Perception vs reality

June 14th, 2019


PHOTO/PTI/The New Indian Express

the ascetic

at peace

looking deceptively innocent and apolitical

seemingly an ardent Nature worshiper

with no  violent disposition apparent

nor greed …

far from the material crowd

so it seems

what we see is not always what is …

what we don’t see is not always absent

the stark reality:

actually is a brilliant exercise in PR

unchecked avarice for power

creating constant state of turmoil in the country:

plays all dirty tricks of the politician to hold on to power

perpetuating the fearful state of chaos

politician to the core

enemy of environment and nature

violence is used to enhance power

loves to wear a $16,000 suits

covets the materialistic Adanis, Tatas, Ambanis


perception versus reality …


B. R. Gowani can be reached at

“A Moses without manifestation, a Christ without a cross”: Karl Marx as remembered by Wamiq Jaunpuri

June 14th, 2019


Wamiq Jaunpuri’s original translation presented here is a fitting conclusion to Karl Marx’s bicentenary celebrations.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Karl Marx

Europe in the 19th century gave birth to two thinkers who changed everything about how we see the world. One was Charles Darwin. The other was Karl Marx, who was born 201 years ago today.

Darwin discovered the law of evolution of plants and animals (the law of natural selection and survival of the fittest), while Marx sought the law of evolution of human history. Darwin’s discoveries sparked a revolution in the scientific world, while Marx’s discoveries illuminated the pathways to social revolution.

At that time what eluded many was the plain and simple fact that before serving the cause of politics, science, art, and so on, humans needed water to drink, food to eat, clothing to cover themselves and homes to seek shelter. To attain these basic necessities of life, they make tools and implements and are forced to establish relations with other humans. The relations of production are determined by the nature of the geographical environment and the tools of production, and society keeps changing them according to its needs. Changes in the method and relations of production themselves are the reason for social revolution.

With the help of these ideas, Marx recognised and evaluated the capitalist system and pointed towards the sun of the new system which was about to dawn from the former’s womb.

Noted progressive poet Wamiq Jaunpuri – more famous for his iconic poem on the Bengal famine Bhooka Bangal (Hungry Bengali) – wrote his own, little-known eponymous poetic tribute to Marx, which is perhaps the best short ode and introduction to the latter in all of Urdu literature, and whose original translation presented here is a fitting conclusion to Marx’s bicentenary celebrations.

Marx’s knowledge and wisdom has no parallel

Who does not benefit from his perception

The result of his wisdom is the nail which opens the knot

The sun of the brightness of conscience and cleverness

What to talk of those who love him

Even his enemies keep his Book as their pillows

His great compilation is a materialist history of the world

Das Kapital or the very essence of life

Upon reading which enslaved nations became prudent

The door of socialist philosophy opened in every heart

How many hells became Paradise with his single Manifesto

He who turned many a desert into a city of roses

Marx has embraced science and Man

He granted the mind a curriculum in the consciousness of life

His discernment, his excessive love of the glance of one acquainted with truth

Which unveiled the face of the poverty of wealth

The one who gave the title of ‘capital’ to the ‘usurper of wage’

His foresight unlimited, his logic unparalleled

He revealed the new sun to us

His every prediction is a veil cast down

No force can become a roadblock for him

When the very mandate of time arrives in the form of revolution

The war-song of the wise, and the shield of the peasant

The workers’ army is a fellow traveller and rider

When the blow of Moses cuts the spell of kingship

The Pharaohs of today will likewise

Gradually become the victim of revolution

The pocket of the capitalist after all is fighting the war

He does not even refrain from atomic weapons

The ungodly civilisation is hopeless for its future

The restlessness of the enemy of humanity is visible

The little devil of Iqbal trembling with fear

Addresses Satan in this manner

The pundit, mullah and priest all stand harmless

But the anger of a Jew is about to fall upon you

For he is like a Moses without manifestation, a Christ without a cross

Not being a prophet, but a book by his side.

The Express Tribune for more

What to expect from Widodo 2.0

June 14th, 2019


Indonesia President Joko Widodo salutes during a ceremony to mark Independence Day at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, August 17, 2017 PHOTO/Twitter

Incumbent Indonesian leader’s landslide election win was made official on May 21. Now the hard part begins

Confirming he will carry out a limited Cabinet reshuffle after the annual post-Ramadan holidays, President Joko Widodo has offered a tantalizing clue to the most intriguing question of all: Will Indonesia see a very different president in his second term?

