Friday, July 20, 2012

Around the World

My dad, a historian, travels all over the world speaking and lecturing on US history. A colleague of his recently contacted him asking if some German middle schoolers could email him with questions on the upcoming US Presidential elections. He said of course, remarking to me how sad it is that many of the college students in the US don't even know what kind of government Germany has, much less who runs in elections, wins and loses. Hard to imagine US middle schoolers emailing German professors with detailed, intelligent questions on their elections.
Whether it's a matter of being smarter or just paying more attention, Europe, and well - much of the world is way ahead of us.
I can recall a girl in my freshman class at UCSB who though Berlin was in Russia...I'm serious.

I don't want to get into a rant about the educational system b/c it'll exhaust me and unless you care, bore you.
But what is short and sweet to note is that paying attention to what goes on in other countries makes it easier and more interesting to pay attention to your own. The US is clutching to a faded name of "superpower," and our influence is felt all over the world, culturally and politically. Stepping outside of the mundane, media mogul driven heap of how we arrogantly and ignorantly look in the mirror - why not check out a few other viewpoints? Tis, after all, the digital age. It takes you just as long to get to BBC, and Al Jazeera English as it does CNN and FOX.
So hey, live a little and take your brain around the world for a spin :)

It's a conspiracy! I'm not gonna lie - I sometimes enjoy pondering conspiracy theories - toying with the notion of underlying secrets and intrigue. Some don't even warrant that phrase due to overwhelming evidence and fact. However, this is not one of those cases.
Remember Bachmann? Yeah - that Tea Party nut job who threw her name into the hat for President way back when. Yeah, she wants in to the spotlight again, this time with a conspiracy that long time aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood and is really a spy for the organization. Huma Abedin has been a close aide to Hillary Clinton since her days in the Senate, and the Senate was not quiet on their attacks against Bachmann and her letter.  John McCain, no stranger to controversy or the Tea Party had this to say: "These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit, and they need to stop now." House speaker Boehner echoed that sentiment, "From everything I do know of [Huma Abedin], she has a sterling character, and I think accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous." Dangerous and stupid, maybe, but not enough to get Bachmann to apologize. She stands by her motion for a probe into the White House questioning the influence of the Brotherhood. On Wednesday she released a statement, effectively telling everyone to go fuck themselves and she will not apologize, and "not be silent as this administration appeases our enemies instead of telling the truth about the threats our country faces".
Fear, fear, fear, fear!! Run, run, run, run!!! Wait, I have an idea. Bachmann - why don't you get your small-minded, big mouthed head the hell out of politics.
We've already got all the loony tunes we need.

Apocalypse: In that same vein of fear and controversy, I thought I'd introduce you to a new book I came across: The Last Myth - What the rise of Apocalyptic thinking tells us about America.  In this book co-authors, Mel Gilles and Matthew Barrett Gross argue that the US's obsession with the Apocalypse, whether that be global warming, the NWO, Jesus, the A-bomb or October 2012, our constant worry about the impending end leads us down paths of extremes that ultimately fuck us over. For example, not dealing with issues as they pertain to the present, but only seeing them as inevitable - such as global warming. It's never too late to stop torturing our own bodies with waste, and yet because of the apocalyptic notion that it's all fucked anyway, we fight less for the here and now. Same thing goes for the apparent 3 million "preppers" in the US. These extremers believe that due to some rapidly approaching mayhem - war, famine, zombies, etc. - they need to keep basements fully stocked with spam and ammunition. Now as Gross says, there's nothing wrong with being prepared, but when you make all your decisions based on an unforeseen future, you skew your present to reflect a hypothesis that is often times unfounded, at least time line wise. Gross argues that if the Apocalypse didn't play such a major roll in America's thinking, we'd be more inclined to stay active in our country, both politically and socially, recognizing the present as now and the future as when we get to it.

The Syrian sink hole: A deadly blast on Wednesday killed over 180 people, including al-Assad's defense minister. There are conflicting reports as to whether it was a suicide bombing or remote controlled - government says the former, rebels say the latter.
Either way, with targets of al-Assad's inner circle, many are hoping that this signals the beginning of the end for him and his regime. Fareed Zakaria made a good point in his CNN post, saying that we are often times too quick to celebrate things like this - the truth of the matter is, much like our overall foreign policy, we don't know that much about what's happening in Syria,
We don't know who the rebels are, how organized they are, if there's a central chain of command, or even what their agenda is, besides overthrowing al-Assad.
Beyond that, in reality, the rebels don't control any part of Syria - they cause a ruckus, sure, but that's certainly not the same as organized control of an area. Zakaria goes on to ask several questions about the rebels:
"is the opposition fighting together in a coordinated way? Who leads it? Does the Syrian National Council — the main exile opposition group – have any sway over these forces? Do the groups on the ground have any sectarian flavor? Are they largely Kurdish or Sunni? What is the role of the jihadi militant groups in the Syrian rebellion?"
These questions are spot on in terms of the role we, and any other nations, will play in Syria. It's not a promotion of inactivity, but having seen historically the wide gap between what lack of planning (Iraq, cough, cough, cough) and careful planning (WW2) can lead to, it'd be best to do a little recon - maybe figure out where Berlin is, so to speak, before we blast through there like an old Western.

Big Banks: Sound familiar? Yeah...currently four of Europe's largest banks are under investigation following a rate-fixing scandal. Crédit Agricole, HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Société Générale under the leadership of Barclays' traders, most notably Philippe Moryoussef, apparently set out to rig the regions benchmark interest rate. However, at this time, only Barclays' is under fire - having also tripped up on its blown attempt at fixing the London interbank offered rate (Libor) and the European equivalent, Euribor.
Unfortunately, any hope I have for justice on this front is tarnished by past experience. Considering how well the US banks fared after grave counts of fraud and corruption, a little slap on the wrist for billion-dollar corporations doesn't do a damn thing for the people at the bottom.
Hope springs eternal but I'm not expecting a few probes to pull the rug out from under corporate behemoths. That's something only we could do...

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