Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Weekend Edition

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Bezos: Father of all motherfuckers

Friday, February 15th, 2019


Jeff Bezos of Amazon PHOTO/NDTV/Duck Duck Go

congressperson Rashida Tlaib called President Trump a “motherfucker”

she expressed the frustrating sentiment many people are feeling

but there are others too who incite that frustration

whose commercial/religious/political businesses screw unfortunate victims

the father of all motherfuckers is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos

the world’s richest man: Bezos

how much tax did his company Amazon pay in 2017?

Zero i.e., $0 tax paid on its $5.6 billion income

in 2018, Amazon’s income doubled to $11.2 billion

how much tax did it pay in 2018?

not only did it not pay a single cent

but it received $129 million 2018 federal income tax rebate

so the final tax rate was more than negative 1%

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

British tax havens resist regulation with threats of independence

Friday, February 15th, 2019


Poster issued by the British tax authorities to counter offshore tax evasion IMAGE/H.M. Revenue & Customs • CC BY 2.0

“British overseas territories win reprieve after threatening legal action or secession”. The Guardian reports that “The government has been accused of defying parliament by delaying plans to require British tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands to bring in public registers that reveal the true identity of owners of companies sheltering assets.

“Foreign Office ministers have caved in after a rebellion in the British overseas territories, including threats to take the government to court or even to secede from the UK. The British-administered tax shelters have always been seen as a blight on the Conservative claim to be fighting the multibillion-pound corruption industry…

“…The date means public registers in the overseas territories, seen as critical to winding down tax avoidance, will not be introduced until a decade after David Cameron first raised the issue as a flagship anti-corruption measure ahead of the UK chairmanship of the G7 industrialised economies.”

Examples of the way big companies take advantage of the tax brakes (we have already discussed how years of austerity and accumulation of wealth – a large part of which ends up in tax Havens – have created unspeakable   poverty and inequality) are sometimes public, like Google moving to Bermuda £14billion in 2016 and £23billion in 2017, but most of the time the movement of assets remains  a closely guarded secret. Nothing has really changed since the Panama Papers created more awareness about one of the most immoral practices of the neoliberal financial organisation.

Britain has done very well financially out of these “Treasure Islands”, these remnants of the British Empire, but the presence of other Tax Havens all over the world speak of an international order designed to dehumanise all but the tiny elite that makes the rules.

The electorate have the right to demand from their representatives that they resist this blackmail, this Trump-style tactics that promote tax avoidance and/or evasion and leave countries without the resources to share on the benefits of everyone’s work.

Pressenza for more

How the ghazal traveled from 6th-century Arabia to Persia, India and the English-speaking world

Friday, February 15th, 2019


(This is an excerpt from the Preface to Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi: The Wonderful World of Urdu Ghazals, selected, edited and translated by Anisur Rahman, HarperCollins India, detailing the journey of the ghazal across time and space.)

The literary form has been adopted by many different cultures and adapted for a variety of languages.

The trajectory of the ghazal is unlike that of any other literary form that has had a history of traversing beyond its spatial confines. A brief tour through the passages of this poetic form and its diverse routes would reveal both its uniqueness and universal appeal.

When the ghazal moved out of the Arabian Peninsula, it found a hospitable space in medieval Spain where it was written both in the Arabic and the Hebrew languages.

In yet another instance, we have the ghazal reaching out to west African languages like Hausa and Fulfulde.

Even while these ghazals developed their own marks, they also kept close to the Arabic model by retaining the traditional Arabic metres and forms.

It was only when the ghazal reached Persia in the middle of the 8th century that it started developing its own contours even while it did not entirely disengage from the formal patterns of the Arabic ghazals.

Later, the Persian ghazal acquired its definite character when it developed its own stylistic marks in refurbishing the matla, the first sher of the ghazal, and evolving a pattern of refrains (radeef) as the last unit of expression in the second line of each sher.

It also defined the length of the ghazal from seven to 15 shers, and made way for the poets to use their signature in maqta, the last sher of the composition.

Abdullah Jafar Rudaki, the first canonical ghazal writer of Persia towards the end of the 9th century, was followed in chronological order by other major poets like Sanai Ghaznavi and Fariduddin Attar in the 12th century, Sadi Shirazi and Jalaluddin Rumi in the 13th and Hafiz Shirazi in the 14th century.

