Saturday, 12 August 2017


Shadows of the Past 
Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration and the Asiatic Barred Zone
South Asian Digital Archive

On January 27, news broke that the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, had signed an executive order barring citizens from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia from entering the United States for 90 days. The very next day, immigration officials started detaining and, in some cases, deporting, those arriving from these seven countries; crowds gathered outside US airports in protest, and the ACLU, along with several other groups, filed a legal challenge.

People on social media pointed out that Trump had issued the anti-refugee and anti-Muslim executive order on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Under the hashtag, #HolocaustMemorialDay, people shared images of Jewish families and children who had arrived to the United States on the St. Louis in 1939, only to be turned away and to later perish in European concentration camps. The parallel between refusing Jewish refugees escaping persecution then, and refusing Muslim refugees escaping war and persecution now, is remarkable.

Yet, one can go back even further in history to find prior connections with the events that have recently unfolded: February 5, 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Immigration Act of 1917—an Act, which for over three decades after its passage, along with existing immigration laws and agreements, prohibited immigrants from almost the entire Asian continent from entering the United States.

Passed over a presidential veto, the Immigration Act of 1917 marked the epitome of anti-immigrant sentiment in a nation that was then gripped with the hysteria of “100% Americanism” in the midst of World War 1. Enabled by fears of economic competition, anti-Asian sentiment led to widespread support of the Act’s xenophobic exclusions. Various labor organizations, including the American Federation of Labor, supported the passage of the Immigration Act of 1917.

In addition to imposing a native language literacy test, an English language test, and head taxes on immigrants, the Act also barred immigrants with disabilities, diseases, or with any characteristics that the state determined to interfere with their ability “to earn a living.” Also excluded were “polygamists,” anarchists, prostitutes, and those opposed to “organized government.” The clearest connection of the Act to today, however, was its creation of what later became known as the “Asiatic Barred Zone”: a geographic tract in Asia enclosed by precise latitudinal and longitudinal parallels designated by Congress. All residents of this area, with some exceptions, were barred from entering the United States. [1]

In the first two months after the Immigration Act of 1917 went into effect, the commissioner general of immigration noted in his annual report to the secretary of labor that “391 aliens were rejected under the illiteracy test,” along with about a dozen others who failed to meet the various other restrictions laid out in the Act. In his 1918 report, the commissioner general noted that “During the past year, 19 natives of the barred zones were rejected at ports of this country.” The barred zone, according to the commissioner general, included “India, Siam, Indo-China, parts of Siberia, Afghanistan, and Arabia, the islands of Java, Sumatra, Ceylon, Borneo, New Guinea, Celebes, and various lesser groups with an estimated population of 500,000,000.” It excluded parts of China and Japan, but the existing Chinese Exclusion Act (passed in 1882) and the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 already prevented immigrants from those countries from migrating to the United States. The Philippines, as an occupied US territory, was also excluded from the zone. Not satisfied with the limits of the law, the commissioner general suggested extending the “barred zone to such parts of Asia as are not now included therein nor affected by exclusion laws or agreements, and also to Africa and adjacent islands, so as to exclude inhabitants who are of unassimilable classes or whose admission in any considerable number would tend to produce an economic menace to our population.”

Oddly enough, even though the barred zone included huge swaths of central Asia, apart from a corner of the Arabian Peninsula covering the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman, it did not include the area today referred to as the “Middle East.” (The map of the Asiatic Barred Zone on Wikipedia appears to be inaccurate. Instead, see the map above.) This means that the West Asian countries of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, that are included in the 2017 ban were not part of the 1917 ban. In Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora (2009), Sarah Gualtieri asks why Syria fell outside the Asiatic Barred Zone. She argues that this was because, “the 1917 Act constructed a different Asian space, one that lay beyond West Asia and that delineated not just a geographic location but the peoples that had triggered American anxieties about the ‘yellow peril.’”

The barred zone, thus, covered those geographical areas from which immigration was seen as particularly threatening, both racially and economically. The racism and xenophobia that triggered the exclusion of Chinese and Japanese immigrants from the United States is well documented. Starting in the early 20th century, exclusionists on the West Coast were also raising voices against the arrival of immigrants from the South Asian subcontinent. They argued that the new migrants, whom they labeled “Hindus” or “Hindoos” (despite the fact that a majority of the incoming migrants were Sikhs or Muslims), were the newest incarnation of the ongoing Asian “problem” that faced the United States.

