Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, July 25, 2016

Does Turkish Democracy Remain in Danger - From Erdogan?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
Turkey was plunged into chaos on July 15 after a faction within the Turkish armed forces calling itself the “Peace at Home Council” launched a coup.

But it fizzled out, as people swarmed onto the streets in a show of support for the elected government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Even Turkey’s four main opposition parties condemned the coup attempt, and most of the important branches of the military and security services rallied to the government’s side.

“What is being perpetrated is a treason and a rebellion. They will pay a heavy price for this,” Erdogan promised. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”

The president blamed the coup attempt on a small group of military officers loyal to a Pennsylvania-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who maintains a network of adherents across Turkey and has long challenged Erdogan’s hold on power. The officers were apparently destined to lose their jobs in August during a military reshuffle.

“He has been obsessed with the Gulenists for years,” according to Derek Chollet, a former senior White House official. “I have been in meetings where he’s spent more time talking about them than the threat from the Islamic State.” The movement denied any involvement in the coup.

Erdogan has made many other enemies in the 13 years he has run Turkey, first as prime minister and then, since August 2014, as president. Hundreds of officers have been imprisoned by his government, some of them accused of coup-plotting.

He wants to change Turkey’s constitution, which was promulgated in 1980 following the last successful military coup, to adopt an American-style presidential system which would give him greater power.

There had been international criticism of Erdogan’s human rights record, especially his growing repression of the media. It has been reported that since 2014 1,845 journalists, writers and critics have faced charges of insulting the president.

Judicial independence is also under attack. Last month, Erdogan had already submitted to the Turkish parliament a bill that would remove judges accused of links to Gulan. The government has now purged 2,745 judges from duty in the wake of the coup.

The attempted coup happened because Turkey is deeply divided over President Erdogan’s project to transform the country. “He is a political Islamist who has rejected modern Turkey’s secular heritage,” contends Jeremy Bowen, Middle East editor for the BBC.

Certainly, there has been dissatisfaction in some secular army circles with Erdogan’s policy of moving away from the secularist principles of Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of the Turkish Republic after the First World War.

The current unrest has revealed a society deeply polarized between supporters and opponents of the president, who remains hugely popular and commands the admiration and loyalty of millions of Turks.

“There was no good outcome,” maintained Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “If the coup had won, the state will be oppressive. If Erdogan wins, it will still be oppressive, because now there’ll be a witch hunt.”

The coup attempt “presents a dilemma to the United States and European governments,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, remarked. “Do you support a nondemocratic coup,” or an “increasingly nondemocratic leader?”

Is Afghanistan's President Too Honest to Rule?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

It’s an old, and unfortunate, story. Someone from a Third World country obtains an education in a western university, works in global institutions, and returns to their home country after many years abroad.

Then, perhaps unable to stand up against its political culture, he becomes enmeshed in its politics of tribal rivalries, corruption and violence.

A recent example is Ashraf Ghani, now president of the ever-volatile political culture that is Afghanistan. An ethnic Pashtun from a prominent family, he is losing his struggle to maintain his reformist stance amid pressure from traditional Pashtun leaders, who still view power in ethnic terms.

In exasperation, he is being forced to revert to type, so much so that as far as his cosmopolitan past is concerned, to use the catch-phrase of a Servpro, an American restoration company, it’s “like it never even happened.”

In 1977, Ghani and his family left Afghanistan, and he didn’t live there again for a quarter century. At New York’s Ivy League Columbia University, he completed a dissertation in cultural anthropology.

Ghani taught at the University of California at Berkeley and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and in 1991 he became an anthropologist for the World Bank.

Following the defeat of the Taliban after 9/11, Ghani returned to Afghanistan, where he soon became Minister of Finance in the new administration of President Hamid Karzai.

He introduced anti-corruption measures and, established a centralized revenue system – thereby earning the ire of corrupt provincial warlords siphoning off money for their followers.

