souled liberals who joked you couldn’t tell fact from fantasy. Well, guess what? If you now tweeted, “I am the 45th president of the United States”, not a single person would doubt you. Because it’s true. You’re the president. Fact! No scientist, no economist, no so-called expert can call you out. You are literally the most important man on Earth, in the solar system, maybe even the galaxy. Right now, everything in the universe revolves around you.

But then comes the hard bit. The bit after this week. The rest of the presidency. That’s the bit others say can’t be controlled. Something will go wrong. Some screwball no-mark in some pointless department will answer a letter to an elector, and end up saying the wrong thing about China, or single moms, or car manufacturers, or dyslexia, thinking that they’re echoing your opinion. Then your enemies will report it, and then people will think it came from you. Then your press secretary will deny that’s what you meant and blame the no-mark, and name her. Then the no-mark will complain about sexism or bullying or some such artificial crime. Then you’ll act big, go against expectations, and apologise to that person.

Then some other people, your enemies, will imply you’re a pussy. Your staff who attacked her and defended you, will express annoyance that you are contradicting what they’re saying. Then the person you apologised to, well, she’ll get arrogant and say how upset she was by what happened, and then you’ll have to tweet what she was really like when you met her, how annoying she was, how she’s just looking for a bigger job and a TV contract, and how you’re going to ask Congress to look into that department she works for and find out what’s going on.

But, even then, it won’t go away, and there’ll be maybe a hundred other little, stupid stories like that which will never leave you alone, all because other people are fools and losers. And so one night, you’ll tweet something bad about China and single moms and car manufacturers and dyslexics, all in one tweet, and the whole cycle will start all over again, and take up so much time, it’ll look like that wall will never get built.

And so, for the next four years, you’ll try to do stuff. With luck, the next eight years. (If your plan comes right, the next 12, even 16 years, too.) But this crap will keep coming up, won’t it? This not-smart, so-overrated nonsense from the false media, determined to undermine you. They’ll say you’re mishandling foreign affairs, causing conflict and hardship, arousing enmity, bitterness and division. It’s all designed to make people not like you, isn’t it? But you can get round that. You will tell people, again and again, that they do like you. That everything else they’ve heard isn’t true. And it will work. It always works.

You will explain that the things that come from your mouth are not necessarily the things that come from your heart. You will remind people that things are true not when they are real but when you believe them. You will urge the media to concentrate on covering people’s fears and feelings, rather than the dull objects and information that clutter up their potentially beautiful lives.

Why don’t crime reporters report that people feel a bit funny about Mexicans? Why don’t economists measure how freaked out people are about what might happen to their jobs one day, especially if your enemies were in charge? Why don’t the weather people point out, at the end of the show, just how everyone is feeling so much better because of the work you’re doing, and how that’s making them cope with whatever rain or cloud comes their way? Why don’t newscasters show the graphs that prove that anyone who fires a gun in America might well be a Muslim?

Of course, the liberal media will have fun, won’t they, doing their little crazy skits about how there’s no need for reporters any more because we just have to say whatever it is we think sounds true. “Over now to our Chief-Bad-Feeling-About-China correspondent”; “We join our crime correspondent live outside the home of a suspicious couple new to the neighbourhood who keep themselves to themselves”; “And that’s all we’ve got time for. Join us tomorrow night at seven for another edition of What The Hell’s Going On?” Unfunny. You haven’t seen these skits (they haven’t been written), but they’re just so lame, aren’t they?

No, how you govern will be so special, and so different from that pathetic portrayal. You’re going to bring into your administration a whole heap of talented people who will oversee a climate change in the way facts are considered. You will bring in financial experts who will reassure everyone that, no matter what the markets say, everyone is, in fact, fine. You will bring in law experts who will prove categorically that anyone who feels their civil liberties are being infringed are themselves infringing the civil liberties of the vast majority who voted to change them. And, above all, you will persuade everyone, especially those who tell you that you polled nearly three million votes fewer than Hillary, that you do have a mandate – since you believe you do, and it feels like the vast majority of people believe you do, too. And that’s evidence no money can buy.

