Thursday, June 30, 2016

Good news for a change - Oliver Milman: Ozone layer hole appears to be healing, scientists say

The vast hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica appears to be healing, scientists say, putting the world on track to eventually remedy one of the biggest environmental concerns of the 1980s and 90s. Research by US and UK scientists shows that the size of the ozone void has shrunk, on average, by around 4m sq km since 2000. The measurements were taken from the month of September in each year, when the ozone hole starts to open up each year.

The study, published in Science, states that the phase-out of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) chemicals means that the ozone layer is “expected to recover in response, albeit very slowly.” CFCs, once commonly found in aerosols and refrigeration, can linger in the atmosphere for more than 50 years, meaning that the ozone hole will not be considered healed until 2050 or 2060.

The Montreal protocol, a 1987 international treaty ratified by all UN members, successfully spurred nations to eradicate the use of CFCs in products. The agreement followed fears that ozone depletion could cause serious health and environmental harm through the ultraviolet light that would reach the surface of the Earth through the ozone barrier. The UN estimates that2m cases of skin cancer a year have been avoided through the phase-out of CFCs.

The ozone hole opened up over the Antarctic due to the vast amounts of cloud that forms over the coldest continent on Earth. This cloud helps the CFC chemicals linger, causing the ozone layer to be eaten away. The void is at its greatest during the southern hemisphere’s spring. Volcanic activity can also spur greater ozone depletion, as scientists discovered last year when, to their alarm, the largest ever ozone hole opened up in October, measuring more than 20m sq km. This is thought to be a blip, however, caused by volcanic activity in Chile. When scientists looked at data from September, compared to the same month over the past decade, they found a consistent shrinkage, with the opening up of the ozone hole occurring later each year.

“When volcanoes team up with man-made chlorine, it’s a toxic mix and Antarctica is particularly vulnerable,” said study co-author Susan Solomon, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “But when we looked at September we saw it was getting smaller. It was pretty cool to see it closing. The chemicals will slowly decay over time.” The extreme cold of Antarctica is thought to create a “feedback” effect that amplifies ozone depletion, by creating clouds that cause more ozone to be eaten up. The extra ultraviolet light is believed to have caused changes to plankton, but the sparse wildlife in Antarctica, such as penguins, have not been severely affected by the ozone hole.

“If you had to have an ozone hole anywhere in the world, it would be Antarctica because it’s not teeming with life,” said Solomon. “It was the canary in the coalmine that showed us that if we didn’t back off with these chemicals, we’d have a crisis. “Britain, for example, has around 5% less ozone than it did 30 years ago but it would’ve been twice as bad as that if we didn’t phase out CFCs. There would be problems with skin cancer, eye damage and damage to crops. We made a decision to avert a problem and we ought to congratulate ourselves on that.”

Solomon said she was hopeful the successful eradication of harmful CFCs would be followed by strong international action to avert the worst consequences of climate change. “Obviously the economics of global warming are different because the fossil fuel industry is worth a lot more in dollars than the companies making these chemicals,” she said. “But there are important parallels. It was amazing to see how quickly innovation solved the problem with CFCs so we got rid of them yet still have hair spray and air conditioning. We’re starting to see the same thing with global warming. We should look at the ozone problem and realize that nations can get together and come up with solutions.”


see also


JILL DERMYER - Why does religion turn from beauty into beast? // MICHAEL EDWARDS - Will the left ever get religion? // CHITRA NAGARAJAN - Put away the scriptures and follow justice

Comfort, guidance, support, solace and inspiration—religion offers all of these things in the best and worst of times. Yet religion also has a brutal and abusive face. I’m not just talking about the rampant sexual abuse that has taken place within the Catholic Church, but about all the other traumatic experiences that occur every day in religious communities. As a psychotherapist who specializes in religious and sexual traumas, I’ve worked with people who’ve suffered this kind of abuse for the past eight years, so what is it that turns religion from ‘beauty into beast?’   

Although the doctrines that underlie toxic belief systems, abusive practices, and brainwashing or mind-control techniques vary across religions, the core issues are usually the same. First, in many faiths obedience is valued above all else. Religious authorities can ensure obedience by tapping into people’s primal fears of abandonment. Followers are taught that if they disobey or show dissent, not only will they lose their faith community but also the love of God or another higher power.  

Relationships with these higher powers and the hierarchies of religious authority are based on dominance and submission, a dynamic that often paves the way for abuses of power and position. The pervasiveness of harmful practices such as sexual abuse or expulsion from the faith helps to normalize these practices, which in turn inhibits the urge to show dissent or speak out when they occur. ‘Don’t think, don’t feel’ is a common mantra when followers are taught to surrender free-thinking to religious leaders. Critical thinking and emotional intelligence are frowned on.

This presents major difficulties when a person chooses to leave the religious fold, because independent living in the secular world requires more of these qualities not less, including trust in oneself to make the right decisions for one’s life. That’s why many individuals report feeling indecisive and frightened after leaving their faith, which often leads to isolation and an increasing sense that they don’t belong in this new, secular world.

Secondly, these same authoritarian tendencies can reinforce negative and harmful messages about the Self and the secular world. The core teaching that the ‘Self is bad’ is common to many religious beliefs. In Christian teachings, followers are taught that God created human beings in his perfect image, an image which is polluted or destroyed by human sin—like same-sex marriage. The constant reiteration of the message that ‘we are bad’ establishes negative conditioning, and if internalized this can lead to depression and self-hatred, and on to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Individuals that have been abused in relationships are often asked why they didn’t leave their partner, a question that’s also asked of ex-cult members. In both cases the answer is the same—the dominant or abusive party will capitalize on the following kinds of behavior to ensure that the submissive party remains devoted to them: coercion and threats, economic abuse, intimidation, emotional abuse, male privilege, the use of children as leverage, and the act of minimizing or denying abusive practices—or blaming them on the victim. 

