Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lt Col Purohit walks out of jail: Here’s a status check of 7 Hindutva terror cases. By Rajesh Ahuja

The National Investigation Agency investigated seven terror cases in which Hindu right-wing groups are suspects. These cases – involving attacks where Muslims were targeted - were handed to the federal agency by the previous UPA government. This is also when the NIA made most of the arrests, including that of Swami Aseemanand and Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit. After remaining in jail for nine years, Purohit - one of the prime accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast - walked out of the Taloja prison on Wednesday. There have been allegations that over the past three years, the pace of investigations in these cases has slackened and witnesses have turned hostile where the accused belonged to organisations close to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Here’s a status check of the cases by Hindustan Times:

Malegaon blasts (2006)
CASE: Four explosions took place outside a mosque on September 8, 2006, killing 38 people.
PROBE: The Maharashtra ATS and CBI chargesheeted nine Muslims. The NIA, which took over the case in 2011, filed another chargesheet naming four alleged Hindu extremists. The special court hearing the case discharged all the Muslim accused arrested by state ATS.
STATUS: Trial yet to begin.

Samjhauta Express blasts (2007)
CASE: Explosions occurred near Dewana railway station in Haryana’s Panipat district, killing 68 people, mostly from Pakistan, on the night of February 18. The train was on its way to Lahore from Delhi.
PROBE: The NIA has filed chargesheet against eight people, of whom one is dead and two are at large.
STATUS: Trial is on.

Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blast (2007)
CASE: A powerful IED blast in Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid area of Hyderabad on May 18, killed 14 people.
PROBE: The Hyderabad police rounded up dozens of Muslims but could not get any breakthrough.The case was then handed over to the CBI, which arrested Aseemanad, an accused in the Samjhauta train blasts case also. The first chargesheet was filed by the CBI, then the case was handed over to the NIA.
STATUS: Trial is on.

Ajmer dargah blast (2007)
CASE: A tiffin bomb exploded on October 11 during Ramzan at the Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Dargah in Ajmer, killing three people and injuring 12. Later, three more bombs were recovered from the premises.
PROBE: Of 13 accused, three are absconding and one -- Sunil Joshi -- is dead.
STATUS: A Jaipur court on March 8 had convicted three persons -- Joshi, Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel -- but let off former RSS member Aseemanand and six others. On March 22, the court sentenced Gupta and Patel to life imprisonment. The magistrate also imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on Patel and Rs 5,000 on Gupta.

Sunil Joshi murder (2007)
CASE: Sunil Joshi, the leader of an alleged Hindu extremist group believed to be behind most of the right-wing Hindu terror cases, was shot dead on December 29, 2007 when he was walking back to his hideout at Chuna Khadan locality in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. The group included Pragya Singh Thakur, Lokesh Sharma, Sandeep Dange, Ramji Kalsangra, Rajendra Pehelwan, Dhan Singh, Amit Chauhan and Aseemanand.
PROBE: After completing the investigation, the NIA handed over the case to the Madhya Pradesh police saying it had not found any evidence to suggest that his murder was linked to the larger Hindu terror conspiracy. The agency alleged that Joshi was killed by his own men as they were unhappy over his ‘misbehaviour’ with Pragya Singh Thakur.
STATUS: Trial ended on February 1, 2017. All eight accused, including Pragya Singh Thakur, acquitted.

Malegaon and Modasa blasts (2008)
CASE: Twin explosions took place in Malegaon (Maharashtra) and Modasa (Gujarat) on September 29. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) mounted on motorcycles were planted at both locations, killing a total of eight persons.
PROBE: The Maharashtra ATS claimed to crack the Malegaon case. Pragya Singh Thakur, along with a serving army official, Prasad Srikant Purohit were arrested and chargesheeted in the case.
STATUS: The NIA dropped charges against Pragya Singh Thakur and the special court is yet to take a call on it. The Modasa blast case was closed by the NIA citing lack of evidence. After remaining in jail for nine years, Lt Col Purohit -- one of the prime accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast -- walked out of the Taloja prison on Wednesday.

see also

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Who Owns the Internet? What Big Tech’s monopoly powers mean for our culture. By Elizabeth Kolbert

Last fall, some Times reporters went looking for the source of a stream of largely fabricated pro-Trump stories that had run on a Web site called Departed. They traced them to a twenty-two-year-old computer-science student in Tbilisi named Beqa Latsabidze. He told the Times that he had begun the election season by pumping out flattering stories about Hillary Clinton, but the site hadn’t generated much interest. When he switched to pro-Trump nonsense, traffic had soared, and so had the site’s revenues. “For me, this is all about income,” Latsabidze said. Perhaps the real problem is not that Brand’s prophecy failed but that it came true. A “computer bum” sitting in Tbilisi is now so “empowered” as an individual that he can help turn an election halfway around the world.

