Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, August 22, 2016

Turkey: One Month After Coup Attempt

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
A month has passed since the July 15 failed coup in Turkey, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has continued to consolidate his power.

Indeed, not since the days of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of the modern Turkish Republic, has any figure dominated the country for as long as Erdogan has.

Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who has lived in the United States since 1999, is accused of being the mastermind behind the failed coup attempt. The ensuing purge of suspected “Gulenists” has seen some 82,000 people fired or suspended from their jobs as academics, judges, and military officials.

Even a national idol like Hakan Sukur, who in 2002 was part of the Turkish soccer team that made it all the way to the semi-finals of the World Cup, and was elected to parliament in 2011 on Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), has now gone into hiding, accused of being part of Gulen’s movement.

Angry at the lack of western sympathy, and Washington’s continued unwillingness to extradite Gulen to Turkey, Erdogan is mending fences with a fellow autocrat. Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed him to St. Petersburg on Aug. 9.

Why the sudden turnabout? After all, Russia and Turkey were nearly at war with one another just a few months ago. In November, the Turks shot down a Russian jet that had entered their airspace from Syria, and the two countries are on diametrically opposite sides of the Syrian conflict.

But Erdogan has decided that he wants less contact with the liberal democracies of Europe and America, according to journalist Anne Applebaum. After all, these are “states that believe in the legal norms which Erdogan wants to repress, states that might support the people Erdogan wants to lock up,” she noted in a Washington Post commentary.

The Russian president spoke at some length about restoring Russian-Turkish trade, resuming energy projects, lifting restrictions on tourism and reopening Russia’s construction sector to Turkish firms and workers.

Sanctions imposed by the Kremlin last autumn have hurt. Turkish exports to Russia dropped by 60 per cent in the first half of the year.

Erdogan sees around him a web of conspiracies and threats. Indeed, many around him are convinced that the United States was itself involved in the attempt to remove him.

Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag has said that Washington would be sacrificing its alliance with Ankara to a “terrorist” if it were to refuse to extradite Gulen. He told the state-run Anadolu Agency that anti-American sentiment in Turkey is reaching “its peak” over the issue and risks turning into hatred.

Bozdag’s remarks, which imply that Washington knew what was coming and did nothing, are being echoed by the pro-Erdogan media.

The president continues to move forward with his long-term project: the rejection of secular Kemalism in what he defines as the “New Turkey” – in actuality, a reversion to the glories of its Ottoman past as a Muslim empire.

Two Albanian-Majority Countries Fear Growth of Islamism

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The Muslim populations of the two Balkan ethnic-majority Albanian states have historically practised a moderate form of Sunni Islam. In Albania and Kosovo, some fear that this may be changing.

Despite a centuries-old tradition of religious tolerance among Albania’s 2.8 million people, the Islamic State (ISIS) has found a small but devoted following.

More than 100 Albanians have traveled to the Middle East to join the terrorist group, and a few have gained prominence.

Their call to Islamist militancy has been echoed by a handful of ultra-conservative mosques that have sprung up in Albania in recent years, some of them built with help from Islamic charities and missionaries from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region.

Ironically, for nearly 50 years until the collapse of communism in 1990, the country’s Marxist leaders proclaimed Albania to be the world’s first atheist state, officially banning religious observances and persecuting imams and priests.

But the fall of Communism provided an opening for extremists. Islamic charities, some with the backing of oil-rich Gulf kingdoms, began building mosques and madrassas. Young students were offered scholarships to study theology under the tutelage of fundamentalist clerics in Saudi Arabia.

In the past decade, Albania has witnessed a proliferation of independent mosques, unaffiliated with the Muslim Community of Albania, the organization that presides over the country’s moderate worship centers.

Extremist messages find fertile ground in poorer neighborhoods and villages, where official corruption is high and unemployment among young adults often exceeds 40 per cent.

“Religion has never been the problem here; it’s education. It’s the lack of a developed civil society. And it’s poverty, especially in the remote areas,” Ylli Manjani, the country’s justice minister, remarked in an interview with the Washington Post.

Albania’s government has now passed laws forbidding participation in the Islamic State, and the security services have cracked down on recruits making the trek to Iraq and Syria. Some mosques were closed or forced to change leadership.

Three clerics and six others were sentenced in May to prison terms of up to 18 years for encouraging young Albanians to embrace violent jihad.