His critics derided him as a high-minded and arrogant micromanager and Karzai removed him in 2005. He ran against the president in the 2009 election and suffered a humiliating defeat in a rigged election.

In 2014, he ran again for president when term limits forced Karzai to step down. Ghani stopped wearing Western suits and started using his tribal name, Ahmadzai. In a run-off he beat Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister of mixed Tajik and Pashtun descent.

At first Abdullah claimed fraud, but after months of bitter wrangling, the two agreed to form a national unity government. It was the first peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan since 1901.

There have always been attempts to “modernize” the country. It’s a recurring pattern.

Amanullah, Afghanistan’s king from 1919 to 1929, oversaw the writing of a constitution, improved education, and encouraged freedoms for women. But he offended key elements of society, including the mullahs, and he was overthrown by tribal leaders.

From the 1930s to the 1970s, there was a semblance of a national government and relative stability.

The 1960s saw a brief era of modernity and democratic reform. Afghanistan built national roads and defended its borders. Afghan women attended Kabul University.

“I lived in Afghanistan when it was very governable, from 1964 to 1974,” remembered Thomas Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska in Omaha.

The country was almost self-sufficient in food and had a small yet thriving export trade in fruit, handicrafts, furs and gems. Today, Afghanistan imports much of its food and it produces very few commercial goods.

After becoming President, Ghani at first all but ignored the traditional politics of Afghanistan, involving tribal networks, patronage systems, and power brokers. He refused to meet with favor seekers.

In the following months, offended, many of them abandoned Ghani and some even switched their support to the Taliban. So Ghani has been forced to play by the old rules. He recently named a major power broker, Pir Sayed Ahmed Gailani, to the important position of chairman of the High Peace Council.

Ghani’s position remains precarious. Afghanistan’s neopatrimonial political system is one in which an office of power is used for personal uses and gains, as opposed to a strict division of the private and public spheres. It’s difficult to rule such a country by being a technocrat rather than a corrupt politician.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Jewish Fighters of the Spanish Civil War

Henry Srebrnik, Canadian Jewish News
The conflict that is considered the precursor of the Second World War began on July 17, 1936 and lasted almost three years. It would pit fascists against Communists, nationalists against republicans, monarchists against anarchists.

The Spanish Civil War started as an uprising by the Spanish Army along with right-wing groups such as the fascist Falange against the democratically elected government of the Spanish Republic.

At least half a million Spaniards were killed in the 1936-1939 conflict that General Francisco Franco began after raising a rebel army in Spanish Morocco, and which saw the forces of the elected Republican government defeated with the fall of Madrid on March 28, 1939 and a final surrender four days later.

It became an international cause and would eventually also draw in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Portugal on behalf of Franco, and, to a lesser extent, the Soviet Union and Mexico for the democratic Republic.

Germany and Italy provided massive military support for the Nationalists, while the USSR covertly shipped tanks, planes and artillery to the Madrid government.

Many of the individual fighters were not even Spanish. On the Nationalist side, Italy’s Benito Mussolini sent 100,000 Italian troops, while neighbouring Portugal provided some 20,000 “volunteers.”

Members of the Condor Legion, a unit composed of volunteers from the German Army and Air Force, also provided critical support for the fascists. In one infamous incident, the Basque town of Guernica was reduced to rubble by German and Italian planes in 1937.

Troops from Spanish Morocco, known as Moors, played a significant role in the civil war. About 136,000 fought for Franco’s Army of Africa, the feared vanguard of a force that, ironically, Franco portrayed as a Christian crusade against “godless Communists.”

It is more than a little ironic that the side claiming to represent Roman Catholic Spain used Muslim troops, the very descendants of the people expelled from the Iberian Peninsula during the lengthy Reconquista that regained the country from the Moorish sultans that had ruled Spain for almost 800 years.

The Moors were known to be especially formidable. Former Moorish soldiers recalled the terror they inflicted on Spanish villagers on behalf of Franco.

“We spared nothing and no one. We uprooted everything and killed everyone we encountered,” one recounted. “Horrified Spaniards attempted to flee as soon as they heard the words of our prayer.”