At the time of the creation of the barred zone then, Congress was more concerned about “The Tide of Turbans,” and “yellow peril” with origins in China, Japan, and India, than it was in immigration from the Middle East. As Gualtieri writes, “The erection of the Asiatic barred zone marks an important moment of differentiation between Europe’s Asia—which included India and West Asia—and America’s Asia, in which India occupied a liminal space and West Asia (the ‘Middle East’) was absent.” (77) Today, the source of anti-immigrant angst has shifted: from “Orientals” and “Hindoos” to Muslims and “radical Islamic terrorists.” The Asiatic barred zone created in 1917 remained in effect, in one form or another, until the passage of several acts that acknowledged and overturned the racial exclusions it promoted: the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, the Luce-Celler Act of 1946, which allowed the entry and naturalization of immigrants from India, and the 1952 McCarran Walter Act, which abolished all racial restrictions on immigration in favor of a quota and preference system. The 2017 ban returns us to an exclusion era these acts sought to put to an end; so far, the ban is for 90 days, but it is possible that it will be extended in duration and expanded to other countries.

In their introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Asian American Studies on Arab American Studies, Sunaina Maira and Magid Shihade argue that scholars of Asian American Studies should expand “our frame of analysis to consider the ways in which categories of subjects such as ‘Asian American’ and ‘Arab American’ are positioned in relation to US empire.” As we see reflections of 1917 in 2017, and understand how anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia in the United States have precursors in the anti-Asian immigrant movements of the late-19th and early-mid 20th centuries, the task of forging connections between Asian American and Arab American studies becomes more important than ever.

To help us look back at the significance of the Immigration Act of 1917 and its relevance in 2017, SAADA is putting together a special issue of Tides and will be publishing pieces about the Act throughout its yearlong centenary. As our call says, “The Immigration Act of 1917 and the surveillance, exclusionism, and nativism that were part of it are strikingly relevant to the present day.” Please consider submitting; your voice is needed more than ever.

1. The Immigration Act of 1917 exempted “government officers, ministers or religious teachers, missionaries, lawyers, physicians, chemists, civil engineers, teachers, students, authors, artists, merchants, and travelers for curiosities or pleasure,” and their “legal wives or their children under sixteen years of age” from the barred zone restrictions. Individuals allowed entry under these provisions, however, had to maintain their “status or occupation” while in the United States or be subject to deportation.


Ambdekar: the New found Messiah

Frontier Weekly

Anindya Sen

In a year or so now, Bhimrao Ambedkar has been hogging perhaps more national limelight than ever before. Administration-induced self-killing of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad University in January 2016, where rabid upper-casteism was in full play, had exposed once more the power of feudal dead-weight in nullifying the promises of equality known to be embedded in Indian constitution.

Vemula's rather introvert suicide note was truly representative of the common psyche of the dalit masses, where he didn't accuse anybody for his death. A sense of void, a deep sense of defeat appears to have engulfed his being which starkly points to the odds faced by his existence in a life of 26 years. His silence however, is an indirect indictment of the whole Indian society, under the savage leadership of Hindutva brigade, where a dalit student didn't find it useful to mention anyone in the death note!!

If this is the level of alienation of a dalit PhD student from the mainstream Indian pshyche, it is not difficult to fathom the mental process of the dalit multitudes while they are the ones who virtually carry the nation on their shoulders.

Ambedkar's crusade against caste system was by default anti-feudal. In his individual struggle and in his ability in dominating the Indian meta-narrative of anti-caste movement, Bhimrao's anti-feudal credential can hardly be questioned, at least prima-facie.

But how far he was interested in advancing his agenda to further logical culmination? With conscious effort the religious reform which he unleashed truly had the potential to spill beyond religious fences. And there are reasons to anticipate that he was also aware of such possibility. Shortly after launching the temple entry movement, did Ambedkar start speaking about switching towards issues directly linked to material advancement of life such as food, education and all. He also started talking about political power and spreading the movement to rural areas. On his way to Europe in 1932, in a letter to the Anti-Untouchability League he exhorted them about the need of 'an army of workers in the rural parts'. The plethora of issues for campaign that he outlined however was, depressingly narrow and limited to civic rights alone such as rights to take water from common village wells, right to entry to schools etc. Curiously enough he wasn't able to figure out any other anti-feudal agenda, though peasant struggle even in those times was already quite strong in the countryside. Bhimaro's agenda was still 'a social revolution in Hindu society', which he conceived as a 'revolution in the mentality of caste Hindus'!

There were various models of peasant movement in the country in 1930s and 40s. Beginning in the land of Bihar under the leadership of Sahajanand Saraswati, which Subhas Bose reckoned with high esteem, waves of peasant struggle gradually assuming both anti-feudal-anti-colonial characters had been sweeping the country across her length and breadth. Ambedkar also tried his hand on the issue, albeit in his signature constitutional way by attempting to move a bill for abolition of Khoti land tenure system and effecting land to the tiller in Konkan, the place of his origin. The bill, celebrated as the first of its kind to propose abolition of serfdom, however ended up in a damp squib, as it was not tabled at all the fate being the same as many other reform efforts in the annals of Indian parliamentary system.

What may be mentioned in this context is that anti-feudal peasant movement was raging in Maharastra also, concentrated in Kalyan and Murbad tehsils under leftist leadership during his time. Ambedkar's involvement in peasant issues was conditioned by two factors—one, his close association with Shamrao Parulekar, who was instrumental in organizing and leading the struggles and two, Ambedkar found it worth-while particularly because the bill, if passed would have benefitted the Mahars, who formed the large chunk of the peasantry under the khoti system.