In Kosovo, whose 1.8 million mostly ethnic Albanians were liberated by NATO from Serbian domination in 1999, extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudis and others have also transformed a once-tolerant Muslim society into a font of extremism.

Newly-arrived clerics sought to overtake the Islamic Community of Kosovo, an organization that for generations has been the custodian of the tolerant form of Islam that was practiced in the region.

Saudi-sponsored charities often paid salaries and overhead costs, and financed courses in religion, as well as English and computer classes. Many were funded by Al Waqf al Islami, a Saudi organization that was one of 19 eventually closed by investigators.

Families were given monthly stipends on the condition that they attended sermons in the mosque and that women and girls wore the veil.

 “They promoted political Islam,” according to Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police, who spoke to the New York Times. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature.”

Some 200 Kosovars took advantage of scholarships after the war to study Islam in Saudi Arabia. Many returned with missionary zeal.

Kosovo now has 240 mosques built since the 1999 war and blamed for helping indoctrinate a new generation in Wahhabism.

The influence of the radical clerics reached its apex with the war in Syria, as they extolled the virtues of jihad and urged young people to go there.

Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars, including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children, who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.

Kosovo’s interior minister, Skender Hyseni, recently reprimanded some of the senior religious officials.

“I told them they were doing a great disservice to their country,” he stated. “Kosovo is by definition, by Constitution, a secular society. There has always been historically an unspoken interreligious tolerance among Albanians here, and we want to make sure that we keep it that way.”

It won’t be easy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Growing Ethnic Polarization is Dominating U.S. Elections

Henry Srebrnik, [Halifax] Chronicle Herald

The presidential race is bringing out some of the worst aspects of politics in the U.S. by pitting different demographic groups against each other.

This year, for the first time in decades, overt white nationalism has become a factor in national politics.

Tim Miller, Jeb Bush’s former communications director, says the Republican Party is now essentially driven “by a set of white identity politics.”

Donald Trump’s followers are overwhelmingly white. Opposition views him as illegitimate for his nativist nationalism and resistance to multiculturalism. These groups are completely in Hillary Clinton’s camp. The Democratic Party is more than a choice; it is their “home.”

We are beginning to see the kind of ethnic polarization in America that ruins countries. In such places, there is no overarching sense of common identity or culture, but rather antagonistic groups living side by side.

In such societies, political parties become vehicles of ethnic groups, regardless of platforms or names. Even those leaders who would rather place stress on economic or other issues have frequently found it easier to mobilize people along ethnic lines.

Once parties are organized on ethnic lines voters will vote for the party that represents their group, regardless of the individuals running for office.

So Fiji has “ethnic Fijian” and “Indo-Fijian” parties, Guyana “Afro-Guyanese” and “Indo-Guyanese” parties, Sri Lanka “Tamil” and “Sinhalese” parties, and so on.

In Africa, with its artificial states, a host of parties serve as vehicles for competing ethnicities. Even the United Kingdom now has Scottish and Welsh parties (as well as Catholic and Protestant ones in Northern Ireland).

How many votes would the Zionist Likud get among Israeli Arabs, even if they were promised the moon? How many Israeli Jews vote for Balad and Hadash, two of the four Arab parties that comprise the Joint List, an Israeli Arab political grouping?

In ethnically divided party systems we get “outbidding.” Parties at the extremes create ever greater polarization in the political system.

As Carleton University political science professor Stephen Saideman notes, “Political leaders competing for support from an ethnically homogeneous group have really strong incentives to demonize outgroups to gain political support.” Governance becomes very difficult across this divide.

Today’s Republican Party is predominantly a white, working-class party with its epicenter in the South and interior West. The Democratic Party is a coalition of relatively upscale whites, along with racial and ethnic minorities, concentrated in an archipelago of cities.

This divide will widen. According to the American National Election Studies, the white percentage of the national vote has dropped steadily from around 95 per cent in 1948-1960 to 73 per cent by 2012. By 2055, whites will be in the minority and no longer a viable mainstream for American politics. Democrats represent growing demographic groups, not shrinking ones like the white working class.

In California, race-based voting is creating a one-party state. Republicans, the de facto white party, can no longer win power there due to a massive demographic shift.

In 1940, 90 per cent of Californians were white and the GOP carried the state reliably in presidential elections. Today more than 60 per cent of the state is non-white, with Latinos set to become a majority by 2050. They are already a majority of youth. So California is now solidly Democratic.

