Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Tata's failure - Another nail for Indian corporate power?

Jayati Ghose in The Guardian

Thousands of steelworkers’ jobs are threatened as Indian company Tata threatens to walk away from its loss-making business in the UK. The move is causing shockwaves over the health of Britain’s manufacturing industry; but it is also a strong indicator of changing political and economic winds in India.

When Tata Steel acquired the steel giant Corus in 2007, it generated some cheers in India, but also raised eyebrows. The cheers were loudest among those who saw this as a macho declaration of Indian corporate arrival on the global scene. The purchase by Tata Steel of a company that was four times larger than itself made it at a stroke the fifth largest steel producer in the world and the first Fortune 500 multinational company from India.

But there were concerns over both the timing and the price at which the purchase was made. To fend off a Brazilian rival, Tata had to pay a 70% premium over the stock price. This was hefty for a company already in financial trouble with a large debt burden. And Tata paid only $4bn (£2.8bn) of the estimated $14bn final price out of its own funds – the rest was borrowed, mainly from Indian public sector banks.

Why were taxpayer-funded banks so willing to lend to a big conglomerate to buy up an overpriced European company, even as they denied loans to Indian farmers and small-scale producers? The sense of reversal of colonial roles might well have played a role. The deal was lauded by politicians as a sign that Indian industry had come of age as a global player, and so prudent considerations were simply cast aside.

Repayment of those loans was supposed to be made out of the profits of Tata Steel Europe. But those profits never came. At the time of acquisition Corus made an annual profit of about $800m, but since then the company has shown only losses – despite numerous rounds of restructuring, job cuts, asset sales and “modernisation”. In the past six months the company has shed around 3,500 jobs in the UK, but the financial indicators look worse than ever. This could result from incompetent management, but it also reflects worsening global conditions.

In Europe steel demand has been falling continuously over recent years, and there is fierce competition as Chinese exporters lower prices to cope with their own massive over-capacity. No one in the world really expects much dynamism from the European economy in the coming years.

By contrast, Indian steel demand is still increasing, if slowly, and the Indian operations still make profits. Tata Steel is now hugely weighed down by the UK business, which also accounts for around a third of its total debt. The charm of owning a big British company may no longer be enough to compensate. Instead, the urge is to cut losses and move out of an area that does not look likely to generate profits anytime soon.

Maybe the company also hopes the mere threat of exit will make the British government react by providing more subsidies – a technique that has worked in the past in India and elsewhere.

 ‘The Indian businessman Vijay Mallya fled to the UK and is now ensconced in his mansion in a London suburb.’ Photograph: Saurabh Das/AP

But this episode could also reflect collateral damage from another corporate scandal currently enthralling India. The flashy liquor baron Vijay Mallya, whose company Kingfisher Airlines (named after the beer his other company produces) collapsed, was also a major beneficiary of largesse from Indian banks. He now has unpaid debts of about £730m that he’s failed to pay for several years. Since he is also an elected member of the upper house of parliament, voted in by the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, this has caused a political outcry.

When the supreme court of India indicted him for abuse of law and ordered him to pay up or face the consequences, Mallya fled to the UK and is now ensconced in his mansion in a London suburb. He has offered to pay just over half of what he owes in six months’ time, an offer yet to be accepted. But his story must have raised concerns within Tata and among other large Indian businesses with huge debt – that even if the government spares them, the Indian courts may not.

So for now, Indian corporate chiefs planning to invest in the UK are more likely to be looking at real estate, rather than at multinational businesses.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Poetry or property punts: what's driving China's love affair with Cambridge?

David Cox in The Guardian

On the edge of Scholar’s Piece, the strip of farmland just behind King’s College, lies a granite stone which has become arguably Cambridge’s most coveted tourist attraction.

For the many students who amble past it every day, it’s easily missed; placed rather innocuously next to the bridge that joins Scholar’s Piece to the rest of the college. But for the thousands of Chinese tourists who travel to Cambridge every year, it is this, rather than the city’s grand 15th-century chapel, meticulously manicured lawns or historical statues, that they’ve come to see.

Carved into the stone are the first and last lines of a poem that has gone down in Chinese folklore. Titled Farewell to Cambridge, it was written in 1928 by Xu Zhimo, a 31-year-old poet and writer who was revisiting King’s after studying there in the early 20s.

Zhimo died three years later in a plane crash, but he would go down as a cult figure in modern Chinese history, immortalised through his premature and tragic end, illicit love affairs and success in introducing western forms into Chinese literature.

The ‘Farewell to Cambridge’ stone. Photograph:Historyworks/Flickr

And while Zhimo spent most of his life in China, Farewell to Cambridge has become his legacy. It is now part of China’s national curriculum, taught to all schoolchildren as an example of the modern poetry movement in the early 20th century.

“The poem is something we’ve all heard of,” says Pei-Ling Lau from Beijing, who is visiting King’s and seeing Zhimo’s stone for the first time. She studied his poem as a compulsory exam text when she was 15: “It’s been adapted into many pop songs too. It paints such a lovely picture of punting in Cambridge, but it wasn’t until I came here that I realised how beautifully it describes the river. It’s special for Chinese people as the life and story of Xu Zhimo is well known, and this was his city. We want to come here and experience that.”

And come they do. Numbers of Chinese tourists visiting the UK have soared in recent years from 115,000 in 2009 to 336,000 in 2014, following the relaxation ofvisa restrictions to Chinese nationals in 2013. With further amendments in the pipeline to boost this lucrative tourist trade, these figures are only set to increase.

But the Chinese are not just interested in Cambridge as a holiday location; they also view it as a key region for property investment. Cambridge’s house prices are soaring, with new figures revealing they have increased by 50% since 2010, driven in large part by the ongoing biotech boom in science parks around the city. And wealthy Chinese appear keen to cash in: the estate agents Savills estimate that in the past year, one in 20 new-build homes across the city and surrounding villages have been bought by Chinese owners.

Looking to invest? … Tourists enjoy a punt tour along the river. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA

“There is undoubtedly interest in Cambridge as a place to live from Chinese buyers,” says Ed Meyer, head of residential at Savills Cambridge. “But as well as an investment, the major driver for this is education. The majority of Chinese buyers are coming here with younger children, to try and integrate them into Cambridge society and the schools round here, with the view that they will hopefully go to the university in future. And Xu Zhimo’s legacy definitely seems to be ingrained in their psyche. At some point they always explain, ‘Oh, and we know about Cambridge because we learnt about it in the poem at school.’”

