Friday, October 28, 2016

Should the Indian State decide your religion for you?

Reservations debate

The Madras High Court refused a person's claim that he belonged to the Hindu Adi-Dravidar (Parayar) community.


8 hours ago   Updated 6 hours ago

Shoaib Daniyal

In 1974, Pakistan’s parliament, led by Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, passed a law decreeing that Ahmedis were to be known as a separate religious community with no link with Islam. Till then, under Pakistani law (and till now under Indian law), Ahmedis were seen as Muslim, given that that’s how they saw themselves. In the years since, Pakistan’s treatment of its Ahmedi minority has been a terrible record of discrimination.

Even though its clear that the state deciding people’s faith for them is a bad idea, this is what the Madras High Court did earlier this month. The court rejected the petitioner A Mutharasan’s contention that he belonged to Hindu Adi-Dravidar (Parayar) community because he was not able to produce any certificate of his parents or any of his relatives to show that he and his family members and his ancestors belonged to this community.

The court also rejected the petitioner's claim that he followed the Hindu faith, taking into account the fact that Mutharsan's "parents, sister and wife belong to Christianity and Bible and Bible versions were found in the house" and that he was:

"actively involved in all the activities and functions of the Church and also signed as a witness in a marriage celebrated in the Church. He was also in the Welcome Committee during the Anniversary Celebration of St. Paul Lutheran Church."

Reservations based on faith

Behind this peculiar instance of a court telling a person what his faith really is lies India’s system of affirmative action, which is based partly on religion. The case had come up before the High Court because the petitioner had been removed from his position as village headman by a local government body for allegedly converting to Christianity.

The religious stricture on reservations goes back to 1950, when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's government passed an order restricting the definition of “scheduled caste” only to people who profess the Hindu faith. In 1956, Nehru’s government included Sikhs in the definition, allowing them to also avail of quotas for seats in educational institutions and in government jobs. In 1990, the Union government bought Buddhists into the fold too. Conspicuously, there has been no sign of any political group – Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party – wanting to bring in lower-caste Christians or Muslims into the “scheduled caste” reservation scheme.

Discriminating by religion

The logic for using a religious criteria to decide on India’s largest programme of affirmative action is strained. If the 1950 order, limiting reservation to Hindus, could be defended on the grounds that Hinduism is the only religion that has scriptural backing for a system of caste, that logic was blown out of the water by extending the Scheduled Caste umbrella to Sikhism and Buddhism – which, like Islam and Christianity, are egalitarian religions.

Moreover, the purpose of scheduled caste reservations is to help Dalits overcome millennia of caste oppression by savarnas or upper castes. How could a simple conversion to Islam or Christianity wipe out thousands of years of backwardness? How could a Dalit, no matter what his religion, compete with castes who have had no history of being oppressed?

The Indian state, it seems, has wildly overestimated the egalitarian powers of the two Abrahamic faiths. In fact, numerous ground studies have shown that even the worst features of the caste system survive across religious boundaries – including untouchability. For the Indian state to take crucial policy decisions on the basis of theology – rather than data – is a troubling sign.

Hindutva as state policy

Even more worrisome is the fact that the system of Dalit reservation as it now exists coincides almost perfectly with Vinayak Savarkar’s theocratic understanding of Indian society, which he mapped as per indigenous and non-indigenous faiths. Savarkar, one of the main political philosophers to define what Hindutva means, was clear that Muslims and Christians were to be given fewer rights given the foreign origin of these faiths.

Since India’s largest system of affirmative action is decided by religion – and excludes Muslims and Christians – the state’s move to now define people’s religious faith for them is an even more alarming development. The Ahmedis in Pakistan are proof of the slippery slope this sort of thinking could put the Indian Union on. Some governments in India, in fact, have already travelled some way down that slope. Five Indian states now all but ban religion conversions. Two of those – Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh – actually order anyone wanting to convert to first take permission from the state government. That Narendra Modi (then chief minister of Gujarat) or Madhya Pradesh’s Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan passed laws that allow bureaucrats to decide on someone’s personal faith is a sign that secularism as a concept is shakier in India than many would care to acknowledge.

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Source: scrollin

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

The way ahead

Free exchange | Oct 27th, 18:17


WHEREVER I go these days, at home or abroad, people ask me the same question: what is happening in the American political system? How has a country that has benefited—perhaps more than any other—from immigration, trade and technological innovation suddenly developed a strain of anti-immigrant, anti-innovation protectionism? Why have some on the far left and even more on the far right embraced a crude populism that promises a return to a past that is not possible to restore—and that, for most Americans, never existed at all? 

It’s true that a certain anxiety over the forces of globalisation, immigration, technology, even change itself, has taken hold in America. It’s not new, nor is it dissimilar to a discontent spreading throughout the world, often manifested in scepticism towards international institutions, trade agreements and immigration. It can be seen in Britain’s recent vote to leave the European Union and the rise of populist parties around the world.

Much of this discontent is driven by fears that are not fundamentally economic. The anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment expressed by some Americans today echoes nativist lurches of the past—the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Know-Nothings of the mid-1800s, the anti-Asian sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and any number of eras in which Americans were told they could restore past glory if they just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. We overcame those fears and we will again.

But some of the discontent is rooted in legitimate concerns about long-term economic forces. Decades of declining productivity growth and rising inequality have resulted in slower income growth for low- and middle-income families. Globalisation and automation have weakened the position of workers and their ability to secure a decent wage. Too many potential physicists and engineers spend their careers shifting money around in the financial sector, instead of applying their talents to innovating in the real economy. And the financial crisis of 2008 only seemed to increase the isolation of corporations and elites, who often seem to live by a different set of rules to ordinary citizens.

So it’s no wonder that so many are receptive to the argument that the game is rigged. But amid this understandable frustration, much of it fanned by politicians who would actually make the problem worse rather than better, it is important to remember that capitalism has been the greatest driver of prosperity and opportunity the world has ever known.

