Friday, May 26, 2017

The CIA's Intervention in Afghanistan Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paris, 15-21 January 1998

The CIA's Intervention in Afghanistan: Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski,  President Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser  Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 15-21 January 1998 

Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to Jimmy Carter, Dies at 89

Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs ["From the Shadows"], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise. Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

B: It isn't quite that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?

B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

B: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Q: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.

B: Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn't a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries.

Translated from the French by Bill Blum. The URL of this article is: 

Sikhs And Hindus In A Punjab Village Joined Hands To Build A Mosque Ahead Of Ramzan

In a shining instance of communal harmony and the spirit of brotherhood, members of the Sikh and Hindu communities came together to build a mosque for their Muslim brethren in a village in Punjab.
A report in the Times Of India mentioned that in the village of Ghalib Ran Singh Waal, which is dominated by Sikhs and Hindus, a mosque was inaugurated just as the month of Ramzan is going to begin. Earlier, the Muslim community had to visit nearby villages for their namaaz.

The TOI report quoted Liaqat Ali, a resident of the village, as saying that their long cherished demand has been fulfilled and that the beautiful Hazrat Abu Bakar mosque is an Eid gift for them.
The village of Ghalib Ran Singh Waal has a population of 1,300, out of which around 700 are Sikhs, 200 Hindus, and 150 are Muslims. The Muslims had mostly settled in the village after the partition.
The Shahi Imam of Punjab, Maulana Habib Ur Rehman Saani Ludhianvi, said that it is a big gesture of brotherhood on part of the villagers. It was a long pending demand of the local Muslim community which will now be able to pray in its own mosque, the TOI report said.

Although the resolution to construct the mosque was passed in 1998, it was only last year that construction began with the help of the villagers. Village sarpanch Jagdeep Kaur mentioned that her village is the epitome of communal harmony. She also said that a temple is now being made with the combined efforts of the villagers. The village also has a Nanaksar Gurdwara, where members of all the faiths go to pay their respects.

Jaswinder Kumar, a resident of Ghalib Ran Singh Waal, said that there had hardly been any instance of communal violence in their village. Fellow resident, Om Kumar, added that they wanted to tell those fighting in the name of religion that they should instead work together. "Our village is a perfect example of how members from various communities can come together in a peaceful manner, and respect each other's faith," he said.

Book review: How the Nazis Made Art Fascist

Benjamin Martin: The Nazi-Fascist New Order for European Culture
Reviewed by IAN BEACOCK

Keystone/Getty Imagges
Cary Grant was there. So was the distinguished silent film star Mary Pickford. Tyrone Power, handsome swashbuckler of stage and screen, showed up with his new wife, the glamorous French actress Annabella. As they did every summer, the world’s rich and famous had descended upon Venice to toss back flutes of prosecco at the Biennale and step out at the Film Festival. In August 1939, however, the guest of honor was Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist and the cultural czar of the Third Reich. Goebbels made a dramatic entrance by gondola, gliding down the Grand Canal as swastika flags rippled from bridges and windowsills. Italian newsreels show the propaganda minister sunning himself aboard a sailboat and leading a nighttime rally in the Piazza San Marco. Within weeks of Goebbels’ Venetian tour, German tanks thundered into Poland. Europe was once again at war.

Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany formalized their military alliance in May 1939. Yet both powers recognized that hegemony in Europe and the Mediterranean required the projection of cultural influence as much as the force of arms. And so they set about remaking European civilization in their own image. During the 1930s, Berlin and Rome built a right-wing network of international organizations for film, music, literature, and academic scholarship. These bodies lent prestige to the Nazi–fascist project while laying the groundwork for a new idea of Europe itself: not liberal and cosmopolitan but racially pure and authoritarian—a sharp rebuke to the mixed, messy democratic modernity of France, Britain, and the United States. The Venice Film Festival was the finest jewel in the Nazi–fascist cultural crown, founded by Mussolini’s regime in 1932 as an aesthetic counterweight to Hollywood commercialism.

This is the story narrated with great erudition and grace by Benjamin Martin in his new book The Nazi-Fascist New Order for European Culture. The insidious spread of what Martin calls “the soft power of Nazi and fascist imperialism” is a staggering tale of geopolitical and intellectual ambition. It is all the more astonishing for having been overlooked for so long. Drawing upon libraries and archives in five different countries, Martin’s work is a dazzling transnational history of ideas and institutions as well as a major contribution to our understanding of fascism and the Third Reich: Martin reveals how cultural initiatives unlock the political imagination of the interwar radical right. It was in concert halls and boardrooms and along red carpets that sinister ideologues like Goebbels most fully revealed their plans to remake European civilization and overturn the global order.

The book also lands with more shuddering force than its author could have anticipated. More than any moment since the 1930s, we suddenly face the prospect of a world system principally shaped by the extreme right. .. read more:

PATRICK BLANCHFIELD: Mirror Stage President

No amount of coverage seems to be enough, and what coverage there is always falls short

Can we diagnose the omnipresent? It might be more productive to read Trump as a symptom. The vector of contagion - those screens - leaps out. Trump, of course, isn’t just at home on screen - he is personally at home with them, surrounded by them. In some respects, this is typical: just another 70-year-old white man who begins his mornings with television, monitors television throughout the day, and retires, fairly early, to watch more television at night. Like many such men, he’s said to occasionally respond to the television by talking at it angrily, and, also like many such men, he is particularly fond of Fox News. What sets Trump apart from the stereotype is that what he primarily watches on TV is himself. What for us is a screen is for Trump a mirror, and he gets to have mirrors everywhere… It’s here that a little bit of psychoanalysis can help