The Persian ghazal matured further after the classical models in the subsequent centuries but it always distinguished itself for two of its most distinctive qualities: its acute mystical preoccupations and its keen philosophical concerns.

The ghazal written in Persian, the dominant literary language of central Asia and India, made remarkable impact and proved quite consequential in the development of the ghazal as an archetypal form of poetic expression in the East.

Dawn for more

Why the West won’t act on China’s Uighur crisis

Thursday, February 14th, 2019


The United Nations has cited harrowing reports about Uighur detention centers in China. PHOTO/Twitter

As evidence mounts of China’s internment of almost one million Muslim Uighurs in the country’s far western region, Western nations have largely failed to respond to the reported abuses, a conspiracy of silence that speaks to China’s still-strong economic and political clout.

In what some critics have referred to as a campaign of “ethnic cleansing”, Chinese authorities have since late 2017 corralled hundreds of thousands of Turkic minority, Uighurs into locked down indoctrination camps in the purportedly autonomous Xinjiang region.

Human rights groups contend that torture and beatings are common in the camps – which form a new “gulag archipelago,” according to some activists – as the ruling Communist Party engages in a social-engineering drive to destroy the Uighur’s traditions, identity and religious beliefs.

But despite the widespread reports of systematized mistreatment, the international response has been at best been muted, and at worst appeasement, Uighur activists and human rights groups monitoring the situation say.

They argue that foreign governments, namely in the rights-promoting West, should impose economic sanctions and threaten to boycott Chinese companies in punitive response.

A Canadian parliamentary committee reported last month that the detention of the Uighurs, as well as other Muslim minority groups, is “unprecedented in its scale, technological sophistication and in the level of economic resources attributed by the state to the project.” Yet the Canadian government has not yet engaged is anything beyond rhetorical criticism.

The United States has sought to tackle China on everything from its military expansion in the South China Sea to reputed unfair trade practices, but indignation over the Uighur issue has been relatively absent in Washington’s broadsides against Beijing.

Asia Times for more

There is still hope for Rojava

Thursday, February 14th, 2019


Kurdish fighters in Syria PHOTO/Kurdishstruggle via Flickr

As the U.S. foreign policy establishment grapples with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, officials in Washington are overlooking what could be the biggest impact of his decision: the effect on the revolution in Rojava, the most promising democratic experiment in the Middle East.

Since Trump announced on December 19 that U.S. forces in Syria are returning home, most of the foreign policy establishment has lapsed into a kind of collective panic about the geopolitical implications for U.S. power and influence in the Middle East. Although some U.S. officials support Trump’s decision, arguing that a direct U.S. military presence in Syria is no longer necessary, most foreign policy experts portray Trump’s move as a victory for U.S. enemies and a sacrifice of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.-backed forces who are fighting the Islamic State in Syria.

“A precipitous U.S. troop withdrawal will undermine critical U.S. interests in Syria,” argues former U.S. official Mona Yacoubian, who is now a senior advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Throughout the debate, U.S. officials have done little to consider the ramifications of Trump’s decision for the revolution in Rojava. Without U.S. forces positioned in Rojava, the Kurdish-led region in northeastern Syria, the Syrian Kurds who are leading a social revolution there face an imminent attack from Turkey, which has repeatedly threatened to eradicate them and their revolution.

“If we leave now, the Kurds are going to get slaughtered,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned.

The revolution in Rojava is one of the few positive developments to emerge from the civil war in Syria. For the past several years, the Syrian Kurds have been creating self-governing communities that involve the democratic participation of their residents, including women and ethnic minorities. Committed to the principles of feminism, environmentalism, and democratic confederalism, the Syrian Kurds have united these communities in an autonomous democratic federation across northern Syria.

Sadly, U.S. officials have never fully supported the revolution in Rojava. After the Syrian Kurds announced the creation of their new autonomous region in March 2016, U.S. officials spoke out against it. This past November, U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey told Congress that the area is primarily important as leverage in negotiations with the Syrian government. The U.S. relationship with the Syrian Kurds, Jeffrey said, is “tactical and temporary.”

