Sunday, February 18, 2018

‘We Don’t Just Have An Environmental Crisis, But A Govt In Denial As Well’ : Prerna Singh Bindra

India ranked among the bottom five nations in the global Environmental Performance Index (EPI) list released in January 2018, slipping 36 places in two years. Multiple studies conducted recently have shown that India is dealing with an environmental crisis. Consider the following findings:

  • None of the 280 Indian cities surveyed in a recent Greenpeace study met the World Health Organization (WHO) standards for clean air, with capital city Delhi ranking worst, as IndiaSpend reported on February 5, 2018;
  • Yamuna, which runs through Delhi, has 16 million faecal coliform parts per million (PPM). The standard is 500 PPM for potable water;
  • Bengaluru’s lakes often catch fire because of the waste and untreated sewage dumped in them.
The government does not appear to be worried about India’s poor showing in environment protection. The minister for environment, forests & climate change (MoEFCC) Harsh Vardhan has dismissed them as “just rankings”. Citizens seeking redressal of environmental grievances have therefore turned to the judiciary, notably the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which was established as an act in Parliament on October 18, 2010.

“The green tribunal is now the epicentre of the environmental movement in India,” environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta told IndiaSpend. “It has become the first and the last recourse for people because their local governments are not doing the job of protecting the environment. But political apathy, indeed deliberate action, are rendering the NGT ineffective.”

A law graduate from Delhi University, Dutta, 43, started pursuing environment law in 2001. His first case was against Vedanta, the mining company, where he represented the Dongria Kondh tribals seeking a ban on bauxite mining in the Niyamagiri hills in south-west Odisha, considered sacred by local communities. Dutta has, since, taken on cases against other mega mining projects too–the Rs 9,000-crore Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh and the Lafarge lime mining project in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh. Dutta also fought for the Ratnagiri farmers whose mango orchards would have been affected by JSW’s thermal power plants.

In 2005, Dutta co-founded the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) with another environment lawyer Rahul Choudhary. Two years later, they set up the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Resources and Response Centre, which provides an accessible database on EIA reports–known for being subjective and fraudulent–along with a critical analysis.

In an interview with IndiaSpend, Ritwick explained the collapse of green governance in India, how the current government is diluting environmental safeguards and how the NGT is being weakened.

Recent studies have shown that India ranks among the bottom nations in environment performance while it tops the world in environment conflict. What explains this crisis?

One way of looking at this is that the level of reporting of conflicts is high–unlike say in China–and also because the system allows you to raise your voice.

Having said that, India is witnessing a high level of environment conflict across the landscape. One reason is that, in absolute numbers, more people–250 to 300 million–in India are dependent on natural resources than any other country in the world. Our people depend on forests, wetlands, seas, rivers, grasslands, mountains for their livelihood and sustenance. And all these ecosystems are under severe pressure.

The Himalayas are set to have the highest concentrations of dams in the world, so states like Himachal, Arunachal and Sikkim are fraught with conflict over water, and dams (with consequent displacement and loss of forests). In central India–Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand–the takeover of land for mining has communities up in arms; Goa is taking to the streets against the plans to transform it into a coal corridor. Tamil Nadu–and indeed across the country–there is a war over sand–with officials, reporters, environmentalists being killed and harassed for taking up the (issues of) sand mafia/illegal mining.

Add to this the fact that India’s forests are under very severe pressure. Between 2014 to 2017, 36,500 hectares of forest land were diverted for non-forest purposes like mining, highways, industry, and so on. This works out to an annual average of 12,166 hectares, or the equivalent of 63 football fields every single day. This does not include the encroachments.

Thirteen of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. The Yamuna–flowing through India’s capital–has 16 million faecal coliform parts per million (PPM); the standard is 500 PPM for potable water. Even the flush in your toilet might have cleaner water.

The Lancet report which said that 2.5 million people are dying prematurely due to diseases linked to pollution was dismissed as a western conspiracy. Environment minister Harsh Vardhan, also a doctor, has denied reports that suggest air pollution leads to millions of death every year saying that: “To attribute any death to a cause like pollution may be too much.”

So we don’t just have an environmental crisis, but the government is in denial as well... read more:

Daniel Martin Varisco - Saudi Arabia’s Filthy Lucre & its War on Yemen’s Civilians

The Saudi royals, with their billions upon billions of dollars invested around the world, their palaces in Europe and North Africa, their yachts and just about any exotic item that money can buy, may pray five times a day, but their real worship is filthy lucre.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged to provide over $1 billion to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen that they have created through a brutal bombing campaign, a ground war turning Yemenis against Yemenis and an illegal blockade of aid entering areas controlled by the Huthis. The best way to characterize this hypocritical largesse is in the colorful 17th century King James Version biblical prose: it is nothing but “filthy lucre.”

The British Prime Minister Theresa May, presiding over a Britain not as great as it once claimed to be, is pushing for a UN resolution to praise this cynical ploy to cover up crimes against humanity. No doubt this move by an unpopular politician about to welcome the Saudi Crown Prince Bin Salman has a political and an economic edge. Consider the statement by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the praise dripping down his cheeks, about Britain’s historic relationship with the Saudis: “It’s an extraordinary partnership. It’s a partnership based on a common view of the world in many ways, not every way, but in many ways.” I suppose two of those “many ways” includes the British abandonment of Prince Faisal in World War I and their financially motivated love of oil. Or is it Saudi public execution by beheading, which is certainly part of English history?
Johnson’s ignorance, whether conscious or not, is quite profound. “Reform in Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the holy places, will be a change in the whole Islamic world,” he asserts. In terms of the “whole Islamic World,” Saudi Arabia is an outlier with its austere intolerant Wahhabi doctrine. If the major elements of reform are allowing women to drive and attend a football match, it is hard to see what this has to do with Islam anywhere else in the world. The Saudis have turned Mecca into a Disney pilgrimage with perks for the rich that would make the Prophet Muḥammad turn over in his grave (assuming the Wahhabi state is not going to pave that over for the world’s tallest shopping mall). Saudi Arabia is a family business before it is an Islamic state.

