Friday, July 21, 2017

Svetlana Alexievich: ‘After communism we thought everything would be fine. But people don’t understand freedom’

In conversations with Svetlana Alexievich, it quickly becomes apparent that she is more comfortable listening than she is talking. That’s hardly surprising: the Belarusian writer has spent decades in listening mode. Alexievich, now 69, put in thousands of hours with her tape recorder across the lands of the former Soviet Union, collecting and collating stories from ordinary people. She wove those tales into elegant books of such power and insight, that in 2015 she received the Nobel prize for literature.

In today’s Russia, Alexievich’s work is a Rorschach test for political beliefs: among the beleaguered, liberal opposition, she is frequently seen as the conscience of the nation, a uniquely incisive commentator on the disappointments and complexities of the post-Soviet condition. Mainstream opinion sees her as a turncoat whose books degrade Russia and Russians.

When I meet her in a cosy basement café in her home city of Minsk, the entrance nestled in an amphitheatre of imposing, late-Soviet apartment blocks, she has just returned from a book tour of South Korea, and is about to embark on a trip to Moscow. “It’s tiring to have the attention on yourself; I want to closet myself away and start writing properly again,” she says, looking visibly wearied by the travel and spotlight. Alexievich reluctantly agreed to deliver a talk about a book she wrote more than three decades ago, The Unwomanly Face of War, which has been republished in a new English translation this month. It was written in the early 1980s, and for many years she could not find a publisher, but during the soul-searching of the late-Soviet perestroika period, it tapped into the zeitgeist of reflection and critical thinking, and was published in a print run of 2m, briefly turning Alexievich into a household name. Later, the merciless flashlight Alexievich shone on to the Soviet war experience became less welcome in Russia. Since the Nobel win, her work has found a new international audience, giving her a second stint of fame 30 years after the first.

The original inspiration for the book was an article Alexievich read in the local Minsk press during the 1970s, about a retirement party for the accountant at a local car factory, a decorated sniper who had killed 75 Germans during the war. After that first interview, she began to seek out female war veterans across the Soviet Union. A million Soviet women served at the front, but they were absent from the official war narrative. “Before this book, the only female character in our war literature was the nurse who improved the life of some heroic lieutenant,” she says. “But these women were steeped in the filth of war as deeply as the men.”

It took a long time, Alexievich concedes, to get the women to stop speaking in rehearsed platitudes. Many were embarrassed about the reality of their war memories. “They would say, ‘OK, we’ll tell you, but you have to write it differently, more heroically.’” After a frank interview with a woman who served as the medical assistant to a tank battalion, Alexievich recounts, she sent the transcript as promised and received a package through the post in response, full of newspaper clippings about wartime feats and most of the interview text crossed out in pen. “More than once afterward I met with these two truths that live in the same human being,” Alexievich writes. “One’s own truth, driven underground, and the common one, filled with the spirit of the time.”

The book touches on topics that were taboo during the Soviet period and have once again been excised from Putin’s Russia: the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, by which Stalin and Hitler carved up Europe, the executions of deserters and the psychological effects of war for years to come. Her subjects recall sweaty nightmares, grinding teeth, short tempers and an inability to see forests without thinking of twisted bodies in shallow graves… read more:

More posts on Svetlana Alexievich

Pentagon Study Declares American Empire Is 'Collapsing'. By Nafeez Ahmed

An extraordinary new Pentagon study has concluded that the US-backed framework of international order established after World War II is “fraying” and may even be “collapsing,” leading the United States to lose its position of “primacy” in world affairs. The solution proposed to protect US power in this new “post-primacy” environment is, however, more of the same: more surveillance, more propaganda (“strategic manipulation of perceptions”) and more military expansionism.

The document concludes that the world has entered a fundamentally new phase of transformation in which US power is in decline, international order is unravelling, and the authority of governments everywhere is crumbling. Having lost its past status of “pre-eminence,” the US now inhabits a dangerous, unpredictable “post-primacy” world, whose defining feature is “resistance to authority.”
Danger comes not just from great power rivals like Russia and China, both portrayed as rapidly growing threats to American interests, but also from the increasing risk of “Arab Spring”-style events. These will erupt not just in the Middle East, but all over the world, potentially undermining trust in incumbent governments for the foreseeable future.

The report, based on a year-long intensive research process involving consultation with key agencies across the Department of Defense and US Army, calls for the US government to invest in more surveillance, better propaganda through “strategic manipulation” of public opinion, and a “wider and more flexible” US military.

The report was published in June by the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute to evaluate the DoD’s approach to risk assessment at all levels of Pentagon policy planning. The study was supported and sponsored by the US Army’s Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate; the Joint Staff, J5 (Strategy and Policy Branch); the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Develop­ment; and the Army Study Program Management Office... read more:

see also:

Vasili Arkhipov, the man who stopped nuclear war
How everything became war // William Hartung: What Happens When All We Have Left Is ThePentagon? Trump’s Vision of a Militarized America
Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Almost all of the plastic produced since 1950 is still sitting in landfills. By KATE WHEELING

Man's legacy on Earth may be the piles of plastics we've mass produced - roughly 8.3 billion metric tons so far, according to a new study published today in Science Advances. In the first ever global analysis of plastic production, researchers from universities across the United States combined production data with product lifetime information from various industries - such as construction, packaging, and consumer goods - to find out how much plastic humans have made, and how much of it is still around.

"You can't manage what you don't measure," says Roland Geyer, an associate professor at the University of California–Santa Barbara and lead author on the new study. "I think in order to manage plastics sustainably hopefully and stem the tide of plastics we need to know how much we're making and where it goes." About 30 percent of all plastics made since the middle of the 20th century are still in use, but the vast majority of plastic waste, it turns out, is still around as well. Just 12 percent has been incinerated—a process that presents its own environmental and public-health perils—and only 9 percent was recycled.