Even against the backdrop of this limited U.S. support, Trump’s recent decision is a serious betrayal. Over the past several years, U.S. officials have repeatedly praised the Syrian Kurds as their most effective partners in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, pledging not to abandon them. Last September, Trump praised the Kurds as “great, great people,” insisting that “we have to help them.”

“Tens of thousands of Kurds died fighting ISIS,” Trump said. “They died for us and with us.”

With his latest announcement, Trump has thrown all of these notions into disarray, leaving administration officials backtracking from their previous commitments. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had previously called the Syrian Kurds “great partners” and pledged to include them in future negotiations to end the war in Syria, now evades questions about whether the United States has an obligation to help them.

National Security Advisor John Bolton recently said that the U.S. withdrawal is conditional on a Turkish pledge not to attack the Kurds, but he confirmed that “we are going to withdraw from northeastern Syria.”

Given the upcoming U.S. withdrawal, the Syrian Kurds are facing an existential threat from Turkey. For years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening to eradicate the Syrian Kurds, portraying them as terrorists no different from the Islamic State.

Erdogan once said that “we will do everything and anything we need to do to eliminate the Kurds,” according to former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Early last year, the Turkish government acted on its threats, invading and conquering Afrin, one of the three cantons of Rojava. Some 200,000 residents fled the area and an estimated 500 civilians were killed. More than 800 Kurdish fighters died trying to defend the area.

Another Turkish incursion into northern Syria would be disastrous for the Syrian Kurds and the revolution in Rojava.

Foreign Policy In Focus for more

‘Frankly, I think the UK are being a little arrogant’: Europeans react to the Brexit

Thursday, February 14th, 2019


“All of Europe’s conservative parties congratulated the UK this morning. If that’s not a bad sign, what is?”

Yesterday, Britain denied the warm/stifling embrace of the European Union. Europe didn’t really see this break-up coming – or rather refused to take Britain’s threats to leave seriously – and there’s no telling whether we can all remain friends.

We got in touch with VICE’s European offices (whether they’re in member states or not) to find out how young people feel about this morning’s news.


Beatrice, 24, Milan, student

“I couldn’t believe the results this morning – I’m very worried. Personally, my plan was to go to the UK once I graduated but now I definitely have to rethink my plans. I am afraid this is the beginning of the end for the European Union, there will surely be a domino effect. I can’t say that the EU is perfect but leaving seems foolish. I hope we’ll never have the same referendum in Italy, because I’m afraid it will have the same result.”

Vice for more

A spark of hope: Lessons from the Zapatistas on the 25th Anniversary of their uprising

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019


At the 2018 International Summit for Women in the Struggle called by the Zapatistas. The mural reads: “Capitalism converts everything, absolute everything into commodities. For it [capitalism] we women are propaganda, decorations…Down with this capitalist system!” PHOTO/Global Justice Now/Flickr/CC 2.0

January 1, 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. For those of us who remember that day well, it’s hard to believe it was a quarter century ago. It’s been many years since the Zapatista movement was the darling of the international solidarity scene, and many years since I’ve been back to Chiapas. But in the era of Trump – of white nationalist populism on the rise around the world, of migrant children dying in ICE detention centers, of countless other horrors, the Zapatista movement still has much to teach us – about having the chutzpah to take on state-sponsored terrorism and global capitalism, while having the wisdom and humility to know that no one has all the answers, that we make the road by walking. There is much to learn from the Zapatista movement about the enduring nature of this work and the patience that comes with that understanding.

In the era of the Me Too movement (with all its successes, we still have so far to go!) there is much we could learn from Zapatista women. I feel lucky to have worked side by side with them for several years, witnessing and absorbing the quiet dignity of their resistance, their unflinching commitment, and their discipline infused with humor, militancy infused with tenderness. In the face of patriarchy’s ugliest manifestations, they made some tremendous strides towards collective liberation. A handful of Zapatista women in key roles of leadership, combined with a broad push from women in the Zapatista base, succeeded in changing laws, institutions, behavior and expectations around gender roles and domestic violence, achieving a series of remarkable transformations for women in Zapatista territory.

In a moment of heightened polarization in the United States, I appreciate the Zapatistas’ ability to remind us what we have in common. A group of indigenous peasants in southern Mexico, the Zapatistas were fighting for land reform and indigenous autonomy. But they also succeeded in communicating a vision of a just society so universal that people all over the world – living in very different contexts from them – felt included in their struggle.