Thirdly, leaving one’s faith involves a lot more than a shift in thinking and beliefs. It might also mean losing your interpersonal support system, namely your friends and family members. This is most commonly seen among the ex-Jehovah Witness community, whose members may be expelled for ‘unrepentant sin.’ Once someone has been expelled, members of the church are forbidden from keeping their company, and it is not uncommon for a mother to cut all ties with her ‘disfellow-shipped’ child, a traumatic interpersonal loss that can lead to feelings of abandonment, grief and depression. 

Intrapersonal losses are also common, because many aspects of faith can offer adaptive coping mechanisms during times of stress. When someone feels lost or discouraged, prayer or religious attendance can offer valuable support and guidance, so the loss of these coping strategies can result in the use of practices which are even more harmful. 

A common theme I’ve come across in my clinical work is that individuals who have left their faith experience a sense of desperation that comes from the loss of belief in a pre-determined destiny, or the sense that ‘everything is in God’s hands.’ The realization that one’s life is no longer following a pre-determined path can contribute to feelings of insignificance, and a crisis of identity. In an attempt to take control of their own destinies, people report seeking gratification and a sense of purpose from high-risk behaviors such as anonymous sex and substance abuse. 

If the choice to leave is voluntary, individuals generally experience acute relief followed by multiple triggers that can induce psychological distress. But even if it isn’t voluntary, the shift to the secular world can lead to difficulties in many areas of functioning such as work and school. Social and cultural losses such as the rupture of families and social networks, employment issues, and/or financial stress can all contribute to problems of acculturation into a new, secular life. Individuals may experience difficulty with decision making and critical thinking, as well as identity confusion. 

Also common are anxiety, depression and grief; concerns about death and the afterlife; a sense of shame; changes in sleep patterns and nightmares; substance abuse, and/or sexual dysfunction. Many of these problems are common to non-religious situations too, but there are some aspects of stress that make faith-based trauma unique, particularly the pressure that exists to return to the perpetrators.  When someone suffers abuse at the hands of a religious elder, they are sometimes told to return to their church and ‘pray on it.’ This happened to a former client of mine whose husband sexually abused members of their congregation. When she sought support for her considerable psychological distress, she was met instead with the following message: “Strengthen your relationship with God, and all will be well.” 

Her primary method of coping was recognized, but her pain was ignored. In cases like these, people are told that everything will be ok if they simply increase their faith, pray harder, or seek religious guidance, when in actuality what they need is non-secular support to address the realities of their psychological suffering. Consider how the same family members would react in the wake of a sexual assault outside the church. No parent would ever tell their child to seek out the perpetrator and ask forgiveness for their sin. A unique aspect of religious trauma is that it is often not recognized as a traumatic event, and this is what makes such events so dangerous.

Of course, religion can offer positive and helpful support in certain situations too—as in the case of another client who experienced one of the worst traumatic events I’ve ever encountered at the hands of his previous religious community after showing open support for his transgender son. After fleeing this community he only found solace when he discovered another church that openly accepted his and his family as their authentic and genuine selves. But in general, secular, evidence-based, psychological sciences such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic theory and emotion-focused therapies show that effective support can be offered to those suffering from traumatic stress in ways that faith-based treatments cannot. 

Religion and faith can be beautiful things, and they can be brutal. Religious freedom is rightly valued in democratic societies, but the ways in which religious culture can foster the abuse and exploitation of individuals are real. At their core, the mainstream religions share the same beliefs: be kind, be good, and love your neighbor. But these beliefs must be practiced in community, and in communities power is often appropriated and misused by leaders.

If psychology has taught us anything, it is that influential people can shape how people view and think of themselves, of others, and of the wider world in which they live. Religious leaders have the choice of imparting values and behaviors that are true to their teachings, or translating those messages in ways that heighten their own sense of power and importance and provide a cover for abuse.  


Can there ever be a truly successful, secular revolution? 

Why does religion drive so many people nuts? That’s the question that opensand closes our debate on religion and social change. On the surface the answer is obvious, at least for progressives—it’s because of the damage that’s been done by religion to the causes they hold dear: independence and equality for womengay marriage and LGBTQ rightspeace and protection from zealots and fanatics, and safety in the face of sexual abuse. How come the ineffable being is always a bloke with a beard who privileges others who look the same as him? Religion has become the mother-lode of patriarchy, stupidity, homophobia and all things conservative.

But the opposite is also true: religion gives tremendous strength and staying power to the struggle for equality and social justice. It’s a force that makes people go to jail for their beliefs, break into nuclear weapons facilities and daub biblical slogans on the wallsfound social movements that change society, organize workers to stand up for their rights, and confront dictators at the cost of their own lives. Religious groups are also the mainstays of health, education, social welfare and community-level conflict prevention in many countries. For Dorothy DayCesar ChavezMartin Luther KingOscar Romero and many others, religion isn’t incidental to social change, it’s pivotal—it’s the reason whythey are willing to give so much to the cause.

Faced by these contradictory realities, what’s the best response for those committed to radical transformation? Ignoring, belittling or actively opposing religion all have their supporters, but active, open and critical engagement is likely to be much more effective, for at least three reasons.

First, the world is increasingly religious, and is likely to continue along this path. According to data from the Pew Center for Research on Religion84 per cent of adults in their global surveys said they were affiliated to one religion or another in 2010, a figure that’s projected to rise to 87 per cent by 2050—if for no other reason than the demographic growth of the Islamic population, which accounts for much of this extrapolated expansion.

But Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and what Pew calls “folk religions” like traditional African and Native American faiths are also set to grow. The exception is Buddhism—the result, perhaps, of too much meditation and not enough procreation along the spiritual path. Intriguingly, the trends are different among members of the millennial generation in the West, who are deserting established religions in favor of “unaffiliated spirituality.”  In a new report called “How we Gather,” authors Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile write that “millennials are flocking to a host of new organizations that deepen community in ways that are powerful, surprising, and perhaps even religious,” but not defined along the lines or hierarchies of existing faiths.

Against this background, ignoring, insulting or attempting to eradicate religion can’t be viable options for anyone concerned with social transformation, since large parts of the required constituency for radical action will be marginalized as a result—far better to negotiate a democratic settlement between secular rights and religious freedoms. But this requires abandoning the absolutism that’s often the hallmark of enthusiasts on both sides of the debate—an attitude that leaves no room for forward movement except on terms that are unacceptable to the other. France’s ban on the wearing of the veil is one example.

Unfortunately such liberal-democratic settlements won’t work precisely where they’re most needed—the Islamic State for example, or Zionism, or the core of conservative Christian fundamentalism, but perhaps religion isn’t the key to any of these cases: if both conservative and progressive forces are at work in religion, then religion itself can’t be the deciding factor. So problems of ‘religious’ violence and discrimination may have less to do with religion versus secularity than with forces that stretch across and underneath this divide—like the urge to dominate and destroy, to accumulate more power for our tribe, to turn our fears outwards into the oppression of someone else, or to refuse to negotiate or to bend.

Fundamentalism of any kind is a threat to democracy and equal rights, but it springs from a generalized desire for hegemony and control. Is neo-liberalism more or less damaging than Catholicism? Is religious violence worse or better than the secular variety? Religion is a mask of convenience for those who need an extra dose of legitimacy as a cover for their sins, but there are many other, secular disguises waiting in the wings… read more:

During a visit to Bayelsa state in Southern Nigeria last year, I was taken aback to hear a male Christian leader quote Karl Marx to describe how trust in God reduces the potential for struggle and mobilisation: “religion is an opiate of the masses.” Belief in the divine can stop people from acting when those with power are seen as favoured, regardless of their corruption, crimes and human rights abuses. All too often, inequality is seen as God’s will.read more:

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dhirendra K Jha - The shadowy group accused of planning the 2008 Malegaon blasts has deep roots in the Sangh

Ever since the Malegaon blast of 2008, investigative agencies have been furiously working to learn more about the origin of the extremist Hindutva outfit Abhinav Bharat, whose members are accused of being behind this act of terror. But despite the investigations, there’s still little we know about this shadowy organisation. There’s considerable confusion regarding how the organisation was formed and who actually formed it. While one version says Sameer Kulkarni, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast, started it, another version says that its founder was Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, another key accused in the same blast case.

Down the rabbit hole
The Kulkarni-as-founder theory was made by Himani Savarkar, the president of the Abhinav Bharat, in an interview to Outlook magazine in November 2008, two months after the blast. The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad named Kulkarni as one of those who provided logistic support for the blast that took place on September 29, 2008. 

Savarkar told Outlook that Sameer Kulkarni, who was “a part of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]”, started the Abhinav Bharat. “When he [Kulkarni] decided to start Abhinav Bharat, he approached me to become its president and I accepted,” she said.
Savarkar, who died last October, was the daughter of Gopal Godse (the brother of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi) and married into the family of Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

While being interrogated by the anti-terrorism squad in connection with the blast, Savarkar said that she was elected president of the Abhinav Bharat in April 2008, and that Kulkarni concentrated on developing the organisation in Madhya Pradesh.

The real founder?
However, other testimonies fail to support Savarkar’s claims. According to the investigations carried out by the anti-terrorism squad, Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, a key accused in the Malegaon blast case, was the real architect of Abhinav Bharat. According to the chargesheet filed by the anti-terrorism squad, Purohit initiated the outfit in June 2006 when he led over a dozen people to Maratha ruler Shivaji’s fort in Raigad where “they took the blessings of Shivaji Maharaj’s throne and decided to name the trust Abhinav Bharat and prayed for its success”.

A few months later, in February 2007, the organisation was registered as a trust with its official address being that of its treasurer Ajay Rahirkar, a resident of Pune, who is also an accused in the Malegaon blast case. Such is the confusion over the origin of the Abhinav Bharat that despite heading the organisation for so many years, Savarkar seemed unaware of its many aspects. She might, however, just have chosen (and in that case quite successfully) to reveal only as much as was needed to heighten the confusion over the organisation’s origins.

Last year, in a long interview to this reporter around two months after Savarkar’s death, Milind Joshirao, a close associate of Purohit’s who worked as the outfit’s spokesperson when Savarkar was president, said: “To blame her for being unaware of many aspects of Abhinav Bharat would be unfair. She joined the organisation late, and so she might just not be knowing everything about its origins.” Joshirao, who now calls himself the president of the Abhinav Bharat, was detained for nearly two weeks after the Malegaon blast and was released thereafter.

He said that Savarkar had never been formally appointed president. “It was during that period of confusion [caused by arrests in the wake of the Malegaon blast] when Himani Savarkar came forward to speak to the media on our behalf,” said Joshirao. “There was no formal meeting to make her the president of the organisation, and that is why you won’t find anything to that effect in the papers of Abhinav Bharat.” Joshirao added: “She became so [its president] because she claimed so, and we all respected her decision because she represented the great families of Savarkar and Godse.”

