Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Is Joe Biden Up for the Job?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Don’t be fooled, after hearing U.S. President Joe Biden read a speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress April 28, into thinking he’s running the country.

He was simply giving voice to the two ventriloquists sitting behind him – Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Vice-President Kamala Harris. They, along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, are really in charge, for better or worse.

Backing them in prime positions in Biden’s administration are many old Obama hands like Avril Haines, Samantha Power and Janet Yellin. In fact nearly 60 percent of appointees are officials from the Obama administration.

One month ago, on March 25, Biden had finally held his first press conference. Anyone could see how frail he was. Many newspapers revealed several “cheat sheets” used by Biden, including one with the headshots and names of reporters he planned to call upon.  

The press pool was limited to 25 reporters, and Biden only took questions from a list of journalists whose names and outlets he read from a cue card. He abruptly wrapped up the press conference, telling reporters, “But folks. I’m going,” without allowing follow-up questions.  

Roger Kimball in the March 25 Spectator observed that Biden “faced a few mild questions from essentially friendly reporters who were hand-picked by his minders to be sure they were on side.” 

As one (anonymous) critic pointed out, he is, to put it charitably, in “cognitive decline.” In case I’m accused of “ageism,” I’d like to point out that I’m not much younger than Biden. 

So we were left to analyze a video of Biden falling down the stairs of Air Force One or hearing him state that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “killer” — a word the leader of one powerful country should never use against another, unless willing to break off relations or go to war.

I’d feel sorry for Biden if he had been forced into this job. But he asked for it — literally. 

Still, his selection as the Democratic party candidate remains a puzzle. The country, mired in a pandemic, mutual hatred between Democrats and Republicans, and serious ethnic tensions, needs strong leadership. Instead, it got Biden. 

Even sycophants can’t turn him into a Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln or even Bill Clinton, though they try. One puff piece, a March 26 Politico article, “Why Joe Biden is embracing his age,” by Michael Kruse, hoped he might “ultimately rank among the most consequential of modern presidents.” 

America’s ruling circles have shown disdain for the rest of the country. Since most of the “oligarchs,” as they’d be called elsewhere, support the Democrats, the party had no qualms about putting Biden in the White House. They knew others would shape actual policy. 

The Democrats perpetrated a fraud on the American people and sold them a bill of goods. Other presidents have also become ill, but only after many years in the White House — Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan towards the end of their second terms, Franklin Roosevelt after 12 years in office. 

Biden was simply a placeholder because the party insiders didn’t want those whom most of their supporters preferred: for some, it was Kamala Harris, for others Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. 

It made a mockery of the whole primary process, too. That simply came to an abrupt end. 

In their book Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency, journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Pares describe the concerns that some Democrats had last summer about him.  

Back in April 2019, when Biden announced he was running, he wasn’t an obvious favourite in a crowded field of Democratic aspirants. During the early days of his campaign, he was rambling and repeating himself more than ever. 

Allen and Parnes even quote a staffer who worried about the optics of Biden sitting in his basement during the summer: It looked, he remarked, as if Biden were in hiding. 

The election was indeed “stolen” -- not via fraudulent voting, but by the very choice of the candidate. Surprisingly, at that press conference, Biden told the reporters he was willing to run for a second term — at which point he’d be almost 82 years old. That won’t happen.

 

Monday, May 03, 2021

Can America Contend With a Rising China?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript

China’s President Xi Jinping has called for a new world order, using a speech at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference April 20 to launch a veiled attack against American global leadership.

“Bossing others around and interfering in other countries’ internal affairs would not get one any support,” Xi told the 4,000 participants. “World affairs should be handled through extensive consultation, and the future of the world should be decided by all countries working together. We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others, or allow unilateralism pursued by certain countries to set the pace for the whole world.”

China’s ambition is to be a global leader of nations that oppose Washington and its allies. It not only refutes American criticism of its internal affairs but presents its own values as a model for others.

Most of America’s problems in competing with China are domestic.  Americans are the ones who have spent the past year rejecting their history, destroying statutes of prominent figures, tolerating widespread looting and arson, eliminating meritocratic competition in many of their schools and universities, and directing their military to focus on social issues rather than fighting wars.

When members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff claim the biggest threats to national security are domestic terrorists led by white nationalists, there is real trouble afoot.

