Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, June 29, 2020

Singapore's Success in Crushing COVID

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript
The most successful places in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic have been in East and Southeast Asia, where public health systems are robust. It is hard to believe their cultural traditions, which focus on collective well-being more than personal autonomy, have not played a role in their success.

In Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on June 23 called an early general election to be held July 10, saying the outbreak has stabilized. 

The announcement came just days after the country lifted most COVID-19 restrictions. Still, no live rallies pertaining to the election will be held.

Lee’s People’s Action Party, in power for half a century, is widely expected to keep its overwhelming majority in Parliament, where it currently holds 83 out of the 89 seats.

Singapore is one of the most politically stable states in Southeast Asia. Since it gained its independence in 1965, it has become one of the best-governed nations in the region. 

The country opened its economy to international trade and capital, rising from a middling post-colonial port city to the ninth wealthiest nation in the world per capita. 

Life expectancy in Singapore is 85.2 years, and its infant and maternal mortality rates rank among the lowest in the world. As such it was better prepared than many to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

This city-state of 5.8 million was hailed from the early days of the crisis by public health experts and international media outlets as being at the forefront of response efforts, though there were setbacks.

Singapore has several characteristics that make it particularly susceptible to a pandemic and its impacts. It is small, densely populated and highly urbanised.

It is also a major node in global finance, trade, and tourism with virtually no natural resources and a heavy reliance on imports.

But thanks to the 2003 SARS outbreak, Singapore paid keen attention to COVID-19 and had plans and staff in place to do massive testing and contact tracing.

Temperature screenings for incoming flights from China were instituted in early January, before Singapore’s first case was even confirmed.

By Feb. 1 Singapore had already imposed travel restrictions on passengers from China. This contravened the World Health Organization’s advisory that travel bans were not necessary at that point.

Local transmission was confirmed on Feb. 4; three days later, the national Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level was elevated from yellow to orange, signalling to the public that disease was severe and spreading, but was being contained.

By March, Singapore had banned all entering or transiting short-term visitors and mandated a 14-day stay-home notice on those returning from abroad.

These measures were supplemented by heavy penalties for defying quarantine and isolation orders and countering misinformation with constant communication from the government via press conferences, ministerial speeches, and messaging platforms.

The government distributed reusable cloth masks to households and made it mandatory to wear masks outside people’s homes.

Singapore has also sought to reassure the public that its economic needs will be taken care of during and after the pandemic.

While Singapore was praised for its testing and contact tracing, an outbreak in crowded quarters for migrant workers did force a temporary shutdown.

Prime Minister Lee on April 6 told 20,000 foreign workers, who work in construction, to stay in their dormitories for 14 days.

He also announced a temporary closure of all non-essential workplaces and schools and prohibitions on all public and private social gatherings.
The government was quick to pledge to its citizens and long-term residents that the costs of testing and treatment would be covered for all COVID-19 cases and that daily financial compensation would be provided to those under mandatory isolation or quarantine.

Additionally, over two months, the government announced three unprecedented budget allocations amounting to almost US$41.3 billion, or 12 per cent of GDP, to support jobs, livelihoods, businesses, and major industries.

The Singapore government contributed US$500,000 to the World Health Organization’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan for COVID-19, and delivered relief to regional neighbours like China, Indonesia and Myanmar.

Despite setbacks, Singapore has reported only 26 deaths attributed to COVID-19, a lower per-capita rate than most countries. It has been a success story and Lee will be re-elected.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Where Has Our Parliament Gone?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected Conservative calls for a return to normal House of Commons sittings on June 11. Canadians should be outraged.

Far be it for me to suggest that Trudeau is channeling the German political philosopher Carl Schmitt; in fact, I doubt he’s ever heard of him. But he seems to be governing in the style Schmitt, who became notorious as a supporter of the destruction of Weimar Germany, characterized as “the state of exception.”