The Soviet Union sent some 2,000-3,000 military advisors to help the Loyalist forces. But most foreigners were volunteers, organized mostly by the Comintern, the international Communist organization controlled by the Soviets.

With Hitler and Mussolini supporting Franco, those with deep anti-fascist convictions, especially Communists, were drawn to defend the Republic.

Some 40,000 foreign nationals fought with the International Brigades; they claimed to represent 53 nations.

There were seven brigades in all, each divided into battalions by nationality, their names those of revolutionary heroes. A very high proportion of the volunteers were Communists.

Americans and Irish volunteers fought in the Abraham Lincoln and George Washington Battalions; Britons in the British Battalion; Bulgarians and Yugoslavs in the Dimitrov Battalion; Canadians in the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion; Czechs in Masaryk Battalion; Hungarians in the Rakosi Battalion; Germans in the Thaelmann Battalion; and Poles in the Dombrowski and Mickiewicz Battalions.

The two American battalions were integrated, at a time when the regular U.S. military was segregated.

It has been estimated that almost 8,000 of the volunteers were Jewish. Most fought within their national units; perhaps as many as 40 per cent of the 3,000 American volunteers, for example, were Jews.

There was also one all-Jewish group, the Naftali Botwin Company, comprising at least 200 Yiddish-speaking east European Jews, which served as part of the Dombrowski unit.

The Brigades battled heroically against great odds, and casualties were very heavy. They were killed at nearly three times the rate of the rest of the Republican Army.

More than 2,300 Britons fought in Spain and more than 500 were killed. Of the Americans who volunteered, about 800 perished. A total of 1,448 Canadians went to Spain to fight; just 729 returned.

When the Brigades were disbanded in the autumn of 1938, the political activist Dolores Ibarruri, known as La Pasionara, made a farewell address on Nov. 1 concluding with the words “You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend.”

Because they were “premature anti-fascists,” none of the volunteers received any aid from their home countries, which remained studiously neutral during the conflict.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Homelessness Remains Major U.S. Problem

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
At Public School 188 on New York’s Lower East Side of Manhattan, 47 per cent of the students were homeless last year. The percentage was higher at two other schools in New York City.

The number of homeless people in the city, now estimated at more than 61,000, has never been larger. One in every 147 New Yorkers is currently homeless.

More than one-fifth of America’s homeless are in California, with Los Angeles alone accounting for 82,000 on any given night.

About one in ten of California State University’s 460,000 students is homeless, and one in five doesn’t have steady access to enough food, the initial findings of a study commissioned by California State University Chancellor Timothy White last year has discovered.

More than 56,000 college students identified themselves as homeless in the country, according to 2013-14 Federal Student Aid Form data.

The homeless in America are getting older. Across the country, there were 306,000 people over 50 living on the streets in 2014, a 20 per cent jump since 2007, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They now make up 31 per cent of the nation’s homeless population.

The surge in older homeless people is driven largely by younger baby boomers born between 1955 and 1965, according to an analysis by Dennis P. Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor.

There has also been a sharp increase among homeless people ages 18 to 30, many who entered the job market during the Great Recession. They make up 24 per cent of the homeless population. They have come of age during the economic downturn, and confront a tight housing and job market.

There has been a lack of home building since the financial crisis, and many can simply not afford to pay soaring rents in big cities like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, even if working at minimum-wage jobs.

San Francisco is considering a plan to get some of its 6,600 homeless into supportive housing -- prefabricated units that can be constructed in months and cost just $200,000 apiece.

The cost would be about $200 million to build these, and about $50 million annually to operate those and other added units. That’s a lot of money -- but today the city spends about $241 million annually on its homeless citizens, not including police and emergency medical services.

Somewhat luckier are those people who can at least live with their parents. In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were, at 32.1 per cent, slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data.

This is a huge increase from the affluent boom period after the Second World War. In 1960, just 20 per cent of 18-to 34-year-olds lived with their parents.