There were vast regional differences in recycling, however: The recycling rate in the U.S. was 9 percent, compared to 30 percent in Europe, and 25 percent in China. Since none of the most commonly used plastics are biodegradable, nearly 80 percent of the more than six billion metric tons of plastic waste generated between the 1950s (when the large-scale production of synthetic plastics really took off) and 2015 is accumulating in our landfillsocean basinsfar-flung islands, and other natural environments… read more:

More posts on plastic

Gujarat: RTI activist who took on education mafia found dead in Navsari

An RTI activist of Surat, who was found with multiple injuries on his head and shoulder on the National Highway-8 in Navsari on Wednesday, succumbed later in the night in a private hospital.
The victim, 31-year-old Rajesh Savaliya, had launched a drive to expose the education mafia operating in the city. He had also reportedly complained to the District Education officer about a number of schools functioning without proper licences or approval letters. He is also said to have received threat calls allegedly from the education mafia, the last over a month ago.

A resident of Mahalaxmi society in Punagam area in Varachha, Rajesh’s father Vinay Savaliya told the police that his son had left house on Tuesday evening for a friend’s construction site at Pardi in Valsad district. Rajesh was given a ride in a car by one of his friend’s mother and sister who reportedly dropped him on NH-8. On Wednesday evening, Rajesh’s friend Vijay Patel received a call from city’s Navsari Civil Hospital about him being severely injured.

Police said Vijay, along with five others, reached the hospital and learnt that the 108 ambulance services had received a call about a person found lying by the roadside near Sai Baba temple on NH-8 in Navsari. Vijay shifted Rajesh, who had received severe injuries on his head, left shoulder and stomach, to a private hospital in  Surat. Vijay informed Rajesh’s family members who also reached the hospital. On Wednesday night, however, Rajesh was declared dead by doctors. Rajesh was cremated at Ashwanikumar cremation home in Varachha on Thursday afternoon.  Several RTI activists attended his funeral... read more:

The People's Republic of Thuggery - Chinese agents bar access to the 'free' wife of Liu Xiaobo

NB: The Chinese Communists have converted their Constitution into a cruel joke. Let anyone read it and compare it with the reality - especially the manner in which they assassinated  Liu Xiaobo and are now torturing his widow. Here's Article 35 of their Constitution - Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration." Other sections also bear reading..This is a shameless tyranny. DS

Chinese authorities claim Liu Xia is a free woman. But one week after the death of her husband, the Nobel laureate and democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, a visit to the couple’s Beijing home immediately gives the lie to that claim. Within seconds of arriving at the tree-lined property on Wednesday, the Guardian was surrounded by plain-clothes security agents, shouting orders and questions, demanding that its reporters leave. “Where are you going? Where are you going?” snapped one man, wearing black Bermuda shorts and Adidas Superstars, as he used his body to block the path that leads to the fourth-floor flat. A second agent arrived, also clad in black, and then a third, brandishing a golden Chinese smartphone with which he threatened to call the police. Asked if Liu Xia was at home he said: “I have never heard of her.” He went on: “There are thousands of people living here with that name. How should I know which one you are talking about?”

In the lead-up to the death of her jailed husband, Liu Xia had been forced to endure almost seven years of unofficial house arrest – Communist party retribution, observers say, for her husband’s 2010 Nobel peace prize. Now, with Liu gone, the 56-year-old artist and poet appears to have been thrust straight back into that invisible prison. Liu Xia (front) was last seen in photos issued by Beijing as her husband’s ashes were scattered at sea off the coast of Dalian, Liaoning province. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images Rumours have swirled that Liu – last seen in propaganda photographs of her husband’s cremation and sea burial on Saturday – had been forcibly “travelled” to the southwestern province of Yunnan to prevent her speaking out.

On Thursday, however, supporters admitted her whereabouts were a mystery. “She’s totally incommunicado,” said Jared Genser, a US human rights lawyer who has campaigned on behalf of the late dissident and his wife. “It seems like she has fallen off the face of the Earth.” Hu Jia, a Beijing-based activist and friend, also said he was in the dark: “We’ve tried every means possible to contact her.” In the hours after the death of Liu, who was serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in late May, there were calls from activists and western governments for Liu Xia to be given safe passage out of China.

“I now urge [Beijing] to lift all restrictions on his widow, Liu Xia,” the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said in a statement. China, however, has shown no sign of backing down, instead insisting, contrary to the evidence, that Liu Xia – who has never been accused or convicted of any crime – is “free”. Friends and supporters say that is a mendacious fabrication designed to conceal her continued extra-legal incarceration. “I think she’s in an even worse position than before,” said Genser. “Her husband is dead. We are not aware that she has any contact with anybody at all. Her parents have both passed away. Her brother is also incommunicado and disappeared. And she is the only person now who can speak to what she heard from Liu Xiaobo in the last seven years of her being under house arrest and in his final weeks of life.”

Jerry Cohen, an expert in Chinese law and human rights from New York University, said he believed the rulers of one-party China would be reluctant to release Liu Xia in case she became a figurehead of resistance. “The wife who has to suffer for the political views of her husband has always been a figure to attract sympathy. But she is much more,” he said. “She is an extraordinarily able and determined person and they feel they shouldn’t allow her to speak … She is too potent a symbol.”

On Wednesday it was impossible to know whether that symbol was inside her apartment, outside of which security agents lurked in a black SUV. Plain-clothes agents guarding the leafy residential compound grew increasingly jittery and aggressive as they tried to force journalists away from the property.  “You should get out!” growled one of the officers, losing his temper at repeated questions about the dissident’s missing wife. “Go! Go! Go!” shouted his colleague. Earlier in the week journalists from the Spanish news agency EFE reported being grabbed and threatened by unidentified men and held by police after trying to visit Liu Xia’s home. Police reportedly accused the journalists of working in an “illegal manner”... read more:

Book Review: The Cultural Revolution of Modern Time

Peter Fritzsche; Stranded in the Present: Modern Time and the Melancholy of History
Reviewed by Matthew Brown

According to the Romantic poet Novalis, our paths in life lead "always homeward" (immer nach Hause). Read against the background of the French Revolution and its upheavals, the desire to return to a place and time of safety and security becomes easily understandable. But as Peter Fritzsche's Stranded in the Present suggests about this era and its legacy for modernity, we can never truly arrive at this destination. For Fritzsche, the Revolution itself and the entire revolutionary period experienced by its interpreters (and survivors) created a fundamental sense of rupture between past and present as well as between individuals, groups, and their previously accepted sources of personal and social meaning. 