The idea that a billion dollars is an apology for the destruction of far more than 10,000 Yemeni lives, the threat of famine and a total breakdown of the economy is the worst kind of pandering, filthy in the biblical sense. Perhaps Johnson and May think that selling Saudi Arabia a billion British pounds of military equipment in just the first six months of 2017 is equalized by the Saudi coalition pledge. If May and Johnson bother to watch documentaries on the BBC, they may have learned that Bin Salman is building his reform on a sand dune. It seems that ordinary British citizens are as wary of a visit by the Saudi royal as they are with Trump.. read more:

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Dahlia Lithwick - Call for nation wide school teachers strike in US on gun laws // Andrew Cohen - Our Children Deserve Better Than This

NB: To America's schoolchildren: I'm old enough to be your grandfather; and am not an American. I speak only as someone who cares about the wave of violence that is engulfing the world. I belong to the '68 generation - we fought injustice, and we remain proud of it. It's 50 years since 1968. Today all I can say is - stand up and tell your elders that if they allow the situation to go back to 'normal' after this latest massacre of innocents, they are destroying not only the lives of the younger generation of Americans, they are also saying goodbye to their consciences. Children please understand - the NRA and their associate political careerists are stoned on platitudes like 'our thoughts and prayers are with you'. They are beyond reason and logic. Political ideologies are a means of destroying the conscience. A part of your elder generation has lost the capacity to empathise with human suffering or speak reasonably on social issues.

The political defenders of the NRA (and that includes your President) will not do a thing to stop this cycle of murder in the classrooms unless you launch a non-violent campaign of mass awareness and civil disobedience. Take a look at what's happening right now, at the Miami Gun Show. You have to demonstrate, shame them, speak out at every opportunity, use every possible forum, and destroy their respectable pretensions. They are ruthless sociopaths, no less, and only a massive effort will shake their haughty power.

Political life is meant to provide you with a forum for talking about  and resolving matters of public concern. If the very possibility of living through your schooldays is under threat because of the perverted values of the political class and their funders, then it's clear American democracy has failed you. It's up to you to take back your rights. In my country Mahatma Gandhi called this kind of struggle satyagraha - holding fast to truth. 

Grasp the truth children, and speak out, come out on the roads. A society that cannot rise above selfishness in order to protect its children is an unfolding disaster. Schoolchildren and their teachers have to take the lead on gun control. Remember the Vietnam generation and the outspoken courage of the Berrigan brothers. Don't be afraid, you've been shoved into a front line in your schools - what remains to be afraid of? Don't take the lies and propaganda any longer. Take to the streets - you'll succeed. With love and best wishes. DS

On Wednesday, as the nation grieved one of the worst school shootings in American history, journalists republished old articles that had been written about previous mass shootings in American history. Elected officials, too, recycled the same threadbare thoughts and prayers that were left over from the last tragedy, although they have at least stopped saying “thoughts and prayers.” I did, though, encounter one new idea—a proposal made by educational psychologist David C. Berliner that was posted on Diane Ravitch’s education blog:

It is way past time. Between now and May 1st teachers have to agree on the gun legislation they want. They can consult with [Gabby] Giffords and [Mark] Kelly, and others who have suffered, such as the parents who have already lost children to this horrible characteristic of our culture. If by May 1st they have not received assurance that their legislation for sanity in gun ownership will be acted on soon, they need to walk out of our schools. It would be May Day, when workers should exert their strength.

Our country’s legislators, and the voters who send them to make our laws, can then choose: Teachers and (most) parents for sane gun laws, or, the NRA that provides our legislators money to avoid making the laws that could reduce the carnage we see too frequently.

Almost all of America’s 3 million teachers—nurturers and guardians of our youth—want sensible gun laws. They deserve that. But they have to be ready to exert the power they have by walking out of their schools if they do not get what they want. They have to exert the reputational power that 3 million of our most admired voters have. Neither the NRA nor their legislative puppets will be able stand up to that. My advice is to start meeting now, write model legislation, submit it to state and federal legislators, and if rebuffed, close down our schools until you get what you (and the rest of us) deserve.

Save our children.

Berliner’s solution was at once the most proactive and elegant thing I’d seen in a day characterized by hopelessness and paralysis. I’ve been struck by the fact that teachers have the smartest things to say about school violencemasculinitysaving lives, and guns. That’s because unlike craven politicians and the NRA, teachers don’t get to hide from the victims of gun violence, or predetermine when the moment for hopes and prayers has lapsed into the moment for business as usual (an ever narrowing time span). We should listen to the teachers, who aren’t allowed to grow bored and move on. I reached out to Berliner—a regents’ professor emeritus at Arizona State University, and a past president of the American Educational Research Association and the division of educational psychology of the American Psychological Association—to ask where his idea came from and how he feels about the notion of “politicizing tragedy.” Our conversation, edited for clarity, follows... 
read more:

Our Children Deserve Better Than This
This week’s shooter reportedly managed to get off 150 rounds with his AR-15, a weapon he lawfully purchased in the same society that deems him too young, too immature, to order a beer....
.. there are countless other child victims and survivors of gun violence whose voices are no less eloquent but which aren’t amplified by cable news shows and the crush of media coverage that comes from a mass shooting like this. Kids like Kavan Collins, of Chicago, who at the age of five already has been struck twice by a bullet. Or students at Excel Academy in Baltimore, where at least seven students have been murdered in the past 16 months. Or little boys like Chris Hill, in Cleveland, shot in a drive-bywhile he rode in the back of his mother’s car. Or kids trying to grow up in Wilmington, Delaware, which leads the nation in teenager shootings.