On the night of November 7, 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes’s wife, Lucy, took to her bed with a headache. The returns from the Presidential election were trickling in, and the Hayeses, who had been spending the evening in their parlor, in Columbus, Ohio, were dismayed. Hayes himself remained up until midnight; then he, too, retired, convinced that his Democratic opponent, Samuel J. Tilden, would become the next President.
Hayes had indeed lost the popular vote, by more than two hundred and fifty thousand ballots. And he might have lost the Electoral College as well had it not been for the machinations of journalists working in the shady corners of what’s been called “the Victorian Internet.”Chief among the plotters was an Ohioan named William Henry Smith. Smith ran the western arm of the Associated Press, and in this way controlled the bulk of the copy that ran in many small-town newspapers. The Western A.P. operated in tight affiliation - some would say collusion - with Western Union, which exercised a near-monopoly over the nation’s telegraph lines. Early in the campaign, Smith decided that he would employ any means necessary to assure a victory for Hayes, who, at the time, was serving a third term as Ohio’s governor. In the run-up to the Republican National Convention, Smith orchestrated the release of damaging information about the Governor’s rivals. 

Then he had the Western A.P. blare Hayes’s campaign statements and mute Tilden’s. At one point, an unflattering piece about Hayes appeared in the Chicago Times, a Democratic paper. (The piece claimed that Hayes, who had been a general in the Union Army, had accepted money from a soldier to give to the man’s family, but had failed to pass it on when the soldier died.) The A.P. flooded the wires with articles discrediting the story. Once the votes had been counted, attention shifted to South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana—states where the results were disputed. Both parties dispatched emissaries to the three states to try to influence the Electoral College outcome. Telegrams sent by Tilden’s representatives were passed on to Smith, courtesy of Western Union. Smith, in turn, shared the contents of these dispatches with the Hayes forces. This proto-hack of the Democrats’ private communications gave the Republicans an obvious edge. Meanwhile, the A.P. sought and distributed legal opinions supporting Hayes. (Outraged Tilden supporters took to calling it the “Hayesociated Press.”) As Democrats watched what they considered to be the theft of the election, they fell into a funk. “They are full of passion and want to do something desperate but hardly know how to,” one observer noted. Two days before Hayes was inaugurated, on March 5, 1877, the Sun appeared with a black border on the front page. “These are days of humiliation, shame and mourning for every patriotic American,” the paper’s editor wrote.

History, Mark Twain is supposed to have said, doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Once again, the President of the United States is a Republican who lost the popular vote. Once again, he was abetted by shadowy agents who manipulated the news. And once again Democrats are in a finger-pointing funk. Journalists, congressional committees, and a special counsel are probing the details of what happened last fall. But two new books contend that the large lines of the problem are already clear. As in the eighteen-seventies, we are in the midst of a technological revolution that has altered the flow of information. Now, as then, just a few companies have taken control, and this concentration of power - which Americans have acquiesced to without ever really intending to, simply by clicking away - is subverting our democracy.

Thirty years ago, almost no one used the Internet for anything. Today, just about everybody uses it for everything. Even as the Web has grown, however, it has narrowed. Google now controls nearly ninety per cent of search advertising, Facebook almost eighty per cent of mobile social traffic, and Amazon about seventy-five per cent of e-book sales. Such dominance, Jonathan Taplin argues, in “Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy” (Little, Brown), is essentially monopolistic. In his account, the new monopolies are even more powerful than the old ones, which tended to be limited to a single product or service. Carnegie, Taplin suggests, would have been envious of the reach of Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos...

'Please stop!' Brutal killing of a student in Philippines drug war sparks nationwide anger

The killing of a 17-year-old student in the Philippines has sparked nationwide protest and multiple government investigations, moves which many hope could signal a reassessment of the country’s war on drugs that has left an estimated 5,500 people dead. Kian Delos Santos was dragged from his home in Caloocan, on the outskirts of Manila, and allegedly murdered by police under the guise of a raid on drug pushers. His last words, pleading with officers hours before he was found lying dead on 16 August, were, “Please stop. Please stop. I have a test tomorrow,” according to a witness. An autopsy report showed he was shot twice in his head and once on the back.

The killing has sparked mass protests and triggered several government agencies to launch investigations. Now even the architect of the violent crackdown, the president, Rodrigo Duterte, has said that something was wrong with the police operation after viewing CCTV footage showing two men dragging the defenceless student along the street. The footage of Santos alive in custody throws serious doubt on police claims that police shot the teenager after he drew a gun to fight back arrest.

“I saw the tape on TV and I agree that there should be an investigation. Should the investigation point to liabilities by one, two, or all, there will be a prosecution, and they have to go to jail if convicted,” Duterte said at a hastily convened press conference on Monday. It was an uncharacteristic admission coming from a president who, last year, referred to children and innocents killed in his crackdown as “collateral damage”.One week ago, when police killed 32 people in the bloodiest night of raids, Duterte immediately gave his approval. “That’s good,” he said.

Since the former mayor of Davao city became president last July, government figures show police have killed close to 3,500 “drug personalities”. More than 2,000 other people have been killed in drug-related crimes and thousands more murdered in unexplained circumstances, according to official data. Duterte has lashed out at any criticism. He warned the European Union not to “fuck with us” after the European parliament passed a resolution expressing “grave concern over credible reports” that Philippine police were engaged in extrajudicial killings, a claim officers strongly deny.