Over the past 25 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from nearly 40% to under 10%. Last year, American households enjoyed the largest income gains on record and the poverty rate fell faster than at any point since the 1960s. Wages have risen faster in real terms during this business cycle than in any since the 1970s. These gains would have been impossible without the globalisation and technological transformation that drives some of the anxiety behind our current political debate.

This is the paradox that defines our world today. The world is more prosperous than ever before and yet our societies are marked by uncertainty and unease. So we have a choice—retreat into old, closed-off economies or press forward, acknowledging the inequality that can come with globalisation while committing ourselves to making the global economy work better for all people, not just those at the top.

A force for good

The profit motive can be a powerful force for the common good, driving businesses to create products that consumers rave about or motivating banks to lend to growing businesses. But, by itself, this will not lead to broadly shared prosperity and growth. Economists have long recognised that markets, left to their own devices, can fail. This can happen through the tendency towards monopoly and rent-seeking that this newspaper has documented, the failure of businesses to take into account the impact of their decisions on others through pollution, the ways in which disparities of information can leave consumers vulnerable to dangerous products or overly expensive health insurance.

More fundamentally, a capitalism shaped by the few and unaccountable to the many is a threat to all. Economies are more successful when we close the gap between rich and poor and growth is broadly based. A world in which 1% of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99% will never be stable. Gaps between rich and poor are not new but just as the child in a slum can see the skyscraper nearby, technology allows anyone with a smartphone to see how the most privileged live. 

Expectations rise faster than governments can deliver and a pervasive sense of injustice undermines peoples’ faith in the system. Without trust, capitalism and markets cannot continue to deliver the gains they have delivered in the past centuries.

This paradox of progress and peril has been decades in the making. While I am proud of what my administration has accomplished these past eight years, I have always acknowledged that the work of perfecting our union would take far longer. The presidency is a relay race, requiring each of us to do our part to bring the country closer to its highest aspirations. So where does my successor go from here?

Further progress requires recognising that America’s economy is an enormously complicated mechanism. As appealing as some more radical reforms can sound in the abstract—breaking up all the biggest banks or erecting prohibitively steep tariffs on imports—the economy is not an abstraction. It cannot simply be redesigned wholesale and put back together again without real consequences for real people.

Instead, fully restoring faith in an economy where hardworking Americans can get ahead requires addressing four major structural challenges: boosting productivity growth, combating rising inequality, ensuring that everyone who wants a job can get one and building a resilient economy that’s primed for future growth.

Restoring economic dynamism

First, in recent years, we have seen incredible technological advances through the internet, mobile broadband and devices, artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced materials, improvements in energy efficiency and personalised medicine. But while these innovations have changed lives, they have not yet substantially boosted measured productivity growth. Over the past decade, America has enjoyed the fastest productivity growth in the G7, but it has slowed across nearly all advanced economies (see chart 1). Without a faster-growing economy, we will not be able to generate the wage gains people want, regardless of how we divide up the pie.

A major source of the recent productivity slowdown has been a shortfall of public and private investment caused, in part, by a hangover from the financial crisis. But it has also been caused by self-imposed constraints: an anti-tax ideology that rejects virtually all sources of new public funding; a fixation on deficits at the expense of the deferred maintenance bills we are passing to our children, particularly for infrastructure; and a political system so partisan that previously bipartisan ideas like bridge and airport upgrades are nonstarters.

We could also help private investment and innovation with business-tax reform that lowers statutory rates and closes loopholes, and with public investments in basic research and development. Policies focused on education are critical both for increasing economic growth and for ensuring that it is shared broadly. These include everything from boosting funding for early childhood education to improving high schools, making college more affordable and expanding high-quality job training.

Lifting productivity and wages also depends on creating a global race to the top in rules for trade. While some communities have suffered from foreign competition, trade has helped our economy much more than it has hurt. Exports helped lead us out of the recession. American firms that export pay their workers up to 18% more on average than companies that do not, according to a report by my Council of Economic Advisers. So, I will keep pushing for Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to conclude a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the EU. These agreements, and stepped-up trade enforcement, will level the playing field for workers and businesses alike.

Second, alongside slowing productivity, inequality has risen in most advanced economies, with that increase most pronounced in the United States. In 1979, the top 1% of American families received 7% of all after-tax income. By 2007, that share had more than doubled to 17%. This challenges the very essence of who Americans are as a people. We don’t begrudge success, we aspire to it and admire those who achieve it. In fact, we’ve often accepted more inequality than many other nations because we are convinced that with hard work, we can improve our own station and watch our children do even better.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else.” That’s the problem with increased inequality—it diminishes upward mobility. It makes the top and bottom rungs of the ladder “stickier”—harder to move up and harder to lose your place at the top.

Economists have listed many causes for the rise of inequality: technology, education, globalisation, declining unions and a falling minimum wage. There is something to all of these and we’ve made real progress on all these fronts. But I believe that changes in culture and values have also played a major role. In the past, differences in pay between corporate executives and their workers were constrained by a greater degree of social interaction between employees at all levels—at church, at their children’s schools, in civic organisations. That’s why CEOs took home about 20- to 30-times as much as their average worker. The reduction or elimination of this constraining factor is one reason why today’s CEO is now paid over 250-times more.

Economies are more successful when we close the gap between rich and poor and growth is broadly based. This is not just a moral argument. Research shows that growth is more fragile and recessions more frequent in countries with greater inequality. Concentrated wealth at the top means less of the broad-based consumer spending that drives market economies.

America has shown that progress is possible. Last year, income gains were larger for households at the bottom and middle of the income distribution than for those at the top (see chart 2). Under my administration, we will have boosted incomes for families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution by 18% by 2017, while raising the average tax rates on households projected to earn over $8m per year—the top 0.1%—by nearly 7 percentage points, based on calculations by the Department of the Treasury. While the top 1% of households now pay more of their fair share, tax changes enacted during my administration have increased the share of income received by all other families by more than the tax changes in any previous administration since at least 1960.

Even these efforts fall well short. In the future, we need to be even more aggressive in enacting measures to reverse the decades-long rise in inequality. Unions should play a critical role. They help workers get a bigger slice of the pie but they need to be flexible enough to adapt to global competition. Raising the Federal minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without dependent children, limiting tax breaks for high-income households, preventing colleges from pricing out hardworking students, and ensuring men and women get equal pay for equal work would help to move us in the right direction too.