However, he was mostly confined to parliamentary activism and also maintained studied silence about other peasant struggles in the country. Seen in such context, his efforts in Konkan was more to consolidate his captive social base by making use of parliamentary 'opportunities' rather than a strategic engagement with peasant struggles developing at the grass-roots.

It was during his ascendency to position of power, two major peasant movements shook Indian feudalism to its root; one, Tebhaga movement in Bengal and the other, the Telengana peasant struggle which turned into a great armed struggle against semi-feudal-semi-colonial Indian state. Ambedkar was the law minister (1947-52) when in Telengana peasants were being butchered by Indian security forces with the help of local mercenaries (Rajakars). Accepted that he had issues with violence as a method, but can that explain his silence when his people were being butchered by the upper caste rulers, his avowed enemies? The fact that more than two-third of the population in the region belonged to depressed classes who were facing the brunt of attack, such silence amounts to betrayal to his much vaunted slogan of annihilation of caste. It could have been appropriate occasion for his resignation from the cabinet, which he did in 1952 on Hindu code bill. Such strategic silence definitely goes on to unearth elements of parochialism in the messiah of dalit liberation, perhaps originating from his obsession with parliamentary solutions to all problems.

Thus, his vision of social revolution within Hindu society as the purpose of his crusade, combined with parliamentarism successfully spoiled the show and turned out to be another case of belied opportunity as far as anti-feudal struggles are concerned in India.

Bhimrao grew up in a country ruled and perpetually looted by British. Being born to a subedar in British army, neither he nor his family had to suffer from any direct oppressive act of colonial rule at any stage of his life. His higher education overseas was supported by the princely state of Baroda which was among the most trusted royalties under the colonial power. Gaekwads who also sponsored his study in Columbia university, had the dubious distinction of switching to the British side at opportune moment while being part of Maratha resistance fighting the expanding British colonial power in the early part of 19th century.

However, for obvious reasons, an aspiring youth from among the socially downtrodden may not be expected to be too choosy in receiving support for higher studies. For Ambedkar it was more true because he wanted to attain certain status to enable himself in fighting the upper caste people on a level playing field. In this journey, education was his chosen, and possibly the only refuge. It was also on this pretext that he kept himself aloof, while studying in America, from the nationalist students activities there. He maintained studied distance and was calculative enough to weather away approaches by adherents of Lala Lajpat Rai to join forces with them.

However this aloofness was seen as bit disconcerting because his PhD thesis (Evolution of provincial finance in British India), in which he laid bare the essential exploitative nature of colonial revenue system, did raise great expectations among the overseas revolutionaries about him in fighting colonialism. Dhananjay Keer, Bhimrao's trusted biographer, described this work as reflecting his quintessential anti-colonial position.

One may or may not agree with the positions held in this thesis; in the hindsight it may also be questioned whether the positions held were his original or not. But this thesis earned him some repute as an anti-colonial crusader among the non-resident Indian students in America, whose association he consciously avoided. In his later life too, he never addressed issues related to colonial exploitation in any seriousness and as a result, his actions in socio-political reform didn't develop in that line. His actions which helped him dominate the dalit movement in India had, on the contrary, belied his own positions held in his PhD thesis.

A case in point is his choice for colonial icons for mass mobilization. In 1927 after deciding to actively, organize the dalits he chose the Koregaon monument as the rallying point of dalit Mahars. The monument in Koregaon Bhima village, built by the British government to 'honor' the bravado and martyrdom of its Mahar regiment which played decisive role in defeating the Maratha Peshwa Bajirao II in 1818, thereby decimating last line formidable resistance on Indian soil against expanding colonial power.

Mahars being 'untouchables' had accumulated hatred for the Peshwas, the high caste Maratha Brahmins and that hatred had been used by the British to great effect for colonial expansion. The monument, thus, while being a relic of Mahar pride against upper caste oppression, was at the same time a signpost of colonial victory as well as its legitimization. Ambedkar ignored this very important aspect while using it for indulging in and inspiring dalit pride.

For a man of Bhimrao's erudition, this can hardly be viewed as an act of innocence. It was certainly a chosen one on his part which earned him easy popularity though it was clearly not congruent with the spirit of anti-colonialism. In any case, this was a disjoint between his theoretical perception and political action. However, such disjoints are not unknown in history and have been described by Lenin and other Marxists as opportunism which is at the core of reformism in the realm of mass movement. In that sense Ambedkar was indeed a reformist. And in his case this reformism also led to an apologetic position vis-a-vis colonial power of his time.