In their book $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, professors Kathryn Edin of Johns Hopkins University and Luke Shaefer of the University of Michigan assert that what they call “extreme” poverty roughly doubled between 1996 and 2012.

They noted that the overall unemployment rate was almost twice as high in 2009 as in 1996. But the very poor have also been affected by city, state and federal budget cuts that have led to a reduction in the funding for programs for reducing homelessness.

Israeli-African Relations Have Greatly Improved

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently visited four African countries. His trip, the first to the continent by an Israeli leader in more than two decades, began with a ceremony in Entebbe, Uganda marking the 40th anniversary of the hostage rescue in which his brother Yonatan died. He then travelled to Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

The operation to liberate hostages held in Uganda’s main airport by German and Palestinian terrorists took place on July 4, 1976.

They were passengers aboard an Air France plane, en route from Tel Aviv to Paris, which had been hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Baader-Meinhof Gang.

Uganda was at the time ruled by the murderous tyrant Idi Amin, who was a supporter of the Palestinian cause.

While in Uganda, Netanyahu also met with the presidents of South Sudan and Zambia, as well as the foreign minister of Tanzania.

Netanyahu’s trip was part of a growing alignment between Israel and sub-Saharan African states. Jerusalem is searching for new allies as the prime minister tries to shift Israel’s diplomatic strategy away from relying largely on its Western allies, particularly Washington.

Israel’s traditionally close ties with Europe have cooled, but both it and African states face a common threat from radical Islamist groups. Not coincidentally, all of these African states are Christian-majority countries.

These countries are afraid that what has happened in Libya, Mali and the Ivory Coast could happen to them as well.

 Israel is willing to help Africa defeat Islamic terrorism, Netanyahu remarked at a meeting in the Israeli Knesset with Israeli MPs and 13 African ambassadors in February. “It threatens every land in Africa,” he told them. “Its nexus is in the Middle East, but it is rapidly spreading. It can only be defeated if the nations that are attacked by it, make a common cause.”

Israel’s intelligence and military expertise could help African states dealing with groups such as Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan president, was in Israel in February, the first visit by a Kenyan leader since 1994. Ghana’s foreign minister, Hanna Tetteh, was in the country a month later and discussed deepening economic and security co-operation, “especially the fight against Islamist terrorism.”

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf travelled to Israel in June to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa for her work promoting women’s equality and other human rights issues.

In Nairobi, Kenyatta promised Netanyahu that he would work to restore Israel’s observer status at the African Union, which it lost in 2002.

Kenya has suffered a number of attacks by al-Shaabab Somali militants, including the attack on Sept. 21, 2013 on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi that left 67 people dead. A private Israeli firm is now in charge of security at the shopping mall.

In Kigali, Netanyahu laid a wreath at the mass graves honoring the more than 800,000 victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide perpetrated by Hutu extremists.

In Addis Ababa, Netanyahu, the first prime minister to ever visit Ethiopia, addressed both houses of that nation’s parliament.

The Foreign Ministry’s deputy director general for Africa, Yoram Elron, has noted that “Africa, which has today one of the highest growth rates in the world, presents many business opportunities in areas Israel has extensive expertise, such as agriculture, telecommunications, alternative energy and infrastructure.”

Netanyahu was joined on his trip by a delegation of 80 Israeli business executives representing 50 companies working to strengthen commercial and economic ties. In Ethiopia, Netanyahu and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam attended an economic forum with some 300 Israeli and Ethiopian businessmen. 

“The Eastern African corridor has the potential of huge cooperation with Israel, and we need to engage Israel,” Hailemariam said.

Ironically, Israel’s relations with South Africa, the continent’s second-largest economy and home to its largest Jewish community, remain strained.

The ruling African National Congress has long had strong ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization. The “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” movement, modeled on the international anti-apartheid movement, has a strong following there.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Might Trump Actually Win in November?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
On June 28 the Washington Post, a newspaper that reviles Donald Trump and is a mouthpiece for the American political establishment, ran an interesting opinion piece by Jim Ruth, a retired financial planner.