Schmitt set out his views in his 1932 book “The Concept of the Political.” In essence, for Schmitt, it was a form of emergency rule which allowed for an unchecked executive to dispense with parliamentary accountability and oversight.

The sovereign dictator, according to Schmitt, has the power, to set aside the positive legal and constitutional order and to create a novel positive legal and constitutional order, together with the new social normality that justifies it. The ruler claims to exercise the constituent power of the people and to transcend the rule of law in the name of the public good.

I've been thinking about the doctrine of the state of exception as western governments have assumed extraordinary powers over citizens during this pandemic -- including in Canada. The consequences of entering a state of exception may unroll slowly and go unnoticed for awhile. The COVID-19 pandemic is, after all, an emergency.

But through the extension of the executive’s powers into the legislative sphere through the issuance of decrees and measures, “the state of exception appears as a threshold of indeterminacy between democracy and absolutism,” writes the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in his 2005 work “State of Exception.”

No, Justin Trudeau is not a dictator in the common-sense definition of the term, but he has been playing fast and loose with the conventions of our Westminster system of government, virtually bypassing and emasculating the official opposition and in effect governing by decree. 

In a recent paper published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa, entitled “Covid’s Collateral Contagion: Why Faking Parliament is no Way to Govern in a Crisis,” Christian Leuprecht of the Department of Political Science at the Royal Military College examines the federal government’s efforts to stifle Parliament. 

The extraordinary measures employed by the minority Liberal government, he asserts, demonstrate “unprecedented disregard for parliamentary convention.” 
Leuprecht argues that, although the government consulted the House of Commons in its attempt to legitimize a virtual substitute, “its decision to truncate Parliament is arbitrary, defies convention, and prioritizes governance over representation.”

At a time of unprecedented executive action leading to massive federal spending and restrictions on Canadians’ freedoms, the government has managed to avoid the regular scrutiny that serves to hold decision-makers accountable.

Yet by May 2020 direct federal spending announcements related to the pandemic had amounted to $152.8 billion while the federal deficit is projected to exceed $255 billion this year.

“Canada’s government has not only capitalized on the virus to limit democratic debate on measures it has implemented, but also effectively put the very ability of Parliament to carry out its functions up for debate wholesale,” he contends.

With only 40 sitting days between July 2019 and June 2020, never in Canadian political history has a Parliament sat less. This is, he points out, the fewest in 80 years outside an election year. The federal government, he concludes, has become a notable outlier amongst other Westminster parliamentary systems, which continue to have functioning Parliaments despite the pandemic.

National Post columnist Rex Murphy, in his June 11 article, “A tidal Wave of Overlapping Crises,” put it well:

“The House of Commons is an empty gilded shell on a deserted hill in the heart of a city that is supposed to be the heart of Canada’s democracy. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s driveway is now the seat of the Canadian government.”

His daily performance, coming out of his cottage, reminds me of a cuckoo bird emerging out of a clock. At least he doesn’t shout at us from a balcony, as Mussolini did in Rome.

Here’s Rex again: “We have the most impotent Parliament in Canadian history during one of the greatest crises in Canadian history. Terribly, it has signed onto its own impotence and irrelevance; it has conceded that it does not count when it should matter most. This is a national shame.” Indeed.

Meanwhile, in the midst of a pandemic crisis of historic proportions, Trudeau’s main vanity project was shot down, after years of effort and the expenditure of huge sums of money and energy

On June 17, Norway and Ireland won the two available two-year seats on the UN Security Council, with 130 and 128 votes respectively. Canada won 108 votes, falling 20 short of the 128 needed to win.

No doubt this came as a shock to Tudeau. But does he not listen to himself at all? Maybe Trudeau’s insistence that we are a colonial-settler state of genocidaires and systematic racists (now, not just in the past) was taken to heart by some of the countries voting, which don’t  realize this is virtue-signalling by our prime minister to make himself feel superior.

Does he think he can say these things and then at the same time talk about “Canadian values,” which must therefore be nothing but fantasies? Talk of cognitive dissonance.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Dealing with Terrorism at the United Nations

Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript

There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism, but Yonah Alexander, Director of the International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, VA, has a useful one.