As we face a daily barrage of hateful words and actions, I am reminded of the intertwined relationship between family, community, and political struggle in Zapatista territory, and what that might tell us about building social justice movements that are also a political and creative home – spaces where we foster community, where we treat each other with respect and dignity, where we collectively create some shelter from the storm.

In 1994, the Zapatistas were often celebrated for their creative use of the Internet to reach people all over the world (the Internet being relatively new back then). But anyone who has spent time in Zapatista villages can tell you that was a very externally focused strategy, and that one of the strongest foundations of the Zapatista movement is the deep social fabric of community, the unquestioned assumption that the collective well-being takes priority over the individual. So yes, let’s continue to use new technologies to get our message out, but let’s not forget to build community, and to have rigor and discipline while we do some old-fashioned face-to-face organizing.

I could go on – there are many other valuable, strategic lessons we could draw from the Zapatista movement. But, a quarter century after their uprising, perhaps the most meaningful gift from the Zapatistas is a spark of hope, a sense of what is possible, even in dark and uncertain times.

Toward Freedom for more

They are here because we are there

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019


A child refugee places his hands on a fence as police officers stand guard at a makeshift refugee camp at the Greek-Macedonian border PHOTO/File:Marko Djurica/Reuters/Al Jazeera

Over the last seven weeks more than 230 undocumented migrants have crossed the English Channel, with forty completing the journey on Christmas Day alone. In the first ten months of 2018, only 220 people made it. The recent spike coincides with increasing numbers of Iranians arriving in Calais. According to one estimate, 40 per cent of the 500 refugees who sleep rough in the town come from Iran.

Last May, President Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal with Iran and revived sanctions. Oil exports, as well as the banking sector, have been hit hard. The Rial fell by 60 per cent in 2018. Food prices are soaring and the IMF predicts GDP will shrink by a further 3.6 per cent over the next twelve months. Recession and high inflation is a lethal mix.

Economic discontent has increasingly found expression on the streets. There was a wave of national protest a year ago, and the last fortnight has seen confrontations between the police and protesting teachers and students. Ayatollah Sadiq Larijani, the head of the judiciary, recently warned of a possible repeat of the 2009 protests – but conceded economic grievances this time were justified. ‘The workers and students have legitimate demands,’ he told the Tasnim News Agency, ‘but they should be vigilant not to advance the enemies’ goals’. This is a regime overtly preparing for mass dissent.

Some protest; others leave. More than 1600 Iranians sought asylum in Bosnia in the twelve months to September 2018. A year earlier the figure was just 16. Serbia granted visa-free travel to Iranians from August 2017 until October last year. In that time, between 15,000 and 40,000 Iranians entered the country, with as many as 12,000 failing to return. The Serbian route into the EU is now closed, after Brussels applied political pressure on Belgrade, but Iranians can still travel through Turkey without a visa.

Material adversity isn’t the only reason people want to escape. Civil rights are severely limited, and LGBT people in particular are at risk from a regime whose rhetoric of social justice falls startlingly short of reality.

And yet blame for Iran’s often regressive laws, as well as its precarious economy, doesn’t lie exclusively with the regime in Tehran. Sanctions, intermittently in place since the 1990s, are only the latest effort by foreign powers to obstruct the emergence of a robust democracy and thriving economy in the country, from the overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953 to support for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.

Trump’s stance will not lead to regime change. If anything, renewed sanctions empower Iran’s autocratic elements, especially the Revolutionary Guard. The Islamic Republic has endured as long as it has because it commands significant – if weakening – domestic consent and enjoys resilient institutions carefully crafted over forty years. More likely is an increase in the numbers of refugees. Moderately affluent Iranians have the means to enter Europe as well as extensive networks of friends and family in Britain, Germany and Scandinavia.

From invading Iraq to selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, over the last several decades Britain has continued to exploit and destabilise the Middle East with devastating consequences. Why are Iranians undertaking the perilous journey across the English Channel in winter? To paraphrase A. Sivanandan, ‘they are here because we are there.’ Until sanctions are removed and Iran’s economic isolation is ended – and Britain calls time on its interventions in the Middle East – there is no justification to refuse a single Iranian seeking asylum.

