Category Archives: Europe

Democratic Republic of Congo, a story of tragedy

For five centuries, Western nations and empires viewed the Congo as the source of vital raw materials: First slaves, then rubber, and now minerals, including those needed to keep the American war machine running.

Before the mass murders of European Jews, the 20th Century witnessed another genocide, the slaughter of slaves under Belgian King Leopold II, who held the country as his personal property and whose regime as estimated 10 million Congolese perished in a ruthless drive to produce rubber at the dawn of the automobile age — a story told with brilliant and compassionate precision in King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, a scholar now on the faculty at the Graduate School of Journalism here in Berkeley.

The West has maintained its oppressive grasp on the Congo, though now through puppets who make deals with the new empires of the age, multinational corporations back by American military might and the dark doings of its intelligence agencies.

The tragic plight of the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] is the subject of the latest episode of The Empire Files, the superb series on teleSUR English hosted by Abby Martin, a fine journalist who began her television journalism on Berkeley Community Cable.

Her interview subject is Kambale Musavuli, a native of the DRC who studied engineering at North Carolina A&T University and now serves as a human rights advocate and  Student Coordinator and National Spokesperson for the Friends of the Congo.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Empires Feed on Congo’s Treasure

Program notes:

Every drone flown by the U.S. military has inside a piece of the Democratic Republic of the Congo–a valuable mineral, of which the DRC has trillions of dollars worth buried underground.

For five centuries, the continent of Africa has been ravaged by the world’s Empires for its vast untapped treasure. Today, the U.S. Empire is increasing it’s military role through their massive command network, AFRICOM, carrying out several missions a day.

With the Congo being arguably the biggest prize for imperialist powers, Abby Martin is joined by Kambale Musavuli, spokesperson for Friends of the Congo, to look at Empire’s role in their history and current catastrophe.

Disturbing parallels and censorship on campus

Israel is marching down a road well-trodden in Europe, the notion of a state composed of an elite destined to create a Greater State by driving out or eliminating the Other, those defined in terms that increasingly echo those uttered decades earlier in Europe.

But to accomplish this, the State of Israel needs to define those who oppose its policies as not anti-Israel but as racist.

Now certainly there are a fair number of folks who oppose the Israeli government who are racists, some of them with murderous intent.

But there are also a goodly number of Jews, especially in the United States, who don’t share the eliminationist sentiments of many in the Israel government.

One of the most effective measures used in recent decades to oppose oppressive governments has been the creation of boycotts and movements calling for divestment of investments in that state, along with official governmental sanctions.

A white minority government in South Africa brutally repressing black South Africans was brought to heel by similar movements after actions by Africans, some of them violent, failed to end the Apartheid regime.

Most nations of the world oppose the brutal repression and occasional open and overwhelming warfare used by the Israeli state to continue to suppress the people from whom that land that comprises the Israel state was seized by force of arms.

But Ziocons, the conservative Zionists who have come to dominate the argument in the United States, in part because of their influence with both major parties, have sought to criminalize and otherwise sanction legitimate actions of opposition to Israeli policies by American citizens and non-citizen residents.

Their goal is nothing less than creating a statutory equivalence between active, nonviolent opposition to the Israeli government and the loathesome antisemitism of the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

The most recent convert to this form of extremism is the Board of Regents of the University of California., voting last month to declare anti-Zionism unacceptable on college campuses.

But support for the measure had been dwarfed by opposition before the measure was enacted, as the Los Angeles Times reported a weak earlier:

One letter signed by more than 130 UC faculty members supported naming anti-Zionism as an expression of anti-Semitism, saying students need guidance on “when healthy political debate crosses the line into anti-Jewish hatred, bigotry and discrimination, and when legitimate criticism of Israel devolves into denying Israel’s right to exist.”

But another letter from more than 250 UC professors expressed fear that the proposed statement would restrict free speech and academic freedom to teach, debate and research about the complex and tumultuous history of Israel and the Zionist movement.

In a 23 March post for the Intercept, Robert Mackey described the rationale for adoption voiced by one of the Regents:

Before the vote on Wednesday, Bonnie Reiss, the vice chairwoman of the Board of Regents, argued that students opposed to Israeli policies, and those questioning the state’s unequal treatment of non-Jews, had fostered a dangerous environment for Jewish students by supporting the effort to pressure Israel to change its policies through a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions, known as BDS.

It was necessary for the university to address anti-Semitism, Resiss said, because “members of the Muslim Student Association or Palestinians for Justice groups… that are anti-Israel have brought BDS resolutions” which have “created emotional debates.”

“Anti-Semitic acts against many in our Jewish community have resulted from the emotions over the debates over the BDS-Israel resolutions,” she insisted, without citing evidence of the linkage.

That the backlash against Israel on college campuses might be caused not by unreasoning hatred but by Israeli actions — like the ongoing blockade of Gaza, punctuated by three rounds of punishing airstrikes in the past seven years, the building of illegal, Jewish-only settlements across the occupied West Bank, or the refusal to recognize the rights of Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948 to ever return — seems not to have occurred to students, faculty or politicians whose support for the Jewish state is unquestioning.