In his article “I Hate Donald Trump. But He Might Get My Vote,” Ruth asked readers not to stereotype him and others who might vote for Trump.

“We’re not uneducated, uninformed, unemployed or low-income zealots. We’re affluent, well-educated, gainfully employed and successfully retired. Some of us even own our own business, or did before we retired. While we’re fiscally conservative, we’re not tea partyers. And on certain social issues, many of us even have some leftward leanings.”

So why would they consider voting for Trump? Because, writes Ruth, the election of “a wealthy, entitled progressive” is “even more dangerous to the survival of this country than Trump is.” 

Millions of people have lost faith in the American economic bargain as living standards have declined. Their pain has been mostly ignored by an upper middle class intellectual and cultural establishment and they are angry.

Trump has vowed to cancel international trade deals and start an unrelenting offensive against Chinese economic practices, which he considers unfair to the American worker. “They get the expansion. We get the joblessness,” Trump remarked.

An article in the January 2016 Journal of Labor Economics, “Import Competition and the Great US Employment Sag of the 2000s,” estimates that rising imports, especially from China, reduced U.S. manufacturing employment by around one million between 1999 and 2011.

Trump said he’d spent years complaining about trade with China. “Nobody listened. But they’re listening now.”

Framing his contest with Hillary Clinton as a choice between hard-edge nationalism and the policies of “a leadership class that worships globalism,” he argues that globalization has helped “the financial elite,” while leaving “millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.”

Trump has attacked Clinton’s past support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the trade pact negotiated by twelve Pacific Rim countries, including Canada and the U.S., signed in February in Auckland, New Zealand. He warned that the TPP was a “rape of our country” and “the death blow” for manufacturing in this country.

Trump noted that Clinton had backed free-trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the past, which he called a “catastrophe.” In a June 28 address in Pittsburgh titled, “Declaring American Economic Independence,” he promised that he would invoke the agreement’s Article 2205, which allows a party to withdraw on six months’ notice, to pull the United States out of NAFTA if Mexico and Canada did not agree to renegotiate it.

Describing Clinton as a venal tool of the establishment, Trump added that “She gets rich making you poor.”

Trump’s politics may alienate conventional Republicans but it resonates with the white working class.

In June, the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution released the results of an annual survey that included questions on trade. A slight majority of Americans said that free trade agreements were harmful because they send jobs overseas and drive down wages.

Is it possible Trump is riding a political wave that may propel him to the White House? It would be an uphill battle but not out of the question.

Do American Companies Value Money Over Security?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Are America’s leaders political and business leaders selling out the country’s security in order to make a buck?

Ever since Hassan Rouhani became president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama has told Americans that a fundamental change had occurred and Iran’s regime had been transformed into a moderate one.

Is this true? Iran’s ballistic missile testing, sponsorship of terrorism and vast system of domestic repression all constitute a grave threat to international peace and security.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is as powerful and dangerous as ever, supporting terrorism and subversion across the Middle East, and continuing to plot the destruction of Israel.

It controls about a third of Iran’s economy, including all the strategic sectors in which international businesses are interested. As for Rouhani, he has described Israel as the “main source of violence and extremism” in the Middle East.

Yet now we’ve learned that an American aircraft manufacturer has signed a major deal with Iran. The Boeing Company in June announced that Iran Air, the national airline, intends to buy 80 passenger planes and lease 29 of the company’s 737s, for some $25 billion.

Last October’s international nuclear agreement with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, rescinded or eased many of the sanctions on Tehran.

The U.S. Treasury Department has already granted permission for such sales by U.S. corporations, and the terms of the Iran deal allow American banks to finance them.

But Iran Air does more than fly commercial passenger routes. It is accused of carrying weapons and supplies for the Syrian regime and so is complicit in Iran’s support for atrocities and war crimes in Syria and for Hezbollah’s terror activities.

