Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Spinoza and Camus: Members of a terror organization? Censorship in Turkey

"Early in the morning, when we wanted to deliver the manuscript to the publishing house, we were arrested. All our notes that had something to do with the book, as well as all computers - in other words basically everything - was confiscated. We then decided to write the book anew in jail. As we were not allowed to use a computer or a typewriter, we wrote it all down with a pencil. As we were in different cells, we sent each other our texts."

Baris Terkoglu describes how the book "Sızıntı: Wikileaks'te Ünlü Türkler" ("The Leak: The Popular Turks of WikiLeaks")came into being. He wrote the work together with his colleague Baris Pehlivan in jail. Both journalists were accused of being members of the terrorist organization Ergenekon. The group was alleged to have been preparing for the overthrow of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After 18 months in jail, Terkoglu and Pehlivan were released in 2012.

The distribution of their second book, "Mahrem: Gizli Belgelerde Türkiye'nin Sırları" ("Discreet: The Secrets of Turkey in Secret Documents"), was hampered in late September. A court ruled that selling the book online was forbidden, along with any publicity or social media postings for the book. The ruling claimed that the personal rights of an AKP member of parliament mentioned in the book were being violated. According to the Turkish publishers' association, the ruling in fact constitutes a prohibition, as it has made it impossible for readers to acquire the book. After an appeal was lodged against the ruling, the ban was partially lifted, and Terkoglu hopes the entire ban will be scrapped at some point.

Journalist Fehim Tastekin doesn't share this hope. A court in the province of Adiyaman has already outlawed his work "Rojava: Kürtlerin Zamanı" ("Rojava: The time of the Kurds") together with two other earlier works. Tastekin would be quite surprised if the ban were to be lifted. The court argued that Tastekin's book contained elements hinting at a terrorist organization. In Tastekin's eyes, "the ruling opened a new chapter by making this decision about the book," in that the judicial system had now described a book directly as a "terrorist organization" for the very first time. And that, he thinks, is the real scandal. Tastekin fears the state could now launch criminal proceedings against him, a reality his lawyers think is quite possible. Dozens of journalists and authors have been imprisoned in Turkey in the last year, most arrested following the attempted coup on July 15, 2016.

Spinoza and Camus: Members of a terror organization? Following the coup attempt, a state of emergency was declared in Turkey. According to Turkish publishers, a total of 30 publishing houses have since been closed by decree, while more than 670 books have been confiscated for allegedly serving as "propaganda of a terror organization." Another 135,000 books have been banned from public libraries on the same or similar grounds. Some works by Louis Althusser, Server Tanilli and Nazım Hikmet have even been considered as evidence for criminal actions. Baruch Spinoza, one of the most renowned philosophers of the 17th century, as well as 20th century French writer and philosopher Albert Camus, have been accused of having been members of terror organizations. A farmer was arrested for owning their works, even though he himself is illiterate.

According to numerous advocates, these actions violate the freedom of expression protected by the country's constitution, in addition to limiting freedom of information. But it's not just courts making the life of authors difficult. A few years ago, critic Ihsan Eliacik was verbally and physically threatened to such an extent that he was unable to attend a book fair. A similar situation occurred during the recent International Istanbul Book Fair, which ended on Sunday, when author Sabahattin Onkibar was attacked by a group of 10 aggressors as he signed his books... read more:

A Family Breaks Its Silence: Shocking Details Emerge In Death Of Judge Presiding Over Sohrabuddin Trial. By NIRANJAN TAKLE

The Supreme Court had ordered that the trial (of Amit Shah) be heard by the same judge from start to finish. But, in violation of this order, J T Utpat, the judge who first heard the trial, was transferred from the CBI special court in mid 2014, and replaced by Loya. On 6 June 2014, Utpat had reprimanded Amit Shah for seeking exemption from appearing in court. After Shah failed to appear on the next date, 20 June, Utpat fixed a hearing for 26 June. The judge was transferred on 25 June. On 31 October  2014, Loya, who had allowed Shah the exemption, asked why Shah had failed to appear in court despite being in Mumbai on that date. He set the next date of hearing for 15 December...

On the morning of 1 December 2014, the family of 48-year-old judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, who was presiding over the Central Bureau of Investigation special court in Mumbai, was informed that he had died in Nagpur, where he had travelled for a colleague’s daughter’s wedding. Loya had been hearing one of the most high-profile cases in the country, involving the allegedly staged encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in 2005. The prime accused in the case was Amit Shah—Gujarat’s minister of state for home at the time of Sohrabuddin’s killing, and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national president at the time of Loya’s death. The media reported that the judge had died of a heart attack.

Loya’s family did not speak to the media after his death. But in November 2016, Loya’s niece, Nupur Balaprasad Biyani, approached me while I was visiting Pune to say she had concerns about the circumstances surrounding her uncle’s death. Following this, over several meetings between November 2016 and November 2017, I spoke to her mother, Anuradha Biyani, who is Loya’s sister and a medical doctor in government service; another of Loya’s sisters, Sarita Mandhane; and Loya’s father, Harkishan. I also tracked down and spoke to government servants in Nagpur who witnessed the procedures followed with regard to the judge’s body after his death, including the post-mortem.
From these accounts, deeply disturbing questions emerged about Loya’s death: questions about inconsistencies in the reported account of the death; about the procedures followed after his death; and about the condition of the judge’s body when it was handed over to the family. Though the family asked for an inquiry commission to probe Loya’s death, none was ever set up.

