Monday, January 16, 2017

Sushil Aaron: Why Donald Trump will not win his battle with US intelligence agencies

It is astonishing to watch the current confrontation between US intelligence agencies and Donald Trump. The president-elect has finally conceded that Russia may have meddled in the US presidential election but is incensed that a report by a former MI6 officer about the Trump team’s alleged contacts with the Kremlin and his lurid escapades in Russia were leaked to the media. Trump blamed the intelligence agencies for the leaks. The agencies are not backing down. On January 15, John Brennan, the outgoing CIA director, termed Trump’s comments equating the intelligence community with Nazi Germany as “outrageous” and mentioned that he didn’t think Trump “has a full appreciation of Russian capabilities, Russian intentions, and actions.”

Trump is carrying on blissfully unmindful of the inner dynamics of the United States government. He seems to think that presidents can easily tame structures of the government, such as intelligence agencies. He talks as though his job were that of a CEO, whereby his main task is to get the best people in important positions and that as the new boss in town things will turn around in the government as they did in his overrated business empire.

Nothing could be further from reality, particularly when dealing with the national security establishment, owing to their power and influence which are capable of containing and shaping elected institutions, including the presidency. Trump is, in effect, taking on the American ‘deep state’ – a fight he’s bound to lose unless he compromises.

One way to think through such tensions in Washington is the work of Michael J Glennon, professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, who offered great insight into the workings of the US national security institutions in his 2014 book National Security and Double Government. He draws on Walter Bagehot’s thesis of “double government” in the book The English Constitution that described the dual power set-up in Britain in the 19th century wherein “dignified institutions” like the monarchy and the House of Lords had the regalia of power but the real work of governing was done by concealed “efficient institutions” like the Prime Minister, Cabinet and the House of Commons.

Glennon applies this theory to the US and points to two set of institutions that wield power unevenly in Washington. One is the “Madisonian” institutions like the presidency, Congress and the courts, named after James Madison, the “principal architect of the American constitutional design”, who favoured the separation of powers between the three pillars in order to safeguard liberty. These are America’s dignified institutions where the public believes power rests. But there is another set of institutions called the “Trumanite network” that gets its name from National Security Act of 1947, which restructured the government to give the executive more flexibility to meet security threats. The act “unified the military under a new secretary of defense, set up the CIA, created the modern Joint Chiefs of Staff and established the National Security Council (NSC).” Truman also set up the National Security Agency and now the network consists of several hundred executive officials who “manage the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies” that deal with international and internal security.

Over the decades, the power of the Trumanite network has grown at the expense of the Madisonians. Trumanite officials deal with threats and so seek greater power and capability, extending the reach of the State in ways that makes civil libertarians uncomfortable. In 2011, the Washington Post identified 46 federal departments and agencies “engaged in classified national security work.” In Glennon’s narration, “Their missions range from intelligence gathering and analysis to war-fighting, cyber operations and weapons development. Almost 2,000 private companies support this work, which occurs at over 10,000 locations across America.” The size of their budgets is classified “but it is clearly that those numbers are enormous – total annual outlay of around $1 trillion and millions of employees.” Presidents usually choose only around 4,000 individuals of the 2.8 million non-military federal employees that they are in charge of – and several hundred policymakers needed for national security are drawn from the bureaucracy. 

At the apex of this is the most powerful of the lot, the professional staff of the National Security Council which has nearly “400 aides” but needs to now reduce to 200 owing to recent legislation. The wider group of several hundred policymakers includes professional staff, political appointees, academics, think-tankers, military figures and officials seconded from executive agencies – and this according to Glennon constitutes America’s Trumanite network which sits at the pinnacle of what Harvard professor Jack Goldsmith has called “Washington’s tight-knit national security culture.”.. read more:
http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/why-donald-trump-will-not-win-his-battle-with-us-intelligence-agencies/story-HG6VmYU6qjuAGLSjuqZijJ.html



Bombay High Court Grants Bail To 3 Men, Saying They Were 'Provoked To Kill In The Name Of Religion'

NB: This decision is a travesty of justice and juridical reasoning. It is a declaration that communal motivations attenuate criminal acts of violence and murder. I had made precisely this point in a comment on the Supreme Court's judgement in the Graham Staines murder case in 2011; viz, that in the minds of the two concerned judges, communal animus reduces the gravity of homicide.  This is a perversion of the very idea of justice; especially  as India is prone to deliberately instigated communal violence; and criminals and communal politicians are known to raise the banner of 'hurt sentiment' as a justification for hooliganism and murder. This decision provides legal support to communal politics and will cause further confusion in the minds of law-abiding and peace-loving citizens. Persons in the judiciary, police and legal profession may kindly consider the arguments I placed here 5 years ago, and which I have re-iterated over the years - alas to no avail. This decision bears out the dangerous logic of the Staines judgement  and proves my point - DS

Bombay High Court Grants Bail To 3 Men, Saying They Were 'Provoked To Kill In The Name Of Religion'

The Bombay High Court has granted bail to three men who were arrested for attacking a Muslim man in Pune after attending a meeting of the Hindu Rashtra Sena (HRS). According to reports, Justice Mridula Bhatkar of Bombay High Court reversed the ruling of a sessions court in Pune, which had denied bail to the accused. "The fact that the deceased belonged to another religion is in favour of the accused, who were provoked in the name of the religion and seem to have committed the murder," she said, effectively saying murder due to communal incitement was fair deal.
Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) terms culpable homicide not amount to murder a criminal offence, incurring penalties and a prison term of up to ten years, while the Code of Criminal Procedure says it is a non-bailable offence. On 2 June 2014, the three accused, Vijay Gambhire, Ranjeet Yadav, and Ajay Lalge had attended a meeting organised by HRS, a fringe rightwing group, in Hadaspur in Pune. During the meeting, the group's leader Dhananjay Desai made provocative remarks involving Emperor Shivaji, the late Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray and Hindu gods. His speech, allegedly, incited the people gathered to go on a rampage.