Welcome to the world of ethnic hostility, where election results, in the words of political scientist Donald Horowitz, become little more than a census count of competing ethnicities.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Will Victims of Genocide Obtain Justice?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
On May 10, 2013, a Guatemalan court found General Efrain Rios Montt, former de facto head of state, guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity during his 17-month rule in 1982 and 1983. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

In a country long mired in corruption and lacking accountability, an ongoing civil war had pitted Marxist guerrillas against the murderous regimes that governed it. Before it finally ended in 1996, some 200,000 Guatemalans were killed and missing during the conflict, making it one of Latin America's most violent wars in modern history.

Indigenous Mayas suffered disproportionately, as his government deliberately targeted thousands of indigenous people suspected of harboring sympathies for, supporting, or participating in the rebel movement.

The court described the nature of the violence deployed against the indigenous Maya Ixil people  as including indiscriminate massacres, rape and sexual violence against women, infanticide, the destruction of crops to induce starvation, the abduction of children, and the forcible displacement and relocation of surviving populations into militarized “model villages.”

The court found that the crimes were committed as part of a systematic plan to destroy the Maya Ixil as a group. Racism, the tribunal found, was one of the causes of the genocide. Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

Sebastian Elgueta, representing Amnesty International, stated that “With this conviction, Guatemala leads by example in a region where entrenched impunity for past crimes sadly remains the norm.”

The Washington-based Center for Legal Action for Human Rights (CALDH), the non-governmental human rights organization behind the Rios Montt genocide case, declared that the judgment “confirms what has been claimed over the past 30 years, and acknowledges that crimes against humanity should be punished in order to ensure that they never again occur.”

The Guatemalan army high command had planned and launched a series of operations that transformed counterinsurgency into acts of genocide. For example, it perpetrated the Finca San Francisco massacre on July 17, 1982, as part of its scorched earth policy. CALDH mobilized massacre survivors to become participants in the trial.

CALDH had filed petitions on behalf of victims before the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Its Guatemala office interviewed victims’ family members, prepared affidavits, reviewed court records, conducted investigations of court procedures and wrote reports.

The trial and verdict were hailed as an example of justice for Latin America and the world. The region leads the world in efforts to prosecute perpetrators of gross violations of human rights in domestic courts.

But Rios Mont’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal, and the country’s Constitutional Court struck down the conviction on procedural grounds.

On March 16 of this year, a Guatemalan court convened for a new trial. But due to the former dictator’s advanced age – he is 90 years old –and medical and psychiatric condition, the special proceeding can determine his guilt or innocence, but would not result in any punishment if he is convicted.

Nonetheless, the very fact that the initial trial took place at all is historically and politically significant. The trial involved approximately one thousand volunteers from a dozen countries who acted as “international accompaniers.” Their physical presence served to deter political violence against local human rights defenders and witnesses.

Even after the abrogation of the guilty verdict against Rios Montt, young people from the group Sons and Daughters of the Disappeared issued the following statement: “More than a failure, this can breathe life into our ongoing fight for justice.”

Pier 21 Was a Gateway to Canada

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

On July 28, 1948, my parents arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, with me in tow, as displaced persons following the Second World War. I had turned three years old during the voyage.

We travelled on a Greek ship, the Nea Hellas, that had left Genoa in Italy earlier that month. Most of the passengers were seasick; I apparently was not.

My parents were Polish Jews whose families had all been murdered by the Nazis. Miraculously, though they spent much of the war in HASAG, a Nazi concentration camp located in their hometown, Czestochowa, they both survived the war.

They were liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 15, 1945, and I was born six months later, in the same city.

With no families left in Europe, they left Poland in 1946 and the three of us spent the next two years in a displaced persons camp near Munich, until we were able, thanks to my father’s sister, who had had left for Montreal before the Holocaust, to emigrate to Canada.

And so, like tens of thousands of other refugees, our first sight of this new country was at Pier 21, in Halifax. From there, we travelled by train to our new home in Montreal.

The former ocean liner terminal and immigration shed was the gateway to Canada for some one million immigrants between 1928 and 1971. As well, it served as the departure point for 368,000 Canadian military personnel during the Second World War. Some 50,000 war brides and their 22,000 children also passed through Pier 21.

The post-war period was in characterized by enormous numbers of immigrants from Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, as well as east Europeans.

An official from Cunard Steamships had declared that “Halifax will have the finest immigration facilities of any port in the world” after reviewing the terminals, and a reporter described his introduction to the new Pier 21 in 1928 as a “tour of revelation.”