Despite the criticism, Duterte has remained a popular leader and polls have shown continued domestic support for his war on drugs. But the death of Santos appears to be a turning point. Three government bodies, the department of justice, the senate, and the Commission on Human Rights, launched investigations. Santos’s last words have become viral on social media and on Monday protesters gathered at the People’s Power Monument in Manila to voice their outrage... read more:

More posts on Phillipines

The Return of the Show Trial: China’s Televised “Confessions”. By Magnus Fiskesjö

Abstract: This article investigates the recent wave of staged confessions in China in historical perspective. Currently, the authorities “disappear,” detain, and parade people, both Chinese and foreigners, on state television, forcing them to incriminate themselves by making abject confessions prior to legal proceedings. This is a clear break with years of efforts to build the rule of law in China. It also reverses multiple solemn declarations to prohibit police torture and forced confessions, both longstanding practices in China. The new extrajudicial show trials, which are staged spectacles outside courts of law, suggest a return to Mao-era praxis, and have been criticized by many, including leading Chinese judges and lawyers. Despite the painstaking choreography, the TV confessions are widely regarded both in China and internationally as fake - not least because of several new witness accounts provided by former detainees which emerged during 2016. Elements for a historically grounded interpretation emerge from examination of Soviet Communist, Christian, and various East Asian parallels. Kafka's allegory in The Trial exposes how the powerful frame the innocent by forcing them to “confess,” in order to perpetuate their power. 

download pdf

The spectacle of forced confessions frequently seen on Chinese TV in the last few years is part of a wider trend in China: The Party-State is silencing alternative and dissident voices, with a new wave of censorship, intimidation, disappearances, arrests, and imprisonments. This current trend is not unique to China. Instead, sadly, it is part of a worldwide authoritarian turn. In many countries around the world, as in similar conjunctures of times past, authoritarians are taking power either by force, or, where elections exist, with a constituency of voters longing for a strongman.

Today's authoritarians share many things, especially their contempt for the truth, for freedom of expression, and for equality before the law, without which there can be no democracy. They congratulate each other on their purported efficiency in “telling it like it is,” and in “getting things done.” They seek to censor and to “guide” public opinion. Authoritarian China currently seems ahead of all others in monitoring, censoring, and managing public opinion, especially in the successful harnessing of a new digital universe of technologies to suppress dissent.

China’s forced TV confessions are closely related to one key element in this authoritarian turn - to go beyond the mere silencing of alternative voices and opinions, and “shape reality.” In China this post-truth manufacturing seems to be not just about silencing dissent, but also - after the loss of faith in Communist ideology - about shaping a certain new kind of predictably obedient society sometimes framed as the harmonious society. Scripting, forcing, and disseminating these TV confessions, then, is one element of this project. 

The Disappeared Hong Kong Booksellers
Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen, a Hong Kong publisher and owner of a popular bookstore for political books banned in mainland China, was disappeared from his vacation home in Thailand on October 17, 2015. Cameras in the building and testimony from locals show that he was taken away by several Chinese-speaking men, likely agents from one of the Chinese state or Communist Party security services, although neither their actions nor their identity has been acknowledged by the Chinese authorities - or indeed by Thailand. A number of Chinese citizens have been similarly repatriated from Thailand against their will, including Uighur asylum seekers and two Han Chinese political dissidents who had been recognized as political refugees by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which called their sudden, preemptive repatriation to China “a serious disappointment.”

But Gui Minhai had no such designation. He evidently believed he had sufficient protection against arbitrary disappearance as a Swedish and EU citizen, a Hong Kong resident, publisher and bookstore owner, and as a visitor to Thailand, where he owned the vacation apartment from which he was abducted. When, subsequently, four more of his bookstore associates and co-owners were disappeared, either while visiting Shenzhen, or in Hong Kong itself, the case caught the attention of world media, especially the Hong Kong public. The trigger for the wider publicity was when the fifth bookseller, Mr. Lee Bo, disappeared from one of the Causeway Bay Bookstore's facilities in Hong Kong, on December 30, 2015. If indeed he was abducted, as it seems, this would directly violate China’s 1997 promise to let Hong Kong have judicial autonomy until the year 2047.

When Gui Minhai, also known as a poet and writer under his pen name Ahai, suddenly appeared on Chinese state TV on January 17, 2016, “confessing” that he had voluntarily returned to face charges supposedly outstanding from a decade-old traffic accident, it became clear that this was another installment in the series of staged confessions presented with increasing frequency since 2013.
These confessions are coerced - the detainees have no opportunity to challenge their detention or argue their case, and, being under obvious duress, can only comply. The format is an extralegal means for intimidating and silencing anyone whose speech, writings, or activities are deemed undesirable by unidentified powers. They are of course also directed at the general public, as targeted audiences, at home and abroad.

The increasing use of this format may be partly due to a certain Jiang Jianguo, deputy director of the Communist Party’s propaganda office, who is said to have argued for a revival of the approach at an internal government meeting, saying “[This way,] the educational effect will be the greatest.” According to this unconfirmed account, the campaign is orchestrated in collaboration between the police, which apprehends and works over the victims, and the Party propaganda office, which takes overall charge and directs the choreography of the staged confessions.