The 1905 Abhinav Bharat
The Abhinav Bharat has had a previous avatar too. Inspired by Italian revolutionary Mazzini’s political movement called Young Italy, VD Savarkar formed an organisation in 1905 that he christened Abhinav Bharat. The old Abhinav Bharat, however, wasn’t very active as Savarkar, who was a student of Pune’s Fergusson College at that time, left the country abruptly in 1906 once he got a scholarship for higher education in England. His outfit was dormant for long, and in 1952, Savarkar officially disbanded it.

Though its revival in India over a century after it was first formed was a mysterious, inscrutable affair, the link its members have with the Sangh Parivar is striking. During her interrogation on December 26, 2008, Savarkar told the ATS: “I met [Sameer] Kulkarni one and a half years ago when he was working as a full-time member of the RSS. Since my house is next to [VD] Savarkar’s, he would come often and I came to know him very well. Then he told me he would be in Madhya Pradesh to work for Abhinav Bharat.”

Retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay, a prominent Abhinav Bharat leader and an accused in the Malegaon case, was, before joining this outfit, the president of the Mumbai unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ex-servicemen cell. Equally significant is the track record of another Abhinav Bharat leader, BL Sharma. He won the Lok Sabha election twice on a BJP ticket from East Delhi during the 1990s. An RSS worker since 1940, Sharma had largely worked with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad before switching to the Abhinav Bharat.

RSS threads
Though Pragya Singh Thakur, a leader of the RSS’ student wing, was not directly associated with the Abhinav Bharat, she is alleged to have worked in tandem with the members of this organisation to cause the Malegaon blast in 2008. Thakur was a leader of the RSS-affiliated right-wing student body, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, in Ujjain and Indore until 1997. She then became a member of its national executive before taking sanyas.

Purohit, who is most likely the main architect of Abhinav Bharat, was in constant touch with Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadia before the blast. According to the anti-terrorism squad’s findings, the last time the duo met was at a Mumbai hotel in August 2008, over a month before the Malegaon blast. Purohit is believed to have had great expectations from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which he considered a recruitment ground for the Abhinav Bharat.

As per his chargesheet, Purohit even told Abhinav Bharat leaders about his expectations: “If and when [VHP leader Ashok] Singhalji will be removed from the VHP, it would become a headless chicken. A body without a head will remain and this is what BJP wants. This wing should become ours. Do not oppose me on this. This will be our main weapon.”

Clearly, the overlaps between these various Hindutva groups are striking, and are not restricted to sharing a common ideology alone. If anything, the complexities of the disjointed existence of the RSS and Abhinav Bharat confirm the hydra-like structure of Hindutva politics.


see also



Simon Tisdall - Turkey paying a price for Erdoğan's wilful blindness to Isis threat

President’s preference for blaming everything bad that happens on the Kurds is no longer working

Turkish officials, led by the prime minister, Binali Yildirim, have initially blamed the Istanbul airport attack on Islamic State, and it is true that this latest murderous outrage closely resembles last October’s Isis bombing of a peace rally in Ankara that killed 103 people, the deadliest such attack in modern Turkish history. 

Assuming the official claim turns out to be accurate, it once again raises the murky question of Turkish government attitudes towards the Isis militants who control or are contesting large swaths of territory adjacent to Turkey’s southern border with Syria and Iraq and are said to maintain networks of supporters inside Turkey.

The basic problem is that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, believes indigenous Kurds in those areas and in south-east Turkey pose a bigger threat than does Isis. This perceived ambivalence has led to numerous accusations of tacit Turkish support for or, worse still, complicity in Isis’s activities since the group swept to prominence in 2014 – all flatly denied by Erdoğan and his ministers.

The mostly unproven accusations, listed in a research paper published by New York’s Columbia University, include claims that predominantly Sunni Muslim Turkey has covertly supplied, trained, financed and assisted the recruitment of Isis’s Sunni fighters in their battles with the Kurds, with Iraq’s Shia-led government, and with the Syrian government, which Turkey opposes. Some of the accusations, such as the government’s direct arming of Isis, seem far-fetched. But other claims, including suggestions that Turkish middlemen were involved in lucrative Isis oil smuggling from Iraq to Turkey, are widely believed.

Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, leader of the main Turkish opposition Republican People’s party (CHP), produced documents and transcripts in 2014 purporting to show that Turkey supplied weapons to terror groups inside Syria. It was suggested the arms went to ethnic Turkmen fighters opposed to Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, not Isis.

Erdoğan’s government has also been accused of supporting – by what means is unclear – an al-Qaida-affiliated Syrian rebel force, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is said to be backed by Turkey’s ally Saudi Arabia but which is proscribed as a terrorist outfit by the US and Britain, also Ankara’s allies. When in May 2015 the Cumhuriyet daily published material and footage alleging that Turkish MIT intelligence agents had tried to smuggle arms into Syria and been intercepted by border guards, the paper’s editor, Can Dündar, was arrested and charged with security offences and the border guards were dismissed. Such official pressure tactics have inhibited subsequent independent reporting.

Specific allegations aside, Erdoğan is accused by his opponents of indirectly helping Isis by thwarting, and refusing to support, efforts by Kurdish militias and their western backers to combat the jihadis in Syria and Iraq. Erdoğan has repeatedly dismissed the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD) and the Iraqi peshmerga as being no better than terrorists themselves, in league with Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK).