Following the works of George Steiner and Lynn Hunt, Fritzsche argues forcefully and convincingly for the revolutionary mindsets that accompanied the events of the Revolution and its seemingly endless aftershocks.[1] The creation of a new sensibility about the place of the individual in the drama of history provides the impetus for Fritzsche's work, which traces the dislocations experienced by individuals living through these literally unsettling times. Following an introduction and first chapter on the centrality of the Revolution, Fritzsche continues in thickly descriptive prose, creating a rich cultural history that draws upon an impressive array of sources to create a tapestry of this new historical awareness.

Each subsequent chapter examines a symbol of the shift in outlook by modern Western Europeans and Americans between the Revolution and the first decades of the nineteenth century. The second chapter, "Strangers," examines the experience of exile through diaries, memoirs, and biographical-fictional works, the literary forms most common to describing the initial encounters with the Revolution. For Fritzsche, Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, the French aristocrat, Romantic author and later diplomat, embodies the modern phenomenon of displacement and discontinuity. His personal experience with the Revolution served as the basis of his enduring feelings of dislocation, which came to structure the ways that he narrated his life. His frustrating efforts to continually recreate himself through his forty-year memoirs, Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, stand as a poignant testament to his generation's need to come to terms with loss and exile, not so much from a place but from another time. 

Perhaps best captured by Chateaubriand's insight into the difficulties of modern identity that "Man does not have a single, consistent life" (p. 57), his fellow émigrés expressed similar existential anxieties about their own contingency. Writing their lives against the background of historical experience, contemporaries such as the well-known Germaine de Stael and the less-known Madame de Menerville told their stories to create meaning out of the disruptions of their age. The author's insightful readings of these sources help reveal the important relationship between their content and their literary form, but the crucial point for Fritzsche is that the stranger and the exile serve as compelling symbols for modern life itself, or at least life experienced in this nostalgic, melancholic temporal mode… read more:

Javed Anand: Islam’s reform: Can passages of the Quran be cherry-picked - to embrace what is appealing and to skirt around what is not?

In his article on how religions evolve, Ramesh Venkataraman makes the interesting proposition that the ongoing debate on triple talaq in the country signals the welcome stirring of the reform process in Indian Islam. In parting, he should perhaps have urged Indian Muslims to speed up a bit. For in their slow march forward Indian Muslims are way behind their co-religionists elsewhere who have been asking tough questions of their Book, making bold demands of their faith and its followers. Not surprisingly, Muslims committed to universal human rights, gender justice, non-discrimination between citizens on grounds of religion etc face difficulties with many a Quranic verse.

On gender justice, a good example is the oft-quoted verse 4:34 (Venkataraman quotes it partially): “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly).”

Venkataraman quotes the philosopher Anthony Appiah as saying that the reform of Christianity 500 years ago was greatly facilitated by the fact that on encountering morally ambiguous, contradictory or problematic passages, ordinary Christians who started reading the Bible for themselves decided on “which passages to read into and which to read past.” Simply stated, the reformists chose to “cherry-pick” from among the passages of the Bible, embracing what was appealing, skirting around what seemed appalling. But how do you “read past” any verse of the Quran if as a believing Muslim for you it is an absolute article of faith that the Quran is the Word of Allah revealed to Prophet Mohammed through the Archangel Gabriel? For a believing Muslim who agrees that any meaningful reform in Islam today must necessarily address the issue of equality between the sexes, there is no way to skirt around 4:34. You simply have to engage with it. But then, how do you reconcile your faith in an Allah who endorses male superiority and recommends wife-beating with your fidelity to the principle of gender justice?

To get around this thorny issue some current-day Muslims resort to a linguistic device, claiming that the Arabic word “darab” in the verse has meanings other than “beating”. The fact, however, is that the overwhelming majority of exegetes, the liberal ones included, accept the translation of “darab”( d-r-b) as physical chastisement. The only dispute is over issues such as at when it’s OK to beat and the permissible intensity of the beating (according to some a feather or a flower are the only permissible weapons). The late Moroccan Islamic scholar, Fatima Mernissi, notes that the immediate context of the revelation of verse 4:34 was a woman’s complaint to the Prophet that her husband had slapped her. The revelation then had necessarily to address the issue of wife-beating.

While this issue remains a knotty one, in recent years several women (and men) scholars of Islam — Mernissi, Amina Wadud, Riffat Hassan, Asma Barlas among others — have credibly argued that the Quran is a gender-sensitive document. For them, it is the exegetes with patriarchal mindsets who are responsible for having read patriarchy into the Quran. For example, in her book, Believing women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Quran, Asma Barlas argues: “The Quran recognises men as the locus of power and authority in actually existing patriarchies. However, recognising the existence of patriarchy, or addressing one, is not the same as advocating it”.