Later, in February 2016, Gui Minhai was presented once again, this time alongside three fellow booksellers all made to confess they smuggled prohibited books into China. Meanwhile, their bookstore changed hands in obscure circumstances, and the bulk of the printed books in storage was destroyed. At the same time, in Hong Kong, some of these books, which purport to reveal secret details about Chinese Communist leaders, have been sold publicly as a form of protest by Hong-kongers eager to defend the right to free expression, which at least formally still is current there, under the “One Country, Two Systems” promise. But the chilling effect on the publishing industry is already evident, with other bookstores closing or self-censoring their stock, as may have been the goal of the targeted attack.

Tragically, over a year after his kidnapping from Thailand, Gui Minhai alone among the four booksellers continues to be held without trial and without any justification of his apprehension - in disregard of international law, and in obvious contempt of my own country, Sweden, and the European Union, where he is a fellow citizen… read more:

see also
Cambridge University Press backs down over China censorship
Will reinstate articles to which it blocked online access in China in the face of international protests

Monday, August 21, 2017


(Listen): Forever Young by The Pretenders

May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

Chernobyl: City of ghosts. By DAVID PATRIKARAKOS

PRIPYAT, Ukraine — In a post-Cold War world, the fear of nuclear holocaust has receded from the global consciousness. Donald Trump’s threat of unleashing “fire and fury like the world has never seen” against North Korea was an untimely and unwelcome reminder of a past, perilous era. Even by Trump’s standards these statements were a new low. And they are dangerous. History teaches us that the journey from political logorrhea to global disaster can be terrifyingly short.

As demagogues toss around nuclear threats like confetti at a wedding, it is easy to forget the devastation nuclear power can cause. But in one country, on Europe’s edge, they have not forgotten. 
And where once life thrived, there now stands a vast mausoleum.

The city of Chernobyl lies about 90 kilometers from Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. It’s an ancient site — originally part of the land of Kievan Rus, the federation of Slavic tribes from whom modern Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians all claim descent. In modern times the city was chosen as the site of the first nuclear power plant in Ukraine (then part of the USSR).

The plant had four nuclear reactors and on April 26, 1986, reactor number 4 blew up during a test. The Soviets were initially reluctant to make the disaster public, but had no choice when nuclear reactors a thousand miles away in eastern Sweden began recording radiation levels 10 times higher than normal. Fire from the explosion had sent plumes of highly radioactive fallout across the USSR and Europe.

Eventually, almost half a million people would come to be involved in the clean-up operation, which would last for months and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles (back when a ruble was equal to a U.S. dollar), playing its part in the eventual bankruptcy of the Soviet Union… read more:

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Candida Moss - The Dangerous Myth of Utopian Societies

The mischaracterization of the untouched tribe doesn’t solve the debate about whether or not civilization is bad, but it has proved to be an enduring moneymaker for those able to monetize stone-age wisdom. 

In 1971, Manuel Elizalde, a government official in the Philippines and crony of Ferdinand and Immelda Marcos, announced the discovery of a previously lost “stone age tribe” of indigenous people on the island of Mindanao. Known as the Tasaday, the tribe became overnight celebrities, especially when it was revealed that they didn’t even have a word for “war” and were pacifist cave dwellers. They became the poster children for railing against the decadence of modern civilization. 

As it turned out, however, the Tasaday were a hoax. Linguists first became suspicious when it emerged that this group of supposed cave dwellers had a word for “roof.” Then, in 1986, a Swiss reporter discovered that the Tasaday weren’t living “like our ancestors” at all, but rather in typical houses in which they dressed in blue jeans and T-Shirts. Elizalde had convinced some members of local tribes to pretend to belong to the tribe in exchange for money. The villagers never saw any support and in the early 1980s Elizalde fled with (reportedly) $35 million of funds ear-marked for minority groups and a harem of teenage girls. Recent anthropological work has suggested that while some of the local tribes in the region were more isolated than others, there was no “stone age” group that was untouched by the modern world.

In the past three hundred years, as the British, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Portuguese, and others trawled the globe colonizing the world and exploring areas that were previously unknown (to them), they have often discovered groups of people who seem to them to be a throwback to the prehistoric world. While the majority of European propaganda caricatures foreign groups as dangerous savages to be subjugated, they were also described as “pristine tribes” as noble, simple, fierce, spiritual, and somehow more authentically human than those of us corrupted by  “civilization.”  

The idea of a group of people untouched and unblemished by modernity encouraged social scientists to see them as a control group when it came to asking questions about whether humans have an original nature that has been somehow sullied by civilization. Among the most popular questions are ones about the human capacity for violence and war. Are people inherently violent or was the slow march away from hunting and gathering that left us war-mongering and conflict-ridden?

