Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Congo is World's Saddest Country

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
There can be few places, including even other failed states, as unfortunate as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Its 70 million people, living in the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa, have seen little but chaos and warfare since independence from Belgium 56 years ago.

Joseph Kabila, the current leader, has been in office for 15 years since taking power when his father was assassinated. He won tainted elections in 2006 and 2011 but is barred by the country’s constitution from seeking a third term. 

However, he has shown no intention of stepping down. Like all of his predecessors, Kabila has grown wealthy while most Congolese remain desperately poor. 

The next presidential election is scheduled for November and one contender is Moise Katumbi, a business tycoon and former governor of mineral-rich Katanga, in the south of the country.

Once an ally of Kabila, Katumbi broke with the president last year. But Kabila began to harass his challenger. 

On May 4 Congolese officials announced that they would investigate allegations that Katumbi was using American mercenaries. Katumbi, who has made millions of dollars subcontracting for mining companies, called that a “grotesque lie.”

Thousands of Katumbi’s supporters then clashed with police in Lubumbashi, the largest city of copper-rich Katanga. Katumbi fled the country for South Africa on May 20, a day after he was charged with “threatening the internal and external security of the state.”

Meanwhile, in early June, a new opposition coalition was formed that includes the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) led by veteran opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi; the Dynamic Opposition; and the G7, which had already chosen Katumbi as its presidential candidate. 

Tshisekedi came second to Kabila in the fraudulent 2011 election and has now emerged as Kabila’s main opponent following the meeting, but he is said to be ill so his future is uncertain. 

Once again, the Congo, always on the verge of disintegration, is lurching toward a political abyss. With its long history of bloodshed, any serious instability could cause the country to explode. 

A United Nations report issued June 17 warned that the country could descend into a cycle of electoral violence if the election is delayed.

The Congo’s last civil war, lasting from 1997 to 2003, claimed up to six million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition.

So many neighbouring states were drawn into the conflict that it was called “Africa’s World War.” 

Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Chad all sent troops during the conflict. 
The fighting was fuelled by the country’s vast mineral wealth, with all sides taking advantage of the anarchy to plunder natural resources.

Even today, despite one of the largest peacekeeping missions in United Nations history and substantial international attention, more than 60 armed groups are operating in the country, 
particularly in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces in the eastern region of this vast and poorly governed country.

The Congo has not had a single peaceful transfer of power in its 56 years of independence.

Brexit Referendum Nixes European Union

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
The British people have voted to leave the European Union, by 52 to 48 percent. Following an intense battle that lasted for months, the June 23 “Brexist” referendum on British membership in the 28-member EU ended with a close victory for the Leave side.

Led by British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Remain side, supported by most of his own Conservative Party as well as the opposition Labour Party, had pulled out all the stops to prevent Britain from leaving.

Most European leaders hoped Britain would remain an EU member. Landmarks from Paris to Warsaw were bathed in the colours of the Union Jack, along with the message “Vote Remain.”

 “I appeal to the British citizens: Stay with us. We need you. Together we will cope with future challenges. Apart it will be more difficult,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council and a former prime minister of Poland, wrote on Twitter. It was all for naught.

The vote revealed deep divisions within the United Kingdom itself, with Scotland very favourable to remaining within the EU, as opposed to most of England. 

However, cosmopolitan London, along with a few large cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, and university towns like Oxford and Cambridge, threw their weight behind the Remain side.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister and leader of the separatist Scottish National Party government in Edinburgh, has threatened to mount another referendum in Scotland to leave the UK.

In Wales, on the other hand, the Leave side prevailed. Leanne Wood, the leader of the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru, said that if the UK does leave the EU it could provide opportunities for those whose ultimate aim is independence for Wales.

Northern Ireland’s vote followed sectarian lines, with Catholic Nationalists massively in favour of remaining in the EU, of which the Irish Republic is also a member, while Protestant Unionists were split between the two options. 

Cameron had accused the Leave side of being opposed to immigration, pointing to a poster campaign by the right-wing pro-Leave UK Independence Party head Nigel Farage warning that Britain had reached a “breaking point.” 

Farage, who was jubilant in victory, contended that EU membership had left the country unable to control its borders and defend itself against an immigrant influx. “The dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” he declared when the results were tallied. 

