The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

March 4th, 2015


Israeli Benjamin President Netanyahu (on left, with President Barack Obama) is ready to sacrifice Israel’s most vital interests for election victory. PHOTO/AFP

Uri Avnery is without doubt the most intellectual, philosophical, prescient leftist Israeli seer I have ever met. Like T.S. Eliot, he has a habit of using the fewest words to tell the greatest truth. Every essay that he writes, this reader always says the same thing: exactly! Yet, for the first time in 40 years, I disagree with the great man.

He has just suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement to address the US Congress at the invitation of Republicans – two weeks before an Israeli general election – and US President Barack Obama’s decision not to see the old rogue, has destroyed Israel’s bipartisan support in America. For the first time, says Uri, Democratic politicians are allowed to criticise Israel. Absolute tosh.

Congressmen of both parties have grovelled and fainted and shrieked their support for Bibi (Netanyahu) and his predecessors with more enthusiasm than the Roman hordes in the Colosseum.

Last time Bibi turned up in the Congress, he received literally dozens of standing ovations from the sheep-like representatives of the American people, whose uncritical adoration of the Israeli state – and their abject fear of uttering the most faint-hearted criticism lest they be called anti-Semites – suggest that Bibi would be a far more popular US president than Barack. And Bibi’s impeccable American accent doesn’t hurt.

And his aim – to earn votes for himself and to destroy the one foreign policy achievement within Obama’s grasp – will have absolutely no effect at all on Israeli-US relations. When Bibi made himself the laughing stock of the UN Security Council – by producing an infantile cartoon of an Iranian bomb with a red line in the middle, indicating that Iran could build nuclear weapons by the end of 2013 — his charade was treated with indulgence by the American media.

These mythical deadlines have been expiring regularly for more than a decade, yet still we are supposed to take them seriously. Obama is struggling to reach an agreement with Iran which would protect the world from any nuclear weapon production by the Islamic Republic.

Bibi wants to destroy this opportunity. He wants more sanctions. He wants to win the Israeli elections on March 17. He might even bomb Iran – which would bring an immediate military response against the United States. But he’s going to be telling Congress that the entire existence of Israel is at stake.

According to Uri, Bibi will be spitting in the face of President Obama. “I don’t think there was ever anything like it,” Uri Avnery wrote this weekend.

“The prime minister of a small vassal country, dependent on the US for practically everything, comes to the US to openly challenge its president, in effect branding him a cheat and a liar. Netanyahu is ready to sacrifice Israel’s most vital interests for election victory.”

I don’t wish to exonerate Bibi’s cynicism. Even Uri admits that he cannot imagine any more effective election ploy. “Using the Congress of the United States of America as a propaganda prop is a stroke of genius,” he says. But the prime minister of Israel knows he can get away with anything in America – with the same confidence that he can support his army when they slaughter hundreds of children in Gaza in the “self-defence” of Israel.

Netanyahu’s speech to Congress will be as disproportionate as his soldiers’ bombardment of the world’s mightiest slum.

Dawn for more

Heaven is a place on earth: popular culture has more to say about the afterlife than religion

March 4th, 2015


IMAGE/Oxford University Press Entertaining Judgement: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination by Greg Garrett, Oxford University Press, 245pp, £18.99

The leading moral philosopher of the 19th century, Henry Sidgwick, spent much of his life looking for evidence that human consciousness survived bodily death. For this eminent Victorian (born in 1838, he died in 1900, having spent all his adult life as an academic in Cambridge), there had to be an afterlife if ethics was to have any meaning. If we are extinguished when we die, there can be no basis for morality – no reason why we shouldn’t follow the dictates of self-interest, or simply obey the whims of the moment. The only way of avoiding this “intolerable anarchy” was what he called “the Postulate of Immortality”. After devoting many years to investigating paranormal phenomena, he could find no convincing evidence that this postulate was well founded. An agnostic who in his intellectual life was never less than scrupulously honest, he died believing he had failed in his quest.