He defines it as the use of violence against random civilian targets in order to intimidate or create general pervasive fear for the purpose of achieving political goals.

Transnational terrorism is difficult to eradicate because it is so cheap and effective in capturing the world’s attention.

The United Nations has always had an ambivalent relationship with the entire idea of terrorism. But the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, have changed the context of UN activities. 

After 9/11, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1368 which unequivocally condemned the terrorist attacks and called on all states to “work together urgently to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors.”

Resolution 1373 followed shortly afterwards, when the Council decided to impose a number of binding obligations on states, requiring that they prohibit both active and passive support for terrorists. 

As a result, not only are states required to punish financial transactions on behalf of terrorists and freeze the asset of terrorists and their supporters, but they must tighten their border controls, increase their vigilance against passport and identification forgery, deny safe haven to terrorists, and work toward enhancing international cooperation against terrorism. 

In 2004, Security Council Resolution 1566 condemned terrorist acts as “criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons.”

The Council also formed a Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), to bolster the ability of UN member states to prevent terrorist acts both within their borders and across regions. It is assisted by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), which carries out the policy decisions of the Committee, and facilitates counter-terrorism technical assistance to countries.

In 2006 the UN General Assembly adopted the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, an instrument to enhance national, regional and international efforts to counter terrorism. All member states subscribed for the first time to a common strategic and operational approach to fighting terrorism. 

The General Assembly reviews the strategy every two years. It also followed up by creating the Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) in 2017, providing member states with policy support.

Finally, in 2018 the General Assembly launched the Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact to prevent and counter terrorism and the underlying spread of violent extremism. This brings together 43 entities as members or observers. 

UNOCT, headed by Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov, serves as the Secretariat of the Global Compact. By helping countries implement measures intended to enhance their legal and institutional ability to counter terrorist activities, the Counter-Terrorism Committee has an important role to play in operationalizing the strategy.

Over the past few years, Islamic State and Al-Qaida terrorist fighters have posed an “unprecedented threat to international peace and security,” Voronkov stated Feb. 12, at the close of a joint UN- Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) regional conference in Vienna that addressed the challenges posed by terrorists who have gone to fight overseas.

Voronkov, along with Assistant Secretary-General Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of the CTED, conducted joint high-level consultations with Indonesia in Jakarta Feb. 27-28 and the Philippines in Manila March 1-3, to learn about the current and evolving terrorist threats in those countries.

The visits were conducted in accordance with Security Council resolution 2395 of 2017, in which the Council underscored the need for CTED and UNOCT to work closely together. 

Voronkov has also emphasized that cheap and easily accessible small arms are increasingly becoming the “weapon of choice” for many terrorist groups around the world, posing a serious threat to international peace and security.

He pointed out on Feb. 19 that “illicit weapons originating from Libya were finding their way into the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel.”

The first UN High-Level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States was held in June 2018 at UN headquarters in New York. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week will be held this coming July 6-10.

Monday, June 15, 2020

China Plans to Become the New Global Hegemon

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript
How exactly will the post-pandemic world differ from the past? In particular, will we see the steady rise of an increasingly assertive China and the continuing decline of the United States?

Chinese president Xi Jinping has suggested that China should take the lead in shaping the “new world order” and safeguarding international security.

He stated that China must proactively shape its external security environment, strengthen cooperation in the security field and guide the global community to jointly safeguard international security. Xi made the remarks in Beijing Feb. 17.
China has made great strides in the past 20 years: Since 2001, China’s per capita Gross Domestic Product has risen five-fold. By the end of 2019 there were 285 billionaires in China.

China puts massive resources into basic research, science education, and infrastructure. It graduates six times as many scientists and engineers than the United States. 

In 1960 America produced 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. Now it produces 24 per cent. Even more important is the decline of America’s share of high-tech industrial production: according to the World Bank, it fell from 18 per cent in 1999 to just seven per cent in 2014, while China’s rose from three per cent to 26 per cent.