In 2013, controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon published his book Noble Savages: My Life among Two Dangerous Tribes – The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists. In it, Chagnon presents the Yanomano of the northern Amazonia as a “fierce” tribe of war-mongering people who engage in raids in order to maximize access to women, gain recognition, and take revenge (usually for the death of a member of their group). His essential argument, now being marketed by popular psychologist Steven Pinker, is that men are driven to fight because of reproductive competition. Throughout his work Chagnon presents the Yanomamo as typical stone-age warriors, untouched by the influence of later cultural developments. He writes, for example, that “the Yanomamo are probably a typical example of what life is like in a state of nature” and that “we might want to consider this possibility as we learn more about the nature of human life in a ‘state of nature.’” 

Since the publication of his work, many scholars have criticized Chagnon’s findings and methodology… read more

Friday, August 18, 2017

Tom Phillips - Cambridge University Press accused of 'selling its soul' over Chinese censorship

NB: Communist censorship, doctoring and certification of history - indeed of all human knowledge - is as old as their conquest of power. Maybe a little less, because till the early and mid 1920's censorship in the USSR was not as comprehensive as in the 1930's. The Chinese Communist Party's control of news and information, not to mention history and political thought goes back a long time. During the Bangladesh crisis of 1970-72 the Chinese public was not even aware of the massacres in East Pakistan by the Pakistan Army. The Party decides public access to information and thought; the areas open to research and the ones that are taboo. This is the People's Republic of Amnesia.

The CPC is the master not only of the State, but of the very souls and minds of the Chinese people. And it is the singular pole of legitimate authority - there are no institutions to safeguard basic rights; no court of appeal that can challenge the absolute power of the Party. This is the essence of totalitarianism and all leftists and communists who defend this behaviour should know that by doing so, they undermine their own claims to being democrats. As the late dissident Liu Xiaobo learned to his cost, even to ask the Party to implement the Chinese Constitution might land you in jail. 

The RSS-run Indian government dreams of establishing a similar tyranny over the Indian public. (For example, even before the 2014 elections, they obtained the removal of A. K. Ramanujan's Three Hundred Ramayanas from the DU syllabus). Such a political system is called an ideocracy: the rule of an ideology, where a select group of persons wielding absolute power decide what people should know and how they may think. This comment on Vasily Grossman's novel about Stalinism, Life and Fate sums it up: He… came to understand that guilt and innocence are meaningless when the state decides the nature of reality.. DS

Cambridge University Press backs down over China censorship
Will reinstate articles to which it blocked online access in China in the face of international protests

The world’s oldest publishing house, Cambridge University Press, has been accused of being an accomplice to the Communist party’s bid to whitewash Chinese history after it agreed to purge hundreds of politically-sensitive articles from its Chinese website at the behest of Beijing’s censors.
The publisher confirmed on Friday that it had complied with a Chinese request to block more than 300 articles from the China Quarterly, a leading China studies journal, in order “to ensure that other academic and educational materials we publish remain available to researchers and educators” in China.

A list of the blocked articles, published by CUP, shows they focus overwhelmingly on topics China’s one-party state regards as taboo, including the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, Mao Zedong’s catastrophic Cultural Revolution, Hong Kong’s fight for democracy and ethnic tensions in Xinjiang and Tibet. They include articles by some of the world’s top China specialists including Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, George Washington University’s David Shambaugh, and Harvard University scholars Roderick MacFarquhar and Ezra Vogel.

A piece by Dutch historian Frank Dikötter and a book review by the Guardian’s former China correspondent, John Gittings, about the Cultural Revolution were also censored. In its statement, CUP insisted it was committed to freedom of thought and expression and had been “troubled by the recent increase in requests of this nature” from China. The publisher vowed to raise the issue with the “revelant agencies” in Beijing at an upcoming book fair.  But on Saturday, as reports of the publisher’s move spread, it faced a growing outcry from academics and activists who called for the decision to be reversed. “Pragmatic is one word, pathetic more apt,” tweeted Rory Medcalf, the head of the national security college at the Australian National University. John Garnaut, a longtime China correspondent and former adviser to the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, described it as “an extraordinary capitulation” to China.Renee Xia, the international director of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network, accused the publisher of having “sold its soul for millions of Chinese govt dollars”.

Andrew Nathan, whose name appears three times in the list of censored articles, told the Guardian: “If the Press acceded to a Chinese request to block access to selected articles, as I gather is the case, it violated the trust that authors placed in it and has compromised its integrity as an academic publisher.” Nathan, the editor of a seminal work on the Tiananmen crackdown, added: “I imagine [CUP] might argue that it was serving a higher purpose, by compromising in order to maintain the access by Chinese scholars to most of the material it has published. This is similar to the argument by authors who allow Chinese translations of their work to be censored so that the work can reach the Chinese audience. [But] that’s an argument I have never agreed with.”  “Of course, there may also be a financial motive, similar to Bloomberg, Facebook, and others who have censored their product to maintain access to the Chinese market. This is a dilemma, but if the West doesn’t stand up for its values, then the Chinese authorities will impose their values on us. It’s not worth it.” 