Interestingly, while many Muslim women scholars and activists see Allah as being entirely on their side in their “gender jihad” against the patriarchs of Islam (ulama), South Africa’s Farid Esack, a male educated in a Pakistani madrasa, a believing, practising Muslim, an Imam to boot, has an interesting point to make. Esack agrees that the Quran does contain “sufficient seeds for those committed to human rights and gender justice to live in fidelity to its underlying ethos”. But he argues that the liberal Muslim claim that “the Quran is a Magna Carta of gender justice does not withstand the scrutiny of critical scholarship”. In a paper titled, “What Do Men Owe to Women? Islam & Gender Justice: Beyond Simplistic Apologia”, Esack labels several renowned “liberal” Islamic scholars as “Islam’s apologists”.. read more:

Also see

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Book review - Democracy in Chains: James McGill Buchanan’s vision of totalitarian capitalism

Nancy MacLean: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

Reviewed by George Monbiot

His prescription was a “constitutional revolution”: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice... He aimed, in short, to save capitalism from democracy.... Murray Rothbard, at the Cato Institute that Koch founded, had urged the billionaire to study Lenin’s techniques and apply them to the libertarian cause... Between them, they began to develop a programme for changing the rules... The papers Nancy MacLean discovered show that Buchanan saw stealth as crucial. He told his collaborators that “conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential”.

It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is to see what was previously invisible. The history professor’s work on the subject began by accident. In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She says the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch.

A New History of the Right Has Become an Intellectual Flashpoint
It’s red meat for leftists, but how does it stand up as a piece of research? 

Her discoveries in that house of horrors reveal how Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden programme for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The programme is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US. Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued in the first half of the 19th century that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property (including your slaves) however you may wish; any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Corporate censorship pressure pushes EPW Editor out of his job

NB: Readers should make copies of these two articles and store them for circulation. The first describes investigations by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) on tax evasion, and asks why the Union Finance Ministry is reluctant to perform its allotted functions and safeguard the Government's financial interests. The second asks why the rules relating to special economic zones (SEZs) were altered in August 2016, enabling the Group to claim a large sum of government money.

Why not answer the queries and remove all doubts? Why suppress the articles? The Sangh Parivar regularly circulates slanderous material against Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, etc, via various fronts on the Net, and does so in the name of free speech. Why can't Messrs Adani refute the allegations contained in these articles by facts and reasonable argument? The habit of silencing critics by threats is a totalitarian practice, no different from other varieties of tyranny. Totalitarian capitalism is an ever-growing reality today and the sooner we realise this the better. DS

Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta became the first top-level editorial casualty of corporate India’s increasing tendency to file multi-crore defamation cases as a means of countering critical reporting, resigning after the directors of the trust which runs the storied journal ordered him to take down two articles on the Adani group.

Last month, Adani Power Ltd. sent a letter via its lawyers to EPW, the article’s four authors (which included Thakurta) and Sameeksha Trust, which owns and runs the journal. The lawyer’s letter demanded that immediate steps be taken to “remove/delete and unconditionally retract” two articles ‘Did the Adani Group Evade Rs 1,000 Crore in Taxes?’(January 14, 2017) and ‘Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group’ (June 24, 2017) – that they said were defamatory and harmful to the reputation of their client. The letter said that unless this was done, “our clients shall be constrained to take such action as they may be advised”.

On Tuesday, the Sameeksha Trust board, which met in Delhi, ordered the editorial department to take the two articles down (alongside which Thakurta had also posted a copy of the Adani letter and a legal response by EPW). Thakurta resigned soon after the meeting. He told The Wire that he was looking forward to spending more time with his family in Delhi. EPW’s editorial offices are in Mumbai. Sameeksha Trust chair Deepak Nayyar was not available for comment, nor were other board members that The Wire reached out to: historian Romila Thapar, political scientist Rajeev Bhargava and sociologist Dipankar Gupta. It is understood that the trust will issue a statement on the latest developments on July 20. Both articles were republished by The Wire at the time of their original publication in EPW and will continue to be available:

सुप्रीम कोर्ट की संविधान पीठ के समक्ष ‘आधार’ पर सुनवाई आज, जानिए वे बातें जो मीडिया नहीं बताएगा // Aadhaar - Defying Fundamental Rights with Impunity

सुप्रीम कोर्ट की संविधान पीठ के समक्ष ‘आधार’ पर सुनवाई आज, जानिए वे बातें जो मीडिया नहीं बताएगा

सुप्रीम कोर्ट के जस्टिस चेलमेश्‍वर की तीन सदस्‍यीय खंडपीठ द्वारा आधार विशिष्‍ट पहचान पत्र पर 11 अगस्‍त, 2015 को दिए गए फैसले के 700 दिन बाद सुप्रीम कोर्ट की संविधान पीठ 18-19 जुलाई, 2017 को यूआइडी/आधार के मुकदमे की सुनवाई करने जा रही है।

इस संविधान पीठ में भारत के मुख्‍य न्‍यायाधीश, जस्टिस चेलमेश्‍वर, जस्टिस एसए बोबडे, जस्टिस चंद्रचूड़ और जस्टिस अब्‍दुल नजीर बैठेंगे। इस निर्णायक सुनवाई से पहले यूआइडी के मुकदमे से लंबे समय से जुड़े रहे एक्टिविस्‍ट गोपाल कृष्‍ण ने 14 जूलाई को जनांदोलनों की एक सभा में छत्‍तीसगढ़ के पिठोरा में एक लंबा व्‍याख्‍यान आधार के खतरों पर दिया था।

मीडियाविजिल अपने पाठकों के लिए पूरे व्‍याख्‍यान का ऑडियो प्रस्‍तुत कर रहा है जिसे सुनना इस मामले के बुनियादी पहलुओं को समझने के लिहाज से बेहद अहम होगा।

For more background information visit:
Defying Fundamental Rights with Impunity: 
Surveillance, Is It Not A Big Deal?: 
Journey From Civilian Application To Defence Application Of Aadhaar 
Supreme Court Says Aadhaar Act Keeps UID/Aadhaar Voluntary As Well 
Database State to Surveillance 
Protect the Right to Privacy as a Fundamental Right! 
Aadhaar may have a lethal impact on the existence of India: 

Repository of aadhaar related articles:

More posts on Aadhaar

Indentured Servitude Has Already Penetrated Deep into the American Heartland. By Thom Hartmann

Indentured servitude is back in a big way in the United States, and conservative corporatists want to make sure that labor never, ever again has the power to tell big business how to treat them. Idaho, for example, recently passed a law that recognizes and rigorously enforces non-compete agreements in employment contracts, which means that if you want to move to a different, more highly paid, or better job, you can instead get wiped out financially by lawsuits and legal costs.