It now turns out that a paid consultant for Boeing advocated for the Iran nuclear deal without revealing his ties to the aircraft maker and its vested interest in the deal’s success.

Thomas Pickering, a prominent former senior State Department official and ambassador to India, Israel, and Russia, was one of the most persistent advocates for sanctions relief, lobbying before Congress and elsewhere.

As historian Edwin Black documented in his book IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation, published in 2001, IBM facilitated the identification and roundup of millions of Jews during the 12 years of Hitler’s Third Reich.

IBM technology was used to organize nearly everything in Nazi Germany, from the identification of Jews in censuses, to the running of railroads and organizing of concentration camp slave labour.

General Motors helped in the rapid motorization of the German military, while the Ford Motor Company, headed by Henry Ford, a notorious anti-Semite, provided not just material help but political inspiration.

Ford’s newspaper the Dearborn Independent in the early 1920s had serialized the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to describe an international Jewish conspiracy for global domination. Hitler called Ford “my inspiration.”

Journalist Max Wallace’s 2003 book The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and the Rise of the Third Reich revealed the company’s military and political complicity in the Third Reich’s war effort.

Ford’s German subsidiary, Fordwerke, used slave labourers at its Cologne plant between 1941 and 1945. Included were prisoners of war from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but also from France and Italy.

A post-war U.S. Army investigation concluded that the company had become “an arsenal of Nazism, at least for military vehicles.”

The Nazi military was also driving trucks manufactured by Opel, a GM-owned subsidiary, and flying Opel-built warplanes. Opel became the largest producer of trucks for the German army.

In 1935, GM built a new plant near Berlin to produce the Blitz truck, which would later be used by the German army for its attacks on Poland, France and the Soviet Union, according to U.S. Army reports.

Will Boeing join this rogue’s gallery for its dealings with Iran?

Monday, July 04, 2016

Israel Seeks Other Global Friends Besides U.S.

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

While Israel’s relationship with the United States has come under strain, especially over the past year, its ties with Russia keep improving.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Russia in June was his third since last September. “Russia is a global power and our relations are getting closer,” remarked Netanyahu on the eve of his Moscow visit.

Putin spoke of the “humanitarian ties” that bind Russia and Israel. “We place great importance on our relationship with Israel,” he stated.

Israel and Russia have common interests, from combating the influence of the Islamic State to pushing back the advances of Islamist extremists elsewhere in the Middle East. “We will be partners in the struggle against terrorism,” Putin declared.

While Moscow wants increased influence in the region, Jerusalem needs an alternative to the United States as a guarantor of its interests.

President Barack Obama’s narrow focus on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program to the exclusion of the many other threats Iran is posing makes it evident to Israel that it may need a power other than the United States to rely on.

Martin Kramer, a scholar at Shalem College in Jerusalem, suggested, in “Israel and the Post- American Middle East,” published in the July-August 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, that Israelis are aware that a war-weary America is withdrawing from its longstanding involvement in the Middle East.

The disengagement began before Obama entered the White House, but he has accelerated it. “This conviction, far from paralyzing Israel, propels it to expand its options, diversify its relationships, and build its independent capabilities,” Kramer wrote.

Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan, Israel, concurs. “From his early days in power, President Barack Obama has pursued a grand strategy of retrenchment based on the belief that the Bush administration’s interventionist policies had severely damaged U.S. standing,” he asserted in “U.S. Mideast Retreat a Boon for Moscow and Tehran,” appearing in the Summer 2016 issue of the Middle East Quarterly.

Obama’s intent to reduce the U.S. presence in the Middle East, and the manner of his retreat, weakens Israel’s deterrence capability, according to Inbar. The new perception of the U.S. is that of “a vacillating ally.”

As a result, concludes Inbar, “the U.S. exit from the Middle East ironically increases Israel’s leeway to do as it sees fit. It is left with less of an obligation to weigh the consequences of its own actions on U.S. interests and personnel in the region.”