Third, a successful economy also depends on meaningful opportunities for work for everyone who wants a job. However, America has faced a long-term decline in participation among prime-age workers (see chart 3). In 1953, just 3% of men between 25 and 54 years old were out of the labour force. Today, it is 12%. In 1999, 23% of prime-age women were out of the labour force. Today, it is 26%. People joining or rejoining the workforce in a strengthening economy have offset ageing and retiring baby-boomers since the end of 2013, stabilising the participation rate but not reversing the longer-term adverse trend.

Involuntary joblessness takes a toll on life satisfaction, self-esteem, physical health and mortality. It is related to a devastating rise of opioid abuse and an associated increase in overdose deaths and suicides among non-college-educated Americans—the group where labour-force participation has fallen most precipitously.

There are many ways to keep more Americans in the labour market when they fall on hard times. These include providing wage insurance for workers who cannot get a new job that pays as much as their old one. Increasing access to high-quality community colleges, proven job-training models and help finding new jobs would assist. So would making unemployment insurance available to more workers. Paid leave and guaranteed sick days, as well as greater access to high-quality child care and early learning, would add flexibility for employees and employers. Reforms to our criminal-justice system and improvements to re-entry into the workforce that have won bipartisan support would also improve participation, if enacted.

Building a sturdier foundation

Finally, the financial crisis painfully underscored the need for a more resilient economy, one that grows sustainably without plundering the future at the service of the present. There should no longer be any doubt that a free market only thrives when there are rules to guard against systemic failure and ensure fair competition.

Post-crisis reforms to Wall Street have made our financial system more stable and supportive of long-term growth, including more capital for American banks, less reliance on short-term funding, and better oversight for a range of institutions and markets. Big American financial institutions no longer get the type of easier funding they got before—evidence that the market increasingly understands that they are no longer “too big to fail”. And we created a first-of-its-kind watchdog—the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—to hold financial institutions accountable, so their customers get loans they can repay with clear terms up-front.

But even with all the progress, segments of the shadow banking system still present vulnerabilities and the housing-finance system has not been reformed. That should be an argument for building on what we have already done, not undoing it. And those who should be rising in defence of further reform too often ignore the progress we have made, instead choosing to condemn the system as a whole. Americans should debate how best to build on these rules, but denying that progress leaves us more vulnerable, not less so.

America should also do more to prepare for negative shocks before they occur. With today’s low interest rates, fiscal policy must play a bigger role in combating future downturns; monetary policy should not bear the full burden of stabilising our economy. Unfortunately, good economics can be overridden by bad politics. My administration secured much more fiscal expansion than many appreciated in recovering from our crisis—more than a dozen bills provided $1.4 trillion in economic support from 2009 to 2012—but fighting Congress for each commonsense measure expended substantial energy. I did not get some of the expansions I sought and Congress forced austerity on the economy prematurely by threatening a historic debt default. My successors should not have to fight for emergency measures in a time of need. Instead, support for the hardest-hit families and the economy, like unemployment insurance, should rise automatically.

Maintaining fiscal discipline in good times to expand support for the economy when needed and to meet our long-term obligations to our citizens is vital. Curbs to entitlement growth that build on the Affordable Care Act’s progress in reducing health-care costs and limiting tax breaks for the most fortunate can address long-term fiscal challenges without sacrificing investments in growth and opportunity.

Finally, sustainable economic growth requires addressing climate change. Over the past five years, the notion of a trade-off between increasing growth and reducing emissions has been put to rest. America has cut energy-sector emissions by 6%, even as our economy has grown by 11% (see chart 4). Progress in America also helped catalyse the historic Paris climate agreement, which presents the best opportunity to save the planet for future generations.

A hope for the future

America’s political system can be frustrating. Believe me, I know. But it has been the source of more than two centuries of economic and social progress. The progress of the past eight years should also give the world some measure of hope. Despite all manner of division and discord, a second Great Depression was prevented. The financial system was stabilised without costing taxpayers a dime and the auto industry rescued. I enacted a larger and more front-loaded fiscal stimulus than even President Roosevelt’s New Deal and oversaw the most comprehensive rewriting of the rules of the financial system since the 1930s, as well as reforming health care and introducing new rules cutting emissions from vehicles and power plants.

The results are clear: a more durable, growing economy; 15m new private-sector jobs since early 2010; rising wages, falling poverty, and the beginnings of a reversal in inequality; 20m more Americans with health insurance, while health-care costs grow at the slowest rate in 50 years; annual deficits cut by nearly three-quarters; and declining carbon emissions.

For all the work that remains, a new foundation is laid. A new future is ours to write. It must be one of economic growth that’s not only sustainable but shared. To achieve it America must stay committed to working with all nations to build stronger and more prosperous economies for all our citizens for generations to come.

 Source: economist

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Inside The Strange, Paranoid World Of Julian Assange

The WikiLeaks founder is out to settle a score with Hillary Clinton and reassert himself as a player on the world stage, says BuzzFeed News special correspondent James Ball, who worked for Assange at WikiLeaks.

posted on Oct. 23, 2016, at 4:11 p.m.


BuzzFeed Special Correspondent

Carl Court / Getty Images

On 29 November 2010, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton stepped out in front of reporters to condemn the release of classified documents by WikiLeaks and five major news organisations the previous day.

WikiLeaks’ release, she said, “puts people’s lives in danger”, “threatens our national security”, and “undermines our efforts to work with other countries”.

“Releasing them poses real risks to real people,” she noted, adding, “We are taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information.”

Julian Assange watched that message on a television in the corner of a living room in Ellingham Hall, a stately home in rural Norfolk, around 120 miles away from London.

I was sitting around 8ft away from him as he did so, the room’s antique furniture and rugs strewn with laptops, cables, and the mess of a tiny organisation orchestrating the world’s biggest news story.