That’s how you will govern. Properly, effectively. Why, if the economy goes bad, or promised laws aren’t passed, or a war breaks out, why spend time and money and precious energy dealing with those things? Isn’t it more efficient to persuade people that they aren’t happening? Think what money that would save, putting dollars back in the pocket of every American. You will do a deal with the American people, a great big beautiful deal, the ultimate deal, and they will absolutely love it. What you’ve done is started a revolution, a movement. You’ve taught people to believe not what is empirically true but what is emotionally true, which is a better truth. You’ve set free the credulity of the people.

So here is another undeniable fact. Soon the consequences of what you are doing will spread throughout the world. And, once done, they can’t be undone. Yes, you will be remembered for a very, very long time. Fact.

see also
The New York Review of Books, Volume XLIII, No. 13, pp 11-15, August 8, 1996
IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. Not so, however. For the modern intellectual, it is not at all obvious.
Rabindranath Tagore's four-part essay on Nationalism (1917)

Warning to Trump - Over two million protestors on women's + civil right's marches in the USA

NB: Cheers! and solidarity. This is what we need across the world: non-violent mass movements to defend democracy & civil rights and to resist fascism, militarism and nation-worship - DS

Enormous Crowds at Women's Marches Around The World

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in the historic Women’s March on Washington on Saturday – with more than 500,000 people, according to initial estimates by organisers – in a stunning show of protest on the first full day of the Trump administration. Tens of thousands more joined as the day wore on, and by mid-afternoon the city’s Metro system had recorded more than 597,000 trips.
A sea of peaceful protesters wore pink “pussy hats” and poured into the streets of downtown DC, almost certainly outnumbering those who attended the inauguration on Friday.
Thousands of people on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Thousands of people on Pennsylvania Avenue. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

The Los Angeles police department estimated that 500,000 people took to the streets of LA, although event organizers said the number of protesters was even higher, according to the LA Times. It was reportedly the highest turnout for any rally in the city for at least a decade.

Chicago: Chicago saw a huge turnout, with estimates of 250,000 people attending. The actual march itself was cancelled due to the huge crowds, turning the event into a rally that spilled out of Grant Park. New York: Around 200,000 New Yorkers rallied in Midtown Manhattan, twice what protest organisers had expected. The marchers, who had to be staggered in waves because of the numbers, headed up Fifth Avenue towards Trump Tower. “What’s at stake is everything you believe in,” actor Whoopi Goldberg told the crowd.

Atlanta: Thousands turned out for a social justice march in Atlanta, Georgia, with civil rights hero and local congressman John Lewis telling the crowd to “never quit”, “never give up” and to get into “good trouble”. “I know something about marching,” he said at the end of his remarks. Lewis, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr, shook outstretched hands as he made his way to the front of the march... see photos

Angela Mitropoulos - 'Post-factual' readings of neo-liberalism, before and after Trump
Sheldon Wolin - Can capitalism and democracy co-exist?
End of nations: Is there an alternative to countries?

Donald Trump’s inauguration: a declaration of political war / Jonathan Freedland: Divisive, ungracious, unrepentant: this was Trump unbound / New From Trump University:Election Rigging 101

NB: The unresolvable tension between a global economic order and a nation-statist political system produces regular political convulsions, of which the latest ultra-nationalist turn is the newest example. The ideologues of capitalism espouse complete freedom for Market Forces (Peace Be Unto Them) as the panacea for all ills, and insist that the state ought never to intervene in the economy. (What was demonetisation, by the way?!) They cannot see the irony of their demand for state intervention to 'commoditize those parts of human culture that should have remained outside the jurisdiction of the market - in particular, land, labor, and money' (see the article on Polanyi below). 

Nor do they seem to notice that protectionist policies go against the grain of their own ideological utopia of total freedom for Market Forces (Peace Be Unto Them). In the late 19th century imperial Great Britain led the charge on behalf of free trade, and even the colonial government in India was obliged to contest this (ever so mildly, given that it was under British suzerainty) with demands for protectionist tarriff duties. Today the US government is propelled toward protectionism by its newly elected leader, whilst the People's Republic of China demands free trade! 