Hence Israel’s turn towards other great powers such as Russia; Moscow has influence with Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria, the three forces of greatest concern in Israeli security calculations.

Zvi Magen, a former Israeli ambassador to Russia and now a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, remarked that “what we are seeing is realpolitik in action.”

Netanyahu and Putin discussed security coordination between their respective militaries. As the Russians are now flying sorties over Syria on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime, they agreed to coordinate these in order to prevent unwitting Israeli or Russian casualties.

As Israeli journalist Ariel Bolstein of the Israel newspaper Hayom observed, “The relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow is blossoming like never before.”

American Economy Still Hurting from the Recession

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
Some snapshots of an American economy that hasn’t recovered from the Great Recession:

A report issued by the Federal Reserve Board in May found that 46 per cent of Americans said they did not have enough money to cover a $400 emergency expense.

Instead, they would have to put it on a credit card and pay it off over time, borrow from friends or family, or simply not cover it at all.

The U.S. economy is becoming lethal to the less fortunate, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which reported recently that death rates in the country have risen for the first time in a decade.

The death rate rose to 729.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, up from 723.2 in 2014. Especially noticeable is the rising mortality among working-class whites, particularly those with no more than a high school education. Some of this is due to drug use and suicide.

Carol Graham, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, recently analyzed data on life satisfaction and found that when it comes to their outlook on the future, the most desperate groups are poor and near-poor whites.

There is “a shrinking pie of good jobs for low-skill/blue collar workers,” Graham told the Washington Post.

So while the unemployment rate is falling and some wages are rising, for many that progress isn’t being felt.

Typical is a city like Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where manufacturing has collapsed in the face of foreign competition. Since 1950, the number of jobs in Pottstown has fallen from 12,287 to 9,434, even as the population has held steady at just over 22,000.

The economy has been growing for 84 months, but the pace of this recovery has been the slowest since the Second World War, with average annual growth of about 2.1 per cent. And wages remain stagnant.

In 2007, about 88 per cent of men between the ages of 25 and 54 were working. Now, roughly 85 per cent of such men are working. That’s a difference of about two million men, and most would undoubtedly like jobs.

The explanation, according to New York Times economics writer Binyamin Appelbaum: Job growth is slowing because the economy is losing steam.

“We’ve come a long way from the bottom of 2009,” remarked David Shulman, an economist at the University of California’s Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles.

“But compared to the historical growth track, we’re so far below it that it’s staggering, and that’s the unease the public feels about the economy.”

Census Bureau data shows that real per capita income is still below 2007 levels. And there has been a shift from full-time to part-time employment.

Some 2.5 million full-time jobs have disappeared, to be replaced by part-time employment. So the U.S. economy is really short 10 million full-time jobs.

 “What we see today is a U.S. economy that is great for banks, great for bankers, and not so great for ordinary workers,” writes Salvatore Babones, professor of sociology and social policy at the University of Sydney.

“Employment rates are down, employment hours are down, and wages are down. Bank profits are up, up, up to record levels. It’s no wonder that ordinary people are not as optimistic as the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.”

So despite the nation being in the midst of a so-called recovery, American workers aren’t benefitting. The job market is flat and underemployment remains high, a third of Americans have no emergency savings, and most worry more about their finances than anything else.

In fact, weakened since the 1970s, the American working class has allowed investors to accumulate the lion’s share of wealth. Already by the 1990s, banking regulations had fallen to below pre-1930s levels.

This helps explain the popularity of Donald Trump. Pottstown is just the kind of place where he hopes to win votes.

“Trump actually talks about stuff working people care about, like job-destroying free trade agreements and a deep-rooted fear that the good life (at least for working-class white people) is a thing of the past,” writes Boston University sociologist Nicole Aschoff, managing editor of the left-wing magazine Jacobin and author of The New Prophets of Capital.

Wedded to globalization, the American elite is “so terrified of a Trump presidency” that they prefer Hillary Clinton, she contends.

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.