“In five years’ time I will have no more burden. I can’t be re-elected again, so whatever I do will be for the benefit of the country,” he said recently in what may have been a sign of a new resolve, free of the political restraints that have marked his policies so far.

Announcing the official result ahead of tomorrow’s deadline to take the steam out of threatened protests over alleged voter fraud, the National Election Commission has confirmed Widodo won the April 17 election by 55.5% to 44.5%.

The 11% gap, or more than 15 million votes, gives the government justification for taking firm action against Islamic hardliners and other opposition groups seeking to turn the election outcome into a people’s power uprising.

Security forces have gone to their highest alert status, with paramilitary police patrolling downtown Jakarta streets and Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) troops conducting rappelling exercises in Merdeka Square in the heart of the city.

The leaderships of the country’s two largest mass Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, have called on their more than 100 million members to stay away from the protests called by losing ex-soldier candidate Prabowo Subianto.

Prabowo Subianto supporters attend a rally for the declaration of his victory in the 2019 Presidential election in Jakarta, April 19, 2019. PHOTO/Andalou Agency/AFP Forum/Eko Siswono Toyudho

Anxious to put the election behind him, the president has already turned to business as usual, offering as a distraction his idea of moving the capital to what he now thinks is the best alternative – a site close to the Central Kalimantan province capital of Palangkaraya.

Widodo’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, never had it in him to change in his second term. In fact, by discarding previous vice president Jusuf Kalla, the one man who had cajoled him into making tough decisions, he simply coasted along on a commodity boom some thought would never end.

Widodo doesn’t have that luxury. Vice President Ma’ruf Amin is not going to be of any help on anything, let alone economic issues, and with growth stagnating on five percent he is under pressure from reformists to change the nationalist course he inherited from Yudhoyono.

Economists like Australian Hal Hill aren’t hopeful, predicting the new administration will be “pragmatic and cautious,” apart perhaps from taking a few bold policy steps at the outset, as Widodo did with fuel prices after his hard-fought victory in 2014.

Nor are many Indonesian reformists, including former ministers and other senior officials who believe Widodo will find it difficult to separate himself from the five or six political parties making up his ruling coalition and, more importantly, the vested interests that come with them.

What analysts do agree on is that without a significant revamp of the presidential office, poor coordination in policy implementation and an underperforming Cabinet will continue to weigh heavily on the new government’s effectiveness.

Asia Times for more

Brazil is a killing field for young black men

June 13th, 2019


“The police kill at least 14 young Black men in Brazil every single day,” said Prof. Jaime Amparo Alves, a member of the Brazilian Black Movement who teaches anthropology at the College of Staten Island, New York City. “Which country in the world,” he asks, “has this rate of Black genocide?” The election of racist right-winger Jair Bolsanaro to the presidency “cannot be understood without understanding the history of anti-Blackness in Brazilian society,” said Alves.

Black Agenda Report for more

Medieval parasites

June 13th, 2019


Lice, or ‘worms with feet’, were a common cause for concern in the Middle Ages. IMAGE/From ‘The Golden Haggadah’ (c1320 CE), Spain. Manuscript courtesy of the Trustees of the British Library

People in the Middle Ages took great care over cleanliness – except the clergy, who accepted filth as a sign of devotion

In the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), two minor characters spot King Arthur. They know who he is because, as one of them points out: ‘He must be a king … he hasn’t got shit all over him like the rest of us.’ The scene encapsulates an enduring belief about the Middle Ages: medieval people were dirty. Some might have heard Elizabeth I’s famous (but probably apocryphal) declaration that she had a bath once a month whether she needed it or not. In a time when only the richest enjoyed running water in their homes, very few Europeans had the resources to abide by 21st-century standards of hygiene, even if they wanted to.

