Thursday, February 22, 2018

Jonathan Freedland - The slaughter in Syria should outrage us. Yet still we just shrug

Almost anything is more interesting than the massacre of civilians in Syria. Just look at today’s front pages. The Guardian leads on the slaughter of unarmed residents in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, but for the rest it’s a mix of continuing scandals in international aid charities, the tax record of a newly appointed financial regulator, and Brendan off Strictly having an unauthorised waltz with Camilla.

Against all that, the bloodbath in eastern Ghouta is deemed too dull to compete. Sure, the government of Bashar al-Assad may have pounded the rebel-held area so hard that it killed 194 people in 40 hours, many of them children. It may have targeted seven hospitals in two days, repeatedly hitting medical workers as they sought to rescue the injured and dying. And yes, this may signal the escalation of a siege that has denied supplies to a population of 390,000 for months, squeezing them between bombardment and starvation. All that may be meticulously documented by the UN. But who, if we’re honest, gives a damn?

The Guardian has Syria on the front page today, but there’s no moral high ground here for any of us. This bloodletting has gone on for seven years now, and for most of that time most of us – politicians, media, public – have looked the other way. I look back at some of the things that have exercised me while this murder has continued day after day – at Donald Trump’s tweets, say, or the twists and turns of Brexit – and I know I’m part of this global shrug in the face of atrocity.

We should not kid ourselves. This silence of ours is complicity. The absence of noisy outrage has been a signal to Assad: keep on doing what you’re doing – no one’s going to stop you. If I were him, an occasional uptick in condemnation – with an enlightened Scandinavian denouncing me on the radio, or Unicef issuing a blank statement because “we no longer have the words to describe children’s suffering” – would be just fine. Because I would know that this brief flurry of concern would pass, and I would soon be allowed to return to the killing, just so long as I kept the daily numbers at a level everyone could safely ignore.

I would have learned that lesson in April last year, when I crossed the line by using chemical weapons against the civilians of Idlib province, gassing children, and the only consequence was a limited US cruise missile strike on a Syrian airfield. So long as I wasn’t too blatant, and kept the murder within agreed limits, I would be left alone.What explains this global indifference?  
read more:

More posts on Syria

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Danny Sjursen - Trump’s National Defense Strategy: Something for Everyone (in the Military-Industrial Complex)

Think of it as the chicken-or-the-egg question for the ages: Do very real threats to the United States inadvertently benefit the military-industrial complex or does the national security state, by its very nature, conjure up inflated threats to feed that defense machine? Back in 2008, some of us placed our faith, naively enough, in the hands of mainstream Democrats -- specifically, those of a young senator named Barack Obama.  He would reverse the war policies of George W. Bush, deescalate the unbridled Global War on Terror, and right the ship of state. How’d that turn out? 

In retrospect, though couched in a far more sophisticated and peaceable rhetoric than Bush’s, his moves would prove largely cosmetic when it came to this country’s forever wars: a significant reduction in the use of conventional ground troops, but more drones, more commandos, and yet more acts of ill-advised regime change.  Don’t get me wrong: as a veteran of two of Washington’s wars, I was glad when “no-drama” Obama decreased the number of boots on the ground in the Middle East.  It’s now obvious, however, that he left the basic infrastructure of eternal war firmly in place
Enter The Donald. For all his half-baked tweets, insults, and boasts, as well as his refusal to read anything of substance on issues of war and peace, some of candidate Trump’s foreign policy ideas seemed far saner than those of just about any other politician around or the previous two presidents.  I mean, the Iraq War was dumb, and maybe it wasn’t the craziest idea for America’s allies to start thinking about defending themselves, and maybe Washington ought to put some time and diplomatic effort into avoiding a possibly catastrophic clash or set of clashes with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. 
Unfortunately, the White House version of all this proved oh-so-familiar.  President Trump’s decision, for instance, to double down on a losing bet in Afghanistan in spite of his “instincts” (and on similar bets in Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere) and his recently published National Defense Strategy (NDS) leave little doubt that he’s surrendered to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, the mainstream interventionists in his administration.
In truth, no one should be surprised.  A hyper-interventionist, highly militarized foreign policy has defined Washington since at least the days of President Harry Truman -- the first in a long line of hawks to take the White House.  In this context, an ever-expanding national security state has always put special effort into meeting the imagined needs (or rather desires) of its various component parts.  

