Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Brazil undone

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

by FORREST HYLTON

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro meets supporters during a protest against Brazil’s Congress and Brazilian Supreme Court amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brasilia, Brazil on March 15, 2020. PHOTO/Reuters/The Indian Express

The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, is the only world leader widely believed not only to have Covid-19 and to have lied about it, but to have knowingly spread it to untold numbers of his followers. Time (or Veja, the country’s leading news magazine) will tell, but at the very least, the circumstantial evidence is curious. Bolsonaro called on his largely evangelical base to hit the streets on 15 March to shut down Congress and the Supreme Court. Under quarantine after his return from the US – 25 members of his entourage have been infected with coronavirus, making Bolsonaro the centre of the largest initial cluster in Brazil – the president broke out of his motorcade to shake hands and high five those calling for the government buildings to be burnt to the ground.

According to Fox News, citing the president’s son Eduardo as a source, Bolsonaro tested positive for coronavirus on 13 March; but as soon as the story aired, Eduardo denied it, accusing Fox of fabricating the whole thing. The president has since had two more tests, both allegedly negative, but unlike the governor of São Paulo, João Doria, tasked with confronting the outbreak at its epicentre, Bolsonaro refuses to make his test results public, claiming they are a state secret. The military hospital where Bolsonaro was tested turned over a list of those who had tested positive to the district government in Brasilia, but redacted two names. The minister of the Supreme Federal Court, Alexandre de Moraes, struck down Bolsonaro’s measure restricting access to information, so the truth should emerge sooner rather than later.

Bolsonaro’s approach to Trump is monkey see, monkey do, so the day after Trump floated the idea of an early return to work, against the advice of leading military figures, Bolsonaro went on national television to announce that (in his experience?) coronavirus was just ‘a little flu’, and that since old people rather than children were dying in other countries, Brazilian children should return to school and young people should return to work. Businesses were to reopen, since the politics of quarantine was ‘a thing for cowards’. According to the speaker of the lower house, Rodrigo Maia, Bolsonaro was under pressure from investors after the market in São Paulo crashed, losing 52 per cent of its total value between 17 January 17 and 20 March – the biggest drop in the world, according to Goldman Sachs.

In addition to the number of coronavirus cases and deaths (as of 26 March, 2915 and 77 respectively), Brazil is also leading Latin America in capital flight: Mexico has lost $2 billion in foreign investment; Brazil has lost $12 billion. The real, meanwhile, has dropped to a new low of $5.02 to the dollar. The economy minister, Paulo Guedes, who studied under Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago and at the University of Chile under Pinochet, warned Bolsonaro that Brazil could not afford to quarantine beyond 7 April; the country was already in recession before Covid-19 arrived. To informal workers, who make up four-fifths of the economically active population in urban settlements (favelas), where at least 13.6 million people live, Guedes is offering 200 reais in vouchers, which will not be enough to keep them from having to work to survive. He is asking business owners to cut wages and hours by half rather than lay workers off. The lower house of Congress approved an increase from 200 to 600 reais ­– still not enough to live on – along with 36 billion reais in small business loans so that bars and restaurants can pay three months’ salary to employees. Both require Senate approval.

London Review of Books for more

Restoring competition in ”winner-took-all” digital platform markets

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

by EBRU GOKCE DESSEMOND

GENEVA, Feb 13 2020 (IPS) – Digital platforms are at the centre of the global economy and daily lives of consumers.

A handful of these platforms have become dominant in specific markets without facing meaningful competition. They include Amazon as a marketplace, Facebook in social networking, Google in search engines and Apple and Google in application stores.

Digital platforms rely on big data and are characterized as multisided markets with economies of scale, network effects and winner-takes-all features.

These firms offer their products for “free” on one side of the market and earn revenues from online advertising and selling user data on the other side of the market.

The growing market power of these platforms raises concerns not only for consumers and smaller businesses but also for competition authorities.

Consumers not in control

Consumers can no longer control the use of their data. Smaller businesses face unfair market conditions, where they compete with big platforms that offer services by self-preferencing their own products. It is now widely recognized that these markets cannot self-correct.
What needs to be done?

One effective response is competition law and policy that promotes open and accessible markets with fair and reasonable terms for businesses. This goal is more pronounced in highly concentrated digital markets, where large platforms’ market power is enduring.

The most important competitive threats to monopolists are likely to come from new entrants, which are vulnerable to exclusionary conduct or anticompetitive acquisitions.

Governments should have in place relevant policies and legal frameworks to overcome different challenges of the platform economy. These include competition, consumer protection and data protection policies and legislation.