The pandemic heightened this self-destruction. The wealth gap has soared. While those at the top, along with professionals, bureaucrats and teachers, have been spared, small business entrepreneurs and the working class has been ravaged by lockdowns and other restrictions.

The southern border with Mexico is a shambles and the governors bearing the brunt are adamant. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on April 21 sent the National Guard to the southwest border, declaring a state of emergency. It’s no wonder that China sees the country as decadent and weak.

The Chinese in years past had told Washington they were going to trade fairly and honour their treaty to leave Hong Kong alone until 2047. They said they were going to stop coercing American companies into handing over their intellectual property to Chinese companies. But they didn’t honour those promises.

Today’s aggressive stance on the part of Beijing has been termed “wolf-warrior diplomacy,” a foreign policy named after a recent Chinese movie. The days when China would seek to hide its strength are over.

Chinese representatives when meeting their American counterparts in Anchorage March 19 made it clear that they do not believe that the new administration is dealing from a position of strength.

Such tough talk, which even includes insulting foreign leaders, is paired with Chinese hard power initiatives for construction of artificial islands for military bases in the South China Sea, the Belt and Road Initiative, and Chinese entry into dual-purpose (military and private sector) technologies.

Basing the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy by obtaining nationalist goals internationally has proven to be a powerful legitimating ideology which provides popular support and insulates President Xi from any dissatisfied elites. They recognize that toppling a leader forwarding a strong international Chinese agenda would invite backlash.

 U.S. President Joe Biden downplayed Xi’s repressive policies at a CNN televised event in Milwaukee on Feb. 16. “I am not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uighurs in western mountains of China and Taiwan.  Culturally there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow.”

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, took advantage of this on Feb. 22 when addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council by claiming that Xinjiang-related issues “are in essence about countering violent terrorism and separatism.”

The United States and China may be caught in the Thucydides’ Trap, a term that refers to the dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace an existing great power as an international hegemon.

There’s a time lag between the end of an empire and perceptions of its demise by its leaders and citizens. The British Empire was doomed after 1945, but it took some two decades before the average Briton realized it. Is the same true of the American empire today?

 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Indian Democracy is Crumbling from Within

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript

While India is a multiparty democracy, the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has presided over discriminatory policies and increased violence affecting the Muslim population.

The constitution guarantees civil liberties including freedom of expression and freedom of religion, but harassment of journalists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other government critics has increased significantly. Muslims, scheduled castes (Dalits), and scheduled tribes (Adivasis) remain economically and socially marginalized.

In February 2020, more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, were killed amid communal and protest-related violence in Delhi that followed weeks of demonstrations against alleged discriminatory changes to the country’s citizenship law.

Seven months later, several BJP leaders who were accused of orchestrating the 1992 demolition of the historic Babri mosque in in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya were acquitted by a special court. Modi had signaled his support for the construction of a Hindu temple on the site.

A 2021 report published by the Varieties of Democracy Institute, based at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, has stated that India no longer qualifies as an “Electoral Democracy,” relegating it to the ranks of “Electoral Autocracies.”

The pro-democracy Freedom House, in its 2021 Freedom in the World rankings, also downgraded the country’s status, from “Free” to “Partly Free,” on account of its weakening protection of civil liberties.

India’s West Bengal state has emerged as a key battleground for Modi’s BJP, which is looking to extend its national domination. To win power in the state, where a month-long election began on March 27, it seeks to defeat the regional All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) party, in power since 2011.  

The left-of-centre TMC is headed by Mamata Banerjee, the first female chief minister of the state. It currently holds 200 seats in the 294-seat legislature, while the BJP, under Sayantan Basu has 35. Polls predict a very close result.

Nationally, the BJP controls a dozen of the country’s 28 states, with alliance partners in several others. But it has never won power in West Bengal, whose 90 million people make it India’s fourth most populous state.

To galvanize Hindu support, the party is promising to deport hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims who fled decades ago to West Bengal.

All this reflects the replacement by Hindu nationalists of the more cosmopolitan, westernized political elite that brought India to independence under the Congress Party banner in 1947. The newer leadership is more parochial, insular and rooted in the subcontinent. Their ideology, known as Hindutva, considers India a Hindu state, first and foremost.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, studied at Cambridge, while his daughter, Indira Gandhi, attended Oxford. His great-grandson, Rahul Gandhi, whose mother is Italian, studied at Harvard University and Trinity College in the United States. But Rahul led the Congress Party to electoral defeat in the 2019 Indian general election, winning just 52 seats to the BJP’s 303.