Their stories, like the stories from Parkland this week, coalesce to make meaning of the statistics that are hard to understand in the abstract. The truth is, something equivalent to the mass shooting we just experienced happens every day in America. Every day in this country of guns and madness and talking heads arguing over the Second Amendment about two dozen children, our kids, our neighbors’ kids, our grandkids, are killed or wounded by guns. That figure comes from 2015 statistics, the most recently available. Anyone want to bet against the notion that the figure only got worse in 2016 and 2017? Sometimes it’s a mass shooting. Sometimes it’s an accident. Sometimes it’s the brutal reality of the dangerous neighborhoods we refuse to fix. Everyday a Columbine. Everyday a Parkland. Everyday a Virginia Tech. Thoughts and prayers and candlelight vigils and longform news coverage when the body count gets high enough. Maybe a local news report or two when it’s just a single child gunned down on a street. Maybe nothing when a kid finds his parent’s gun and accidentally shoots himself in the head. The survivors of these senseless acts have a right to be as angry as the teenagers who survived Parkland this week... read more:

Richard Wolffe: The heartbreaking stupidity of America's gun laws // The Weapons Of War Used In Mass Shootings

Friday, February 16, 2018

'Modi'fied banking rules, a Rs 140-bn scandal and a mortified common man. By Mitali Saran // PNB Fraud: Can NiMo Shake Up NaMo? By Arati R Jerath

I’m no good with financials. When people talk about futures and hedging and shorting, I think of retirement, shrubbery, and electrical fires. When they talk about interest rates and capital gains, I think about guitar practice and metro lines. But I have come to realise that there’s a lot of money to be made in India if you’re good with financials—and by good, I mean so bad that it’s criminal.I only dimly understand the Nirav Modi-Punjab National Bank scam because of the helpful ‘explainers’ put out by Reuters and The Wire and etc. Some badly brought up PNB bank officials colluded with the equally badly brought up Nirav Modi and his family and their companies, to issue loans based on Letters of Understanding of which they kept no record, and against which they saw no need for any collateral.

This allowed Modi and gang to borrow what we first thought totalled Rs 110 billion (Rs 11,000 crore) of public money, and now think is more like Rs 140 billion (Rs 14,000 crore). The ease of doing business in India rocks! Big shiny rocks.I know he’s a ‘diamantaire’ and all, and everyone knows that diamants are more expensive than diamonds, but hello, that’s like 1.55 million perfectly nice guitars. Who could possibly want or need 1.55 million perfectly nice guitars? I’m pretty sure it would cause the interest rate in guitars to drop dramatically. Nirav Modi and his family all left the country at the beginning of January, and even the most trusting soul would have a hard time believing that they weren’t tipped off.

That Nirav appeared in a photo op with Narendra in Davos, just before the CBI lookout circular was issued, makes even that most trusting soul think that he figured all would be well.I don’t watch the so-called North Korean channels anymore, but I imagine they also have explainers that conclusively trace this massive scam back through the UPA government all the way to Nehru, who has been seriously messing up everything this government has tried so hard to do for four years. Nevertheless, even they cannot explain why a complaint registered against Nirav Modi in 2016 went un-investigated on the watch of India’s self-proclaimed chowkidar.The government is of course infuriated…by the fact that social media has bestowed the hashtag #ChhotaModi on Nirav.

The Finance Minister has not uttered a squeak on Twitter. This makes sense. The same government is infuriated by citizens questioning the anti-human design and implementation of Aadhaar. It is arguing in court that there is no public interest in investigating the death of Judge Loya. It calls fact-checking ‘anti-national’ and ‘fake news’. It privileges pseudo-nationalism over humanism. In sum, in four years it has established a strong record in focussing like a proud and confident hawk, on entirely the wrong thing. 

Rs 140 billion! It makes one nostalgic for all the piddly two-digit crore scams of the past. It makes the most upright citizen sit up and think, What a fool I’ve been, paying my taxes, diligently repaying my loans, following the rules, scrupulously doing things by the book, when there’s this big, beautiful world of unregulated chicanery I could have indulged in for years before just flying off to greener pastures, like Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya, and Nirav Modi.It also makes the upright citizen sit up and type on Whatsapp, as someone I know did to a relative overseas, “Please take all your money out of Indian banks and RUN.”

PNB Fraud: Can NiMo Shake Up NaMo? By Arati R Jerath
The key issue is that while Nirav’s “crimes” may belong to another era, he and his family managed to flee India in Modi’s times. Extradition processes being lengthy and cumbersome, it looks like Nirav Modi will manage to escape investigation and trial. The similarities with the stealthy exit of two others accused of swindling money, liquor baron Vijay Mallaya and cricketing czar Lalit Modi, are too glaring to ignore. Ironically, they too are accused of crimes when the UPA was in power but they slipped out of the country after the Modi government assumed office.

For the first time in four years, Modi’s “na khaunga, na khanedunga” boast has come under a cloud as questions abound why his government was sleeping on the job after the PMO was alerted about the Nirav scam in 2016 through a complaint filed by someone named Hari Prasad. Unfortunately, Modi is a prisoner of his own image. It defies belief that a powerful, hands on prime minister like Modi would not have personally vetted the list of business leaders who would be present at Davos, attend a CII meeting addressed by him, and be part of a group photograph. It also defies belief that a complaint filed with the PMO of a bank fraud of this scale would not have been shown to Modi for information, especially since this government has a voracious appetite for corruption scandals associated with Congress governments.

No official in Modi’s PMO has the kind of power or personal equation with the PM that say Brajesh Mishra had with Atal Behari Vajpayee or AN Verma had with Narasimha Rao or PN Haksar had with Indira Gandhi. Mishra, Verma and Haksar were almost alter egos of their bosses who trusted them implicitly to make the right decisions on their behalf. The two top officers in Modi’s PMO, Nirpen Misra and PK Mishra, know that their boss runs a tight ship and has to be kept in the loop on everything, no matter how small… read more:

see also

The destructive origins of capitalism: Role of the 'military revolution' in 16th century Europe. By Robert Kurz

There are innumerable versions of the birth of the modern era. Historians do not even agree about the date of this event. Some make modernity begin in the 15th and 16th centuries, with the so-called Renaissance (a concept invented in the 19th century by Jules Michelet, as the French historian Lucien Lefevre has shown). Others see the real rupture, modernity’s launching point, in the 18th century, when the philosophy of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the beginnings of industrialization shook the planet. But whatever date historians and modern philosophers prefer for the beginning of their own world, they agree on one point: its positive conquests are almost always taken as its original impulses.