But not all Jews agree with the equivalence, as with journalist and author Max Blumenthal, interviewed here by Nadia Kanji for The Real News Network:

The Israel Lobby’s Growing Assault on Free Speech

From the transcript:

KANJI: So I wanted to ask you about this, because in the US, First Amendment free speech rights are one of the strongest in the world. In Canada there are hate speech laws which make it a sort of different ball game. So is there precedent for how they could go about attacking BDS by calling it hate speech, sort of like they’re trying to do in Canada right now?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, the precedent lies in other countries that have less protection for free speech, which really reveals the pro-Israel lobby as the greatest threat to free speech in the West. They’ve already triumphed in France through the Alliot memorandum, named after the former French justice minister, which is still enforced and has resulted in scores of pro-BDS organizers being brought to trial for their speech, for organizing in support of Palestinian equal rights. In the UK you’re seeing the conservative Cameron government attempt to pressure local town counsels, actually to forbid local town counsels from exercising their democratic right to divest from companies who do business in occupied Palestinian territory, and weapons companies. They’re basically attempting to prevent them from enacting other progressive measures.And you can see the smears of Jeremy Corbyn, and how Israel is being instrumentalized to break down progressive social movements across the West. In Canada, where you mentioned that there are hate speech laws, the government of Liberal Justin Trudeau has joined with the Conservatives to condemn BDS in an official resolution, condemning it as a form of anti-Semitic hate speech. [crosstalk] And so–

KANJI: [interceding]–Yeah, well he actually called it the new form of anti-semitism.

BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. Which is just, as I’ve said before, it’s absolutely disgusting, because they’re actually setting parameters on who can be a Jew. Now, what they’re doing in the US to limit speech and to create a free speech exception around Palestine is to force, attempt to force universities and even state houses to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that does away with traditional definitions of anti-Semitism which define it as discrimination against Jews as Jews, and re-orient it into discrimination against Israel, which is held up as the sole representative of world Jewry, according to this definition. It’s been conceived by an Israeli politician of the Likud party who’s a supporter of the settlement enterprise named Natan Sharansky, and he calls it the three-Ds definition, which is delegitimization and demonization of Israel. If you criticize Israel you’re an anti-Semite, according to this definition, and the pro-Israel lobby in the US has already forced the State Department to adopt this definition, and the University of California’s regents have just adopted the same definition, defining anti-Semitism as, defining anti-Zionism, a political perspective which is gaining in popularity among many Jews, I’m an anti-Zionist, as a form of anti-Semitism.So if an anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, then who is a Jew? According to this definition a Jew is necessarily a supporter of Israel, and anyone who stands outside those narrow ideological confines is not a Jew. So Gentile authorities, under pressure from the pro-Israel lobby, are defining what it means to be a Jew. That’s how dangerous it is. Beyond the free speech implications it has implications for the future of Jewish political organizing, and I think we’re going to see this division among Jews in the US grow much more stark, in a much more stark direction.

Headline of the day: Speaking of the dark arts

From BBC News:

Harry Potter: GCHQ ‘intervened over Half-Blood Prince leak’

GCHQ, the UK’s surveillance agency, intervened to help prevent the sixth Harry Potter instalment leaking online, the book’s publisher has said.

Iceland government saves itself, protests mount

The coalition governing Iceland survived a no-confidence vote Friday as a new prime minister took office, replacing a disgraced leader who resigned, then didn’t, then resigned again over an offshore corporation revealed by the Panama Leaks.

Protests outside the Althing, the national legislature, contuned, with thousands demonstrating today.

First, a video report from euronews:

Icelandic government survives no-confidence vote

Program notes:

Iceland’s government survived a no confidence vote on Friday.

It was put forward by the opposition after revelations from the leaked “Panama Papers” which have already forced the prime minister to step down.

The government has a majority and the vote was rejected 38 to 25. Another motion calling for the dissolution of parliament was also defeated.

More from Agence France-Presse:

Iceland’s new right-wing government has taken office, under fire from the start as the opposition sought a vote of no confidence and stuck to its call for swift elections.

New prime minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson yesterday replaced Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who quit on Tuesday amid mass protests over a hidden offshore account revealed in the “Panama Papers” leak of millions of financial records.

Johannsson, a 53-year-old former veterinarian, has already announced new legislative elections will be held in “the autumn”, about six months ahead of the scheduled April 2017 vote.

The Associated Press covered today’s protests:

Thousands of Icelanders have rallied outside parliament in Reykjavik demanding the removal of the government following this week’s resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson over his links to offshore investments.

The daily protests began Monday when opposition leaders introduced a no-confidence motion against Gunnlaugsson, who has since been replaced by the North Atlantic island nation’s fisheries minister.

But the opposition is now pressing for a wider no-confidence motion against the entire government, saying two other ministers already have been linked to offshore investments at the center of the global scandal.

Saturday’s protesters said Iceland could face an early election or a new coalition government led by the upstart Pirate Party.