In a way, conservative/corporatists are just completing the circle back to the founding of this country.
Indentured servitude began in a big way in the early 1600s, when the British East India Company was establishing a beachhead in the (newly stolen from the Indians) state of Virginia (named after the “virgin queen” Elizabeth I, who signed the charter of the BEIC creating the first modern corporation in 1601). Jamestown (named after King James, who followed Elizabeth I to the crown) wanted free labor, and the African slave trade wouldn’t start to crank up for another decade.

So the company made a deal with impoverished Europeans: Come to work for typically 4-7 years (some were lifetime indentures, although those were less common), legally as the property of the person or company holding your indenture, and we’ll pay for your transport across the Atlantic. It was, at least philosophically, the logical extension of the feudal economic and political system that had ruled Europe for over 1,000 years. The rich have all the rights and own all the property; the serfs are purely exploitable free labor who could be disposed of (indentured servants, like slaves, were commonly whipped, hanged, imprisoned, or killed when they rebelled or were not sufficiently obedient).

This type of labor system has been the dream of conservative/corporatists, particularly since the “Reagan Revolution” kicked off a major federal war on the right of workers to organize for their own protection from corporate abuse… read more:

Sumit Guha - Glimpsed in the Archive and Known no More: One Indian Slave’s Tale

India is on a path to decline and that is why China is challenging it. By Sushil Aaron

NB: This is a good article, especially on how the BJP/RSS is weakening India. But the author's observation that the Chinese government 'takes social science seriously' is questionable. The Chinese Communist Party runs a brutal ideocracy - the tyranny of an ideology. The RSS is trying to do the same in India, but has not yet succeeded. The CPC does not allow freedom of thought and social criticism - we have only to observe the circumstances behind the judicial murder of Liu Xiaobo to see how ruthlessly they crush those who dare criticise its totalitarian monopoly. This is a sign of a brittle regime, that can sustain itself only by greater doses of repression. The lesson to be learned by peace-loving citizens of both countries is that democracy and freedom of the mind - as opposed to militarism and ideological conformity - are crucial to human betterment. DS

If challenges in the economy, education and skills weren’t enough there is now an active attack on India’s social cohesion, the one thing that held the country together despite all its problems. The BJP’s rule has seen a spike in hate speech directed at Muslims, leading to their targeting and lynching. The Indian Muslim is being constantly represented as a hate figure, with a view to snap the associational life between Hindus and Muslims. All this corrodes social life and undermines economic productivity - a divided and fear-ridden country is hardly in a position to pool its energies and talents to tackle present and future challenges.

The India-China military standoff near Sikkim continues. The rhetoric from both sides is very revealing of their states of mind. India is adopting a conciliatory tone but China is uncompromising. India will be “patient and peaceful” in dealing with its neighbours, says the Narendra Modi govern-ment; commentators emphasise Delhi’s moderation and maturity. China insists that withdrawal of Indian troops from the disputed Doklam area is a precondition for dialogue. Chinese experts are not mincing words. Victor Gao, a former diplomat and once an interpreter for Deng Xiaoping, has said any other country in China’s situation of seeing foreign (Indian) soldiers on its territory would send troops to drive them out. He says the longer India keeps troops in Doklam the more likely a military confrontation is.

The reaction in Indian media to the standoff with China is markedly different from what tensions with Pakistan usually provoke. Television channels are not dishing out angry hashtags about Beijing as they usually do about Islamabad’s misdemeanours. The Indian establishment clearly wants to avoid a confrontation. In Delhi’s muted reaction and Beijing’s belligerence there is perhaps a tacit acknowledgment in both capitals that the reason China is being aggressive is because India now is the weakest it has been for years.

China wants to symbolically establish dominance in Asia and it has chosen a moment when the contours of India’s path to decline are fairly well-established, three years into Modi’s rule. This is the lesson that Delhi should take away from this standoff, that not only is India militarily not in a position to challenge China now (short of a nuclear exchange), the direction that the BJP is taking the country undermines India’s capabilities as a power and leaves it in no position to deter China’s aggression for years to come. This is the time to starkly assess India’s situation, let go of the positive spin the BJP government puts out, and view India as how its adversaries would… read more:

see also

When you hear hoofbeats, don't think of zebras... By William Rivers Pitt

Some years back, Sergei Magnitsky, an auditor for a Russian law firm, uncovered a tax fraud scheme in his country so vast as to beggar historical precedent. The perpetrators were stealing whole corporations, looting them, and then using the stolen corporations to launder vast sums of dirty money. In some cases, Russian security forces were involved in these crimes. Other instances of money laundering involved "Manhattan real estate" entities, according to the criminal complaint filed by former US Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by Trump not long after the inauguration. That Bharara complaint, by the way, was filed against a man named Denis Katsyv, who was the alleged mastermind of the scheme uncovered by Magnitsky.

The story did not end well for Sergei Magnitsky. He was arrested for tax evasion and jailed at the behest of the very oligarchs he was investigating, and later died in prison under very suspicious circumstances. In retaliation for his death, Congress in 2012 passed a law freezing the assets of 18 Russians involved in the annihilation of Magnitsky. His investigation went nowhere, and when Preet Bharara lost his job as US Attorney, the whole thing quietly blew away.

Or did it? Vladimir Putin was not happy when those 18 Russians had their assets frozen, and retaliated by ending all adoptions of Russian children by US families. To promote this edict, Putin tapped an attorney named Natalia Veselnitskaya to help with the public relations push. Natalia Veselnitskaya was also the attorney for Denis Katysyv, author of the scheme uncovered by Magnitsky, in the matter being pursued by Bharara. Natalia Veselnitskaya was the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower in June of 2016 as part of the Russian government’s effort to help Donald Trump win the election.