Modi, by contrast, sports a degree from the University of Delhi. He came up the ranks in the right-wing Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh organization. He was chief minister of Gujarat during the 2002 communal riots in which over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died.

While the post-colonial leadership took their seats at the United Nations, their populace at home was nothing like them. At independence, less than 20 per cent were literate; only four years earlier, millions in Bengal had died in a famine. The overwhelming majority married, and still do, within their caste.

The English-speaking intelligentsia of India, which produces novelists such as Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, is the face of India best known in the rest of the world, but it is no longer the dominant India. The cultural monopoly of the secular left is a distant memory.

Roy told Nieman Reports on Feb. 26 that India is not a democracy, “because every institution that is meant to work as a check against unaccountable power is seriously compromised.”

Rushdie, who is Muslim, in an essay published in the Guardian of London April 3, reflected on the Mumbai of his childhood and his despair at the sectarianism he sees today. The country, he writes, has entered a “darker phase” and, “right now, in India, it’s midnight again.”

 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Biden too ancient to be president; Americans were deceived

 Henry Srebrnik, Halifax Chronicle Herald


"Even liberal sycophants can’t turn (Joe Biden) into a Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln or even Bill Clinton, though they try," writes Henry Srebrnik. - Reuters

 

On March 25, U.S. President Joe Biden finally held his first press conference. Anyone could see how frail he was. Many newspapers revealed several “cheat sheets” used by Biden, including one with the headshots and names of reporters he planned to call upon.  

The press pool was limited to 25 reporters, and Biden only took questions from a list of journalists whose names and outlets he read from a cue card. He abruptly wrapped up the press conference, telling reporters, “But folks. I’m going,” without allowing follow-up questions.  

Roger Kimball in the March 25 Spectator called it “A tame press conference for a lame president,” where Biden “faced a few mild questions from essentially friendly reporters who were hand-picked by his minders to be sure they were on side.” 

As one (anonymous) critic pointed out, he is, to put it charitably, in “cognitive decline.” In case I’m accused of “ageism,” I’d like to point out that I’m not much younger than Biden. 

So we are left to analyze a video of Biden falling down the stairs of Air Force One or stating that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “killer” — a word the leader of one powerful country should never use against another, unless willing to break off diplomatic relations or go to war!  

I’d feel sorry for Biden if he had been forced into this job. But he asked for it — literally. 

I’d feel sorry for Biden if he had been forced into this job. But he asked for it — literally. 

Still, his selection as the Democratic party candidate remains a puzzle. The country, mired in a pandemic, mutual hatred between Democrats and Republicans, and serious ethnic tensions, needs strong leadership. Instead, it got Biden. 

Even liberal sycophants can’t turn him into a Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln or even Bill Clinton, though they try. One puff piece, a March 26 Politico article, “Why Joe Biden is embracing his age,” by Michael Kruse, hoped he might “ultimately rank among the most consequential of modern presidents.” 

British author Rana Dasgupta, in “The Silenced Majority,” published in the December 2020 issue of Harper’s magazine, asserts that the real political battle in America today is that “between the people and a grandiose private system of social, economic, and political management that has the power to bring to an end the democratic certainties on which Americans have come to rely.” 

America’s ruling circles show disdain for the rest of the country. Since most of the “oligarchs,” as they’d be called elsewhere, support the Democrats, they had no qualms about putting Biden in the White House. Others will shape actual policy. 

The Democrats perpetrated a fraud on the American people and sold them a bill of goods. Other presidents have also become ill, but only after many years in the White House — Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan towards the end of their second terms, Franklin Roosevelt after 12 years in office. 

Biden was simply a placeholder because the party insiders didn’t want those whom most of their supporters preferred: for some, it was Kamala Harris, for others Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. 

It made a mockery of the whole primary process, too. That simply came to an abrupt end. 

In their book Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency, journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Pares describe the concerns that some Democrats had last summer about him.  

Back in April 2019, when Biden announced he was running, he wasn’t an obvious favourite in a crowded field of Democratic aspirants. During the early days of his campaign, he was rambling and repeating himself more than ever. 

Allen and Parnes even quote a staffer who worried about the optics of Biden sitting in his basement during the summer: It looked, he remarked, as if he were in hiding. 