Cambridge’s academic reputation is instilled into virtually all Chinese children at a young age. While domestic universities such as Peking and Tsinghua are respected, those who can afford it are increasingly opting to put their money into sending their children abroad for schooling, with the hope of gaining them an edge in a hyper-competitive job market when they return home. Such are the employability benefits associated with a Cambridge education that increasing numbers are sending their children to the various “feeder schools” around the city to boost their chances of a successful application.

Cambridge PhD student Zongyin Yang. Photograph: David Cox

“The reputations of the great universities are passed down from parents to children,” says Zongyin Yang, a PhD student at Cambridge who grew up in Wenzhou. “There’s a respect and curiosity which is instilled at a young age. It’s why Chinese families bring their toddlers to see the campuses. Most children grow up hearing about these ‘dream places’.”

According to China’s Ministry of Education, 459,800 students enrolled at overseas universities in 2014, an increase of 11.1% on the previous year. Of these, 423,000 were entirely funded by their families. And at the top of their list is Cambridge: Chinese students make up the largest ethnic population at the university, with a total of around 900 enrolled for the current academic year.

“A Cambridge degree is definitely perceived to be superior in the recruitment process due to the strength of the brand name,” says Zheng Yao, who studied at Cambridge before returning to Beijing. “There’s a widespread perception that your earning potential in China will be much greater – but the reality is quite different. Pay for new graduates is in fact very limited, no matter where you’ve studied.”

Volatile market

Buying property in Cambridge also makes financial sense for Chinese families looking to invest their money outside of the increasingly volatile market back home. “Chinese parents would rather their children pay rent to them than to another landowner, keeping the money in the family,” explains Keri Wong, a Cambridge student from Guangzhou. “And while the Chinese middle classes have a lot of savings, the market at home is regarded as really unstable. UK property is an attractive divestment. Plus property investment presents the option of being able to eventually gain UK residency status.”

We don’t want our housing market going through a boom-or-bust cycle based on the Chinese economyDuncan Stott

But not everyone is welcoming the new residents. “At some point the world economy will shift and overseas investors will decide that they’re better placing their money elsewhere,” says Duncan Stott, of the local campaign groupPricedOut. “But we don’t want our housing market going through a boom-or-bust cycle based on the Chinese economy. We need a more stable housing market so prices aren’t going to be going up faster than people can earn, before plunging and dropping people into negative equity.”

Stott and many others are especially unhappy about the trend of overseas buyers purchasing homes entirely for investment purposes and leaving them empty for several years, before selling them at a profit. While council taxes are raised on empty properties, the inflation in their price means this does not prove a deterrent. Kevin Price, Cambridge’s executive councillor for housing, says there are currently 240 homes in the city sitting empty.

Is it fair to blame this on the interest from China in particular? “Houses are a safe, strong investment which appeals to people both overseas and those already living here,” says David Bentley, of estate agent Bidwells. “Cambridge is a global brand, so it’s not just the Chinese looking to invest here. We’ve seen a big influx of Russian money too. And the Chinese are typically buying not just as an investment, but for their children, sometimes even before they’ve reached school age.”

The link between Cambridge and China goes back to the 19th century, when the university reformed itself based on the Chinese imperial examination system, before launching the UK’s first professorship of Chinese in 1888.

Two centuries on, the link only looks set to strengthen. With the Home Office launching a new visa system that allowsChinese tourists to make multiple visits over a two-year period, and school and university applications rising every year, the distinct Chinese presence in the city is surely only going to grow.

And for local residents already worried that Cambridge’s housing supply isn’t keeping up with demand, the potential impact of such interest remains a concern – even if, as Bentley points out, the percentage of purchases from overseas buyers is still relatively small.

“It’s a difficult problem to do anything about, but having such strong interest from Chinese buyers just puts even more pressure on an already strained housing market,” Stott adds. “It simply makes it more and more difficult for people who already live here to be able to own their own homes.”

Are you a grammar pedant? This might be why

David Shariatmadari in The Guardian

When you picture a “grammar nazi”, what does that person look like?

Are they old or young? Male or female? Professorial or blue-collar?

A new study suggests they could be any of those things. In an experiment involving 80 Americans from a range of backgrounds, linguists Julie Boland and Robin Queen found no significant links between a judgmental attitude towards “typos” and “grammos” and gender, age or level of education.

So you can’t tell if someone hunts down misprints and writes letters to editors just by looking at them. If you know something about the way they experience the world, though, you might be able to take an educated guess.

Introverts, it turns out, are more likely to get annoyed at both typos and grammos. Not only that; they’ll probably not want to share their lives with you if you’re particularly error-prone.

Boland and Queen tested people’s reactions to emails responding to an ad for a housemate. Some of them contained typos, some grammos and some were perfectly written. They were then asked whether they agreed with statements like “the writer seems friendly”, “the writer seems considerate”, “the writer seems trustworthy”. Their ratings were combined to produce an overall “good housemate” score.

They then had to fill out questionnaires about their own personalities, based on the “big five” traits – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

And that’s how the researchers found that introverts were more likely than extraverts to rate people as poor potential housemates if their spelling or grammar was bad. There were other findings – agreeable people, perhaps unsurprisingly, were easygoing when it came to grammos. Conscientious people tended to see typos as a problem. Levels of neuroticism, oddly enough, didn’t predict any kind of penchant for pet peeves.

But the finding about introversion is intriguing, because it’s harder to understand.

First, a word about what makes an introvert. It’s not the same as being shy. The following quote summarises one common view, associated with psychologist Hans Eysenck.

Eysenck’s theory was that extroverts have just a slightly lower basic rate of arousal. The effect is that they need to work a little harder to get themselves up to the level others find normal and pleasant without doing anything. Hence the need for company, seeking out novel experiences and risks. Conversely, highly introverted individuals find themselves overstimulated by things others might find merely pleasantly exciting or engaging.

I spoke to Robin Queen. “We hadn’t quite anticipated that introversion would have the effect it did,” she told me.

“I found myself asking: this is weird – why would it be the case that introverts care more?”

Queen isn’t an expert in the study of personality – she’s a linguist – but she has a hunch. “My guess is that introverts have more sensitivity to variability.” That could make variations from the norm like mistakes – which require extra processing that increases arousal – more irksome.

“Maybe there’s something about extraverts that makes them less bothered by it. Because extraverts enjoy variability and engaging with people. They find that energising. This could be an indirect manifestation of that.”

I would describe myself as an introvert (I just took two “big five” personality tests and scored 42/100 and 47/100 for extraversion, so maybe I’m more of a people-person than I thought). I’m also an editor, with more than a passing interest in language. Two forces compete within me when I see a grammo or worse. As a linguist, I know that meaning is use – so, if lots of people use “disinterested” to mean “uninterested”, well, that’s now part of its meaning. Error is the engine of language change. Error is inevitable.