Erdoğan renewed the Turkish state’s long-running conflict with the PKK last summer after his ruling Justice and Development party unexpectedly lost its parliamentary majority, largely due to the electoral success of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP). He has since sought effectively to ban most HDP MPs from parliament while seeking to extend his presidential powers. Large-scale crackdowns and curfews in Kurdish towns in the south-east have led to numerous deaths on both sides and mass civilian displacement. The violence provoked a spate of terrorist attacks on soft targets in Istanbul and Ankara by a militant PKK offshoot known as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK).

The government says the TAK outrages prove the truth of its contention that the PKK is a purely terrorist organisation lacking legitimate cause that must be mercilessly extirpated. In recent months, conforming to this preferred narrative, attacks launched by Isis have been officially blamed, initially at least, on the Kurds, thereby confusing the overall picture and complicating the counter-terrorism response to Isis.

Incontrovertible evidence has now emerged that Isis operatives planned the Ankara attack last October. A total of 36 suspects are facing a total of up to 11,750 years in jail, according to the Ankara public prosecutor. It seems probable that Tuesday evening’s attack in Istanbul was Isis’s response to a recent wave of arrests and artillery bombardments targeting the group inside Turkey and across the border in Syria. Although it may not have thought so at the outset, Isis seems ever more persuaded in its view of Turkey as a hostile member of the US-led “crusader alliance”, and is punishing it accordingly.

Ministers have hitherto resisted suggestions that Isis runs cells and networks inside Turkey, but given the arrests this position is hardly tenable. The government is also unwilling to accept that its security and counter-terror intelligence-gathering arrangements are faulty, or that by degrees the country is being sucked ever further into Syria’s civil war – although both conclusions appear increasingly inescapable.

It seems plain that Erdoğan’s preference for blaming everything bad that happens on the Kurds is no longer working, that Turkish civilians are paying a terrible price for his wilful blindness to the jihadi threat, and that Turkey’s leaders must banish any remaining ambivalence and confront the Isis menace full on.

This week Ankara patched up relations with Russia and Israel, both strong anti-Isis actors, and stepped up border cooperation with Nato air patrols – an indication that attitudes may be changing. The logical corollary of such a shift is for Erdoğan to halt his war of choice against the PKK, reinstitute last year’s ceasefire, and accept that the price for a united front to defeat Isis terror and halt the Syrian carnage is a comprehensive settlement with the Kurds.

see also
Apr 16, 2015 ... Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned Pope Francis for calling the 1915 mass killing of Armenians genocide, and warned ...

Kenan Malik - Beyond the Brexit debate

Neither side in the debate has been willing properly to consider the real issues at the heart of the Brexit debate. Remain campaigners have largely sidestepped concerns about democracy. And when they have addressed the question of immigration, it has largely been to accept the concerns of Leave campaign. Last week Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson led a chorus of senior Labour figures arguing for remaining in the EU, but also for restricting freedom of movement.

It is true that, in the slogan of the Remain camp, we are "Better Together". But "Better Together" does not mean supporting the institution of the EU. It means supporting the people of the EU – and beyond; supporting, for instance, the people of Greece against EU-enforced austerity, and of migrants against the imposition of Fortress Europe.

Leave supporters, on the other hand, have not so much addressed issues of democracy and immigration as exploited them in an opportunistic, and often reactionary, fashion. In reducing the problem of democracy to the bureaucratic structures of the EU, they have ignored the broader shifts in politics and the economy that have left large sections of the electorate feeling politically voiceless, and which will not be addressed simply by leaving the EU. In conflating democracy and national sovereignty, and promoting border controls as the key expression of sovereignty, they have advanced a narrow, divisive notion of democracy.

Hostility to the EU, not just in Britain, but throughout Europe, has been driven by frustrations about democracy and resentment about immigration. The Remain (pro-EU) campaign, recognizing that it has few answers, has largely avoided both issues, focusing almost entirely on economic arguments. Leave (anti-EU) campaigners have been equally opportunistic in the way they have addressed questions of democracy and immigration.

Many EU supporters dismiss the charge that the EU is undemocratic, pointing to the existence of the European parliament whose members are elected by all EU citizens. This is not only to overstate the influence of MEPs on policy making, it is also to miss the point about popular resentment. The reason that people see the EU as undemocratic is not because they don't think they can vote in EU elections. It is because they feel that despite their vote, they have little say in the major decisions that shape their lives.

Any Parliament has to represent a particular demos. There is, though, no European demos. The EU is an attempt to create a demos from top down, where none exists from bottom up. That is why people feel little sense of the European Parliament as representative, and resent the bureaucratic process through which policy is made.

Other EU supporters argue that without such an elitist project it would be impossible to respond effectively to major crises such as climate change or global recession. This at least has the merit being honest in accepting that the value of the EU lies in its ability to bypass democratic process in the name of the greater good.

The trouble is, whenever the EU has faced a major crisis, it has not only failed to respond in a coherent fashion, but its eventual incoherent response has rarely enhanced the common good. During the Eurozone crisis, the EU prevaricated for months, before undercutting democracy in Greece through the imposition of the "troika", comprising the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF, which effectively took control of economic and social policy, and enforced an eye-watering austerity programme, including slashing pensions, cutting wages, raising taxes, laying off workers and privatizing swathes of the economy, the aim of which was to bail out not Greece but the European banks 
that had lent to Greece.

Or consider the migration crisis. After months of political paralysis, the EU eventually responded – by absolving itself of responsibility. It stitched together a series of deals with non-EU countries such as Turkey, Sudan, Jordan and Niger, promising them huge sums of money for detaining potential migrants to the EU. Sickened by the immorality of these deals, the charity Médecins Sans Frontières last week refused all EU funding, observing that it could not take money "from institutions and governments whose policies do so much harm".