Minutes later, the roar of a military jet sounded sharply overhead. I looked around the room and could see everyone thinking the same thing, but no one wanting to say it. Surely not. Surely? Of course, the jet passed harmlessly overhead – Ellingham Hall is not far from a Royal Air Force base – but such was the pressure, the adrenaline, and the paranoia in the room around Assange at that time that nothing felt impossible.

Spending those few months at such close proximity to Assange and his confidants, and experiencing first-hand the pressures exerted on those there, have given me a particular insight into how WikiLeaks has become what it is today.

To an outsider, the WikiLeaks of 2016 looks totally unrelated to the WikiLeaks of 2010. Then it was a darling of many of the liberal left, working with some of the world’s most respected newspapers and exposing the truth behind drone killing, civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, and surveillance of top UN officials.

Now it is the darling of the alt-right, revealing hacked emails seemingly to influence a presidential contest, claiming the US election is “rigged”, and descending into conspiracy. Just this week on Twitter, it described the deaths by natural causes of two of its supporters as a “bloody year for WikiLeaks”, and warned of media outlets “controlled by” members of the Rothschild family – a common anti-Semitic trope.

The questions asked about the organisation and its leader are often the wrong ones: How has WikiLeaks changed so much? Is Julian Assange the catspaw of Vladimir Putin? Is WikiLeaks endorsing a president candidate who has been described as racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and more?

These questions miss a broader truth: Neither Assange nor WikiLeaks (and the two are virtually one and the same thing) have changed – the world they operate in has. WikiLeaks is in many ways the same bold, reckless, paranoid creation that once it was, but how that manifests, and who cheers it on, has changed. 

Julian Assange in the grounds of Ellingham Hall in December 2010. Carl Court / AFP / Getty Images

The cable release

Clinton’s condemnation of WikiLeaks and its partners’ release of classified cables was a simple requirement of her job. Even had she privately been an ardent admirer of the site – which seems unlikely – doing anything other than strongly condemning the leak was nonetheless never an option.

That’s not how it felt to anyone inside WikiLeaks at that moment, though. It was an anxiety-inducing time. WikiLeaks was the subject of every cable TV discussion, every newspaper front page, and press packs swarmed the gates of every address even tenuously connected to the site. Commentators called for arrest, deportation, rendition, or even assassination of Assange and his associates.

At the same time, WikiLeaks was having its payment accounts frozen by Visa and Mastercard, Amazon Web Services pulled hosting support, and Assange was jailed for a week in the UK (before being bailed) on unrelated charges relating to alleged sexual offences in Sweden.

Inside WikiLeaks, a tiny organisation with only a few hundred thousand dollars in the bank, such pressure felt immense. Most of the handful of people within came from a left-wing activist background, many were young and inexperienced, and few had much trust of the US government – especially after months of reading cables of US mistakes and overreactions in the Afghan and Iraq war logs, often with tragic consequences.

How might the US react, or overreact, this time? WikiLeaks was afraid of legal or extralegal consequences against Assange or other staff. WikiLeakers were angry at US corporations creating a financial blockade against the organisation with no court ruling or judgments – just a press statement from a US senator.

And the figurehead of this whole response was none other than Hillary Clinton. For Assange, to an extent, this is personal

Hillary Clinton in 2010, giving remarks condemning WikiLeaks’ release of classified embassy cables. Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

In the room

It’s unfair, or at least an oversimplification, to say that Assange is anti-American. He would say he supports the American people but believes its government, its politics, and its corporations are corrupt.

A result of this is that he doesn’t see the world in the way many Americans do, and has no intrinsic aversion to Putin or other strongmen with questionable democratic credentials on the world stage.

This shows in some of his supporters. A few days after Assange arrived with me and a few others at Ellingham Hall, an older man, introduced to us as “Adam”, turned up. Assange had invited independent freelance journalists from around the world to the country house to see cables relating to their country – usually no more than a few thousand at a time.

“Adam” was different: He immediately asked for everything relating to Russia, eastern Europe, and Israel – and got it, more than 100,000 documents in all. A few stray comments of his about “Jews” prompted a few concerns on my part, dismissed quickly by another WikiLeaker – “don’t be silly… He’s Jewish himself, isn’t he?”

A short while later, I learned “Adam”’s real identity, or at least the name he most often uses: He was Israel Shamir, a known pro-Kremlin and anti-Semitic writer. He had been photographed leaving the internal ministry of Belarus, and a free speech charity was concerned this meant the country’s dictator had access to the cables and their information on opposition groups in the country.

Assange showed no concern at these allegations, dismissing and ignoring them until the media required a response. Assange simply denied Shamir had ever had access to any documents.

This was untrue, Assange knew it was untrue, and I knew it was untrue — it was me, at Assange’s instructions, who gave them to him. A few days later, a reporter at a Russian publication wrote to WikiLeaks.

“I really can’t understand why Wikileaks is just cooperating with the magazine Russian reporter which never had a record of even slightly critising [sic] the Russian government,” they wrote.

“I contacted the person responsible for contacts with Wikileaks in Russia (Israel Shamir) but he told me we could not look at the cables ourselves and requested money which is not very convenient for us (not because of money but because we would like to go through the files as well).”

Anti-Semitism never seemed a major part of Assange’s agenda – I never heard him say a remark I caught as problematic in this way – but it was something he was happy to conveniently ignore in others. Support for Russia or its strongmen eastern European allies was much the same: tolerable for those who otherwise are allies of WikiLeaks and do as Assange says.

WikiLeaks has never had a problem with Russia: not then, not now. 

A supporter of Julian Assange stands outside Ecuador’s London embassy at a protest in 2012. Oli Scarff / Getty Images

A certain resemblance

Assange is routinely either so lionised by supporters or demonised by detractors that his real character is lost entirely.

Far from the laptop-obsessed autist he’s often seen as, he’s a charismatic speaker with an easy ability to dominate a room or a conversation. He may have little interest in listening to those around, but he can tell whether or not he has your attention and change his manner to capture it. He has, time and again, proven to be a savvy media manipulator, marching the mainstream media up the hill and down again to often damp-squib press conferences. His technical skills are not in doubt.