In an open letter two US scholars, Greg Distelhorst and Jessica Chen Weiss, complained that CUP’s move meant Chinese academics and scholars would now only have access to a “sanitized” version of their country’s history. “To me the problem is pretty straightforward: the problem is publishing a politically-curated version of Chinese history and doing so in the name of Cambridge University,” Distelhorst, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the Guardian. 
 “This makes the publisher an active participant in rewriting history … When a government asks you to censor a piece of scholarship, that request is fundamentally opposed to a principle of academic freedom that I believe to be important to Cambridge and to many universities.”

In a statement the editor of China Quarterly, Tim Pringle, voiced “deep concern and disappointment” at the tightening controls in China. “This restriction of academic freedom is not an isolated move but an extension of policies that have narrowed the space for public engagement and discussion across Chinese society.”.. read more:

see also

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Tom Phillips - Hong Kong democracy campaigners jailed over anti-China protests

Hong Kong’s democracy movement has suffered the latest setback in what has been a punishing year after three of its most influential young leaders were jailed for their roles in a protest at the start of a 79-day anti-government occupation known as the umbrella movement. Alex Chow, Nathan Law, and Joshua Wong, the bespectacled student dubbed Hong Kong’s “face of protest” were sentenced to between six and eight months imprisonment each.

The trio, aged 26, 24 and 20 respectively, had avoided jail a year ago after being convicted of taking part in or inciting an “illegal assembly” that helped spark the umbrella protests, in late September 2014. But this month Hong Kong’s department of justice called for those sentences to be reconsidered, with one senior prosecutor attacking the “rather dangerous” leniency he claimed had been shown to the activists.

“See you soon,” Wong tweeted shortly after the verdict was announced. In another message he wrote: “Imprisoning us will not extinguish Hongkonger’s desire for universal suffrage. We are stronger, more determined, and we will win.” “You can lock up our bodies, but not our minds! We want democracy in Hong Kong. And we will not give up.”

The decision to increase the activists’ punishments sparked outrage among supporters and campaigners who condemned what they called the latest example of Beijing’s bid to snuff out peaceful challenges to its rule. “It smacks of political imprisonment, plain and simple,” said Jason Ng, the author of Umbrellas in Bloom, a book about Hong Kong’s youth protest movement. Mabel Au, Amnesty International’s director in Hong Kong, said: “The relentless and vindictive pursuit of student leaders using vague charges smacks of political payback by the authorities.”.. read more:

Rajdeep Sardesai: Where is PM Modi’s ‘new India’? // Modi Is Taking India to a Dangerous Place. By Prem Shankar Jha

One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s great skills as a political communicator has been his ability to constantly summon up catchy buzzwords. If 2014 was the year of ‘acche din’, Make in India and Swachh Bharat, 2015 was about Start up and Stand up India, 2016 was Digital India and 2017 is now about ‘New India’. But shorn of the artful messaging, what does ‘New India’ really mean?”

Is it a ‘new India’ when over 70 ill-fated children tragically die in a Gorakhpur government hospital, an annual monsoon ritual in one of the more backward regions of the country? Is the prime minister assuring us that Japanese Encephalitis will be conquered, that public investment in health will be doubled, or that primary health centres will be strengthened? The truth is, the public health system in the country is in ICU.

Is it a ‘new India’ when Assam is flooded every year, when thousands are displaced in another annual catastrophe? Are we being assured that there will be a genuine effort to plug the encroachments of river banks, the lack of drainage, rampant deforestation, all of which contribute to the sorrows heaped upon hapless people by a swelling Brahmaputra?

Is it a ‘new India’ when government schools struggle to provide quality education to lakhs of students across the country? In a statement in parliament in December 2016, the HRD minister acknowledged that 18% teacher posts in government-run primary schools and 15% in secondary schools remain vacant. Is the government assuring an end to this acute teacher crisis in the immediate future?

Is it a ‘new’ India where agricultural land-holdings are shrinking, where small and marginal farmers remain indebted to village money-lenders, where deepening agrarian distress means that even in a year of a bountiful harvest, farmers denied a remunerative price commit suicide? Is it a ‘new’ India where the government is in denial on the reality of a manufacturing slowdown and jobless growth, especially in a post-demonetisation universe? A recent study of the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE) reveals that 1.5 million jobs were lost post-demonetisation in the first four months of 2017… read more:

There was a discernible note of self congratulation in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech this year. As usual, it was replete with claims – “In our country everyone is equal”, “Those who have looted the nation and looted the poor are not able to sleep peacefully today” – and exhortations – “Bharat jodo“, “Let us create a new India” – that are entirely devoid of content. But these are not the sources of his satisfaction. That arises from his confidence that he has ensured a continuation of the BJP in power for the foreseeable future. He has done this by ensuring that the opposition is unable to unite to face the BJP in 2019; and by relentlessly undermining the constitutional safeguards upon which India’s secular democracy has rested, should it become necessary to retain power through constitutional sleight of hand.