SIGMUND FREUD only made one trip to the United States, in 1909. What he saw didn’t impress him. For all its shortcomings, the Austro-Hungarian Empire - the era’s other highly diverse, federalist nation - at least maintained a robust welfare system, gave official recognition to multiple religious confessions (including Islam), and offered a pretense, however tenuous, of multi-ethnic solidarity. “America,” by contrast, “[was] a mistake; a gigantic mistake, but a mistake.”.. In the US, Freud saw a society of runaway exploitation held together—uneasily—by a cynical rhetoric of “progress,” sham protestations of universal equality, and a cult of national exceptionalism and divinely ordained manifest destiny. Instead of producing leaders who represented the nation at its best and brightest, American democracy, Freud believed, had a habit of producing ones who embodied its worst; the US was “the psychological poverty of groups” exemplified. Then as now, Americans have never taken kindly to such criticism; Freud anticipated American resistance to psychoanalysis as a matter of course, observing to Carl Jung, his traveling companion on that US tour, that “we’re bringing them the plague.”

He wasn’t wrong. Nothing quite captures Americans’ ambivalence toward Freud’s great export as our oft-professed contempt for what we like to call “armchair psychoanalysis.” The term is synonymous with uninformed commentary and fatuous pontification, delivered in the same mode - and from the same piece of furniture - as our other great vice: armchair quarterbacking. But our condemnations of armchair psychoanalysis hardly diminish our appetite for it - or its ubiquity. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave the term a novel spin when he condemned a federal judge in Hawaii for blocking President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on immigration from Muslim-majority countries. “Judges,” Sessions said, “don’t get to psychoanalyze the President to see if the order he issues is lawful.” In Sessions’s view, apparently, considering Trump’s immigration order alongside his numerous on-the-record statements about pursuing a “Muslim ban” is neither basic common sense nor jurisprudential due diligence: it’s so much “psychoanalysis.” .. 

On the other end of the political spectrum, Trump’s critics argue that it’s long past time to revisit the so-called Goldwater Rule, the portion of the American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics that bars psychiatric professionals from making statements about the mental health of public figures whom they have not personally examined. “Does Trump need to lie to my face for me to know he lies all the time?” asked one prominent psychologist last month. “He does lie to my face—every night. I watch TV!”.. read more:


The camp is the end of the liberal order, the end of the post-WW II world, the end of human rights.

“My friend,” TZEZHS4XS01082016 says when a new man—young, well-fed, bored—appears on the other side of the wiring. “Please. My name. I haven’t heard it.”

THE BOY DIDN’T SLEEP IN THE TENT last night. He has someplace he goes. In the city maybe. It’s better, there’s more space when he’s gone. But TZEZHS4XS01082016 can’t help but feel jealous. TZEZHS4XS01082016 hasn’t been able to leave the camp for months. He could leave if he wanted, but what if they called his name while he was out? He lifts his wrist up, clicks on the light on his watch. 07:31. Why even check the time? It annoys him every time he does it. It’s best to forget the time. What do you need to know the time for? He checks under his pillow for the plastic, the paper within. He worries that he’ll unfold and fold it so many times that it will tear, that some crucial letter will become illegible. But he still needs to check it.

The January snows fell hard. A rivulet of muddy water runs past his tent.
His nylon tent sags heavy under the snow.
He presses his feet into his sodden shoes. Feels his jacket to see if it has dried. It hasn’t. Nothing has. But he has to go outside. He has to listen for his name.

The camp spreads high up the hillside, tents, barbed wire, containers, rubble, trash, people, waiting. Moria. Every day people come and people go, but he stays. Moria. The camp of listening. Every day they read names out and hand papers back through the metal fence at the center of the camp. But whose names? Whose papers? TZEZHS4XS01082016 has been here so long. Sometimes people pass through within a week. And some, it is true, have been here even longer. If they would just give him a sign, an appointment, a look at a list, anything. If he knew they weren’t going to call his name he would walk into the city, he could maybe buy some shoes, he’d spend the day keeping warm inside his tent. But there is no list, no sign, no answers, there is only waiting.

There is movement inside the fence. The Greeks have arrived. The young men with neat beards and soft chins stand behind the razor wire with new papers in their hands. They mangle names with their accents. People from the camp gravitate quickly toward them, listening for a familiar sound. “Abdooola!” the call rises. “Abdoooola!” TZEZHS4XS01082016, his paper tight in his hand, presses forward to the fence. Maybe today. “My friend,” he says through the metal wiring. “My name. I haven’t heard it.” TZEZHS4XS01082016 presses his precious document up against the wiring. “Look. My friend, please look.”

The man, half his age, does not look at him. He flicks to his next paper, calls another name out toward the camp.  Maybe they called TZEZHS4XS01082016 months ago and he didn’t hear it...

What Orwell Saw - and what he missed - about today’s world By THOMAS E. RICKS

While spending the last three years immersed in the works of George Orwell for a book I was researching and writing, I often was struck by how often his writing speaks to the problems of today. That’s especially impressive, given that he died in 1950. The dystopian future Orwell portrays in 1984 helps illuminate our post-9/11 world. In the novel, the government of “Big Brother” carries on a perpetual war that, as in American life today, “involves very small numbers of people, mostly highly trained specialists, and causes comparatively few casualties. The fighting, when there is any, takes place on the vague frontiers whose whereabouts the average man can only guess at.” And just as young Americans today have lived with that anti-terror campaign all their lives, so too 1984’s hero, “Winston,” “could not definitely remember a time when his country had not been at war.” 