Gambhire, Yadav and Lalge, along with Desai, went around the area on two-wheelers, carrying weapons, looking to target possible victims. When they spotted the deceased Shaikh Mohsin, his elder brother Riyaz and colleague Wasim, they attacked them. Mohsin, who was wearing a green shirt and had a beard, was allegedly hit with hockey sticks, bats and stones for being Muslim. Riyaz and Wasim managed to escape, but returned later to take Mohsin to the hospital. He later died from his injuries under treatment.
The assailants, arrested on charges of murder and causing riot, were denied bail in the lower court. Their prosecutor argued that others held on similar charges had been released on bail and the same should also be granted to the three accused. Hearing the case in the Bombay High Court, Justice Bhatkar reportedly said that there was no motivation of personal enmity behind the attack and killing of the deceased. The only fault of the deceased, as the court clarified, was that he belonged to another religion. "I consider this factor in favour of the accused," Justice Bhatkar said in her ruling, adding that "the accused do not have any criminal record and it appears that they were provoked in the name of the religion and have committed murder". The court, however, rejected the bail plea for Desai, saying his speech was "sufficient to incite the feelings of religious discrimination in the crowd".

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Uma Vishnu - Demonetisation - Indian women struggle to start all over again

They had little financial access and autonomy to begin with and now with their secret stash of cash gone after demonetisation, women in India struggle to start all over again

Biro, o… Biro,” calls out Chander, a jute sack slung over her shoulder, her feet plodding through the ground that’s carpeted green with the slush of bathua and dil leaves. “She goes missing every few minutes aur mujhe dhoondna padta hai (I have to search for her),” says the 60-year-old, now walking back through the early morning crush of people and battery-operated e-rickshaws at the Ghazipur vegetable mandi in east Delhi.

“I have been selling vegetables for 25 years but things have never been this bad. Yeh notebandi ke baad toh maal waise hi pada rahta hai (after demonetisation, my vegetables haven’t been selling). Earlier, I would earn at least Rs 1,000 a day; now, if I buy vegetables for Rs 1,000, I only take home Rs 400,” she says, sitting on her haunches on one of the pavements lining the market.

Chanderkanta and Birwati. Neighbours and friends, a sisterhood of shared troubles and companionship. Every afternoon, they walk down from Chilla, an urban village on the fringes of Mayur Vihar Phase I, a residential colony in east Delhi, and join the long line of vegetable vendors on the pavement outside ASN Senior Secondary School. On days that they go to the mandi, they spend hours scouring for vegetables while haggling, squabbling and joking with the vendors, lug their heavy sacks across the market and wait for their sons to take back some of the stuff on their cycles. The rest they carry — about 25 kg each — on their heads.

As she helps her son load the sacks on his cycle, she says, “Achha, aapko pata hain yeh notebandi kab khatam hogi (Do you know when this demonetisation will end)? People say things will get better in a few days.” Her optimism dissipates as swiftly: “Par gareeb ka kuch theek nahin hota hai (For the poor, nothing gets better).”

A little over two months after the government demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, the queues outside banks and ATMs have begun to shrink and the narrative has shifted from black money to plastic money. However, both these plots have sidestepped women such as Chander and Biro, women running households with little or no financial support.

According to Census 2011, women head 10.9 per cent of the 246.6 million households in the country, a significant number of these households in rural areas and in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. In a society steeped in patriarchy, it’s only likely that women are thrust into leadership roles by forced circumstances such as widowhood, like in the case of Chander, or because the men choose not to work, as in Biro’s home… read more:


see also
More posts on demonetisation
Nation-wide public tragedy unreported in India's mainstream media - click to see glimpses of ordinary Indians' reactions to note-ban crisis and please circulate - Scroll down the contents of the link above for clips of mass unrest in Indian society from shopkeepers & artisans to workers & peasants. Information about this assault on the lives of millions is being withheld by the mass media




Saturday, January 14, 2017

“Humiliated” by post-note ban events, RBI staff write to Urjit Patel

The forum represents over 18,000 employees of the RBI across the ranks. The letter said appointment of an officer to coordinate currency management is a “blatant encroachment” on the exclusive jurisdiction of the RBI on currency and accused the Government of “impinging on RBI autonomy”.  “It’s (RBI’s) autonomy and image have been dented beyond repair.” “May we request that as the Governor of RBI, its highest functionary and protector of its autonomy and prestige, you will please do the needful urgently to do away with this unwarranted interference from the Ministry of Finance, and assure the staff accordingly, as the staff feel humiliated”

Feeling “humiliated” by events since demonetisation, RBI employees today wrote to Governor Urjit Patel protesting against operational “mismanagement” in the exercise and Government impinging its autonomy by appointing an official for currency coordination. In a letter, they said autonomy and image of RBI has been “dented beyond repair” due to mismanagement and termed appointment of a senior Finance Ministry official as a “blatant encroachment” of its exclusive turf of currency management.


“An image of efficiency and independence that RBI assiduously built up over decades by the strenuous efforts of its staff and judicious policy making has gone into smithereens in no time. We feel extremely pained,” the United Forum of Reserve Bank Officers and Employees said in the letter addressed to Patel. Commenting on “mismanagement” since November 8, when note ban was announced, and the criticism from different quarters, the letter said, “It’s (RBI’s) autonomy and image have been dented beyond repair.”

At least two of the four signatories — Samir Ghosh of All India Reserve Bank Employees Association and Suryakant Mahadik of All India Reserve Bank Workers Federation — confirmed the letter. The other signatories are C M Paulsil of All India Reserve Bank Officers Association and R N Vatsa of RBI Officers Association. The forum represents over 18,000 employees of the RBI across the ranks, Ghosh said.

The letter said appointment of an officer to coordinate currency management is a “blatant encroachment” on the exclusive jurisdiction of the RBI on currency and accused the Government of “impinging on RBI autonomy”. “May we request that as the Governor of RBI, its highest functionary and protector of its autonomy and prestige, you will please do the needful urgently to do away with this unwarranted interference from the Ministry of Finance, and assure the staff accordingly, as the staff feel humiliated,” it said, soliciting “urgent action”.

The RBI has been discharging the role of currency management for over eight decades since 1935, it said, adding the central bank does not need “any assistance” and the interference from FinMin is “absolutely unacceptable and deplorable”.

