Blog Post Five: April 5-April 24, 2016

The Passing of Legends

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For people of a certain generation, this year has cruelly claimed three iconic figures have passed away, the latest being the singer Prince, who died at his home Minnesota on Thursday, April 21. Preceding him were the deaths of legendary footballer, Johan Cruyff, and a man whose music served as a soundtrack for this author’s life, David Bowie. His and Prince’s music defied the kind of categories music is now confined to, incorporating everything these two musical geniuses could inculcate to produce a unique sound. Cruyff revolutionized world football, the fulcrum of the 1974 Dutch team’s total football, and the rock of Barcelona’s current phenomenal success. Bowie and Cruyff reflect to an extent the 1970s, a time when social considerations were at their peak, while Prince was an escape from the 1980s of Thactherite/Reaganomics where greed and ‘me’ and no society supplanted any sense of responsibility for the weak. The memories these great individuals’ passing has provoked reflection about how finite life really is.

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Birthday in Great Britain

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The Queen turned 90 this week, but if her mother’s life serves as a precedent, she could well reach the century mark. In many ways the monarchy, in the age of supposed meritocracy, seems an amusing anachronism. Those opposed to the monarchy argue about the absurdity of a modern state supporting the opulent lifestyle of a hereditary family, many originally from Germany. Yet in Britain, where Queen Elizabeth has ruled for 63 years, people seem on the whole content with the monarchy, and she is widely respected, even grudgingly so by those who believe the monarchy should be abolished. Defenders of the institution point to the billions of pounds brought in through tourism, much of which involves things associated with the Royal Family, the constant good works of the family members and the fact that the political power the Queen retains is extremely blunted. Good political leaders, and this includes Kings and Queens, are difficult to replicate once they go, and Elizabeth’s son Charles, if he ever gets to be king (!), will have a hard act to follow.

The collapse of the bicycle path in Rio de Janeiro

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Once again, Brazil is in the international news for the wrong reasons. A gruesome accident occurred when a huge waves swept up the rock cliff, over which the stunning ciclovia is perched, and swallowed a huge 50 meter slab. At least three people died and some are questioning the soundness of the engineering and construction, which cost 44 million reais. Brazil’s pre-Olympics image was again battered as this raises safety issues and could reflect some of the pernicious effects of the corruption which plagues government contracts in Brazil, brought to light by the Lava Jato investigation. If it is proven that shortcuts were taken in the bike path’s construction to satisfy demands for bribes, public indignation will be further stoked.

Earthquakes round the world

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April saw two major earthquakes of more than 7 on the Richter Scale occur in Japan (45 deaths) and Ecuador (650 + deaths), with the seismic events causing millions of dollars in damage as well. Earthquakes are striking in their impact according to the wealth of the country. Japan, one of the most frequent victims of earthquakes, where a 2011 one caused a Tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima nuclear power plant, has infrastructure prepared to weather their effects and deaths are much lower. Ecuador, a middle income country, has a higher victim rate, yet compared to Haiti, an extremely poor country, which lost over 100,000 people in the famous quake of 2010, is markedly more resistant. Experts assure us that these two earthquakes are in no way related, and in fact there are numerous tremors around the globe every day, hardly comforting.

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Blog Post Four: March 20-April 5

Jacob Zuma to face impeachment vote

In South Africa, the Parliament will face an impeachment vote Anglo has started impeachment hearings against the president, Jacob Zuma, who is accused of corruption by failing to pay back US15 million of public funds used to upgrade his house. South Africa is facing rough economic waters and although it still has a majority in the parliament, the African National Congress is increasingly seen as corrupt. The party, once an armed liberation movement which successfully toppled apartheid, has been in power since 1994, and Zuma has been seen by some to have betrayed the legacy of Nelson Mandela and his efforts to reconstruct the “Rainbow” nation of South Africa. Zuma has been involved in other scandals and in a country where AIDS is rampant, said that it was enough that he had showered after having unprotected sex. The ANC still has a majority in parliament, so impeachment is unlikely, but after 22 years in power, the party shows signs of hubris and fatigue.

The Panama Papers

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Millions of secret documents have been leaked this week from a law firm, based in the Panama City, which specialized in off-shore banking. The firm Mossack-Fonseca has been handling the money of the rich and powerful who seek to shield their assets from the taxman. Some of these financial machinations are legal, some not, yet it has been suggested that Mossack-Fonseca has done business with unsavory people such Basshir Assad’s cousin, and connections of North Korea president, Kim Jong. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s father used one of these accounts, as did the Icelandic prime minister who has since resigned. Tax havens are dotted around the world, Monaco being the most glamorous. Question: why do all those F-1 driver live there? Answer: Because if they lived in their own countries their governments would take up to half their earnings in taxes. As long as the ways to hide assets exist, those with a real incentive to, i.e. the rich and powerful, will use them. In the heart of ‘civilized Europe, there are two entire countries, albeit small ones, whose economies are based on attracting the money of those keen to shirk taxes. Luxemburg and Lichtenstein.

Bombing of Christians in Pakistan

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On March 28, Easter Sunday, a bomb ripped through a park in Lahore, northern Pakistan, where Christians were having picnics and celebrating the holiest day of the Christian calendar and killed over 70 people. A wing of the Taliban claimed responsibility. Although ephemerally present on the front pages of the western press, a comparison with the attention given to the Brussels attack seemed to suggest European lives are more important than others. In November last year, Turkish football fans booed during a moment of silence for the victims of Paris. They were reviled for this, but their response was a reference to the disparity in coverage of terrorism since Turkey had just a month before the Paris attacks suffered a devastating terrorist attack where over one hundred people had died in its capital Ankara. It received startlingly little indignation in the west. Pakistan has 2.5 million Christians in its overall population of almost 200 million. The country has a nuclear bomb, bad relations with its neighbor India, and decades of involvement with the Afghanistan war. The world should pay attention to what’s happening there and political stability has always been elusive there.