At the same time, the filthiness of medieval people should not be exaggerated. Much evidence shows that personal hygiene mattered to medieval people, that they made an effort to keep clean. Popular advice books recommended washing the hands, face and teeth on rising, plus further handwashing throughout the day. Other body parts were washed less frequently: daily washing of the genitals, for example, was believed to be a Jewish custom, and thus viewed with suspicion by the non-Jewish population. Nevertheless, many households owned freestanding wooden tubs for bathing, and late-medieval cities usually had public bathhouses. Medical compendia gave recipes for washing hair, whitening teeth and improving skin. Medieval clergymen complained about the vanity of people who spent too much time fussing over their appearance.

Nor were medieval efforts to keep clean limited to the body. Delicate outer garments might be brushed and perfumed, but undergarments and household linens were frequently laundered. Advice books suggested that underwear should be changed every day, and household accounts are scattered with payments to washerwomen. Large rivers often had special jetties for the use of washerwomen: London’s was known as ‘La Lavenderebrigge’. 

Recent archaeological discoveries have brought revealing details about the realities of medieval hygiene. The preserved eggs of intestinal parasites have often been found in excavated latrine pits: for example, a recent excavation in the German port city of Lübeck suggested high levels of roundworm and tapeworm in the medieval population. And it wasn’t just the population at large who were affected. In 2012, when Richard III’s body was excavated in Leicester, his remains were found to be heavily infested with roundworm eggs. An examination of the mummified corpse of Ferdinand II, King of Naples, who died in 1496, showed that he had both head and pubic lice.

The archaeological record tells only part of the story. It can tell us which parasites medieval people suffered from, but it can’t tell us what medieval people knew about parasites. How did they treat them? How did they feel about them? And what do their experiences with parasites reveal about life in medieval Europe?

Aeon for more

Vicious cycle: The Pentagon creates tech giants and then buys their services

June 13th, 2019

by T. J. COLES

US Defense Department building know as the Paentagon PHOTO/Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force – Public Domain

The US Department of Defense’s bloated budget, along with CIA venture capital, helped to create tech giants, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and PayPal. The government then contracts those companies to help its military and intelligence operations. In doing so, it makes the tech giants even bigger.

In recent years, the traditional banking, energy and industrial Fortune 500 companies have been losing ground to tech giants like Apple and Facebook. But the technology on which they rely emerged from the taxpayer-funded research and development of bygone decades. The internet started as ARPANET, an invention of Honeywell-Raytheon working under a Department of Defense (DoD) contract. The same satellites that enable modern internet communications also enable US jets to bomb their enemies, as does the GPS that enables online retailers to deliver products with pinpoint accuracy. Apple’s touchscreen technology originated as a US Air Force tool. The same drones that record breath-taking video are modified versions of Reapers and Predators.

Tax-funded DoD research is the backbone of the modern, hi-tech economy. But these technologies are dual-use. The companies that many of us take for granted–including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and PayPal–are connected indirectly and sometimes very directly to the US military-intelligence complex.

A recent report by Open the Government, a bipartisan advocate of transparency, reveals the extent of Amazon’s contracts with the Pentagon. Founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, the company is now valued at $1 trillion, giving Bezos a personal fortune of $131 billion. Open the Government’s report notes that much of the US government “now runs on Amazon,” so much so that the tech giant is opening a branch near Washington, DC. Services provided by Amazon include cloud contracts, machine learning and biometric data systems. But more than this, Amazon is set to enjoy a lucrative Pentagon IT contract under the $10bn, Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, or JEDI. The Pentagon says that it hopes Amazon technology will “support lethality and enhanced operational efficiency.”

The report reveals what it can, but much is protected from public scrutiny under the twin veils of national security and corporate secrecy. For instance, all prospective host cities for Amazon’s second headquarters were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.

But it doesn’t end there. According to the report, Amazon supplied surveillance and facial Rekognition software to the police and FBI, and it has pitched the reportedly inaccurate and race/gender-biased technology to the Department of Homeland Security for its counter-immigration operations. Ten percent of the subsidiary Amazon Web Services’ profits come from government contracts. Departments include the State Department, NASA, Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, Amazon won a $600m Commercial Cloud Services (C2S) contract with the CIA. C2S will enable deep learning and data fingerprinting. Amazon’s second headquarters will be built in Virginia, the CIA’s home-state. Despite repeated requests, the company refuses to disclose how its personal devices, like Amazon Echo, connect with the CIA.

But Amazon is just the tip of the iceberg.