The letter comes days after concerns about RBI’s functioning being raised by at least three former Governors — Manmohan Singh (former PM), Y V Reddy and Bimal Jalan. Former Deputy Governors, including Usha Thorat and K C Chakrabarty, have also voiced their concerns. The letter said the RBI staff has carried out its job excellently following the move to ban 87 per cent of the outstanding currency by the Government.
http://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/humiliated-by-post-note-ban-events-rbi-staff-write-to-urjit-patel/507282/


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Nick Hopkins and Luke Harding - Intelligence sources vouch for credibility of Russia dossier author / Mark Sumner - Trump Was Bailed Out of Bankruptcy by Russia Crime Bosses

It was Steele, sources say, who correctly and quickly realised Litvinenko’s death was a Russian state “hit”.

His denials – at least some of them – were emphatic, even by the standards that Donald Trump has come to be judged by. The dossier, he said, was a confection of lies; he compared it to Nazi propaganda; it was fake news spread by sick people. At his press briefing on Wednesday, the president-elect effectively dared the world’s media to scrutinise the 35 pages of claims, before throwing down a challenge – where’s the proof? Nobody had any. Case closed.

But in the rush to trample all over the dossier and its contents, one key question remained. Why had America’s intelligence agencies felt it necessary to provide a compendium of the claims to Barack Obama and Trump himself? And the answer to that lies in the credibility of its apparent author, the ex-MI6 officer Christopher Steele, the quality of the sources he has and the quality of the people who were prepared to vouch for him.

In both respects, the 53-year-old was in credit. Former colleagues of Steele describe him as “very credible” – a sober, cautious and meticulous professional with a formidable track record. One former foreign office official who has known Steele for 25 years and considers him a friend, said: “The idea his work is fake or a cowboy operation is false, completely untrue. Chris is an experienced and highly regarded professional. He’s not the sort of person who will simply pass on gossip.” 

The official added: “If he puts something in a report he believes there’s sufficient credibility in it for it to be worth considering. Chris is a very straight guy. He could not have survived in the job he was in if he had been prone to flights of fancy or doing things in an ill-considered way.”.. read more:


Trump's trainwreck press conference ushers in a shambolic presidency

Mark Sumner - Trump Was Bailed Out of Bankruptcy by Russia Crime Bosses
In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. attended a real estate conference, where he stated that Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. As it turns out, that may have been an understatement. Human rights lawyer Scott Horton, whose work in the region goes back to defending Andrei Sakharov and other Soviet dissidents, has gone through a series of studies by the Financial Times to show how funds from Russian crime lords bailed Trump out after yet anther bankruptcy. The conclusions are stark.

Among the powerful facts that DNI missed were a series of very deep studies published in the [Financial Times] that examined the structure and history of several major Trump real estate projects from the last decade - the period after his seventh bankruptcy and the cancellation of all his bank lines of credit. ... The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources. He was their man. Yes, even that much seems fantastic, and the details include business agencies acting as a front for the GRU, billionaire mobsters, a vast network of propaganda sources, and an American candidate completely under the thumb of the Kremlin.

It reads like the a B-grade spy novel, a plot both too convoluted—and too bluntly obvious—for John le Carré. The problem is it may not be a conspiracy theory. It may be a conspiracy. Horton’s analysis comes from piecing together information in three Financial Times “deep reports.” One of these focused on Sergei Millian, the head of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the US at the time of Trump Jr.’s “money pouring in from Russia” claim.

Mr Millian insists his Russian American Chamber of Commerce (RACC) has nothing to do with the Russian government. He says it is funded by payments from its commercial members alone.
Most of the board members are obscure entities and nearly half of their telephone numbers went unanswered when called by the Financial Times. An FT reporter found no trace of the Chamber of Commerce at the Wall Street address listed on its website. 

Why was RACC’s background filled with so many holes? The Financial Times quotes former Russian MP Konstantin Borovoi in tagging the chamber as a front for intelligence operations that dates back to Soviet times. “The chamber of commerce institutions are the visible part of the agent network . . . Russia has spent huge amounts of money on this.” Read more: 




Etienne Balibar: Populism in the American Mirror

As I was teaching in the US this autumn term both during and after the presidential elections, all my friends, students and colleagues would sooner or later ask me the same question: who is next? Do you think that Le Pen will win the French election in May?

Deploying various scenarios stretching from a kind of domino theory whereby each “liberal government” that crashes destabilizes the next one, to a contagion spread by the ruin of the distributive social policies that are universally targeted by neoliberalism, they tended to view Brexit as a prefiguration of the new “surprise” result. Clinton’s defeat together with Renzi’s fall and Hollande’s defection became aspects of the same disaggregation of the “center left”.

The defeat of the neo-fascist right in the Austrian presidential election appeared as a brief respite, and Poland’s civic demonstrations against the Kaczynski regime, a fragile element of resistance. The strategic question (this was before the recent murder rampage in Berlin) would be: will Merkel “stand her ground” before the offensive of the xenophobic alliance attacking her opening of the borders for the Syrian refugees last year (“Wir schaffen das”)?

Returning to Europe, I can see that the same questions are in dispute on this side of the Atlantic as well. And the category around which analyses or speculations revolve is always “populism”, with its deep ambivalence and its range of antithetic applications.

Revelatory Atlantic mirror: I agree that Europe (meaning in practice the European Union, of which, note well, the UK is still a member, albeit with diminished prerogatives in anticipation of Brexit, should it ever take place) and the United States are holding up a revelatory mirror to each other. The differences are obvious, and they are well-known.

But, yes, the two situations interact, and they shed light on one another, which may help us grasp the deep crisis of the political institution now running on both sides of the Atlantic, to identify its key points of contact, avoiding empty generalities as well as myopic localism. This makes sense, in particular, because on the European side the strategic level is decidedly a continental one: the increasing paralysis of parliamentary systems, the ungovernability affecting one nation after the other (Britain, Spain, Italy, France…), which makes them easy prey for demagogic nationalistic discourse, must be seen in good part as a direct consequence or collateral damage of the collapse of the European project as a credible political and cultural trajectory.

On the American side, the declining power of the “empire” is now shaking not only the “social compact” to which it once gave an economic and patriotic basis, but also its constitutional edifice, despite its forming one of the oldest republican regimes in the world, with a remarkable system of “checks and balances” allowing for its stabilization in times of internal tension. For us Europeans, I submit that the American election bears lessons that we need to adapt, “translating” them into the language of our own history and current vicissitudes. 