Orwell would not be surprised that the U.S. government, prosecuting such a war, officially endorsed the use of torture, for the first time in its history. Nor would Orwell have been surprised by President Trump’s limited vocabulary of words like “sad,” “bad” and “amazing.” In 1984, the government purposely dumbed down language, with “excellent” and “splendid” replaced by “plusgood” and “doubleplusgood.” Yet Orwell was hardly all-seeing. He never visited the United States, and so perhaps as a result did not grasp the resiliency of capitalism. He wrote in 1943 that “an economy ruled by the profit motive is simply not equal to re-arming on a modern scale.” That assertion might have been true of the Britain of the 1930s, which had a declining economy that had failed to adequately fund innovation. But over the last eight decades, the United States has proved his assertion to be incorrect three times- first during World War II, then again during the Eisenhower-era Cold War buildup, and finally in the post-Vietnam rebuilding of the American military, when Reaganite defense spending combined with computers to create a powerful new U.S. military machine built around precision-guided weapons and the swift transmission of data.

As a consequence, Orwell also underestimated how intrusive Western states and companies could become. This was in part because his views on the limitations of capitalism were formed by what he observed in mid-20th century Britain - that is, a nation caught in stagnating, late Industrial Age capitalism. The highest goal of that ageing structure was efficiency, which meant that companies sought profits by having managers squeeze a little more money out of existing systems and workers. Hence he thought that industry could only succeed through ever-greater repression of labor. “Unless there is some unpredictable change in human nature,” he concluded, “liberty and efficiency must pull in opposite directions.”

Orwell could not see that with the dawn of the Information Age several decades later, efficiency would become far less economically significant than innovation and adaptiveness. Apple, Microsoft, Google, and myriad other late-twentieth-century companies did not offer faster typewriters. They created entirely new products, such as handheld computers and applications for them. They were hardly efficient in doing so, because innovation is necessarily a wasteful process, producing many more failures than successes. For example, the extraordinary ups and downs in the career of Apple’s Steve Jobs of Apple were beyond anything Orwell witnessed in his own country. Nor were these new companies built on repressing their employees: They could compete only by lavishing money, stock options and other benefits on workers capable of imagining and developing attractive new products.

But Orwell likely would have been fascinated about the next step these innovative new corporations took... read more:

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Fascist, Go Home! After Bombing, Manchester Residents Shut Down Anti-Muslim Demo

In the aftermath of Monday’s tragic bombing, the people of Manchester showed little patience with the racist opportunists of the extreme right English Defence League, quickly confronting EDL attempts at provoking a xenophobic and anti-Muslim backlash. The immigrant-scapegoating EDL picketed outside of the Arndale Mall Tuesday, spewing Islamophobic slurs and hoisting the Union Jack. The demonstration followed shortly after the panicked evacuation of the shopping center.
However, the far-right horde was quickly outnumbered by counter-protesters. One man, filmed by Reuters, strongly denounced the EDL fascists while onlookers clapped and nodded.

“The people of Manchester don’t stand with your xenophobia and racism,” he said, adding, “The people of Manchester are going to stick together, no matter what religion you follow, no matter what the color of your skin is. “We’re not going to stand with people like you,” he shouted at the right-wingers. “We’re going to stick together because together we are stronger and the people of Manchester are not going to be afraid of who is responsible for this violence,” he continued.

International Hawkers' Day: Sustainable Consumerism, Sustainability in Value Chain and Hawkers. By T. Vijayendra

International Hawkers' Day May 26

Sustainable Consumerism, Sustainability in Value Chain and Hawkers

T. Vijayendra

Life on earth can be divided in two parts – plant life and animal life. The difference between the two is that plants produce their own food whereas animals, humans included, live directly or indirectly on food produced by plants. To sustain themselves, humans consume goods and services not only from plant sources but also from inanimate sources such as minerals. These are called renewable and non-renewable resources respectively. Non-renewable resources are finite in nature by definition; in other words, the more we use them, the scarcer they get. Renewable sources, like plants, trees and agriculture, are by definition renewed in nature; both by natural processes and helped by human efforts.

Now, a rough definition of sustainability is that we consume resources in such a way the same level of resources we enjoyed is available to succeeding generations and all other forms of life. This issue was not important in history because our population was small and levels of consumption per capita was also small. Today, both have increased substantially.

The large heart of the working class: the small town in America's Deep South that welcomes 1,500 refugees a year. By Katy Long

Clarkston, a small town in Georgia, has received over 40,000 refugees over the past 25 years. They come from every corner of the globe. This year there are more Congolese than Syrians; past waves of refugee resettlement have brought Bhutanese, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Somalis, Sudanese, Liberians, Vietnamese. All have landed in an otherwise unremarkable city in the Deep South, pop: 13,000. 
Hekmatullah, an Afghan refugee, pours chai as his wife Waheeda watches on. Hekmatullah worked as a journalist for 25 years before coming to America. He now works in a retail distribution center in Atlanta.
Hekmatullah, an Afghan refugee, pours chai as his wife Waheeda watches on. Hekmatullah worked as a journalist for 25 years before coming to America. Photograph: Jessie Parks for the Guardian
Look beyond the 1970s strip malls, apartment complexes and parking lots, and there are sights rarely seen elsewhere in America. Beige storefronts are topped by signs in Amharic and Nepali scripts, with evocative English translations: Balageru Food Mart, African Cultural and Injera Grocers, Numsok Oriental Grocers. Women gather nearby wearing bright African headscarves, and others cross the street in traditional Asian silk dresses, long black hair braided down their backs.