London Review of Books for more

Denationalisation: A punishment reserved for Muslims

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019


British Home Secretary Sajid Javid recently defended the decision to denationalise and deport four Pakistani-British men convicted of sexually abusing vulnerable young women in Rochdale PHOTO/Reuters

In the name of “safeguarding” civilisation, the forces waging the “war on terror” have revived a form of punishment once described by the United States Supreme Court as “more primitive than torture”: the stripping of citizenship. Forced denationalisation entails “the total destruction of the individual’s status in organised society […and] subjects the individual to a fate of ever-increasing fear and distress […] In short, the expatriate has lost the right to have rights,” the court stated in its 1958 decision in the landmark case of Trop vs Dulles.

But despite these extreme effects of expatriation, a number of countries claiming to be the foremost defenders of human rights have enacted laws enabling them to strip citizenship from those they deem “terrorists” or otherwise undesirable, including the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada (subsequently revoked) and Australia.

(The US, for its part, has preferred in its counterterrorism strategy to stick with the supposedly less primitive tactic of torture, as well as extrajudicial killing by drone; since citizenship-stripping was declared largely unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1967, “it is easier [for the American government] to kill [its citizens] than expatriate” them, according to Temple Law School professor Peter Spiro.)

Two recent stories concerning citizenship-stripping – one in the UK and one in Australia– illuminate several of the troubling aspects of the practice: the dangerously-high levels of discretion accorded to government officials, the disproportionate targeting of Muslims, and the destruction of the most basic rights of the expatriated.

In a BBC interview on December 26, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid defended the decision to denationalise and eventually deport four Pakistani-British men convicted of sexually abusing and trafficking vulnerable young women in Rochdale – part of the “grooming gangs” scandal popularly represented as emblematising uniquely Muslim pathologies, even though it implicated less than 0.005 percent of the British Muslim population and nearly 90 percent of convictions for child abuse in the UK inculpate white men.

Indeed, the uncovering of a similar operation preying on teenaged girls in Derby in 2012 – but involving predominantly white abusers – failed to elicit any of the hysteria generated by the Rochdale case, and received virtually no media coverage.

Such realities, however, did not deter Javid from insisting on the significance of the Pakistani background of the Rochdale perpetrators, hypothesising the existence of “cultural reasons … that could lead to this type of behaviour.”    

Instead of looking afar to Pakistani “culture”, the home secretary could have found the “reasons” he was searching for much closer to home – recent inquiries having revealed the pervasiveness of similarly predatory and sexually exploitative “types of behaviour” in British churchespolitics, policingschoolschild welfare and the media and entertainment industries. The former long-term member of parliament for Rochdale itself, (non-Pakistani) Cyril Smith, had allegedly sexually assaulted at least eight boys in government care, as documented in a 2018 report from the official Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – but was knighted instead of prosecuted.  

Javid’s assertions, then, shed less light on the cultural peculiarities attributed to Muslims than on the problems with what Berkeley University law professor Leti Volpp describes as “blaming culture for bad behaviour“: “When the actors involved are immigrants of colour, we label behaviour that we consider problematic as ‘cultural’ and understand this term to mark racial or ethnic identity … In contrast, when a white person commits a similar act, we view it as an isolated instance of aberrant behaviour.”

The “extra-territorialising of problematic behaviour by projecting it beyond the borders of ‘American values'”, as Volpp observes with reference to the American context, “has the effect both of equating racialised immigrant culture with sex-subordination, and denying the reality of gendered subordination prevalent in mainstream white America” – a critique that applies equally to the UK.

The banishment of Muslim sex offenders from British citizenship reifies this extra-territorialisation in law, adding an extra punishment for Muslims that is not imposed on white non-Muslim criminals. Children’s entertainer Rolf Harris, for instance, has not been threatened with expulsion to his country of birth, Australia, despite being found guilty in 2014 of 12 charges of indecent assault against young girls.

The Rochdale citizenship-stripping case represents a significant expansion of the state’s targeting of Muslims, “exemplifying how [citizenship] deprivation measures could be imposed beyond national security and terrorism concerns and imposed more routinely,” University of York sociologist Nisha Kapoor points out in her book Deport, Deprive, Extradite: 21st Century State Extremism.

Al Jazeera for more