The result: bloated budgets for which exaggerated threats, if not actual war, remain a necessity. 
Without the threat of communism in the previous century and terrorism (as well as once again ascendant great powers) in this one, such bloated budgets would be hard to explain.  And then, how would the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines get all the weaponized toys they desired?  How would Congressional representatives in a post-industrial economy get all those attractive “defense” jobs for their districts and how would the weapons makers get the government cash they crave?.. read more:

Thomas L. Friedman: Whatever Trump Is Hiding Is Hurting All of Us Now

NB: This is both serious and ironical - given the number of times since 1945 that the USA has intervened to manipulate democratic processes in other countries, not least the interventions in Vietnam from the late 1950's onward; and the US backed bloody coup by Chilean General Pinochet in 1973. It seems now the boot is on the other foot. DS

Our democracy is in serious danger. President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.

That is, either Trump’s real estate empire has taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin - so much that they literally own him; or rumors are true that he engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released; or Trump actually believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when he says he is innocent of intervening in our elections - over the explicit findings of Trump’s own C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. chiefs.

In sum, Trump is either hiding something so threatening to himself, or he’s criminally incompetent to be commander in chief. It is impossible yet to say which explanation for his behavior is true, but it seems highly likely that one of these scenarios explains Trump’s refusal to respond to Russia’s direct attack on our system - a quiescence that is simply unprecedented for any U.S. president in history. Russia is not our friend. It has acted in a hostile manner. And Trump keeps ignoring it all.

Up to now, Trump has been flouting the norms of the presidency. Now Trump’s behavior amounts to a refusal to carry out his oath of office - to protect and defend the Constitution. Here’s an imperfect but close analogy: It’s as if George W. Bush had said after 9/11: “No big deal. I am going golfing over the weekend in Florida and blogging about how it’s all the Democrats’ fault - no need to hold a National Security Council meeting.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

One million visits

Dear Readers
A short while ago, this blog passed another milestone, with a million hits. We reached the half-million mark in 56 months from October 2011 to June 2016. The next half million took 20 months. Here is what I posted then: A milestone for this blog - half a million hits 

I'd say much the same now; thank you for your interest, and here's to keeping all our minds alert and critical. As you know, this is a non-commercial blog, and my only 'return' is the satisfaction of knowing that its readers find it of some value.

Before anything else I will stress again the massive cover up of the suicide note left by an ex-Chief Minister of an Indian state (in 2016), that contains clues to the crisis of faith in the Indian judiciary. Read the note here; and my comments on this matter here and here

And here (along with some other material) is my advice for American schoolchildren, faced with gunfire in their classrooms and double-speak from their political leaders.

I won't go into as much detail as I did in 2016, but here are some noteworthy posts:

The 7 top posts on Gandhi attracted over 28, 000 hits:
The music of humanity - (1664 hits)
The search for new time - Ahimsa in an age of permanent war

I request friends of Indian democracy to read and circulate these posts:

Some of my recent articles / talks
Lecture at the Champaran satyagraha commemoration in Patna, April 2017
Three essays commemorating 50 years of Naxalbari
Video of a lecture on Mahatma Gandhi's work for communal harmony in 1946-48
Essay in EPW commemorating 100 years of the Bolshevik revolution

Poems, essays, books:

A Hunger Artist (1922) 

Jimena Canales' study of Henri Bergson’s debate about time with Albert Einstein
The Almond Trees, by Albert Camus - the most-read 'philosophy' post has reached 3700 hits
A tribute to Liu Xaiobo, dissident intellectual and fighter for human rights and democracy; murdered by the Government of the Peoples Republic of China

And here are some labels / search results: 