The artistic and scientific innovations of the Italian Renaissance are considered to be just as important for the rise of modernity as Columbus’s great voyages of discovery, the Protestant and Calvinist idea of specific individual responsibility, the enlightenment liberation from irrational beliefs and the rise of modern democracy in France and the United States. In the technological-industrial field, the invention of the steam engine and the mechanical loom are recorded as the “starting guns” for modern social development.

This last explanation was emphasized above all by Marxism, due to the fact that it was in harmony with the philosophical doctrine of “historical materialism”. The true motor of history, according to this doctrine, is the development of the material “forces of production”, which repeatedly enter into conflict with the “relations of production” which have become too constraining and demand a new form of society. The leap into industrialization is thus the decisive point for Marxism: the steam engine, according to this simplified formula, was the first machine to break with the “current of the old feudal relations of production”.

At this point a lamentable contradiction in the Marxist argument arises. Thus, in the famous chapter on the “primitive accumulation of capital”, Marx occupied himself in his magnum opus with periods that predate the steam engine by centuries. Is this not a self-refutation of “historical materialism”? If “primitive accumulation” and the steam engine are to be found historically separated from one another, the productive forces of industry could not have been the decisive cause of the birth of modern capitalism. It is true that the capitalist mode of production was only definitively pushed forward by the industrialization of the 19th century, but, if we look for the roots of this development, we have to dig deeper.

It is also logical that the first seed of modernity, or the “big bang” of its dynamic, would have to arise in a largely pre-modern environment, since otherwise there could not have been an “origin” in the strict sense of the word. Thus, the very precocious “first cause” and the very late “full consolidation” do not represent a contradiction. If it is also true that for many regions of the world and for many social groups the beginning of modernization was delayed until the present day, it is equally certain that the very first impulse must have occurred in a remote past, when we consider the enormous temporal expanse (from the perspective of the lifetime of a generation or even of an isolated person) of social processes.

What was ultimately new, in a relatively distant past, which inevitably set the history of modernization into motion? One can fully concede to historical materialism that the greatest and principle point of relevance does not correspond to a simple change of ideas and mentalities, but to the full development of material and concrete facts. It was not, however, productive force, but on the contrary a resounding destructive force which opened up the road to modernization, that is, the invention of firearms. Although this correlation is much older than is generally recognized, the most celebrated and influential theories of modernization (including Marxism) always underestimated it.

It was the German economic historian Werner Sombart who, shortly before the First World War, in his study War and Capitalism (1913), subjected this question to an in-depth and detailed examination. Only in the last few years have the technological-military and war-economy origins of capitalism been widely discussed, as for example in the book Cannons and Plague (1989) by the German economist Karl Georg Zinn, or in the work The Military Revolution (1990) by the American historian Geoffrey Parker. But neither of these investigations found the reception they deserved. Tvidently, the modern western world and its ideologues will only grudgingly accept the view that the ultimate historical foundation of their sacred concepts of “freedom” and “progress” must be sought in the invention of the diabolical death-dealing instruments of human history. And this relation also applies to modern democracy, since the “military revolution” remains to this day a secret motive for modernization. The atomic bomb was itself a democratic invention of the West.

The invention of firearms destroyed the pre-capitalist forms of rule, since it made the feudal cavalry militarily derisory. Even before the invention of firearms the social consequences of long-range weapons were anticipated; thus, the Second Lateran Council, in 1139, prohibited the use of the crossbow against Christians. Not by chance, the crossbow, imported from non-European cultures to Europe, was until the year 1000 considered to be the weapon of choice for bandits, outlaws and rebels. When the much more effective cannons came into use, the destiny of mounted and armored armies was sealed.

The firearm, however, unlike the crossbow, was no longer in the hands of an opposition “from below” which confronted feudal rule, but rather brought about a revolution “from above” with the help of princes and kings. The production and mobilization of the new weapons systems were not possible on the basis of local and decentralized structures, such as had until then characterized social reproduction, but demanded a completely new organization of society on various planes. read more: 

see also

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sweet Son

Hours after I gave birth to my first child, my husband cradled all five pounds of our boy and said, gently, “Hi, Sweetpea.” Not “Buddy” or “Little Man.” Sweetpea. The word filled me with unanticipated comfort. Like most parents, we knew what we’d name our son but never discussed how we’d speak to him. I was witnessing my husband’s commitment to raising a sweet boy. Because this is what the world needs now, urgently: sweet boys and people who grow them.

There are so many angry men among us. There are angry women, too, but they’re only beginning to claim this emotion that has long been denied them. Women’s public anger delivers deliberate messages—it’s pussy hats, reclaiming our time, and #MeToo. It’s the kind of anger that gives girls voices. Men’s anger tries to shut down the voices of others. Today’s angriest women galvanize; today’s angriest men murder.
Peter Cade—Getty Images
A man uses his car to assassinate an anti-Nazi protestor. A man shoots a congressmanat his baseball practice. A man commits mass murder at a Vegas concert. A man massacres worshippers in their church. A police officer slaughters his own family. The headlines blur, but they invariably seem to feature men whom the media informs us felt lonely or powerless. And a significant number of American men who actually possess power — but are not murderously angry — are pridefully aggressive. The President tweets furiously, with violently bad syntax, spastic punctuation and apoplectic capitalization, venially attacking not only swaths of people but individual citizens of the country he has vowed to protect and defend.

Robert Fisk: In the cases of two separate holocausts, Israel and Poland find it difficult to acknowledge the facts of history

How many times must the dead die all over again for nations to accept the facts of history?

While Poland has decided to outlaw any claims that their countrymen participated in the extermination of the Jews, Israel continues to ignore the Armenian genocide. Poland punishes anyone who speaks of Polish participation in the Jewish Holocaust, but accepts the Armenian Holocaust. Israel insists that all must acknowledge the Jewish Holocaust – and Poland’s peripheral guilt – but will not acknowledge the Armenian Holocaust.

The Israelis have been mighty pissed off with the Polish government these past few days. I don’t blame them. In fact – and I’m not referring to the racist, extremist military occupation government of Benjamin Netanyahu – the Israeli people and Jews around the world are quite right to be enraged at Poland’s latest Holocaust denialism. The Polish decision to criminalise any accusation of Polish complicity in the Holocaust, passing a law which effectively prevents any Pole from acknowledging that Poles themselves assisted in the genocide of six million European Jews, is iniquitous. Its purpose is not to elicit the truth, but to bury it. It certainly constitutes part of the denialism of the Jewish Holocaust.