For almost 30 years after it closed as an entry for immigrants, the old buildings were used by various other institutions. In 1998, a private community historical group, the Pier 21 Society, obtained a lease for the space from the Halifax Port Authority to construct a museum, using a combination of private and public funds.

It opened on July 1, Canada Day, in 1999. Ruth Goldbloom, president of the Pier 21 Society, called the opening “payment of our greatest national debt to the millions of Canadians who made this great country what it is today.”

In 2011, the operations of the Pier 21 Society were taken over by the newly-created Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Today a National Historic Site, it is one of the city’s premier attractions for visitors. More than 78,000 people experienced the museum in 2014-15.

Pier 21 has both a physical artifact collection and a vast oral history collection. It currently holds 2,000 stories, 500 oral history interviews, 700 donated books, 300 films, and thousands of archival images and scans of immigration and other documents.

Many of the resources can be found on its website and all can be accessed by contacting Pier 21’s Scotiabank Family History Centre.

The Pier 21 story collection has broadened from those who actually passed through Pier 21’s doors, to include stories about immigration from all points of entry from the early beginnings of Canada (including First Nations) and concentrating on all immigration from 1867 to the present.

Oral historians conduct oral history interviews onsite and occasionally in different centres across Canada.

The image collection includes thousands of scanned newspaper clippings, immigration related documents and ship memorabilia, as well as digital photos donated by individual families and organizations.

I have visited the Museum twice, most recently in early August, and walked through the very doors through which my parents and I entered Canada. I found it a very emotional experience and must admit I choked up both times during the guided tours I was on.


Monday, August 08, 2016

Greece Continues to Struggle Economically

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
Poor Greece! Caught, in the words of London-based writer and translator Noonie Minogue, “in a steely grip between Brussels in the north and refugees to the south,” it remains Europe’s economic and political problem child.

The country has never recovered from the 2008 Great Recession. Things have been so bad these past few years that even poets are weighing on its financial crisis.

Penguin recently published Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry, an anthology of works edited by Karen Van Dyck, a professor of Modern Greek Literature at New York’s Columbia University, dealing with the catastrophic situation.

By 2013, more than a third of Greeks were living below the poverty line. By 2014, government wages and pensions had been cut 12 times in four years.

The economy has shrunk by a quarter in the last five years. More than 27 per cent of Greeks are unemployed. About 55 per cent of young people, particularly those in the areas of technology and education, have left Greece to find work elsewhere.

At least 40 per cent of children were living in poverty in 2014, and the number is now approaching 50 per cent. Public debt is the highest in Europe, over 180 per cent of GDP.

Greece is now at the mercy of its creditors. In June, the Board of Directors of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the bailout fund for the 19 members of the European Union that use the euro as their common currency, authorized handing 7.5 billion euros, or $8.4 billion, in bailout aid to Greece, allowing the country to keep paying its bills in the coming months.

Greece also won additional pledges of debt relief from the Eurozone finance ministers, helping to ease concerns about another crisis.

In July of 2015, the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was forced to accept austerity measures in order to receive a bailout. Germany had threatened to oust Greece from the European Union and the euro if it didn’t deliver on austerity measures.

The Eurozone finance ministers, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund had demanded deep budget cuts and steep tax increases. They required Greece to overhaul its economy by streamlining the government, ending tax evasion and making Greece an easier place to do business.

The recent aid has involved yet further painful reforms and austerity measures, including higher taxes on coffee, alcohol, fuel and other goods.

There is also a measure creating a privatization fund to sell off state assets and utilities, including public transport companies, the post office and the state power corporation.

As former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis wrote in a New York Times commentary in May, “Greece’s hospitals are running out of basic necessities, while our universities cannot even afford to provide toilet paper in their restrooms. In Athens these days, only the soup kitchens are flourishing.”

Varoufakis, who has now also published And the Weak Suffer What They Must?, a book on the crisis, was removed as finance minister by Tsipras last year for refusing to yield to the bailout demands.

Greece’s economy this year is set to shrink by a further 0.3 percent. Still, people have not lost hope. “In all of the misery and mess, new poetry is everywhere, too large and too various a body of writing to fit neatly on either side of any ideological rift,” concludes Van Dyck.

Turkey's President is Obsessed with Fethullah Gulen

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The reclusive Turkish cleric who heads Turkey’s influential Hizmet (Service) movement has become front-page news since the abortive coup in Turkey.