The path India is being taken on: In the last three years, Modi and Amit Shah have removed virtually every institutional hurdle to the creation of the ‘new nation’ he talked about. The BJP now has a president and vice-president of its choice, thus ensuring that any conceivable future head of state will follow Modi’s instructions. After its successes in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Assam, the party will soon have the majority in the Rajya Sabha that it needs to enact transformative legislation.
By overturning the seniority-cum-merit system of promotion in the army, Modi has sent the message out loud and clear to the army that henceforth, it does not serve the constitution but the prime minister. The spate of statements from all and sundry in the armed forces that have begun to equate dissenting with the BJP with treason shows that the army has got the message.

The obstacle of the Supreme Court remains. But Chief Justice J.S. Khehar, who had overturned the judicial accountability Bill and saved the collegium system for the appointment of Supreme Court and high court judges, will retire in a few months and it is a safe bet that Modi will renew his struggle to destroy the higher courts’ capacity for judicial review after he is gone.

Modi’s ideal state: Only the electoral system, the beating heart of our democracy, will remain standing in the way. Despite all their bluster, Modi and Shah are acutely aware of the fragility of the BJP’s hold on power. In 1967, the Congress had required 40.7% of the vote to win 282 seats. In 2014, the BJP did it with under 31% of the vote. They will never, therefore, feel truly secure till they have captured that additional 10%.

Since that extra vote is not yet in sight, they have been following a two-pronged strategy to regain power in 2019. The first is to woo away the crucial 10% of the electorate by creating paranoia among caste Hindus in order to create a ‘Hindu’ identity as distinct from caste. The second is to ensure, by hook or by crook, that the opposition remains fragmented. To do this, the Modi-Shah duo launched a no-holds-barred campaign to destroy state-level parties like the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar and the Trinamool Congress in Bengal, that enjoy a measure of constitutional autonomy and therefore the capacity to form an alliance capable of defeating the BJP in 2019.
But what is the goal that Modi believes is now in sight? Behind the camouflage of his grandiose and so far unfulfilled promises lies a single unswerving aim. That is to build a Hindu rashtra. There are hints of this in his speech, but three years into the BJP’s reign one does not need these pointers to understand the kind of India that Modi, and the RSS, intend to build…read more :

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Saeed Kamali Dehghan - Iran opposition leader begins hunger strike to demand public trial

An ailing 79-year-old Iranian opposition leader who has been under house arrest since February 2011 has embarked on a hunger strike, demanding authorities try him in public.  Mehdi Karroubi, a former presidential candidate, fell foul of the establishment following the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, which led to months of unrest. A leader of the Green movement, he was put under round-the-clock surveillance by guards living in his home six years ago, without being put on trial or publicly charged. He has been taken to hospital twice in the last three weeks and has undergone heart surgery. 

Saham News, a website close to Karroubi, quoted his wife as saying that he started the dry hunger strike soon after performing his morning prayers on Wednesday, and that he will refuse to eat or drink until his demands are met.  “He wants the security guards to leave the premises of his house,” she said. Never before – pre-Islamic revolution nor after it – we have seen such presence of guards, living inside the house alongside those under house arrest, keeping all aspects of his life under watch, through bugs and cameras. “If the house arrest is to continue, he wants to be put on trial in public, after six and a half years under house arrest, he wants the authorities to announce when they will hold a trial in public.”

Two other opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi, also a former presidential candidate, and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, were put under house arrest in Tehran in similar circumstances in 2011.  Both Karroubi and Mousavi are suffering from medical complications partly as a result of their age. Mousavi, 75, has also been taken to hospital a number of times in recent years. Some members of the three leaders’ immediate families are allowed to visit them in pre-arranged and approved meetings. 

 “My father wants a trial that is held in public and in the presence of a jury as provisioned by article 168 of the constitution,” Karroubi’s son, Mohammad-Taghi Karroubi, said. “The establishment wants a quiet end to the house arrests, without paying a price. My father has said that he will not challenge the verdict of a trial, he hasn’t had a chance to defend himself and he wants to respond to the accusations made by the state.” He said he had spoken to his father by phone recently when he was discharged from hospital. It was the first time in six months the two had been allowed to talk. “My father is on the verge of becoming 80 and a dry hunger strike, which given his health complications raises serious concerns.” The continued restrictions on opposition leaders is a major challenge for the moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, and popular demand for an end to the house arrests is high. Almost every rally Rouhani held during the campaign that led to his re-election in May featured chants by supporters in support of Karroubi, Mousavi and Rahnavard. .. read more:

Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War? By Robin Wright

'Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes.'

NB: These conditions might sound familiar to Indians and South Asians in general.. A very thought provoking essay - DS

A day after the brawling and racist brutality and deaths in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe asked, “How did we get to this place?” The more relevant question after Charlottesville—and other deadly episodes in Ferguson, Charleston, Dallas, St. Paul, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria—is where the United States is headed. How fragile is the Union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy? The dangers are now bigger than the collective episodes of violence. “The radical right was more successful in entering the political mainstream last year than in half a century,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in February. The organization documents more than nine hundred active (and growing) hate groups in the United States.