The EU's consistent failure in the face of such crises is not because it is shackled by the democratic process, as some suggest, but because it lacks a democratic mandate for its decisions, and so is often politically paralyzed.

But while the EU is a fundamentally undemocratic institution, leaving the EU would not, in itself, bridge the democratic deficit. There exists today a much more profound disenchantment with mainstream political institutions, a disenchantment that is evident at national, as well as at European, level and which, throughout Europe, has led to an upsurge in support for populist parties.

The background to this disenchantment is the narrowing of the ideological divides that once characterized politics. Politics has become more about technocratic management than social transformation. One way in which people have felt this change is as a crisis of political representation, as a growing sense of being denied a voice, and of political institutions as being remote and corrupt. The sense of being politically abandoned has been most acute within the traditional working class, whose feelings of isolation have increased as social democratic parties have cut their links with their old constituencies. As mainstream parties have discarded both their ideological attachments and their long-established constituencies, so the public has become increasingly disengaged from the political process. The gap between voters and the elite has widened, fostering disenchantment with the very idea of politics. The EU has come to be an institutional embodiment of this new political landscape.

The main political faultline, throughout Europe today, is not between left and right, between social democracy and conservatism, but between those who feel at home in – or at least are willing to accommodate themselves to – the new globalised, technocratic world, and those who feel left out, dispossessed and voiceless. These kinds of divisions have always existed, of course. In the past, however, that sense of dispossession and voicelessness could be expressed politically, particularly through the organizations of the left and of the labour movement. No longer. It is the erosion of such mechanisms that is leading to the remaking of Europe's political landscape.

Brexit may restore a greater degree of sovereignty, but it will not address this deeper anger. In conflating resentment about lack of democracy with restraints on national sovereignty, Leave campaigners obscure the real problems. The dangers of such conflation can be seen most clearly in the debate about immigration. Leave campaigners argue that outside the EU, Britain would have control of its borders, and so be able to allay people's fear about immigrants. "You can only spike the guns of the extremists and the people who are genuinely anti-immigrant", Boris Johnson suggested, "if you take back control."

But you couldn't, even then. For a start, even where Britain has complete control of its immigration policy, it has been unable to reduce the flow as it would wish. Migration to Britain from outside the EU was higher last year than EU migration (and has been throughout this century). EU net migration currently stands at 184,000 compared to 188,000 from outside the EU. Having promised to reduce migration to the "tens of thousands", and being unable to limit EU migrants, the government has striven particularly hard to reduce non-EU numbers, including adopting the kind of "points-based system" favoured by critics of high immigration. Its continued failure to reduce numbers is telling, showing that unless the government wishes truly to harm the economy, its control of migration is limited. Promising to limit immigration and failing to do so, as the government has already demonstrated, will only aggravate, not alleviate, hostility to immigration.

Nor should we confuse open borders with a lack of national sovereignty. Consider the case of Spain and the EU. Until 1991, Spain had an open border with North Africa. Migrant workers would come to Spain for seasonal work and then return home. In 1986, the newly democratic Spain joined the EU. As part of its obligations as a EU member, it had to close its North African borders. The closing of the borders did not stop migrant workers trying to enter Spain. Instead, they took to small boats to cross the Mediterranean and smuggled themselves in. This was the start of the "migration crisis". Spain had exercised national sovereignty by keeping its borders open. Closed borders were imposed by Brussels.

The real issue is not control of borders but having a democratic mandate for any immigration policy. There is no iron law that the public must be irrevocably hostile to immigration. Large sections of the public have become hostile because they have come to associate immigration with unacceptable change. And yet, while immigration has become the most potent symbol of a world out of control, and of ordinary people having little say in the policies that affect their lives, it is not the reason for the social and political grievances that many have to endure.

Economic and social changes – the decline of manufacturing industry, the crumbling of the welfare state, the coming of austerity, the atomization of society, the growth of inequality – have combined with political shifts , such as the erosion of trade union power and the transformation of social democratic parties, to create in sections of the electorate a sense of rage.

Remain campaigners warn of the "uncertainties" that would be created by Britain leaving the EU. What they fail to recognize is that for many sections of the electorate, "uncertainty" is what they feel now, and it is this that is driving their hostility to mainstream political institutions and to the EU.

Immigration has played almost no part in fostering these changes. It has, however, come to be the means through which many perceive these changes, largely because of the way that the immigration issue has been framed by politicians of all hues over the past half century. On the one hand, politicians have recognized a need for immigration. On the other hand, they have promoted the idea of immigration as a fundamental social problem. At the same time, politicians often express disdain for the masses whom many regard as irrevocably racist, and incapable of adopting a rational view of immigration. Labour leader, and prime minister, Gordon Brown's description during the 2010 election campaign of pensioner Gillian Duffy as "a bigoted woman" because of her worries about east European migrants captured the contempt of elite politicians for the little people's immigration concerns. This poisonous mixture of necessity, fear and contempt has helped both to stigmatize migrants and to create popular hostility towards the liberal elite for ignoring their views on immigration.

Critics of the EU have certainly promoted noxious arguments about immigration, from Michael Gove's warnings about a Turkish invasion to Nigel Farage's "Breaking Point" poster. But supporters of the EU are as responsible for creating an anti-immigration climate. It was Gordon Brown who claimed Labour policy as "British jobs for British workers". It is David Cameron who has led a campaign against "benefit tourists", despite the government's own Migration Advisory Committee insisting that there is "little evidence to support the so-called welfare magnet hypothesis as a migration driver across EU countries"... 
Read more: 


Dougie Poynter - Why We Must Stop Using Microbeads // International campaign against microbeads in cosmetics

I am a human being from the UK and since the age of three I have been fascinated by the natural world and conservation. On a recent trip to Los Angeles I was introduced to two of the most interesting people I have ever met; Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen, the founders of the charity 5 Gyres. They are a mix of paleontologist, zoologist and environmentalists all rolled into one - the real life Indiana Jones duo.