Fethullah Gulen, who lives in semi-seclusion in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, has been accused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of masterminding the July 15 attempt to overthrow him.

Erdogan called the failed military coup a “clear crime of treason” and intimated that the plotters should receive the death penalty, a practice abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

Turkey has announced it had seized more than 2,250 social, educational, or health care institutions and facilities that it claims pose a threat to national security.

The government has now either purged or detained some 35,000 members of the military, security forces, judiciary, and teaching profession, in an effort to remove Gulen loyalists.

More than 1,000 members of the Turkish military, including 127 generals and 32 admirals, were also dismissed, charged with involvement in the plot – about a third of the country’s top military officers.

Almost 1,600 university deans have also been ordered to resign and half a dozen university presidents have been fired or detained. Turkey also issued a blanket travel ban on all academics.

Altogether, the purges have left at least 10,000 people in jail and about 50,000 fired or suspended.

Among those detained were two Canadian imams, Ilhan Erdem of Ottawa and Davud Hanci of Calgary, accused of ties to Hizmet.

Turkey also widened its crackdown on news outlets sympathetic to Gulen. The Turkish government ordered the closing of more than 100 media outlets, including newspapers, publishing companies and television channels, and detention warrants have been issued for at least 80 journalists suspected of having ties to Gulen.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim likened Gulen’s followers to a “parallel terrorist organization” and urged Washington not to “harbour this terrorist any longer. He is of no benefit to humanity, he is of no benefit to Islam.”

Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup. “My message to the Turkish people is never to view any military intervention positively,” he stated, “because through military intervention, democracy cannot be achieved.”

The 75-year-old imam began preaching in the Aegean city of Izmir in the 1970s, and soon began urging his followers to “move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers.”

In 2000 Turkey’s authorities, under the secular government of Bulent Ecevit, charged him with plotting to overthrow the government but he had moved to United States two years earlier. A Turkish court acquitted the preacher of the charges in 2003, but he remained in the U.S.

The Gulen movement contends that it runs more than 2,000 educational premises, including charter schools, university departments, language centers and religious courses, in 160 countries.

It also controls billion-dollar business interests such as media companies, banks and construction firms.

As a fellow moderate Islamist, Gulen at first backed Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party, helping it to its electoral victories after 2002.

But in 2013 the alliance began to come apart, as police investigations into government corruption that implicated members of Erdogan’s cabinet and other close associates were blamed by Erdogan on Gulan.

Mass arrests were carried out as part of the inquiry. Infuriated, Erdogan has been Gulen’s bitter enemy ever since.

Gulen’s supporters describe him as a moderate Muslim cleric who champions interfaith tolerance and dialogue and espouses a philosophy that blends a mystical form of Islam with democracy.

In an interview with the Atlantic magazine in August 2013, Gulen said that “I had a chance to get to know practitioners of non-Muslim faiths better, and I felt a need to revise my expressions from earlier periods.”

He told journalist Jamie Tarabay that “I have not done anything that I did not believe to be in the footsteps of the Prophet Mohammed.”

No matter. As Brian Klaas, a Fellow in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, wrote in Foreign Affairs, Erdogan will continue to use the failed plot “as a pretext to accelerate his relentless despotic practice of jailing journalists, silencing dissent, and ruling with a hardening fist.”


Monday, August 01, 2016

The Totalitarian Terror That Once Enveloped China

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
 
Fifty years ago this August, the cataclysmic madness known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution began to unfold in China. By the time it ended a decade later, it had taken millions of lives and ruined many millions more.

Books were burned, people tortured, “bourgeois” art destroyed, universities shut down, and students and professors banished to the countryside to work and be “re-educated” into a proper understanding of Marxist Mao-Zedong-Thought by peasants.

The Cultural Revolution continued until Chairman Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, and it left in its wake a country torn by violence and poverty.

China’s Communists were already engaged in a doctrinal war with the Soviet Union as to the proper course of Communist development. Mao worried that, if left unchecked, China’s party apparatchiks would also follow the Soviet model, which he considered a betrayal of the tenets of Marxism-Leninism.

Believing that China’s Communist leaders were taking the party, and China itself, in the wrong direction, Mao decided to call on the nation’s youth to purge the “impure” elements of Chinese society and revive the revolutionary spirit that had led to the formation of the People’s Republic of China.