On Friday morning, the story took a remarkable twist when NBC News revealed the existence of a fifth person present at the meeting with Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort and Veselnitskaya. Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former counter-intelligence officer with the Soviet military, accompanied Veselnitskaya to the meeting. Red flags began waving immediately upon this revelation: Not only were Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin associates in the lobbying effort to undo the sanctions against those 18 Russians involved in the Magnitsky affair, but Akhmetshin has been accused of orchestrating a massive international hacking conspiracy at the behest of a billionaire Russian industrialist. It is worth noting that Akhmetshin is a US citizen, and Robert Mueller's subpoena power absolutely includes US citizens.

… and then, just before 9:00am on Friday morning, Trump Jr.'s own lawyer revealed the existence of a sixth person who was present at the Trump Tower meeting. At the time of this writing, the name of that sixth person remains unknown. Before 5:00pm on the same day, CNN was reporting that eight people or more actually attended the meeting. Magnitsky to Katsyv to Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin to Trump Tower, with Vladimir Putin hovering over it all and an indeterminate number of others along for the ride. Junior's first explanation for the meeting was that Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about "adoptions," which may well have been code for a push to have the sanctions lifted against those 18 Russians involved in the Magnitsky matter, should Trump emerge victorious in November. Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin have been working for years, the former at the behest of Putin, to undo those sanctions. 

It is all of a piece, and as the old saying goes, when you hear hoofbeats, don't think of zebras. We are dealing with some very grim possibilities here. In the worst case scenario, the president of the United States, his son and top campaign/administration staffers got themselves involved with an agent for the Russian government who is neck-deep in a massive money laundering scandal that may very well have gotten a guy killed in prison. These issues could explain why Robert Mueller has tapped the best money laundering prosecutors and investigators in all of US jurisprudence to join his team.

It would seem that whatever slivers of credibility the Trump administration ever possessed have been consumed by this bonfire of hubris, lying and shady dealing (though much of his base remains loyal). Congressional Republicans are trying to pretend the White House doesn't actually exist as their legislative agenda founders like a rot-riddled rowboat. The only statement coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is "Talk to the lawyers," lather rinse repeat. Junior is about to have a series of incredibly unpleasant conversations with some very serious people, whereupon he may come to learn -- perhaps for the first time in his life -- the meaning of the word "consequences." Messrs. Kushner and Manafort, who were actual campaign employees when that fateful meeting took place, and are therefore subject to a whole raft of other laws, can expect the sameread more

Monday, July 17, 2017

How could we cope if capitalism failed? Ask 26 Greek factory workers. By Aditya Chakrabortty

Where the state has collapsed, the market has come up short and the boss class has literally fled, these 26 workers are attempting to fill the gaps. These are people who have been failed by capitalism; now they reject capitalism itself as a failure.

You could call the men and women at Viome factory workers, but that wouldn’t be the half of it. Try instead: some of the bravest people I’ve ever met. Or: organisers of one of the most startling social experiments in contemporary Europe. And: a daily lesson from Greece to Brexit Britain, both in how we work and how we do politics. At the height of the Greek crash in 2011, staff at Viome clocked in to confront an existential quandary. The owners of their parent company had gone bust and abandoned the site, in the second city of Thessaloniki. From here, the script practically wrote itself: their plant, which manufactured chemicals for the construction industry, would be shut. There would be immediate layoffs, and dozens of families would be plunged into poverty. And seeing as Greece was in the midst of the greatest economic depression ever seen in the EU, the workers’ chances of getting another job were close to nil.

So they decided to occupy their own plant. Not only that, they turned it upside down. I spent a couple of days there a few weeks back, while reporting for Vice News Tonight on HBO, and it now looks like just an ordinary factory. Behind the facade, it has become the political equivalent of a Tardis: the more you look inside, the bigger the implications get. For a start, no one is boss. There is no hierarchy, and everyone is on the same wage. Factories traditionally work according to a production-line model, where each person does one- or two-minute tasks all day, every day: you fit the screen, I fix the protector, she boxes up the iPhone. Here, everyone gathers at 7am for a mud-black Greek coffee and a chat about what needs to be done. Only then are the day’s tasks divvied up. And, yes, they each take turns to clean the toilets.

Let that sink in. A bunch of middle-aged men and women who have spent their entire careers on the wrong end of barked orders about what to do and when to do it have seized ownership of their own workplace and their own working lives. They became their own bosses. And they immediately align themselves to principles of the purest equality possible. “Before, I was doing only one thing and had no idea what the others were doing,” is how Dimitris Koumatsioulis remembers the factory when he started in 2004. And now? “We’re all united. We have forgotten the concept of ‘I’ and can function collectively as ‘we’.”

The other massive change that has taken place is between the factory and its neighbours. When the workers “recuperated” their workplace (to use the local term), they could only do so with the help of Thessaloniki locals. Whenever representatives of the former owners came to requisition their equipment, as a court had given them permission to do, hundreds of residents would form a human chain in front of the plant (I contacted lawyers for Viome for comment but, despite assurances, no statement was forthcoming).

When the workers consulted the local community about what they should start to produce, one request was to stop making building chemicals. They now largely manufacture soap and eco-friendly household detergents: cleaner, greener and easier on their neighbours’ noses… read more:

More posts on Greece

India: the difference between formal and real citizenship - By Vinay Lal // Lynch mobs are implicitly meeting approval from higher-ups - Sanjay Subrahmanyam

What we see in India is the difference between formal and real citizenship: Historian Vinay Lal
What is the kind of signal that a political dispensation like India has now sent to the law enforcement machinery?
I think the problem is twofold. What do you do when the state becomes somewhat thuggish? So, people targeted are not just Muslims, but also Dalits and Africans. We should be attentive to it because there are groups of people whose very lives are at risk. Signals in all authoritarian states happens downwards. We don’t need to take the example of Hitler’s Nazi Germany or Stalin’s totalitarian state, you can turn to authoritarian states present now where you can see very clearly, it is same attitude at the top, middle and bottom. 