At 11 pm on 30 November 2014, from Nagpur, Loya phoned his wife, Sharmila, using his mobile phone. Over around 40 minutes, he described to her his busy schedule through the day. Loya was in Nagpur to attend the wedding of the daughter of a fellow judge, Sapna Joshi. Initially he had not intended to go, but two of his fellow judges had insisted that he accompany them. Loya told his wife that he had attended the wedding, and later attended a reception. He also enquired about his son, Anuj. He said that he was staying at Ravi Bhavan, a government guest house for VIPs in Nagpur’s Civil Lines locality, along with the judges he had accompanied to Nagpur.

It was the last call that Loya is known to have made, and the last conversation that he is known to have had. His family received the news of his death early the next morning. “His wife in Mumbai, myself in Latur city and my daughters in Dhule, Jalgaon and Aurangabad received calls,” early on the morning of 1 December 2014,  Harkishan Loya, the judge’s father, told me when we first met, in November 2016, in his native village of Gategaon, near Latur city. They were informed “that Brij passed away in the night, that his post-mortem was over and his body had been sent to our ancestral home in Gategaon, in Latur district,” he added. “I felt like an earthquake had shattered my life.”

The family was told that Loya had died of a cardiac arrest. “We were told that he had chest pain, and so was taken to Dande Hospital, a private hospital in Nagpur, by auto rickshaw, where some medication was provided,” Harkishan said. Biyani, Loya’s sister, described Dande Hospital as “an obscure place,” and said that she “later learnt that the ECG”—the electrocardiography unit at the facility—“was not working.” Later, Harkishan said, Loya “was shifted to Meditrina hospital”—another private hospital in the city—“where he was declared dead on arrival.”

The Sohrabuddin case was the only one that Loya was hearing at the time of his death, and was one of the most carefully watched cases then underway in the country. In 2012, the Supreme Court had ordered that the trial in the case be shifted from Gujarat to Maharashtra, stating that it was “convinced that in order to preserve the integrity of the trial it is necessary to shift it outside the State.” The Supreme Court had also ordered that the trial be heard by the same judge from start to finish. But, in violation of this order, JT Utpat, the judge who first heard the trial, was transferred from the CBI special court in mid 2014, and replaced by Loya. On 6 June 2014, Utpat had reprimanded Amit Shah for seeking exemption from appearing in court. After Shah failed to appear on the next date, 20 June, Utpat fixed a hearing for 26 June. The judge was transferred on 25 June. On 31 October  2014, Loya, who had allowed Shah the exemption, asked why Shah had failed to appear in court despite being in Mumbai on that date. He set the next date of hearing for 15 December.

Loya’s death on 1 December was reported only in a few routine news articles the next day, and did not attract significant media attention. The Indian Express, while reporting that Loya had “died of a heart attack” noted, “Sources close to him said that Loya had sound medical history.” The media attention picked up briefly on 3 December, when MPs of the Trinamool Congress staged a protest outside the parliament, where the winter session was under way, to demand an inquiry into Loya’s death. The next day, Sohrabuddin’s brother, Rubabuddin, wrote a letter to the CBI, expressing his shock at Loya’s death.

Nothing came of the MPs’ protests, or Rubabuddin’s letter. No follow-up stories appeared on the circumstances surrounding Loya’s death. Over numerous conversations with Loya’s family members, I pieced together a chilling description of what Loya went through while presiding over the Sohrabuddin trial, and of what happened following his death. Biyani also gave me copies of a diary she said she maintains regularly, which included entries from the days preceding and following her brother’s death. In these, she noted many aspects of the incident that disturbed her. I also reached out to Loya’s wife and son, but they declined to speak, saying that they feared for their lives.

Biyani, who is based in Dhule, told me that she received a call on the morning of 1 December 2014 from someone identifying himself as a judge named Barde, who told her to travel to Gategaon, some 30 kilometres from Latur, where Loya’s body was sent. The same caller also informed Biyani and other members of the family that a post-mortem had been conducted on the body, and that the cause of death was a heart attack. Loya’s father normally resides in Gategaon, but was in Latur at the time, at the house of one of his daughters. He, too, received a phone call, telling him his son’s body would be moved to Gategaon. “Ishwar Baheti, an RSS worker, had informed father that he would arrange for the body to reach Gategaon,” Biyani told me. “Nobody knows why, how and when he came to know about the death of Brij Loya.”.. read more:

See also
Ajmer blast case: Two including a former RSS worker get life imprisonment

Very short list of examples of rule of law in India
The law of killing - a brief history of Indian fascism

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Charles Manson Embodied the Worst of the 1960's - and Every Era Since. By Jack Hamilton

Any honest accounting of the cultural legacy of the 1960s has to reckon with Charles Manson, who died Sunday at the age of 83. Manson was a human monster whose sole talent was being able to identify the most loathsome potentials of that decade’s zeitgeist and bend them to his own hideous will. He was a terrifying mix of violence, sexual exploitation, and virulent racism, a narcissistic psychopath who used and abused everyone in his path and dedicated his own life to the destruction of others’. In 1969 he devised two nights’ worth of unfathomable slaughter, committed by his followers at his behest, and in so doing obtained the only thing he’d ever wanted: celebrity. Charles Manson embodied the very worst of his era and, to no small degree, every era since.