Launched in 2013, China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) now involves more than a hundred countries undertaking vast energy and transport projects, financed and largely built by Chinese companies, along with the development of new port facilities across the Pacific and in the Indian Ocean.

Alongside these economic projects there is China’s unprecedented assertion of naval power in the South China Sea, where several military installations have been built on reclaimed reefs. This has been viewed by its neighbours, and other states, as a strategic threat. 

China’s potential military bases in and around the Indian Ocean have been labelled the “String of Pearls.” They include Djibouti on the Red Sea, the site of China’s first overseas naval base, and a number of nominally commercial ports China has built or is currently building: Gwadar in Pakistan; Hambantota in Sri Lanka; Chittagong in Bangladesh; Kyaukpyu in Myanmar; and others in Mauritius, the Seychelles, the Maldives and the Comoros.

All of these have the potential to become military bases strategically situated on the world’s key maritime supply routes. The Indian Ocean is crossed by four fifths of the container traffic between Asia and the rest of the world and three fifths of the world’s oil supplies. 

The Pakistani port of Gwadar serves as a strategic base on the Arabian Sea, while Djibouti is China’s gateway to Africa. After all, 80 per cent of China’s oil supplies originate in Africa and the Middle East.

Nor has the Mediterranean Sea been ignored. China is set next year to take over management of the Haifa port in Israel and is constructing a new port in Ashdod. The two Israeli ports will add to what is becoming a Chinese string of pearls in the Eastern Mediterranean.

China already manages the Greek port of Piraeus, and the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) is looking at upgrading Lebanon’s deep seaport of Tripoli to allow it to accommodate larger vessels, inaugurating a new maritime route between China and the Mediterranean.

Major Chinese construction companies are also looking at building a railroad that would connect Beirut and Tripoli in Lebanon to Homs and Aleppo in Syria. Tripoli could become a special economic zone within the BRI and serve as an important trans-shipment point between the People’s Republic and Europe.

Taken together, China is looking at dominating the Eastern Mediterranean with ports in four countries, Israel, Greece, Lebanon, and Syria. 

In recent years, China has emerged as the most significant economic partner for the Middle Eastern states and of vital importance to Beijing’s ambitious strategy. The region is geographically situated at the very heart of the proposed BRI, with routes connecting Asia to Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean. This would create an alternative to the Suez Canal.

The BRI seeks to open up new markets and secure global supply chains to help generate sustained Chinese economic growth and thereby contribute to social stability at home. It is the flagship foreign policy of the Xi administration.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Are the 2020 Protests Different from Earlier Ones?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
Americans are experiencing the biggest protests since 1968, sparked by a white police officer killing George Floyd, an African-American, in Minneapolis. Tens of thousands have been marching.

The sweep of the current demonstrations, in hundreds of cities across all 50 states (and elsewhere, including Canada), now lasting more than two weeks, have, understandably, drawn comparisons to other waves of social unrest. But these protests are in some ways different.

This time around, the country simultaneously faces large-scale unemployment wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic as well as racial disparities in the impact of the virus. 

For half a century, economic inequality in America has been on the rise, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, which has made the country more susceptible to both the coronavirus and its devastating economic effects. 

For months, the American people have watched their federal and state governments fail to educate and equip them during a global pandemic. Meanwhile, the things people normally turn to are now gone.  Many schools are closed without reopening dates. And it is hard to drink, party, travel and shop.

The global pandemic has left people scared, pent-up and unemployed. The country’s inability to ensure that people have access to paid sick leave and health care has made things much worse. Race-based health disparities have rendered this more visible. 

Against a backdrop of profound inequality, people of colour bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. African-Americans, many of them essential workers, have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Rates of infection in predominantly Black communities have been three times higher than the rates in predominantly white communities.