Let me suggest three such lessons:
1) The lesson of Clinton’s defeat (which was essentially her incapacity to overcome the rhetoric and the tricks of her opponent which gave him the lead in crucial “popular” swing states, since, as we know, she won the national vote by a considerable margin) is the following:

it is both absurd and a sure recipe for disaster to try and neutralize the political, in the line of post-democratic governance now hegemonic in our bi-partisan parliamentary systems, through a camouflage of the deep divisions within our societies that neoliberalism has either intensified or generated: class divisions (including increasing economic and educational inequalities), ethnic and racial divisions (frequently combined with religious discriminations), moral divisions (particularly in the realm of family values and sexual norms). Add to this a high level of structural violence: economic, judiciary, domestic, urban, that Clinton never mentioned (except, to some extent, in the form of sexism), and that Trump managed to appropriate under the terminology of “anger”.

2) The lesson arising from the comparison of the two campaigns led by Trump and Bernie Sanders respectively, often presented by liberal analysts (e.g. in the New York Times) as “symmetric” movements of rejection of the elite, is the following: henceforth and forever we must stop using the category “populism” in a manner that bridges the chasm between left and right. This is especially important from a European point of view, since the word “populism” has a distinct history and a partially different semantic distribution in the US (where a typical “populist” at this moment in time would be Elizabeth Warren, a very rational and well-established senator…).

That there exists a crisis of the “system”, both in terms of its legitimacy and in terms of its representative capacity, is no longer just an opinion or a political doctrine, but an objective fact. However, the conclusions that are deduced from this pull in radically opposing directions: either a xenophobic nationalism (which tends to be combined with protectionism, through the lens of migratory politics and the “closing” of borders), or a quest for the “missing people” (Deleuze’s expression), a new synthesis of resistances and democratic hopes involving a plurality of cultures and social forces. But, despite certain possibilities for amalgamation in the political game (sometimes referred to in Europe as a “red-brown” alliance, of the kind that there seems to be an attempt to construct in certain regions of Austria today, with similar temptations arising in Germany and in France), there is in fact no middle ground.

3) The third lesson, it seems to me, is the following: undoubtedly institutional models rooted in different histories determine different conditions for political action, both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary. This is true when comparing the US to its European counterpart, and it is true within European “pseudo-federalism”, among the historic nations themselves. This difference, however, should not obfuscate the fact that in both regions of the world (the two regions where the “bourgeois” democratic model was invented in the nineteenth century, later having to become adapted to the rise of emancipatory movements and the counter-effect of social struggles), the same constitutional problem is now emerging. 

This is a general problem of our time (which does also exist, of course, in other parts of the world: Latin America, India, South Africa immediately come to mind as meaningful points of comparison, whereas the case of post-communist regimes in China or Russia seems to obey a different logic), whose content is a brutal oscillation between the seemingly irreversible process of “de-democratization”, and the possibility of a “democratization of democracy” itself.

We begin to see what mixture of depoliticization (with its institutionalized corporate lobbying and subjection of “representative government” to technocratic instances) and permanent “state of emergency” or the security-state is involved in the process of de-democratization. We understand conversely that the idea of “democratizing democracy” should begin by curbing the power of money in politics, reversing the technocratic monopoly over public judgment, and limiting the privileges of cultural or material heritage. This is a genuine regime change that seeks to make room for a direct participation of citizens in public affairs: an exigency now widely perceptible in all our constituencies. It is, put simply, synonymous with active citizenship, but at the risk (which must be consciously run and controlled) of bringing back “civil conflict” between parties or antagonistic world-views, thus subverting ossified political systems which appear obsessed with “normality” and “consensus”, while in fact targeting their dissidents with extreme intolerance.

Perilous choices: At a more general level, while comparisons with the world-crisis of the 1930’s are at the same time useful and partially inadequate, we understand that radical choices between social models and values are now (again) becoming hazardous, because the “global” stakes that are reflected locally contaminate each other in a negative manner: as it were they produce conditions of impossibility for any rational examination of their causes and effects. This is true of the way in which global warming has now passed the threshold of irreversibility in changing the environment, threatening whole groups of the human population (among other species) with a destruction of their lifeworld, potentially forcing them to flee or perish in a predictable future. It is true for the deregulation of financial capitalism, now dominated by the new gold rush, the rush for liquid assets – whose reverse side, however, is an exponential development of human precariousness, whether nomadic or sedentary, that Saskia Sassen has adequately called generalised "expulsion". And it is true for the “clash of civilizations”, a murderous self-fulfilling fantasy with a real basis nonetheless, which is the new regime of international migrations and the concomitant hybridization of traditional cultures.

Where these phenomena intersect and over-determine each other, extreme violence is looming. And it rages actually wherever the flames are fanned by dreams of lost empire, conflicts of secular and religious “monotheisms”, the massive trade of arms and the thirst for oil (or, in the French case, uranium), the combination of real and imaginary security threats under the name of “terror”.

With respect to such global challenges, more or less perceived by the masses, what we can observe daily is the fact that so-called “sovereign” entities (nation-states, however big, supranational federations and alliances, international organizations) are largely ineffective if not detrimental. It is this “powerlessness of the omnipotent” (an expression I used in the past to explain the roots of neofascist xenophobia among “petty-white” citizens who try to forget their own social downgrading in calling for the visible discrimination of the Other by “their” States) that generates collective resentments and panics, on which “populists” are riding, but which can also escape their control or push them towards some sort of dictatorship.

On the other hand, we discover with hope and admiration the energy for a renovation of democracy in “assembly” movements like Indignados, the Arab Springs (which also had other dimensions), Occupy Wall Street, Syntagma Square, Gezi Park, Nuit Debout… which in the recent period have truly resurrected the idea of a people both deliberative and active. But we are desperate to see how disarmed they remain before the accumulated and concentrated power of the oligarchy, when it comes to bringing about institutional and policy change. Something more is clearly needed.