But foreigners are not the only migrants to Clarkston. The self-proclaimed “Ellis Island of the south” is now seeing not only refugees and poor immigrants arrive. Its reputation has prompted a swell of middle-class professional Americans, who – in the words of the city’s 34-year-old mayor, Ted Terry – are “in search of all the trappings of diversity”. Terry, who has a hipster beard, checked shirt and odd socks, was welcoming a delegation from the Middle East, who had come to see how Clarkston manages its diverse refugee community. “My goal with Clarkston is to showcase it,” he explained. “I didn’t make this place a compassionate community – yes, we enshrined it in an official way, but it was a compassionate and welcoming community long before I got here.” 
A refugee woman and her children inside the Friends of Refugees community garden in Clarkston, Georgia.
A refugee woman and her children inside the Friends of Refugees community garden in 
Clarkston, Georgia. Photograph: Jessie Parks for the Guardian
How does this happen? How does a dusty, working-class city in the south not only manage to house 1,500 refugees per year, but make their welcome integral to the town’s sense of identity? It turns out the story of Clarkston is not just about who is being welcomed: it’s also a story about who is doing the welcoming. In the corner of Clarkston’s downtown parking lot is a bright red food truck selling artisanal coffee, the kind of sleek minimalist outfit that would not look out of place in San Francisco or New York, under the logo reading “Refuge Coffee”. It was founded by a recent American arrival... read more:

Nick Hopkins - How Facebook flouts Holocaust denial laws except where it fears being sued

Facebook’s policies on Holocaust denial will come under fresh scrutiny following the leak of documents that show moderators are being told not to remove this content in most of the countries where it is illegal. The files explain that moderators should take down Holocaust denial material in only four of the 14 countries where it is outlawed, if reported. One document says the company “does not welcome local law that stands as an obstacle to an open and connected world” and will only consider blocking or hiding Holocaust denial messages and photographs if “we face the risk of getting blocked in a country or a legal risk”. A picture of a concentration camp with the caption “Never again Believe the Lies” was permissible if posted anywhere other than the four countries in which Facebook fears legal action, one document explains. Facebook contested the figures but declined to elaborate.

The social media service has also decided that migrants, refugees and asylum seekers should be regarded as a “quasi-protected category” – so they will not receive the protections given to other vulnerable groups. Documents show Facebook has told moderators to remove dehumanising speech or any “calls for violence” against refugees. Content “that says migrants should face a firing squad or compares them to animals, criminals or filth” also violate its guidelines. But it adds: “As a quasi-protected category, they will not have the full protections of our hate speech policy because we want to allow people to have broad discussions on migrants and immigration which is a hot topic in upcoming elections.”

According to the documents, comments permitted under the policy include ones such as: “Islam is a religion of hate. Close the borders to immigrating Muslims until we figure out what the hell is going on”; “migrants are so filthy”; “migrants are thieves and robbers”; and “Mexican immigrants are freeloaders mooching off of tax dollars we don’t even have”. The documents show moderators have been told they do not have to delete comment such as “Fuck immigrant” and “Keep the horny migrant teenagers away from our daughters”... read more:

‘Nature’s Grandchildren’

‘Nature’s Grandchildren’ 
Aseem Shrivastava's essay for a new website on Radical Ecological Democracy
Can we be human in the absence of nature, asked Rabindranath.

To Civilization
Give back the wilderness, take away the city
Embrace if you will your steel, brick and stone walls
O newfangled civilization! Cruel all-consuming one, 
Return all sylvan, secluded, shaded and sacred spots
And traditions of innocence. Come back evenings
When herds returned suffused in evening light,
Serene hymns were sung, paddy accepted as alms
And bark-clothes worn. Rapt in devotion,
One meditated on eternal truths then single-mindedly.
No more stone-hearted security or food fit for kings -
We’d rather breathe freely and discourse openly!
We’d rather get back the strength that we had,
Burst through all barriers that hem us in and feel
This boundless Universe’s pulsating heartbeat!

(Rabindranath Tagore, Sabhyatar-Prati, from Chaitali, 1896, Translated by Fakrul Alam)

Deeply resonant with William Blake’s poem London, in which the poet laments “the mind-forg’d manacles” of the great city which left “marks of weakness, marks of woe” on “every face” he met, Rabindranath’s poem Sabhyatar-Prati is only one among thousands of poems, songs, plays and stories where he illuminates how metropolitan humanity’s growing alienation from the natural world continues to enervate it, draining it of the vitality it once had and which it could possess again if ecological integrity could be restored to our relationship to nature. 

Rabindranath believes that the inevitable ecological alienation involved in metropolitan life cripples our cognition profoundly, leaving humanity in a condition of an ultimately destructive spiritual destitution. Intimacy with the natural world from a formative age is the only way to restore humanity to spiritual and ecological health. This, to him, is the core of his practical religion as well as his pedagogy. Writing about Vishwabhaati University (which he set up in Birbhum in Bengal) in his essay Creative Unity, he writes:   

‘The one abiding ideal in the religious life of India has been mukti, the deliverance of man’s soul from the grip of self, its communion with the Infinite Soul through its union in ananda with the universe… This religion of spiritual harmony is not a theological doctrine to be taught, as a subject in the class, for half an hour each day. 

World is plundering Africa's wealth for 'billions of dollars a year'

More wealth leaves Africa every year than enters it – by more than $40bn (£31bn) – according to research that challenges “misleading” perceptions of foreign aid. Analysis by a coalition of UK and African equality and development campaigners including Global Justice Now, published on Wednesday, claims the rest of the world is profiting more than most African citizens from the continent’s wealth. It said African countries received $162bn in 2015, mainly in loans, aid and personal remittances. But in the same year, $203bn was taken from the continent, either directly through multinationals repatriating profits and illegally moving money into tax havens, or by costs imposed by the rest of the world through climate change adaptation and mitigation.