With net migration to Britain of 330,000 people in 2015, more than half of them from the European Union, Cameron had no effective response to how he could limit the influx.

There was an obvious reason why immigration proved a potent weapon for the Leave side. Life is tougher for millions of Britons on modest incomes than it was a decade ago.

The country had only joined the EU (then the European Economic Community) in 1973 because it felt it had run out of other options in shaping its postwar, post-empire identity. There was no great desire to pool sovereignty in pursuit of wider political goals.

That’s why pro-EU advocates, while making dire economic predictions should the UK leave, seldom appealed to Britons’ sense of shared identity with the continent. 

One of the main Leave proponents, former London mayor Boris Johnson, had accused Prime Minister Cameron of demeaning voters by suggesting that those who wished to leave were “somehow against the spirit of modern Britain.”

He termed it “an insult to the people of all races and parties and ages and beliefs who simply want to take back control of this country’s democracy.” 

Calling the Remain side “Project Fear,” Johnson described them as “a cushy elite of politicians and lobbyists and bureaucrats, circling the wagons and protecting their vested interests.” Much of the hostility was aimed at those who were seen as feathering their own nests.

He was on to something. Chris Bickerton, a Cambridge University lecturer, has observed that EU nations have become “member” states, rather than fully sovereign nations, whose power and legitimacy are entirely bundled up with their membership of a transnational community.

This shift from nation states to member states, he asserted, results in the hollowing out of national democracy, as elites withdraw from the larger society and feel less attachment to it. 

What the EU had brought to the British was a loss of control over their own affairs. No wonder so many Britons were angry.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Is Ukraine Honouring Mass Murderers?

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press
The tortured history of Jewish-Ukrainian relations has again come to the fore. On May 25 Ukraine observed a minute of silence in memory of Symon Petliura, a nationalist leader blamed for the murder of some 50,000 Ukrainian Jews during the chaos of the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

It marked the 90th anniversary of Petliura’s assassination in Paris.

A French court acquitted Sholom Schwartzbard, a Ukrainian-born Jew who had fought for France during the war, of the 1926 murder even though he admitted to it.

“I have killed a great assassin,” Schwartzbard told police during his arrest. The court found that Petliura had been involved in or knew of pogroms by members of his militia fighting for Ukrainian independence from Russia.

Pogroms against Jews occurred in 524 towns in Ukraine during the years 1917-1921, with the majority perpetrated by Putliura’s Ukrainian People’s Republic forces. Fifteen of Schwartzbard’s relatives perished in the killings.

Separately, the director of Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance, Vladimir Vyatrovich, said in a statement on May 31 that Kyiv will soon name a street for two other Ukrainian nationalists, Stepan Bandera, who was himself assassinated by the KGB in Munich in 1959, and Roman Shukhevych.

They were responsible for violence against Jews and others in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during the Second World War.

Bandera was a fascist and the two groups he led -- the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) -- engaged in atrocities against Jews as well as Poles, Russians and other Ukrainians in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during the Second World War. Shukhevych was a UPA general.

On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union and soon overran Ukraine. The OUN proclaimed a Ukrainian state eight days later, followed immediately by a pogrom against Jews. It would be the first of many.

Before the Nazi invasion, Ukraine had a Jewish population of 2.3 million. Altogether, over 900,000 of them died between 1941 and 1944.

Reasons for collaboration included Ukrainian political aspirations for regaining independence, resurgent nationalism, and deep-seated anti-Semitism, as well as widespread anger and resentment against Soviet Russian rule.

Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, has condemned the plan to name streets for Bandera and Shukhevych.

“My countrymen should know that Bandera and Shukhevych considered me and all of the Ukrainian Jews -- children, women, the elderly -- enemies of Ukrainians,” he posted on his Facebook page.

Once regarded as illegitimate to serve as national role models because of their war crimes, Bandera, Petliura and Shukhevych are now openly honoured in Ukraine.

Jews have voiced their concern about the influence of ultra-rightist groups in Ukraine, including the Svoboda (Freedom) Party led by Oleh Tyahnybok.

Tyahnybok co-signed an open letter to Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko in 2005 calling for a government investigation into “criminal activities of organized Jewry in Ukraine.”

In a 2011 march organized by Svoboda to celebrate the Waffen-SS Galicia Division organized during the Second World War, participants shouted “one race, one nation, one Fatherland.” In May 2013 the World Jewish Congress described Svoboda as neo-Nazi. 