Ten minutes into our introduction Marcus uncovered a camel gastrolith that he had dug up in Dubai - this was a forty-five pound ball of indigestible plastic found in it’s stomach (photo above is me actually holding it)! The camel had been eating plastic bags thinking they were some kind of plant life. It then died of starvation because it couldn’t digest the plastic and it’s brain was telling him he was full. This blew my mind and made me fully aware of how big the global plastic problem has become. As we continued talking they started telling me about a cause they have been fighting for the past few years, microbeads.

Microbeads are the tiny plastic balls used mainly in personal care products including toothpastes that are marketed as “helping to clean you”. After using these products the tiny beads rinsed down the drain and end up in our waterways and oceans affecting fish and other animals (not to mention in your gums and in your mouth)! Small Fish eat these beads thinking they are food. Big fish eat the little fish. We eat the big fish. One in four fish that we eat has consumed a microplastic that can be traced back to face scrubs and toothpaste. You get the point. This is a massive global issue affecting all of us as humans.

There are currently estimated to be around 800m tonnes of fish in the oceans and 100m to 150m tonnes of plastic. This is increasing by around 20m tonnes a year, but that growth is expected to accelerate as far greater numbers of people are able to afford to buy products that are made with, or packaged in, plastic.

This made me realize that I’ve been using all kinds of products from toothpastes to face scrub for years completely unaware that I am washing and cleaning myself with millions of pieces of plastic! Not cool. As we continued chatting I learned that main reason most of us are not aware of this is that the plastics go by different names such as polyethylene and polypropylene. Manufacturers then take these big words and put them on the bottles but don’t tell you the tiny little dots are plastic. So I thought I was buying products that would make my teeth whiter or body feel better when I was contributing to the problem.

Fast-forward to today and what’s been keeping me up at night is that most people are unaware of this problem. Yes, a ban on microbeads has passed in the US but won’t be in affect until 2018. Here in the UK the government has been talking about a ban for a few years but they are still produced. And in almost every other country around the world they are still legal. Everyday tens of millions of beads are entering our oceans because the beads are too small for the filters in the water treatment plants to catch them and are having a HUGE affect on... well, everything!


international campaign against microbeads in cosmetics

The ocean is responsible for more than half of our oxygen supply. Through plastic pollution, climate change and over fishing we are impacting the balance of nature and in turn shooting ourselves in the foot as a species. If we can be the generation that stops polluting our oceans, the planet will have time to recover. If not then.... well you guys have seen Pixar’s Wall-E right? But we have the power to create change and a shift in culture. Each of us has the ability to voice our opinions against this issue and start conversation about plastic pollution to our friends, family and leaders. Every unused bottle matters. Here is a list of products that contain microbeads by country. Please stop using them.


see also
We could end up with 'as much plastic in our oceans as fish'



Book review: Conceptualizing an Emancipatory Alternative: Peter Hudis reviews István Mészáros's 'Beyond Capital'

It is no exaggeration to say that with 1989 a long historical phase – the one initiated by the October Revolution of 1917 – came to its end. From now on, whatever might be the future of socialism, it will have to be established on radically new foundations, beyond the tragedies and failures of Soviet type development which became blocked very soon after the conquest of power in Russia by Lenin and his followers -  István Mészáros in Beyond Capital: Toward a Theory of Transition; 1995; p. 284. Explore the Mészáros archive

It is a rare occasion to encounter a work which so directly confronts the central problem of our time. The globalization of capital and commodification of every conceivable area of everyday life, along with the worldwide collapse of an array of revolutionary movements, have provided a near-unshakable foundation for the claim that one or another form of capitalism defines our future. 

Whether expressed as the "end of history," the "death of the subject," or the "permanence of alienation," the present historic moment is defined by a profound crisis in the ability to envision the transcendence of capitalist social relations. The unsettling character of this reality has spurred a number of recent efforts to reexamine the contemporary importance of Marx's work. In light of the all-pervasiveness and power of the claim that we have no choice but to accept the limits of the given, it has become increasingly evident that the projection of an emancipatory alternative to "actually existing capitalism" is the most important task facing radical theory today.

 And yet while there is growing awareness of the need to project anew a comprehensive liberatory alternative, few seem willing to plunge into the actual endeavor. It is one thing to single out some specific aspects of Marx's thought which speak to today (as Derrida does in Specters of Marx), and quite another to rethink his oeuvre as a whole in light of our present predicament. It is one thing to engage in various critiques of existing institutions and thinkers (important as that may be), and quite another to reconceptualize the very meaning of a socialist perspective.

Few others have as directly and honestly confronted the crisis in envisioning an alternative to existing society. He painstakingly shows through this 1,000-page study that present-day capitalism is submerged in a "depressed continuum" characterized by "an endemic, permanent, structural crisis" (Mészâros 1995: 597). Yet he no less painstakingly shows that the failure of all efforts at socialist revolution to move from the mere elimination of capitalists to the abolition of capital itself has placed the very idea of socialism in profound crisis. The abolition of the personifications of capital, Mészâros again and again insists, does not necessarily lead to the abolition of capital as a universalizing social form of metabolic control. The persistence of the capital-form as the defining medium of social interaction in Soviet-type societies is proof, he argues, of the insufficiency of focusing on the elimination of the agents of capital as the ne plus ultra of socialist theory and practice. 