The election was indeed “stolen,” not via fraudulent voting, but by the very choice of the candidate. Surprisingly, at his press conference, Biden told the reporters he was willing to run for a second term — at which point he’d be almost 82 years old. That won’t happen. 


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Oligarchs Remain in Control of Ukraine Despite Democratizatio

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

 The media, which since 2016 has seen Russia as the bad old “bear” attempting to destabilize and bully its neighbours, paints countries on Moscow’s borders as heroic states fighting to preserve their freedom.

Typical was an article by Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times of Oct. 15, 2019, referring to post-2014 Ukraine, after evicting its pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych in the “Maidan Revolution, as “a remarkably vibrant, multiethnic democracy in a region full of aggressive nationalism and authoritarian backsliding.”

This “narrative” allows the United States to use Ukraine as a staging ground to contain Russian interests in the region, including Moscow’s legitimate concern for ethnic Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians in the eastern part of the country.

On April 1, NATO said it was concerned about a Russian military build-up near Ukraine’s borders, and U.S. President Joe Biden affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

A few days later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated Kyiv’s desire to be admitted to NATO, something which Moscow has repeatedly warned against over the years, threatening that it could catapult the region toward a major war.

The distance from the eastern Ukrainian border to Volgograd is less than 370 kilometres. Were Ukraine to become a NATO member, the alliance would extend almost as far east as Hitler’s troops had reached when they advanced towards what was then Stalingrad in late 1942. Russia cannot countenance this.

Is Ukraine a state we should go to war over? It remains far from having a democratic political culture – no surprise, since it was part of a totalitarian Soviet Union for 75 years, and prior to that an autocratic tsarist Russian empire.

Instead of transitioning to a new era, it often feels as if Ukraine is stuck in a state of permanent stagnation, living from crisis to crisis and revolution to revolution. Meanwhile, the population remains mired in poverty.

There is no consensus about the exact reasons why success has eluded Ukraine for the past three decades. However, few would argue that the main obstacles have included the excessive influence of Ukraine’s oligarchs.

The classical definition of oligarchy, the rule of a few self-interested elites, denotes entrepreneurs who use their wealth to exert political influence. The concept is also closely associated with political corruption and kleptocracy. It can co-exist with formally democratic systems.            

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, oligarchs have become a central feature in Ukrainian politics no matter what president or political regime assumed power. Though Ukraine has had five presidents since independence, the political entrenchment of oligarchs has remained constant.

They continue to exercise a tight grip on the Ukraine’s political and economic life. Ukraine’s oligarchs typically exercise their influence through corrupt parliamentarians, members of government, law enforcement officers, and judges.

The roots of Ukraine’s “oligarchic democracy” can be traced back to the 1994-2004 presidency of Leonid Kuchma, when today’s power brokers first established their informal empires. Ukraine has undergone two pro-democracy revolutions since then, yet little has actually changed.

          After the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine inherited large enterprises, institutions and organizations. Concerns arose about who should own and manage them, thus the process of privatization begun.

The goal was intended to create a competitive business environment. But former Soviet-era apparatchiks saw it as an opportunity to reinvent themselves as political actors to expand opportunities for large-scale profiteering.

The balance of forces between the different oligarchic groups has changed several times but the essence of the system itself remains the same. Oligarchs continue to shape the trajectory of the nation, some choosing to gain formal political offices – this was the case when billionaire Petro Poroshenko was elected president in 2014 -- while others acquired media holdings offering them the opportunity to influence public opinion on political issues.

They use their control over groups of parliamentary deputies to block attempts at reform. When Zelensky won the presidency in 2019, he promised to free the political system of domination by the oligarchs but he has made only limited headway.

A $5 billion loan deal from the International Monetary Fund is on hold as the Ukrainians try to convince IMF officials that they are serious about tackling corruption.

 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Russia, the West, and the Start of a New Cold War

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton Times & Transcript]

The fall of the Soviet Union presented a monumental challenge for the new Russian state. Economic, political and military collapse exposed its weakness for the West to exploit.

Russia had to navigate a fragmented ethnic population, create relations with states that it had once ruled through imperial conquest, and had to manage its reduced geographic security with less military and productive resources.

There was initial goodwill between the Russian government and the West, but this diminished with an unceasing expansion of Western hegemony. Multilateral institutions such as the European Union and NATO expanded into the former buffer states of Russia and even into the former Soviet Union itself.