But at the same time, I feel something akin to having a stone in my shoe when I see a mistake. It acts as an irritant. If I had to relate that to my introversion, then I would say a sense of order and predictability is important to me. I like it when things are under control.

I’m not sure whether that makes me a good housemate or not. But I can spot a dangling modifier a mile off.

Apple v FBI - Some Uncomfortable Truths

‘We must not lose sight of corporate power.’ Grand Central, an installation by Valentin Ruhry, cleverly subverts digital consumer culture with a product display featuring everyday objects found at a train station. MAK GALLERY, Vienna, 2014, curated by Marlies Wirth. Courtesy of Christine König Galerie, Vienna.

Julia Powles and Enrique Chaparro in The Guardian

It has been a spectacular six-week showdown – the world’s most valuable brand, Apple, pitted against the powerful American agents of the FBI. Two titans of spin, locked in a fast-moving battle over a dead terrorist’s smartphone. Now, as dramatically as it exploded, the FBI’s legal demand that Apple help it crack the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino killers has evaporated – the agents hacked their way in anyway, assisted by a mysterious third party.

There was always more to the Apple v FBI case than met the eye – and it is true for this latest twist too. The biggest issue is that both sides stand to gain a lot more from this battle than any of us. With little relation to reality, and backed by a worryingly partisan chorus, the notoriously closed Apple is emerging as a champion of users’ rights. Equally worryingly, a government agency is claiming the power to keep to itself a tool that can potentially break security features on millions of phones, while earmarking a demand for further judicial or legislative intervention in the future. Whichever way you look, this feud is far from a road to freedom in the digital environment.

Breaching Fortress Apple

From the FBI’s side, it seems clear that the case was opportunistically selected. No one wants to defend a terrorist. And after hammering on about law enforcement “going dark” on secured communications, the authorities were salivating for a pin-up case. Terror on home soil provided it.

But the FBI failed to account for one thing: the fallout of enraging a cultish brand on top of the most guarded, controlling ecosystem that computing has ever seen. Apple, incensed at the idea of anyone trespassing on its authority, went public – an equally opportunistic move, straight from the Taylor Swift playbook. And in so doing, Apple debunked the FBI’s otherwise earnest rhetoric that it only wanted to get at one iPhone, from one terrorist.

The key fact is that the FBI demanded a general tool: a modified operating system able to circumvent certain user-set security features in any given iPhone. There are clear dangers in bringing such a tool into existence. As forensics expert Jonathan Ździarski puts it, this is “a bomb on a leash”; a leash that can be undone, legally or otherwise. The FBI’s last-minute deferral of the court hearing in this case would, ideally, have been the enlightened recognition of this reality, as well as the multiple case-handling incompetencies and dubious legal foundations of the FBI’s request. Bizarrely, the withdrawal was on another ground: a third party had emerged with a hack. With the case now wholly dropped, we have a new danger: a classified bomb held by the FBI and unknown third-party hackers – but not by Apple, the one party capable of defusing it.

These facts are as much as the public debate has countenanced, resulting in predictable mud-slinging between techies and bureaucrats; big tech and big brother. What this misses is that this case has been a cause célèbre all along because it presents minimal threat to vested interests and power.

Apple v FBI was never the mother of all privacy battles. It is and always has been a security battle, between alleged national security and individual security, fought over a landscape of increasing insecurity.

It is this insecurity – existing, pervasive, worsening, global vulnerability of our infrastructure, communications and rights – that has been the greatest deception in this battle to date. Because despite how Apple has portrayed itself and been valorized by the media, phones are not impregnable, nor are our data and the platforms they reside on. Not by a long shot. The outside hack proves just that: if an external source that decided to cooperate with the FBI could break into the phone, and in shockingly short time, other less savory sources could do so too.

This case should be a tremendous opportunity for a global conversation about technology fragility. We need responsible leadership that recognizes that there is no such thing as perfect security, and that responds with restraint and redundancy, rather than a headlong tumble into connecting all the things.

Coupled to this must be a specific concession at the heart of the case and the unsatisfactory truce now reached. Digital locks and picks, by their very nature, are binary – they work for all or for none. In the current state of the art, it isimpossible to manufacture what the FBI wants: implanted vulnerabilities, or “backdoors”, that work exclusively for “good guys with a warrant”. Whatever the FBI is holding now, it suffers from this reality. But the problem is also bigger than that. As renowned computer security expert Matt Blaze describes the essence of the dilemma: “We can’t discuss how to make our systems secure with backdoors until we can figure out how to do it without backdoors.”

Boxing in the shadows of vast corporate power

This case, and others like it, are also an opportunity for a deep and reaching conversation about corporate power, and about the increasing intrusion of tech majors into democratic space. This is an angle that has been worryingly absent in most of the case’s commentary.

Regardless of the merits of its position, many of the arguments that have been marshaled at Apple’s feet in recent weeks set a dangerous, potentially pernicious trend. In particular, the argument that corporations are subjects entitled to human rights such as freedom of expression is deeply problematic, undermining reasonable regulation and presenting a destabilizing influence on democracy. The black box society is real, and this case and inevitable future iterations of the same battle have every indication of making it worse.

So we are at the crossroads. And out in the cold. Many decisive questions still remain open, and despite the reams of technical jargon written about this case, its core is not primarily technical, but political.

Under ideal circumstances, and privilege against self-incrimination aside, we should expect that any society would reasonably cooperate with law enforcement to investigate heinous crimes. But what is the most rational response to take when authorities such as the FBI, as well as lawmakers around the world,continue to overreach in their demands, seemingly unwilling to protect an already fragile technology ecosystem and our rights within it?

At the same time, the sheer scale of corporate power challenges the very foundations of democracy, while keeping us locked within walled gardens. Apple,Google, Facebook and the rest have received a tremendous windfall from this case, with nothing more than their words to induce our trust. But trust must be earned. It is predicated on transparency and it demands accountability, not marketing and press releases. Big tech will maintain privacy (or whatever theydefine as privacy) as far as it is convenient for their business. And when it is not, they will gladly forgo it. Apple is no more immune to this than any other business, and we should be as vigilant about its power as we are about any government.