However, western powers continue to turn a blind eye to creeping fascism in Ukraine. A United States-Ukrainian Security Dialogue held in Washington in late February, for instance, featured Andriy Parubiy, now the speaker of Ukraine’s parliament. He has many friends in Washington, including U.S. Senator John McCain.

Those in attendance were not told of Parubiy’s role in co-founding Svoboda and his ties to extremist right-wing groups like the paramilitary Azov Battalion, now part of the country’s National Guard. 
Parubiy also visited Ottawa and met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Canadian soldiers are training Ukrainian troops in western Ukraine, and the two countries are finalizing a Canada-Ukraine trade deal.

Today’s North American politicians know very little about the crimes committed during the two world wars by those Ukrainians whom people like Parubiy admire.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Are Britons Opposed to EU Xenophobic Nationalists?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
Following an intense see-saw battle that has lasted for months, the June 23 “Brexist” referendum on British membership in the 28-member European Union is now upon us.
Led by British Prime Minister David Cameron, the “Davos nomenklatura” that runs the EU, along with their intellectual fellow-travellers, has pulled out all the stops to prevent Britain from leaving.
Historian Anthony Beevor, writing in the left-wing Guardian, remarked, incredibly, that if Britain quit, “we will instantly achieve most-hated nation status, not just in Europe but far beyond.”
In the Times Literary Supplement, published in London, 31 British cultural figures in academia, literature and the humanities signed a plea to voters to stay. “Please don’t leave us alone,” they pleaded.
“If we succumb to fear mongering, to emotional appeals to nationalism at the expense of good sense and compassion,” commented Shamim Sarif, a British novelist and filmmaker, in the New York Times, “we are ringing our own global death knell as a country that puts nationalism ahead of humanity.”
There is strong anti-Europe sentiment in much of England, reflecting a view that its identity and values are being washed away by subordination to the bureaucrats of Brussels. Nationalism and multiculturalism have been a key part of the debate.
Cameron accused the Leave side of being opposed to immigration, pointing to a poster with a warning that Britain had reached a “breaking point.”
 The campaign seemed hardly about Europe at all, but “all about us and the English identity,” observed Cambridge University Professor Robert Tombs.
That’s why pro-EU advocates, while making dire economic predictions should the United Kingdom leave, seldom spoke out for the idea of Europe or appealed to Britons’ sense of shared identity with the continent.
One of the main “Leave” proponents, former London mayor Boris Johnson, accused Prime Minister Cameron of insulting voters by suggesting that those who wished to leave were “somehow against the spirit of modern Britain.”
In an article in the right-wing Telegraph, Johnson pointed to the EU as an increasingly anti-democratic system that is now responsible for 60 per cent of the law that goes through the British parliament, coming as they do from “dictates passed down from Brussels and rulings upheld by the European Court of Justice.”
This, he maintained, is “a phenomenon that contributes so powerfully to the modern voter’s apathy, the sensation that we no longer control our destiny, and that voting changes nothing.”
Calling the Remain side “Project Fear,” Johnson described them as “a cushy elite of politicians and lobbyists and bureaucrats, circling the wagons and protecting their vested interests.”
Those who value national identity and sovereignty are increasingly being castigated as “racists,” “fascists, “ultra-nationalists,” and “xenophobes,” not just in Britain but everywhere in the West. For globalists, a state’s independence is now viewed as an impediment to a more “progressive” world.
Taken to its extreme, the end result of this logic would be the ultimate creation of a superstate without borders and a homogenous culture. Is that really what people want?  

Monday, June 20, 2016

Oil and Wealth in Angola and Chad

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
Two oil-rich African countries have been using their newfound wealth in very different ways, demonstrating that valuable resources need not always lead to corruption.

Thanks to oil, Angola, which emerged from a decades-old and devastating civil war in 2002, has emerged as sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest economy. 

Now a petro-state producing 1.8 million barrels of oil a day, the southwestern African country has become China’s principal trading partner on the continent.

The country’s political elite, centred on the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), has used its wealth to build highways, railways, and modern buildings in Luanda, the capital. But little of this benefits the masses and the country’s human rights record is, to say the least, less than stellar.

Instead, a small coterie has become immensely wealthy. They have managed this through their control of Sonangol, the national oil company, which has effectively emerged as a parallel state, controlling the flow of oil revenues, and enabling a fortunate few to create an African oligarchy.