The neoconservative turn of American foreign policy was marked by activity to bring about regime changes in former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine to make them receptive to American power. Russia consequently became interested in controlling its neighbours’ affairs by establishing regional military institutions, countering Western influence in its “near abroad” and withholding trade to enforce its will.

Vladimir Putin was the result of this pushback. Putin has portrayed himself as a strong leader so that the public will view him as capable of leading and defending Russia. In terms of foreign policy, he has based his legitimacy by painting Russia as under attack by illegitimate Western interference. This provided the springboard of his military actions in Georgia and Crimea.

In Ukraine, an oligarchic capitalist system had been aligned with Russia for the maintenance of power by the country’s corrupt rulers. Viktor Yanukovych had become president of Ukraine in 2010 and had been steering the country away from Europe and closer to Russia. But the Maidan Revolution of 2014 ousted him and he was replaced by the pro-western Viktor Yushchenko.

 Fear in the Kremlin that Ukraine might join the EU led to the annexation of Crimea and the sponsoring of secessionist groups in the Donbas. This, predictably, caused outrage in western countries, but increased Putin’s popularity at home. Putin utilized the antidemocratic accusations levied against him by the West to fuel his nationalism.

U.S. President Joe Biden has been playing into Putin’s hands since taking office. Biden in a televised interview on March 17 described Putin as a “killer” with no soul and said the Russian leader would pay a price for alleged Russian meddling in the November 2020 presidential election, something the Kremlin denies.

Putin replied that Biden was accusing the Russian leader of something he was guilty of himself. Russia also recalled its ambassador back to Moscow for the first time since 1998.

Policies in Washington have pushed Russia and China closer together since Putin’s annexation of Crimea and China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.  Biden’s administration has now gone on the offensive with a national security agenda prioritising “rivalry with China, Russia and other authoritarian states.”

 The U.S. is even willing to consider NATO expansion into Ukraine, on Russia’s doorstep, and Georgia, in the Caucasus. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated Kyiv’s desire to be admitted to NATO, something which Moscow has repeatedly warned against, threatening that it could catapult the region toward a major war.

To an ex-KGB officer like Putin, this sabre-rattling must seem like a return to the “capitalist encirclement” of the USSR during the Cold War. U.S. sanctions targeting Russia’s policy on Ukraine and China’s suppression of the Uighurs have further aligned Moscow and Beijing’s interests.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited China March 22-23 for talks with his counterpart, Wang Yi, marking the resumption of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries.

The Chinese and Russian military now routinely hold joint military exercises in the Indian Ocean and East China Sea. Moscow has said it would not rule out a possible pact with China to counter NATO, but Beijing seems less interested.

 

“The latest steps and gestures by the Biden administration, seen as hostile and insulting by the Russian and Chinese leaders, have predictably pushed Moscow and Beijing even deeper into a mutual embrace,” according to Artyom Lukin, a professor of international studies at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia. U.S.-Russia relations are at their worst since the Cold War ended and will remain so in the coming years.

 

 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Tragic History is Still Haunting the DRC

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript

It is hard to think of any country on earth more ruthlessly exploited than the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its natural resources -- tin ore from mines in the interior, timber from its vast forests, gold ore, diamonds, even uranium – are all pillaged. 

The theft of the territory’s wealth goes back to the days of the 19th century Congo Free State, the lucrative, privately owned colony of Belgium’s King Leopold II.

Traders and explorers from the Middle East, Europe, and even the United States moved rapidly into the region. They created a deadly trade in ivory and rubber for Western markets and in enslaved labour for the Indian Ocean rim.

The brutal practices that King Leopold II later used to extract a huge fortune in rubber from his personally owned colony became a worldwide scandal in the twentieth century’s first decade, as recounted in Joseph Conrad’s 1902 exposé, Heart of Darkness.

Few profits from all these riches ever trickled down to ordinary Congolese, either in centuries past or today. Most households today survive on less than the equivalent of $3 a day.

Recovery from the exploitation built into colonialism often happens faster if a territory previously had a common language and some shared sense of nationhood, but that eludes this vast country.

The region was inhabited by hundreds of different peoples, speaking well over 200 indigenous languages, and absolutely no sense of shared identity. Travel was very difficult due to the thickness of the rain forest, the world’s second largest, and hindered the development of large political entities.