What’s often underestimated is his gift for bullshit. Assange can, and does, routinely tell obvious lies: WikiLeaks has deep and involved procedures; WikiLeaks was founded by a group of 12 activists, primarily from China; Israel Shamir never had cables; we have received information that [insert name of WikiLeaks critic] has ties to US intelligence.

At times, these lies are harmless and brilliant. When, on the day the state cables launched, WikiLeaks’ site wasn’t ready (we hadn’t even written the introductory text), the site was kept offline after a short DDoS attack, with Assange tweeting that the site was under an unprecedentedly huge attack.

Six hours later, when we were done, all eyes were looking: What was so bad in the cables that someone was working so hard to keep the site offline? The dramatic flourish worked, but other lies were dumb and damaging – and quickly eroded any kind of trust for those trying to work closely with him.

Redaction – possibly one of the clearest apparent changes between 2010 and 2016 WikiLeaks – became one of these trust issues. For Assange, redacting releases was essentially an issue of expediency: It would remove an attack line from the Pentagon and state, and keep media partners onside. For media outlets, it was the only responsible way to release such sensitive information.

These days, WikiLeaks routinely publishes information without redaction, and seemingly with only minimal pre-vetting. This is merely a change in expediency: There are no longer newspaper partners to keep onside. The results are a partial vindication for both sides – while it’s hard to dispute that some of WikiLeaks’ publication of private data has been needlessly reckless and invasive, there remains no evidence of any direct harm coming to someone as a result of a WikiLeaks release.

Conversely, Assange often trusts strangers more than those he knows well: He dislikes taking advice, he dislikes anyone else having a power base, and he dislikes being challenged – especially by women. He runs his own show his own way, and won’t delegate. He’s happy to play on the conspiratorial urges of others, with little sign as to whether or not he believes them himself.

There are few limits to how far Assange will go to try to control those around him. Those working at WikiLeaks – a radical transparency organisation based on the idea that all power must be accountable – were asked to sign a sweeping nondisclosure agreement covering all conversations, conduct, and material, with Assange having sole power over disclosure. The penalty for noncompliance was £12 million.

I refused to sign the document, which was sprung on me on what was supposed to be a short trip to a country house used by WikiLeaks. The others present – all of whom had signed without reading – then alternately pressured, cajoled, persuaded, charmed and pestered me to sign it, alone and in groups, until well past 4am.

Given how remote the house was, there was no prospect of leaving. I stayed the night, only to be woken very early by Assange, sitting on my bed, prodding me in the face with a stuffed giraffe, immediately once again pressuring me to sign. It was two hours later before I could get Assange off the bed so I could (finally) get some pants on, and many hours more until I managed to leave the house without signing the ridiculous contract. An apologetic staffer present for the farce later admitted they’d been under orders to “psychologically pressure” me until I signed.

And once you have fallen foul of Assange — challenged him too openly, criticised him in public, not toed the line loyally enough — you are done. There is no such thing as honest disagreement, no such thing as a loyal opposition differing on a policy or political stance.

To criticise Assange is to be a careerist, to sell your soul for power or advantage, to be a spy or an informer. To save readers a Google search or two, he would tell you I was in WikiLeaks as an “intern” for a period of “weeks”, and during that time acted as a mole for The Guardian, stole documents, and had potential ties to MI5. Compared to some who’ve criticised Assange, I got off fairly lightly.

Those who have faced the greatest torments are, of course, the two women who accused Assange of sexual offences in Sweden in the summer of 2010. The details of what happened over those few days remain a matter for the Swedish justice system, not speculation, but having seen and heard Assange and those around him discuss the case, having read out the court documents, and having followed the extradition case in the UK all the way to the supreme court, I can say it is a real, complicated sexual assault and rape case. It is no CIA smear, and it relates to Assange’s role at WikiLeaks only in that his work there is how they met.

Assange’s decision – and it was a decision – to elide his Swedish case with any possible US prosecution was a cynical one. It led many to support his cause alongside those of Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. And yet it is not: It is more difficult, not easier, to extradite Assange to the US from Sweden than from the UK, should Washington even wish to do so.

Assange coming to believe his own spin may be what’s been behind six years of effective imprisonment for him. No one is keeping him in the Ecuadorian embassy – where he has fallen out with his hosts – but himself, and a fear of losing face. But the women who began the case have lost at least as much, becoming for months and years two of the most hated figures on the internet, smeared as “whores”, “CIA spies”, and more. They will never get their time back.

Four photos of Julian Assange’s room in Ecuador’s London embassy, prepared for an internal report following an incident in which officials believe Assange toppled a bookshelf. Ecuadorian government report / Via

How it ends

All of this is the cocktail of ingredients that produces 2016’s incarnation of WikiLeaks. Julian Assange mistrusts the US government, dislikes Hillary Clinton, and has spent years trapped in a small embassy flat in west London, in declining physical and psychological health, monitored minute-by-minute in reports filed by his wary Ecuadorian hosts.

Assange would not, in my view, ever knowingly be a willing tool of the Russian state: If Putin came and gave him a set of orders, they’d be ignored. But if an anonymous or pseudonymous group came offering anti-Clinton leaks, they’d have found a host happy not to ask too many awkward questions: He’s set up almost perfectly to post them and push for them to have the biggest impact they can.

The poet Humbert Wolfe wrote, “You cannot hope to bribe or twist / (thank God!) the British journalist. / But, seeing what the man will do / unbribed, there’s no occasion to.”

Such is Russia’s good fortune with Assange. If it is indeed Russia behind the leaks, as US intelligence has reported, he will need no underhanded deals or motives to do roughly as they’d hope. He would do that of his own free will.

The question is whether Assange will end up disappointed. Assange believes WikiLeaks was a primary driver of the Arab Spring, which led to major uprisings in around a dozen countries. This is the stage on which Assange believes he plays — the equal of a world leader, still the biggest story in the world.

For a time, he was. While the extent of WikiLeaks’ role in the Arab Spring remains a matter for debate, Assange was at the forefront of an information revelation. His attempts to regain the spotlight in the meantime have largely failed.