Otherwise, the pendulum will shift in the opposite direction in the most brutal manner. Already Trump (who was elected on a “populist” agenda) is orchestrating the clamorous revenge of Wall Street over the “occupy” movement that, obviously, keeps haunting its CEOs. In Erdogan’s Turkey (not to mention the broader Middle East) a “counter-coup” brutally crushes democracy and individual liberties. And everywhere in Europe politicians from left to right compete for the trophy of intolerance. Are we then entering the long night of subjection and anti-politics?

Transnational counter-populism: There is no way however that national-populism can offer solutions to the radical challenges of the day or satisfy the basic demands of the popular majority (made of multiple “minorities”), whether this concerns the protection of populations and their ways of life; or the necessity of regulating the global movements of capitals, goods, and persons; or the articulation of participation with representation within a new form of citizenship that is adapted to the age of multiculturalism and internet communications. Instead, the fundamental question of the place (and the “places”, or “squares”) for living, working, learning, meeting, thinking, struggling in common, that must be created for all citizens, becomes reduced to imaginary and discriminatory scenarios.

Inexorably, under the Trump presidency or any of his potential European imitators, this will produce more resentment and feelings of insecurity, thus an increased tendency to divert them aggressively towards scapegoats and “internal enemies”. For this reason, but first to counteract as much as we can the devastating effects of national-populisms which are on the rise in one country after another, we must imagine a transnational counter-populism, ceaselessly working to invent its political language and promote its ideals.

Tentatively, speaking in Athens in 2010, I had given this oxymoronic name to the diverse resistances against austerity policies in Europe, in full awareness that it offered neither a program nor a solution to the institutional and social crisis opening up before us at the hands of the EU itself, when it decided to destroy one of its own member states in the name of financial rules devised by the banks and for the banks, and inscribed in the treatises that function as substitutes for a European constitution.

It was (and remains) just a name to indicate that we need a concentration of forces and an assemblage of ideas to recreate a politics made by the people and for the people. With populism, “counter-populism” shares a formal characteristic: criticizing the dispossession or disempowerment of the masses in the oligarchic regime. Against populism, it doesn’t confer the task of ending dispossession to the dispossessors themselves, but seeks and requires the empowerment of the citizenry, therefore pushing its capacity beyond the limits and across the borders that in the past defined the political.


Evan Greer - If President Obama doesn't commute her sentence, whistle-blower Chelsea Manning won't survive

Reports suggest that imprisoned transparency advocate Chelsea Manning is on President Obama’s “shortlist” for a possible commutation. If true, this move would offer a glimmer of hope during a time when it is in short supply. If President Obama fails to act now, he is condemning Chelsea to a gruesome fate, and his legacy as an advocate for LGBTQ rights will be forever tarnished.

Chelsea Manning is a transgender woman who has already served 7 years of a 35 year sentence in an all-male military facility. Her crime? Releasing documents that revealed the impacts of war on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chelsea witnessed atrocities, and bravely did what she felt was right to expose them. Her outrageously long sentence, nearly 10 times longer than other recent whistleblowers, is shocking enough, but we can add to that to the disturbing abuse that Chelsea has faced behind bars.

For 8 months, Chelsea was held in a form of solitary confinement which the United Nations considers to be torture. Since then, Chelsea has been denied some medically recommended treatments for gender dysphoria. And despite the Obama administration’s stated support for the rights of transgender prisoners, Chelsea has had to undergo a stressful and protracted legal battle with the Justice Department just to gain the right to be herself while in prison.

Since her arrest in 2010, the government’s perverse mistreatment of Chelsea has made international headlines seemingly every month. She’s been threatened with severe punishment and solitary confinement for minor “infractions” like havingan expired tube of toothpaste in her cell, and has faced constant scrutiny and harassment from prison officials.

Chelsea has twice attempted to end her own life as a direct result of the inhumane conditions of her imprisonment and in particular the extreme distress she has experienced due to the denial of proper health care. After her first suicide attempt, she was cruelly punished with solitary confinement, which only deepened her despair.

Chelsea has already been incarcerated for longer than any other whistleblower in United States history, despite the fact that intelligence officials agree that her actions – which were clearly intended to be in the public interest – never put anyone in danger. She has suffered more than enough.
President Obama has just 8 days to do the right thing and commute Chelsea’s sentence to time served. If he chooses to keep her behind bars, he is all but signing Chelsea’s death warrant. Chelsea’s attorney at the ACLU said on Wednesday that she won’t survive another 5 years in prison, much less another 30.

Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked whistleblowers like Chelsea as “traitors,” and members of his incoming cabinet have called for her execution. Given the degrading treatment that Chelsea has suffered under the Obama administration, I shudder to think about what her life will be like during the next four years if she remains in prison.

Through my work as a free speech activist, I have become friends with Chelsea and am lucky enough to speak to her on the phone on a regular basis. She is one of the most courageous, compassionate, intellectually curious and gentle people I’ve ever had the privilege to get to know. Since her arrest she has dedicated her life to helping others. As a Guardian columnist, trans icon, and advocate for human rights, Chelsea has done so much for all of us. Now more than ever, we need people like Chelsea Manning in the world.

I know I won’t be able to sleep tonight knowing that President Obama could be deciding Chelsea’s fate at any moment. I sincerely hope that he listens to the overwhelming public outcry and releases Chelsea so that she can start the journey of the rest of her life.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/12/chelsea-manning-prison-obama-commute-sentence

Alizeh Kohari - For the Love of God: The Violent History of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws / Family of assassinated Governor Taseer continues be the target of fundamentalists


On the last page of the post-mortem report, the medical examiner had dismissed, with a large cross, the silhouette upon which she was meant to identify injuries, scribbling instead: “whole body is completely burnt, almost to ashes, only a bony skeleton identifiable.” She reiterated this six months later before a roomful of lawyers wilting in black blazers, patiently describing to the defence counsel how the victims were delivered to her in plastic bags, one labelled Shama, the other Shahzad. It was a mid-May afternoon and the power was out in the anti-terrorism court – load-shedding, Lahore – so the lawyers fanned themselves with their files, casting beseeching looks at the air conditioner as they listened to witness statements. Outside, the hallways were filled with villagers from Chak 59 and nearby settlements of Kot Radha Kishan tehsil – 104 in total – handcuffed to one another. Inside, the medical examiner’s voice was getting smaller with each sentence, describing bones retrieved from the site – “small, mostly fractured” – and “organs, completely charred, matted together.”