Also, although half of the people shot and killed by police are white, Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for just 13 per cent of the U.S. population, but more than a quarter of police shooting victims. The disparity is even more pronounced among unarmed victims, of whom more than a third are African-American.

The confluence of two issues -- racism and Covid-19 -- along with a looming November election make this moment entirely unique.

We are also seeing more demands of accountability by the American public because these actions are increasingly caught on video. Technology has given the country widespread access to George Floyd’s almost nine-minute suffocation.

While most police officers are not rogue cops, policing has become more impersonal in the last few decades. Local police departments have acquired billions of dollars in armored carriers, grenade launchers and other war-zone gear. Some was military surplus; others paid for by Homeland Security grants in anticipation of foreign terrorist threats.

This has altered the relationship between police and protesters from one of the police as neighbours who are defending communities to something that begins to look like an army of occupation. That worsens social divisions – especially if the officers are white, while the civilians are minorities.

Also, in this visual landscape, one where almost everyone is masked, organized far-left groups like Antifa and By Any Means Necessary have taken advantage of the demonstrations to organize violence, which threatens to expand police repression to everyone out on the streets.

It is clear that the protestors come from many points of the racial spectrum. One of the differences in the recent protests over George Floyd’s death is that they have drawn a larger and more diverse cross-section of society. 

The sheer number of white protesters alongside Black community members has also changed the political calculus, perhaps even limiting overzealous, militarized displays of force.

Most Americans say the anger that led to the protests is justified, even if they don’t feel the same about actions that have resulted in violence. 

A Monmouth University Polling Institute survey conducted by telephone from May 28 to June 1 with 807 adults found that the number of people who consider racial and ethnic discrimination to be a big problem has increased from about half in 2015 to nearly three in four now.

Public safety is not just a matter of policing, but also requires investments in economic opportunity, education, health care and other public benefits. Otherwise America will remain stuck in an endless cycle of deaths and violence.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Poland Postpones Presidential Election

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner
The COVID-19 pandemic has already caused one country to postpone an election. On May 6, Poland announced that the country’s presidential election, which had been scheduled for May 10, would be postponed until June 28 – or even later, if necessary.

In early April, Poland’s conservative ruling alliance faced the risk of a split after a junior partner refused to support allowing a presidential election despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which leads the alliance, had proposed legislation to introduce postal ballots to replace physical voting booths.

But a more liberal junior party, the Accord, said it was unrealistic for the election to proceed and proposed a postponement of two years.

It is allied with the PiS as part of the informal United Right coalition, which also includes the Catholic nationalist United Poland (SP).

The alliance has been in power since 2015, and is opposed by the Civic Coalition, led by the liberal Civic Platform (PO). It wanted the election to be held in May 2021.

On April 30, nine former Polish prime ministers and presidents urged voters to boycott the planned presidential election, arguing that the ballot, to be held by post, could be unconstitutional and did not guarantee voter confidentiality.

“The procedure of voting by post in this form and time, as is proposed by the ruling party, are pseudo-elections. We will not take part,” they declared in a joint statement.

“The Constitution allows for a state of emergency which would allow for moving the election term while maintaining political stability.”

The group included Lech Walesa, who helped overthrow Communism as head of the Solidarity trade union movement. Former European Council president and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk of the Civic Platform and some opposition presidential candidates also said they would not take part in the May poll.

Tusk said a government plan to hold the vote via a postal ballot was insufficient to mitigate safety concerns in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, and accused the PiS of subverting the constitution.

Human Rights Watch also urged Warsaw to reconsider. “Poland’s voting process should protect voters during the pandemic. It’s no solution to rush through a potentially flawed voting system,” contended Lydia Gall, a senior researcher at the organization.

Due to the uproar, the election was delayed. It was a setback for the PiS. President Andrzej Duda, who won the 2015 election, is allied with the PiS.

The party needs his support for its conservative agenda which the European Union says subvert the rule of law.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, has launched a legal case against Poland for what they consider an attempt to muzzle judges.