This led to an annual financial deficit of $41.3bn from the 47 African countries where many people remain trapped in poverty, according to the report, Honest Accounts 2017. The campaigners said illicit financial flows, defined as the illegal movement of cash between countries, account for $68bn a year, three times as much as the $19bn Africa receives in aid.

Tim Jones, an economist from the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: “The key message we want to get across is that more money flows out of Africa than goes in, and if we are to address poverty and income inequality we have to help to get it back.” The key factors contributing to this inequality include unjust debt payments and multinational companies hiding proceeds through tax avoidance and corruption, he said. African governments received $32bn in loans in 2015, but paid more than half of that – $18bn – in debt interest, with the level of debt rising rapidly… read more:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Is this the most perfect love story

The time was June 1975, and I was hitchhiking around Switzerland and France the summer before grad school in Chicago. I had ended up in Neuchâtel that day by chance; the ride I caught was going there. The youth hostel was somewhere up the hill, but I was hot and thirsty, so I plopped down on the terrace of Café Pam-Pam. Finally I spoke to her, asking as best I could in French if she’d like to play, pointing at the chessboard. She responded in French, “Pardon?” I tried to carefully repeat my question. She responded in English, “Perhaps we should speak English.”

Maïf, short for Marie-France, was 19 and had lived in Neuchâtel all her life. She was at the cafe, her regular after-school hangout, for a coffee, cigarette and game of pinball. She’d just finished a day of Baccalaureate exams to graduate from high school. Over the next two days, Maïf showed me her town. We walked along cobblestone streets up to the 12th-Century castle where she’d played as a young girl with her German shepherd, Kathy. We sprawled on the grass by the lake, the white Alps in the distance. We stayed out until dawn at a low-key club where she gave me a coin for the jukebox and asked me to punch in G5 for her favourite song by George Benson. We were joined for a while by a suave older guy she knew. He clearly disliked that she was with me.

During those two days together, we never even kissed. I was smitten, but she had a boyfriend in Canada, and would soon be joining him at university to study English. I was too shy to tell her how I felt. So I left. I stuck out my thumb again and caught rides to… somewhere that I’ve completely forgotten. Then, after a few days, I gave in and went back to Neuchâtel, back to Café Pam-Pam. Before long, here came Maïf on her little black scooter, putt-putting up the hill. After a coffee, she took me to her house around the corner, where her grandmother made us an omelette for lunch. I’d never had an omelette for lunch. We ate in the kitchen at a table that’s still there.

I stayed one more night in Neuchâtel. I still had more exploring to do before flying back to the US, and it was too painful to stay longer. We said goodbye in front of her house, and there we finally kissed, but just on each cheek as Europeans do with friends. As I turned and walked away, Maïf let out a low groaning sound. Any idiot would have turned around and gone back to her forever.

By September, I was living in Chicago, going to grad school, and Maïf was in Ontario at university. We wrote each other once. Her boyfriend had gotten otherwise involved. I called her and she said maybe she could come to Chicago soon. But when I called again a couple of weeks later, she told me she’d met someone. We lost contact. For 32 years... read more:

The Bombing at a Manchester Ariana Grande Show Was an Attack on Girls and Women

The victims of Monday’s bombing will almost certainly be mostly girls and women. The Grande fan demographic also includes a number of older millennial women, gay men, and general lovers of pop music, of course, but her live concerts are largely populated by tween and teenage girls and their moms. By staging the attack at a Grande show, the perpetrator or perpetrators chose to target children who may or may not have had an adult around to help them through an emergency situation.

And they targeted fans of an artist whose global brand is one of blissful, unsubdued feminine sexuality. Grande has long been the target of sexist rhetoric that has deemed her culpable for any sexual objectification or animosity that’s come her way. Her songs and wardrobe are sexy, yet she’s maintained a coy, youthful persona; the combination has led some haters to argue that she’s made her fortune by making people want to have sex with her, so whatever related harm befalls her is entirely her fault.

Like her pop-superstar predecessor Britney Spears, Grande has advanced a renegade, self-reflexive sexuality that’s threatening to the established heteropatriarchal order. If the Manchester bombing was an act of terrorism, its venue indicates that the attack was designed to terrorize young girls who idolize Grande’s image. Terrorism works by making people afraid to go about their daily lives, doing the things that make them feel human and whole: going to work, shopping at the mall, traveling by plane, dancing to Latin music at a gay club, singing along to a fun pop tune that lets young women envision themselves as powerful, sexual beings. All concertgoers whose nights ended in panic or tragedy on Monday will suffer some degree of post-traumatic consequences in the coming months and years. But the teens and children in the audience, who are still in the middle of developing their conceptions of themselves and the world, may find those notions irrevocably altered… 
read more:

see also

Monday, May 22, 2017

Against Discouragement By Howard Zinn

In 1963, historian Howard Zinn was fired from Spelman College, where he was chair of the History Department, because of his civil rights activities. In 2005, he was invited to give the commencement address. Here is the text of that speech, given on May 15, 2005.

So all of you, settle into your chairs, take off your hats, feel the comforting heat of that sun beating down, and consider the words of Howard Zinn as he urges the students of Spelman College not to be discouraged, not to despair, but to enter the world with their heads held high, imagining what each of them might do for him or herself -- and for the rest of us. Tom

I am deeply honored to be invited back to Spelman after forty-two years. I would like to thank the faculty and trustees who voted to invite me, and especially your president, Dr. Beverly Tatum. And it is a special privilege to be here with Diahann Carroll and Virginia Davis Floyd.