Meanwhile revolutionary socialists have abandoned worker's internationalism, and gravitate towards autarkic solutions - which in political terms are led more effectively by the ultra-nationalist Right. The glaring truth is that we have an international capitalist order. The economic, ecological and political problems that this order generates can only be dealt with by international co-operation - co-operation not of the Davos elite, but of those working people who pay the heaviest price for it. Not autarky and militarism. Turning inwards as in Brexit and 'America First' etc will only compound the problems. As an American friend, who is also a senior academic, wrote to me: "What can it possibly mean in this radically interconnected times to talk about having America come out first in everything? It staggers the mind."  We learn our lessons the hard way, if we learn at all.. 

But these are theoretical ruminations. What is on the immediate horizon is Trump's wilful and self-serving view of the world - contestation of which from any quarter earns his hatred. His inaugural speech contained words like 'blood' and 'carnage' and in a clear sign of megalomania, he thanked "the people of the world" for his election - as if any of us had anything to do with it. Trump's favourite target continues to be the media - by which is implied anyone who thinks differently. He is a dangerous man to have in the seat of US power and American citizens - and the rest of us - should beware. The man is a hooligan, and the sooner you realise this the better for all of us. He spoke of violent retribution during his campaign, and you should not be surprised if this administration - aided and abetted by the deep state and shadowy characters launches a vicious campaign of intimidation within and outside the USA. The American election was not democratic; and the price the rest of the world has to pay for what American does is neither just nor fair. DS
America - No President - the view from n+1 ...
Women's March on Washington, London and global anti-Trump protests
Angela Mitropoulos - 'Post-factual' readings of neo-liberalism, before and after Trump
Sheldon Wolin - Can capitalism and democracy co-exist?
End of nations: Is there an alternative to countries?
Karl Polanyi: What the Austro Hungarian economic theorist tells us about the upheavals of our age

Guardian Editorial: Trump’s inauguration: a declaration of political war
In its outward details, the orderly transfer of American presidential power accomplished in the inauguration-day scene on Capitol Hill today felt time-honoured. The ceremonial essentials of the occasion – the stars and stripes banners, the dignitaries and the prescribed rituals of the swearings-in – were familiar and traditional. Political rivals took their places on the podium as they do every four years, shook hands and applauded one another, offering gracious compliments and providing a show of national dignity. Yet all this was in fact a sham. Donald Trump’s inaugural address was a declaration of war on everything represented by these choreographed civilities. President Trump – it’s time to begin to get used to those jarringly ill-fitting words – did not conjure a deathless phrase for the day. His words will not lodge in the brain in any of the various uplifting ways that the likes of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy or Reagan once achieved. But the new president’s message could not have been clearer. He came to shatter the veneer of unity and continuity represented by the peaceful handover. And he may have succeeded. In 1933, Roosevelt challenged the world to overcome fear. In 2017, Mr Trump told the world to be very afraid.

Mr Trump’s speech was by turns bitter, blowhard and banal. It boiled with resentment and contempt for politics, and the checks and balances of the US system. It was aimed at those who voted for him, not at those, the majority, who did not. It said barely a word about race. Its America First nationalism was crude and shameless. The speech seethed with scorn for everything about the capital city that he now seeks to bend to his will. It was, though, almost wholly empty of detail or of clarity about how its goals would be achieved. Even before he opened his mouth, Washington was on edge about what a Trump presidency might mean and the world was on edge about what is happening to America. Everything Mr Trump said confirmed that those instincts were correct. Presidents have often come into office promising to take the nation on a new path. But if Mr Trump can be believed, his election and his speech signal the biggest shake-up in Washington in living memory.

The vital question for the future is whether Mr Trump can be believed. In his speech he mocked those who have been all talk and no action. But there is a risk he could be a victim of that too. He raised the bar for his own presidency to a very high level by insisting that everything would change “right here, right now”. But will it? The power of the presidency has grown over the decades, and the 2016 election has now put the Republicans in charge of all the arms of government. But Mr Trump is not, at least not yet, a dictator. He has to govern with a Congress that does not share all his priorities – in some cases, Mr Trump’s priorities may even be preferable – and according to law that is interpreted by the courts. The states have a lot of power to defy him, as California seems determined to do in the case of the planned wall with Mexico.