“In many cases,” writes Yale University historian Robert Harms in his 2019 book Land of Tears, “the largest political unit was a single village, or even a segment of a village.”

The Belgian government took control of the vast region away from Leopold but did little to improve conditions. After independence in 1960, the country devolved into anarchy; eventually the major beneficiary became the dictator of the country, Mobutu Sese Seko. During his reign of thirty-two years, Mobutu pocketed even more money from the territory than Leopold had done.

The collapse of the Mobutu regime in 1997 created a power vacuum that drew more than a half-dozen African nations, along with various militias, into an extended and chaotic war in the Congo.

This bloody conflict, which became known as Africa’s World War, lasting from 1998 to 2003, led to the deaths of some four million people. Then came the long-time ruler Joseph Kabila, who used his time in office, from 2001 to 2019, to amass vast business holdings for himself and his family.

Though Felix Tshisekedi is currently president, following a disputed election, Kabila still wields considerable power behind the scenes.

Nor has violence ceased. Armed groups continue to massacre civilians in the troubled east of the country. The Italian ambassador, Luca Attanasio, was killed Feb. 22 during a visit to the eastern part of the country in a World Food Program convoy. 

The U.S. State Department on March 11 declared the Allied Democratic Forces and Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen as terrorist groups affiliated to the jihadist group Islamic State Central Africa Province.

The despoilation of the country’s resources continues. The Congo Basin contains some 314 million hectares of primary rainforest. “Being a major storehouse of biodiversity, it provides huge services to all of humanity,” explains Simon Lewis, a geographer at University College London.

Industrial activity, such as palm oil plantations, logging and mining, is contributing to deforestation. Primary rainforest loss more than doubled between 2002 to 2019, according to Global Forest Watch, an initiative of the World Resources Institute. In 2019 alone, 590,000 hectares were lost.

One way to halt this is through community forestry concessions in individual villages. The government believes this will provide unprecedented new levels of protection.

For example, the 500 indigenous people of Lokolama, in the Equateur province of northwestern Congo, were granted 10,000 hectares in February 2019 with the support of Greenpeace Africa and are now harvesting honey and tomatoes. In Yanonge, more than 640 kilometres to the east, four remote forest communities established another community concession, cultivating peanuts and plantain.

The country has also instituted a moratorium on new logging concessions. It’s definitely a start.

 

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Vietnam’s Government Has Crushed COVID-19

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript

In Vietnam, a Communist regime has dominated its society for decades and remains important today. It has been put to the test as it faces the struggle against COVID-19. So how has the country fared?

Despite limited resources and geographical proximity to Wuhan, China where coronavirus first appeared, Vietnam’s low-cost model against COVID-19 has been a success with the number of infected staying low and community infection under control.

Vietnam has kept the total number of infections in the country of 96 million at around 2,500 as of March and reported just 35 deaths. It crushed a first wave of cases in February 2020, and a larger cluster that was detected among foreign tourists two months later.

The Lowy Institute published an index on Jan. 28 ranking 98 countries and their success in handling the coronavirus pandemic, Vietnam ranked second, behind New Zealand.

Vietnam’s first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine, called Nanocovax, is expected to be available by the fourth quarter of this year and put into use in 2022. Four Vietnamese companies were engaged in vaccine research and production.

Vietnam’s economy has remained resilient, expanding by 2.9 per cent in 2020, one of the highest growth rates in the world, and growth is projected to be 6.5 per cent in 2021, thanks to strong economic fundamentals, decisive containment measures and well-targeted government support, according to the International Monetary Fund’s latest survey of the country’s economy, released March 1.

The government’s pandemic prevention strategy fitted with Vietnamese society’s collectivist culture. Though this exerted constrains on people’s lives, they complied with its actions, the main reason for Vietnam’s success in coping with COVID-19.

Vietnam issued quick and decisive policy responses and it strictly applied health measures. It used mass media and grassroots management system to turn these into advantages to help the country fight COVID-19.

The nation mobilized the whole political system including the Communist Party, the government, the Fatherland Front and other social organizations. The slogan “Fighting the pandemic like fighting against invasive enemies” demonstrated Vietnam’s determination and priority on pandemic prevention.

This did involve intrusive surveillance. There are 2.8 million government officials and employees in the nation, accounting for about three per cent of Vietnam’s total population. They were thrown into the battle.