It is all very well known that he drew attention to a deep-rooted social malady that caste system is among the Hindus which remained his primary domain of praxis, even as the dominant national political discourse of his time was freedom from 200-year-old plunder. This became his point of departure from the Congress brand of nationalism and he grew into an ardent critic of it. Apparently this critical position may have some appeal to leftist sensibilities and tend to bring him on the same page with the left because the left was also a critic of the freedom struggle under Congress tutelage, though from an entirely different perspective. It needs to understood in real earnest that the commonality was only in appearance and not in content. Despite being a staunch adversary of Hindu religious code of varnashram hardly did Bhimrao ever think deeper than burning Hindu scriptures or conversion to other religion and was not guided by any concept of radical socio-economic restructuring of Indian society.

For him, it was more simple and pragmatic and was free of any burden of ideological principle. His opposition to freedom movement sprang from the perception that colonial rulers were more protective for the depressed classes than the leaders of Congress who were at the same time leaders of Hindu society. And he never made a secret of his position. When Montagu-Chelmsford reform was being debated in the country, he came up with an article in Mook Nayak, which clearly asserted that "if the protection of the Britishers were withdrawn, those who did not condescend to look at the untouchables would trample them down"! (Dr Babiasaheb Ambedkar—Life and Mission by Dhananjoy Keer, pp 41-42)

His critique of the upper-caste bias of the Congress-led freedom movement had elements of truth per se but viewing Britishers as the saviour of the depressed classes certainly smacks of ideological corruption and amounts to falling prey to the time tested divide and rule policy of the colonizers everywhere in history. And this is where all his radicalism led him to eventually turning him into a darling of the colonial rulers. Thus, his subsequent ascendency to the advisor of military council of the British government in the later years can't be seen as anything but natural if not calculative.

So many decades after his death, it may not make much sense to declare him a colonial stooge. But apologist he certainly was and it perfectly makes sense to ask, if this is the legacy the revolutionaries of present time need to bear to carry forward their struggle against neo-colonialism? Even liberal commentators, who are all praise for his personal struggle, his quest for knowledge, his erudition, his eloquence and his articulation of dalit issues in India's constitutional frame are not comfortable with his bonhomie with British power. On what pretext and purpose the revolutionary left should turn blind eyes to this facet is beyond anybody's comprehension.

The times of emergence and the social base were common for the Left in India and Ambedkarite social movement in the formative years and they developed with a consistent love-hate relationship. While in US, Ambedkar was deeply impressed by Western democracy and also got some exposure to leftist ideas. However, his intercourse with Marxism was mostly at the level of pedagogy and he never seemed to be impressed by the praxis, notably in USSR.

Maybe he was aghast with the tendency within the leftist circles of taking Marx and Marxist orthodoxy as dogma. Apparently he found Marx's philosophy as satisfying philosophy to the lower order. But he never found it worthwhile to develop an alternative Marxist praxis in India which he considered a direction rather than a dogma. Moreover socialist praxis in Russia was considered as a 'fraud'.

His efforts at drawing a parallel between Marx and Buddha (Buddha Or Karl Marx) clearly reflects how shallow his reading of Marx was. It was rather a hurried way to find someone in Indian soil close in caliber and excellence to Marx. For him, however, Marxism had already lost its sheen and he wrote in this treatise: "much of the ideological structure raised by Karl Marx has broken to pieces. There is hardly any doubt that Marxist claim that his socialism was inevitable has been completely disproved. The dictatorship of the Proletariat was first established in 1917 in one country after a period of something like seventy years after the publication of his Das Capital, the gospel of socialism. Even when the Communism—which is another name for the dictatorship of the Proletariat—came to Russia, it did not come as something inevitable without any kind of human effort. There was a revolution and much deliberate planning had to be done with a lot of violence and bloodshed, before it could step into Russia. The rest of the world is still waiting for coming of the Proletarian Dictatorship. Apart from this general falsification of the Marxian thesis that Socialism is inevitable, many of the other propositions stated in the lists have also been demolished both by logic as well as by experience. Nobody now accepts the economic interpretation of history as the only explanation of history. Nobody accepts that the proletariat has been progressively pauperised".

Any student of Marxism will readily identify the shallow and ludicrous tone of this reading which is not only pedestrian but amounts to motivated maligning as well. In either case, one can hardly take him or his understanding as Marxist, not to speak of himself as Marxist!

His relationship with leftists, as said earlier, was one of love-hate. In the realm of trade union movement, his main criticism for the left was that the left didn't address the issue of un-touchability in the factory premises. May be such criticisms were valid to some extent. But breaking labor strike in 1928, which Ambedkar attempted in Mumbai textiles can't be justified on that pretext and that history will remain an act of betrayal in the annals of Indian trade union movement.

True, there had been occasions of joint efforts in the aftermath, as in the industrial strike in 1939 but they were in the nature of united front activity from both sides. There were occasions when Ambedkar came up with strong criticism for left which seems to be credible even to this day. A case in point is his criticism of M N Roy for CPI's refusal to have its own trade union assuming that it would weaken anti-British fight and instead work from within the Congress trade union. Such suicidal tendencies within Indian communist movement were major impediments in independent assertion of the left and fight against such tendencies is still on. But for Ambedkar, it can be conclusively said that, those criticisms came not from a left plank and were essentially destructive in nature.