These problems are not distinct to India today, we see a similar repression and acute intolerance, including in the US. Turkey is in dire straits. China, Russia, [Rodrigo] Duterte in the Philippines… this could be attributed to what they are terming the ‘strongman’ phenomenon. But I feel the problem is ‘nationalism’. It shows the limits of the nationalist project and what a disease it is. Now this is very hard for the newly independent formerly colonial countries to accept, which fought for freedom on the basis of the idea of nationalism, but wherever you had nationalist movements, you have had to rethink the nationalist idea. It has become the only kind of political community which we have to all pay obeisance to. What we see in India — and which is clear in a large number of other countries, especially US – is the difference between formal citizenship and real citizenship on the ground. In the US, African-Americans are only formal citizens without the rights of a citizen on the ground. This is the case for a large number of people in India.

So how does one un-thug the state? It’s always a difficult question... read more:

Lynch mobs seem to know nothing will happen to them, they’re implicitly meeting approval from higher-ups - Sanjay Subrahmanyam
These lynchings are a form of communal violence that is different from what we have seen before. Firstly, they are apparently decentralised. Earlier, organised acts of mass violence were repetitive in character and there was a pattern, e.g. processions were attacked or the violence was timed with public festivals. This was so even in the time of the Mughals. Then, post-Independence, there have been largely urban, organised forms of violence, where various political parties have provided protection to the perpetrators. So, the people on top knew and acquiesced, while the middle leadership was actually active, as in 1984. But what we are seeing now is not at a single place, there are fewer numbers attacked and it is decentralised, done by little groups all over the place. 

These groups are either being told, or imagine that they have been told to act in this way. Further, after the event, no one in authority is clearly telling them the contrary. There is also an aspirational quality to the violence. It is low-level… if journalists don’t choose to report it, it may not even register if one isn’t vigilant. But the curious thing is that the perpetrators want it to be known. After all, some of the people doing this are even videotaping it. They make sure the information is circulating, intended as a warning, as a signal and controlling device for the social behaviour expected of minorities. It is a form of violence which can pop up here one day and there on another. It is never mass killings, but based on the existence of grassroots kind of organisations which believe in doing this, and also to an extent on copycat behaviour. So even if it is decentralised, there is a larger context.

What is that context?
The actors seem to know that for all intents and purposes, nothing will happen to them, and they know they are implicitly meeting approval from higher-ups. People are using this to probably build political careers, a CV-builder of some kind. It is in part aspirational and cynical violence, of killing because you can do it. But note that there are parts of India where it happens and other parts where it doesn’t. If a strong regional political party is in power, which does not believe in this, it magically doesn’t happen.

So is there a message that follows, down the line from the top leadership?

One has to infer this. In regimes which are semi-authoritarian and yet operate inside a democracy, no one may want to take away the trappings of democracy, and elections can go on at all levels. But the reality is, it is all based on doublespeak.. read more:

Om Prakash Mishra - Quelling a Facebook riot in West Bengal

People have simply refused to react to morphed, photoshopped and out of context pictures in Badauria-Basirhat. Instead, they are taking out peace marches. The conspiracy to pit one community against the other has failed. All this seems to have frustrated the state BJP leadership.

A diabolical and planned conspiracy to involve West Bengal in a cauldron of communal riots, centring on Baduria and Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district has been defeated. Not only has peace been secured, the triumph of communal amity is being celebrated by people in innovative ways. A malicious hateful Facebook post shared by a teenager from Baduria was the opportunity communal and extremist elements were waiting to exploit. A porous border, lax administration and the likely collusion between certain sections of the ruling Trinamool party with malefic elements across the border with Bangladesh meant that hundreds of people descended on Baduria and Basirhat from both sides to inflame passions in the name of religion.

The fact that outsiders were involved should leave us in no doubt that the riots were planned keeping in mind the geographical location of Badauria-Basirhat on the India-Bangladesh border. As if on cue, the counter-attack was also immediate. In the process, two persons were seriously injured - Kartick Ghosh succumbed to his injuries, but Fazlur Sardar, although seriously injured, has survived. Signifi-cantly, Kartick Ghosh’s son brought Fazlur Sardar to the Kolkata hospital in the same ambulance arranged for his father. He was the one who got Fazlur admitted to the hospital and looked after him.

North 24 Parganas is one of the largest districts in the country, with 33 Assembly constituencies. A large part of the district borders Bangladesh. Smuggling in cattle, patronized by leaders of the Trinamool Congress as well as earlier governments has been the mainstay, especially in Basirhat and Bongaon sub-divisions. Illegal migration is common, while the irregular movement of people across the porous border is a fact of life. Importantly, irregular migration has involved not only Muslims but also Hindus from neighbouring Bangladesh.

Germans must remember the truth about Ukraine – for their own sake. By TIMOTHY SNYDER

Don’t fall for the official Russian line on WWII, historian Timothy Snyder warns German MPs in a speech at the Bundestag. In the debate over Germany's historical responsibility for its wartime actions in Ukraine, ‘Germany cannot afford to get major issues of its history wrong.’

The following is a transcript of a speech delivered by historian Timothy Snyder of Yale University at a conference on Germany’s Historical Responsibility towards Ukraine held in the German Bundestag, on 20 June 2017. The event was organized by the parliamentary faction of the German Green party.

When we ask ‘Why historical responsibility, why German historical responsibility?’, I want to begin from the universal point of view. I’m not coming to you as an American saying ‘we’ve understood our past and therefore everything is going well in our country.’ On the contrary, I think it’s very important for all of us, whether things are going well or things are going badly, whether we’re Americans or Germans or Russians, to be humble about our various weaknesses in dealing with our past, and above all to be realistic, to be sensitive, to be concerned about how our failures to deal with our own national past can have surprisingly great and immediate and painful consequences for the present and for the future.