WikiLeaks has republished public information as if a leak; published hacks obtained by Anonymous and Lulzsec for only moderate impact; and email caches of private intelligence companies of much less significance than what went before. Even Assange’s attempt to aid Edward Snowden was largely botched, leaving the whistleblower stranded in a Moscow airport for weeks. In recent weeks, Snowden has publicly clashed with Assange over the latter’s handling of the Democratic National Committee leaks.

@Snowden Opportunism won't earn you a pardon from Clinton & curation is not censorship of ruling party cash flows
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks)

Assange’s approach has taken WikiLeaks from the most powerful and connected force of a new journalistic era to a back-bedroom operation run at the tolerance (or otherwise) of Ecuador’s government. This is his shot at reclaiming the world stage, and settling a score with Hillary Clinton as he does so.

Assange is a gifted public speaker with a talent for playing the media struggling with an inability to scale up and professionalise his operation, to take advice, a man whose mission was often left on a backburner in his efforts to demonise his opponents.

These are traits often ascribed to Donald Trump, the main beneficiary of WikiLeaks’ activities through the reaction, and its modern-day champion during presidential debates. Those traits have left Assange a four-year resident of a Harrods hamper–laden single room in a London embassy.

It remains to be seen what they’ll do for Donald Trump.

James Ball is a special correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact James Ball at

Source: buzzfeed

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Making It in (Right-Wing) America


Dinesh D’Souza and the shame of immigrant self-hatred

By Jeet Heer

February 20, 2015
I have two shameful family secrets. The first is that when I was growing up, almost all gatherings of my extended clan would include buckets and buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a staple of our diet. The second and more serious source of self-mortification is that some of my kin—almost all of whom hail from rural India—sometimes vent anti-black racism.

These two focal points of embarrassment merged when I was 19 and went on a KFC run with a cousin I will call Amandeep. As our car glided into the parking lot, we saw a black family exiting the fast food joint. “Boy, black people sure love fried chicken,” Amandeep muttered. The comment angered as it baffled me: He clearly couldn’t see the irony of stereotyping black culture while heading for one of our regular KFC pick-ups. It was actually one of Amandeep’s more benign remarks. On other occasions he made Charles Murray-like forays into questions of black genetic inheritance and propensity toward crime.

I wish Amandeep’s racial theories were an anomaly, but he’s far from alone among South Asian immigrants. Anti-black racism, I’ve often thought, is one of the more unwholesome manifestations of assimilation. If blacks are near the bottom of the perceived racial hierarchy across North America, some enterprising immigrants find it useful to step on blacks as a way of climbing higher.

Racism among South Asians has some peculiar qualities; it’s not so much hatred of the other but the hatred of the almost-the-same, akin to a sibling rivalry. At the heart of this sort of immigrant racism is the desire to differentiate oneself from the group one could easily be identified with. As it happens, Amandeep is one of the most dark-hued members of my family. When he was small, his nickname in India was “kala” (Punjabi for black). I’ve sometimes thought that some discomfort at being labeled black contributed to his racial fixations.

Dinesh D’Souza, the right-wing provocateur whose history of incendiary racial comments stretches to his undergraduate days in the early 1980s, provides an interesting case study for the intersection of immigrant upward mobility and racism. D’Souza grabbed attention this week for a tweet about President Obama taking a selfie: “YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE GHETTO...Watch this vulgar man show his stuff, while America cowers in embarrassment.”

YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE GHETTO...Watch this vulgar man show his stuff, while America cowers in embarrassment — dineshdsouza 

This tweet was only the latest in a long career of racist hijinks. As student editor of the right-wing newspaper the Dartmouth Review, he published racially charged material. One D’Souza-edited article discussed affirmative action in Amos 'n' Andy dialect. “Now we be comin’ to Dartmut and be over our ‘fros in studies, but we still not be graduatin’ Phi Beta Kappa," the article read. In his 1995 book The End of Racism, D’Souza argued that “the old discrimination” has declined and been replaced by “rational discrimination” based “on accurate group generalizations.” During the Obama years, D’Souza has specialized in writing books and producing documentaries suggesting the President is motivated by anti-colonial hatred of Western civilization. After pleading guilty to campaign finance violations last year, D’Souza remains unbowed, casting himself as the victim of a political witch-hunt by the Obama administration. Amid this flurry, D’Souza continues to tweet ugliness like this and this.

undefined — AdamSerwer 

Obama forcefully asserts his position on Beheading — dineshdsouza

It’s tempting to dismiss D’Souza as an outlier. He’s aligned with the right-wing of the Republican party, while the vast majority of American South Asians identify as Democrats. Still, anyone who spends time among South Asians will recognize the popular currency of attitudes like D’Souza's. Moreover, D’Souza indicates a wider problem, given that one of the Republican Party's most prominent Islamophobic voices is Louisana Governor Bobby Jindal, a South Asian. D’Souza's racism and Jindal's xenophobia find a more muted parallel in the career of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, whose advancement includes suppressing public references to her Sikh heritage and being presented by her campaign as a “proud Christian woman.” The careers of D’Souza, Jindal, and Haley carry an implicit message: Racial minorities can advance in the GOP by erasing their ethnic identity and/or attacking other minorities.

D’Souza’s racism makes sense if we view it as part of his long effort to succeed in a right-wing milieu that is both anti-Indian and anti-black. Within that context, D’Souza has given saliency to anti-black racism to compensate for a potentially embarrassing background as a Mumbai-born immigrant. Is D’Souza sincere in his beliefs or simply an intellectual mercenary? It’s impossible to know for sure. What can be said with certainty is that as an Indian willing to voice anti-black sentiment, D’Souza has carved out a lucrative niche for himself, enjoying a national audience from the time he was an undergraduate.

D’Souza’s mentor at the Dartmouth Review was the English professor Jeffrey Hart, who also served as a senior editor at National Review. The college paper was founded in Hart’s living room, and he was the de facto career counselor who guided D’Souza and other Dartmouth alumni into the world of right-wing journalism. Hart's work from the '70s onward offers a clear philosophical foundation and tactical guide to D'Souza's writings during Obama's presidency.