Political, legal and technical solutions (in that order) for these problems may exist. Only honest, open, democratic discussion can find them.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

FBI-Apple case: Investigators break into dead San Bernardino gunman's iPhone

BBC News
The FBI has managed to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino gunman without Apple's help, ending a court case, the US justice department says.
Apple had been resisting a court order issued last month requiring the firm to write new software to allow officials to access Syed Rizwan Farook's phone.
But officials on Monday said that it had been accessed independently and asked for the order to be withdrawn.
Farook and his wife killed 14 in San Bernardino, California, in December.
They were later shot dead by police.
The FBI said it needed access to the phone's data to determine if the attackers worked with others, were targeting others and were supported by others.
US officials said Farook's wife, Tashfeen Malik, had pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State on social media on the day of the shooting.
Last week, prosecutors said "an outside party" had demonstrated a possible way of unlocking the iPhone without the need to seek Apple's help.
A court hearing with Apple was postponed at the request of the justice department, while it investigated new ways of accessing the phone.
At the time, Apple said it did not know how to gain access, and said it hoped that the government would share with them any vulnerabilities of the iPhone that might come to light. 
On Monday a statement by Eileen Decker, the top federal prosecutor in California, said investigators had received the help of "a third party", but did not specify who that was.
Investigators had "a solemn commitment to the victims of the San Bernardino shooting", she said.
"It remains a priority for the government to ensure that law enforcement can obtain crucial digital information to protect national security and public safety, either with co-operation from relevant parties, or through the court system when co-operation fails," the statement added.
Responding to the move, Apple said: "From the beginning, we objected to the FBI's demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government's dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought."
The company said it would "continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated".
Grey line

Analysis: Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter

The court case that had the US technology industry united against the FBI has for the time being gone away.
Now this debate moves into more uncertain territory. The US government has knowledge of a security vulnerability that in theory weakens Apple devices around the world.
To protect its reputation, Apple will rush to find and fix that flaw. Assuming it can do that, this row is back to square one.
Therefore Apple has called for the matter to remain part of the "national conversation", while the US department of justice says it will still try to use the courts to compel Apple and other phone makers to help with future investigations.
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An Israeli newspaper last week reported that data forensics experts at cybersecurity firm Cellebrite, which has its headquarters in Israel, are involved in the case.
Cellebrite told the BBC that it works with the FBI but would not say more.
Its website, however, states that one of its tools can extract and decode data from the iPhone 5C, the model in question, among other locked handsets.
The court order had led to a vigorous debate over privacy, with Apple receiving support from other tech giants including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.
FBI director James Comey said it was the "hardest question" he had tackled in his job.
However, he said, law enforcement saved lives, rescued children and prevented terror attacks using search warrants that gave it access to information on mobile phones.

This may shock you: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest

Jill Abramson in The Guardian

Hillary Clinton

It’s impossible to miss the “Hillary for Prison” signs at Trump rallies. At one of the Democratic debates, the moderator asked Hillary Clinton whether she would drop out of the race if she were indicted over her private email server. “Oh for goodness – that is not going to happen,” she said. “I’m not even going to answer that question.”

Based on what I know about the emails, the idea of her being indicted or going to prison is nonsensical. Nonetheless, the belief that Clinton is dishonest and untrustworthy is pervasive. A recent New York Times-CBS poll found that 40% of Democrats say she cannot be trusted.

For decades she’s been portrayed as a Lady Macbeth involved in nefarious plots, branded as “a congenital liar” and accused of covering up her husband’s misconduct, from Arkansas to Monica Lewinsky. Some of this is sexist caricature. Some is stoked by the “Hillary is a liar” videos that flood Facebook feeds. Some of it she brings on herself by insisting on a perimeter or “zone of privacy” that she protects too fiercely. It’s a natural impulse, given the level of scrutiny she’s attracted, more than any male politician I can think of.

I would be “dead rich”, to adapt an infamous Clinton phrase, if I could bill for all the hours I’ve spent covering just about every “scandal” that has enveloped the Clintons. As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland. That makes what I want to say next surprising.

Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.

The yardsticks I use for measuring a politician’s honesty are pretty simple. Ever since I was an investigative reporter covering the nexus of money and politics, I’ve looked for connections between money (including campaign donations, loans, Super Pac funds, speaking fees, foundation ties) and official actions. I’m on the lookout for lies, scrutinizing statements candidates make in the heat of an election.

The connection between money and action is often fuzzy. Many investigative articles about Clinton end up “raising serious questions” about “potential” conflicts of interest or lapses in her judgment. Of course, she should be held accountable. It was bad judgment, as she has said, to use a private email server. It was colossally stupid to take those hefty speaking fees, but not corrupt. There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.

As for her statements on issues, Politifact, a Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking organization, gives Clinton the best truth-telling record of any of the 2016 presidential candidates. She beats Sanders and Kasich and crushes Cruz and Trump, who has the biggest “pants on fire” rating and has told whoppers about basic economics that are embarrassing for anyone aiming to be president. (He falsely claimed GDP has dropped the last two quarters and claimed the national unemployment rate was as high as 35%).

I can see why so many voters believe Clinton is hiding something because her instinct is to withhold. As first lady, she refused to turn over Whitewater documents that might have tamped down the controversy. Instead, by not disclosing information, she fueled speculation that she was hiding grave wrongdoing. In his book about his time working in the Clinton White House, All Too Human, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos wrote that failing to convince the first lady to turn over the records of the Arkansas land deal to the Washington Post was his biggest regret.

The same pattern of concealment repeats itself through the current campaign in her refusal to release the transcripts of her highly paid speeches. So the public is left wondering if she made secret promises to Wall Street or is hiding something else. The speeches are probably anodyne (politicians always praise their hosts), so why not release them?

Colin Diersing, a former student of mine who is a leader of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, thinks a gender-related double standard gets applied to Clinton. “We expect purity from women candidates,” he said. When she behaves like other politicians or changes positions, “it’s seen as dishonest”, he adds. CBS anchor Scott Pelley seemed to prove Diersing’s point when he asked Clinton: “Have you always told the truth?” She gave an honest response, “I’ve always tried to, always. Always.” Pelley said she was leaving “wiggle room”. What politician wouldn’t?

Clinton distrusts the press more than any politician I have covered. In her view, journalists breach the perimeter and echo scurrilous claims about her circulated by unreliable rightwing foes. I attended a private gathering in South Carolina a month after Bill Clinton was elected in 1992. Only a few reporters were invited and we sat together at a luncheon where Hillary Clinton spoke. She glared down at us, launching into a diatribe about how the press had invaded the Clintons’ private life. The distrust continues.

These are not new thoughts, but they are fundamental to understanding her. Tough as she can seem, she doesn’t have rhino hide, and during her husband’s first term in the White House, according to Her Way, a critical (and excellent) investigative biography of Clinton by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, she became very depressed during the Whitewater imbroglio. A few friends and aides have told me that the email controversy has upset her as badly.