Here’s an image of today’s gathering from the Twitter account of Birgitta Jónsdóttir, leader of the Pirate Party, the likely winner of a new parliamentary election:

BLOG Icleand

Also posted on her account is a Tweet from Edward Snowden:

#Iceland’s government: We’re not leaving.

Iceland’s public: There are more of us than there are of you.

And here’s an excerpt of an interview of Jónsdóttir posted online Friday by Democracy Now!:

AMY GOODMAN: Birgitta Jónsdóttir, do you see a connection between the surging support for your party, the Pirate Party, that according to one poll may have as much as 43 percent support now, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in Britain and Bernie Sanders here at home and his surging success as a Democratic presidential candidate?

BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, I do see some correlations in the sense that the—really, the unexpected people who are getting support, people that are—you know, don’t have like—at least we don’t have professional PR people to direct us through the heavy waters of politics. We just try to come to the door as we’re dressed and speak like human beings. None of us are professional politicians. But our speciality, I guess—and maybe that is also more reflected in the dialect from Bernie Sanders—is that we will need to change our systems, that it’s not enough just to make a regular shift in left-and-right politics. We really need to start to work on what we build our societies on.

And one of the things the Pirate Party in Iceland has discussed a lot and is very important for us is that, you know, in Iceland in the wake of the crisis, we had this unique process of where the nation actually wrote its own constitution for themselves. And it was a beautifully strong new social agreement reflected in the highest law, that would be our constitution. And, you know, doing that in such a crowdsourced way like we did was an incredibly healing process for the nation after this huge collapse. But once it had been put into a national referendum, the Parliament did not have the capacity, the political will, to finish it. So, we have been calling for that this new constitution would be honored as our highest law, and actually we’re willing to take huge risks in order to—you know, political risks, in order to create a new foundation for how we run this society. And I think it’s very important to do that.

I sense that this is the—this is the same dialogue all over the world. And we do not—we don’t—do not see ourselves as left or right in the traditional sense. We do not want the nanny state that is often the traditional leftist perspective in Scandinavia. But we want to empower people. We want to have a proper, true division of power. We want to have a modernized system of democracy where the general public can be engaged in co-creating the reality they live in. And I guess we are, in a sense, more like Podemos, but we are sort of unique, because—and I think that we might be able to learn a lot from the others, and they might be able to learn something from us. And that is the beauty of being in politics today, is that we are indeed a globalized world. And that is not only negative; it can also have positive aspects. I just was in a panel with Zizek last weekend, and there I met some people that had been working with Syriza, Syriza in Greece, and I got some insights on how I can learn both from their success and failures. And so that’s—that’s what we need to do for the future, is that we need to help facilitate a new way for the next generations to be the architects of all the new systems that need to be created. And we are indeed living at an incredible, transformative times, and it is exciting to be alive, because we get to shape the new systems.

And now for something completely different. . .

A delightful subversive little animation from Crave, the directors and vfx artists collective of Roman Kaelin, Falko Paeper and Florian Wittmann:


Program notes:

“Wrapped” is a graduation short film from Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, created at the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction. After running at over 100 festivals world wide and winning numerous awards the film is finally online.

“Wrapped” delves into the clash between civilization and nature.

  • LA Shorts Fest / Best Experimental / 2014 / USA
  • Siggraph CAF / Best Student Project) / 2014 / Canada
  • Animago Award / Best Young Production / 2014 / Germany
  • ISFVF Peking Film Academy / Bronze Award / 2014 / China
  • Festival of Beijing / Outstanding Technical Achievement / 2014 / China
  • The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival / First Place, College Competition / Animation / 2014 / USA
  • Cinemaiubit International Student Film Festival Bucharest / Best Experimental Film / 2014 / Romania
  • VES Awards / Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project / 2015 / USA
  • Next Generation Short Tiger / 2015 / Germany
  • ArtFutura / 3D ArtFutura Show Award / 2014 / Brazil
  • XVIII Guanajuato International Film Festival / Mention Short Animation / 2015 / Mexico

Map of the day: How healthy do Europeans feel?

From a World Health Day report [PDF] from Eurostat:

Of all persons aged 25 to 64 living in the European Union (EU), around three-quarters perceived their health status as very good or good, slightly fewer than 20% as fair and below 7% as bad or very bad. Being an important socio-economic factor, the education level has an influence on health status: while just over 60% of the EU population aged 25-64 with a low education level perceived their health as very good or good, this proportion hit 85% for those with a tertiary education level. This pattern is observed for all ages between 25 and 64.

Of all persons aged 25 to 64 living in the European Union (EU), around three-quarters perceived their health status as very good or good, slightly fewer than 20% as fair and below 7% as bad or very bad. Being an important socio-economic factor, the education level has an influence on health status: while just over 60% of the EU population aged 25-64 with a low education level perceived their health as very good or good, this proportion hit 85% for those with a tertiary education level. This pattern is observed for all ages between 25 and 64.

Chart of the day II: Soccer sneakers hiding cash

From Agence France-Presse, how leaders of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association [world soccer federation] hid their cash, as revealed by those Panamanian leaks:

BLOG Soccers