Born in Cincinnati in 1934, Manson’s early childhood was defined by abuse and neglect, the worst possible environment for a boy who exhibited signs of severe personality disorder from a young age. He spent his teenage years in and out of reformatory schools and detention centers, where he was both victim and purveyor of all types of abuse. He married twice during the 1950s, the second time to a 16-year-old whom he’d been pimping, a union he used to preclude her from testifying against him for passing bad checks. Manson was a masterful manipulator of people, a man with a preternatural ability to spot weakness in others and exploit it for his own ends.

In the early ’60s, Manson learned to play guitar in prison, and as that decade roared on, he began harboring ambitions of becoming a rock ’n’ roll star. From a musical standpoint, Manson was a talentless fraud whose interest in rock ’n’ roll was entirely inseparable from his desire for fame, money, and power. He was, of course, neither the first nor last to fit that particular description, but his quixotic ambitions quickly bled into delusions, evidenced most prominently in his growing obsession with the Beatles, whom Manson came to view as equal parts inspirations, professional rivals, and psychic interlocutors… read more:

The Biodiversity Heritage Library’s open-source archive contains wonders of all kinds. By Eleanor Cummins

There are thought to be about 10 million distinct species of plants and animals on Earth. That number is incomprehensibly large, not least because most species are still undiscovered. But now the Biodiversity Heritage Library, an open-access repository for some of the most stunning images collected of life on Earth, is helping to make these ecological wonders all the more real: It’s made more than 2 million images of our planet’s biodiversity available online for free. Anyone can explore the expansive collections, study the digitized materials, and even download the images for whatever scientific - or artistic - project you have in mind.

Many of the figures in the library’s collection inspire delight, an assortment of real-life Harry Potter creatures. But still others are tinged with existential darkness, like an old black-and-white photo of the American bison, the image of a slain eagle, or renderings of other endangered species. They’re another reminder that many scientists believe we’re in the midst of a great extinction, during which huge numbers of species will die en masse, many of them before even being discovered. And unlike past extinctions, which were caused by random shifts in Earth’s atmosphere, this one’s caused by us.

In her 2014 book, The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert suggests the changes the world is undergoing are the result of the so-called Anthropocene, a new geological epoch defined by human dominance and the danger that comes with it. Depending on how you count it, since at least the Industrial Revolution, humans have been reshaping the globe to disastrous results. As a result, Kolbert writes, “it is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all freshwater mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.”

As Josh Jones writes in a blog post at Open Culture on the newly released series, appreciating biodiversity is perhaps one of the small ways to stop this spiral. If we want to understand what is at stake besides our own fragile fossil-fuel based civilizations, we need to connect to life emotionally as well as intellectually. Short of globe-hopping physical immersion in the earth’s biodiversity, we could hardly do better than immersing ourselves in the tradition of naturalist writing, art, and photography that brings the world to us.The archive provides an easy way to remember that beauty… read more:

Russia reports radioactivity 986 times above normal after claims of nuclear accident

Weeks after French nuclear watchdog IRSN reported a mysterious cloud of radioactive material over Europe, Russian authorities have confirmed that “extremely high” levels of the isotope ruthenium-106 were found in several parts of the country. Experts and analysts believe the ruthenium-106 detected in Europe was possibly released by accident from a Russian site engaged in chemical reprocessing of old nuclear fuel or a facility producing isotopes used in nuclear medicine.

The Russian Meteorological Service said in a statement on Tuesday that it recorded the release of ruthenium-106 in the southern Urals in late September and classified it as “extremely high contamination”. The highest concentration was registered in Argayash, a village in Chelyabinsk region in the southern Urals, which had levels of the isotope exceeding natural background pollution by 986 times, the service said. “Probes of radioactive aerosols from monitoring stations Argayash and Novogorny were found to contain radioisotope Ru-106” between September 25 and October 1, the service said. It added the isotope was detected in Tatarstan and southern Russia, eventually reaching “all European countries, starting in Italy and toward the north of Europe” from September 29.

After an investigation, France’s Institut de Radioprotection et de Surete Nucleaire (IRSN) concluded the “most plausible zone of release (of the radioactive material) lies between the Volga (river) and the Urals”. It had also said the levels recorded in Europe were of “no consequence for human health and for the environment”. Following the initial reports, Russia’s state-controlled Rosatom corporation had said in a statement last month that the radiation had not come from its facilities.

The Argayash station referred to by the Russian Meteorological Service is about 30 km from the Mayak nuclear facility, which was the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history in 1957. Mayak is now a reprocessing site for spent nuclear fuel. Greenpeace Russia on Monday called on Rosatom to open “an in-depth inquiry and publish the results about the incidents at Mayak”, according to The Guardian. “Greenpeace will send a letter asking prosecutors to open an inquiry into potential concealment of a nuclear incident,” it said in a statement.