Mao ordered a massive assault on the institutions built by 17 years of Communist rule, including the intellectual and social remnants of the past.

The full-scale beginning of the terror began at a meeting of the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee of the Communist Party that began on August 1, 1966, when Mao accused party leaders of bourgeois values and lack of revolutionary spirit.

On Aug. 12 it passed a document calling for “a great revolution that touches people to their very souls and constitutes a deeper and more extensive stage in the development of the socialist revolution in our country.”

 Charged with being “capitalist roaders” and “revisionists,” President Liu Shaoqi and other Communist leaders were removed from power. Liu died in prison three years later.

Soon, students formed paramilitary groups called Red Guards and attacked and harassed academics and intellectuals. A personality cult quickly sprang up around Mao, as mobs began to wave the famous “Little Red Book” of Mao’s sayings while creating bedlam throughout the country.

The book, Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, included statements on subjects such as class struggle, “correcting mistaken ideas” and the “mass line,” a key tenet of Maoist doctrine.

The Red Guards were determined to destroy the “four olds -- old habits, manners, custom, and culture.” They set out to eradicate the old culture by force in order that a new “proletarian class nature” might emerge.

The Red Guards splintered into zealous rival factions battling for ideological dominance, and many Chinese cities reached the brink of anarchy.  Many engaged in witch hunts or the settling of personal scores.

The resulting paralysis completely disrupted the urban economy. In many regions, the People’s Liberation Army was forced to restore a semblance of order.

Mao’s radical allies, who became known as the Gang of Four, led by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, wanted to push even further to the left and to continue purging “class enemies.”

However, the Tangshan earthquake of July 1976, which killed 240,000, provided proof for many Chinese that those in power had lost the “mandate from heaven.”

Indeed, the Chairman died in September 1976 and a more moderate group, led by Deng Xiaoping, who had himself been purged during the first phase of the Cultural Revolution, ousted and imprisoned the Gang of Four, setting China on the road it would henceforth follow.

At least 1.5 million people were killed during the Cultural Revolution, though some estimates, including deaths from starvation, run much higher. Millions of others suffered imprisonment, seizure of property, torture or general humiliation.

Individuals who experienced the Cultural Revolution while in their teens and early twenties were denied an education and suffered from that deficiency for their entire lives.

In 1981, the Communist Party declared that the Cultural Revolution was “responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.”

A social movement had degenerated into chaos. It took many decades for China to recover from the mass hysteria and tragedy.

Yet, as the Australian author and critic Clive James recently observed sarcastically, there are still some professors in western universities who think that Communists like Mao “must have been serious about bettering the lot of mankind because they killed so many of their own citizens.”

Has Iceland Recovered from the Great Recession?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
On June 25, Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson was elected head of state of Iceland with 39.1 per cent of the vote, defeating three other candidates.

Along with his wife Eliza Reid, who grew up outside of Ottawa, and their four children, he moves into the island nation’s presidential palace this month. Reid met Johannesson when they were both studying history at Oxford University in England.

This remote North Atlantic island nation, whose 332,000 citizens are ethnically virtually homogenous, boasts of being the world’s oldest democracy, its most literate nation, and most successful welfare state. It has a language and a history and a culture entirely its own.

 But the country was hit hard by the Great Recession of 2008, and endured a financial crisis with the collapse of several of the country’s commercial banks in the 2008 Great Recession. Since that time, the political class has been viewed with suspicion.

Until recently, Johannesson had taught history at the University of Iceland and had never held public office. This actually proved a plus earlier this year, when Iceland was roiled by further financial scandals.

Johannesson’s knowledge of the country’s institutions would prove invaluable amid the turmoil of the Panama Papers leak of the more than 11.5 million financial and legal records from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which involved both the incumbent prime minister and president.

The papers, made public in April, detail financial and attorney-client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities, showing the tax-avoidance arrangements of the rich and famous around the world.

In the leaked documents, Icelanders, learned that Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was linked to offshore accounts in the British Virgin Islands. The wife of President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson was also named in the leaks.

Gunnlaugsson was accused of a conflict of interest for failing to disclose his involvement in a company that held interests in failed Icelandic banks his government oversees.

Though both men insisted that they had done nothing illegal, and the president denied knowing about his wife’s business affairs, the prime minister resigned in April, replaced by Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, who had been the agriculture minister, and the president announced in May that he would not be running for a sixth term.