Adapt to new realities

There is a need for adapting competition law enforcement tools to new business realities by revising laws like in Germany and Austria or issuing regulations or guidelines as has been done in Kenya and Japan.

Inter Press Service for more

From Ola to Zomato to social media, I now hide my Muslim identity everywhere

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

by BISMEE TASKIN

PHOTO/Manisha Mondal/ThePrint

Dear liberal Indians, I consciously try not to sound or look like a Muslim around you because of your Islamophobia.

On the day Delhi riots broke out, I took a cab home after work. As I sat in the car and Ola’s IVR system welcomed me with my full name, I flinched, while the driver turned around to take a look at me. I immediately cut my name short on the cab aggregator’s application to make sure my religious identity never comes up like that again because I didn’t want trouble. I have also stopped using my last name ‘Islam’ on social media and other public platforms for the last couple of years to avoid being identified instantly.

In another instance, I almost felt choked when I accidentally uttered ‘Ya Allah’ after sneezing in a restaurant. For the rest of the time, I avoided making eye contact with everyone, including the waiters.

The fear of catching coronavirus may have made many Indians practice social distancing of late, I have been distancing from my own identity — my Muslim identity — for quite some time now.

Muslimness not allowed

Over the years, I have developed ways to veil my religious identity, making extra efforts — both consciously and subconsciously — to not sound, look or act Muslim. But the last six years have been tough because of the rampant and aggressively open Islamophobia.

At a rally against ‘jihadi’ violence organised by Hindu extremists and led by BJP leader Kapil Mishra after the Delhi riots last month, a middle-aged man told me that the problem lies with the word ‘secular’ in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. The protest rally had speakers talking about ‘jihadi hate’ of Indian Muslims and how they must be stopped.

As a Muslim, I have heard words like ‘jihad’, ‘love jihad’ and ‘kaafir’ only in public spaces filled with anti-Muslim hate and bigotry. It shows how Islamophobia has engulfed India — to the point where any form of ‘Muslimness’ is vehemently disallowed, resulting in a forced exclusion and expulsion of the Muslim identity.

The Print for more

The Algerian revolution: the struggle for decolonization continues

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

by HAMZA HAMOUCHENE

PHOTO/Riad Kaced.

After more than one year of weekly protests, the Algerian uprising continues unabated. It has booked historical victories, but there is a long road ahead still.

Algeria is going through a revolutionary phase. The mass-scale uprising that started in February 2019 has been sustained for more than a year now and is showing an incredible resilience and soumoud (steadfastness in Arabic). Hundreds of thousands are still in the streets, joining huge weekly protests every Tuesday and Friday (and recently some Saturdays and Sundays), demanding radical democratic change and the demilitarization of the republic.

On February 22, 2020, the first anniversary of the popular movement’s emergence onto the political scene, millions of people renewed their belief in the revolution and expressed their determination to continue the struggle by organizing massive marches in various parts of the country. In reaction to the current President Tebboune’s announcement of marking the date as a national day of “cohesion between people and the army,” protesters chanted We didn’t come to celebrate; we’ve come to kick you out!”

The people reasserted their demand for a civilian state in a powerful slogan that has become symbolic of the uprising’s core aim, especially since the electoral masquerade of December 2019: Tebboune is a bogus president. He was imposed by the army and has no legitimacy…The people were liberated and it’s them who decide…A civilian state now!

Achievements and victories

Throughout the year, the popular movement (Al Hirak Ach’abi) accomplished a lot. The Hirak forced the Military High Command (MHC) to distance itself from the presidential clan and effectively deposed Bouteflika, president for the last 20 years. It also aborted two presidential elections: the first one in April, in which Bouteflika was running for a fifth term and the second one on July 4, which was seen as a front to maintain the primacy of the MHC. Whatever we think about the regime’s highly mediatized anti-corruption campaign — which is largely smokes and mirrors and settling of accounts between various factions — the fact that high profile oligarchs and once-powerful individuals, including former prime ministers, chiefs of security services and the deposed president’s brother, are in jail, is a big achievement in itself. This would not have happened without the popular mobilizations and calls for accountability and an end to corruption: “You devoured the country…Oh you thieves!”, “You will be all punished”…

Roar for more

Shahrukh Khan corona virus awareness

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

VIDEO/Explore City & You Tube

‘Butchered’: The Kenyan FGM clinic serving Europeans

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

by ABDULLAHI MIRE

A woman leaves an FGM clinic in Eastleigh, Nairobi PHOTO/Abdullahi Mire/Al Jazeera

Kenya banned FGM in 2011, but Europeans still bring their daughters to underground clinics there to be cut.