The court stenographer paused.
“C-H-E-R-R-E-D,” said the judge impatiently. “Red, like cherry.”
The lawyers looked pointedly at their feet.

According to the Centre for Social Justice, a Lahore-based research and advocacy group, at least 62 men and women have been killed on mere suspicion of blasphemy between 1987 and 2015. So far, no one has been executed by the state. In this particular manifestation of an increasingly familiar phenomenon, on the morning of November 4, 2014, Shama and Shahzad Masih were dragged out of the 10-by-10 feet room in which they had sought refuge earlier that day, bludgeoned with sticks and hatchets by a mob that eyewitnesses say numbered in the high hundreds, then – and here accounts diverge – tied to a tractor, lugged across crushed stones on a half-constructed road, doused with petrol and flung into the brick kiln where they would both have gone to work the next day, had Shama not been accused of desecrating the Quran. She was one of at least 1,472 people who have been accused under the blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2015 – specifically under sections 295-B, 295-C and 298-A of the Pakistan Penal Code. As estimated by the Centre for Social Justice: 730 of these are Muslims, 501 are Ahmadis, 205 are Christians and 26 are Hindus. The religion of the remaining ten could not be ascertained – they were killed before any legal proceedings were initiated.

There was initially a great deal of public fury and wholesale condemnation, after Shama and Shahzad were burnt to death, followed by what some chose to view as heartening signs, whatever that could mean in a situation of this sort. Human rights campaigner Asma Jehangir thought that the response from the religious parties was positive. The state said it would be a chief complainant in the case. 

People were rounded up and arrested. But slowly attention moved on to other things: the factory fire in Jhelum that targeted Ahmadis who were alleged to have blasphemed, the boy who cut off his own hand in Hujra Shah Muqeem town to punish himself for what he considered as constituting blasphemy. “Woh joh bhattay pe sarr g’ay,” recalled one man, himself Christian, but from Lahore, about six months after Shama and Shahzad’s death in the adjoining district of Kasur. Consider the curiously passive construction of his sentence: those who burnt to death at the brick kiln, not those who were burnt to death, as if spontaneous combustion were somehow the cause.

In district Kasur’s Chak-59, a stone’s throw away from the murder site, Muhammad Ilyas says his son had nothing to do with it. He pauses to light a cigarette, holding it between two trembling fingers. He exhales slowly. It is the only plume of smoke in the distance: the brick kilns lie dormant on that summer day in 2015. Every Wednesday, Ilyas visits his son, who he says is unjustly locked up in Shadman jail in Lahore. He himself spent four days there in November 2014, released only when his cough, a hacking sound that wells up from inside him, even as he continues to smoke, became worse. 

The scale and pace of life in Lahore both exhaust and unsettle him: when he tried to cross the road outside the jail last week, a motorcyclist nearly trampled his toes. He wiggles them now, for effect.
No one in Chak 59 would say who the hundreds of men were whose rage led to the death of Shama and Shahzad, though they all concede, with an air of pronounced reasonableness, that the deaths did take place. “They came from outside,” Ilyas insists, referring to the mob. This is conspiracy theory number one in almost all mob attacks over accusations of blasphemy. The crowd that has assembled around Ilyas nods in agreement.

As Ilyas continues speaking – “Shama’s sister had converted to Islam, that was at the heart of everything” – a voice emerges from the crowd.

“You’re not speaking the truth.”

Ilyas stops speaking entirely, surprised into silence by a man who makes his way to the centre.
“I didn’t know those two. I have no reason to defend them,” the stranger says, his words tumbling forth with great urgency and deliberation. The effect is of a man trying to tiptoe across a crocodile pond as quickly as possible. “I don’t. But the truth is you’re — we’re — all just repeating things we’ve only heard.”

Ilyas tries to interrupt. The man next to him puts a hand on his shoulder. “Let him say what he has to say.”

The speaker hesitates, then decides to wade ahead.

“It was a misunderstanding. The girl’s father-in-law made amulets; that’s what the Arabic verses were for – she couldn’t even read. It was all a misunderstanding. Think about it. In a country like this, you have a majority and you have a minority. The minority is the ghulam qaum, slave nation – it knows it has to live by the terms of the majority. Why would anyone deliberately go out of their way to insult the majority, which has all the power?”

Silence. “I have no reason to defend them,” he repeats. “I didn’t know them.”

Read more:
https://thewire.in/98249/for-the-love-of-god-history-pakistans-blasphemy-laws/

January 4, is the death anniversary of former Governor of Punjab Province Salman Taseer, who was killed in broad daylight by his own bodyguard in 2011, for appealing for the pardon of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Prophet Muhammad.
After his assassination, Salman Taseer’s family continues to face the wrath of Islamic fundamentalists. His elder son, Mr. Shabaz Taseer, was abducted by the Taliban; he was only recovered later after remaining captive under the Taliban for four-and-a-half years.

And, now another son of the same ill-fated family, Mr. Shan Taseer, has been targeted for posting a message on Facebook in which he criticized the nation’s blasphemy laws and voiced his support for its victims Nabeel Masih and Asia bibi. In his video message Shan has beseeched all Pakistanis to pray for victims of the draconian blasphemy law.A police case has been registered in Islampura Police Station, Lahore, on the grounds of "hate speech" because of his Christmas greetings and for him requesting fellow countrymen to pray for minority members being exploited by, what he called, the “inhumane blasphemy law”. .. read more:

see also
Faiza Mirza: Memoirs of a Hindu girl

Neelabh Mishra - Modi Sarkar, beware of tampering with the Constitution / Soli Sorabjee: What we need to guard / Arun Shourie calls campaigning for Modi one of the "biggest mistakes" of his life: "What we are going towards is a pyramidal decentralised mafia state"

In the din of the recently concluded winter session of Parliament caused by the ill-advised demonetisation decision, a serpent more sinister for our republic lurked hidden from the public eye and media glare. 