Like most politicians, she’s switched some of her positions and sometimes shades the truth. In debates with Sanders, she cites her tough record on Wall Street, but her Senate bills, like one curbing executive pay, went nowhere. She favors ending the carried interest loophole cherished by hedge funds and private equity executives because it taxes their incomes at a lower rate than ordinary income. But, according to an article by Gerth, she did not sign on to bipartisan legislation in 2007 that would have closed it. She voted for a bankruptcy bill favored by big banks that she initially opposed, drawing criticism from Elizabeth Warren. Clinton says she improved the bill before voting for passage. Her earlier opposition to gay marriage, which she later endorsed, has hurt her with young people. Labor worries about her different statements on trade deals.

Still, Clinton has mainly been constant on issues and changing positions over time is not dishonest.

It’s fair to expect more transparency. But it’s a double standard to insist on her purity.

Monday, 28 March 2016

The only way to achieve anything is to become comfortable with rejection.

‘JK Rowling tweeted two rejection letters that she’d received in response to manuscripts written under the pen name Robert Galbraith.’ Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/REUTERS

Linda Blair in The Guardian

There’s a poster on the wall of the gym I use, a place frequented by many aspiring British athletes. It says simply: “You lose 100% of the chances you don’t take.”

No one likes to be rejected, to take a chance, to put in huge effort only to be rebuffed. But if you want to succeed at anything in life, you have to put yourself forward. You have to take the chance that you’ll be rejected. There’s no choice – what it says on that poster is absolutely right. The alternative is to be 100% certain you’ll never realise your dreams.

Rejection is more the norm than the exception for authors, as JK Rowling reminded everyone last week, when she tweeted two rejection letters that she’d received – after her success with Harry Potter – in response to manuscripts written under the pen name Robert Galbraith. The bestselling author Joanne Harris responded: “I got so many rejections for Chocolat that I made a sculpture.” They’re far from the only well-known authors to have been knocked back – James Joyce, George Orwell and John le Carré all suffered a number of rejections before their manuscripts were finally accepted. And yet, despite the hurt of rejection and the work involved in rewriting, everyone knows their work is better as a result.

Why do we find rejection so upsetting? After all, it’s almost never life-threatening to be rejected. The reason lies in our interdependence.

Human beings need one another in order to thrive, particularly at the beginning of our lives. During that period of development, if no one cares about a baby enough to offer loving care and attention, that baby will die. That’s why it feels so important to be approved of, to be liked and accepted by others – at certain times it’s the only way we can survive. You can see now why the more you value the approval and opinion of the person who’s judging you, the more upset you’ll be if they reject you. This also explains why rejection hurts more when your offerings are personal, more an expression of who you are or hope to be rather than something you’ve simply been asked to throw together, for example an assignment for a school subject you don’t enjoy or a requirement at work.

It’s one thing to understand why you feel bad when you’ve been rejected. But why stop there? Why not take things a step further? Instead of thinking about rejection as something you hope to avoid, see if you can make it work for you rather than distress you. When you do this, rejection will actually help you create something even better than the offering that’s been cast aside. Here’s how.

Start by learning not to take a rejection personally. Instead of saying, “What’s wrong with me?”, step back. See if you can figure out what might be lacking in what you’ve created, or in the way you’ve gone about trying to achieve your dream. The artist Dexter Dalwood, speaking recently to creative arts students at their graduation ceremony, warned his audience: “If you want your ideas to succeed, be prepared to be rejected. Often. It comes with the territory.”

Rejection is part of the process in manufacturing as well as in the creative arts.James Dyson, a man who changed our lives in a number of ways, including how we clean our homes and dry our hands, says he finds rejection helpful. His plan to create a bagless vacuum cleaner took 5,127 modifications, following numerous rejections from retailers. He told the BBC in an interview just after the launch of a more recent invention, the Airblade Tap, that “failure is the best medicine – as long as you learn something”.

Learning through failure is how rejection helps. It can spur you on to do it again, do it better. Anders Ericsson, a professor at the University of Colorado, observed the practice habits of violin students in Berlin from the age of five until they reached adulthood. He found that the most powerful predictor of success, of whether students became “elite” violinists, was how many hours of practice they put in, how determined they were to improve. The author Malcolm Gladwell popularised this idea, which has become known as the “10,000-hour rule”. It seems that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of dedication, of being criticised and reacting constructively to that criticism, to succeed and achieve true excellence.

The patients I see who are struggling with rejection often ask me when they should give up, at what point they should accept the rejections and stop trying. My answer is never. As long as you have a dream, something you believe in and wish to achieve, keep going.

A rejection doesn’t mean you failed. It means you tried. Try again.

The Specious Logic of a TV Cricket Expert

by Girish Menon

As a regular reader of Cricinfo I started this Easter Monday holiday by reading 'Why Ramiz gets Bangladesh's goat' Jarrod Kimber's sensitive enquiry into why Bangladesh cricket fans react so vehemently to cricket commentator Ramiz Raja. Lack of quality among commentators and highly emotional responses by social media users were the conclusions drawn by Kimber. As was habitual for me I then went on to Youtube where the channel recommended that I watch a post match analysis on the India Australia WT20 cricket match played yesterday at Mohali. I clicked on the suggestion and found that it was a Pakistani TV channel show discussing the match with Brian Lara, Rashid Latif, Saqlain Mushtaq and Glenn McGrath as experts. 

---Also by this writer 

Sreesanth - Another Modern Day Valmiki?

On Walking - Advice for a fifteen year old


In the programme Rashid Latif advanced a thesis that Dhoni and Yuvraj collaborated to deceive the umpire Erasmus into giving Steve Smith the Australian captain out caught behind. Rashid admitted that he indulged in similar behaviour in his playing days and recalled an instance in Sharjah when he conspired with Mushtaq Ahmed to get Dravid out in a similar fashion. Glenn McGrath then stated a fact that that the stump microphone had not detected an edge in the Smith dismissal.

Rashid Latif then commented on how a carefully cultivated image enables a cricketer to trick an umpire into giving them the benefit of doubt which enables them to get an unfair advantage in tight situations. He spoke about Gilchrist's carefully built reputation as a walker and how it helped players like him with umpires in situations when the evidence was not clear cut.

From this discussion I realised that in such a situation not using technology gives the benefitting team an unfair advantage. After all the decision to give Smith out (if he was not out?) had a game changing impact on the match with Smith being Australia's in-form batsman. At the same time I'm sure many Indian cricketers will readily admit the number of times they have been at the receiving end of bad decisions because of BCCI's refusal to use technology to help adjudicate umpiring decisions.

However, I was more worried by the specious logic used by the commentator Rashid Latif to insinuate that Dhoni and Yuvraj cheated like he used to in his playing days. Latif's false argument in the world of logic is called 'Shifting the burden of proof'. It consists of putting forward an assertion without justification, on the basis that the audience must disprove it if it is to be rejected.