In a “good month”, about 100 girls will be brought by their families to Halima Hirsi’s* underground clinic in Nairobi to be subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM).

Families come here from all over the world, willing to pay $150 a time for their daughters to be cut.

“The Somali diaspora are good people for my business,” says Hirsi, 69, the manager of the clinic, who also carries out procedures.

The clinic is located in the Eastleigh district of Nairobi, which is known locally as “little Mogadishu”. It  mostly receives Somali clients from Europe – particularly the United Kingdom, Sweden and Norway – and the United States.

Hirsi works with Abdilatif Ali*, a broker or “middle man” who acts as a gateway to the clinic.

“People pay me to identify a clinic to help their young girls,” he explains. “Business is good; sometimes we can attend to over 30 clients a week.”

The parents travel thousands of miles, paying large sums of money, to ensure that their daughters undergo a procedure that can range from losing the tip of the clitoris to having the entire inner and outer labia sliced off and the opening to the vagina sewn up.

While most clients at Hirsi’s clinic opt for the former, it does cater to the latter.

‘It is like butchering a human’

When Amina Duba, now 29 and a mother of five, underwent FGM as a teenager, she was told by her aunties that the rite was going to make her a “complete woman”.

When she was cut, Amina’s vaginal opening was also completely sewn closed. This caused terrible complications when she gave birth to her children, and makes even her monthly period difficult and painful.

Al Jazeera for more

Keynes and the crisis

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

by Radhika Desai & Alan Freeman

A Case of Mistaken Identity

A spectre has returned to haunt the left—the spectre of Keynes. The Left kept it at bay in the 1950s and 1960s by pretending that “reformist” and “ineffectual” “Keynesianism” was Keynes. But it was so far removed from Keynes’ profound critique of the doctrine and reality of capitalism that one eminent economist called it “bastard Keynesianism.” After neoliberalism dispatched Keynesianism in the 1970s, the left was relieved of the need to confront Keynes. But as neoliberalism self-destructs in capitalism’s greatest crisis since the Great Depression, neoliberals and “third way” economists conjure up Keynesianism anew in their attempts to salvage it. Yet their new doctrine also misconstrues Keynes, seeing crises—which he held to be systemic—as minor aberrations, exonerating rentiers and speculators he would have indicted, and promoting a “bankers’ recovery” he would have opposed. It is a fatal mistake for the Left, in opposing this “contingent” Keynesianism, to fall once again into the Right’s trap by equating it with Keynes. We therefore take issue with Gonick and Wolff’s recent contributions in Canadian Dimension to try and promote a long-overdue reckoning with the true, hidden, Keynes.

Keynes’ own thinking was too radical to be of much use to capitalism. The “Keynesianism” of postwar policy and textbooks was already de-clawed and de-fanged by self-professed Keynesians. They reconstructed Keynes’ disequilibrium analysis as an equilibrium model. In it crises became temporary disequilibria—to be resolved by fiscal and monetary fiddling with aggregate demand. This reconstruction, popularized in Paul Samuelson’s phenomenally successful textbooks, was so influential that even the left came to regard it as “the” definitive presentation of Keynes’ ideas. Gonick’s article would be better entitled “The Return of Professor Samuelson.” This Samuelsonian discourse obscures deep affinities between Keynes and Marx. Neither took a narrowly “economic” view; both were moral, political and historical thinkers. Their respective critiques of economics were also similar in key resects. Most importantly, both trenchantly criticised the doctrine economists know as “Say’s Law.” This Panglossian outlook debilitates economics even today, incorporating in its purest form the neoliberal, equilibrium assumption that markets are inherently perfect. For Keynes and Marx, who were temporalists, economic processes took place in real time. Outcomes were uncertain and expectations could fail to be realized, resulting in disequilibria and crises. They were endogenous to capitalism, contrary to classical and neo-classical economics in which they could only result from external shocks.

Finally, while most theories of money focused on the market, seeing money merely a means of circulation, for both Marx and Keynes money reflected the reality of capitalism. It could be hoarded and accumulated and therefore also acted as a store of value and a means of settling debts. These roles lay at the root of crises, disequilibria, and unemployment. Criticism comes from within.

Canadian Dimension for more

Democrats abandoned the working class decades ago: Chomsky

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

by NOAM CHOMSKY & WALLACE SHAWN

Noam Chomsky is one of the most cited scholars in modern history and among the few most influential public intellectuals in the world. PHOTO/EFE

In an interview with Wallace Shawn, Noam Chomsky explains how elitism and atomization have created political rifts.