In 1975, Hart published a startling review of Jean Raspail’s xenophobic novel The Camp of Saints, a didactic tract warning of the dangers of mass immigration from India and other poor countries. The novel celebrates the heroism of a ragtag band of right-wing heroes (including a tank commander and a duke) who wage a sniper campaign against the refugees. “In this novel Raspail brings his reader to the surprising conclusion that killing a million or so starving refugees from India would be a supreme act of individual sanity and cultural health,” Hart wrote in a National Review rave (September 26, 1975) that compared the book to modern masterpieces by James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence. “Raspail is to genocide," Hart continued, "what Lawrence was to sex."

Hart’s praise of Raspail’s novel might seem at odds with his sponsorship of D’Souza’s career. But even in reviewing The Camp of Saints, Hart distinguishes between good immigrants who assimilate to white culture and the refugee horde who must be exterminated. As Hart notes, Raspail’s novel features a character named Hamadura, “a very black Indian” who “has lived in France and become completely assimilated by Western Civilization.” As the character notes: “Being white isn’t really a question of color. It’s a whole mental outlook.” In his prize student D’Souza, Hart found his own version of Hamadura: a “very black Indian” who has the mental outlook of a white conservative.

In its stark division of the world between the West and the threatening chaos of the non-white world, Hart’s review was an exercise in imperial nostalgia that D’Souza later echoed when he complained that Obama suffers from a Kenyan, “anticolonialist” mindset. (Others have followed D'Souza in attacking Obama with that phrase. The latest: Rudy Giuliani.)

Hart's brand of imperial nostalgia pervades the wider National Review conservatism that shaped D’Souza’s worldview. A foundational text in this weltanschauung is James Burnham’s Suicide of the West (1964), which D’Souza cited in his book What’s So Great About America (2002). Thematically, Burnham pioneered many of the themes D’Souza has expanded upon in books like The Roots of Obama’s Rage (2010) and Obama’s America (2012): the insidiousness of white liberal guilt in disarming the West, the underappreciated virtues of imperialism and manifest destiny, the need to affirm the unequivocal cultural superiority of Western civilization. Among the founding editors of National Review, Burnham was second only to William F. Buckley in importance. His book is key to understanding the contradictions of D’Souza's role in the conservative movement as a non-white advocate for “the West.”

As with Jeffrey Hart, Burnham combined a scorn for the great mass of Indians and African Americans with a belief that a few non-whites might be of some service to the West. At one point Burnham offers an anecdote about the folly of liberals who overestimate the intelligence of South Asians and "Africans":

“I recall an evening not long ago that I spent with one of the country’s most distinguished historians, who is a liberal à outrance. As the night wore on, he got somewhat more tight than was his habit; and at one point he remarked, more to his fifth gin and tonic than to the rest of us, ‘In the last ten years I’ve had several hundred Indian and Pakistani and lately Africans in my graduate courses, and I’ve given out many an ‘A,’ and never flunked any of them; and there hasn’t yet been a single one who was a really first-class student.’”

Elsewhere in Suicide of the West, Burnham heaps scorn on the efforts of the Kennedy and Johnson administration to end food insecurity in poor countries—projects which led to the Green Revolution, sparing millions of lives in India and elsewhere.

Yet if Burnham had little use for Indians and Africans as scholars and harbored no concern for preventing their starvation, he does see a use for them as soldiers. “There have been few better fighting formations than the elite brigades of Gurkhas or Sikhs trained and led by professional British officers,” Burnham wrote in Suicide of the West. “Those tall, powerful black and brown men that France recruited from a French West Africa and trained in the tradition of Gallieni and Lyautey were nearly as good, though….These splendid fighting men of the Gurkhas, Sikhs, Senegalese and Berbers are not the least of the grievous losses that the West has suffered from the triumphs of decolonization.”

Burnham’s loyal and fighting trim Gurkhas and Sikhs are the military counterpart to Raspail’s Hamadura. Such figures function in the right-wing imagination in the crucial role of the ethnic sidekick, providing the sort of support that the Lone Ranger received from Tonto and the Green Hornet from Kato. Their skin color might be non-white, but they are trustworthy defenders of the West, as eager as D’Souza to fend off any Kenyan anti-colonial threats.

Thanks to the help of Jeffrey Hart, D’Souza started writing for National Review in 1981, while still an undergraduate. D'Souza adopted the ideological prism of his National Review mentors and carried it duly, proving his loyalty to the American ideal by championing white culture and showing contempt for its black counterpart. Obama's election in 2008 created a niche on the right for a person of color—an immigrant, even—to slag the president as being un-American. D'Souza had been preparing for such a role since college.

One of the saddest things about D’Souza’s racism is that it’s clearly built on some element of self-hatred. By aligning himself with figures like Hart and Burnham, he chose a form of upward mobility that required abasing himself before those who despised his heritage.

Most South Asians do not follow such a dim path. D’Souza and many others have benefited from the African American Civil Rights Movement. Prior to 1965, America set severely restrictive quotas on immigration from non-white countries such as India. The creation of a more generous and less racist immigration policy came about as a direct result of civil rights agitation and the work of liberals such as Ted Kennedy. Going back at least a century, South Asians and African-Americans have made common cause in fights against colonialism and racism: It’s no accident that Martin Luther King Jr. cited Gandhi as a predecessor, or that Bayard Rustin supported Indian independence. In choosing to align with and carry on the imperial nostalgia of Burnham and Hart, D’Souza betrays that less profitable but ultimately richer tradition.

Jeet Heer is a senior editor at the New Republic. @HeerJeet

Source: newrepublic

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How Hackers Broke Into John Podesta and Colin Powell’s Gmail Accounts


October 20, 2016 // 09:30 AM EST 

On March 19 of this year, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta received an alarming email that appeared to come from Google.

The email, however, didn’t come from the internet giant. It was actually an attempt to hack into his personal account. In fact, the message came from a group of hackers that security researchers, as well as the US government, believe are spies working for the Russian government. At the time, however, Podesta didn’t know any of this, and he clicked on the malicious link contained in the email, giving hackers access to his account. 