Madsen Pirie in his book 'How to win every argument' gives another example to help you understand Latif's false logic:

I believe that a secret company of Illuminati has clandestinely directed world events for several hundred years. Prove to me that it isn't so.

Shifting the burden, Pirie writes, is a common fallacy on which rests the world of conspiracy theories, UFOs, monsters, Gods etc. Advocates like Latif make us the viewer accept the burden of proving that his statement is false. As a viewer I would find it difficult if not impossible to disprove his insinuation.

Also, by shifting the onus of proof Latif is able to put forward mischievous views without producing any shred of evidence. This is dishonesty.

Of course the whole programme appeared to have an anti India bias (not surprising) underpinned by the conspiracy theory that events, grounds, pitches and umpires are all collaborating to ensure that India would win the WT20 cup

I too felt like Kimber's Bangladesh supporters and realised that the only way India can resolve this shifted burden of proof is by not winning the trophy.

The writer plays for CamKerala CC in the Cambs cricket league.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Don’t force us to join the India Loyalty Programme

Shobha De in The Times of India

One of my all-time favourite anthems is A R Rahman’s stirring tribute to his motherland — India. Each time I hear his voice soar as he sings ‘Maa tujhe salaam…Vande Mataram’, I get goosebumps and a lump in my throat. I had the same intensely emotional response earlier this week when I watched Amitabh Bachchan fervently singing ‘Jana Gana Mana’ at the start of the India-Pakistan cricket match in Eden Garden.(Editor's comment - I think the singing of the national anthem at entertainment events should be banned!) Feeling the way I did, I figured I was experiencing genuine love for my beloved country. As definitions and tests of patriotism go, I had certainly passed mine… in my own eyes, of course. If I’d felt deeply moved, if I had moist eyes, if I was getting mushy and sentimental, clearly something wonderful was happening within. I didn’t have to deconstruct it… I felt it. That was good enough. Gut feelings say it all. If you tune in to the many nationalistic songs your heart remembers, you will instinctively recognize the extraordinary frisson they generate — some would call it patriotic fervour. This is the only truth you need to identify. Why should anyone be asked to produce arbitrary ‘proof’ of patriotism?

It’s such a pity that random netas are subjecting citizens to these ‘tests’ and questioning their commitment to the country. If such a test does exist, why not make it public and let people decide whether or not to appear for it? Pass or fail — please identify the examiners. Who appoints them? Is there a panel of experts drawing up exam papers? May we ask for the listed criteria? Will raising flag poles on top of each school, college, government building, convert Indians into overnight patriots? Assuming that does indeed happen, will there be a jury that has the final vote on the subject? Who frames the ultimate laws of patriotism and what will these be? Singing the national anthem twice a day? Shouting slogans in public places every week? Placing the right hand over the heart each time the flag is spotted? Wearing the tricolour on the sleeve? Organizing workshops on proper patriotic behaviour? Perhaps, designing appropriate uniforms which will have to be sported by one and all on national days and important holidays. There is safety in conformity, say those who conform!

ROUSING RAHMAN: If a nationalistic song gives you goosebumps, then you must love your country

That was the upside. Now, let’s look at the downside: What happens to those who refuse to adhere to the rule book and choose to demonstrate their love for the country in their own singular way? Will that be ‘allowed’ by authorities and their designated troops? Is a special cell going to be (officially) created to keep an eye on the un-patriots, pseudo-patriots, self-confessed ‘traitors’, suspected deshdrohis? How will their crimes be identified, tabulated, judged and punished? Special courts? Judges with extra powers? Along with a few kangaroos jumping around inside court premises, just in case the judge misses a key point during the trial?

Why are we doing this? Are we not confident enough of our identity as Indians? And who are these hyper-patriots trying to browbeat citizens into complying with new-fangled ‘India Loyalty Programmes’? The ugly truth is several netas strutting their patriotic plumes and baying for the blood of those not joining the chorus, have criminal records and serious charges pending in courts. Do lusty cries of ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ absolve them of all the muck? If for any reason, rational or irrational, someone does not raise a politically approved slogan, does it suddenly debilitate the state? Does India totter because a few citizens refuse to mouth salutations on demand? Let’s get a few things clear: hoisting flags, singing anthems, shouting slogans do not make a nation great. Progress does.

Patriotism is pretty hard to define. It is nuanced and complex. It is about loyalty to one’s country, above all else. Which is why it is dangerous and juvenile to label anybody a ‘deshdrohi’ for not participating in political posturing. Anybody can chant ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ mechanically, and not feel a thing about the country. A hardcore traitor could shamelessly chant ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ and win applause. Words like mata and pita are invested with a great deal of emotional weight. Which country earns the right to be defined as a mata or pita? The country that wins the hearts and trust of its citizens and inspires them to invest the same level of love, respect and reverence towards it. These feelings cannot be artificially manufactured. A nation that generates these emotions organically, devoid of manipulation and pressure, automatically creates generations of proud patriots. India has always been such a country. We really don’t need minders and monitors to tell us how to be patriotic. Do us all a favour, you bullies — just vamoose, will you?

The Economist's Concubine

Robert Skidelsky in Project Syndicate

In recent decades, economics has been colonizing the study of human activities hitherto considered exempt from formal calculus. What critics call “economics imperialism” has given rise to an economics of love, of art, of music, of language, of literature, and of much else.

The unifying idea underlying this extension of economics is that whatever people do, whether it is making love or making widgets, they aim to achieve the best results at the least cost. These benefits and costs can be reduced to money. So people are always looking for the best financial return on their transactions.

This is contrary to the popular separation of activities in which it is right (and rational) to count the cost, and those in which people do not (and should not) count the cost. To say that affairs of the heart are subject to cold calculation is, say the critics, to miss the point. But cold-hearted calculation, reply the economists, is exactly the point.

The pioneer of the economic approach to love was the Nobel laureate Gary Becker, who spent most of his career at the University of Chicago (where else?). In his seminal paper, “A Theory of Marriage,” published in 1973, Becker argued that selecting a partner is its own kind of market, and marriages occur only when both partners gain. It’s a very sophisticated theory, relying on the complementary nature of male and female work, but which tends to treat love as a cost-reducing mechanism.

More recently, economists such as Columbia University’s Lena Edlund and University of Marburg’s Evelyn Korn, as well as Marina Della Giusta of Reading University, Maria Laura di Tommaso of the University of Turin, and Steiner Strøm of the University of Oslo, have applied the same approach to prostitution. Here, the economic approach might seem to work better, given that money is, admittedly, the only relevant currency. Edlund and Korn treat wives and prostitutes as substitutes. A third alternative, working in a regular job, is ruled out by assumption.

According to the data, prostitutes make a lot more money than women working in ordinary jobs. So the question is: why is there such a high premium for such low skills?