Moreover, the failure of such societies to avoid the defects characteristic of "classic" capitalism has turned masses of working people away from the very idea of socialism itself. Mészâros insists that unless we work out what he calls a "theory of transition" that pinpoints the forms by which the revolutionary seizure of power can lead to the abolition of capital, we will be unable to extricate ourselves from the profound impasse which has been reached in the socialist movement.

He writes, "creating the necessary mediations towards [the abolition of capital] cannot be left to some far-away future...for if the mediatory steps are not pursued right from the outset, as an organic part of the transformatory strategy, they will never be taken" (1995: 729). He moreover argues,

It is not too difficult to point to crisis symptoms that foreshadow the breakdown of the established socioeconomic and political order. However, in and of itself the profound structural crisis of the capital system is very far from being enough to inspire confidence in a successful outcome. The pieces must be picked up and put together in due course in a positive way. And not even the gravest crisis or the most severe breakdowns are of much help by themselves in that respect. It is always incomparably easier to say 'no' than to draw even the bare outlines of a positive alternative to the negated object. Only on the basis of a coherent strategic view of the overall social complex can even a partial negation of the existent be considered plausible or legitimate (xvii-xviii).

Mészâros is under no illusions about the difficulty of outlining such a "theory of transition." It entails not only going against the grain of established thought, but also challenging the logic of capital itself, since the very nature of capital as a universalizing social form is to convey the impression that the transitory, historic stage of capitalism is natural and immutable. At the same time, Mészâros is fully conscious of the pitfall of falling into utopianism by outlining blueprints of a future society. Though hatching Utopian schemes may seem immediately satisfying, they generally fail to lift thought beyond the very contours of the social form they seek to critique. The task of confronting the question of "what happens after the revolution" involves a far more laborious and formidable task, one centered on explicating the social formations and tendencies inherent in modern society which can point us beyond the contours of the present capital-system.

Mészâros's book consists not of a delineation of the specific content of such a "theory of transition" as much as a critique of the conceptual barriers standing in the way of its development. The bulk of it consists of a series of extended critiques of those who either pose the capital-form as an immutable law of human history or fail to conceptualize a pathway to its transcendence. Of the former, Mészâros develops a devastating critique of figures such as von Hayek and Weber, while of the latter he sharply attacks the limitations of Social Democracy and Stalinism. He takes special aim at the tendency of Marxists, going as far back as the Second International, to assume that the material conditions of capitalism can be directly utilized to bring forth a non-capital-producing society.

Marx of course said many times that capitalism engenders the material conditions for its dissolution. The Marxists of the Second International took this to mean, however, that the centralization of capital and socialization of labor under capitalism would bring forth socialism in quasi-automatic fashion. All mat was required was a Party large and strong enough to pick up the pieces once capitalism collapsed. They therefore felt no responsibility to articulate a vision of a socialist future, using Marx's strictures against utopianism as a "pillow for intellectual sloth."

Mészâros stresses that most Marxists failed to see that capitalism's material conditions cannot be directly utilized to create a new society, since they are afflicted with hierarchies of class, gender, and race. Though the material conditions engender the forms necessary for a reconstruction of society, the actual creation of these forms hinges, not on historical necessity, but on the conscious articulation and implementation of human relations which dispense with the capitalist law of value. Though evolutionist confidence in the direct applicability of capitalism's material conditions for building socialism seemed to suffer a setback with the collapse of the Second International in 1914, it obtained a new lease on life with the transformation of the Russian Revolution into a totalitarian society in the Stalin period. 

The emergence of statified property as a veritable fetish in Stalin's Russia and Mao's China convinced even those opposed to Stalinism (such as the Trotskyists) that the abolition of the market and private property represented an advance upon private capitalism. Marxists dung to the assumption mat the centralization of capital and socialization of labor, even under a totalitarian regime, proved that history was moving inexorably in the direction of socialism. Burdened by this assumption, they felt little need to address the question, "what happens after the revolution?"

The world which underlay these assumptions came crashing down by 1989. The 1980s proved without a shadow of a doubt that the centralization of capital and socialization of labor when held within the integument of the capital-form did not bring humanity closer to a socialist future, but instead dovetailed with the prerequisites of high-tech "free market" capitalism. Mészâros shows that the nature of contemporary capitalism makes it more problematic than ever to presume that the existing material conditions can be directly appropriated for building a non-capital-producing society. For the  reproduction of capital today requires a level of destructiveness of environmental resources and human creativity unprecedented in human history. Given its inherent social and natural destructiveness, it would be the height of foolishness to presume that a post-revolutionary society can base itself on the social productivity of capital. 

Utilizing the existing material conditions through a mere change of property forms, redistribution of income, or elimination of the personifications of capital can in no way lead to improved conditions of life. The very internal dynamic and social hierarchies which constitute the domination of labor by capital must begin to be broken down in the immediate aftermath of a revolutionary seizure of power; otherwise, not even the most minimal progress can be recorded… Download the full review:
http://www.internationalmarxisthumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/docs/usmh-post-hudis-meszaros-97.pdf

Journal of the International Marxist Humanists

Militarism and the coming wars

Also see:
A historical view of economic categories
http://dilipsimeon.blogspot.in/2011/11/historical-view-of-economic-categories.html
Why Socialism? Albert Einstein
Can capitalism and democracy co exist? interview with Sheldon Wolin
Castoriadis on autonomy
Why Marx was right - Terry Eagelton
Is there any such thing as ethical capitalism?
Athens 1944- Britains dirty secret

Hans Magnus Enzensberger : On the Difficulties of Re-education