But – to give a taster to what this column is also about – I will say one word: Armenia. And reveal henceforth one of the most remarkable coincidences in recent publishing history. It involves century-old telegrams – hitherto regarded as forgeries, but in fact real – ordering the mass extermination of more than one million Christians, a truly courageous Turkish historian, and a total denial of the Armenian Holocaust by the one nation which should acknowledge its existence. But first, Poland.

So let’s get the facts – “just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts,” as Sgt Joe Friday never actually said in Dragnet – out of the way. Jews accounted for 10 per cent of the Polish population in 1939.

They may finally be ousting Jacob Zuma, but the ANC has no dignity left to salvage. By John McKee

Cape Town is thirsty. As its dams dry to acrid desert, negotiation of everyday tasks are fraught. How many litres to shower? How long to let the waste stink before the flush? Yet it is the negotiations over a more far-reaching stink which asphyxiate South Africa. Jacob Zuma, the almost comically corrupt President, faces recall and resignation as the leader of a nation which was once the great hope of Africa. As he begs, bargains and plots his way to remain safe from the 783 – and counting – charges of corruption within the cocoon of the presidency, his time finally appears to have run out. 

ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule announced on Tuesday that Zuma has been recalled by the powerful ANC National Executive Committee, as has one of his predecessors, Thabo Mbeki. (Mbeki’s ousting was puppeteered by none other than Zuma himself.) His recall was confirmed as the ANC parliamentary caucus has scheduled a vote of no confidence to remove him as president on Thursday, if he does not resign by the end of Wednesday. The irony is exceeded perhaps only by the width of the grin we might imagine on Mbeki’s face as he quenched his thirst for revenge, saying, “[the] interests of our country would be best served if indeed Mr Zuma ceased to be President”

Zuma is being ousted by his deputy and successor-elect Cyril Ramaphosa. He was once Mandela’s favoured successor, but was brushed aside by the ANC leadership in favour of Mbeki. Unlike his Robben Island-veteran compatriots, Zuma, a former ANC intelligence chief, eschewed the erudite cosmopolitanism oozed by Mbeki or Ramaphosa. He claimed to stand for the vast black poor of South Africa. But after being gifted an expanding economy, he plundered it in daylight and his own corpulent wealth has gorged on the nation’s finances. The difference in stature between Mandela and this lesser uncle is Shakespearian in character, and brings to mind Hamlet’s comparison: “So excellent a king; that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr”.

The charges against Zuma are more numerous than I can list here, but chief among them and stamped upon his legacy shall be the words “State Capture”. The Guptas, a family of wealthy immigrants now largely domiciled in Dubai, have lavished Zuma in funds and in exchange they have bought the very levers of government: selling ministerial jobs; sacking anyone with a whiff of integrity from the finance department; pawning huge government tenders mired in bribery; bought the government’s nuclear energy policy. But the charges are not limited to 30 pieces of silver or even 30 million rand. In dramatic news, it has been reported this week that businesses owned by the Guptas have been raided by South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks. A powerful book was published last year, written by Redi Thlabi. Thlabi was a friend of the late Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo who had accused Jacob Zuma of rape, a charge he was cleared of in 2006... read more:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Richard Wolffe: The heartbreaking stupidity of America's gun laws // The Weapons Of War Used In Mass Shootings

NB: American capitalism is devouring its own children. Can worshippers of free market economics  (profit above all else) stop smoking whatever it is that the NRA dishes out (or is it just hard cash?) and use their minds for once? Or will you simply wait until the next massacre; when you will again send your worthless 'thoughts and prayers' to bereaved families and traumatised children. The American ruling establishment is worse than totally bankrupt - it is criminally insane. What a way to celebrate Valentines day, America. DS

Mass Shootings Are a National Security Threat
Trump signed a bill last year making it easier for Americans with serious mental health disorders to obtain firearms.
150,000 American Students Have Experienced a School Shooting
Top political recipients of National Rifle Association funds
(All are Republicans, and all are reported to be praying for the victims)
‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens
Autopsies Reveal The True Brutality Of Mass Shootings

They say there’s no one more optimistic than an American teenager. But now we’re teaching them how to save their lives from a gunman. This is no time to talk politics, we’re told by gun-loving conservatives. This is a time for prayers, we’re told by Donald Trump. “There really are no words,” we’re told by the local sheriff. So it’s OK, everyone. We can get back to the latest blather about tax cuts for corporations or billions for a border wall. Those are the things that politics, and presidents, and words, can handle. But if we can’t talk about saving the lives of our children, if our politics can’t keep our schools safe, if we can’t talk about the mass murder of innocence, then what on earth are we talking about? What’s the point of any politician if they can’t do this one simple thing: protect our youngest citizens?

If this was the eighth terrorist attack of 2018, don’t you think every member of Congress – not just 
Democrats – would bleat on about taking urgent action? If Isis-inspired gunmen had just mowed down 17 high school students in their classrooms, how long would it take before our president spoke in front of the nation’s TV cameras? Instead, we’ll have to settle for a tweet. Because when we need leadership the most, there’s no point in raising your hopes with the man who watches Fox News all day inside the White House.

The heartbreaking stupidity of America's gun laws
Here’s how demented our gun debate has become: for all the fear and loathing of potential terrorists, it is still perfectly legal for people on the terrorist watch-list to buy as many guns as they want in the United States. We won’t let them board a plane, of course. But we will let them purchase an assault rifle like the Ruger AR-15, a semi-automatic modeled on the standard military issue.

Why is there such a gaping hole in our national security? You might ask the National Rifle Association that question. On the other hand, ask the members of Congress who are so ready with their outrage about Islamist terrorism but so silent about domestic terrorism. Texas governor Greg Abbott sounded surprised by the fact that this shooter got his hands on an AR-15 when he was refused a Texas gun license. “By all the facts that we seem to know, he was not supposed to have access to a gun,” Abbott told CNN. “So how did this happen?”