On the demand side is the randy male, often in transit, who weighs the benefits of going with prostitutes against the costs of getting caught. On the supply side the prostitute will require higher earnings to compensate for her higher risk of disease, violence, and blighted marriage prospects. “If marriage is a source of income for women,” write Edlund and Korn “then the prostitute has to be compensated for foregone marriage market opportunities.” So the premium reflects the opportunity cost to the prostitute of performing sex work.

There is a ready answer to the question of why competition does not drive down sex workers’ rewards. They have a “reservation wage”: If they are offered less, they will choose a less risky line of work.

What warrant does the state have to interfere with the contracts that are struck within this market of willing buyers and sellers? Why not decriminalize the market altogether, as many sex workers want? Like all markets, the sex market needs regulation, particularly to protect the health and safety of its workers. And, as in all markets, criminal activity, including violence, is already illegal.

But on the other side, there is a strong movement to ban buying sex altogether. The so-called Sex Buyer Law, criminalizing the purchase, though not the sale, of sexual services has been implemented in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Northern Ireland. The enforced reduction of demand is expected to reduce supply, without the need to criminalize the supplier. There is some evidence that it has had the intended effect. (Though supporters of the so-called Nordic System ignore the effect of criminalizing the purchase of sex on the earnings of those who supply it, or would have supplied it.)

The movement to ban buying sex has been strengthened by the growth of international trafficking in women (as well as drugs). This may be counted as a cost of globalization, especially when it involves an influx into the West from countries where attitudes toward women are very different.

But the proposed remedy is too extreme. The premise of the Sex Buyer Law is that prostitution is always involuntary for women – that it is an organic form of violence against women and girls. But I see no reason to believe this. The key question concerns the definition of the word “voluntary.”

True, some prostitutes are enslaved, and the men who use their services should be prosecuted. But there are already laws on the books against the use of slave labor. I would guess that most prostitutes have chosen their work reluctantly, under pressure of need, not involuntarily. If men who use their services are criminalized, then so should people who use the services of supermarket checkout employees, call-center workers, and so on.

Then there are some prostitutes (a minority, to be sure) who claim to enjoy their work. And, of course, there are male prostitutes, gay and straight, who are typically ignored by feminist critics of prostitution. In short, the view of human nature of those who seek to ban the purchase of sex is as constricted as that of the economists. As St. Augustine put it, “If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust.”

Ultimately, all arguments against prostitution based on notions of inequality and coercion are superficial. There is, of course, a strong ethical argument against prostitution. But unless we are prepared to engage with that – and our liberal civilization is not – the best we can do is to regulate the trade.

The Death of Democracy - Say no to Free Trade Agreements

David Malone on why TTIP (free trade agreements) are anti-democratic and against the people.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Jamat-e-Islami, Muslim Brotherhood & Capitalism.

On Jamat-e-Islami, Muslim Brotherhood & Capitalism. (Video is in Urdu)

Osborne needn’t say sorry – after all his Budget was just a suggestion

Mark Steel in The Independent

There’s no need for George Osborne to say sorry for trying to cut money to the disabled: he says it was a genuine mistake, and he couldn’t possibly know that cutting money to the disabled would lead to the disabled being poorer in any way.

How could anyone have predicted that taking away money for carers who get people dressed and take them to the toilet might have worried anyone at all? Is he supposed to be psychic? There was every chance these measures would have been welcomed by the disabled. They’d have been free to mess on the floor instead of fussing about going backwards and forwards to a toilet, leaving plenty of time to pursue other leisure activities such as go-karting.

We all make mistakes. Some of us put cardboard packaging in the wrong recycling box. And some of us try to take £4 billion off the disabled. We can’t say sorry for everything can we? In any case, Osborne’s explained the reason for these cuts is to build a strong economy, and there’s no greater sign of a strong economy that someone with spina bifida laying in their pyjamas for three years because we’ve made redundant the carer that used to get them dressed. And, to be fair, there was an element of genius about his Budget. Because up until last week, it was believed to be impossible to come up with benefit cuts so appalling that Iain Duncan Smith would oppose them. Osborne should receive the credit due for overturning such a natural law. 

The buck should stop with the PM for his immoral cuts

He probably announced his intention in a gentleman’s club, declaring over a bottle of port: “Gentlemen, I hereby declare I have discovered cuts so gargantuan, so magnificently despicable, I contend the fellow Duncan- Smith shall scream with fury at their injustice.” Then the others must have stood upright and bellowed “Preposterous, Sir. Such cuts are not possible within the known universe. To discover such reductions would confound the very essence of mathematics, you are a fool, Sir.”

And they had a point, because Duncan Smith was dedicated to cutting benefits. When he got home from his job of cutting benefits, he used to cut more benefits in his spare time for fun. His wife would knock on the shed door on a Sunday afternoon, saying “Come and have a rest, dear, you’ve been in here since six this morning”, and he’d reply, “I won’t be long, I’m just working out how to make people in a coma attend job interviews.” And he went berserk about Osborne’s cuts.

So instead of saying sorry, the Chancellor must have expected to ride into the House of Commons on a white horse while his MPs begged him to touch them in the belief it will make them taller and live forever.

His problem was the reaction from everyone else as well as Duncan Smith. The Conservatives seem to believe their own newspapers and assume they have no opposition, so they can do whatever they like, as most people will think ‘“I don’t mind that the Tories have stopped my disabled aunt going to the toilet, because at least their leader sings the National Anthem’”.

David Cameron must be encouraged in this belief by the way that, whenever Jeremy Corbyn is speaking in Parliament, his own Labour MPs sit behind him sneering and flicking through Viz magazine or doing the puzzles in Take- a- Break. You expect them to start making humming noises and flicking paper clips at his head while he’s responding to a statement about Syria.

But on this issue, so many people were furious that the Government had to abandon huge chunks of their plans, and Nicky Morgan adopted the imaginative line that the entire Budget was “just a suggestion.”

This is certainly a modern touch; to deliver a Budget – a 90-minute, precisely written detailed speech, pieced together for months and concerning exact plans for every aspect of the economy – and then say “But hey, that’s just a suggestion.” Next year, the Budget speech will start: “OK let’s all get in a circle and go round saying our names, then we can break up into workshops and write down some ideas on what we think should be spent on what stuff, then come together for feedback after lunch.”

Osborne repeatedly refuses to apologise for disability cuts

In some ways he’s already gone further than that, because now he’s been forced to abandon his plans, his figures are four billion pounds out. But he says that doesn’t matter as he’s on course to meet his target anyway. So he didn’t even need to make the cuts, he just fancied doing it anyway. Maybe he thought it’s not fair the disabled get all this disability money every single year, we should let other groups have it for a change; people who keep tropical fish, perhaps.