There was a curious postscript to Sidgwick’s life. Not long after he died, a medium who practised automatic writing – in which texts appear despite an absence of conscious awareness, with another mind seeming to be their author – began producing scripts purporting to be from the late philosopher. Most dealt with the mind/body question: how is consciousness related to the brain? One of the texts, however, dealt with Sidgwick’s search more directly. He had always been a seeker, the spectral author of the text wrote. Now he knew, from his immediate experience, that the human mind does continue after death. Yet he was as baffled as to the meaning of this posthumous existence as he had been regarding that of his earthly life. In a tone of earnest sadness echoing that found in Sidgwick’s writings, the text concluded: “We no more solve the riddle of death by dying than we solve the problem of living by being born.”

New Statesman for mroe

In their own voices

March 4th, 2015


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An ILO-produced film documents the opportunities and obstacles on the path taken by migrant health-care workers from the Philippines.

The prospect of a better future for her son is what drove Ellen Dollaga to leave her child. The 27-year old single mother moved from the Philippines to work as a nurse in Taiwan, China.

“I left my baby when he was just six months old,” Dollaga recalls. “It’s important for a mum to see and to hear her baby say Mummy, his first word and his first walk. Yet, I sacrificed all this and a lot of happy moments to earn money. There was a time when my son never knew his mother.”

After two years working in a nursing home in Taiwan, China, Dollaga returned to the Philippines. Her foreign work experience and her foreign language skills opened more opportunities, and she was among the first batch of Filipino nurses who qualified to work in Germany, under a bilateral mobility agreement.

Dollaga was happy with the help the arrangement gave her. “Through this bilateral agreement nurses no longer have to pay placement fees. Processing time takes three to four months or less. It saves time, effort and of course money on our part.”

She now works as a nurse in Frankfurt, Germany, and is fulfilling her promise to support her family. “My goal is to get my child to go to Germany after three to five years. If I can petition my parents, then I will take care of them together with my son.”

ILO for more

The AAP as part of a global phenomenon

March 3rd, 2015


DISSATISFACTION: “The protests in Hong Kong were not just about universal suffrage; they were about a larger issue of urban inequality and lack of opportunities.” Picture shows protestors with the Occupy movement symbol in Hong Kong. PHOTO/Reuters

The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party is part of a global protest against the rapid growth of urbanisation and accompanying inequality

It is an important point now in Indian politics with the stupendous emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi: the ruling party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are now forced to introspect within months of their unprecedented victory in the Lok Sabha election. While a lot of the credit for the AAP’s victory has been given to party leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, there is a subtle, yet decisive, global trend that has given rise to the party.

Globalisation has engulfed the world over the past 25 years, especially after the fall of the USSR. It has been projected as the pillar of capitalism, and there has been a lot of focus on urbanisation — an offshoot of globalisation — which has caused enormous socio-economic changes. While the endeavour for high growth has provided opportunities to many people and lifted several out of poverty, it has also had its own set of challenges. As Thomas Piketty wrote in his book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” inequality is present in most of the major cities in the world. This has created a situation where there are large chunks of people in cities who are unemployed or impoverished; people who have been promised opportunities but have been neglected since income is concentrated in the hands of a few. These people are now becoming a vocal majority, asking questions about how economics is fundamentally functioning in the world. We have seen this in New York, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, London and Paris, and New Delhi is no exception.

Movements across the world

An example of political movements riding on this sentiment is the rise of the Workers’ Party in Brazil. The emergence of Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (Lula) was synonymous with a left-of-centre “bottom-up” kind of participatory politics which broke the conventional stereotype of democracy in South America. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is a protégé of Mr. Lula who was President in 2002 and has been an integral part of his party since its early days. The Workers’ Party emerged while addressing the negative effects of urbanisation which plagued the city of Sao Paulo.

Besides Brazil, countries in Europe have faced similar movements that have addressed inequality. The rise of Syriza, the leftist anti-austerity party in Greece, has been another example of the growing frustration with crony capitalism that thrives in most countries. According to records, in 2013, Greece had 62 per cent of its population in its cities. Its leader Alexis Tsipras moved beyond the core left ideology and focussed on the impact of the debt crisis and inequality in Greece, to win a landmark election a month ago.