But this is your day -- the students graduating today. It's a happy day for you and your families. I know you have your own hopes for the future, so it may be a little presumptuous for me to tell you what hopes I have for you, but they are exactly the same ones that I have for my grandchildren.
My first hope is that you will not be too discouraged by the way the world looks at this moment. It is easy to be discouraged, because our nation is at war -- still another war, war after war -- and our government seems determined to expand its empire even if it costs the lives of tens of thousands of human beings.

Saharanpur violence: Dalits defy Delhi Police ban to protest at Jantar Mantar

The capital’s favourite protest venue - Jantar Mantar – turned blue on Sunday as thousands of Dalits led by the Bhim Army, an organisation fighting for the community’s rights, staged a demonstration against the recent violence in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Despite being denied permission by Delhi Police to hold a rally, protesters dressed in blue gathered on the call of Bhim Army Ekta Mission, led by 30-year-old lawyer Chandrashekhar to fight against “oppression” by upper castes.

Cries of Jai Bhim rent the air at Jantar Mantar as several smaller organisations such as Dalit Sangarsh Morcha, Yuva Shakti Dal and youths from different parts of Western UP and Delhi also showed up to lend their support. The protest comes after the recent violence involving Dalits and Thakurs in Saharanpur during the birth anniversary celebrations of Maharana Pratap. The skirmish took place on May 5, when a mob, allegedly from the Thakur community, ransacked and burned down 25 houses belonging to Dalits, and injured 15 members of the community in Saharanpur.

Chandrashekhar, who is wanted for his alleged involvement in the clashes between the police and the protesters on May 9, also addressed the gathering. “We have come here to fight oppression. If you kill one Chandrashekhar, thousands more will rise. The RSS and Hindu right organisations have been oppressing us for centuries, but we are not weak,” he said. He also gave out phone numbers to protesters to call for help if they were being oppressed. He also said he was willing to surrender to police.

Two Turkish teachers on 75-day hunger strike detained by police / Turkey: 'Professional annihilation'of 100,000 public sector workers in purge

Two Turkish teachers who are on their 75th day of a hunger strike have been detained by police in Ankara. Nuriye Gülmen, a professor of literature, and Semih Özakça, a primary school teacher, have been on strike for more than 10 weeks after losing their jobs following the failed coup against the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, last July. Surviving on a liquid diet of lemon and saltwater and sugar solutions, the pair have lost significant amounts of weight and doctors said this month that their health was deteriorating. A source close to the strikers said their muscles had atrophied.
Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça on Sunday
Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça on Sunday. Photograph: Altan Gocher/Barcroft Images

Police are concerned the strike will become a “death fast” rather than a hunger strike. The detention appears to have been motivated by fears that the strike could be taken up as a cause celebre and evolve into a larger movement like the Gezi park protests in 2013, when hundreds of thousands of people protested against plans to build a replica Ottoman barracks in central Istanbul. Gülmen tweeted a message of defiance shortly before the detention, saying: “Political department police are trying to enter the house. They are now breaking the door. Damn fascism! Long live our hunger strike resistance! We want our jobs back! We have not and will not surrender!” A lawyer, Selçuk Kozağaçlı, tweeted that the two hunger strikers were tired but well, although he said they had been “knocked about quite a bit” during the arrest.

More Than 31 Million People Were Internally Displaced In 2016: Report

Crises of violence, conflict and disaster caused more than 31 million people to flee their homes in 2016. That’s about one person internally displaced per second, a new joint report from the Norwegian Refugee Council and Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reveals. There are currently twice as many internally displaced persons, or IDPs, as refugees worldwide, but the issue of internal displacement remains largely neglected on the global policy agenda, the organizations warned Monday. Many people who flee their countries as refugees are later forced to return home, only to become displaced internally, the report said. Last year, natural disaster was by far the largest source of displacement.

Violence and conflict together resulted in nearly 7 million new cases, at a rate of about 15,000 per day. This included some 922,000 cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 824,000 in Syria and 659,000 in Iraq. The global population of such IDPs has been on the rise since 2003, and now exceeds 40 million. Natural disasters led to a sobering 24.2 million internal displacements in 2016, including more than 7.4 million in China, 5.9 million in the Philippines and 2.4 million in India. In countries like NigeriaSouth Sudan and Somalia, the combined detrimental effects of disaster and violent conflict are fueling rapid displacement and extreme food shortages.

Did you know that most people displaced by conflict are displaced in their home country?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wang Quanzhang: The lawyer who 'simply vanished' By John Sudworth

In August 2015 Wang Quanzhang was detained by the Chinese authorities. In that he was not alone. The nationwide series of raids that summer saw more than 200 lawyers, legal assistants and human rights activists brought in for questioning. But almost two years on, Mr Wang is the only lawyer from whom nothing has been heard at all. "I don't know whether he's alive or dead," his wife Li Wenzu told me. "I have had no information at all. He has simply disappeared from the face of the earth. It is so scary, so brutal."
Wang Quanzhang, his wife Li Wenzu and their child
Li Wenzu fears her husband is being punished for a failure to compromise

China's "709" crackdown as it's now known - a reference to 9 July, the date it began - is widely seen as a sign of a growing intolerance of dissent under President Xi Jinping. Of the large number of people initially detained, around two dozen have been pursued as formal investigations. Over the past year or so those cases have gradually been reaching some kind of a conclusion. Some of the accused have been given long jail terms, of up to seven and a half years, for the crime of subversion. Others have been given suspended prison sentences or released on bail, but still remain under constant surveillance. But of the lawyers arrested in that initial 2015 sweep, Mr Wang is unique. Apart from one brief written notification of his arrest, the family say he has disappeared into a black hole. "For these two years, he hasn't been allowed to meet the lawyer that we have employed for him, and he has no right to communicate with the outside world," his wife Ms Li said. "He has been deprived of all rights."