It has been argued that voters chose Mr Trump knowing that he would challenge the system, but confident that the system would protect the voters from the worst consequences. That may prove right. But Mr Trump should not be underestimated. He is a proud disrupter not a diffident conformist. He is – and intends to be – different from the presidents of the past: in his personality, his working style, his ways of communicating and, most important of all, in his political aims. Those who support him and those who fear him are agreed on that. Yet he has arrived in the White House with low ratings and amid a deep sense of division. His inauguration was boycotted by several leaders and will be protested against by tens of thousands. His attempts to overturn America’s political hierarchy and culture will enthuse some – the stock market is thrumming – but terrify others.

The realities of Mr Trump’s disruptive intentions will be revealed in the weeks and months ahead. The first downpayments on his turbulent agenda can be found on the White House website. Domestically, the biggest programme will be the infrastructure projects that formed the only detailed pledge of the inaugural address. Beyond America’s shores, much is still guesswork: the probable clash with China poses the biggest threat of all; whether Mr Trump gets his way on Russia may depend on his more sceptical cabinet. “The time for empty talk is over,” said President Trump today. “Now arrives the hour of action.” At home and abroad, and in the light of today’s speech, that is a truly terrifying prospect.

Donald Trump was right. The election was rigged. What Trump got wrong (and, boy, does he get things wrong) is that the rigging worked in his favor. The manipulations took three monumental forms: Russian cyber-sabotage; FBI meddling; and systematic Republican efforts, especially in swing states, to prevent minority citizens from casting votes. The cumulative effect was more than sufficient to shift the outcome in Trump’s favor and put the least qualified major-party candidate in the history of the republic into the White House. Trumpist internet trolls and Trump himself dismiss such concerns as sour grapes, but for anyone who takes seriously the importance of operating a democracy these assaults on the nation’s core political process constitute threats to the country’s very being. Let’s look at each of these areas of electoral interference in detail.,, read more:

Jonathan Freedland / Divisive, ungracious, unrepentant: this was Trump unbound 

Listen to the advice of the Italian scholar Luigi Zingales, who recalls the long battles against Silvio Berlusconi – like Trump, a master player of the media, orange-hued and coated in a Teflon that meant no scandal ever stuck. Berlusconi was in the end defeated only by those who “focused on the issues, not on his character”.
Well, what were you expecting? Did you somehow think that the Donald Trump of the long, bitter campaign of 2016 would be miraculously transformed in the Washington rain, emerging as a kinder, gentler man, ready to serve as healer of the nation and humble steward of the free world? Because if you did, you were sorely disappointed. Of course he didn’t change. The naive thought he might shift a year ago, when he became the Republican frontrunner, or in the summer, when he became that party’s nominee, or in November, when he won the election. And some, finally, clung to the hope that he would “pivot”, undergoing a metamorphosis as he placed his hand on the Bible and took the oath to become America’s 45th president. But they were wrong. The Trump on the steps of the Capitol was the same Trump the world has come to know and fear. As he did at his party convention in Cleveland, he came with a message full of anger and foreboding, slamming the record of his predecessor and depicting a bleak American dystopia. He spoke of “American carnage”, of gangs and drugs, crime and decay.

And he was unafraid of the darkest historical echoes. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first,” he said, “America first” – embracing once again the slogan of the 1930s nativist movement of appeasers and antisemites who sought to keep the US out of the war against Nazism. Elsewhere, in rhetoric that sounded chilling coming from a would-be strongman who allegedly used to keep a volume of Hitler’s speeches at his bedside, he declared, “We are one nation … We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.”