The Hindu for more

(Thanks to Mukul Dube)

Food waste is becoming serious economic and environmental issue, report says

March 3rd, 2015


With millions of households across the country struggling to have enough to eat, and millions of tons of food being tossed in the garbage, food waste is increasingly being seen as a serious environmental and economic issue.

A report released Wednesday shows that about 60 million metric tons of food is wasted a year in the United States, with an estimated value of $162 billion. About 32 million metric tons of it end up in municipal landfills, at a cost of about $1.5 billion a year to local governments.

The problem is not limited to the United States.

The report estimates that a third of all the food produced in the world is never consumed, and the total cost of that food waste could be as high as $400 billion a year. Reducing food waste from 20 to 50 percent globally could save $120 billion to $300 billion a year by 2030, the report found.

“Food waste is a global issue, and tackling it is a priority,” said Richard Swannell, director of sustainable food systems at the Waste and Resources Action Program, or Wrap, an antiwaste organization in Britain that compiled the new report. “The difficulty is often in knowing where to start and how to make the biggest economic and environmental savings.”

The food discarded by retailers and consumers in the most developed countries would be more than enough to feed all of the world’s 870 million hungry people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The New York Times for more

(Thanks to reader)

Vinay lal on Love for the country; Vaishnava Janato

March 3rd, 2015

Love for the country: Obama, Giuliani, and narratives of patriotism


New York’s former mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, dubbed by the adoring American media as “America’s mayor” after the events of September 11 cast him in the spotlight and even turned him into a hero in the eyes of many, has long had a habit of attempting to insert himself into the public sphere after his “retirement” and failed attempt to gain America’s presidency. Giuliani was always known for his machismo rather than his intelligence, and it is not surprising that one of the many sinecures that came his way after he supposedly brought New York back on its feet—first by tackling crime on the city’s mean streets, acting tough with criminals, and then by showing terrorists that New Yorkers could not be cowed into submission by turning their twin towers into burning infernos—was as a consultant to various law enforcement agencies, in and outside the United States, on cultivating “zero tolerance” with respect to crime. For Giuliani, as for many others who are habituated to the idea that certain human beings should be treated as a lower species, “zero tolerance” is produced not by tackling the social roots of crime—and “crime” is, needless to say, never the actions of Wall Street bankers who plunder the wealth of common people, or the backroom dealings that enable many of the country’s wealthiest people and corporations to evade taxes—but merely by packing the jails.

Lal Salaam for more

Vaishnava Janato: Gandhi and Narsi Mehta’s Conception of the Ideal Person


Unraveling the religious life of Gandhi is thus no trifling matter. Nevertheless, his life—extraordinarily complex in some respects, and equally straightforward from another vantage point—furnishes various windows into his religious thought and practice. The Bhagavad Gita was, to Gandhi, a manual for daily living; and it is in the Gita that we first encounter a description of bhakti yoga, the way to God through devotion. What is often referred to as the ‘bhakti movement’ had swept India from around the ninth to the sixteenth centuries, and in Gandhi’s native Gujarat the most famous exponent of bhakti was doubtless Narasinha Mehta, born into the orthodox caste of Nagar Brahmins around 1414. Much like other bhakta-poets, Narsi (as he is commonly known) was oblivious to caste differences and scarcely moved by bookish learning; and his biographers are agreed that he deeply offended his own community of Brahmins as he would often consort with the lower castes, even singing in the houses of the Untouchables and spending his nights in their homes. Narsi’s fellow Brahmins eventually excommunicated him, but Narsi was no more perturbed on that account: “They say I am impure, and they are right. / I love only those who love Hari [Krishna]. / I see no difference between one Harijana and another.” It is Narsi’s term Harijans, meaning “children of God,” that Gandhi would controversially adopt in the 1920s to designate the Untouchables.

Lal Salaam for more

Patrons of ISIS rethinking their strategy?