There have been allegations that some of the lawyers have been tortured during their detention, force-fed drugs, shackled, beaten and kept in stress positions for long periods of time. Their admissions of guilt, either in court or in the televised confessions that have been broadcast by state-run TV, should not be taken at face value, their supporters argue, but rather as the inevitable consequence of the pressure they've been under. They now fear that Mr Wang's continued incarceration might be because he is holding out. "I think it might be because my husband hasn't compromised at all," Ms Li said. "That's why his case remains unsolved." Wang Quanzhang is certainly no stranger to pressure. His work representing the persecuted followers of China's banned spiritual movement, Falun Gong, as well as human rights activists, has attracted the ire of the authorities before. In this interview, he recounts being beaten in the basement of a court building for challenging the order of a judge… 

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Book Review: Thomas Kühne. Belonging and Genocide: Hitler's Community, 1918-1945

Thomas Kühne: Belonging and Genocide: Hitler's Community, 1918-1945
Reviewed by Jochen Böhler
This is an interesting essay on a difficult question: What were the bonds between the German society and the Nazi mass crimes? The question has rarely been dealt with so radically: According to Kühne, the entire German “people’s community” (Volksgemeinschaft) was not only aware of, but – both directly and indirectly – involved in these crimes (p. 3-4).

The first chapter (Craving Community – World War I and the Myth of Comradeship) demonstrates how the loss of orientation in the wake of industrialization at the end of the 19th century resulted in stratification and social tensions within the German society (for example Protestants against Catholics, socialists and workers against ruling classes). Neither the so called “Spirit of 1914” nor the party truce (Burgfrieden) were able to bridge these gaps. Other countries such as England and France were not free of such antagonisms, but in 1918, they found themselves amongst the victors and still possessed colonies. Thus, they built up less inner tensions and had more space to discharge them. In contrast, in Germany the perception to be surrounded by enemies prevailed even in peace times. The counter-concept was the widespread myth of comradeship, born in the trenches of the First World War and shared by the political right and left. But only nationalist and rightwing organizations used this myth to create the ideal of the Volksgemeinschaft, which should include all “real” Germans and exclude their “internal enemies” (like for example the German Jews or Communists).

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”. But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault... 

“A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in,” she told the Guardian. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18C. But the breach has questioned the ability of the vault to survive as a lifeline for humanity if catastrophe strikes. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day,” Aschim said. “We must see what we can do to minimise all the risks and make sure the seed bank can take care of itself.” read more:

Iran: Hassan Rouhani set for landslide in huge victory for reformists

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is to claim re-election with a landslide victory, in a ringing endorsement of his efforts to re-engage with the West and offer greater freedoms at home.
With a huge turnout, polling stations stayed open until midnight in parts of the country, defying worries that moderates disillusioned by the weak economy or slow pace of change would not vote.

Preliminary results from Iran’s interior ministry suggested Rouhani would return to power with a bigger mandate than he had after his original 2013 win, driven by a boldly reformist campaign.
Iran’s interior ministry said Rouhani was ahead, with 22.8 million votes to his conservative rival Ebrahim Raisi’s 15.5 million, with almost all votes counted. The government said over 40 million people voted, out of 56 million who were eligible. Officials plan to announce exact voter turnout later today. “Hope prevailed over isolation,” former president and key Rouhani ally Mohammad Khatami posted on Instagram, along with a photo of Rouhani making a victory sign, Reuters reported. Iran’s state television congratulated Rouhani on re-election. 

The foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said: “We derive stability not from ‘coalitions’, but from our people, who – unlike many – do vote. Iranians must be respected and are ready to engage.”
The incumbent saw off a strong challenge from Raisi, a fellow cleric with radically different politics, who stirred up populist concerns about the sluggish economy, lambasted Rouhani for seeking foreign investment and appealed to religious conservatives. He had gathered momentum as conservatives keen to win back control of the government coalesced behind Raisi’s initially lacklustre campaign.

In Iran’s unique and uneasy hybrid of democracy and theocracy, the president has significant power to shape government, although he is is ultimately constrained by the supreme leader. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a hardliner thought to favour Raisi in the election and as a possible successor for his own job, generally steers clear of day to day politics but exerts ultimate control over Iran through control of powerful bodies from the judiciary to the revolutionary guards corp. Despite losing the overall race, Raisi appeared to have won enough votes to preserve his political future, allowing him to campaign for office again or justify his promotion in unelected bodies. Rouhani, who had received 18.6m votes in 2013, is projected to receive well above 20m this time. Former reformist president, Khatami, one of Iran’s most popular and influential politicians, received 20m (69.6%) in 1997… 

Friday, May 19, 2017

How U.S. Military Bases Back Dictators, Autocrats, and Military Regimes - By David Vine

The 45 nations and territories with little or no democratic rule represent more than half of the roughly 80 countries now hosting U.S. bases (who often lack the power to ask their “guests” to leave).  They are part of a historically unprecedented global network of military installations the United States has built or occupied since World War II. Today, while there are no foreign bases in the United States, there are around 800 U.S. bases in foreign countries. That number was recently even higher, but it still almost certainly represents a record for any nation or empire in history.