In the ensuing presidential election, Johannesson explained to journalist Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker magazine , “with my expertise in the history of the Presidency, I was able to describe to people what options the President had, and, as it happened, this was at a stage when there was nobody sweeping the electorate behind him or her, and the sort of trickle of support I felt to run turned into a flood.”

As for the economy, the country had made an amazing recovery since 2008, fuelled mainly by the fisheries and by a boom in tourism, whose share of foreign exchange earnings grew from 19 per cent to 28 per cent between 2010 and 2014.

Iceland is not a member of the European Union and Johannesson is opposed to joining it. He asserted that the result of the Brexit vote in Britain to leave the EU is “better for us Icelanders,” implying that the European Economic Area agreement that non-EU members Norway and Iceland have with the EU could play a more important role with the United Kingdom on board.


The Totalitarian Terror That Once Enveloped China

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Fifty years ago this August, the cataclysmic madness known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution began to unfold in China. By the time it ended a decade later, it had taken millions of lives and ruined many millions more.

Books were burned, people tortured, “bourgeois” art destroyed, universities shut down, and students and professors banished to the countryside to work and be “re-educated” into a proper understanding of Marxist Mao-Zedong-Thought by peasants.

The Cultural Revolution continued until Chairman Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, and it left in its wake a country torn by violence and poverty.

China’s Communists were already engaged in a doctrinal war with the Soviet Union as to the proper course of Communist development. Mao worried that, if left unchecked, China’s party apparatchiks would also follow the Soviet model, which he considered a betrayal of the tenets of Marxism-Leninism.

Believing that China’s Communist leaders were taking the party, and China itself, in the wrong direction, Mao decided to call on the nation’s youth to purge the “impure” elements of Chinese society and revive the revolutionary spirit that had led to the formation of the People’s Republic of China.

Mao ordered a massive assault on the institutions built by 17 years of Communist rule, including the intellectual and social remnants of the past.

The full-scale beginning of the terror began at a meeting of the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee of the Communist Party that began on August 1, 1966, when Mao accused party leaders of bourgeois values and lack of revolutionary spirit.

On Aug. 12 it passed a document calling for “a great revolution that touches people to their very souls and constitutes a deeper and more extensive stage in the development of the socialist revolution in our country.”

 Charged with being “capitalist roaders” and “revisionists,” President Liu Shaoqi and other Communist leaders were removed from power. Liu died in prison three years later.

Soon, students formed paramilitary groups called Red Guards and attacked and harassed academics and intellectuals. A personality cult quickly sprang up around Mao, as mobs began to wave the famous “Little Red Book” of Mao’s sayings while creating bedlam throughout the country.

The book, Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, included statements on subjects such as class struggle, “correcting mistaken ideas” and the “mass line,” a key tenet of Maoist doctrine.

The Red Guards were determined to destroy the “four olds -- old habits, manners, custom, and culture.” They set out to eradicate the old culture by force in order that a new “proletarian class nature” might emerge.

The Red Guards splintered into zealous rival factions battling for ideological dominance, and many Chinese cities reached the brink of anarchy.  Many engaged in witch hunts or the settling of personal scores.

The resulting paralysis completely disrupted the urban economy. In many regions, the People’s Liberation Army was forced to restore a semblance of order.

Mao’s radical allies, who became known as the Gang of Four, led by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, wanted to push even further to the left and to continue purging “class enemies.”

However, the Tangshan earthquake of July 1976, which killed 240,000, provided proof for many Chinese that those in power had lost the “mandate from heaven.”

Indeed, the Chairman died in September 1976 and a more moderate group, led by Deng Xiaoping, who had himself been purged during the first phase of the Cultural Revolution, ousted and imprisoned the Gang of Four, setting China on the road it would henceforth follow.

At least 1.5 million people were killed during the Cultural Revolution, though some estimates, including deaths from starvation, run much higher. Millions of others suffered imprisonment, seizure of property, torture or general humiliation.

Individuals who experienced the Cultural Revolution while in their teens and early twenties were denied an education and suffered from that deficiency for their entire lives.

In 1981, the Communist Party declared that the Cultural Revolution was “responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.”

A social movement had degenerated into chaos. It took many decades for China to recover from the mass hysteria and tragedy.

Yet, as the Australian author and critic Clive James recently observed sarcastically, there are still some professors in western universities who think that Communists like Mao “must have been serious about bettering the lot of mankind because they killed so many of their own citizens.”

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.