Ruthenium-106 is a radioactive isotope that is a by-product of a nuclear reaction and it is not found in nature. It is also used in certain medical treatments. “It’s an unusual isotope,” Anders Ringbom, research director of the Swedish Defence Research Agency, was quoted as saying by NPR. “I don’t think we have seen it since the Chernobyl accident.”

Monday, November 20, 2017

Betwa Sharma - Padmavati Row: BJP's Objection Over Distorting History Is The Double Standard Of 2017

In 2017, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) went from distorting history, as it has done many times in the past, to fabricating history in order to advance its divisive ideology of Hindu nationalism. Ignoring the pleas and protests against manufacturing history, the BJP government in Rajasthan changed fact to fiction in the Social Science textbook for Class 10, this year. The revised textbook says that Akbar lost the Battle of Haldighati to Maharana Pratap, even though historians have established that it was the Mughal emperor who defeated the Rajput king in 1576.

With the BJP shamelessly turning history on its head, its objections about historical inaccuracies in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's movie Padmavati reek of a level of hypocrisy that truly insults a person's intelligence. The ruling party has presented itself as the poster child of double standards, out to promote its Hindutva agenda at the cost of everything else. The BJP's opposition to the movie about the Rajput queen, which started out with a few lawmakers writing letters, has amplified in the run up to the Gujarat state election. The Hindu nationalist party now appears to be on the same page as the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, the fringe group that has been leading a violent agitation against the multi-crore movie. Detractors, including royal families from Rajasthan and Rajput women, are angry that the 13-14th century queen's character is seen dancing in the film. They also believe that Bhansali's film has a romantic dream sequence between the Rajput queen and the Muslim sultan Alauddin Khilji. Even though Bhansali has said that there is no romantic dream sequence in the film, Karni Sena leaders have threatened to behead Bhansali and maim the movie's lead actor Deepika Padukone by chopping off her nose. BJP leaders have compared distorting history to "treason." In a letter to the Home Minister Rajnath Singh, a BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh, Arjun Gupta, wrote, "He (Bhansali) needs to be severely punished by being tried for treason for his attempt to distort history," he said. In a letter to Bhansali, Haryana minister Vipul Goel wrote, "Nobody is allowed to distort history and wrongly present facts."

Gold standard of double standards: Now, let's look at the BJP's treatment of history and facts.

A creeping quiet in Indian journalism? By Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

There is a creeping quiet spreading across India’s otherwise loud and lively journalism. Front pages, websites, and news programs are brimming with stories, but “people are afraid”, one editor told me recently in Delhi. “We come under a lot of pressure” says a journalist from Chennai. “I have never experienced anything like this” is how a veteran reporter from Calcutta put it. They are among the journalists I spoke to on a recent trip to India, all of whom describe how a combination of government pressure, harassment by political activists, commercial actors including both some advertisers and some media owners is exercising a chilling effect on Indian journalism.

Not everyone is silenced. In October, the non-profit news site The Wire published The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah showing how Jay Shah, the son of Amit Shah, the president of the ruling BJP party, had seen a dramatic increase in his business fortunes since Narendra Modi became prime minister. The article used company balance sheets and annual reports filed with the Registrar of Companies (RoC) to show how Shah’s Temple Enterprise had seen revenues increase 16,000-fold after Mr Modi and the BJP party his father presides over took power. The response was interesting. On the one hand, Jay Shah, his lawyers insisting he was a private citizen entitled to privacy, filed a criminal defamation case and a civil defamation case seeking a billion rupees ($15.5m) in damages. On the other hand, a number of high profile government ministers and BJP officials defended Shah publicly and attacked the Wire for publishing the story.

In parallel, the Indian Express has reported on allegations that a top official at the Indian Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) had repeatedly dismissed tax fraud allegations against various parts of the Adani Group, a large Indian multinational conglomerate company headquartered in Mr Modi’s home state Gujarat and seen by many as closely aligned with the Prime Minister. (As the business paper the Mint reported, “[Gautam] Adani has travelled with Modi in the past year more than any other billionaire, helping him emerge as the most prominent face of India Inc.”) 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Adani’s Australia Story: A Battle Over the Politics of Coal and Jobs. By Kabir Agarwal

Note: This is the fifth story in a five-part series that examines how the Adani and Carmichael coal mine has divided the Australian public and in the process, sparked fierce debate on issues such as coal-based energy, energy financing, jobs and the rights of indigenous people. Read the firstsecondthird and fourth parts

In May 2010, Kevin Rudd, the then prime minister of Australia, announced a new tax of 40% to be levied on mining activity. A little over a month later, Rudd had lost his job. The mining industry had come together to launch a fierce campaign in television and print media against the tax. Between May and June, $22 million (AUD) was spent on the campaign, at the end of which Rudd found himself losing popularity and was felled by his party colleague, Julia Gillard. Within a week of being sworn in as prime minister, Gillard reached an agreement with mining companies on a lower tax rate.

“Mining is vital to Australian politics. No government in Australia can survive if it is hostile to mining,” Paul Williams, senior lecturer in politics at Griffith University in Queensland, told me.
That would probably explain why the Adani group’s coal mine has received the backing of almost all political parties in Australia. The only opposition from a political party has come – unsurprisingly – from the Australian Greens party, a party with environmentalism at its core. Since the mine was first proposed in 2010, the Adani project has faced considerable headwinds owing to large-scale protests due to potential severe negative climate impacts, refusal of the traditional owners to part with the land on which the mine is to be built and progressively complicated financial scenarios. But the political support for the mine has been dauntless.