Much outrage has been expressed in recent weeks over President Donald Trump’s invitation for a White House visit to Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, whose “war on drugs” has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings. Criticism of Trump was especially intense given his similarly warm public support for other authoritarian rulers like Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (who visited the Oval Office to much praise only weeks earlier), Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who got a congratulatory phone call from President Trump on his recent referendum victory, granting him increasingly unchecked powers), and Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha (who also received a White House invitation).

US nears $100bn arms deal for Saudi Arabia in time for Trump's visit
But here’s the strange thing: the critics generally ignored the far more substantial and long-standing bipartisan support U.S. presidents have offered these and dozens of other repressive regimes over the decades. After all, such autocratic countries share one striking thing in common. They are among at least 45 less-than-democratic nations and territories that today host scores of U.S. military bases, from ones the size of not-so-small American towns to tiny outposts. Together, these bases are homes to tens of thousands of U.S. troops. To ensure basing access from Central America to Africa, Asia to the Middle East, U.S. officials have repeatedly collaborated with fiercely anti-democratic regimes and militaries implicated in torture, murder, the suppression of democratic rights, the systematic oppression of women and minorities, and numerous other human rights abuses. 

Forget the recent White House invitations and Trump’s public compliments. For nearly three quarters of a century, the United States has invested tens of billions of dollars in maintaining bases and troops in such repressive states. From Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have, since World War II, regularly shown a preference for maintaining bases in undemocratic and often despotic states, including Spain under Generalissimo Francisco Franco, South Korea under Park Chung-hee, Bahrain under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and Djibouti under four-term President Ismail Omar Guelleh, to name just four. Many of the 45 present-day undemocratic U.S. base hosts qualify as fully “authoritarian regimes,” according to the Economist Democracy Index. In such cases, American installations and the troops stationed on them are effectively helping block the spread of democracy in countries like Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kuwait, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. This pattern of daily support for dictatorship and repression around the world should be a national scandal in a country supposedly committed to democracy… read more:

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Myanmar failing to stop spread of religious violence, UN envoy says // Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar's great hope fails to live up to expectations

Poppy McPherson in Yangon
Myanmar must do more to prevent the drastic escalation of religious intolerance and violence following clashes between ultranationalist Buddhists and minority Muslims in Yangon, a senior UN envoy has said. Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, called on the year-old National League for Democracy government led by Aung San Suu Kyi to strengthen its efforts to curb hate speech and violence drummed up by nationalist groups.  “I have, in the past, raised concerns regarding incidents of hate speech, incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence, and of religious intolerance, and these appear to be drastically escalating,” she said.

“I believe that the spread of anti-Muslim sentiments and rhetoric is not receiving the serious attention that it requires, and is too often left unchecked by the authorities. This cannot be tolerated any longer. The government must step up to take more concerted efforts to tackle and address such incidents.”
Last week, a fight broke out in a Muslim neighbourhood of Yangon after dozens of nationalists raided the home of a family they believed was hiding Rohingya Muslims, members of a persecuted minority deemed by many to be illegal immigrants. The violence, which left several injured, came two weeks after another radical group, involving some of the same people, forced the closure of two Islamic schools. While the Myanmar authorities have arrested several Buddhists in connection with the recent violence, they bowed to nationalist pressure to shutter the Islamic schools. Zaw Htay, a spokesperson for Aung San Suu Kyi, declined to take questions… read more:

It was never meant to be this way. The script called for the lead actor, a Nobel prize winner, to seize control of a country, bring peace where there was conflict and prosperity where there was poverty. A nation emerging from years of military dictatorship was to become a beacon of hope not only for its cowed population but also for much of a fractured and turbulent south-east Asia.

Tamil Nadu Techies Say They're Moving To Form India's First IT Union

Tamil Nadu has an estimated 4.5 lakh employees in the IT space, many are reluctant to join the union because they worry their employers will disapprove or see them as trouble-makers. Tamil Nadu has an estimated 4.5 lakh employees in the IT space.  A week after employees complained against IT major Cognizant for pink-slipping them, techies in Tamil Nadu are forming a union. More than 100 software professionals have signed up as members. The union, to be called "Forum for IT Employees, Tamil Nadu " will lobby for women's safety and protect members' rights by holding IT firms to labour laws, said P Parimala, a techie turned activist heading the mission.

Sources say that though Tamil Nadu has an estimated 4.5 lakh employees in the IT space, many are reluctant to join the union because they worry their employers will disapprove or see them as trouble-makers. Mohandas Pai, among the co-founders of Infosys, told NDTV, "Nobody will be interested to join these unions. Remember 96% of business comes from outside India, this is not local activity."

Tamil Nadu clubs with Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh as the states that export the most IT services. Last year, the state changed laws to allow trade unions in the IT sector after hundreds of employees were allegedly laid off by TCS in 2015. According to a report last year, "Infosys has over 17,000 employees in Chennai, Wipro has 25,000, and TCS, India's largest software exporter, has 60,000 employees in 13 centres in the state." Karnataka has not allowed trade unions at software companies.

Earlier this month, workers dismissed by Congnizant complained to the Tamil Nadu government that the reason cited for their removal - alleged non-performance - was a pretext by the firm to disguise lay-offs. In March, Cognizant trimmed 5% of its total strength of 260,000. IT employers including Infosys and the government have said media reports and analysis by some head-hunters of a sudden uptick in lay-offs at IT firms are greatly exaggerated. A group of firms and analysts concur that the lay-offs this year will vary between 2 and 3% of the total workforce, higher than the 1-1.5% that the industry has clocked in recent years.