There are reasons to believe that form of movement used by him and the platform he chose to operate from had much to do with such ideological underpinnings, which was basically religious and conformist. His continued engagement with religion seems to be more strategic than tactical. While some of his senior pros had treaded the path of atheism in advancing cause of dalit movement, a la Periyar, it is rather surprising to find him engaged in the labyrinth of religion in the same pursuit. A life-long protagonist of 'dalit liberation' Ambedkar was reformist and for all his bitterness towards Hindu religion, he never envisaged usurpation of caste hierarchy in totality. All his valiance thus remained ever-subjugated to the crucial lack of radical theoretical perspective and will hence be remembered by history as reformist and not revolutionary.

Revolutionary streams of freedom movement in the country too had myriad ideological confusions. Not only many of them used Hindu icons as inspiration, many of them were seriously mired in religious ideology. But they were and are revered as revolutionaries because of their readiness to do maximum sacrifice. The examples they set of bravery, optimism, sacrifice, steadfastness in the face of terror and torture had been exemplary and would inspire many generations of youth in their struggle against oppression and injustice. In Ambedkar's case, it was no-where near theirs. His was a journey of an aspirant upwardly mobile dalit, whose primary ladder of ascendency was constitutionalism, which alone was enough to captivate the firebrand in him and reduce him into a religious reformist. No wonder he was never jailed in his lifetime!

Re-assessment of Ambedkar's work and perception, however, may not be viewed in isolation. It definitely has a long term implication, which calls into question the very basics of the edifice of revolutionary epistemology and practice. The reference point of Ambedkarite movement, in Babasaheb's lifetime as well as later, had hovered around constitutional reforms. They were reformist to the core despite apparent radical forms in burning Hindu religious scriptures etc. They were reformist not because they hovered around constitutional reform, but because they lacked the perspective of a radical social reconstruction which Babasaheb never seriously addressed.

Thus revisiting Ambedkar by the radical left after more than five decades of its existence should also lead them to re-evaluate Indian parliamentary system as a whole. Leaving aside all important issues indicating his complicity with and dependence on colonial power, this aspect may be paid adequate attention.

The radical left in India has already been participating in parliamentary forms of struggle for quite some time and it is important for them to develop enough clarity on these issues. Walking on this slippery path without clarity is fraught with obvious dangers of deviation and degeneration. Though such need has been aired by many, any substantive document on issues relating to Indian constitution and parliamentary politics is yet to come forth.

An erudite activist, a prolific writer Ambedkar certainly has many facets and dimensions. On occasions he had come up with strongest possible criticism for Hinduism as well as capitalism. But unfortunately, neither he was able to design a program for 'annihilation of caste' nor was he ever part of any vision of a society built on socialist lines. As for the first, he took an escape route by switching to Buddhism himself and as for the second, he was precisely against socialism as a possibility. Contradictions between his analyses and positions have been rife all through and perhaps that is the hall-mark of his thoughts where glimpses of brilliance, reflection of ground realities can be found on and off, though the overall ideological overtone remained conservative ever.

Casteist oppression left deep impression in his growing tender sensitivities of Bhimrao, growing in him burning hatred for Hinduism which was his lifelong obsession and drive for all vigorous social activism. But unfortunately that burning hatred failed to lead him to any radical ideological perspective and program, precisely because of his rabid anti-left position and obsession with religion and parliamentarism. His radical edge in social activism had left some trail even to this day and definitely merits attention from the left camp as regards joint actions and solidarity. But what needs to be understood is that confusing United Front (UF) activity with ideology can only invite disaster for the left with long term implications and may be difficult to recover from.

Thursday, 10 August 2017


The Game Is Over and North Korea Has Won

Donald Trump can whine all he wants, but we're now living in a world where American power is less relevant than ever.


The Washington Post reported yesterday that North Korea has a large stockpile of compact nuclear weapons that can arm the country’s missiles, including its new intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of hitting the United States. That’s another way of saying: game over.

Also: I told you so.

There are really two assessments in the Post’s report. One, dated July 28, is that the intelligence community — not just the Defense Intelligence Agency, contrary to what you may have heard — “assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.” The other assessment, published earlier in July, stated that North Korea had 60 nuclear weapons — higher than the estimates usually given in the press. Put them together, though, and its pretty clear that the window for denuclearizing North Korea, by diplomacy or by force, has closed.

These judgments are front-page news, but only because we’ve been living in collective denial. Both intelligence assessments are consistent with what the North Koreans have been saying for some time, for reasons I outlined in a column here at Foreign Policy immediately after the September 2016 nuclear test titled, “North Korea’s Nuke Program Is Way More Sophisticated Than You Think: This is now a serious nuclear arsenal that threatens the region and, soon, the continental United States.”