As the protests against the mine were gathering momentum, in August 2016, Matthew Canavan, the minister for resources and northern Australia in the Australian federal government, wrote an opinion piece in The Australian, the country’s largest selling national newspaper, titled ‘Mining is central to Australian history and has a strong future’. He argued strongly for further investment in the mining sector and earmarked the Adani coal mine as having the potential to contribute significantly to the development of northern Australia. “If the mine goes ahead, it will help develop a genuine frontier of our nation,” Canavan wrote.  

The ‘frontier’ Canavan wrote about is the Galilee basin – one of the largest untapped reserves of coal in the world estimated to contain 20 billion tonnes of coal – covering an area of 247,000 square kilometres in Central Queensland… read more:

Hindu Mahasabha Lays Foundation Stone For Temple To Gandhi's Killer Nathuram Godse

The Hindu Mahasabha office in Gwalior's Daulatgunj, where Nathuram Godse is said to have stayed for a week prior to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was yesterday earmarked by the far right Hindu party as the site for a temple to Gandhi's killer. 

The Hindu Mahasabha laid the foundation of the temple in the office after the Madhya Pradesh government reportedly turned down their request for land to build the temple, a structure expected to offend millions of people who regard Gandhi as the 'Father of the Nation' and revere him for his lifelong teachings of non-violence and firm stand against social oppression.

"We had sought land from the Gwalior administration for a grand temple in memory of Nathuram Godse. Our plea was denied, so we have decided to build a temple inside our Daulatgunj office in Gwalior, " Jaiveer Bhardwaj, a Hindu Mahasabha leader, told the Telegraph newspaper. It is believed that the gun used to kill Gandhi also came from an unidentified owner in Gwalior. The paper quoted state Congress leader Manak Aggarwal as saying that it was "an insult to glorify a killer."

"The BJP has over 25-26 affiliate-wings which remain engaged in bizarre acts and later the BJP disowns their deeds," Leader of Opposition, Ajay Singh, told News18.

The Sangh’s New Game Plan for Ayodhya

Also see

Western media 'troublemakers' barred from Xi Jinping speech // Believe in socialism not sorcery, China tells party members

China has trumpeted this week’s pomp-filled Communist party congress as an example of its increasing openness and transparency. But a number of major western news organisations whose coverage has irked Beijing were excluded from Xi Jinping’s unveiling of China’s new ruling councilon Wednesday – in some cases for the first time in more than two decades. Those refused access to Xi’s statement to the media include the BBC, the Financial Times, the Economist, the New York Times and the Guardian. Chinese officials offered no formal explanation for the decision.

The Daily Telegraph, which regularly publishes Communist party propaganda in the UK as part of a reported £800,000 annual contract with Beijing’s China Daily, is understood to have been granted an invitation to Xi’s event. In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) said it was concerned about the exclusions. “The press conference is a high profile news event involving China’s top leadership and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that these media organisations have been singled out to send a message,” it said. “Using media access as a tool to punish journalists whose coverage the Chinese authorities disapprove of is a gross violation of the principles of press freedom,” the group added. Qiao Mu, a former journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University who recently went into self-imposed exile in the United States, said China appeared to have barred those it considered “trouble makers”. The move reflected the frustration of Chinese officials at Xi’s inability to “control the tone of the western media”.  “The situation will get worse ... more and more western media websites will be blocked, and journalists will be expelled or [find it] hard to get visas,” Qiao added. He said that in Xi’s “new era” there was room for only “one voice”. .. read more:

Believe in socialism not sorcery, China tells party members
One of China’s top leaders has chastised Communist party cadres for putting “ghosts and gods” before Marx and Lenin. Writing in the party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, Chen Xi accusedsome officials of becoming politically and morally “degraded” and of looking to religion, superstition and – perhaps even worse – western-style multi-party democracy as their faith in socialism faded.  “Some don’t believe in Marx and Lenin but believe in ghosts and gods; they don’t believe in ideals but believe in sorcery; they don’t respect the people but do respect masters,” wrote Chen, who was last month handed a spot on China’s 25-member Politburo.  He added: “As Comrade Mao Zedong pointed out … cadres need to be both red and professional.” 

Members of the officially atheist Communist party have always been required to shun religion. However, activists say hostility to religion has intensified since Xi Jinping became China’s leader in 2012 and began clamping down on potential sources of opposition.  Chen’s article follows reports that Christians in the eastern province of Jiangxi were being told to rid their homes of images of Jesus and the cross and replace them with portraits of Xi. Qi Yan, a local official, told the South China Morning Post the move – which has already seen some 1,000 Xi portraits handed out and hung – was part of an anti-poverty drive that seeks to convince misguided believers that Xi and his political disciples could improve their lot, not the son of God. “Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their saviour,” Qi said. “After our cadres’ work they’ll realise their mistakes and think: ‘We should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help.’”.. read more:

Jason Burke - Tactical error leaves weakened Mugabe facing end of an era

The final unravelling of the 37-year rule of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe began with an uncharac-teristic tactical error. To clear the way to power for his wife, Grace, and her increasingly influential faction, the 93-year-old autocrat sought a decisive confrontation with the only man in the former British colony who had the power to mount a successful challenge to his authority – and he lost.