Come on, Governor. Don’t act so dumbfounded. You have personally championed the unrestricted sale of guns to all-comers at gun shows and in private sales. When President Obama tried to close the gun-show loophole after the Sandy Hook massacre, you tweeted this: “Obama wants to impose more gun control. My response#? COME & TAKE IT.”

Just to be clear about your intended audience, you tagged the National Rifle Association in that tweet.
The NRA’s position is as clear as it is nonsensical. Only guns will save us from guns. We must have a national database of the mentally ill, but we cannot have a national database of gun owners. We must confront Islamist terrorists but we cannot stop them buying guns. Hollywood is to blame for the culture of violence, but the gun culture itself has nothing to do with it. Donald Trump is right. This is a mental health problem at the highest level, and our leaders need urgent treatment. In the meantime, let us pray for them to come to their senses as soon as they can...

The world's most progressive democracy is being born. Don't let it get strangled. By Rahila Gupta

We are only three weeks into the invasion of Afrin in Northern Syria by Turkey and their quislings in the Free Syrian Army, a dangerous turn for the Syrian civil war, and yet it no longer features on our front pages and television news. The mounting daily death toll of civilians, pictures of wounded women and children, hollowed out buildings with their twisted iron spines, plumes of black smoke -- fail to move people sufficiently. But compassion fatigue is not some inexplicable human condition; it is the result of being bombarded with images of devastation without proper context.
Syria, in particular, with its seven-year long civil war, a battleground for almost all the major world and regional powers with a seemingly invincible dictator, Bashar al-Assad, at the helm induces in us a very particular sense of powerlessness. Since the self-described caliphate of ISIS has been reduced to a thumbnail, Syria has further lost its fascination for us.

But the very people, the Kurds, who led the successful battle against ISIS are now under attack in Afrin. The United States, which provided air cover in that battle, has proved to be an unfaithful ally.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, by refusing to condemn Turkey's invasion, has given it carte blanche to bomb the United States' own allies because Turkey has "legitimate" concerns about its borders, as long as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey, shows restraint and avoids civilian casualties. A World Health Organization report emerging from that area indicates it is in fact civilians who have fallen victim to Turkey's random bombing. So much for Turkey heeding the advice of its powerful NATO ally!.. read more:

see also
The soldiers who defeated ISIS
More posts on Rojava

Juan Cole: What Does Netanyahu Corruption Case tell us about Trump’s Fate?

Israeli police have recommended that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu be indicted for corruption. The recommendation now goes to attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, who may or may not decide to act on it. Although 60% of Israelis in polling have said they wanted Netanyahu to step down if the police made this recommendation, he is refusing to leave and will fight the cases from office.

The police instanced two cases, one in which Netanyahu allegedly accepted a couple hundred thousand dollars in bribes from an Australian businessmen in return for favorable treatment of his business and attempting to get him a US visa. (Whether Netanyahu regularly got people visas should be looked into as a form of corruption on the US side).

In the other case, Netanyahu is alleged to have offered a deal to Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Israel’s biggest-circulation newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. Netanyahu supporter and shady casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson had begun a free pro-Netanyahu newspaper, Yisrael Ha-Yom, and it obviously was eating into the profits of the other newspapers in the country. (How this is not illegal as “dumping” baffles me.) Netanyahu allegedly told Mozes that he could persuade Adelson to reduce the publication run of Yisrael Ha-Yom, which would help his bottom line. In return, Mozes should report more favorably on Netanyahu.

In my view it is the second case that is explosive. In the first one Netanyahu got champagne and cigars. But the second case shows how far right wing nationalist politics is intertwined with shady businesses like casino-owning and their ability, having bilked millions of poor and working people out of their money, to turn around and buy influential press organs to convince the latter to vote for the people who screwed them over. (Although Netanyahu is notorious in the West for having reneged on the Oslo Accords and having denied Palestinians their rights, within Israel he has also led an assault on the old socialist welfare state, throwing workers under the bus and diverting money to the billionaire class.) It is a perfect vicious circle.

Sheldon Adelson, who allegedly recouped his fortune at one point by bribing members of the Chinese Communist Party to let him operate in Macao, has the dubious distinction of having ruined both the United States and Israel by pushing, repectively, Netanyahu and Trump… read more:

South Africa: Zuma allies' home raided and no-confidence vote announced

An elite South African police team has raided the luxurious home of a family of controversial businessmen accused of improper relations with Jacob Zuma, as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party continues its chaotic efforts to oust the country’s president. The raid on the compound of the wealthy Gupta family in Johannesburg came as the ANC said a vote of no confidence in Zuma would be held on Thursday. It will be taken as an encouraging sign that Cyril Ramaphosa, the new ANC leader, will move swiftly against those associated with the corruption allegations and mismanagement that have characterised Zuma’s nine years in power.

Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the police unit known as the Hawks, said the raid was part of an investigation into allegations of influence-peddling in the government.  “We’re viewing this investigation in a very serious light. We’re not playing around in terms of making sure that those who are responsible in the so-called state capture, they take responsibility for it,” Mulaudzi said.

The Guptas are accused of “state capture” by the public prosecutor, a constitutionally appointed independent anti-corruption watchdog that coined the phrase to describe how the family has allegedly used its friendship with Zuma to influence ministerial appointments, secure multimillion-dollar government contracts and gain access to inside information. The Guptas and Zuma deny any wrongdoing. A police officer at the compound blocked access to the street in the upmarket suburb of Saxonwold, saying: “This is a crime scene.”

Another raid in Johannesburg targeted the home of the managing director of one of the principal companies owned and run by the Guptas. Three arrests had been made and two other suspects were expected to hand themselves in, police said, adding that operations across the city were ongoing.
South Africa was pitched into political crisis when the ANC admitted on Monday that Zuma had defied its orders to resign, and that it had little idea of when the 75-year-old head of state would respond to its demand to leave office.