Grassroots committees were established, and each building and school had its own steering committee for COVID-19 prevention. The establishment of a network from the central to the grassroots level has helped the pandemic prevention activities be widely deployed.

In localized areas where the virus was detected, barricades were set up to prevent people from leaving their houses, while the grassroots management teams helped ensure people’s daily life by supporting their purchase of supplies and necessities. Health checks and monitoring were also conducted continuously to detect new cases in the affected locales.

Vietnam temporarily suspended entry by most foreigners and stopped operating international flight routes, only organizing flights to take Vietnamese home from countries where COVID-19 infections had become critical.

Mass media, which is strictly under political control, has played an important role in raising public awareness of the coronavirus. In Vietnam, there is no private ownership of broadcast outlets.

The national state-owned broadcasting television, Vietnam Television (VTV) is under the control of the two bodies: The Department of Radio, Television and Electronic Information, which regulates technical, legal and economic aspects of the broadcasting system, and the Central Propaganda and Education Commission, which works to ensure that “all media practitioners remain loyal to the Party’s propagandist agenda.”

Mass media in the country continuously delivered messages about the danger of COVID-19, and surveys showed that people accepted the credibility of the information.

The Ministry of Public Security also provided simple instructions for people to identify fake news on the internet that might be harmful to the country. Those evading medical declarations were not only punished by law but also subject to intense social condemnation.

The cooperation of the public was achieved through the application of what the government termed the “two weapons”: domestic mass media and the grassroots management system.

“When people trust the government, people do what the government says,” remarked Professor Guy Thwaites, director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit and Major Overseas Programme in Viet Nam.

 

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Can Russia Teach Us Anything About Ethnically-Based Federali

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Political scientists seek to understand events and processes in one place through juxtaposing them with their contemporary equivalents in at least one other society.

So much of the reason we teach comparative politics courses is so that students can compare and contrast political systems elsewhere to our own and perhaps consider potentially adapting some of their features to our own federation.

Russia has a complicated asymmetrical federal structure. There are 85 units, all called “Subjects of the Federation.”

The main grouping is the 46 oblasts, usually named after their main city, for example Sverdlovsk or Volgograd; they have a predominantly ethnic Russian population. They are simply territorial subdivisions, like American or Brazilian states, with no ethnic connotations.

The same is true of the nine krais, such as Kamchatka or Krasnodar. They are named differently than oblasts because they are found in outlying, frontier areas, mainly in Siberia. A Canadian parallel might be Yukon.

Then there are units with a distinct ethnic basis, named republics, which enjoy more autonomy than the other types of jurisdictions.

These 22 republics range from big ethnic entities named for a “titular” nationality, such as Chechnya and Tatarstan, down to tiny entities created as homes for smaller ethnic groups. Some of the latter are even enclaves found within the regular oblasts or krais.

For example, Adygea is one such entity, representing the indigenous Adyghe people. It is the fifth-smallest Russian federal subject by area, with its territory situated within Krasnodar Krai.

Each region, regardless of its status, has an elected leader -- in oblasts and krais, governors or the heads of administration; in republics, usually presidents of the republic.

Regardless of type or size, all 85 “subjects” are represented by two delegates each in the Council of the Federation, the 170-seat upper house of the Federal Assembly, the Russian parliament. The lower house, the State Duma, with 450 members, is an elected body, with representation by population.

In my course on the Russian political system, I introduced the students to this complex system. Then I brought to their attention the ill-fated 1992 Charlottetown Accord, in which aboriginal peoples were to have been a “third order of government.”

The Charlottetown Accord would have substantially altered the status of aboriginal groups in Canada. Under the Accord, an aboriginal right to self-government would have been enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. Moreover, the Accord would have recognized aboriginal governments as analogous to the federal government and the provinces.

There was provision for aboriginal representation in the Senate, and Aboriginal senators would have had the same role and powers as other senators.

Aboriginal legislation, however, would have been required to be consistent with the principles of “peace, order, and good government in Canada,” and would have been subject to judicial review under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Beyond these general principles, the Charlottetown Accord did not provide any details on the precise form that such self-government would have taken. Further, it provided for a breathing period before they could access the right to self-government.

This would have allowed the federal government and the provinces time to negotiate the details. But how would this have worked, territorially? There are 633 reserves in this country, all within provinces and territories, like raisins in a cake. What would their status become? This remained vague.