Emerson Mnangagwa, the former vice-president whose cunning, longevity and toughness earned him the nickname “the Crocodile”, was unceremoniously stripped of his office by Mugabe nine days ago.
The manner of the sacking should have given the oldest ruler in the world and the 53-year-old first lady pause. It did not, and now Mugabe is confined to his official residence in the plush suburb of Borrowdale. The whereabouts of Grace Mugabe are unknown.

Mugabe had intended to fire Mnangagwa face to face in his office, but the former intelligence chief refused to travel the short distance across the Zimbabwean capital for the interview. The president tried again, this time telling Mnangagwa – an aide and collaborator since the two men fought together in the liberation wars of the 1970s – to come to State House, the president’s official residence. Once again, there was no response.

This second refusal was taken as evidence of weakness, one official in the ruling Zanu-PF said, and hours later a government spokesman told a press conference in Harare that Mnangagwa had been stripped of office for “disloyalty, disrespect, deceit and being unreliable”. Mnangagwa, tipped to succeed the ailing Mugabe as recently as August, fled to neighbouring Mozambique... read more:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

15,000 scientists give catastrophic warning about the fate of the world in new letter to humanity: 'Time is running out'

A new, dire "warning to humanity" about the dangers to all of us has been written by 15,000 scientists from around the world. The message updates an original warning sent from the Union of Concerned Scientists that was backed by 1,700 signatures 25 years ago. But the experts say the picture is far, far worse than it was in 1992, and that almost all of the problems identified then have simply been exacerbated.

Mankind is still facing the existential threat of runaway consumption of limited resources by a rapidly growing population, they warn. And "scientists, media influencers and lay citizens" aren't doing enough to fight against it, according to the letter. If the world doesn't act soon, there be catastrophic biodiversity loss and untold amounts of human misery, they warn.

Only the hole in the ozone layer has improved since the first letter was written, and the letter urges humanity to use that as an example of what can happen when it acts decisively. But every single other threat has just got worse, they write, and there is not long left before those changes can never be reversed. There are some causes for hope, the letter suggests. But humanity isn't doing nearly enough to make the most of them and soon won't be able to reverse its fate.

"Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out," the letter warns. "We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home." A host of environmental calamities are highlighted in the warning notice, including catastrophic climate change, deforestation, mass species extinction, ocean "dead zones", and lack of access to fresh water.

Writing in the online international journal BioScience, the scientists led by top US ecologist Professor William Ripple, from Oregon State University, said: "Humanity is now being given a second notice ... We are jeopardising our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats... read more:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

In Dismissing Bribery Probe, SC Equates Request for Recusal of Judges With Contempt of Court // Utkarsh Srivastava - SC is creating a dangerous aura of arrogant infallibility around itself

A request for recusal of a judge is either accepted or refused, with reasons. The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, set the bar on those who seek recusal of judges very high – by making it appear as though they should be prepared to face proceedings for contempt of court as well. This ‘chilling effect’ on seeking recusal was apparent in the judgment delivered by a three-judge bench which dismissed the writ petition filed by advocate Kamini Jaiswal – who sought an independent probe into an alleged attempt to bribe judges to settle a case before the court.

The case was heard by Justices R.K. Agrawal, Arun Mishra, and A.M. Khanwilkar on Monday afternoon. The judges took less than 24 hours to deliver their verdict, which runs to 38 pages. Authored by Justice Mishra, the judgment is a classic instance of how the judiciary can not just stonewall criticism but put its critics in the firing line. Although the bench found Jaiswal’s petition and averments contemptuous, it refrained from initiating proceedings against her and her counsel. The bench orally observed that it was doing so in order to work together for “this great institution”.
Ironically, Monday’s proceedings were not on the merits of Jaiswal’s petition, as both the bench and the arguing counsel ended up debating the so-called issue of propriety of filing two identical writ petitions on the issue – and the extent of guilt of the petitioners in this aberration.

Thus the “tearing hurry” in filing the second writ petition by Kamini Jaiswal, and seeking its hearing in court No.2 on November 9, which set off the current crisis was repeatedly questioned by the bench. Prashant Bhushan answered this by admitting that they did so because they genuinely believed that Chief Justice Dipak Misra’s administrative decision of listing the first writ petition before court No.6 rather than court No.2 was improper, especially because of their plea that he ought to recuse himself both judicially and administratively in the matter. In support of their contention, he pointed out that the Central Bureau of Investigation’s FIR filed on September 19 cast a shadow on the judges who heard the original medical college matter, although it did not name any judges. Justice Arun Mishra, however, equated the “shadow of doubt on the judges” with a contemptuous imputation on the part of the petitioners.

Richest 1% own half the world's wealth, study finds

The globe’s richest 1% own half the world’s wealth, according to a new report highlighting the growing gap between the super-rich and everyone else. The world’s richest people have seen their share of the globe’s total wealth increase from 42.5% at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1% in 2017, or $140tn (£106tn), according to Credit Suisse’s global wealth report published on Tuesday.