In one of the brief interludes of business amidst the disrupted session, an insidious question was planted in the Rajya Sabha on December 2, 2016 - starred question No. 185 by BJP MP Dilipbhai Pandya of Gujarat, regarding ‘Review of the Constitution’. The question addressed to the Minister of Law and Justice had three points:

  • The status of the effort made so far to review the Constitution.
  • Whether the constant increase in the number of bills being moved to amend the Constitution indicates the need for such a review; and
  • Whether any person/group is studying this matter and advising the ministry and if so the details thereof?
 The answer of the government was ominous and necessitates eternal vigilance on the part of the citizens who value our hard-won liberty, democracy, pluralism and strong republican institutions as envisioned by our Constitution—a fruit of careful deliberation and debate by nation builders imbued with the ideals of our freedom movement and the best of human civilisational values.

The government’s reply to Pandya’s question was laid as a statement on the table of the House by Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister for Law and Justice, and Electronics and Information Technology. In its written reply tabled in the Parliament, the Government of India, ominously finds our Constitution inadequate and subject to continuous review not by any august Constituent Assembly duly and democratically constituted by the people of India, with whom collectively the sovereignty of this democratic republic reside, but by ministries and departments that derive their validity and existence from the very Constitution that they seek to review. And they claim to do so on the recommendations of a Constitutional Review Commission - the Venkatachaliah Commission - dubiously constituted by a fiat of the previous NDA government without even the sanction of the then elected Parliament.

In response to the first point of Pandya’s question, the government statement says ...The Commission submitted its report on 31st March 2002. Action on the recommendations made in the report lies with the various Ministries/Departments of the Government of India which are administratively concerned with the subject matter of the recommendations….’ The government reply further says that the copies of the report had been forwarded to these ministries/departments to examine and process the recommendations.

In reply to the other two points in the question, the government statement says, Review of the Constitution of India, with a view to bring them in harmony with the current economic, social and political situation in the country, is a continuous process normally done by Central Ministries/ Departments as part of their business.’

The government’s callousness about the Constitution as a document enshrining the core of our democracy, republicanism and the collective sovereign will of the Indian people is reflected in its reply to the parliamentary question. It reduces the Constitution of India to a mere set of administrative procedures and rules that must be and are subject to constant review by administrative units and committees set up by the government of the day, rather than by the collective will of the people in exercise of their sovereignty and democratic rights. And mind you, it’s not talking about mere amendments that every Constitution of the world undergoes from time to time, but talking of a comprehensive constitutional review, a euphemism for a new Constitution.

It’s the government of the day that derives its legitimacy in a democratic republic from the Constitution that the people of the country bring into being, rather than the other way round. It’s the government that is accountable to the Constitution and the people continuously, and not the other way round. Circa 2017 should be the year when the people of this country should confront the government over its designs on India’s Constitution and democracy. Democracy is just not about getting a majority to rule and do as you like, irrespective of accountability to the core of democratic and republican values.
http://www.nationalheraldindia.com/todays-take/2016/12/29/editorial-modi-sarkar-beware-of-tampering-with-the-constitution

Our freedom fighters and members of the Constituent Assembly who drafted free India’s Constitution attached great importance to fundamental rights. They did not subscribe to the fallacy that fundamental rights are a gift from the state to its citizens. They rightly believed that individuals possess basic human rights independently of any Constitution by reason of the fact that they are members of the human family. A Constitution does not “confer” fundamental rights. It confirms their existence and accords them protection. That is the rationale of fundamental rights…

Utmost judicial vigilance is necessary with regard to restraints on the fundamental right of freedom of expression and personal liberty, which are the favourite targets of attack by authoritarian regimes because their suppression enables the regime to neutralise the dissenter, jettison accountability and ensure its continuance… Serious violations of fundamental rights occur during emergencies. The usual facile excuse offered is that fundamental rights are required to be suspended temporarily in order that the nation may survive. Actual experience establishes that those to whom supreme authority has been conferred are reluctant to give it up. Temporary dictatorship often becomes permanent tyranny because when the safeguards of the Constitution are surrendered to the rulers the means of getting them back also get surrendered… Read more:
[On] Twitter, [it’s] not individuals speaking but organised forces. These are now armies and that shows the debasement of discourse in India. And, it vitiates the atmosphere of the country. … It’s part of a well thought out strategy. And, the country better wake up. It’s not a crazy person in the street. I remember a comment on Mussolini’s black shirts – they were nothing without the state but with the state they were everything. With the state backing them, they are everything. This applies to a large section of the media today...

A former supporter of the prime minister, Shourie calls campaigning for Modi one of the “biggest mistakes” of his life. Before this interview, Shourie, in another interview, had criticised PM Modi of running a one-man “Presidential government” and called his two years of governance “a great opportunity completely missed”. 

In the interview with Chaturvedi, he calls out Modi for the “Indirafication” of BJP and for espousing the values of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Here are some quotes from the released excerpts:

On the Narendra Modi government: It’s a decentralised emergency. What we are going towards is a pyramidal decentralised mafia state, where local goons will belabour anyone whom they think is doing something wrong. The central people will look the other way. The central people will provide a rationale for the goondas at the local level … It’s not love for the cow but just an instrument for domination.

Indira vs Modi: The one big difference is at that time Mrs [Indira] Gandhi still used the law. Now it is not the law. These people are acting outside the law. These people are acting outside the law. This is true fascism because you say what is the law? I am the law. All this action is being done outside the government, worse, things are being done inside the government to choke the existing laws

On Modi’s response to controversies spurred by BJP leaders: A statement is made, an incident is created. A campaign is launched. He remains silent. Everybody says, baba please speak, begs him to speak. No. When the campaign has been milked or that abuse has been milked for what it can yield, then at last, three months later, he makes some ambiguous statement. Like motherhood is good. We should all respect our mothers.

On Raghuram Rajan’s resignation: After the RBI governor has been thrown out, this gives very important signals. First, it’s a favour to those corporate houses. Second, it gives a very important [signal] that if you don’t do our bidding and are not seen to be doing our bidding, you are out. Third, it’s a signal that professionals are not welcome in this set up and then, the most important, that no institution will be autonomous. The so called Gujarat model is exactly this. One man, nobody else. One man going to any extreme. The man not even realising that drama is not achievement.

