The Indian Electoral System's Victims

First published on TeleSUR english

Narendra Modi, at the head of the right-wing BJP, leading an alliance of parties of the right, won a crushing victory in the April-May 2014 elections in India, with 336 seats (282 of them to Modi's own BJP party) compared to the incumbent, the Congress Party, whose alliance ended up with 60 seats (44 of them belonging to Congress). Leading the largest majority government in 30 years, Modi's victory could be viewed as a mandate for big changes in India.

But is it such a mandate? A close analysis of the election, as was done by Nirmalangshu Mukherji in his essay, "A Stolen Verdict", for Kafila.org, (http://kafila.org/2014/05/23/a-stolen-verdict-nirmalangshu-mukherji/), suggests the outcome had as much to do with the careful, strategic, methodical use of electoral violence in key areas than it did with a massive change in opinion in the country. Modi's alliance won 51.9% of all seats, with 31.0% of the votes. A massive victory indeed, in terms of seats. In terms of the popular vote? Not spectacular - according to Mukherji, considering that many seats, judging by past elections of majority governments in India, even with the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system, the BJP should have had about 45% of the vote, not the 31% it got.

How did the BJP-led alliance win such an extraordinary seat-to-vote ratio? There were two states in which the BJP made its greatest gains: Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar. In these states, in the year leading up to the 2014 election, the Hindu-right street organizations affiliated with the BJP, especially the RSS, instigated and led dozens of communal incidents, violent individual acts against people of other religions and even riots in which hundreds of people (mostly Muslims) were killed. The electoral beneficiaries of this violence were the BJP. In Mukherji's words:

Aristide Summoned: The courts in Haiti's New Dictatorship

First published on TeleSUR english

On August 12, a court in Haiti summoned former President Jean Bertrand Aristide to appear on charges of corruption. Aristide's lawyers quickly filed a motion with the Supreme Court seeking the recusal of the judge who issued the warrant. Lawyer Mario Joseph, from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, accused judge Lamarre Belizaire of engaging in a political trial, bringing baseless accusations forward, violating due process in the way Aristide was informed of the summons (through the press), and questioning the process by which the case came to be under Belizaire's jurisdiction. Aristide and his lawyers argued that, since due process was not observed in summoning him to the court, he did not have to appear. For his part, neither did judge Belizaire, who left the country (see the AP story, Evens Sanon Aug 14/14, "Haiti tense after summons issued for ex-president").

Judge Belizaire is an interesting character. One of Aristide's lawyers, Brian Concannon Jr., told journalist Kevin Pina (see the Haiti Information Project blog: - August 19/14, "Haiti: IJDH Director Dismisses Allegations Against Aristide As False") that Belizaire was so famous for misusing judicial authority to persecute enemies of president Martelly that he had been banned by the bar association for 10 years; that he was a political appointee, appointed directly from the prosecutor's office without the legally mandated 3-year hiatus; that he lacks the minimum qualifications (either a specialized course or 8 years of specialized practice) to be a judge; and that he didn't have jurisdiction to bring the case.

Supporters of Aristide mobilized in front of his house in Port au Prince to physically prevent an arrest. They remained on vigil for days. United Nations forces, continuing their decade long dishonorable role in Haiti, brought an armored personnel carrier, sirens, tear gas, and soldiers in riot gear to try to make the arrest. From the video of the attack, it is impossible to tell which country the UN soldiers are from - Brazil remains in command of the mission. For all of the excessive and partisan force they brought to bear against Aristide's supporters, international forces didn't manage to kidnap Aristide again.

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The Demands of the Dead: a novel

My novel The Demands of the Dead is out as of September 2014. It's a self-publication, inspired by authors like Hugh Howley, available on KDP and Smashwords (as an e-book) and on CreateSpace as a physical book. Cover design by Suzy Harris-Brandts.

Get the e-book on KDP

Get the e-book on Smashwords

Get the physical book from CreateSpace

Torture is neither inevitable nor endless: a reply to Gerald Caplan

by Justin Podur and Dan Freeman-Maloy

Imagine an anti-racist with decades of work in the struggle writing the following about the popular upheaval and police attacks witnessed this month in Ferguson, Missouri:

Half a century after summer 1964 (when major US ghettos famously erupted in rebellion), we are once again being shown the nature of blacks and whites in the United States. The “wretched blacks,” along with the police attacking them and the whites who cheer, remain trapped in “a classic tragedy where characters cannot escape their nature.” But this is just how conflicts based on “visceral antagonism” go. The basic nature of the peoples involved is to blame, and this can’t be escaped. So why bother to think, say, or do anything about it? Whatever it is, “none of it makes the slightest difference”.

Or, imagine someone who has stood up against extractive industry for decades writing the following about climate change:

“Two hundred years into the industrial era, it is clear that the institutions propelling climate change are too strong, the imperative of extraction and profit too pervasive, for meaningful action on the climate. For thriving corporations, whose minds are full of indifference, it means waiting for a day when the ocean level rises up to the windows of their skyscrapers. For wretched peoples, whose minds are full of nonsense, it means starvation, thirst, and death.”