“The share of the top 1% has been on an upward path ever since [the crisis], passing the 2000 level in 2013 and achieving new peaks every year thereafter,” the annual report said. The bank said “global wealth inequality has certainly been high and rising in the post-crisis period”. The increase in wealth among the already very rich led to the creation of 2.3 million new dollar millionaires over the past year, taking the total to 36 million. “The number of millionaires, which fell in 2008, recovered fast after the financial crisis, and is now nearly three times the 2000 figure,” Credit Suisse said.

These millionaires – who account for less than 0.5% of the world’s population – control 46% of total global wealth that now stands at $280tn. At the other end of the spectrum, the world’s 3.5 billion poorest adults each have assets of less than $10,000 (£7,600). Collectively these people, who account for 70% of the world’s working age population, account for just 2.7% of global wealth… read more:

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Pratap Bhanu Mehta - The judiciary has created a crisis of institutional credibility for itself // Alok Prasanna Kumar - This is the gravest crisis the judiciary and the legal profession have ever faced in India

The Supreme Court of India is facing its worst crisis of credibility since the Emergency. With an occasional exception, the quality of the court’s reasoning, the inconstancy of its judgment, the abdication of its constitutional role in some cases, and its overreach in others, are already denting its authority. But the institutional crisis that the Supreme Court has now created for itself will puncture more holes in the authority that it so valiantly tried to exert. It will also create the conditions under which it will be easier to legitimise diluting judicial independence.

The current crisis was occasioned by an order passed by Justice J Chelameswar to constitute a five-judge bench in a petition filed by CJAR that demanded that a SIT be constituted to look into an alleged corruption scandal pertaining to a case involving a medical college. There are two issues: Can the chief justice be part of the hearing, since the scandal allegedly implicates a judgment the CJI wrote, even though he has not been named in the FIR? Second, could a constitution bench be constituted bypassing the chief justice in violation of the current procedure through which such benches are constituted? This is not the place to recount the ugly sequence of events that transpired. But consider the different ways in which the judiciary has now rendered itself vulnerable.

First, there is the vulnerability that arises from the CBI itself. There are issues of corruption in the courts. The judiciary has failed to find a mechanism to deal with allegations of corruption within its ranks. Every justice in the court needs to be above suspicion.

Cleve Wootson: The frilled shark is one of the oldest - and creepiest - living species on the planet

Maybe it's time we Homo sapiens re-evaluated our relationship with the oceans of the world. It has been a good few millennia, sure, but our love affair may have been a little rushed. After all, what do we really know about the ocean? Roughly 95 percent of it remains unexplored, and it seems as if every other day we're finding out something new and unsettling.

Old emotions can die hard. So for the unconvinced holdouts, here's a little push, via Twitter: "Prehistoric, Dinosaur-Era Shark With Insane Teeth Found Swimming Off Coast of Portugal"
That sea-dwelling, serpentine conglomeration of nightmare fuel is the frilled shark, one of the oldest - and in the running for the creepiest - living species on the planet. Its prehistoric contemporaries, like Tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops, died out long ago, but the frilled shark is still swimming around deep below the surface of the world's oceans, scientists say.

They know that because of an accident that sounds vaguely like the plot of a straight-to-video horror movie. A group of European Union scientists were trawling the depths of the Atlantic Ocean this month, trying to figure out a way to "minimize unwanted catches in commercial fishing," according to the BBC. Instead, they ended up capturing one of the rarest and most ancient creatures on the planet, one that may have inspired 19th-century tales of "sea serpents."

What those sailors didn't know was that the frilled shark has looked pretty much the same since the breakup of Pangea. Mainly, that look is horrifying. The largest can grow 6 feet long - the size of a tall man. The shark is named after its gills, which have frilly, fluffy edges, but the cuddly factor ends abruptly there. Inside its short-snouted head are 300 more reasons to never go farther than the beach: hundreds of needle-sharp teeth, neatly lined in 25 rows. It uses quick lunges to sink those teeth into other sharks, fish, octopuses and squid.

Humans know very little about the frilled shark because it lives deep in the ocean, off the coasts of Japan, New Zealand and Australia. In its 80 million years on the planet, it has rarely come into contact with humans or been seen or filmed in its natural habitat. Clearly freaked-out 19th-century sailors were the first to write about it. The frilled fish has a remarkably simple anatomy, probably because of a lack of nutrients in its aquatic environment. But there's no definitive answer about why it outlived its Cretaceous Period contemporaries.

So for now, it remains one of those increasingly frequent reminders that some of the creepiest beings in existence are floating beneath what appears to be a serene ocean surface. From time to time, scientists will set out to see what's swimming around in unexplored regions of the sea, then use the internet to show the world what got tangled up in their nets full of nope. For example, earlier this year, an international team of scientists sponsored by Australian museums pulled up some creatures from more than two miles beneath the ocean. They wanted to see what kind of animals live where there is perpetual darkness, crushing pressure and inhospitable temperatures.