Building on a friendship initiated in Sandinista Nicaragua of the 1980s, Wallace Shawn — a committed activist but someone who is best known as an accomplished dramatist and actor — interviewed scholar and linguist Noam Chomsky. In their discussion, Shawn reflected on Chomsky’s words and called on him to address the ever-challenging question: how do we convince the people who were not in the room to care, to take action, given the scope and urgency of our current political crises?

The following transcript is excerpted from their conversation, which can be read in full in the just-released book ‘Internationalism or Extinction,’ edited by Charles Derber, Suren Moodliar and Paul Shannon. 

WALLACE SHAWN: Many of the people who do know about the consequences of nuclear war and climate change are quite well-educated people who are resented by a lot of people. Do you have any thoughts on how I mean there is a class difference that Trump supporters who laugh at the idea of global warming and climate change have a built-in resentment toward people who’ve been well educated and who may be better off economically? How do we reach them?

NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s serious. That is a very interesting phenomenon; it has to be dealt with sensitively and with understanding. As I mentioned, 40% of the population say it can’t be a problem because of the Second Coming. Now that’s a deep cultural problem in the United States. People who know something about US history should all… we should all understand it.

It’s very important to realize that this country was a cultural backwater until World War II. [Until then,] if you wanted to study physics, you went to Germany. You wanted to become a writer, an artist, you went to Paris. There were exceptions of course but it was overwhelmingly true, and it was true even though the United States was far and away from the richest, most powerful country in the world and had been for a long time. [There are] all kinds of historical reasons for that: it’s a very insular country. There aren’t many countries where you can travel 3,000 miles and be in about the same place where you left, not running into any different culture or language or anything like that.

TeleSur for more

Here’s why NASA suspects Mars life could be hiding underground

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

by JON CHRISTIAN

A shiny-looking Martian rock is visible in this image taken by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) during the mission’s 173rd Martian day, or sol (Jan. 30, 2013). PHOTO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Mars Life

This summer, NASA plans to launch the most sophisticated Mars rover in history — a 2,260-pound behemoth which, if all goes well, will eventually send samples from the Red Planet back to Earth.

A key hope is that the rover will gather new evidence of life, alive or extinct, on our planetary neighbor. But Space.com attended a recent conference about potential astrobiology on Mars, and found that almost all attendees think that if there’s life there, it’s probably deep underground.

Surface Tension

At the Mars Extant Life conference, according to Space.com, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory research scientist Vlada Stamenkovi? backed up the idea that if Martian life exists, it’s probably beneath the surface.

“The surface of Mars is a very oxidizing, radiation-heavy environment where liquid water is not really stable for an extended amount of time,” Stamenkovi? said. “It’s the worst place to look for life-sites on Mars.”

Cave Canem

Some scientists advocate building nimble robots that could explore Martian cave systems, but that’d be an enormously complicated technical project.

More realistic, Stamenkovic says, would be for the agency to land equipment that can sense groundwater and chemicals associated with possible life — from the safety of the surface.

Or, of course, to plumb the mysteries of subsurface Mars, we may have to wait until NASA’s long-awaited plans to send humans to the Red Planet, currently slated for the mid-2030s.

Futurism for more

Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: What we can learn from literary history

Monday, April 6th, 2020

by CHELSEA HAITH

The Banquet in the Pine Forest, one of a number of pictures derived from tales in Boccaccio’s Decameron. PHOTO/Sandro Botticelli

From Homer’s Iliad and Boccaccio’s Decameron to Stephen King’s The Stand and Ling Ma’s Severance, stories about pandemics have – over the history of Western literature such as it is – offered much in the way of catharsis, ways of processing strong emotion, and political commentary on how human beings respond to public health crises.

Literature has a vital role to play in framing our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is worth turning to some of these texts to better understand our reactions and how we might mitigate racism, xenophobia and ableism (discrimination against anyone with disabilities) in the narratives that surround the spread of this coronavirus.

Ranging from the classics to contemporary novels, this reading list of pandemic literature offers something in the way of an uncertain comfort, and a guide for what happens next.

Homer’s Iliad, as the Cambridge classicist Mary Beard has reminded us, opens with a plague visited upon the Greek camp at Troy to punish the Greeks for Agamemnon’s enslavement of Chryseis. US academic Daniel R Blickman has argued that the drama of Agamemnon and Achilles’ quarrel “should not blind us to the role of the plague in setting the tone for what follows, nor, more importantly, in providing an ethical pattern which lies near the heart of the story”. In other words, The Iliad presents a narrative framing device of disaster that results from ill-judged behaviour on the part of all of the characters involved.

Conversation for more