Duda in February signed into law a bill that would allow for the punishment of judges that criticize the government’s reforms of the judicial system.

It also prohibits judges from being politically active and requires them to make public their membership in civil society organizations.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders maintains that it “undermines judicial independence and is incompatible with the primacy of EU law.”

Malgorzata Gersdorf, the outgoing head of Poland’s Supreme Court, fears the country is becoming an authoritarian state. The new head, Malgorzata Manowska, is a PiS ally.

Duda’s main opponent will be the Civic Platform’s Rafal Trzaskowski, the current mayor of Warsaw.

The president is elected by an absolute majority of valid votes. If no candidate succeeds in passing this threshold in the first round, a second round is held with the two candidates who received the largest shares of the vote.

Duda is likely to win again but the gap is narrowing. A poll of decided voters conducted May 26-27 by the Instytutu Badan Pollster showed that in a two-way contest, Duda led Trzaskowski 51.3 to 48.6 per cent.

The country had been a model economy in the past decade. But the pandemic has had a major impact. By the beginning of June, Poland had recorded 24,395 cases of COVID-19 and 1,092 deaths.

It will push Poland into recession for the first time in almost 30 years -- something even the global financial crisis of 2008 did not manage to do. It has the PiS worried.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Can the Iranian Regime Survive Sanctions, COVID?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner
Hit hard by American sanctions and then the coronavirus, how stable is the Iranian regime? Many think it is on its last legs, but it has proved very resilient over the past four decades.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, has been in power since 1989, following the death of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Washington, which has been at odds with Tehran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, re-imposed stiff sanctions on the Iranian regime two years ago, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

According to a Jan. 1 article in the London Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani admitted damage to the Iranian economy resulting from sanctions had reached $200 billion by the end of 2019.

A sharp decline in the price of oil has made matters worse. On April 22, Brent crude, a global benchmark, fell to a two-decade low of $15.98 a barrel — down from nearly $70 per barrel in early January.

With the economy shrinking at the rate of 10 percent a year, inflation likely to reach 31 per cent, and unemployment around the 20 per cent mark, the regime has been under increasing pressure.

The Iranian regime’s disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic could pose a greater threat to the survival of the ayatollahs than the impact of Washington’s uncompromising sanctions regime.

Iran has been devastated by the pandemic, having recorded some 138,000 officially confirmed cases and almost 7,500 deaths by late May. Some 10,000 health workers have been infected. (Some sources claim the death toll is far higher.) 

The COVID-19 virus may have been brought to the country by a merchant from Qom who had travelled to China in February.

As the weeks went on, and the epidemic spread, the Iranian media remained nearly silent. Shi’ite shrines in Qom were kept open until the middle of March. In Tehran businesses and restaurants were not ordered to close. 

Officials were worried about relations with China -- one of the few countries that has continued to buy Iranian oil since the imposition of American-backed sanctions. So for weeks after the outbreak was reported in Wuhan, Iran’s Mahan Air, controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), continued direct flights there.

Social distancing was not observed and parliamentary elections took place on Feb. 21 as scheduled, at the urging of Khamenei.

Throughout February the regime told people not to worry about the virus. On Feb. 19 Khamenei accused Iran’s enemies of exaggerating the threat. A week later, Rouhani warned against the “conspiracies and fear-mongering of our enemies.” Other regime organs said the pandemic was part of a “Zionist plot” to gain global power.

But the severity of the threat couldn’t be kept hidden forever. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced on March 12 that Iran was asking the International Monetary Fund for five billion dollars in emergency funding to counter the spread of the coronavirus. But Washington blocked the request.

In a speech 10 days later, Khamenei claimed the virus was “created by America” and asserted that the U.S. sanctions had hampered efforts to curb the outbreak.

The regime’s own personnel fell ill; at least 20 clerics and political figures have died.

On Nov. 15 of last year, the government announced that it was raising the price of gasoline by fifty per cent, leading to major protests. The Khamenei-controlled IRGC and the Basij Resistance Force killed some fifteen hundred people.