But what if we adopted the Russian system, making them all small ethnic republics within the larger provincial entities created by the settlers who came to this country? After all, Nunavut is already effectively an Inuit polity.

So, for example, Kanehsatake, near Montreal, would become a Mohawk republic, within the province of Quebec. The Tsuutʼina First Nation southwest of Calgary would become a self-governing ethnic polity. And so on.

Some First Nations are already, in a de facto sense, on this road. British Columbia is home to 198 First Nations, about one third of all in Canada. The Nisga’a in 1998 signed a treaty with Canada, and as part of the settlement, nearly 2,000 square kilometres in the Nass River Valley in northwestern British Columbia was officially recognized as theirs.

The Wetʼsuwetʼen, in the central interior of the province, last May signed an agreement with the federal and provincial governments, in which Ottawa and B.C. recognized Wet’suwet’en rights and title to their land.

Doing the same with other indigenous nations would make for a more complex federal system than the one we have now, but it might open up all sorts of possibilities for further reconciliation.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

As China Rises, Biden Struggles to Resp

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB]  Times & Transcript

On March 19, American and Chinese officials met in Anchorage, Alaska, to discuss a range of security and human rights issues. It didn’t go well. The new Biden administration’s strategy to curb Beijing faces a stiff challenge as China uses its economic, diplomatic and military might to deflect criticism.

The relationship between the two countries got off to a bad start when the new People’s Republic of China, founded in 1949, snubbed the U.S. as the chief global agent of capitalism and imperialism and forged an alliance with the Soviet Union.

Washington retaliated by refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the new Chinese government and continuing to uphold the Republic of China, confined to the island of Taiwan, as the sole legitimate representative of the Chinese people, and denying the Communist regime one of the five permanent seats at the UN Security Council until 1971.

Relations grew more cordial in the 1970s, and the Beijing regime was recognized in 1979. China also emerged from the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution and began its swift rise as a major economic power.

China’s leaders aimed at the creation of a mercantilist, state-capitalist system, guided by a Communist Party holding a monopoly of power, modelled after Vladimir Lenin’s New Economic Policy in the early years of the Soviet Union.

Lenin characterized it as an economic system that would include a free market and capitalism, but subject to state control.

While China and the U.S. have found some common ground on issues of trade, key issues remain unresolved, the potential for troubling divergence is real, with China now an economic powerhouse, a military force in Asia, and a potential rival to U.S. hegemony.

President Xi Jinping, in power since 2012, is the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. In March of 2018, China's parliament amended its constitution, broadening his power and scrapping term limits.

China has become more authoritarian under Xi. He has carried out a massive crackdown on China’s Uighur minority in Xinjiang; launched campaigns of repression in Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, and Tibet; and stifled dissent among intellectuals, lawyers, artists, and religious organizations across China.

He has come to believe that China should no longer fear any sanctions that the United States might impose in response to violations of human rights. In his view, China’s economy is now strong enough to weather them.

Anyhow, the promise of peaceful reunification with Taiwan under a “one country, two systems” formula has evaporated as the Taiwanese look to Hong Kong, where China has imposed a harsh new national security law, arrested opposition politicians, and restricted media freedom. 

The Chinese think that the United States’ role in their region for the past 75 years has been unnatural and is therefore transient.

China is aiming to become the dominant force in the Asia-Pacific, strengthening its hand toward Taiwan and international disputes in the East and South China Seas. Championing what he calls the Chinese Dream, a vision to restore China’s great-power status, Xi has gone further to push military reforms than his predecessors.

Beijing intends to complete its military modernization program by 2027, with the main goal of giving China a decisive edge in all conceivable scenarios for a conflict with the United States over Taiwan.

So the possibility of war exists, since for the United States to back away from a fight would mean abandoning its commitment to a democratic ally at tremendous reputational cost.

Chen Yixin, the secretary-general of the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, on Jan. 15 stated that “the rise of the East and the decline of the West” has become a global trend and “changes of the international landscape are in our favor.”

A powerful figure within the China’s Communist apparatus, he is expected to succeed Xi Jinping as the country’s next leader and his remarks reflect Beijing’s growing belief in its inevitable rise as the world’s sole superpower.

China now occupies that place in the American mind that Germany and the Soviet Union once held: an ideological opponent that has the ability to threaten the United States’ position in a key region and perhaps elsewhere too. Can President Joe Biden improve matters? Not so far.