So when we ask, as the ambassador did, quite rightly: why should we be discussing historical responsibility just now; why, when Russia has invaded and occupied a part of Ukraine; why, when Brexit negotiations have begun; why, when a whole series of elections between populists and others is being carried out across Europe; why, when the constitutional system of the USA is under threat from within; why, in this moment, should we talk about historical responsibility, my answer is that it is precisely for those reasons that one must talk about historical responsibility. There are many causes of the problems within the European Union and there are many causes of the crisis of democracy and the rule of law in the United States. But one of them is precisely the inability to deal with certain aspects of history.

So, as I say, I am not coming to you from the position that Americans have figured this out. On the contrary, let me begin talking about Germany by talking about the United States. Why do we have the government that we have now? In some significant measure, it is because we Americans have failed to take historical responsibility for certain important parts of our own history. How can we have a president of the United States in 2017 who is irresponsible on racial issues? How can we have an attorney general in 2017 who is a white supremacist? Because we have failed to deal with important questions of our own past. Not just the history of the Second World War.. read more:

Dear Bharat Mata, I’m Your Pakistani Daughter And I Love You. By Maliha Khan

NB: Thank you Maliha. Borders are artificial. Love and friendship are perennial. I'm sure your beautiful letter will touch many hearts. Here is a small essay for you. Please share it with your friends and family: The Almond Trees by Albert Camus - Dilip

Dear Bharat Mata,
I am not quite sure if someone from across the border has written a letter to you before, sitting in your beautiful land. But there is always a first, isn't there? So let me introduce myself and tell you my story. I have had a long relationship with you, one that spans generations. But more about that later.

My name is Maliha Khan and I come from the hustling bustling city of Karachi, Pakistan. I was born to your estranged brother, Pakistan. Although Karachi became the city of my birth, you were already in my blood, Mother India, coursing through my veins. No, it is not only because my far-removed ancestors came from your part of the world when both you and your dear brother Pakistan had lived together happily. My father too was born on your precious soil in a small village in Bihar called Kahalgaon. My mother, unfortunately, couldn't witness your beauty because, by the time my Nana and Nani got married, you and your dear brother had already parted ways.

My mother was born in that younger brother's land, who you helped stand on his own feet in 1971. You were accused by your brother Pakistan for breaking up his home. But Bengal was your brother too and you were perhaps trying to help him find himself. That's what big sisters are for, aren't they? I have two younger brothers myself and strangely enough, all three of us share a relationship quite like you and your two brothers, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Why do families fight? Don't we all love each other at the end of the day? I am sure you love your dear brother Pakistan and he loves Bangladesh as you do. Then why did you all have to separate? The bloody pages of history books have the answer to these questions, yet none of those explanations satisfy me. Even when you and your dear brother Pakistan were estranged, I tell you he never forgot you. Your beautiful people were all over the television screens of our homes through your films and soaps. That's how I learned about your distinct traditions and even began to dream about celebrating them one day!

Growing up in your dear brother's land, I never remember being told to hate you, despite the popular notion your people might have. Maybe my father was right to ban the television in our house because I was never exposed to the venom the media was spewing against you. I remember I used to stay at my Nani's place for hours when the elders would be watching those utterly gripping saas-bahu serials. I wouldn't take my eyes off the television screen when the local cable screened Kuch Kuch Hota Hai one evening. Years passed by but you still remained with me and as Shah Rukh Khan says, "Pyaar dosti hai!" I too began to fantasise about befriending you and your people and sharing a bond of love that is bound to exist.

It was in 2013 that I first met some of your spirited people in a conference in Islamabad and I fell in love with them. We couldn't spend too much time with each other and even though I wanted to take them to my home in Karachi, you and your dear brother have made it practically impossible for your people to be together. Nonetheless, I forged lifelong bonds. My next encounter with your people happened not on your dear brother's soil but in a completely foreign territory, Bangkok, when I worked with one of your talented artistes. It was such a defining experience for me because all those Indians I met made me feel like I was one of them! I had never felt so in sync with a group of people from my own country and here I was thinking how well these Indians understand me as a person. 

That was when I decided it was high time I found an excuse to cross the border and come to your glorious land. Ah! I wish both our people didn't need to find excuses to visit each other. Here I am today, at the end of my year-long Young India Fellowship at the Ashoka University. Your people have really loved me because not only did they give me this opportunity but also invested in me to come here. I know you and your dear brother Pakistan can't seem to get along well but both your people have uninhibited love for each other in their hearts. I was scared the authorities in your land might not let me see your magnificence but as they say, when you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you achieve it.

Exactly a year ago, I was informed about my visa coming through, and on 14th July last year I set foot in this beautiful land. My cousins started teasing me that soon I would be singing the lines of the famous Iqbal song, "Saaray jahan se acha, Hindustan hamara!"

As I sit here writing a letter to you, Mata ji, I want to tell you that I am in awe of you. I implore you to let bygones be bygones and embrace your dear old brother Pakistan in your warm arms as you have embraced me. I wish the siblings are able to give a chance to peace, friendship and love. Both you and your brother are struggling with the same problems for the past 70 years of your separation. I call on you to work together with him for a better future of the people of Kashmir who have been robbed of a peaceful life since decades. I beseech you to work with your brother and eradicate the rampant casteism and oppression of lower caste groups you both are plagued with. I know, together, you two can be an unstoppable force!

Although I will always love the land of my birth, Pakistan, my soul is truly yours, Mother India. 
Ma, tujhe salam!

Your daughter from across the border,
Maliha Khan

The music of humanityThe force of love is the same as the force of the soul or truth. We have evidence of its working at every step M.K. Gandhi