Jackson Mthembu, the ANC’s chief whip, said parliament would vote on a no-confidence motion on Thursday. “We would like to create certainty ... to help people [who are] guessing what we are going to do next,” he said after a meeting of ANC lawmakers. The ANC has a majority in parliament and opposition parties will not support Zuma. According to the constitution, the president and the cabinet must resign if the no-confidence motion passes… read more:

Kenyan activist defies harassment to bring anti-pollution case to courts

 Eight years after her baby was lead-poisoned through breast milk, Kenya’s most prominent anti-pollution campaigner is set to finally get her day in court in a case that the UN hopes will prove a landmark for environmental defenders across Africa.

Phyllis Omido has been threatened by thugs, arrested by police and forced into hiding for organising opposition to a lead-smelting factory in Mombasa, which allegedly poisoned residents in the neighbouring shantytown of Owino Uhuru. But the NGO she founded, the Centre for Justice, Governance, and Environmental Action, has already forced the closure of the plant and is now pushing the courts to secure compensation for the victims and a clean-up of the community.

They have gathered thousands of local residents in a class action against the government and two companies – Metal Refinery EPZ Ltd and Penguin Paper and Book Company (no connection with the global publishing company) for 1.6bn Kenyan shillings (£11.5m) compensation and a clean-up of contaminated land. Two years after the suit was launched, the plaintiffs will be called as witness for the first time on 19 March in the environment and land court… read more:

Richard Gunderman - For Mark Twain, It Was Love At First Sight.

The year 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of one of the great courtships in American history, the wooing of an unenthusiastic 22-year-old Olivia Langdon by a completely smitten 32-year-old Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.

Wherever she was, there was Eden: Mark Twain of his wife, after her death

As I first learned while visiting Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri in preparation for teaching “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the contrasts between the two were indeed stark, and the prospects for their eventual union exceedingly poor. Olivia Langdon, known as Livy, was a thoroughly proper easterner, while Sam was a rugged man of the West. Livy came from a family that was rich and well-educated, while Sam had grown up poor and left school at age 12. She was thoroughly pious, while he was a man who knew how to smoke, drink and swear. On Valentine’s Day, their story is a reminder of the true meaning of love. Despite many challenges, once united, they never gave up on each other and enjoyed a fulfilling 34 years of marriage.

The young Olivia: Olivia Langdon was born in 1845 in Elmira, New York to a wealthy coal merchant. Her father, Jervis Langdon, was deeply religious but also highly progressive: He supported Elmira College, which had been founded in 1855 as one of the first in the U.S. to grant bachelor’s degrees to women. He was also an ardent abolitionist who served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, which offered shelter and aid to escaped slaves from the South. He even offered sanctuary to a fugitive Frederick Douglass, one of America’s greatest abolitionists, who became a lifelong friend. Her mother, also Olivia, was active in many civic organizations and served as a strong advocate for her children’s education. The younger Olivia suffered from a delicate constitution her whole life. As a teenager she was bedridden for two years after a fall on the ice.

Mark Twain and love at first sight: Born in 1835 and raised on the Mississippi River in Hannibal, the young Samuel Clemens worked as a typesetter, a riverboat pilot, a miner and a writer. His first national literary success came in 1865 with “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a story about a frog and a man who would bet on anything.

He soon moved into travel writing, filing dispatches from Hawaii (then the Sandwich Islands) before embarking in 1867 for Europe and the Middle East aboard the steamship Quaker City. Clemens would later cobble together his dispatches from the voyage into a book that became a 19th-century bestseller, “The Innocents Abroad.” It was aboard the Quaker City that Clemens first laid eyes on a photograph of Livy. Her younger brother, Charles, who would later add to his father’s coal fortune, befriended Clemens on the voyage and showed him a picture of his sister. Clemens later claimed that it was love at first sight... read more: 

The PUTIN show: Kirill Serebrennikov and Russia’s conservative revolution. By MARINA DAVYDOVA

Russian theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov, arrested in August 2017 for alleged fraud, is the victim of the cultural backlash following Putin’s re-election in 2012, writes Marina Davydova. His case is a lens through which to understand Russia’s problems.

The case opened in the early hours of 23 May 2017, when seventeen different premises were raided, including the Gogol Centre, a theatre established by Kirill Serebrennikov. Those who happened to be in the vicinity thought it was a bomb alert: the centre’s perimeter was cordoned off, masked men with guns ran about inside and outside the building, all the actors and stage hands were corralled onto the stage, had their phones taken away and they were not allowed to leave the building for several hours. 

At that point it was already clear that this was no ordinary case of embezzlement but rather an operation staged in order to put the frighteners on the entire theatre world. But why just then? Why was Kirill Serebrennikov cast in the role of principal victim? And why had the criminal case nothing to do with the Gogol Centre, as one might have expected, but instead concerned Platform, a project Serebrennikov was involved with from 2011 to 2014, before the centre was even established?
For all these questions there is a simple answer. For some time now, Aleksei Navalny, a leading opposition figure in present-day Russia, has led a crusade against the corruption that is rampant in the higher echelons of Russian power. The case against Serebrennikov was, among other things, a direct response to Navalny’s disclosures.

The Kremlin prefers mirror-like responses whenever possible. If people in Moscow flock to meetings against rigged parliamentary elections, a large number of ‘Putings’ (public meetings in support of Putin – ed.) are soon organised in support of the country’s highest authorities. If an opposition figure sets about exposing major financial misconduct in the highest echelons of power, similar revelations about members of the opposition or the liberal intelligentsia are sure to follow. Of course, these revelations must be accompanied by enormous publicity focused on a well-known public figure.

The theatre world is a particularly convenient target. On the one hand, it boasts a high concentration of famous names. On the other hand, Russian theatre is more dependent on state funding than any other art form. And third, the country’s financial legislation is designed in such an absurd fashion that it is virtually impossible to do anything in the theatre without breaking the law. A theatre director who always adheres scrupulously to the letter of the law would be unable to pay for toilet paper, let alone costumes. This makes theatre a very handy target for exposures: whenever it suits them, the powers-that-be can find instances of ‘embezzlement’ linked to someone who has fallen out of favour.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. What lies below the surface is far more interesting... read more:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Amar Kanwar: From the fault lines. By Vandana Kalra

Early on in the millennium, when art was still blue-chip in India, an Indian filmmaker was invited to participate in the most prestigious contemporary art showcase. The Nigerian art director of Documenta 2002, Okwui Enwezor, wanted to make the festival truly global and present undiscovered but exceptional artists. Amar Kanwar was one of them.