CounterPunch for more

Weekend Edition

June 12th, 2019

Beer transnationals are sucking Mexico dry

June 12th, 2019


Locals near the coming Heineken factory in Puebla meet to organize their opposition to it. PHOTO/Raul Rojano

Mexico is the biggest beer exporter globally, but it barely has enough water for its residents and farmers. Experiencing long-lasting droughts, the country, which is half desert, has become a cheap place for transnationals to consume its remaining water, then send the products and profits to wealthier regions.

In 2018, Mexico exported almost 40 million hectoliters of water, with 80% of that going to the US. Mexico’s beer production is monopolized by two transnational companies: AB InBev, which acquired Grupo Modelo in 2013, and Heineken, which acquired Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma in 2010. Between them, the companies own 97.5% of the domestic consumption market. The Tecate brand, owned by Heineken, is one of the fastest-rising beer brands in the US, and Corona Extra, owned by AB InBev, is in the global top 10.

Heineken uses Mexico because of how profitable it is. “The country has a young population, natural and human resources, and macro-economic stability,” Dolf Van Den Brink, president of Heineken Mexico, said. The company built its seventh brewery in Northern Mexico last year, choosing the location because it was close to the US and they could easily export Tecate and Dos Equis brands to US consumers.

Here in Puebla, in the center of the country, most residents only receive water twice a week for 15 minutes at a time, forcing us to severely ration water use. A new Heineken factory, currently being built 15 minutes from the city center, will make that even worse. The company is taking water directly from the domestic pipe network, rather than the industrial water supply, as laws mandate.

Omar Jimenez Castro, a water rights activist and lawyer who has taken Puebla’s private water company Aguas de Puebla to court and won in nearly 400 cases, reported that drainage in that area of the city was at the point of collapse and that it couldn’t cope with industrial use from the Heineken factory.

Locals have been documenting the excavations and operations the company has carried out in the area with photos and video since June of last year, and have noted that Heinekin’s pipes redirect water from their domestic pipes.

“We’ve spent nine months monitoring what they are doing, and watching over the construction. They’ve told us now that the water pipes they are installing are just for two toilets for the workers, but the pipes are huge,” Raul Rojano, a local opposed to the factory told me as we tried to inspect the Heineken site. However, since protests and legal steps were taken against it, the company has erected a tall brick fence topped with barbed wire to stop locals from observing.

“They have something to hide,” one local commented. However, Jimenez doesn’t just blame Heineken. The “three levels of government – federal, state, and municipal ” are at fault for allowing a private company to be responsible for the water supply, he told me. “On a daily basis they systematically violate human rights,” he said, referring to the water shortages and mass disconnections so that Aguas de Puebla can collect more fees and also send more water to transnationals like Heineken and Walmart.

Meanwhile, another Heineken factory inaugurated last year in Chihuahua, on the border with the US, is using the amount of water that would supply 200,000 houses. Residents there have become so desperate for water that enterprising individuals are selling plastic containers of water off the back of their trucks. Northern Mexico, with extremely hot summers and little rainfall year-round, suffers from ongoing water supply issues. Due to over-exploitation, Chihuahua only has about 10 years of water left, and activists, farmers, and academics have spoken out against local authorities there, saying they put transnational companies first.

Toward Freedom for more

The fight to publish Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’

June 12th, 2019


In 1950s California, publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti took on the censors – and won.

In The People v Ferlinghetti: The Fight to Publish Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’, Ronald Collins and David Skover take us to the 1950s, and a California on the verge of social change. At the heart of their uplifting story is the business acumen and literary idealism of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Ferlinghetti, now aged 100 and still proprietor of City Lights Bookstore and publishing house, is a seminal figure in San Francisco. He is considered its poet laureate and a great contributor to its cultural life, as a publisher, artist, activist and political renegade. His idiosyncratic blend of environmentalism, anarchism, socialism and artistic freedom has provided generations with inspiration; his poetry, prose and polemic has impressed writers and given them the courage to follow their convictions; his publications have introduced millions of people worldwide to advanced writers.

San Francisco was the West Coast centre for the Beat Generation, a counterbalance to its other centre in New York. On the evening of 7 October 1955, Gary Snyder, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen and Allen Ginsberg gathered at a gallery in San Francisco to read poetry at an event called ‘6 Poets at 6 Gallery’ (the sixth poet was either compere Kenneth Rexroth or the spirit of the late John Hoffman, whose work was read by Lamantia). In the audience were Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac.