March 2nd, 2015


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Egypt has retaliated to the beheading of Egyptian Christians by ISIS through bombing and targeting their network in Libya. Newsclick interviewed Prof. Aijaz Ahmed, well know political commentator to discuss the latest events in West Asia and North Africa, particularly with Jordan and Egypt attacking ISIS.

Prabir Purkayastha (PP): Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Today, we have with us Prof. Aijaz Ahmad, a well known political commentator to discuss latest events which have rocking West Asia, and North Africa and the west calls Middle East. Aijaz, we already had this issue about Libya now been drawn into air strikes by the Egyptian armed forces essentially been in response to Egyptian Christians being killed there. Earlier, we had similar kind of thing with Jordan. Jordanian Airforce bombing ISIS or IS whatever now it’s been called. Do you think the war that was started essentially in Syria then spread to Iraq back and forth now is getting much larger?

Aijaz Ahmad (AA): Well, I think that’s one way of looking at this new sort of alignment with Islamic terrorist and so forth. The Libyan group is the group that has become the part of the IS but I think that is something else that is specifically Egyptian which is connected with this. One, Egypt has been on the one hand going after Islamists in the Sinai alleging them to be connected with Al Qaeda or more often with Hamas and so on. More recently, after the Davos meeting, when he returned Sisi with accolades from all over the West, came back and called upon Egyptians to help him. So this escalation against the Islamic terrorist on the part of Egypt is I think is also tied up with increasing difficulty at home with Muslim Brotherhood and so on and he wants to somehow tie up the Hamas, Sinai and that’s particularly Egyptian, the decision that IS that he has taken. The other part in this is again specifically Egyptian Sisi has not waged against Bashar Al Assad. He has improved his ties with the Russian. More recently they are trying to put up a group of opposition leaders distinct from the existing defunct one that the West has been pushing overlapping with it for mediation in Syria. That links up with the new scenario which developing of creating of, Jordan you mentioned, changing its colours. It has been supporting all of those Jehadis and now bombing them etc. In that I think we will also have to watch Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are not feeling the heat of the IS which has called for strikes inside Saudi Arabia and there has been a shift in dispensation in Riyadh.

News Click for more

Netanyahu’s gamble

March 2nd, 2015


Sidelining President Obama, the US Congress has invited Binyamin Netanyahu to speak on 3 March, helping his chance of re-election. But he may not win.

Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu may have overreached himself. His majority, however ramshackle, was large enough to keep him in power until 2017 but he has taken a big gamble in calling an election for 17 March. Even if he is re-elected, it will be at the head of a narrow coalition of the ultra-orthodox and ultra-nationalist, without the centrist ministers who have helped reassure the outside world.

The best he can expect is that he will become a hostage (willing or not) to the most hardline on the right. In those circumstances, he will head a government that the rest of the world will regard as unacceptable and will face serious difficulties at home. If he loses, Israel will be governed by a coalition that will include the Labour Party and the centre-right. This would have seemed improbable a few months ago, but it cannot be ruled out, though the right is still favourite to win.

There is also the possibility of a tie forcing both blocs to paper over their differences and form a government of national unity, which would lead to stasis; there would be no change of Israel’s political course despite Netanyahu’s personal defeat.

Le Monde Diplomatique for more

Why Julianne Moore and Taylor Swift see that dress differentl

March 2nd, 2015



As a visual neuroscientist I think a lot about how we see the world around us. And so I’ve found the scientific and celebrity controversy around #thatdress to be especially fun and exciting. Most of the scientific pundits have concluded that the dress is black-and-blue, and they have offered up an illusions-in-the-brain explanation of why some people see the dress instead as white-and-gold. Yet after thinking thoroughly about this photo, looking at it on a number of different screens, and speaking with some of my lab partners, I’d like to offer my point of view. Yes, there is an illusion at play here that affects our brains, but no, it is not that illusion that causes it to look differently to different people: that difference is caused by a mundane photographic effect.

Scientific American for more

Weekend Edition

February 27th, 2015