Months later, on October 9, WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of Podesta’s hacked emails. Almost everyone immediately pointed the finger at Russia, who is suspected of being behind a long and sophisticated hacking campaign that has the apparent goal of influencing the upcoming US elections. But there was no public evidence proving the same group that targeted the Democratic National Committee was behind the hack on Podesta—until now. 

The data linking a group of Russian hackers—known as Fancy Bear, APT28, or Sofacy—to the hack on Podesta is also yet another piece in a growing heap of evidence pointing toward the Kremlin. And it also shows a clear thread between apparently separate and independent leaks that have appeared on a website called DC Leaks, such as that of Colin Powell’s emails; and the Podesta leak, which was publicized on WikiLeaks. 

All these hacks were done using the same tool: malicious short URLs hidden in fake Gmail messages. And those URLs, according to a security firm that’s tracked them for a year, were created with Bitly account linked to a domain under the control of Fancy Bear. 

The phishing email that Podesta received on March 19 contained a URL, created with the popular Bitly shortening service, pointing to a longer URL that, to an untrained eye, looked like a Google link. 

A screenshot of the Bitly link used against John Podesta.

Inside that long URL, there’s a 30-character string that looks like gibberish but is actually the encoded Gmail address of John Podesta. According to Bitly’s own statistics, that link, which has never been published, was clicked two times in March. 

That’s the link that opened Podesta’s account to the hackers, a source close to the investigation into the hack confirmed to Motherboard. 

That link is only one of almost 9,000 links Fancy Bear used to target almost 4,000 individuals from October 2015 to May 2016. Each one of these URLs contained the email and name of the actual target. The hackers created them with with two Bitly accounts in their control, but forgot to set those accounts to private, according to SecureWorks, a security firm that’s been tracking Fancy Bear for the last year. 

SecureWorks was tracking known Fancy Bear command and control domains. One of these lead to a Bitly shortlink, which led to the Bitly account, which led to the thousands of Bitly URLs that were later connected to a variety of attacks, including on the Clinton campaign. With this privileged point of view, for example, the researchers saw Fancy Bear using 213 short links targeting 108 email addresses on the domain, as the company explained in a somewhat overlooked report earlier this summer, and as BuzzFeed reported last week.

Using Bitly allowed “third parties to see their entire campaign including all their targets— something you'd want to keep secret,” Tom Finney, a researcher at SecureWorks, told Motherboard. 

It was one of Fancy Bear’s “gravest mistakes,” as Thomas Rid, a professor at King's College who has closely studied the case, put it in a new piece published on Thursday in Esquire, as it gave researchers unprecedented visibility into the activities of Fancy Bear, linking different parts of its larger campaign together. 

This is how researchers have been able to find the phishing link that tricked Colin Powell and got him hacked. This also allowed them to confirm other public reports of compromises, such as that of William Rinehart, a staffer with Clinton’s presidential campaign. As The Smoking Gun reported in August, Rinehart received a malicious Google security alert on March 22, according to a screenshot Rinehart shared with the site. SecureWorks found a URL that had Rinehart’s Gmail address encoded, which had the same date. 


A screenshot of the phishing email received by Rinehart. (Image: The Smoking Gun)


A screenshot of the malicious Bitly URL received by Rinehart.

Similar malicious emails and short URLs have also been used recently against independent journalists from Bellingcat, a website that has investigated the incident of the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over Ukraine in 2014, finding evidence that Russian-backed rebels were behind it.


A screenshot of a phishing email received by a Bellingcat journalist.

Other journalists in eastern Europe have also recently been targeted with phishing emails trying to break into their Gmail accounts. 
These malicious emails, just like the ones used against Podesta, Powell, Rinehart and many others, looked like Google alerts, and contained the same type of encoded strings hiding the victims’ names.

It’s unclear why the hackers used the encoded strings, which effectively reveal their targets to anyone. Kyle Ehmke, a threat intelligence researcher at security firm ThreatConnect, argued that “the strings might help them keep track of or better organize their operations, tailor credential harvesting pages to specific victims, monitor the effectiveness of their operations, or diffuse their operations against various targets across several URLs to facilitate continuity should one of the URLs be discovered.” 

The use of popular link shortening services such as Bitly or Tinyurl might have a simpler explanation. According to Rid, the hackers probably wanted to make sure their phishing attempts went past their targets' spam filters. 

None of this new data constitutes a smoking gun that can clearly frame Russia as the culprit behind the almost unprecedented hacking campaign that has hit the DNC and several other targets somewhat connected to the US presidential election. 

Almost two weeks ago, the US government took the rare step of publicly pointing the finger at the Russian government, accusing it of directing the recent string of hacks and data breaches. The intelligence community declined to explain how they reached their conclusion, and it’s fair to assume they have data no one else can see. 

”They don’t want to understand the evidence.”

This newly uncovered data paints an even clearer picture for the public, showing a credible link between the several leaking outlets chosen by the hackers, and, once again, pointing toward Fancy Bear, a notorious hacking group that’s widely believed to be connected with the Russian government. While there are still naysayers, including presidential candidate and former reality TV star Donald Trump, for many, the debate over who hacked the DNC, and who’s behind all this hacking, is pretty much closed. 

“We are approaching the point in this case where there are only two reasons for why people say there’s no good evidence,” Rid told me. “The first reason is because they don’t understand the evidence—because the don’t have the necessary technical knowledge. The second reason is they don’t want to understand the evidence.” 

UPDATE, 10/20/2016, 4:31 p.m.: After publication of this story, Bitly sent Motherboard a statement to say the company can only do so much to prevent malicious actors from using its service, as it "cannot proactively police our customers’ private data without compromising our commitment to their privacy."

"The links and accounts related to this situation were blocked as soon as we were informed. This is not an exploit of Bitly, but an unfortunate exploit of Internet users through social engineering. It serves as a reminder that even the savviest, most skeptical users can be vulnerable to opening unsolicited emails," the statement read. 

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Source: motherboard

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