Authors rarely get to pick titles, and almost never like them, but I think the editors at FP got this one about right. It is about as subtle as a jackhammer, although even so the message didn’t seem to sink in.

Let’s walk through the evidence.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests. That is really quite a lot. Looking at other countries that have conducted five nuclear tests, our baseline expectation for North Korea should be that it has a nuclear weapon small enough to arm a ballistic missile and is well on its way toward testing a thermonuclear — yes, thermonuclear — weapon.

A lot of people got the wrong idea after North Korea’s first nuclear test failed, and subsequent nuclear tests seemed smaller than they should be. There was a common view that the North Koreans, well, kind of sucked at making nuclear weapons. That was certainly my first impression. But there was always another possibility, one that dawned on me gradually. According to a defector account, North Korea tried to skip right toward relatively advanced nuclear weapons that were compact enough to arm ballistic missiles and made use of relatively small amounts of plutonium. That should not have been surprising; both Iraq and Pakistan similarly skipped designing and testing a more cumbersome Fat Man-style implosion device. The disappointing yields of North Korea’s first few nuclear tests were not the result of incompetence, but ambition. So, while the world was laughing at North Korea’s first few nuclear tests, they were learning — a lot.

And then there is the issue of North Korea’s nuclear test site. North Korea tests its nuclear weapons in tunnels beneath very large mountains. When my research institute used topography data collected from space to build a 3-D model of the site, we realized that the mountains are so tall that they may be hiding how big the nuclear explosions are. Some of the “disappointments” may not have been disappointments at all, and the successes were bigger than we realized. I think the best interpretation of the available evidence is that North Korea accepted some technical risk early in its program to move more quickly toward missile-deliverable nuclear weapons.

The fact that North Korea’s nuclear weapons used less fissile material than we expected helps explain the second judgment that North Korea has more bombs than is usually reported. The defector claimed that North Korea’s first nuclear weapon contained only 4 kilograms of the limited supply of plutonium North Korea made, and continues to make, at its reactor at Yongbyon. (For a long while, experts claimed the reactor was not operating when thermal images plainly showed that it was.) The North Koreans themselves claimed the first test used only 2 kilograms of plutonium. Those claims struck many people, including me, as implausible at first. But they were only implausible in the sense that such a device would probably fail when tested — and the first North Korean test did fail. The problem is North Korea kept trying, and its later tests succeeded.

We also must take seriously that North Korea has perhaps stretched its supply of plutonium by integrating some high-enriched uranium into each bomb and developing all-uranium designs. North Korea has an unknown capacity to make highly enriched uranium. We’ve long noticed that the single facility that North Korea has shown off to outsiders seems smaller than North Korea’s newly renovated capacity to mine and mill uranium; we naturally wondered where all that extra uranium is going. (My research institute thinks it might be fun to estimate how much uranium North Korea enriches based on how much it mills, if you know anyone with grant money burning a hole in her pocket.)

Unless the intelligence community knows exactly where North Korea is enriching uranium and how big each facility is, we’re just guessing how many nuclear weapons the country may have. But 60 nuclear weapons doesn’t sound absurdly high.

The thing is, we knew all this already. Sure, sure it isn’t the same when I say it. I mean, I am just some rando living out in California. But now that someone with a tie and real job in Washington has said it, it is news.

The big question is where to go from here. Some of my colleagues still think the United States might persuade North Korea to abandon, or at least freeze, its nuclear and missile programs. I am not so sure. I suspect we might have to settle for trying to reduce tensions so that we live long enough to figure this problem out. But there is only one way to figure out who is right: Talk to the North Koreans.

The other options are basically terrible. There is no credible military option. North Korea has some unknown number of nuclear-armed missiles, maybe 60, including ones that can reach the United States; do you really think U.S. strikes could get all of them? That not a single one would survive to land on Seoul, Tokyo, or New York? Or that U.S. missile defenses would work better than designed, intercepting not most of the missiles aimed at the United States, but every last one of them? Are you willing to be your life on that?

On a good day, maybe we get most of the missiles. We save most of the cities, like Seoul and New York, but lose a few like Tokyo. Two out three ain’t bad, right?

I kid — but not really. Welcome to our new world. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Thursday, 3 August 2017


CIA chief hints agency is working to change Venezuelan government


The head of the CIA has suggested the agency is working to change the elected government of Venezuela and is collaborating with two countries in the region to do so.

In one of the clearest clues yet about Washington’s latest meddling in the politics of Latin America, CIA director Mike Pompeo said he was “hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there”.

He added: “I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota a week before last talking about this very issue, trying to help them understand the things they might do so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world.”

Mr Pompeo’s comments, delivered during a Q&A session at a security forum organised by the Aspen Institute think tank, have sparked outcry among supporters of Venezuela’s government. President Nicolas Maduro, who was elected in 2013, has denounced Mr Pompeo’s remarks and hit out at the governments of Mexico and Colombia.