On RSS: Modi and Shah are every day espousing RSS values, these are their values. This is the RSS in power. It is foolish to put it on a pedestal. Look at the chaps who have been put in institutions. That’s the long-term consequence … All this talk over the country is only to justify this takeover. The takeover is also not of some great historic mission but to ensure government cars, to sit in government offices. This is the level of ambition of the deprived! The oppressed who has been cast out, his aspiration is to be like the oppressor… read more:
‘It’s a Decentralised Emergency… A Pyramidal Mafia State’: Arun Shourie on Modi Sarkar
https://thewire.in/98900/decentralised-emergency-pyramidal-mafia-state-arun-shourie-modi-sarkar/
and the Express summary:

See also

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Swati Chaturvedi - Modi Must End His Support Of Islamophobic, Sexist Trolls // Why does Narendra Modi follow trolls on Twitter?

Trolls are the goons of the online world. This story played out live during the recent U.S. presidential election, when Donald Trump supporters went on a rampage against Hillary Clinton and journalists who had anything critical to say about the president-elect. But in India, some similar trolls are actually paid by the prime minister’s own party.

Why does Narendra Modi follow trolls on Twitter?
The Bharatiya Janata Party – the ruling Hindu nationalist party that Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs to – uses an online army of workers and volunteers, along with sophisticated social media bots, to attack anyone who criticizes the government, and to disseminate false images and facts to heighten communal tension.

These online trolls spout right-wing, nationalist, Islamophobic views. Some have very large social media followings. The BJP’s network of trolls is scattered across the country as well as in the party headquarters on Delhi’s Ashoka Road. Each troll has a contact point in the Ashoka Road central cell who sends them daily instructions via WhatsApp. For my recent book on the topic, I spoke to a number of these trolls working for Modi’s party – some of whom had attacked me online.

No current trolls were willing to come on record but a portrait emerged of a typical one. He is male, usually in his 30s, often with anxieties and bitterness about his lack of opportunities. Some believe the lies they peddle and are staunchly anti-Muslim, chauvinistic and resentful of liberal, elite, English-speaking journalists. Some are more pragmatic, treating it as a job like any other. 

Our mobile numbers are shared on WhatsApp to get more feral trolls to join in the blood sport.

Then I met Sadhavi Khosla. Khosla, an attractive bright woman in her 30s, had lived for a number of years in the U.S. and had her own business in Gurugram. She was a passionate Modi supporter and had enthusiastically agreed to be an unpaid volunteer on social media during the 2014 national elections, even putting her own business on hold.

Within a year, her zeal had changed to disenchantment. She was dismayed by the daily messages against the Gandhi family and prominent journalists. She finally cracked when she was ordered to threaten e-commerce company Snapdeal into dropping its brand ambassador, the Bollywood star Aamir Khan. Khan had made headlines earlier when he made a statement that was seen as critical of the government. Snapdeal did drop Khan.  

The Bollywood star had been an icon for Sadhavi, as he is for countless Indians. Being forced to attack him was the final straw, and Sadhavi soon quit. She is still distraught by her actions and terrified of Modi’s party, regularly tearful in our interviews. And yet, she had the courage and the tenacity to stay the course with me, even as I pushed her time and time again to agree to being on tape and to officially sign off on her testimony to please the lawyers.

This is a dangerous time to be a journalist, activist, woman, Muslim or member of a minority in India.

The BJP’s trolls are mostly anonymous, though some aren’t. They often have Hindu gods as their Twitter display pictures ― or pictures of beautiful women to increase their Twitter following. Those with real identities tend to lead the charge, and as soon as they abuse you, a swarm of anonymous trolls follow in their wake, either repeating the original abuse or adding more to it. 

Take the case of dentist Pankaj Narang, who was brutally killed by an angry mob in Delhi in 2016. A Twitter user under the name @bhak_sala – with 77.9k followers, including Modi – tweeted that the doctor was murdered by Muslims and that the media was covering it up. An Islamophobic Twitter storm ensued. Before real riots might have broken out, the Delhi police issued a quick clarification that this was an outright lie. But they did not take action toward the man behind the incitement, who I tracked down. His name is Rahul Raj, and he is a manager based in Bangalore with the pharmaceutical company Novartis. He runs a right-wing propaganda website called Opindia.

Then there’s the notorious abuser @MahaveerM_, who says in his Twitter bio that he is “Blessed 2 Be Followed by PM @NarendraModi.” He was suspended by Twitter in late 2016 until government ministers campaigned to overturn his suspension. Here’s a sample of one of his tweets to Navendu Singh, a supporter of the rival Aam Aadmi Party, on Aug. 16 [WARNING: GRAPHIC]: “Haha moron @NavenduSingh_ don’t fret. I can understand ur Mother’s hole has become so Big, not worth opening too. Use some lotion.’’ In fact, Modi follows two accounts that have been suspended by Twitter for vile abuse.

The more high-profile the victims are, the worse the abuse gets, with women bearing the brunt. The anonymous swarm often sends rape threats and other sexually explicit messages, such as images of pubic hair, to women with vulgar messages attached to it. Well-known Indian TV journalists, such as Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai, are among some of the most targeted in this country. I, too, am a victim. Our mobile numbers are shared on WhatsApp to get more feral trolls to join in the blood sport. Slurs such as “sickular presstitute” are now par for the course.

Lies and violent words can have deadly consequences in the real world.

In response, the trolls have given my book special attention. They downgraded it on Amazon and have been viciously attacking the book and me on Twitter.  Arvind Gupta, the BJP’s IT and technology head and the party’s former head of social media, called my book “lies and fiction.’’ Yet hearteningly, the book has received support from countless Indian senior journalists and politicians from other parties, many of whom are all too familiar with this abuse.

This is a dangerous time to be a journalist, activist, woman or member of a minority in India. Journalists are expected to be cheerleaders or megaphones for the government, and when they ask questions, they are often abused as “presstitutes” or told to “Go to Pakistan.” Modi has referred to the media as “Bazaru” (sellable) and has shown his contempt for the fourth estate time and time again.

But it’s not possible to have democracy without the media. It’s time for the leader of the world’s largest democracy to stop following and facilitating trolls. Lies and violent words can have deadly consequences in the real world. A political party that peddles such dangerous vitriol must be held accountable.