For a listening world, there was little of comfort. He announced a new age of protectionism, not hiding from the word. “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength,” he said, in defiance of the historical experience that says protection leads, in fact, to crisis and world war. There was no mention of Nato or anything that might smack of multilateral cooperation. Instead Trump used his inauguration to usher in a new, Darwinian era in international relations. From now on, “all nations [will] put their own interests first”. That’s how Moscow and Beijing see the world, but it’ll be a shock for those smaller nations who have long looked to the US to maintain something close to a rules-based international system.

In other words, Trump did what he always does: he shredded the rule book. Inaugural speeches are meant to be exercises in national unity, binding the wounds of a divided people and sending a message that might hearten the rest of the world. Not for Trump. There was no gracious nod to his defeated opponent, Hillary Clinton, no hand outstretched to those who didn’t vote for him. 

But one move could help. Journalists might need to break the competitive habits of a lifetime and, every now and then, work as a team. That need was illustrated in last week’s press conference, when Trump turned on, and refused to take a question from, a CNN reporter, branding the network purveyors of “fake news.” Had the other journalists present refused to ask questions of their own until their CNN colleague was allowed his moment, Trump would have had to give way. In a similar vein, reporters should get into the habit of following up their colleagues’ inquiries. It may not force Trump or his spokespersons to answer awkward questions, but at least it’ll make it a tad harder for them to ignore them.

But there’s also a question of focus, for the press and for opponents alike. It’ll be tempting to go after Trump for his late-night tweets, for the insults he will surely keep firing off – whether at Meryl Streep or the cast of Hamilton – and for the general boorishness that has made him so repellent to so many millions. Tempting, but if it’s allowed to dominate the way we speak about this president, wrong.

Listen to the advice of the Italian scholar Luigi Zingales, who recalls the long battles against Silvio Berlusconi – like Trump, a master player of the media, orange-hued and coated in a Teflon that meant no scandal ever stuck. Berlusconi was in the end defeated only by those who “focused on the issues, not on his character”. Attacking Trump as a douchebag might be cathartic, but it’s unlikely to be effective. Too many Americans knew that about him but voted for him anyway. Better to attack Trump as a president.

Which is not to say that there’ll be no room for mockery. Lord knows, laughter will be a crucial weapon against Trump, as it is against all authoritarian strongmen.(Indeed, humour seems alien to Trump: comedy director Judd Apatow this week noted that he had never seen the new president laugh properly.) Alec Baldwin and Saturday Night Live, along with Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee and others are the bearers of a solemn, quasi-constitutional duty: to point a jeering finger at the emperor with no clothes.

But that will count for nothing if there is not a popular movement of dissent, one that exists in the real world beyond social media. Some believe the mass rally is about to matter more than ever. Trump, remember, is a man who gets his knowledge of the world from television, and who is obsessed by ratings. How better to convey to him the public mood of disapproval than by forcing him to see huge crowds on TV, comprised of people who reject him?

And this will have to be backed by serious, organised activism. The left can learn from the success of the Tea Party movement, which did so much to obstruct Barack Obama. That will force congressional Democrats to consider whether they too should learn from their Republican counterparts, thwarting Trump rather than enabling him.

And opponents should keep their eyes on the prize. Yesterday’s most poignant image was of the Obamas leaving the White House for the last time. Eight years ago, that was Bush and Cheney. One day, it will be Donald Trump. That moment will come. The task now is to ensure it comes sooner rather than later.

see also
Angela Mitropoulos - 'Post-factual' readings of neo-liberalism, before and after Trump
Sheldon Wolin - Can capitalism and democracy co-exist?

Women's March on Washington, London and global anti-Trump protests
Angela Mitropoulos - 'Post-factual' readings of neo-liberalism, before and after Trump
Sheldon Wolin - Can capitalism and democracy co-exist?
End of nations: Is there an alternative to countries?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Anu Kumar - The stories behind the story of Albert Camus’s ‘The Stranger’

Albert Camus and the Making of a Literary Classic
Alice Kaplan

Reviewed by Anu Kumar

When Albert Camus’s L’Etranger was published in France in early 1942, no one, least of all its 29-year-old author, could have guessed the impact the book would have, then and in the future. The Outsider / The Stranger (Stuart Gilbert’s English translation, published in 1946, had different titles in different countries) wasn’t exactly a best-seller in its early years. It came to have a life of its own, but oftentimes, there was no separating the book from its writer.