Ginsberg read ‘Howl’, a long unpublished poem he had recently composed. This was not only to be a breakthrough poem for Ginsberg – it was also to be a watershed in American literary culture, shaping a generation’s writing, from prose and poetry to rock lyrics. Yet on 7 October 1955, Ginsberg was virtually unknown to the wider public.

Ginsberg began to read:

‘I saw the best minds of my generation
destroyed by madness
starving, mystical, naked,
who dragged themselves thru the angry streets at
dawn looking for a negro fix.’

Ginsberg chronicled the insanity, death and degradation of his Beat friends – incarcerated, murdered, exiled, starving, drug-addicted, driven beyond endurance into states of wretchedness – and presented them as holy beings made divine and transcendent through an unjust world. Their suffering was a moral posture, a condemnation of a world gone insane through Cold War division, and rife with hypocrisy and injustice.

Spiked for more

The death of peace

June 12th, 2019


The largest US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan PHOTO/Wikipedia

How appropriate, don’t you think? America’s longest war, the Afghan one, now heading into its 18th year, may set another kind of record — for the longest withdrawal ever. The Pentagon recently revealed news of its daring “plan” to end that war. It will take up to five years to get 14,000 U.S. troops (and unknown numbers of private contractors), military equipment, and the like out of that country successfully, ensuring a war of perhaps 23 years (without, of course, a victory in sight). To add to the cheery news, just about everyone’s on board with the plan, except perhaps for one recalcitrant individual. As the New York Times recently reported:

“So far, the plan has been met with broad acceptance in Washington and NATO headquarters in Brussels. But American officials warned that Mr. Trump could upend the new plan at any time.”

In other words, when it comes to setting records in Afghanistan (USA! USA!), the news couldn’t be more upbeat if the president doesn’t interfere (and his administration’s peace talks with the Taliban don’t somehow get in the way). In fact, there might be even better news lurking just offstage. The Pentagon’s “plan,” after all, looks strangely like an effort to simply outlast the Trump era in hopes that a future president might be far more intent on record-setting than the present one. General Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, which oversees Washington’s never-ending wars across the Greater Middle East, may be typical of top U.S. commanders when it comes to such matters. He’s not just against the president’s urge to withdraw American troops from Syria but envisions a permanent war with ISIS into the distant future — and he imagines something similar in Afghanistan. As he told the House Armed Services Committee early this month, speaking of a possible U.S. withdrawal from that country, “The political conditions, where we are in the reconciliation right now, don’t merit that.”

So there’s no end to the records that could still be set, if it’s up to the generals, who — as TomDispatch regular and retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and historian William Astore points out today — are filled with similar wisdom when it comes to what Pentagon officials have taken to calling “infinite war.” Tom

Whose Blood, Whose Treasure?
America’s Senior Generals Find No Exits From Endless War
By William J. Astore

Veni, Vidi, Vici,” boasted Julius Caesar, one of history’s great military captains. “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed that famed saying when summing up the Obama administration’s military intervention in Libya in 2011 — with a small alteration. “We came, we saw, he died,” she said with a laugh about the killing of Muammar Gaddafi, that country’s autocratic leader. Note what she left out, though: the “vici” or victory part. And how right she was to do so, since Washington’s invasions, occupations, and interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere in this century have never produced anything faintly like a single decisive and lasting victory.

“Failure is not an option” was the stirring 1995 movie catchphrase for the dramatic 1970 rescue of the Apollo 13 moon mission and crew, but were such a movie to be made about America’s wars and their less-than-vici-esque results today, the phrase would have to be corrected in Clintonian fashion to read “We came, we saw, we failed.”

Wars are risky, destructive, unpredictable endeavors, so it would hardly be surprising if America’s military and civilian leaders failed occasionally in their endless martial endeavors, despite the overwhelming superiority in firepower of “the world’s greatest military.” Here’s the question, though: Why have all the American wars of this century gone down in flames and what in the world have those leaders learned from such repetitive failures?

The evidence before our eyes suggests that, when it comes to our senior military leaders at least, the answer would be: nothing at all.

Tom’s Dispatch for more