They found things like a red crab covered in dozens of thorny spikes that would be quickly sent back to the chef at Red Lobster. And they discovered a coffinfish, a blue-eyed, red-finned trickster that uses "a fishing rod tipped with a fluffy bait on top of its head" to lure prey close enough to snag. So, yes, maybe the beach is the safest place until we know more about what's swimming around in the great beyond. On second thought, even that may be too close.

As The Washington Post's Lindsey Bever reported in September, the high winds and heavy rains of Hurricane Harvey washed "a mysterious sea creature with fangs and no face" onto the shore in Texas. Even the internet struggled to identify what it was. But one thing is certain: Clearly it's time to re-evaluate our relationship with the beach.

State memory: 1917 and Russian memory politics. By MANFRED SAPPER and VOLKER WEICHSEL

‘Russian memory politics represses both the utopia and the violence. It wants neither to know about the perpetrators nor to commemorate the victims.’ The editors of Eurozine partner journal ‘Osteuropa’ reflect on the political meaning of Russia’s official commemoration of 1917.

Word has got out: history politics is about politics, not history. The interpretation of the past serves to define the present and to mark out the future. Russia’s commemoration of the centenary of the February and October Revolutions therefore tells us a lot about how the political leadership in the Kremlin sees itself, about the worldviews of various social groups, and about the values of Russians. 

The same goes for all the other states that belonged to the Soviet Union until 1991. In the Soviet Union, the revolution in October 1917 was considered to be an event of global significance, the beginning of the liberation of human beings from material want, political coercion, violence and war. The exploitation of humans by other humans would be abolished and equality and justice restored. Empires and nation-states alike would be overcome. All nations would be united in a worldwide Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The ideal of the revolution was nothing less than eternal peace on Earth.

However, the Bolsheviks were never able to get a social majority behind them or their utopia. At the beginning of the communist world movement was a violent power grab that, after the First World War, immediately led Russia into civil war. The spirit of utopia soon began to justify immeasurable violence: mass shootings, camps, annihilation through famine, terror. Official Russian memory politics represses both the utopia and the violence. It wants neither to know about the perpetrators nor to commemorate the victims. It recognizes only one tragedy, which allegedly struck society like a natural disaster – and the state, which alone was able to offer salvation.

For the Russian leadership, the question of how to mark the centenary of 2017 is therefore a political-historical conundrum. How to commemorate events that symbolise the downfall and the destruction of a state, of the Russian Empire? How to remember ideals about which the ruling elite were so cynical, but which still served as the basis for the state and its apparatus? That can’t happen without memory-political inconsistencies. The patron saint of the Revolution, Vladimir I. Lenin, has fallen low. Putin has long blamed Lenin and his nationalities policy for the destruction of the Russian Empire. At the same time, Putin – whose rise is thanks to his career in the KGB and the FSB – is proud to belong in the tradition of the Cheka, the communist secret police, whose centenary is also this year, on 20 December.

The Russian regime’s fixation on the strong state and the mantra of stability, which reflects the fear of any kind of change and which allows all demands from society for reform to be denounced as calls for revolution, leads to 1917 being repressed. The Revolution is no longer to be seen as a caesura. The historical-political guidelines prescribe that the years 1914–1921 be taken as a single phase. In historiographical terms, there are reasons for widening the horizon. In terms of memory politics, however, the aim is to assert continuity between the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. The longstanding claim of the critics of the Soviet Union – that it was an extension of the Russian Empire with a different ideology – has today been given a positive spin to become Russia’s official state ideology.

The Russian minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky, set out the parameters of this interpretation back in 2015. Like the dynastic, social and national crisis at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the revolutionary period was a ‘Time of Troubles’ that had led to the loss of Empire. The reason for the downfall of the state was twofold: on the one hand, the defeat of Russia in the First World War; on the other, the split of the elite into ‘Reds’ and ‘Whites’. According to this view of things, the lesson of history is unconditional unity. The ‘Time of Troubles’ – a concept also used by the current regime and its supporters to refer to the 1990s – serves as a warning that justifies the repression of social plurality. When, even in the highest political circles, the Russian Revolution is said to have been a conspiracy of foreign powers against the Russian state, then associations with the campaign against supposed ‘foreign agents’ in civil society are not unintended.

This worldview perfectly matches that of the Orthodox Church. In the central thrust of memory politics and contemporary political thinking, Church and State hierarchies sing in a single, patriotic accord. Their ‘harmonious’ commemoration of the order defeated in 1917 allows it to be forgotten that priests and believers suffered particularly harshly under the Bolsheviks – and also that the Church was deeply connected to the power structures of the Soviet Union. This kind of commemo-ration justifies the authoritarian political order in the same way as Russia’s renunciation of Europe and any kind of self-accountable, liberal thinking. Nothing could be more alien to Russia’s ruling elites than the idea of enlightened, mature people who aspire to be citizens, to take responsibility for the social community, to choose their representatives in free elections and to control the government through the rule of law and the separation of powers. 

Those were the liberal ideals of the February Revolution. 

After seventy years of Soviet rule, a brief interregnum, and almost two decades of Putin, they have been repressed entirely. The shock for the Kremlin was therefore great when the Maidan in Ukraine brought back memories of the revolutionary potential of a democratic upheaval. This text is the editorial to Osteuropa (6–8/2017), ‘Revolution Redux. 1917–2017: Forwards and forever forgotten’.