China’s rapid economic growth necessitated a huge demand for oil, regardless of who was selling it. A turning point in Angolan-Chinese oil relations took place with the visit of Sonangol’s chief executive officer Manuel Vicente to Beijing in 2004. 

Soon, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) had major stakes in Angola’s oil sector. 

However, the economy is built on the sale of one product and there has been little attempt to diversify. The country remains one of the most unequal societies in the world. Oil money has fueled corruption, an example of what economists have called the “resource curse.”

A better outcome can be found in the northeastern African state of Chad, where Chinese energy companies have also been active.

Chad has earned at least $10 billion since Exxon Mobil opened began production in 2003. Three years later, a deal was signed with CNPC to open a second field. 

The country now produces about 180,000 barrels per day and relies on crude exports for more than two-thirds of its income. It is the seventh-biggest producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

But unlike in Angola, civil society in Chad has demanded more transparency and social and environmental standards for production.

In 2014, Chad decided to withdraw five exploration permits issued to CNPC and fined the company $1.2billion for environmental violations that had led to noxious spills around drilling sites. Oilfield workers also went on strike to denounce their conditions and demand salary increases.

In the end, CNPC promised to pay about $400 million to end the environmental disagreement and also agreed to provide a larger share of royalties in a new deal with the government

Also, much of the building work in N’Djamena, the capital, has been carried out by Chinese contractors in deals that exchanged production rights for promises to improve the country’s infrastructure, such as roads, railways and power networks.

So in Chad the industry is closely monitored and operates under greater constraints than in the Angolan case. It demonstrates that resource extraction need not involve simple plunder and environmental degradation.

Trump and the Judge

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
Donald Trump has been attacking U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel for having an “inherent conflict of interest” in a case that has been brought against the Republican presidential nominee. 

Curiel is presiding over two of three lawsuits against Trump and his defunct Trump University. The judge was born in Indiana to parents who emigrated from Mexico.

Both cases before Curiel are class-action lawsuits from former students, claiming fraud and demanding their money back. 

“Based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial,” Trump said.

Did Trump make this up out of thin air? The San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association, the Latino group of which Curiel is a member, considers various pro-illegal immigrant organizations as part of its “community.” Trump has, of course, made illegal immigration from Mexico part of his campaign and wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Also, the San-Diego based law firm representing the plaintiffs in the Trump University case, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, has paid $675,000 to the Clintons for speeches. 

Hillary Clinton gave a $225,000 speech at the law firm as recently as September 4, 2014. Bill Clinton also gave a speech for the same fee back in 2013, and another one in 2009 before the firm had been renamed (they used to be called Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP).

Strange, isn’t it, that the mainstream media, dominated by the left, has mentioned none of this. On the contrary, they all outdo each other denouncing Trump as a “racist.” 

And the saddest part is that Republicans are repeating this charge, seeming not to remember that the same slanders were levelled against every prominent Republican – including their idol Ronald Reagan.

No doubt Trump is being foolish to go after this judge; like the Council of Guardians in Iran, federal judges are deemed above reproach.  But this high-profile case is politically motivated and is simply a way to make him look bad. 

Every day thousands of businessmen face litigation in all kinds of cases. That’s why America is crawling with lawyers; it’s the most litigious country on earth. If Trump weren’t running against the Clinton machine, would we even hear about this case? It might appear in a corner of an inside page of the Wall Street Journal

Since the verdict in the case will not be rendered until after the election, Trump is now being tried in the court of public opinion, and even if vindicated, it will be too late.

Anyhow, if judges, including Curiel, should all be deemed unbiased, as Trump’s critics insist, why do we go through all the fuss about taking into account gender, ethnicity or religion when selecting them? U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor herself has challenged the notion that people’s diverse experiences do not matter. 

A Trump supporter using the pseudonym Decius took note of this:

When Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that being a “wise Latina” influences her decisions for the better, “that was not merely nothing to worry about but a sign of her judicial temperament and fitness for the High Court. When Trump says being a Latino will influence this judge’s hearing of his case, he’s Hitler.”

Talk of double standards. In any case, as someone pointed out, most of this name-calling is a deliberate refusal to debate Trump’s main policies: immigration reform, more jobs for American workers through protectionism, and a more modest foreign policy.