“The director of the CIA has said ‘The CIA and the US government work in direct collaboration with the Mexican government and the Colombian government to overthrow the constitutional government in Venezuela and to intervene in our beloved Venezuela,’” Mr Maduro said in a televised interview, according to TeleSur.

“I demand the government of Mexico and the government of Colombia to properly clarify the declarations from the CIA and I will make political and diplomatic decisions accordingly before this audacity.”

The US, which is currently gripped by allegations that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, has a long history of interfering with democratically elected governments in Latin America, from Chile to Nicaragua, and Argentina to Haiti.

In Venezuela, it has sought to weaken the elected governments of both Mr Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez, who was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup. Some of the effort has been in distributing funds to opposition groups through organisations such as the National Endowment for Democracy, while some has been in the form of simple propaganda.

In May 2016 unidentified US officials told reporters in a background briefing that Venezuela was descending into a deepening “crisis” that could end in violence. They said they doubted Mr Maduro was not likely to be able to complete his term, which is due to end after elections in late 2018.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, said that for the past 15 years of so it had been US policy to seek a change of government in Caracas.

“They have been trying to get rid of this government for a long time and they feel they are getting closer then ever,” he told The Independent.

The development comes as both Mr Maduro and his country face mounting problems. Against a backdrop of food shortages, soaring inflation and civil unrest, the president has been accused of resorting to mounting authoritarianism. The opposition has called for him to stand down and there have been widespread protests.

Opponents are furious about his plan to press ahead with a vote for a Constitutional Assembly on Sunday. Critics say the rules of the assembly appear to ensure a majority for Mr Maduro.

But Reuters said that Mr Maduro, 54, insists it is the only way to empower the people and bring peace after four months of anti-government unrest that has killed more than 100 people and further damaged the economy.

The question to Mr Pompeo was asked last week by businesswoman Vanessa Neumann, who said she had dual US and Venezuelan citizenship, and who said “regime change looks to be – we hope – imminent or spiralling down”.

She added: “I’m interested in your open assessment on American interests in or threats from Venezuela and which of course has Russian, Iranian, etcetera, interests, and for the region.”

He responded: “I am always careful when we talk about South and Central America and the CIA, there’s a lot of stories.

“So I want to be careful with what I say but suffice to say, we are very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there, so that we can communicate to our State Department and to others.”

The CIA did not immediately responded to queries. The governments of Mexico and Colombia have yet to comment on Mr Maduro’s remarks.

A State Department spokesperson declined to say if the US was seeking to change the government of Venezuela. In a statement, the spokesperson added: “The United States joins nations across the hemisphere and calls upon the government of Venezuela to live up to its commitments to hold free, fair, and credible elections immediately, provide for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, and tend to the humanitarian needs of the Venezuelan people.”

The statement added: “We call for the government of Venezuela to suspend the National Constituent Assembly. The Venezuelan people spoke in overwhelming numbers in the opposition-organised referendum on 16 July. Their voices must not be ignored.

“We are prepared to take strong and swift economic actions if the Government of Venezuela election moves forward on 30 July with a Constituent Assembly.”

Tuesday, 1 August 2017


Very clear imperialism led by usa imperialism wants to go for the final kill move against the independence against imperialism and for socialism project that is Bolivarian Venezuela. They have and continue to conduct a slow motion Arab Sting on Venezuela by using a combination of covert operations and provocations, economic sabotage, killing off and attacking to destroy their closest global allies (Brazil, Libya, Syria, Zimbabwe/SADC etc) and to conduct a non stop propaganda campaign that has got even some sections of the western left selling out Venezuela when usually Latin America gets a massive pass and support whereas same people hate ever parallel country and people in Africa and Asia.

Our leadership and peoples in Venezuela has taken a bold and danger-littered move of basically developing dual power in Venezuela, the revolutionary power of the constituent assembly and the counter revolution supporting the old assembly. The usa has stepped in to put further sanctions on Comrade-President Maduro and have just ratcheted up there war rhetoric even more.

It looks like Venezuela is on the cusp of a major civil war between on the one hand the most radical socialist and anti imperialist forces which have brought gains of power to the poorest in he county and also supported similar in the region and across the world, and in the other hand we have global imperialism working with all talk allies and tools on the other hand. This could easily become a considerable open civil war, its no inevitable but imperialism will be looking to drown Venezuela in blood for it daring to stand up to imperialism for so long. Now is the time for our leadership in Venezuela and their regional and global allies to go all out, to really and frankly mobilise the masses to smash the counter revolution without any mercy whatsoever. Not doing so means it is likely the revolution and leadership of the country will be lost. The lessons of Iraq 2003, Libya and Syria 2011 are all very much relevant to all this.