America’s stability is increasingly an undercurrent in political discourse. Earlier this year, I began a conversation with Keith Mines about America’s turmoil. Mines has spent his career—in the U.S. Army Special Forces, the United Nations, and now the State Department—navigating civil wars in other countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. He returned to Washington after sixteen years to find conditions that he had seen nurture conflict abroad now visible at home. It haunts him. In March, Mines was one of several national-security experts whom Foreign Policy asked to evaluate the risks of a second civil war—with percentages. Mines concluded that the United States faces a sixty-per-cent chance of civil war over the next ten to fifteen years. Other experts’ predictions ranged from five per cent to ninety-five per cent. The sobering consensus was thirty-five per cent. And that was five months before Charlottesville.

“We keep saying, ‘It can’t happen here,’ but then, holy smokes, it can,” Mines told me after we talked, on Sunday, about Charlottesville. The pattern of civil strife has evolved worldwide over the past sixty years. Today, few civil wars involve pitched battles from trenches along neat geographic front lines. Many are low-intensity conflicts with episodic violence in constantly moving locales. Mines’s definition of a civil war is large-scale violence that includes a rejection of traditional political authority and requires the National Guard to deal with it. On Saturday, McAuliffe put the National Guard on alert and declared a state of emergency.

Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes.

President Trump “modeled violence as a way to advance politically and validated bullying during and after the campaign,” Mines wrote in Foreign Policy. “Judging from recent events the left is now fully on board with this,” he continued, citing anarchists in anti-globalization riots as one of several flashpoints. “It is like 1859, everyone is mad about something and everyone has a gun.”.. read more:

If The BJP Is Clear The Government Can't Provide Public Goods, Why Collect Taxes?

After last week's tragedy in Gorakhpur in which 72 children died allegedly due to non-availability of oxygen at a government hospital, BJP leaders have been desperate to find excuses to defend the Uttar Pradesh government and the party itself. In its bid to whitewash the tragedy, or even cover up and deflect the blame from itself, the party has tried all kinds of unreasonable answers, but the worst came from senior BJP leader and surface transport and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari. According to him, its not "possible to provide professional healthcare to patients at government health facilities."

Although, he didn't specifically mention Gorakhpur, the context was too obvious. While the UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath blamed the hospital authorities and even found unlikely reasons for the sudden death of a large number of children at a single location, Gadkari tried to absolve the State of its fundamental responsibility to provide healthcare to its people. Speaking at the inauguration of the first phase of a National Cancer Institute in Nagpur, Gadkari said that the government was incapable of providing healthcare because of "various factors such as non-availability of expert doctors, skilled manpower, lack of funds and ticklish rules and regulations," adding that "as such, inviting social institutions and entrepreneurs to run such facilities on government lands provided at nominal cost would help provide professional healthcare service to poor and middle class patients."

Showing helplessness at a tragic time when the nation needed stronger assurance from the party -- that rules the centre and 18 states, and trying to expand in the rest of India -- that it's incapable in providing welfare to its people is a shocking let down. His statement, and the ground reality in Uttar Pradesh that led to the disaster, call into question the credibility of the BJP to govern. Gadkari is either completely uninformed about the role of the State in public health in a democracy, or he doesn't care. Probably he doesn't know that healthcare was Barrack Obama's single most important political agenda during the two terms of his presidency, that even Donald Trump tried to dismantle; or that a neoliberal Margaret Thatcher couldn't touch the free National Health Services (NHS) while she was privatising everything in England.

India is a country with very high tax rates -- with the imposition of the the GST, the tax burden of one with a relatively higher income could be as high as 58%. And to say that the government was unable to care for its people's health after taking away a sizeable part of their earnings as taxes is not just irresponsible, but callous. If a government cannot provide basic services such as health, water, public infrastructure and education that are inevitable for the survival of its people, why should it levy taxes at all? What does it use the money for?

As in India, there are many countries where direct and indirect taxes together can take away 50% or more of people's earnings, but most of them guarantee high-quality, free healthcare and other public utilities. Either through a directly operated public system such the NHS in England, or those in countries such as France and Canada, where the private sector does play an important part without an undue burden on the people. These countries provide Universal Health Care (UHC), a system that is cashless and available to everyone, rich or poor. Only in despotic and lawless countries, people get nothing in return for their high taxes. By Gorakhpur standards, India is certainly one of them...

Over 30 farmers commit suicide in Marathwada in 8 days, death toll since last 8 months now at 580

In the last eight days, 34 farmers committed suicide in Marathwada region of Maharashtra, a government report said on Wednesday. The region has seen below-average rainfall this monsoon so far. This report takes the total number of farmer suicides to 580 in the last eight months, according to The Times of India. At the end of July, the toll stood at 531 and has gone up to 580 in just 15 days. 

The state has 355 talukas out of which nearly 200 received less than 75 percent of the total projected rainfall for this monsoon. Data compiled by the Aurangabad Divisional Commissioner showed that 34 farmers ended their lives in eight districts of Marathwada during the last eight days, though the cause has not be ascertained in every case yet.

Beed district tops the list at 107 suicides, the report said. It also mentioned that kharif crops in the region are in trouble because of lack of rains. Farmers in Marathwada are fearing crop losses due to a dry spell of the last fortnight.