Combined with all his targets he gets nowhere near keeping, it suggests he sees numbers as an unnecessary distraction. In his Autumn Statement he’ll tell us: “It does appear that when I was working out the country’s money, I multiplied when I should have divided so we’ll have to sell the Navy, but hey ho, the important thing is if you ignore the figures we are stronger and sounder than ever before.”

It’s possible that what forced the Conservatives to change their plans for the economy, for the second time in a few months, is a vast, if not always visible, opposition. And however chaotic Labour may appear, at least under Jeremy Corbyn they now oppose the cuts.

Or maybe Osborne is honest, and as he said, this episode proves he listens. Similarly, if the police catch a burglar robbing a house, and the burglar then agrees to put back the stuff he tried to nick, this proves the burglar listens, and we should in no way expect him to say sorry.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

When the state becomes the nation

G Sampath in the Hindu

What has not received adequate scrutiny is the present regime’s doctoring of the very idea of a nation

Sixty-eight years after independence, India has suddenly rediscovered nationalism. At a recent meeting of its National Executive, the Bharatiya Janata Party affirmed nationalism as its guiding philosophy. Its leaders announced that a refusal to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ signifies disrespect to the Constitution.
In case you were in winter hibernation and have just woken up, no, we are not at war like, say, Syria is. No imperial power has invaded us like, say, in Iraq. But all of a sudden, a country hit hard by a stuttering economy, growing unemployment, agrarian distress, and wracked by malnutrition, illiteracy, and environmental degradation seems to have decided that its topmost national priority is to settle the question of who is an anti-national.
Alphabet soup

In this nationalism debate, both within Parliament and without, a variety of terms have been used to describe the brand of nationalism invoked by the NDA government to identify anti-nationals: from ‘pseudo-nationalism’ to ‘aggressive nationalism’ to ‘Hindu nationalism’, ‘cultural nationalism’, ‘chauvinistic nationalism’, ‘hyper-nationalism’, ‘regimented nationalism’, and ‘partisan nationalism’. Only a few commentators have used the word ‘fascism’, which too is a particular kind of nationalism.
But branding a democratically elected government as fascist – even though history tells us that a fascist government can be voted to power – is typically viewed as an exaggeration; as a misguided attempt to revoke the moral legitimacy of the government in power. Besides, in a constitutional democracy, it is never difficult to adduce evidence in support of an administration’s democratic credentials.
Rather, what concerns us here is the nationalism debate. The question is not whether India is on the verge of fascism but whether the particular kind of nationalist ideology espoused by the ruling dispensation has anything in common with the ideology of fascism. To answer this, we can do no better than go back to the father of fascism, Benito Mussolini, and his seminal work, The Doctrine of Fascism, published in 1935.
Mussolini’s five principles

In this essay, Mussolini identifies five principles as central to a fascist ideology. The first and most fundamental is the primacy of the state’s interests over an individual’s rights. As he writes, “The fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the state and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State (italics mine).”
The second principle is the primacy of the state over the nation: “It is not the nation which generates the State… rather it is the State which creates the nation.”
The third is the rejection of democracy. “In rejecting democracy, fascism rejects the absurd conventional lie of political equilatarianism,” Mussolini says, dismissing both democracy and equality in one go.
Fourth is the state’s non-secular character: “The Fascist state sees in religion one of the deepest of spiritual manifestations and for this reason it not only respects religion but defends and protects it.” For the Italian fascist, it was “Roman Catholicism, the special, positive religion of the Italians.” One doesn’t need to spell out what the “special, positive religion” of the Indian fascist would be.
Fifth, tying the other four principles together is a conception of the state as the repository of all virtue. For Mussolini, the state is “the conscience of the nation”.
At the heart of the brand of nationalism that is currently seeking to establish its hegemony over India’s cultural and political landscape is the idea of the anti-national. No doubt purely by coincidence, Mussolini’s five principles — primacy of the state over citizen’s rights and the nation, contempt for democracy, investment in a national religion, and a belief in the nation-state as a moral agent — converge neatly in the discourse of the ‘anti-national’. The microphone that amplifies this discourse is the sedition law.
Speaking about the sedition law, Kanhaiya Kumar made a distinction between ‘raaj droh’ and ‘desh droh’. ‘Raaj droh’, according to him, is a betrayal of the state, whereas ‘desh droh’ is a betrayal of the nation. The British needed a sedition law because the natives had every reason to betray a colonial state that was oppressing them. An independent state that is democratic would not need a sedition law for the simple reason that it is, in principle, subordinate to the nation. The nation, in this democratic paradigm, is essentially a cultural construct given currency by groups of people who have agreed to be part of one nation. This agreement is an ongoing conversation, as Rahul Gandhi observed in Parliament. In Mr. Kumar’s words, “India is not just a nation but a federation of nations.”
Put another way, it is impossible for an Indian to utter anything ‘anti-national’ because anything she says would always already constitute the self-expression of a cell of that body known as the Indian nation. While enough has been written about the present regime’s distortion of the idea of India, what has not received adequate scrutiny is its doctoring of the very idea of a nation. This is taking place at four levels: conflation of the state with the nation; conflation of the nation with the territory; presenting criticism of the state as a crime against the nation; and finally, applying a law meant for those undermining the state, on those acting to strengthen the nation. When such doctoring happens, it is often the case that those who control the state machinery are people seeking to harm the nation. It is perfectly possible to strengthen the state and destroy the nation at the same time – no contradiction here.
Therefore the most effective response to the challenge posed by the discourse of anti-nationalism is not joining the competition to decide who is the greater or truer nationalist but to delink the nation from both territory and the state. This is also the only way out for the Left that finds in an (anti-)nationalistic bind every time it is subjected to the ‘litmus test’ of Kashmir.
If the Indian nation is not synonymous with Indian territory – a territory that is a contingent product of colonial history – but an idea vested in a covenant among the Indian people, then the Left can take a stand on Kashmir that is in consonance with the principles of democracy without becoming vulnerable to the charge of being ‘anti-national’.
Delinking the nation from the state also prepares the ground for exposing the dangers of a nationalism that fetishes the state at the expense of the people. And once this danger is exposed, fighting it becomes easier, for history and morality are both on the side of the anti-fascist.
The moral repugnance that a fascist ideology evokes is such that no respectable individual, not even those who witch-hunt anti-nationals on prime time every night, can openly endorse fascism. The strategy of Mussolini’s heirs will never be to openly espouse their ideology — as Mussolini did — but to pursue it covertly. This is the significance of the question Kanhaiya Kumar posed to the Prime Minister: “You spoke about Stalin and Khrushchev, but why didn’t you speak of Hitler too?”