It wasn’t just how the book came to be written, or the fact that Camus wrote it as the Second World War broke out, but because of the aura that surrounded Camus soon after the book’s publication. It coincided with the recognition of Camus as a key figure of the French resistance.

The Stranger continues to have a vivid afterlife. It became synonymous with existentialism, to Camus’s own chagrin, and it won its author fame and notoriety in equal measure. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photos of Camus – the most enduring one with Camus in a trench coat, looking sideways at the camera, a cigarette dangling from his lips – were all taken between 1944 and 1945, after the War, and after the book was published (when Camus’s favoured Gauloises were once again available).

Intriguing in its contradictions: The Stranger, that sparest of novels, retains its ambiguity 75 years after its publication. It’s a novel born of its times and yet enduring. It has been analysed at various levels: for its characters and the motives – baffling and intriguing – that drive them. What drives Meursault in his life, and what makes him commit the act that condemns him; the disbelief on the part of the magistrate and the chaplain, their (absurd) entreaties in the name of religion; its unidimensional female characters, not just Marie, but even Meursault’s dead mother; and then, the silent Arab in the novel, whose passivity has, however, in recent times, evoked a reaction, especially a novelistic one.

In her book on The Stranger, Alice Kaplan doesn’t attempt to answer every question. It can, almost like the very book it seeks to unravel, be read in many ways. As a biography of a book, and of its author during the time of its writing. It’s also a primer on what makes a great classic, or what makes a writer, write a great classic. It is also about how a book comes into being. As Kaplan demonstrates, a classic is never created in isolation; it is propped up by its admirers, its supporters and an entire team of adherents. Camus, in this sense was fortunate. It was fortune, hard-earned, and richly deserved.
In mid-1940, when Camus finally completed the manuscript in a lonely hotel room in Paris, it was the book he just had to write. The Stranger “was a book he found in himself, rather than writing a book about himself.” It was fiction that was in him, Kaplan writes, waiting to be discovered.

The Stranger was not a straightforward book by any measure. It came out of Camus’s heartbreak and disappointments, within himself, and his own creative life. Both his lungs had already been affected by tuberculosis, his first marriage to Simone Hie had failed, and he faced a life without the prospect of a steady job. Camus had been published twice already, but he was an Algerian writer and this made him somewhat “provincial”. Paris was the scene of literary activity and recognition, but Paris seemed farther away than ever at that time.

Despair and hope: For all this, in early 1939, Camus set out to write an oeuvre; to fashion a literary legacy for himself. The Stranger would form the first of his writings: part of a trilogy that included the play Caligula and the long essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. These emerged out of Camus’s concerns with the philosophy of the absurd – that freedom is meaningless, and doesn’t signify anything for the universe remains essentially indifferent, his interest in writing “negative fiction”, and his own life, growing up in a working-class neighbourhood, Belcourt, in Algiers. Algeria was a French colony till its independence in 1962.

Kaplan maps out the influences on Camus – literal and personal. His childhood was largely “silent”, and spent with his mother and uncle, both deaf, and so language was reduced to a minimum, largely referencing objects, never abstractions. But it was precisely this period of disappointments that gave him reason for hope. A lifelong idol, Andre Malraux, writer, activist, spoke against the growing threats of Fascism while on a visit to Algeria. Camus’s mentors, besides his teacher of philosophy, Jean Grenier, also included Pascal Pia, a radical journalist and editor. Camus went to work for Pia’s leftist newspaper, Alger-Republicain; and this was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between them.

Camus reported and wrote of the criminal trials he witnessed in court, a couple of which Kaplan details, such as the trial following the murder of a conservative Islamic theologian. The trials and the courtroom scenes gave Camus several insights into ethnic tensions that prevailed in Algeria, and the absurdity of the justice system; French justice only appeared to heighten the injustices of colonialism… read more:

see also
Download a copy of Camus' famous essay: Reflections on the Guillotine