Or, imagine someone like Gerald Caplan, who has been a rare Canadian voice for decency on the Israel/Palestine conflict, reflecting on this summer’s Gaza massacre in precisely the words used above about Ferguson. In an article this week written for the Globe and Mail and reproduced by Rabble.ca, Caplan writes that, in the words of Rabble’s headline, “War between Israel and Palestine” is our “endless, inevitable future”.

Line 9 resources

Neither the NEB, nor the very nice Line 9 Communities, nor Stop Line 9 has a shapefile that a GIS person could use to study line 9. I used the map at stop line 9, re-georeferencing and re-digitizing, to create a line shapefile in WGS 84 of the part of line 9 that goes through Toronto. I also created a KML file.

Small Genocides

First published at Telesur English August 12, 2014.

When the word genocide is invoked, many people might think of Rwanda 1994. In that genocide, the government of the country targeted a minority population for massacre during a civil war that had begun three years before, and killed hundreds of thousands of people, from both the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations. That government lost the civil war, and was replaced by the regime that still rules Rwanda today, the RPF government of Paul Kagame.

Others might think of the Nazi holocaust. In the holocaust, Germany invaded many of the countries of Europe, captured and killed millions of people. The German Nazi government, like the Rwandan government of 1994, lost the war, and was occupied by the very country (Russia) that it had invaded.

We remember these genocides. We remember their victims. We remember their perpetrators. There are museums dedicated to them, and academic scholarship, and media attention. We are taught the slogan, never again.

But these genocides are unique mainly because their perpetrators lost. In many cases, including recent cases, genocide has been a path to power, a way of achieving a goal. The perpetrators have power. No one is able, or willing, to stand up to them. This is frightening for the rest of us because the powerful can, in fact, get away with genocide.

Returning to Rwanda: Kagame's RPF, which defeated the Rwandan government in
1994 and took over the country, massacred tens of thousands of Hutus in Rwanda in 'reprisal', in highly organized massacres. Then, in 1996, Kagame's RPF invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo, and, directly and indirectly over the next 15 years, occupied it. The violence of Rwanda's occupation of the eastern DR Congo has led to excess mortality in the millions, hundreds of thousands of which were from direct violence not unlike the Rwandan genocide of 1994. But Kagame remains in power, his regime is a highly unequal police state, and wealth continues to flow from the eastern Congo, through Rwanda, to the West.

August 7, 2014: The Gaza Ceasefire with Dan Freeman-Maloy

The Ossington Circle is an internet talk show hosted by Justin Podur in Toronto. In this episode, recorded during the 72-hour ceasefire at the end of a month of Israel attacking Gaza in 2014, Freeman-Maloy talks about the ceasefire, the long history of Israel's decades-long, disciplined destruction of Gaza and of Palestinian society, the ironclad Western support for Israel, and what people of conscience in the West can do about it.

Taking Action on Gaza

On August 1, 2014, three weeks into Israel's assault on Gaza, people everywhere were holding fundraisers for medical aid and events to try to understand and figure out how to take action to stop the attack. This talk, given at one such event, describes the direction of Israel's - and the West's - politics on Gaza and Palestine more generally. It is a terrifying direction, a critical moment, and one that will not resolve itself. The West must set limits for Israel, and will only do that if people take action.

Israel/Palestine lexicon for mainstream media

If you are writing for mainstream media, you need to learn special uses of words and phrases that are specific to Israel/Palestine. If you use common usage, you will run into confusions, paradoxes, and hostile responses from pro-Israel people. Please follow these guidelines and you will have no problems with editors, politicians, or organized pro-Israel groups. For each phrase, this guide will present first (a) the common usage, and then (b) the specific Israel/Palestine usage that you must use in order to write for major US (and UK and Canadian of course) media (NYT, Toronto Star, BBC, CBC, etc.)

BIAS

a. Traditional usage: prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

b. Israel/Palestine usage: If you are a politician or journalist, being insufficiently pro-Israel means you are biased. In order to avoid accusations of bias, writers can use the 'both sides' phrase, and compare irrelevant metrics, like, say, the number of Palestinian children killed to the number of rockets launched from Gaza. The use of the word 'nuance', especially when confronted with stark data about hunger, deprivation, or deaths of Palestinians, will also help with accusations of bias.

CIVILIAN AREAS

a. Traditional usage: An area where civilians live. As opposed to, say, an empty, open field, or a military base.

By this definition, since the Palestinians have no state and no army, and therefore have no military bases, and since Gaza is a densely populated urban area full of refugee camps, fenced in on all sides, with its coastal area patrolled by the Israeli navy, all of Gaza would be considered a civilian area. The TUNNELS, by contrast, might not be considered civilian areas, if HAMAS is using them militarily.

b. Israel/Palestine usage: A tiny part of Gaza where HAMAS hides. Bombing this part of Gaza is completely legitimate, because it is necessary to kill HAMAS and to kill its HUMAN SHIELDS.

HAMAS

a. Wikipedia: Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamic organization, with an associated military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere in the Middle East including Qatar.