We have already lost the Workers Party and Lula/Dilma in Brazil which was the start of the modern victories of the imperialist counter revolution. The danger of Venezuela coming to an end portends dangerously for the entire region and the global south, the end of our position in Venezuela will see imperialism hastening its control and revenge on our comrades and masses. We are in real danger right now.


tommy robinson / Celtic incident

A few days ago tommy robinson laid a trap into which some Celtic supporters walked into in sunderland, north east england. This is a clear set-back and embarassing incident for anti-fascist forces, and a considerable win for robinson and fascism.

robinson has released a new book against Islam and Muslims, he was having a book launch in sunderland at a far-right venue. Before the event he called the Celtic 'firm' (organised football hooligans) the Green Brigade a 'bunch of muppets' and wore a rangers t-shirt which is the team of far-right english colonialism and very anti Catholic and anti Irish. Some disorganised young Celtic fans turned up to for the provocation and trap, around a dozen of them, clearly had little to no experience in strategic street fighting, they through a flare into the venue where robinson had ensured women and children were in. robinson's fighters were waiting outside of the venue for the Celtic supporters, and the Celtic youth got battered, with one knocked out on the floor with a pillow with a union jack under his head (no joke).

This is a very undesirable thing to have happened, its hard to imagine a more humiliating incident for anti-racist and anti-fascist forces.

In recent months and years there is a massively growing fascist community led by people like robinson and katie hopkins, although hopkins goes for a slightly more middle class audience than the 'working class' robinson. robinson is putting out his second book, the first was a amazon best seller for a long while, and look: amazon openly assisting and promoting his publication. The global fascist community in which robinson is in is enormous, motivated and militant, and is a big industry in which robinson is making plenty of money. The sunderland incident is robinson promoting his second book, and the disaster at sunderland plated *right* into robinson's trap and as such robinson turned the incident as he always was planning onto into a big promotion for his book online.

stephen yaxley-lennon better known as 'tommy robinson' is very likely an agent of the british state and intel services, a leading british fascist and indeed is a leading global fascist celebrity who has recently teamed up with leading usa fascist alex jones. robinson's fame/infamy was facilitated by the british state as they allowed many protests organised by robinson's then outfit the 'english defence league'. Once the edl has served its functions for the intel services they wound that down and robinson was instructed to then work with another very likely state asset - Maajid Nawaz who runs a state-backed outfit called the Quilliam Foundation. robinson has been been nearly literally held by the hand of the state and its agents to make his discourse more sophisticated.

robinson and hopkins and others are becoming increasingly conceited and confident in their provocations. robinson often just door steps organisations and individuals in a very confrontational way, and gets away with it time and time again with impunity. The Green Brigade are not like the Celtic fans, they have experience in these matters and are allies of the general struggle against imperialism and racism and for socialism on this island, and one hopes they will act to redeem our anti-fascist community from this embarrassment. 


Britain risks disgracing itself by sending carriers to S.China Sea

Global Times

"During a visit in Australia, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Thursday that Britain's two new aircraft carriers could be sent to patrol the South China Sea ...UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon made similar comments on Thursday, claiming that Britain would not be constrained by China from sailing through the South China Sea.

To declare the freedom of navigation in the Western Pacific is not in line with Britain's national interests. It is no longer 1840. There are no longer any British colonies in East Asia and the presence of Britain's warship in the region is more like "an aberration."


Brexit is weakening Britain's influence, and it appears that the country needs to do something to assert its sense of identity. If it goes too far, however, it will get itself in trouble. Britain's national strength today is even weaker than when it went to war with Argentina in 1982. And Britain has no capacity to mobilize troops to fight a "New Opium War" with China off the China coast.

Obviously, the "freedom of navigation" pursued by the US and its allies is posing a real threat to China's security. Today, the biggest threat in the South China Sea comes from the provocation to China by military forces outside the region. Britain should be aware that if the country's new aircraft carriers are sent to patrol the South China Sea, the Chinese will view it as a provocation.


China's rise has changed the balance of power around the globe, and this has presented new temptations for Britain to bring its influence as a big power into full play. If Britain sends its carriers to the South China Sea, it will merely be humiliating itself. It seems as if the US is a police officer, Australia is its assistant and the UK is "an accomplice."


The relationship between China and the Philippines has improved. Vietnam attempted to drill for oil in the disputed sea area but finally gave up. Whether the South China Sea remains peaceful or not depends on how active forces outside the region are in getting involved and meddling. But those forces have no determination to play for real or take any real risks in confronting China. In face of China's determination to defend its national interests, they are either paper tigers or a paper cat like Australia."



A Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Friday said that some non-regional countries' insistence on stirring up trouble in the South China Sea was "worth maintaining vigilance."

"Some non-regional countries insist on stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, which is gradually becoming tranquil. No matter what excuse or holding which banner, their record in leaving chaos and humanitarian disaster through interference suggests that it is worth maintaining vigilance," Lu Kang said at a daily press briefing.

Lu's comment came after Britain's Defense Secretary Michael Fallon reportedly said that Britain plans to send a warship to the South China Sea next year to conduct freedom of navigation exercises, following British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's remarks about sending two new aircraft carriers, once operational in 2020, to the region.