My thanks and regards to all readers

What a Gandhian constitution might have looked like: Sidin Vadukut

What if Nathuram Godse had missed? What if Gandhi had survived, and cast his immeasurable influence on the Constitution of India? The answers to some of these questions may lie in the unique events that transpired in a corner of Maharashtra in 1938. In the summer of that year, a procession of 6,000 peasants living in the town of Atpadi, in present-day Maharashtra, began marching the 160km to Aundh, the capital of their microscopic princely state. Intelligence officers working for the ruler of Aundh, Raja Bhawanrao Pant Pratinidhi, sent alarming reports of an angry crowd, led by fiery 
leaders, shouting revolutionary slogans. 

These spies were entirely right to be alarmed. The procession accounted for more than 10% of the entire population of Atpadi taluka. Two days later, and with no sign of enthusiasm abating, the procession was camped just 5km outside the gates of Aundh. Writing about the events some five decades later, the late Apa Sahib Pant, son and heir of the raja of Aundh, recalled the state of alarm in the palace. The prince prayed to the royal family’s deity, Jagadamba. “Oh goddess,” he thought, “can this be the end of Aundh, and Baba’s dreams of a model state?”

As the procession camped for the night, the ministers, advisers and the prince himself were running helter skelter at the palace preparing for the inevitable showdown. The protesters were expected to arrive at the palace and demand an audience with the raja the next day. Yet no one at the palace, it appeared, had sought to consult with the raja. A meeting of high-ranking officials was called hastily in a palace called the “Rangachi Kholi”. This was where the raja liked to paint. Almost every day, up to 2 hours at a time, Bhawanrao would paint scenes from the Ramayan, Mahabharat, or the life of Shivaji, whom he adored.
Much to the astonishment of his ministers, the king appeared unperturbed about the revolution that seemed to have gathered at his doorstep. After listening to his advisers, he turned to his son. Apa Pant, later to become a stellar diplomat in the service of the Republic of India, suggested a gentle response. Let us offer them a lunch of dal and rice, the prince claims to have said, and then let us ask these citizens of Aundh what they are protesting about. “Let it be so,” said the king.

Jeremy Hance - World’s most controversial fruit depends on giant bats for pollination

Durian. Depending on whom you talk to it’s either the most beloved or the most despised fruit on the planet. It suffers no moderation, no wishy-washiness. It is the king of fruits or the worst thing you’ve ever tasted. Due to its potent odour – delicate and sweet to its advocates and sewage-like to its detractors – durian has been banned from airplanes, subways, and hotels (though punishments appear light if non-existent). But a recent study in Ecology and Evolution finds there may be no durians at all without bats: big, threatened bats. 

The scientists found that flying foxes – bats in the Pteropus and Acerodon genus and the largest in the world – are likely vital pollinators for the polarising durian. “We already knew that flying foxes feed on durian flowers, but there was this unsubstantiated belief, even among some researchers, that flying foxes just destroyed the flowers,” said Sheema Abdul Aziz, the lead researcher on the project that was done as part of her PhD at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in France. “It doesn’t help that a durian flower only blooms for one night, then falls off the tree naturally, regardless of whether it’s been pollinated or not. When people see all the flowers on the ground in the morning, they think it’s the bats.”

It’s not. By setting up camera traps high in durian trees on Tioman Island off the coast of peninsular Malaysia, Aziz and her colleagues exploded the myth that flying fox were damaging the flowers. Instead, the researchers watched the large winged-mammals – in this case the Island flying fox – hang upside down over the flowers and bow down their long snout into them, lapping up the nectar while leaving the flower unruffled.

“The video footage showed without a doubt how delicately flying foxes feed without destroying the flowers, and it also showed how tough and hardy these durian flowers really are,” Aziz said, who is also the founder and president of Rimba, a local NGO devoted to getting hard science out to the government and the public... read more:

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.

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 machismo brigade can't protect their children; the defender of 'family values' can't protect their families. They talk about mental health, when it is their moral depravity and spinelessness that lies at the back of this. It's worse: its seems there's a criminal streak running through the establishment.

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: 

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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: