Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Abolish personal laws: Patriarchy remains deaf to the Quran’s call for justice, equality and compassion

  Sadia Dehlvi in Times Of India

Whenever Muslim women approach the judiciary in a quest for justice, Muslim orthodoxy rallies against the abolition of Personal Laws. Their rhetoric of ‘identity under attack’ resumes. Clearly, Indian Muslims have moved beyond the politics of identity; choosing to express themselves through contributions to science, architecture, law, medicine, film, theatre, music, literature and other fields.

Debates over the validity of pronouncing talaq, divorce, three times in one go or over three months offer no solutions. Both methods find permissibility in schools of Islamic fiqh, jurisprudence. Unilateral divorce allows men to commit grave injustices by stripping women of honour and dignity, inalienable rights both in Islam and the Indian Constitution. It is unwise to expect reform from the community whose religious leaders have historically treated women as subjects and not equals.

Islamic law is a human endeavour that evolved over centuries with multiple schools holding diverse opinion. The principles of Islamic jurisprudence are weighing the benefit and harm of legal rulings in societies that jurists live in. Barring the foundational five pillars of Islam, nothing in Islamic law is definitive. Salafis and Wahhabis reject classical Islamic jurisprudence and philosophy. Their myopic literalist interpretations of Islam cause gross violations of human rights.

Sharia has always been flexible in adapting to changing times and situations. Umar, the second Caliph of Islam and companion of Prophet Muhammad, dropped sharia punishments for theft when famine struck Arabia. He realised people were stealing to survive. The eighth century Imam Shafie, founder of Shafie jurisprudence, changed many of his fatwas on migrating from Iraq to Egypt. Had sharia lacked movement, Islam would not thrive in India.

Islam is dynamic, understood and practised in a variety of ways in different cultures. Patriarchy remains deaf to the Quran’s call for equality, justice and compassion that extends to all humanity. Excluding women from leadership, patriarchy is blind to the Quran celebrating the wise consultative rule of Queen Sheba and her diplomatic engagement with Solomon.

Patriarchy fails to recognise the Quran honouring women as recipients of wahy, Divine Revelation; as experienced by Moses’s mother and Mariam, or Mary. Some famous early and medieval commentators of the Quran, such as Imam Hajar Asqalani and Imam Qurtubi, include Mary amongst the prophets.

The Islam of Prophet Muhammad disappeared within 40 years of his death with powerful and oppressive patriarchal tribes regaining power. The poor, women and slaves embraced by Islam were again marginalised. Islam’s paradigm shift in empowering women and slaves had created great difficulties for the Prophet. He sought political counsel from women, welcomed them in his mosque; encouraged women like Haqibatul Arab to deliver khutbahs, sermons. He appointed Umm Waraqa the Imam of her mosque, and sent a muezzin, one calling to prayer, from Medina to her village.

Some Islamic scholars, including the famous 9th century Imam Tabari, drew upon this precedent to proclaim it lawful for women to lead mixed gender prayers. American Muslim feminists are reclaiming this tradition despite the controversies it evokes.

Islam abrogated the concept of God as Father, saying, ‘Nothing is like Allah’. God transcends gender and is best understood as Noor, Compassionating and Illuminating Guidance. ‘He’, is used in the Quran and its translations because Arabic grammar is gender specific with no pronoun for the neuter gender. In most languages including Arabic, Persian and Urdu, the feminine is applied for ‘Zaat e Elahiya’, Divine Essence.

The word rahm, womb, is derived from God’s primary attributes Rahman and Rahim, Mercy and Compassion. Prophet Muhammad often likened God to a Mother who forgives her children. Traditional Arab poets addressed God in the feminine, literature that would probably be termed blasphemous today.

The Quran advocates equitable treatment of slaves and encourages freeing them, but does not specifically ban slavery. Responding to prevailing 7th century Arabian evils, Quran forbade the inheriting of women, female infanticide and abuse of slaves. Muslims across the world welcomed the abolition of slavery, believing it to be in accordance with Quranic guidance.

Islamic scholars have responded creatively with Quranic verses sanctioning armed struggles. Invoking the principle of ‘asbab e nuzul’, cause of revelation, they rightly limit this relevance to ‘just wars’ against oppression fought by the first Muslims. Instead of similar creative engagement with regard to oppressive canonised laws for women, patriarchy maintains the status quo. Women’s rights can no longer be defined by political Islam or Arab culture and histories.

In matters of inheritance and nafaqa, maintenance, Quran guarantees a minimum financial protection for women but does not cap the maximum. Offering more financial and emotional security to women can never conflict with Islam. Prophet Muhammad famously said, ‘None of you believes till you love for the other what you love for yourselves.’

Sharia law denies the right of punishment to individuals, leaving this responsibility to the state. Sharia endorses responsible citizenry, making it mandatory for Muslims to comply with laws of the lands they inhabit.

Traditionally, women pilgrims travelling to Mecca required to be accompanied by a mahram, husband or other male relatives with whom marriage is forbidden. Negotiating modern challenges, many Islamic scholars have ruled it permissible for women to travel alone. They declare the state as mahram, for in ensuring security, the laws
of the state replace the role of the ‘protective bodies’. This principle should extend to the Indian state.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Brexit may be the best answer to a dying eurozone

Larry Elliott in The Guardian

Staying in the EU means hitching ourselves to an undemocratic project run by and for a remote elite

Illustration by Ellie Foreman-Peck

The elephant in the room. Everybody knew what Mark Carney meant when he paused halfway through his regular three-monthly update on the state of the economy: the implications of Brexit.

The governor of the Bank of England did not pull any punches. He warned of a potential run on the pound and of possible problems financing the UK’s whopping balance of payments deficit. He said the Bank expected growth to be materially lower and inflation to be notably higher. Voters trust the Bank of England. They sat up and took notice. The opinion polls started to move in favour of remain. When the history of the referendum campaign is written, Carney’s may be seen as the decisive intervention.

In truth, there was more than one elephant in the room. Carney was right when he said there was a risk that the upheaval caused by Brexit could tip an already weakening economy into recession. But as elephants in the room go, this was the smaller, Indian version. The equivalent of the bigger, African elephant was the shocking state of the eurozone after the failure of the single currency experiment. This went unremarked by Carney, although it is relevant to the debate aboutEurope.

Why? Because, although Britain is likely to stay in the EU, Brexit will remain a live issue unless the eurozone can sort itself out. That means either admitting that the euro has been a terrible mistake, or going the whole hog and integrating further, with a single banking system, a Europe-wide treasury, and a democratically elected finance minister with the power to raise money in Germany and spend it in Greece. This is not going to happen any time soon, and perhaps never. Countries that joined the eurozone gave up a considerable amount of economic power when they adopted the euro, but they retained the right to raise their own taxes and make their own spending decisions.

Britain is not in the euro, for which we should all be thankful. But let’s be clear: staying in the EU means hitching the wagon to a currency zone unable to go forwards or backwards, and which will continue to struggle as a result.

The euro brought to fruition the idea of ever-closer union, a plan that dates back to the early 1950s. Lots of things considered good ideas back then are no longer considered quite so clever: system-built high-rise flats as the answer to slum housing; nuclear power to meet energy needs. Put ever-closer union in the same category as the Birmingham inner-city ring road: it seemed a good idea at the time.

Dan Atkinson and I spent the winter working on a book about the single currencycommissioned in the wake of last summer’s Greek crisis. The brief was to look at what had gone wrong from a left-of-centre perspective; to explore the widespread disquiet about the way in which a country that voted in January 2015 for an end to austerity ended up seven months later being forced to accept even deeper cuts in wages and spending.
The eurozone crisis is about more than Greece. It is about Italy, where the economy is barely any bigger now than it was when the single currency was introduced. And France, where unemployment is double the level of the UK or the US. And Finland, one of the most tech-savvy countries in Europe, where the economy is 7% smaller than it was before the start of the financial crisis. And even Germany, where an export boom and high corporate profits have been paid for by workers in the form of below-inflation pay increases.

Our investigations took us back to the last time Britain held a referendum on EU membership, when during the cabinet discussions Tony Benn warned that Britain was signing up for something that was undemocratic, deflationary and run in the interests of big business. “I can think of no body of men outside the Kremlin who have so much power without a shred of accountability for what they do,” Benn said.

Benn’s dystopian vision proved entirely accurate. When the architects of the new Europe looked to the future, they envisaged a new and better version of the United States of America. Europe would have all the good bits about the US – such as the economic dynamism, a large barrier-free market and a single currency – without any of the bad bits: the inequality, the high levels of incarceration, the poverty and the inadequate welfare safety net. 

This dream lives on. Yanis Varoufakis, the deposed finance minister of Greece, thinks the eurozone could be recast along Keynesian lines, with the rich and strong countries obliged to provide financial help to the poor and weak. Good luck with getting Germany to agree to that.
Economic policy has been relentlessly deflationary. The interests of bankers have been given a higher priority than workers’. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and Spain have been the laboratory mice in a continent-wide neoliberal experiment of a sort Tea Party Republicans in the US can only fantasise about.

Given the obscene level of long-term unemployment, the idea of Europe as the guardian of labour rights is laughable. The gap between the US and Europe has widened, not narrowed, since the launch of the single currency. Populist parties of both left and right are gaining in support. One left-of-centre argument against Brexit is that it would result in the breakup of the euro and by doing so set off a chain reaction that would lead to the next global crisis: a perfectly fair point. Those who fear that another recession and even higher levels of joblessness would threaten a return to the totalitarian politics of the 1930s are right to highlight the risks. Some on the left who want Brexit say that the time is not yet ripe.

The left-of-centre case for divorce is that Europe doesn’t work, is not remotely progressive and is heading for an existential crisis anyway. Last year’s threat was Grexit. This year’s threat is Brexit. Next year’s threat will be something else: Italy leaving the single currency, perhaps, or Marine Le Pen’s tilt for the French presidency.

This presents an opportunity for those who believe that the way ahead still involves closer integration. Jean Monnet, the godfather of the EU, always said that ever-closer union would be forged through crises, which is what Brexit would undoubtedly trigger.

If the polls are right, Britain seems unready to trigger this act of creative destruction and it will be left to Varoufakis to do out of office what he could not do in power: prove a different Europe is possible.

A different Europe is needed, but it is stretching credibility to imagine that the Europe of Greece and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership can easily morph into America with the nice people in charge. The eurozone is economically moribund, persists with policies that have demonstrably failed, is indifferent to democracy, is run by and for a small, self-perpetuating elite, and is slowing dying. The wrong comparison is being made. This is not the US without the electric chair; it is the USSR without the gulag.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Are funny people sexy ... or are sexy people funny?

Dean Burnett in The Guardian

In a recent guest post, Girl On The Net looked at the assumption that women “love a bad boy”, the cliché that women are attracted to more rebellious, undisciplined, aloof characters who play by their own rules like “treat them mean, keep them keen” etc.

But never mind the bad guy, what about the funny guy? It’s an equally common cliché that women are often charmed by a guy who can make them laugh. It certainly pops up in the media often enough. How many sitcoms have you seen where the at-best-average-looking bloke ends up with a woman who’s clearly “out of his league”, purely because he’s wacky, or witty, or cuttingly sarcastic?

Real life isn’t short of examples either. The acronym GSOH is practically mandatory for dating profiles. In his brilliant (if psychologically alarming) autobiography Becoming Johnny Vegas, Vegas pulls no punches when it comes to criticising his own physical appearance and shortcomings, but highlights how his increased comedy success lead to similarly increased attention from women (much to the annoyance of the more typically-attractive blokes watching, a phenomenon that has been scientifically recorded).

And for those with a strong constitution, there’s Dirty British Comedy Confessions, a site where people confess their sexual fantasies about British (and beyond) comedy stars, in often eye-watering detail (thanks to Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast for flagging this up, and the Greg Davies andNick Helm episodes in particular).

Ken Dodd has been making countless people laugh for over half a century, but still isn’t considered a sex symbol for some reason. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Guardian

The link between humour and sexual attraction has a lot to back it up, as the bishop said to the nun. Humour is widely regarded as a complex form of communication, allowing people to convey sentiments and information in an enjoyable and engaging way. If you’ve ever seen a seasoned lecturer make jokes (or at least, attempt to) you’ve seen how prevalent this notion is. So humour is a complex and valuable tool for modern humans. However, when you give a typical human anything at all, one of the main responses will inevitably be “how can I use this to get sex?” And lo, humour has become deeply entrenched in what is questionably referred to as “human mating”, and in a variety of ways.

At the most basic level, it makes sense that we’d be more drawn to someone we find funny. We encounter someone, they make us feel pleasure by making us laugh, we form a positive association with them, and have more positive feelings towards them. Basic associative learning, the kind Pavlov’s dogs demonstrated. Obviously, it’s a lot more complex than that; people can find novelty coffee mugs funny, doesn’t mean they want to have sex with them (although no doubt people who work in A&E could provide evidence to the contrary).

Another theory is that the ability to make jokes and amuse people is a sign of psychological health and fitness, as it requires intelligence, quick thinking, versatility etc. All these things suggest the person is a good mate, from a health and genetics perspective. So maybe jokes and wordplay are the verbal equivalents of a stag’s antlers, or a peacock’s tail; excessive displays of biological health and fitness.

Again, it’s clearly more complex than this. Very few women will look at a man who makes her laugh and think “Phwoarr, I’d love some of his gametes”. Also, the assumption that “humorous = psychologically healthy” isn’t a definite conclusion; there’s evidence to suggest that many people see excessive humour as a sign that someone is psychologically unwell, hence the whole “tears of a clown” cliché.

Depressingly for those who believe being funny can compensate for being physically unattractive, that seems to only work up to a point. An interesting study by Cowan and Little, which looked at humour and attractiveness found that physically attractive people were deemed to be “funnier” than less attractive people when the subjects could see the speaker. When presented with audio only, this effect wasn’t so pronounced.

Why would attractive people be considered funnier? Surely that’s not how humour works? One explanation is the “halo effect”, where our initial impression of a person causes a bias in all our other assessments of them. So if you look at a man and think “he is attractive”, when he makes jokes you’re more likely to think “he is funny” because you already have positive feelings about him due to how he looks.

It’s technically possible to separate humour from physical appearance, but it takes you to strange places. Photograph: Alamy

In contrast, because the humour-attraction link is well established and manifests in various ways, many might consider attempts at humour as synonymous with flirting. And if a person you don’t find attractive tries to flirt with you, most people really don’t like that, so you experience a negative reaction. Overall, it suggests attractive people have a much easier time of it when it comes to making people laugh. At last, the physically beautiful finally catch a break!

All this comes with many caveats. The style of humour and romantic intent plays a role, because people are complex and aren’t limited to binary funny/unfunny or sexy/unsexy judgements. You also can’t really filter out the countless cultural influences on our perceptions.

For example, the study mentioned above shows that humour is linked to attractiveness for both men and women, but the effect is stronger for women. Is this some deep-rooted evolved mechanism, or the result of everyone around us assuming that women aren’t “supposed” to be the funny ones? Any that are are defying convention, so receive negative responses for this. It’s nonsense of course, but then any woman who displays positive traits seems destined to be attacked for it. We live in a world where even the most physically flawless woman can be criticised and mocked in major publications because a photographer with a powerful camera glimpsed some cellulite between 2 adjacent skin cells.

So it’s assumed that men “should” be the funny ones, and women are the ones who “choose” funnier men. But there’s no rule saying it has to be this way. And this (and nearly every study into the area) focuses solely on heterosexual relationships. There’s nothing to say homosexual interaction doesn’t use humour in similar ways, but the stereotypical culture roles would now throw everything off, so cause even more headaches for scientists.

Overall, while it seems clear that humour and sexual interaction are strongly linked, the idea that funny people are sexier isn’t quite so obvious. People who are already attractive often get perceived as funnier, because the people attracted to them want them to be, even if it is at a subconscious level.

This isn’t an absolute of course, what with humans being as messy and complex as they are, particularly when it comes to sex. Some people really are irresistably drawn to someone who makes them laugh, regardless of looks. Other people have no interest in dating a wannabe clown at all. But, with all that in mind, if you’re wondering why so many current comedians seem to be attractive young men with trendy hair, now you know.

Why a new toilet law could flush cafes and takeaways down the pan

Chitra Ramaswamy in The Guardian
How many seats in a coffee shop does it take to necessitate provision of a customer loo? Fifteen? Five? A solitary stool and a sticky counter? An existential question and one that, according to this toilet-user, depends on a complex set of circumstances, from what’s on the menu to where the chairs are positioned. (Five outside? Toilet unlikely. Four inside? Expect a small, whiffy loo with no paper towels in the dispenser.)
The correct answer, according to section 20 of the 1976 Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act, is 10. As in, cafes with fewer than 10 seats are not legally required to provide customer loos. Which is presumably why you can’t scoff a sausage roll in Greggs and then demand use of the washroom but you can order a takeout coffee in a central London Starbucks and get a key to the saddest toilets in Soho. (When it comes to public conveniences don’t be fooled by the romance of a key.)
Despite the 10-seat guideline, thousands of takeaways and coffee shops could now be forced to install a toilet or get rid of seating following a recent case in Hull. Two branches of Greggs, both of which had fewer than 10 seats, lost a legal battle with the council after the judge ruled that not providing facilities gave them an “unfair commercial advantage”. If the ruling, which is being appealed, sets a precedent, as many as 21,500 takeaways and 5,230 coffee shops across the UK – the vast majority of which are small independent businesses – could be affected.
“It would be a major problem,” Raymond Martin, director of the British Toilet Association, says. “Most of these are not going to be able to provide a toilet. Many would be forced to close down.” Would he expect a loo in a takeaway with only a few tables? “It does seem right to provide a toilet if a takeaway allows me to consume food and stay on the premises for a period of time,” he replies diplomatically. “But should we force takeaways to put in toilets? I don’t think we can.”
The real issue, he adds, is the loss of public toilets from our cities and town centres. The law currently does not compel local authorities to provide public toilets – of which there are around 4,000 in the UK – and the result is that Britain has lost more than 40% of its facilities in the past decade. “We reckon we are losing toilets faster than we’re gaining them,” Martin says. “Every day we get calls from councillors saying: ‘We’re thinking of closing some, if not all, of our toilets. What’s our legal position?’ In years gone by, people would have got their food from a takeaway and then used a public toilet later. That is no longer the case.”
Meanwhile stores, supermarkets, petrol stations and other commercial providers have stepped in, hopeful that, after we’ve relieved ourselves in their lovely free toilets, conveniently located right at the back of the store so we have to walk past all their goods to get to them, we’ll do a spot of shopping. Perhaps toilets are the latest trick in retail, the new piped muzak luring us in to spend a penny before we spend, spend, spend. “The government wants people out shopping, eating, keeping the economy flowing,” Martin notes. “But it doesn’t want to provide the toilets.”

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Making things matters. This is what Britain forgot

Ha-Joon Chang in The Guardian

The neglect of manufacturing and over-development of the financial sector is the cause of the economy’s decline, not fear of leaving the EU.

The production line at the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s being blamed on the Brexit jitters. But the weakness in the UK economy that the latest figures reveal is actually a symptom of a much deeper malaise. Britain has never properly recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. At the end of 2015, inflation-adjusted income per capita in the UK was only 0.2% higher than its 2007 peak. This translates into an annual growth rate of 0.025% per year. How pathetic this performance is can be put into perspective by recalling that Japan’s per capita income during its so-called “lost two decades” between 1990 and 2010 grew at 1% a year.

At the root of this inability to stage a real recovery is the serious imbalance that has developed in the past few decades – namely, the over-development of the UK financial sector and the atrophy of manufacturing. Right after the 2008 financial crisis there was a widespread recognition that the ballooning financial sector needed to be reined in. Even George Osborne talked excitedly for a while about the “march of the makers”. That march never materialised, however, and the share of the manufacturing sector has stagnated at around 10% of GDP.

This is remarkable, given that the value of sterling has fallen by around 30% since the crisis. In any other country a currency devaluation of this magnitude would have generated an export boom in manufactured goods, leading to an expansion of the sector.

Unfortunately manufacturing had been so weakened since the 1980s that it didn’t have a hope of staging any such revival. Even with a whopping 30% devaluation, the UK’s trade balance in manufacturing goods (that is, manufacturing exports minus imports) as a proportion of GDP has hardly budged. The weakness of manufacturing is the main reason for the UK’s ever-growing deficit, which stood at 5.2% of GDP in 2015.

UK trade deficit with EU hits new record

Some play down the concerns; the UK, we hear, is still the seventh or eighth biggest manufacturing nation in the world – after the US, China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, France and Italy. But it only gets this ranking because it has a large population. In terms of per capita output, it ranks somewhere between 20th and 25th in the world. In other words, saying that we need not worry about the UK’s manufacturing sector because it is still one of the largest is like saying that a poor family with lots of its members working at low wages need not worry about money because their total income is bigger than that of another family with fewer, high-earning members.

Another argument is that we now live in a post-industrial knowledge economy, in which “making things” no longer matters. The proponents of this argument wheel out Switzerland, which has more than twice the per capita income of the UK, despite – or rather because of – its reliance on finance and tourism.

However Switzerland is actually the most industrialised country in the world, measured by manufacturing output per head. In 2013, that manufacturing output was nearly twice the US’s and nearly three times the UK’s. The discourse of post-industrial knowledge economy fundamentally misunderstands the role of manufacturing in economic prosperity.

First of all, despite the relative increase in the importance of services, the manufacturing sector is still – and will always be – the main source of productivity growth and economic prosperity. It is a sector that is most open to the use of machines and chemical processes, which raises productivity. It is also where most research and development, which generates new technologies, is done. Moreover, it is a sector that produces inputs that raise productivity in other sectors. For example, the recent rise in productivity in the service sector has happened mainly because it is using more advanced inputs produced in the manufacturing sector – computers, fibre-optic cables, routers, GPS machines, more fuel-efficient cars, mechanised warehouses and so on.

Second, many knowledge-intensive services, such as research, engineering and design, that are supposed to be new have always been there. Most of them used to be conducted by manufacturing firms themselves and have become more “visible” recently largely because they have been “spun off” or “outsourced”. We should not confuse the changes in firms’ organisation with the changes in the nature of economic activities.

All of those supposedly knowledge-intensive services sell mostly to manufacturing firms, so their success depends on manufacturing success. It is not because the Americans invented superior financial techniques that the world’s financial centre moved from London to New York in the mid-20th century. It is because the US became the leading industrial nation.

The weakness of manufacturing is at the heart of the UK’s economic problems. Reversing three and a half decades of neglect will not be easy but, unless the country provides its industrial sector with more capital, stronger public support for R&D and better-trained workers, it will not be able to build the balanced and sustainable economy that it so desperately needs.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Balochistan Independence is Responsibility of India

Tarek Fatah - The Hindu is not my Enemy - Part 1

Part - 2 Tarek Fatah on how India should deal with Pakistan and Balochistan

Monday, 16 May 2016

The leftwing case for Brexit (one day)

Paul Mason in The Guardian

There are many good reasons for the UK to leave the EU. But exiting now would allow Johnson and Gove to turn Britain into a neoliberal fantasy island.

Jobbik on the march … all over Europe, the EU’s economic failure is fuelling racism and the ultra right. Photograph: Janek Skarżyński/AFP/Getty Images

 The leftwing case for Brexit is strategic and clear. The EU is not – and cannot become – a democracy. Instead, it provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organised crime. It has an executive so powerful it could crush the leftwing government of Greece; a legislature so weak that it cannot effectively determine laws or control its own civil service. A judiciary that, in the Laval and Viking judgments, subordinated workers’ right to strike to an employer’s right do business freely.

Its central bank is committed, by treaty, to favour deflation and stagnation over growth. State aid to stricken industries is prohibited. The austerity we deride in Britain as a political choice is, in fact, written into the EU treaty as a non-negotiable obligation. So are the economic principles of the Thatcher era. A Corbyn-led Labour government would have to implement its manifesto in defiance of EU law.

And the situation is getting worse. Europe’s leaders still do not know whether they will let Greece go bankrupt in June; they still have no workable plan to distribute the refugees Germany accepted last summer, and having signed amorally bankrupt deal with Turkey to return the refugees, there is now the prospect of that deal’s collapse. That means, if the reported demand by an unnamed Belgian minister to “push back or sink” migrant boats in the Aegean is activated, the hands of every citizen of the EU will be metaphorically on the tiller of the ship that does it. You may argue that Britain treats migrants just as badly. The difference is that in Britain I can replace the government, whereas in the EU, I cannot.

That’s the principled leftwing case for Brexit.

Now here’s the practical reason to ignore it. In two words: Boris Johnson. The conservative right could have conducted the leave campaign on the issues of democracy, rule of law and UK sovereignty, leaving the economics to the outcome of a subsequent election. Instead, Johnson and the Tory right are seeking a mandate via the referendum for a return to full-blown Thatcherism: less employment regulation, lower wages, fewer constraints on business. If Britain votes Brexit, then Johnson and Gove stand ready to seize control of the Tory party and turn Britain into a neoliberal fantasy island.

Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders goes on trial for inciting hatred

They will have two years in which to shape the post-Brexit economy. Worse, the Tories will be free to use the sudden disappearance of our rights as EU citizens to reshape the UK’s de facto constitution. The man who destroyed state control of education and the man who shovelled acres of free land into the hands of London developers will get to determine the new balance of power between the citizen and the state. So even for those who support the leftwing case for Brexit, it is sensible to argue: not now. The time to confront Europe over a leftwing agenda is when you have a Labour government, and the EU is resisting it.

This is why I have refused to campaign for Brexit, and may even abstain on the day. I also want to see the final offer. As with the Scottish referendum I expect, if the polls show a lead for remain of less than 7%, there will be a politically orchestrated run on sterling; a string of CEOs paraded on to the BBC promising to quit Britain; then a a surprise “final offer” from either Jean-Claude Juncker or an influential group of heads of government. If this offer includes the suspension ofthe social chapter, or further opt-outs that favour the rich over the poor in Britain, then there would be little point in staying in for tactical reasons.

Already, thanks to David Cameron’s Brussels deal, the choice is between out and half-out. I do not think the concessions Cameron achieved in March were negligible. Though the emergency brake on in-work benefits for migrants was reactionary showmanship, the opt-out from “ever closer union” he gained was real. It means there will probably never be another 28-member treaty.

As the Eurozone consolidates, around banking union and cross-border transfers, the Lisbon treaty will be superseded by new, core-country agreements. If that happens, it is likely the UK will be able to legally retreat from some Lisbon commitments. Thus, even without a catastrophic disintegration, it is likely that the UK’s relationship with both the Eurozone and European law will remain negotiable.

All this suggests that those of us who want Brexit in order to reimpose democracy, promote social justice and subordinate companies to the rule of law should bide our time. But here’s the price we will pay. Hungary is one electoral accident away from going fascist; the French conservative elite is one false move away from handing the presidency to the Front National; in Austria the far-right FPÖ swept the first round of the presidential polls. Geert Wilders’s virulently Islamophobic PVV is leading the Dutch opinion polls.

Hungarian camera operator apologises for kicking refugees

The EU’s economic failure is fuelling racism and the ultra right. Boris Johnson’s comparison of the EU with the Third Reich was facile. The more accurate comparison is with the Weimar Republic: a flawed democracy whose failures fuelled the rise of fascism. And this swing to the far right prompts the more basic dilemma: do I even want to be part of the same electorate as millions of closet Nazis in mainland Europe?

The EU, politically, begins to look more and more like a gerrymandered state, where the politically immature electorates of eastern Europe can be used – as Louis Napoleon used the French peasantry – as a permanent obstacle to liberalism and social justice. If so – even though the political conditions for a left Brexit are absent today – I will want out soon.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

How Little do Experts Know- On Ranieri and Leicester, One Media Expert Apologises

In July of last year I may have written an article suggesting that the Italian was likely to get Leicester City relegated from the Premier League

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri lifts the Premier League trophy. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

Marcus Christenson in The Guardian

No one likes to be wrong. It is much nicer to be right. In life, however, it is not possible to be right all the time. We all try our best but there are times when things go horribly wrong.
I should know. In July last year I sat down to write an article about Claudio Ranieri. The 63-year-old had just been appointed the new manager of Leicester City and I decided, in the capacity of being the football editor at the Guardian, that I was the right person to write that piece.

Claudio Ranieri: the anti-Pearson … and the wrong man for Leicester City?

I made that decision based on the following: I have lived and worked as a journalist in Italy and have followed Ranieri’s career fairly closely since his early days in management. I also made sure that I spoke to several people in Greece, where Ranieri’s last job before replacing Nigel Pearson at Leicester, had ended in disaster with the team losing against the Faroe Islands and the manager getting sacked.

It was quite clear to me that this was a huge gamble by Leicester and that it was unlikely to end well. And I was hardly the only one to be sceptical. Gary Lineker, the former Leicester striker and now Match of the Day presenter, tweeted “Claudio Ranieri? Really?” and followed it up with by saying: “Claudio Ranieri is clearly experienced, but this is an uninspired choice by Leicester. It’s amazing how the same old names keep getting a go on the managerial merry-go-round.”

I started my article by explaining what had gone wrong in Greece (which was several things) before moving on to talk about the rest of his long managerial career, pointing out that he had never won a league title in any country and nor had he stayed at any club for more than two seasons since being charge at Chelsea at the beginning of the 2000s.

I threw in some light-hearted “lines”, such as the fact that he was the manager in charge of Juventus when they signed Christian Poulsen (not really a Juventus kind of player) and proclaimed that the appointment was “baffling”.

I added: “In some ways, it seems as if the Leicester owners went looking for the anti-Nigel Pearson. Ranieri is not going to call a journalist an ostrich. He is not going to throttle a player during a match. He is not going to tell a supporter to ‘fuck off and die’, no matter how bad the abuse gets.”

Claudio Ranieri instructs his players during Greece’s defeat by the Faroe Islands, the Italian’s last game in charge of the Euro 2004 winners. Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

Rather pleased with myself – thinking that I was giving the readers a good insight to the man and the manager – I also put a headline on the piece, which read: “Claudio Ranieri: the anti-Pearson … and the wrong man for Leicester City?”

I did not think much more of the piece until a few months later when Leicester were top of the league and showing all the signs of being capable of staying there.

After a while, the tweets started to appear from people pointing out that I may not have called this one right. As the season wore on, these tweets became more and more frequent, and they have been sent to me after every Leicester win since the turn of the year.

At some point in February I decided to go back and look at the piece again. It made for uncomfortable reading. I had said that describing his spell in charge of Greece as “poor” would be an understatement. I wrote that 11 years after being given the nickname “Tinkerman” because he changed his starting XI so often when in charge of Chelsea, he was still an incorrigible “Tinkerman”.

It gets worse. “Few will back him to succeed but one thing is for sure: he will conduct himself in an honourable and humble way, as he always has done,” the articles said. “If Leicester wanted someone nice, they’ve got him. If they wanted someone to keep them in the Premier League, then they may have gone for the wrong guy.”

Ouch. Reading it back again I was faced with a couple of uncomfortable questions, the key one being “who do you think you are, writing such an snobbish piece about a dignified man and a good manager?”

The second question was a bit easier to answer. Was this as bad as the “In defence of Nicklas Bendtner” article I wrote a couple of years ago? (The answer is “no”, by the way, few things come close to an error of judgment of that scale).

I would like to point out a few things though. I did get – as a very kind colleague pointed out – 50% of that last paragraph right. He clearly is a wonderful human being and when Paolo Bandini spoke to several of his former players recently one thing stood out: the incredible affection they still feel for this gentle 64-year-old.

All in all, though, there is no point defending the indefensible: I could not have got it more wrong.

At the start of this piece I said that no one likes to be wrong. Well, I was wrong about that too. I’ve enjoyed every minute of being embarrassingly wrong this season. Leicester is the best story that could have happened to football in this country, their triumph giving hope to all of us who want to start a season dreaming that something unthinkable might happen.

So thank you Leicester and thank you Claudio, it’s been quite wonderful.

Subramanian Swamy: A cat among the pigeons

Lakshmi Iyer in The Times of India

Modi's Arab steed? Or Congress' Trojan horse? Subramanian Swamy's entry into the Rajya Sabha has Lutyens' Delhi aflutter with theories.

For someone who has straddled the Indian political scene for over four decades, Dr Subramanian Swamy has always been an important figure in Lutyens' Delhi. A mover and a shaker, he has dominated events and determined their outcome through dogged courtroom battles. Yet his nomination to the Rajya Sabha last month by the Modi Government is seen as something that will alter power equations, not just across the Parliament but within the BJP itself. Swamy's entry into a Congress-dominated Rajya Sabha is being seen as a natural step forward after his resounding success in the National Herald litigation in December 2015, when he managed to force both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to secure bail in his case against the Congress-controlled newspaper in a Delhi court.

------Interview with Karan Thapar


BJP managers point out that Swamy had to be in the RS just to rile the Gandhis and disturb Congress benches to push government business. In fact opposition leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad, described him as a "new gift of the BJP to us". However, with his new-found status, the one-time Harvard professor is the most sought-after VVIP in political circles. As ex-Delhi BJP MLA, Vijay Jolly of the Delhi Study Group, who is organising a public felicitation for Swamy on May16 at the Constitution Club, offers, "Envoys from 25 countries — such as China, US, Taiwan, Vietnam — have all confirmed participation just to hear Swamy speak. Swamy's appointment diary is apparently full for next two months."

The BJP leader's entry into the Parliament is making waves, not just outside Raisina Hills but even among MPs. "Now everyone is taking a keen interest in the Rajya Sabha proceedings, more so than the Lok Sabha," said a first-term BJP MP from Rajasthan. Online viewership of RSTV reportedly went up by 900 per cent when Swamy spoke on the Agusta (aka Choppergate) scam. Even within the Parliament, there was tremendous curiosity to hear him firsthand, with members rushing back to the House from the Central Hall.

Yet within the BJP, Swamy is held in awe and the party is exploring ways to cope with him. For someone who has wielded tremendous power before — he has been a Union Minister and run a Government (Chandrashekhar, 1990-91), been part of one (Narasimha Rao, 1991-96) and remorselessly destroyed another just after a year in office (Vajpayee Government, 1998-1999), the party is walking on eggshells when it comes to Swamy.

For some BJP/Sangh leaders, Swamy has been made an MP by the Modi Government only to break the myth that this Government has done nothing about the Gandhis. "It wants to fight the image. There was a need to send a message to the cadres," said a Sangh leader. Officially, the Sangh denied it had any role to play in the RS berth for Swamy. "It is better you ask the Government," said RSS spokesman Manmohan Vaidya.

Off the record, however, Sangh sources acknowledged that Swamy had been close to late VHP leader Ashok Singhal. "He has vigourously pursued Hindu causes such as Ram Setu, Ayodhya, and the Sangh top brass will always be proud of him," said Rajiv Tuli of Delhi RSS.

Significantly, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari — someone close to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat — hosted a dinner in honour of Swamy soon after he became MP. It is quite possible that Swamy could be used by the Government to build legal support for the Ram temple at Ayodhya at a later juncture.

Bringing Swamy into the House has brought a lot of pep and vigour into the rank and file of the BJP. It has also boosted the image of the PM. It was felt that Modi was not keen to take on the Gandhis directly, but now, he is being seen as a man of action.

A signal to Jaitley

To a section within the BJP, Swamy's RS entry has come as a surprise. Many believe that the new MP could be a signal from the RSS/party leadership to undermine the Leader of the House, Arun Jaitley. BJP sources admit Swamy's problem with Jaitley runs deep. Old-timers recall that he had targeted the FM during NDA-I too — between 1998 and 2004. Swamy's latest ruse against the Finance Minister is denying him a New Delhi Lok Sabha seat in 2014 — that too after consulting Modi about it. Jaitley ensured that the seat went to his friend Meenakshi Lekhi instead. BJP sources say the PM won't compromise with Jaitley's authority. "There is no possibility of letting down Jaitley, though it will require management skills to maintain an equivalence between Jaitley and Swamy," said a BJP leader.

RSS sources admit that in the past two years Swamy was in a limbo. "It is better to have Swamy on your side than against you," said a RSS sympathiser. On the face of it, Congress leaders dismiss the idea that by bringing in Swamy, the PM has played a master stroke — he got a Gandhi family-baiter into the House — to put a lot of pressure on the opposition. It was Swamy's petition in the National Herald case that has made the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul appear in a trial court in December 2015 to secure bail.

"Frankly, we are not worried about Swamy. It does not matter to us. In fact, his presence in the treasury benches should worry the BJP more. His becoming MP has more to do with Leader of the House, Arun Jaitley, than the Congress — it is purely an internal matter of the BJP," said senior Congress MP Satyavrat Chaturvedi.

The Digvijay of BJP

He went on to describe Swamy as the "Digvijay Singh of the BJP — a master at self-goals". Why should we worry about him — whose utterances were expunged for three consecutive days?" He goes on to add, "Swamy was expelled from the Rajya Sabha for misconduct. So why should the Congress be scared of Swamy? It is odd that a Congress leader should cite his record during the Emergency. He was expelled from the RS in 1976 during the Emergency for fleeing the country on an impounded passport. A Jan Sangh member then, he's remembered for making an appearance in the Parliament for a day in August 1975 and subsequently slipping out of the country to launch a campaign against Emergency abroad."

Congress sources admit Swamy's entry can't be taken lightly. "With Swamy on the other side, we will need both Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram to face up to him," said a Congress MP, pointing out how Swamy defeated Abhishek Singhvi's arguments in the Agusta debate. In the upcoming months, if political parties are to pick legal luminaries to fight their political battle, Rajya Sabha could soon resemble proceedings in the Supreme Court.

The wars of Pakistan over India

The Tragedy of 1971 - explained in Urdu by Hamid Bhashani

The story behind the Kargil war - explained in Urdu by Hamid Bhashani

The 1965 War - explained in Urdu by Hamid Bhashani

The 1948 War - explained in Urdu by Hamid Bhashani

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Corrupt elites will fight hard to stop the dismantling of the looting machines from which they draw their vast wealth

States that get all their revenues from selling their oil, gas and minerals could easily turn into kleptocracies where the majority stay poor

Patrick Cockburn in The Independent

A shooper at the Olaya mall in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Ordinary citizens may be hit by efforts to tackle global corruption and patronageGetty

Can corruption be controlled by reform or is it so much the essential fuel sustaining political elites that it will only be ended – if it ends at all – by revolutionary change?

The answer varies according to which countries one is talking about, but in many - particularly those relying on the sale of natural resources like oil or minerals - it is surely too late to expect any incremental change for the better. Anti-corruption drives are a show to impress the outside world or to target political rivals.

The anti-corruption summit in London this week may improve transparency and disclosure, but it can scarcely be very effective against politically well-connected racketeers, busily transmuting political power into great personal wealth.

This is peculiarly easy to do in those countries in the Middle East and Africa which suffer from what economists call “the resource curse”, where states draw their revenues directly from foreign buyers of their natural resources. The process is described in compelling detail by Tom Burgis in his book, The Looting Machine: Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth. He quotes the World Bank as saying that 68 per cent of people in Nigeria and 43 per cent in Angola, respectively the first and second largest oil and gas producers in Africa, live in extreme poverty, or on less than $1.25 a day. The politically powerful live parasitically off the state’s revenues and are not accountable to anybody.

This is the essay on corruption that Cameron didn't want you to read

Burgis explains the devastating outcome of a government acquiring such great wealth without doing more than license foreign companies to pump oil or excavate minerals. This “creates a pot of money at the disposal of those who control the state. At extreme levels the contract between rulers and the ruled breaks down because the ruling class does not need to tax the people – so it has no need for their consent.”

He writes primarily about Africa south of the Sahara, but his remarks apply equally to the oil states of the Middle East. He rightly concludes that “the resource industry is hardwired for corruption. Kleptocracy, or government by theft, thrives. Once in power, there is little incentive to depart.” Autocracy flourishes, often same ruler staying for decades.

Most, but not all, of this is true of the Middle East oil producers. A difference is that most of these have patronage and client systems through which oil wealth funds millions of jobs. This goes a certain way in distributing oil revenues among the general population, though the benefits are unfairly skewed towards political parties or dominant sectarian and ethnic groups.

In Iraq there are seven million state employees and pensioners out of a population of 33 million who are paid $4bn a month or a big chunk of total oil income. Often these employees don’t do much or, on occasion, anything at all, but it is an exaggeration to imagine that Iraq’s oil money is all syphoned off by the ruling elite.

I remember in one poor Shia province in south Iraq talking to local officials who said that they had just persuaded the central government to pay for another 50,000 jobs, though they admitted that they had no idea what these new employees would be doing.

Reformers frequently demand that patronage be cut back in the interests of efficiency, but a more likely outcome of such a change is that a smaller proportion of the population would benefit from the state income.

Saudi is about to attempt its own version of Mao's Great Leap Forward

This could be the result of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s radical plans to transform the way Saudi Arabia is run and end its reliance on oil by 2030. He may well find that the way Saudi society works has long gelled and face strong resistance to changing a system in which ordinary Saudis feel entitled to some sort of job and salary.

The “resource curse” is not readily reversible, because it eliminates other forms of economic activity. The price of everything produced in an oil state is too expensive to compete with the same goods made elsewhere so oil becomes the only export. Migrants pour in as local citizens avoid manual labour or employment with poor pay and conditions.

A further consequence of the curse is that the rulers of resource rich states – like many an individual living on an unearned income – get an excessive and unrealistic idea of their own abilities. Saddam Hussein was the worst example of such megalomania, starting two disastrous wars against Iran and Kuwait. But the Shah of Iran was not far behind the Iraqi leader in grandiose ideas, blithely ordering nuclear power stations and Concorde supersonic passenger aircraft.

Muammur Gaddafi insisted that Libyans study the puerile nostrums of the Green Book, and those failing that part of the public examinations about the book, were failed generally and had to re-take all their exams again.

Can “the looting machine” in the Middle East, Africa and beyond be dismantled or made less predatory?

Catholic leaders are undoing the good work of Pope Francis on migrants

Its gargantuan size and centrality to the interest of ruling classes probably makes its elimination impossible, though competition, transparency and more effective bureaucratic procedures in the award of contracts might have some effect. The biggest impulse to resistance locally to official corruption has come because the fall in the price of oil and other commodities since 2014 means that the revenue cake has become too small to satisfy all the previous beneficiaries.

The mechanics and dire consequences of this system are easily explained though often masked by neo-liberal rhetoric about free competition.

In authoritarian states without accountability or a fair legal system, this approach becomes a license to loot. Corruption cannot be tamed because it is at the very heart of the system.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Donald Trump supporters are not the bigots the left likes to demonise

John Harris in The Guardian

Last Tuesday, at about 3pm, I parked my rental car outside a polling station in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and began to talk to the droves of people going in and out. There was only one subject I really wanted to hear about:Donald Trump, and his jaw-dropping progress to being the presumptive Republican nominee.

As he said himself, a win in the state of Indiana would seal the deal, and so it proved: he got 53% of the vote, which triggered the exit of his two supposed rivals. Meanwhile, the global liberal left seemed to be once again working itself into a lather, which was easily translatable: how awful that a man routinely described using all the boo-words progressives can muster – misogynist, racist, fascist, xenophobe, or “xenophobic fascist”, as George Clooney understatedly put it – could now be a resident of the political mainstream, and a serious contender for president.

Though calling him a fascist surely demeans the victims of the real thing, Trump has some extremely grim views, and the idea of him in the White House has an obviously terrifying quality. But for those who loathe him, a problem comes when the nastier elements of his rhetoric are conflated with the supposed instincts of millions of his supporters, and familiar stereotypes come into play. “Not all Donald Trump supporters are racists, but most racists are Donald Trump supporters,” says the liberal online outlet Salon. “The unusual geographic pattern of Trumpism … corresponds to the geography of white racial resentment in the United States,” offers a contributor to the political website Vox. “They vote for him because he is a racist bigot,” reckoned one eloquent tweeter I briefly corresponded with.

George Clooney: 'There’s not going to be a President Donald Trump'

Caricatures of rednecks and white trash are obviously in the foreground here. Worse still, such judgments are often arrived at through polling data, guesswork, and a large measure of metropolitan prejudice: in keeping with one of the most baffling failings of political journalism across the globe, too few people think of speaking to the voters themselves.

So to Indiana, where, with my Guardian colleague John Domokos, I spent the best part of five days following the Trump campaign. No one mentioned his assuredly unpleasant ideas about excluding Muslims from the US, nor his absurd proposal to build a wall between America and Mexico, at the latter country’s expense. Indeed, when I saw Trump speak at a rally in the Indiana town of Evansville, he made no reference to what he has said about Muslims, and dealt with the fabled wall in a matter of seconds.

Instead, he talked at length about two of his pet themes. First, he banged on about the free trade deals that he says have blitzed US industry as companies have moved abroad, luxuriated in newly low labour costs, and imported their wares back into the country. Second, he fed that specific story into a general sense of national decline.

‘Clinton’s enemies malign her as someone who enthusiastically supported the trade deal to end all trade deals: Nafta, in 1994, which the Carrier workers put at the centre of their predicament.’ Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty

All of this is very real. From the dreadful state of the roads to the palpable sense of communities reeling from the military adventures that began in 2001, time spent in the US quickly reveals a country that collectively feels it has taken no end of wrong turns, and must somehow sort itself out. It is one of the more overlooked stories of the 2016 election that Trump’s views about this malaise intersect with the insurgent campaign still being waged by that great left hope, Bernie Sanders. There are, in other words, two anti-establishment figures doing their thing on either side of the political divide, with great success.

Trump calls DC Republicans to heel

But in the case of Trump, his positioning fuses with his hyperactive, barnstorming TV persona, and creates something with particularly populist appeal. The presentation is pure political vaudeville, used in the service of anti-politics: rambling (and often very funny) oratory, cartoon political incorrectness, self-obsession so extreme that it comes out looking endearingly self-parodic. But at the core are oomphy words about something built into his audiences’ daily reality: stores full of goods made overseas, and jobs that feel increasingly under threat.

His proposed solution, his detractors say, is probably beyond the reach of a president, and in the short term would presumably hit his supporters’ wallets like a hammer, but it’s simple enough: if any company dares move overseas, he’ll whack their goods with such high tariffs that they’ll soon come running back.

At the polling station, all of the above was reflected in the reasons people gave for supporting him. Just to make this clear: obviously, there are voters with bigoted opinions who think he’s their man. But equally, almost none of the Trumpites I met seemed to be the gun-toting zealots of liberal demonology: they explained voting for him in very matter-of-fact terms, usually with explicit criticism of the current political class. “Jobs, outsourcing, bringing jobs back to our country,” offered one of his supporters. “We’re getting aluminium from China – we don’t need aluminium from China. Hell, we make it right here,” said another. There was also much more nuance than you might expect. “I hate the way he talks about women, but I love the way he handles things,” one woman told me.

Indiana has one particular case study Trump talks about. In Indianapolis, a company called Carrier recently announced the imminent closure of an air-conditioning factory, with the loss of 1,400 jobs. Its operations will be shifted to Mexico. In Indianapolis, average wages are over $20 an hour, but once the move over the border is complete, pay will be more like $3. Talking to workers, it seemed that they were split down the middle, with some – like the local branch of their union, the United Steelworkers – supporting Sanders, while others favoured Trump.

Again, the latter option was often framed in terms of difficult choices, and some degree of hesitancy. A Carrier employee called Brad Stepp described his fear of the future, and why Trump represents “the lesser of three evils”. He was well aware of the absurdities of a high-living billionaire claiming to have the back of American workers, not least in the context of Trump’s recent(ish) claim that people in the US are paid too much. But he had made his choice. “We need somebody that’s tough,” he said. “If he can’t stop Carrier going, maybe he can stop other companies doing the same thing.” In the midst of all this, one character sits in a very uneasy position. Unsettled by their popularity, Hillary Clinton has been trying to echo some of Trump’s and Sanders’ pronouncements on trade and jobs. “I won’t support any agreement unless it helps create good jobs and higher wages for American workers,” she says, offering to be the president for “the struggling, the striving and the successful”. Her enemies, by contrast, malign her as someone who enthusiastically supported the trade deal to end all trade deals: the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, which the Carrier workers put at the centre of their predicament. In fact, politics being politics, the details of her record matter less than broad-brush appearances. And here, the story for her adversaries is a cinch. The establishment has failed; she is a card-carrying member of that establishment; ergo, she has failed too.

Herein lies a vulnerability that should chill the liberal left to the bone. Five days after I got back from Indiana, polls suggested that the presumed contest between Clinton and Trump will be much closer than some people imagine. For those who yell at him and his supporters from the sidelines, that news ought to give pause for thought: before it’s too late, maybe it’s time to stop hysterically moralising and instead try to understand not just how mainstream US politics has so awfully failed, but how it might somehow be rescued.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Receptionist 'sent home from work without pay for refusing to wear high heels'

Siobhan Fenton in The Independent

A woman has been sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels, it has been reported.

Temp worker Nicola Thorp says she arrived for her first day in a new role at the London offices of accountancy firm PwC wearing flat shoes. She says she was told to change into high heels with a height of 2 to 4 inches.

Ms Thorp claims she was laughed at when she challenged the policy and sent home without pay when she refused to wear heels.

Ms Thorp told The BBC that she was shocked when she arrived at work for her first day and was told about the policy: “I said ‘If you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough’, but they couldn’t. I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said ‘I just won’t be able to do that in heels’.”

She says she asked whether men were also expected to wear high heels and was laughed at for raising the objection. She said: “I was a bit scared about speaking up about it in case there was backlash. But I realised I needed to put a voice to this as it is a much bigger issue. Aside from the debilitating factor, it’s a sexism issue. I think companies shouldn’t be forcing that on their female employees.”

Ms Thorp has launched a petition calling for the law to be changed to stop employers from being able to insist that a woman wear high heels as part of their work. It has amassed more than 20,000 signatures of support.

PwC have stated that the dress code is not their policy but that of a third party recruitment firm Portico which they use to employ staff. A spokesperson told The BBC: “PwC outsources its front of house and reception services to a third party supplier. We first became aware of this matter on 10 May, some five months after the issue arose. The dress code is not a PwC policy.”

A Portico spokesperson said: “In line with industry standard practice, we have personal appearance guidelines across many of our corporate locations. These policies ensure staff are dressed consistently and include recommendations for appropriate style of footwear for the role. We have taken on board the comments regarding footwear and will be reviewing our guidelines in consultation with our clients and team members.”

Emma Watson campaigned on one social issue - she's not a hypocrite if she has offshore accounts

Because she is outspoken on one social issue, we expect Watson to be a model activist in every other political arena, a whiter-than-white every woman who stands up for us us all. That’s a standard that’s impossible for anyone to live up to.

Hannah Fearn in The Independent

Emma Watson, eh? Who would have thought it? All that moralising on the world stage, standing up for the rights of women, speaking out about the devastating economic and social effects of gender inequality. And it turns out that she’s been part of the global elite all along, a one percenter happily squirrelling away her millions in an offshore tax haven in the British Virgin Isles.

Of course, her people explain that the arrangements are purely to protect her privacy. But blow me down with a feather. What will the supporters of the HeForShe campaign make of it?

The answer to that should be: absolutely nothing. The fact that a woman who has a public position on one matter – gender equality– bears no relation to the fact that she has later found herself entangled in an another altogether different political question of tax evasion. But that hasn’t stopped her critics.

When the news that Watson, reportedly worth $70m, had used a company registered offshore to purchase a home, out came the angry rants. “I thought you're the most honest actress in the world! Wrong,” posted one fan – perhaps a former fan – on Twitter. “After being named in the Panama Paper scandal do you think you should be demanding a statue of anything?” another oddly added, referring to her campaigning for Sadiq Khan, the new Mayor of London, to erect a statue of a figure from the Suffragettes in Parliament Square.

Then came the snarky puns: Harry Potter and the Deathly Havens; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Taxaban; Harry Potter and the Half-blood Principal Investor. There’s a lot more where that came from.

The aforementioned spokesperson for Watson claimed that the actor had not used an offshore haven to avoid tax or any of her other financial responsibilities as a British citizen, but instead to protect her privacy, given her celebrity status. Reassuring for her disappointed fans perhaps, but it makes no material difference whatsoever.

Even if the young film star had deliberately hidden her assets away in an attempt to legally avoid tax, she is no hypocrite and she does not deserve to be treated like one. You may morally object to tax havens, but there’s no reason to be any more angered by Watson’s financial affairs than those of the Cameron family, Sarah Ferguson, Michel Platini, Simon Cowell or Heather Mills.

What is driving the disproportionate reaction to Watson’s British Virgin Islands connection is a bizarre sense that our public figures represent whatever we think they ought to, rather than what they want to, and what they actually do. Because she is outspoken on one social issue, we expect Watson to be a model activist in every other political arena, a whiter-than-white every woman who stands up for us us all. That’s a standard that’s impossible for anyone to live up to.

It’s a sentiment we see echoed when gay and ethnic minority figures, or even bohemians such as the artist Tracy Emin, express their support for the Conservatives. Surely they should be on the political left, where they ‘ought’ to belong?

The Black Lives Matter movement in the US has prompted similarly pointless soul-searching. Why have rap stars such as Drake and Jay Z – leading black figures in US popular culture – remained so quiet on the matter in their music? Writing in The Atlantic, the journalist Jeff Baird expressed concern that figures such as these were selling music that didn’t reflect the often difficult experience of being black in America and instead concerned itself with feelgood lyrics (“as if their success should be regarded as proof that the American Dream is in fact alive and well”) and great pop tunes instead. Well, why shouldn’t they? It’s their stock-in-trade.

Emma Watson's most influential quotes about feminism and sexuality

What we struggle to cope with is the idea of pop stars, actors or other national figures behaving in ways other than what we might expect from their PR-designed public persona. It’s a position that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Each and every one of us has friends or relatives who are passionate about one social issue but ambivalent about another. The environmental activist who is aiming to produce zero waste may have no view whatsoever on the closure of domestic violence services for women; the Hillsborough campaigner who spent 27 years fighting for justice for the 96 may have never thought twice about cuts to disability benefit for those unable to work. So what? The latter does not take away from the significance of their efforts on the former.

Emma Watson is a wealthy young actor who has used her not inconsiderable global influence to start an important conversation about the position of women in the world. For that, she is rightly celebrated. She is not, and has never been, a tax justice campaigner.
I don’t like the idea of any wealthy individual finding ways around paying their due – and there is no suggestion that this is what Watson has done. But the idea that her efforts on behalf of all women have been undermined by the furore sparked by the latest Panama Papers revelations is dismissive and naïve in the extreme.