A major reason for the regime’s brutality was due to the fact that the rallies turned into riots aimed at state institutions and the clergy. In the heavily Arab province of Ahvaz and in Iranian Kurdistan, there were into armed encounters between deeply embittered ethnic minorities and the security forces, posing a danger to the physical integrity of the state.  

Ayatollah Khamenei is 81 years old and not in the best of health. The next Supreme Leader will be chosen by a group of senior clerics known as the Assembly of Experts. But the coronavirus outbreak has strengthened the IRGC. It may have the final say on who succeeds Khamenei.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Will Trump Survive November U.S. Election?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner
Is it possible that Donald Trump is riding a wave of anti-globalist feeling that will keep him in the White House for another term?

Despite the criticisms levelled against him daily by his opponents, can the COVID-19 crisis benefit him in the November election?

The coronavirus pandemic is largely a class-based crisis. In its wake, Americans may confront increased inequality and resentment. 

The disaster has become so dire, in part, due to the legacy of the 2008 financial crisis. Minimum wage, in real terms, is more than thirty per cent lower than it was fifty years ago. Meanwhile, housing costs have more than doubled since 2000.

While well-educated white-collar professionals work remotely from home, their incomes secure, poorly paid workers in sectors of the economy requiring their physical presence face the hazards of infection, as they ride crowded buses and subways to their jobs. They risk exposure to the virus out of economic necessity.

A genetic analysis of the coronavirus by researchers at the Yale University School of Public Health revealed that 60 to 65 per cent of the nation’s infections and deaths can be traced to New York – the American epicentre of global finance and travel.

Yet the groups that have profited the most from the globalization and deregulation that made the rapid spread of the pandemic possible have had the easiest time protecting themselves from its effects.

Outrage has grown towards the privileged living in large houses removed from neighbours by leafy yards, while the working classes remain confined in small apartments located in densely populated inner-city streets. 

Trump’s opposition to immigration is in tune with this new world. As globalisation has advanced, so has the risk of infectious diseases spreading. Prior to the pandemic, centrist Democrats proposed decriminalizing illegal immigration while some further left even suggested such people should have free health care

It will not be as easy now to dismiss as racism or nativism demands that the legal status of all workers be verified by employers. Even Trump’s plan to build a wall along the southern border may find a new lease on life.

 A Washington Post-University of Maryland Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement poll found that 65 per cent of respondents want a temporary freeze on all legal immigration during the coronavirus outbreak -- a position more populist than anything Trump has implemented. 

(The survey was conducted April 21-26 among a random national sample of 1,008 adults with 70 per cent reached on cell phones and 30 per cent on landlines, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.)

As Michael Lind, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, contended in an April 16 article in Tablet magazine, “It is safe to assume that abolishing border controls and immigration enforcement in an age of global contagion will not be a winning message in the foreseeable future.”

Trump’s calls for bringing manufacturing back to America have been under constant attack by the left. He was labelled a xenophobe for saying that China was taking advantage of the trade relationship with the U.S.
However, Nadia Schadlow, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, in an April 5 article in the Atlantic magazine, observed that “the current emergency has proved Trump right in fundamental ways -- about China specifically and foreign policy more generally.”

Trump’s quasi-isolationist impulses will also resonate. Will Americans really care whether Iranian-backed Shiites dominate Iraq or Saudi-backed Sunnis prevail in Yemen?

When the economy restarts, it will be in a world where governments act to curb the global market. They will rebuild a national economy instead of a global one, and their priority will be domestic industry. A situation in which so many of the world’s essential supplies originate in China – or any other single country – will not be tolerated.

Trump’s emphasis on protecting U.S. sovereignty is no longer so easily dismissed as being “on the wrong side of history.”

As Americans re-evaluate their positions on globalization, immigration, and the economy during this crisis, a populist like Trump, rather than a machine politician like Joe Biden, is more likely to benefit in November.