The unassuming Delhi-based filmmaker was not a regular at the leading art galleries; nor the toast of white cubes and art fairs. Instead, he was just becoming known outside the experimental art circuit for his works that explored the inequalities of the subcontinent. “There were artists who admired him, completely believed in his work, but then there were also those who did wonder how he was at the Documenta,” recalls Roobina Karode, director and chief curator of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Kanwar’s work at Kassel was a befitting reply. His 77-minute film, A Night of Prophecy, recorded the music and poetry of tragedy and pain. The artist-filmmaker had travelled across India, from Andhra Pradesh to Kashmir, Maharashtra and Nagaland, to weave poetic narratives that questioned the promise of democracy. Dalit writer Prakash Jadhav’s powerful poem, Under Dadar Bridge, comes alive when a son recalls asking his now deceased mother whether he was born Hindu or Muslim. His mother replies, “You are an abandoned spark of the world’s lusty fires.” In Nagaland, children sang of freedom, and a schoolteacher in Kashmir recited verses as the screen moved from Kashmiri Pandits to graves of Kashmiri Muslims.

“It’s a film that has a life of its own and lives beyond me now,” says Kanwar. Seated in his sparsely furnished Saket studio, he has since then turned to poetry in several of his narratives. The only Indian invited to show his work at four consecutive Documenta editions, including last year, he is lauded for successfully blurring the boundaries between cinema and art. “He has not only developed his own mode of making videos but also given films an entirely new dimension. It is art in every sense of the word. I don’t know anyone else of his kind in India,” says veteran artist Gulammohammed Sheikh.

Kanwar has affirmed his position as one of the world’s most politically discerning artists. Mounted as multi-channel installations, his videos compel his audience to build their own perceptions. He layers his chronicles with interviews and archival material, poetry, prose and animated drawings. He informs his audience of the different ways of viewing, just as his own art teacher did, at Delhi’s Air Force School. “He asked us not to follow a prescribed template. All leaves are not green, the sky didn’t always have to be blue,” he says.

What he saw as a student of history in Ramjas College, Delhi also politicised him. Sikhs were killed or maimed by murderous mobs seeking to avenge the assassination of then PM Indira Gandhi in 1984. In that broken city, Kanwar assisted in relief work and participated in campaigns demanding justice for the victims. “I was upset and shocked at the brutality that followed against innocent citizens of my country, by the complicity of the police and politicians in power in the killings. I was upset by the protection that the killers received and still receive,” says Kanwar… read more:

He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He's Worried About An Information Apocalypse. By Charlie Warzel

Our platformed and algorithmically optimized world is vulnerable - to propaganda, to misin-formation, to dark targeted advertising from foreign governments - so much so that it threatens to undermine a cornerstone of human discourse: the credibility of fact. But it’s what he sees coming next that will really scare the shit out of you.

In mid - 2016, Aviv Ovadya realized there was something fundamentally wrong with the internet — so wrong that he abandoned his work and sounded an alarm. A few weeks before the 2016 election, he presented his concerns to technologists in San Francisco’s Bay Area and warned of an impending crisis of misinformation in a presentation he titled “Infocalypse.”

The web and the information ecosystem that had developed around it was wildly unhealthy, Ovadya argued. The incentives that governed its biggest platforms were calibrated to reward information that was often misleading and polarizing, or both. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google prioritized clicks, shares, ads, and money over quality of information, and Ovadya couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all building toward something bad — a kind of critical threshold of addictive and toxic misinformation. The presentation was largely ignored by employees from the Big Tech platforms — including a few from Facebook who would later go on to drive the company’s NewsFeed integrity effort.

“At the time, it felt like we were in a car careening out of control and it wasn’t just that everyone was saying, ‘we’ll be fine’ - it’s that they didn't even see the car,” he said. Ovadya saw early what many - including lawmakers, journalists, and Big Tech CEOs - wouldn’t grasp until months later: Our platformed and algorithmically optimized world is vulnerable - to propaganda, to misinformation, to dark targeted advertising from foreign governments - so much so that it threatens to undermine a cornerstone of human discourse: the credibility of fact. But it’s what he sees coming next that will really scare the shit out of you.

“Alarmism can be good - you should be alarmist about this stuff,” Ovadya said one January afternoon before calmly outlining a deeply unsettling projection about the next two decades of fake news, artificial intelligence–assisted misinformation campaigns, and propaganda. “We are so screwed it's beyond what most of us can imagine,” he said. “We were utterly screwed a year and a half ago and we're even more screwed now. And depending how far you look into the future it just gets worse.” That future, according to Ovadya, will arrive with a slew of slick, easy - to - use, and eventually seamless technological tools for manipulating perception and falsifying reality, for which terms have already been coined - “reality apathy,” “automated laser phishing,” and "human puppets."

Which is why Ovadya, an MIT grad with engineering stints at tech companies like Quora, dropped everything in early 2016 to try to prevent what he saw as a Big Tech–enabled information crisis. “One day something just clicked,” he said of his awakening. It became clear to him that, if somebody were to exploit our attention economy and use the platforms that undergird it to distort the truth, there were no real checks and balances to stop it. “I realized if these systems were going to go out of control, there’d be nothing to reign them in and it was going to get bad, and quick,” he said.
Today Ovadya and a cohort of loosely affiliated researchers and academics are anxiously looking ahead toward a future that is alarmingly dystopian. They’re running war game–style disaster scenarios based on technologies that have begun to pop up and the outcomes are typically disheartening.

For Ovadya - now the chief technologist for the University of Michigan’s Center for Social Media Responsibility and a Knight News innovation fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia - the shock and ongoing anxiety over Russian Facebook ads and Twitter bots pales in comparison to the greater threat: Technologies that can be used to enhance and distort what is real are evolving faster than our ability to understand and control or mitigate it. The stakes are high and the possible consequences more disastrous than foreign meddling in an election - an undermining or upending of core civilizational institutions, an "infocalypse.” And Ovadya says that this one is just as plausible as the last one - and worse... read more: