Anglo Blog Post, April 2018

The Israeli-Palestinian Quagmire

 
Few events in the world have been as polarizing as the creation of the state of Israel, which has been celebrating 70 years of existence this week. After years of living in the diaspora across Europe and the Middle East, undergoing pogroms, and a kind of brutal persecution that culminated in the Holocaust, Hitler’s almost successful campaign to eliminate the Jews once and for all, Jews finally had a home. David Ben Gurion, Israeli’s founder and first president declared Jews everywhere could come and settle in their new “homeland.”

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For Palestinians, many of whom lost their homes in the chaos that followed Israel’s independence, Israel’s creation is known as Nakba, “the catastrophe.” From the beginning of the 20th century, they have watched in horror as Jews came to settle land which they had occupied for centuries, and eventually gained formal title to half of it through the UN partition plan approved in 1947. The Palestinians rejected this plan and have been on the losing side of the argument ever since.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been going on throughout this period, ebbing and flowing in its intensity but always simmering below the surface, ready to explode with one incendiary incident or another. Clashes in Gaza against these Israeli independence celebrations are the latest manifestation of this seemingly eternal conflict, with more deaths to add to the roster of suffering of both sides.

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For Palestinians, Israeli independence is known as Nakba Day, which means catastrophe or cataclysm. 700, 000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from their homes as Israeli independence was met by war from its Arab neighbors.

Most experts agree that the much vaunted two-state solution, which according to polls majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians consider a way to break this decades long impasse, is a viable resolution to the conflict. This entails Israel giving back the West Bank and together with the Gaza strip, devolved to the Palestinians in 2005, which would form a demilitarized Palestinian state. In return the Palestinians would acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and cease all attacks on the Jewish state.

So why has this apparently feasible resolution to the problem, backed by most of the respective populations, has remained unattainable. The main problem is narratives, and both side’s inability to reconcile each other’s narratives to the goal of peaceful coexistence that both peoples are ostensibly striving for.

From the Israeli perspective, the legitimacy of the state, questioned by the Arab world from the beginning, is beyond dispute, since it was the world’s most senior governing body, the newly instituted United Nations, which sanctified the right of Jews to half of Palestine. It was the Palestinians and Arab neighbors who rejected the partition plan, immediately attacking the new-born state with an intent to “drive the Jews into the sea.” It was war, and bad things happen in war, an acknowledgment by Israel that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their home.

It was the implacable Arab hostility to the state of Israel that has been the main stumbling block to lasting peace which Israel claims to be pursuing. How can you negotiate with somebody who doesn’t recognize your right to exist?

After the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964, this new player started a series of spectacular attacks against Israelis, such as the kidnapping and execution of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich or the hijacking of an El AL plane that resulted in the spectacularly successful raid on Entebbe. These were seen as terrorism by Israel and acts of war by the Palestinians but elevated the visibility of active Palestinian resistance. Yet Israelis felt they were dealing with a people bent on obliterating their citizens in attacks specifically targeting civilians. The very morality of the Palestinians was called into question and certainly Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the PLO, the embodiment of that enemy set on destroying the Jews.

The six-day war of 1967 completely changed the power dynamic of the region, with Israel once again successfully defeating their Arab nemesis (Egypt, Syria and Jordan) and occupying land of those three countries, namely the Sinai (Egypt), the West Bank (Jordon) and the Golan Heights (Syria). This occupation was deemed illegal by the international community.

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The polar opposite views of the conflict

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Israel claims that this occupational was strategic and provided a bargaining chip in future negotiations with its Arab foes. To prove its point, Israel handed back the Sinai to Egypt after the Camp David Accords in 1977. However, the West Bank became the target for Jewish settlements where, for religious or economic reasons, many Israelis have moved over the last five decades. Today, over 400,000 Israelis live in land considered illegally occupied by Israel.

However, Israel continues to say that this occupation is negotiable. The problem is the unwillingness of the Palestinians to seriously negotiate. After the collapse of the Oslo Accords of 1993, which according to the Israelis was a result of the unceasing terrorist attacks by Palestinians, Israel points to negotiations in 2000, where it said it was willing to give up most of the West Bank, as proof of Palestinian intransigence when the deal was rejected.

Israel thus sees itself as victim of Arab hostility and a world which is generally anti-Israel for what many Israelis believe are brazenly anti-Semitic reasons. It has always been willing to compromise, it claims, but has been unable to find an honest partner, made even more difficult by the Palestinians now being split between Hamas, who vows to destroy Israel, and the Palestinian Authority (in essence the PLO), which recognizes Israel’s right to exist.

It would be hard to intentionally design a more diametrically opposite view of the conflict than that harbored by the Palestinians. From their point of view, after centuries of occupying the same land of Palestine, they were forced the accept the imposition of a deal that took half of their land and gave it to someone else, which obviously was unacceptable.

According to the Palestinians, the United Nations, in a world where half the world was under the control of the colonial powers, lacked legitimacy. After all, it was not the Arabs who had attempted to annihilate the Jews, but rather the Europeans, who were now placating their guilt by giving the Jews a state in a land where another people lived. Although it was the Germans who carried out the Holocaust, Britain, the US, Canada and other countries did little to help the Jews, turning away thousands of refugees who were forced to go back to Europe and face certain death.

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The wall built by Israel is a symbol of the inability to reconcile the needs of both peoples

Forced into exile, but largely ignored by the world, the Palestinians felt the only way to force the issue onto the world stage was by constructing an armed wing that could attack the Israelis violently. Indeed, it was only after the PLO was formed that the Israelis got serious about negotiating, acknowledging Golda Meir’s statement that Israel was perfect for the Jews, being a land without people for a people without a land.

Life for Palestinians deteriorated further after the 1967 war, when Israel came to directly govern the West Bank, and have been since then exposed to the daily humiliation any occupation by a foreign power tends to produce.

Palestinians also complain about the lack of a legitimate negotiating partner among Israelis, and indeed Israel is bitterly divided in much the same manner as Palestinians in terms of how to arrive at peace. After the Oslo Accords mentioned above, Israeli prime-minister Yitzak Rabin was assassinated by a radical Israeli and the prime ministers that have followed have not been serious about peace and have done everything to detonate as rapprochement with the Palestinians. Israel’s further expropriation of Palestinian lands and establishment of more settlements in the West Bank illustrates Israel’s lack of seriousness in accepting the Palestinian right to a sovereign state.

Apportioning blame to the other side has been a tactic that has served neither side, and clinging to the narrative which apportions its side the moral high ground has severely retarded progress. The Arab countries have used Palestinians for their own internal political purposes, while Israel knows that with the unflinching backing of the US, which has passed on billions of dollars of aid, and the US Jewish community, another source of financial support, it has the military upper hand.

Israelis point to the tiny size of its country, the size of Sergipe, in contrast to the extensive Arab lands, and in essence saying, “all we want is this tiny sliver of land” while the Palestinians are trying to take away even that. The Palestinians are saying all they want is a tiny sliver of land to call their own, after their lands were violently seized from them all those years ago.

The impasse, a constant threat to a region beset by tensions and possible armed confrontation, is truly a tragedy where lack of political will has prevented a lasting solution that would ease the suffering of these two peoples thrust together by history.

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Survey

A survey was administered to the second year students of Colégio Anglo to see what their views were on certain social questions. The results are below.

Results tabulation:

DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA AND/OR OTHER ILICIT DRUGS? IF YES, WHY, IF NO WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 12   Male – 12

No: Female – 4   Male – 5

No opinion: Female – 2   Male – 1

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Main reasons:

Yes: End traffic and violence; marijuana is not such a “terrible” drug; yes, but with a lot of regulation; it’s a personal decision whether to use drugs; there will be more money (taxes) for treatment; only marijuana, not all drugs; marijuana is useful for medicine; being illegal doesn’t stop people from using them; just for medicinal purposes; having to get involved in traffic means people get exposed to all other more dangerous drugs.

No: it will generate more violence; people become addicted; drugs are not healthy; body not created to receive such artificial substances; it would make drugs accessible to kids; just bad people use drugs.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN CAPITAL PUNISHMENT (DEATH PENALTY) FOR CERTAIN CRIMES? IF YES, WHY, IF NOT, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 6   Male – 15

No: Female – 10   Male – 4

No opinion: Female – 1

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Main reasons:

Yes: Death is the just punishment for killers; some people deserve it, especially in Brazil where people don’t stay long in jail; if there is no doubt about the verdict; it’s cheaper than life in prison; it would make the world a better place; just for heinous crimes; some people can’t be recuperated; make people think before doing something bad; it will decrease criminality; the prisons are full;

No: killing someone is unethical; you free the person of guilt; you should have chance of redemption; doesn’t resolve the problem; it is not ethical; life is a right of the individual; right to a second chance; not a good punishment; not going to fix the problem.
SHOULD WOMEN HAVE A RIGHT TO HAVE AN ABORTION IF THEY DON’T WANT TO CARRY THE CHILD? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 18   Male -11

No: Female – 0   Male – 7

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Main reasons:

Yes: it’s her body, her choice; in the case of rape; as long as fetus is less than 12 weeks; can’t afford to raise the kid; as long as fetus is less than 4 weeks; some mothers not prepared to look after baby; only in specific situations; it reduces crime; a woman who doesn’t want a child won’t take care of it.

No: can’t affect the life of another person; why didn’t they use birth control (?); it’s murder, against life; leads to negative population growth.

 

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY SHOULD BE LOWERED TO 16 FROM 18? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 12   Male – 15

No: Female – 6   Male – 3

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Main reasons:

Yes: 16 year-olds know what they’re doing; only for very grave crimes; if I can vote, I can be responsible for my crimes; teenagers know right from wrong; lots of minors are already contributing to crimes; some teenagers doing worse things than adults; should be lowered to 14.

No: only make the problem worse; make the prisons more crowded; too immature; doesn’t solve the problem; criminals will just recruit younger kids; emotional instability;

 

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT CITIZENS SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO CARRY GUNS? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 3   Male – 15

No: Female – 14   Male – 3

No opinion: Female – 2

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Main reasons:

Yes: guns protect people; guns don’t kill people, people do; right to self-defense; as long as regulated; with psychological tests; now only criminals can get guns, not correct;

No: make situation worse; too many unstable people; number of massacres could increase (like US); guns generate violence; people can’t handle the power of guns; insane idea; gun laws should be stricter; promote fear and insecurity;

 

SHOULD AFRO-DESCENDANTS AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO QUOTAS IN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES AND INSTITUTIONS?

Yes: Female – 15   Male – 2

No: Female – 2   Male – 15

No opinion: Female – 1

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Main reasons:

Yes: people don’t have same opportunities; help repair past injustices; poor schools make people less able to get into university; historical oppression; racism is a reality; yes but not forever;

No: we are all human; not right to give person advantage because of skin color; should be only for poor people; hurts white people; it’s unfair; everyone should have same rights; racial quotas not nice; doesn’t make people more prepared.

 

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT GAY MARRIAGE SHOULD BE LEGAL? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT? 

Yes: Female – 15   Male -13

No: Female – 0   Male – 2

No opinion: Female – 4   Male – 2

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Main reasons:

Yes: have to respect all kinds of marriage; everyone has right to be happy; it’s normal; all love is valid; of course! love is love; everybody needs love; gay people are human too; it’s not my business to judge;

No: due to my religious beliefs.

 

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT WOMEN SHOULD SERVE IN COMBAT UNITS IN THE ARMY? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 15   Male -15

No: Female – 1   Male – 1

No opinion: Female – 2   Male – 2

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Main reasons:

Yes: equal rights; only if she wants to; women can do everything a man can; individual liberty; as long as they are prepared to die; yes, but must be prepared; there are many women who like doing that kind of stuff; should be an option for both sexes.

No: no reason given.

 

SHOULD PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO EUTHANASIA? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 14   Male – 15

No: Female – 1   Male – 2

No opinion: Female – 3   Male – 2

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Main reasons:

Yes: people should be free to do whatever they want with their bodies; a right to kill yourself; prevents suffering; you should decide when you want to die;

No: can lead to terrible things; if you kill yourself, you go to hell.

 

SHOULD STATES PROVIDE FREE UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE FOR ITS CITIZENS? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT? 

Yes: Female – 17   Male – 14

No: Female – 0   Male – 1

No opinion: Female – 1   Male – 3

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Main reasons:

Yes: otherwise poor people can’t pay for health; basic human right is health; we already pay taxes for it; for society it’s better to have healthy people; state’s obligation; yes, but just the basic; as long as it’s good quality.

No: universal care doesn´t work.
IS IT FAIR TO TAX WEALTHY PEOPLE MORE THAN LESS WEALTHY PEOPLE (PROGRESSIVE TAXATION)? IF YES, WHY, IF NO, WHY NOT. 

Yes: Female – 11   Male – 8

No: Female – 3   Male – 5

No opinion: Female – 4   Male – 4

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Main reasons:

Yes: it won’t make such a difference it you earn more money; should be something balanced; it’s more fair; rich people have more to give; people who receive lee suffer more; government needs the money; as long as the taxers aren’t that high; non-wealthy people can’t work as much as wealthy people;

No: has to be the same tax for everyone; not fair; businessmen will leave the country;

 

DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?

Yes: Female – 13   Male – 12

No: Female – 4    Male – 6

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Anglo Blog, October 15-November 20, 2017

When a Coup D’état is a Relief

The deposition of Robert Mugabe, the tyrannical president of Zimbabwe in Southern Africa of the last 37 years, occurred on November 15. Mugabe, 93, was grooming his wife Grace, 42 years his junior, to succeed him when he would eventually give up the presidency, only in the case of his death. This apparently irked restive members of the military who have now taken the former president into custody.

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Robert Mugabe in better days with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip 

Mugabe remains under house arrest and the military gave him until Monday, November 20, to resign or face impeachment. He resigned rather than face impeachment. There was widespread celebration in the streets and relief from a population that had been subjected to years of oppression and where a climate of fear reigned.

The event is being cautiously welcomed by those who have witnessed this country, once an aspiration for Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder music celebrating the dream of the post-colonial multi-racial democracy that Mugabe had apparently fought for, descend into an abusively misruled economic basket case.

Robert Mugabe came to power in 1980 after leading an armed rebellion to end white minority colonial rule when the country was known as Rhodesia, Mugabe was much admired and Zimbabwe a bastion of progressive rule compared to the heinous apartheid regime in full swing next door in South Africa.

Of the struggle, Marley sung:

Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny,
And in this judgement there is no partiality.
So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle,
‘Cause that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble.

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When independence came, Stevie Wonder sang with joy

Peace has come to Zimbabwe
Third World’s right on the one
Now’s the time for celebration
‘Cause we’ve only just begun

But in his second decade of power, Mugabe became more oppressive and fond of power to the point of exploiting the various ethnic divisions in the society, including expropriation of white owned farms that were given to his political vassals. Other foolhardy economic decisions led to galloping inflation and widespread impoverishment as the GDP shrunk alarmingly. It is estimated that three to four million Zimbabweans have left the country, the bulk of them settling in South Africa, now a thriving multi-racial democracy.

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And under military custody

The future is undefined and whenever a dictator is removed in a multi-ethnic society, division that was kept under the wraps could emerge, as that which tore Yugoslavia apart with the death of Tito and is still ravaging Iraq since the US invasion and the death of Saddam Hussein. Hopefully Zimbabweans sunny disposition will be rewarded with the prosperity and democracy they deserve.

 

The Islamic Civil War in Yemen

Thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people are apparently on the verge of starvation in Yemen as a result of the vicious civil war wracking the Middle East’s poorest country. The Shia Muslim Houthi rebels are fighting a Saudi Arabia led coalition representing the interests of the Sunni majority of the country. Saudi Arabia has blockaded the ports through which essential international aid passes on its way to the communities decimated by the conflict. A cholera epidemic has also broken out yet most of the world doesn’t even know about this horrendous humanitarian crisis where 50,000 children have already died this year.

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Yemen’s civil war has produced the world’s worst humanitarian crisis

This is just one more forum for the ongoing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and indicative of the simmering civil war between the two main factions of Islam, the Sunnis (with the great majority estimated as high as 90%) and Shiites, of which Iran has by far the largest concentration. The schism occurred over differences in opinion over the succession of Prophet Mohammed.

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Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are funding proxies throughout the Middle East. Iran funds the extremely influential Hezbollah Shiite militia in Lebanon and directly supports the Alawite (Shiite) regime of Bashar Assad in Syria while Saudi Arabia props up the Sunni minority regime in Bahrain. Complicating this feud are Al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups whose Sunni fundamentalism is in line with much of Saudi religious thought, and who often attack and kill Shia populations throughout the Muslim world, yet who are bitterly opposed to the Saudi monarchy.

All this conflict is a bonanza for the arms dealers throughout the world while thousands of Muslims unnecessarily die every year. And mostly in the name of religion.

Anglo Blog, September 15-October 15, 2017

Protests in Russia

At the beginning of the month, many courageous Russians braved the streets to demand the release of arrested opposition leader, Alexei Nivalny. Using the day of President Vladimir Putin’s birthday to express their displeasure, hundreds rallied for the right of the detained Nivalny to compete for the presidency in a free election. Dozens were arrested throughout the country.

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Protests against Putin: enough is enough

Putin’s inclination about those who oppose him is violent suppression, not surprising given his past stint as head of the infamous KGB, the Soviet Union’s brutal secret security force. Mr. Putin has ruled Russia since 1999, either as prime minister or president (he switches between the two to avoid term limit laws, but always ultimately wields all power.) Critics have fled to exile or been murdered, as when fierce Kremlin critic and human rights activist, Anna Politkovskaya was killed in the elevator of her apartment in 2006.

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Ana Politkovskaya, one of many fierce critics of the government who ended up murdered in mysterious circumstances.

Figures show Putin with extensive public support, crediting him with lifting Russian pride, intricately linked with the Russian Orthodox Church’s conservative doctrine, and flexing its muscle abroad, standing up to the “hegemonic” US.

But these protests show that dissent is still alive and these gallant people risking their wellbeing to fight for democracy should perhaps signal to those who have become cynical about democracy’s virtues and effectiveness that it s worth defending and participating.

 

Trump in Puerto Rico, with Iran Deal and Obama Care

When examining anything US president Donald Trump does, it is difficult not to descend into a paroxysm of wailing, lamentations and bitterness, ultimately an ineffective waste of energy. If there were a competition for presidential gaffes, the word itself seems to have become almost redundant since it suggests exception rather than the barrage of idiocies that come cascading out of the White House, Trump’s trip to Puerto Rico would be a strong contender.

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Trump in Puerto Rico, says they should be grateful for the help and throwing out paper towels to those in need

Leaving a full eight days after the storm, and after getting into a Twitter spat with the mayor of San Juan, Trump insinuated that Puerto Rico should be thankful for the magnanimous support of the United States as if talking to a poor, foreign country. He threw paper towels into a crowd, joked that the island’s devastation was putting a ‘hole’ in the national budget, and constantly praised himself.

Puerto Rico became a US territory after the Spanish-American war of 1898, essentially the spoils of war after the defeat of Spain. Although US citizens, the island’s three million residents have no vote in the US presidential election or real participation in the US congress. Trump’s insouciance about the suffering of US citizens who serve no political use for him, and his constant dog-whistling racism, show that Trump is essentially white America’s president. The rest just don’t matter to him.

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The multilateral Iran nuclear accord on the brink of collapse with Trump refusing to certify Iran compliance with the agreement.

Further discord and confusion were sewed once again by Trump is two actions that sought to detonate policies which his predecessor Barak Obama had put in place and that had ameliorated the situation of many uninsured Americans and also contributed to global stability, namely the Accordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) and the Iran nuclear deal.

Far from being a single payer public system which many other rich countries have adopted, the AHC was market based, with government participation limited to subsidizing people unable to afford private health insurance on their own. Trump on several occasions, through Congress, has tried and failed to overturn this landmark legislation, and so resorted to unilateral presidential action and withdrew this government support so essential to millions of people. Some are predicting that this could most adversely hurt Trump’s base, since many of them are working class and struggle to meet burgeoning health care costs.

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Trump’s second unilateral measure was to choose not to certify the Iran Nuclear Deal, a multilateral negotiated settlement that involved the Security Council, the European Union as well as the US. Within the framework of this accord, Iran agreed to stop development of a nuclear weapon in exchange for the lifting of sanctions imposed against that country for its former pursuit of nuclear arms capability. The agreement has been hailed as a contributor to global stability and according to all the parties except the US, Iran has been keeping its part of the bargain. Pressure from Saudi Arabia and Israel, sworn enemies of Iran, is presumed to have caused Trump to revoke the deal. However, there’s still some hope that the deal can be salvaged as Trump essentially passed responsibility to the US Congress and if it fails to act, the deal remains in place.

 

Social Media and Society

Two recent articles in The Guardian newspaper have outlined the potential dangers of increasing dependence on information technology for society in general but also and particularly the democratic political system. The articles analyze people’s online habits and speculate about what kind of world we are living in when people, on average, swipe their phones an astounding 2,617 times a day.

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Is too much technology making us dumber?

Firstly, it examines the psychological tools involved in convincing (some would say coercing) people to buy products. Since people have decided to share all kinds of personal information by posting it on their online accounts, companies such as Facebook, Google and Youtube have compiled psychological profiles from which they can direct their pitches and secure millions of dollars of advertising revenue for themselves.
Some have dubbed this new type of marketing approach as the attention economy. This prioritizes strategies and ploys to capture our attention and thus, these articles argue, privileges impulses over intentions. This, the authors posit, makes people more prone to seeking out sensationalist rather than nuanced news, and conceivably led to the political hurricanes of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

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Those foreseeing a technological dystopia include many former employees of the major tech companies who ironically send their children to schools where smartphones, ipads and other electronic devices are banned. They counsel that governments should start regulating “psychologically manipulative advertising” as they would other public health hazards such as tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.

Who was more accurate in predicting the future? George Orwell with his forced coercion or the psychological manipulation Aldous Huxley warned against due to “man’s infinite appetite for distractions?” Looking around any public venue in most big cities around the world, it would seem Huxley was more prescient, with people buried in their smart phones oblivious to their surroundings.

Clearly the age of internet has ushered in changes that have been beneficial yet its excesses and a lack of concerted actions to address them, could result in the kind of society where people are so dependent on these technologies that they are incapable of making informed decision and the concept of free will be considered an anachronism.

August 10-September 10, 2017

Fall from Grace

 
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu, of Myanmar has in the past been compared to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi for her resistance to oppression and defense human rights and human dignity. For decades, she was persecuted by a brutal military dictatorship that ruled over this country, formerly known as Burma and located in south-east Asia, which was once a British colony. Films and documentaries portrayed her august struggle, as close to a saint as is possible in the modern world.

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After being denied political power, the military finally gave in after she overwhelmingly won a popular election in 2015 and although she cannot be president due to her holding a foreign passport, she essentially runs the country from the sidelines. There are severe limitations on her maneuverability imposed by the military (some say this restricts her actions in the present crisis). Her ascension after years of painful hardship was universally applauded.

Her image has undergone a radical change, however, with hundreds of thousands of people signing on-line petitions to have her Nobel Prize revoked, as well a very public letter of admonishment from another Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. This metamorphous is based on the plight of the Rohingya people, a historically persecuted Muslim minority who over the last month have been victims of an army campaign to expel them from their homes. The UN estimates that up to now more than 400,000 have fled their homes, and are stuck in limbo, stranded in squalid conditions on the border area between Myanmar and Bangladesh. It has been declared a humanitarian disaster and there are real fears of a devastating cholera outbreak.

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Instead of showing sympathy for these victims of violence, Aung San Suu has blamed their suffering on the work of “Muslim Terrorists”, completely exculpating the Myanmar military and showing absolutely no sympathy at all for these people’s turmoil. It is quite extraordinary for some so revered to suddenly be so reviled. The world awaits some kind of pronouncement from her that will hopefully serve to assuage some of the acute disappointment she has generated among her former admirers and restore some of her besmirched reputation.

 
Confronting History

 
On August 13, a man participating in a right wing demonstration rammed a car into a group of protesters demanding the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, in Charlottesville, the state of Virginia. Lee was the commander of the rebel army that tried to secede from the United States in 1861 and resulted in the Civil War, the US’s bloodiest conflict to date. One person was killed, and the incident, already a viscous cauldron in which contrasting visions of history brew , was exacerbated by President Trump’s equating the violence of the neo-Nazis with those agitating for the withdrawal of Lee’s statue.

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In New York at the beginning of September, the mayor, Bill Deblasio, flouted the idea of a Christopher Columbus Statue, that occupies the center of the eponymous circle off the west end of Central Park, be removed. Columbus’ contribution to the genocide of America’s indigenous peoples was cited as the principal reason.

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Saddam Hussein’s statue being torn down in 2003

Both incidents reflect the thorny issue of wildly different interpretations of history. Those who want to see the dismantling of statues allege they glorify soldiers who fought for the disintegration of the United States and the maintenance of slavery. Defenders of Lee say that he was a decent man and to condemn all the descendents of southerners as essentially evil is based on the hubris of the victor and deeply insulting.

On Columbus, many would argue that his “discovery” changed the world and propelled Europe to a 500-year era of dominance, which, according to them, was on the whole a good thing. Many others would argue that the despicable manner in which Europeans treated America’s native inhabitants (the cruelty of Columbus’ men on Hispaniola is truly mortifying) and the genocide this engendered forever sullies Columbus and what he stands for.

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Stalin statue vandalized after the fall of Communism

The sorry old cliché still rings true. History means different things to different people, often diametrically opposite. Externally, this results in armed conflict; internally, civil war. What is sad about the Charlottesville incident is that the wounds gouged open 150 years ago are still festering with acrid infection in the US. And with Europe’s and the west’s hegemony being strongly challenged globally, what Columbus really means will continue to be debated.

Why not just put the statues in museums?

 
Tired of Tourists

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Europeans are starting to get fed up of having their cities invaded by outsiders there to appreciate the glorious aesthetic treasures so many European cities possess. Traffic jams of people can result in places like Prague or Athens, and for the locals, trying to live a normal life with all the strains that entails, this human invasion can manacle their freedom to go about their daily business.

For visitors, these plaintive cries ring extremely hollow. Their sojourns to these countries are essential to their economies. What can European countries, with their high labor costs and strict regulations, really produce anyway? If they stopped coming, the economies would collapse and of course the people would suffer. If in this globalized world, Europe is to become a kind of Disneyland of antiquity, then that’s just the way it is.

Natives and outsiders once again don’t see eye to eye.

ANGLO BLOG POST 5, JULY

For those of us who follow world events, the last year has not been one on which to dwell for its great triumphs. With Donald Trump, Kim Jong un, Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey, Brexit, ISIS, irresolution in Syria, Venezuela imploding and political scandal and brazen institutional theft in Brazil, it is easy to get pessimistic.

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Trump and Kim Jong un deserve each other but the world doesn’t deserve them

Trump is proving more of a nightmare than even the most dire predictions. He is obviously slightly crazy, a petty megalomaniac who doesn´t have a clue what he´s doing. Except probably getting richer from the whole boondoggle. The media are slathering for more scandal, the Trump presidency is a gift from heaven; how they can feast on the continuing nonsense, hypocrisy, blatant conflict of interest exploding from the White House nearly daily.

But their obsession about Trump the man rather than what Trump the president and his agenda, diverts attention away from truly horrifying policies which are intended to be implemented. Huge tax breaks for the rich, huge cuts in public services and huge increases in military spending, scrapping of regulation, climate change denial as an official position, appeals to white resentment social policies where minorities are marginalized and a situation where the US once again is solidly controlled by white people.

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Vladimir Putin, the wannabe badass

And this is a world with Kim Jong un, who loves to torment the world with his missile launches and ability to survive this provocation because if he is attacked, everyone knows thousands, more like hundreds of thousands of people in Seoul will die. Of course, he’s not going to give up his nuclear capacity. Without it he’s doomed.

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Recep Erdogan, seeking absolute power

Erdogan has dually transformed Turkey, both politically and economically, with his economic success facilitating his march towards absolute power. Another man with a big ego and thin skin, nevertheless a lot of people in Turkey seem to love him, a strong man has its attractions to some apparently. But it’s sad to see this once proudly secular country, a bridge between Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam, and a bulwark against fascist theocracies in other parts of the Middle East seems on a very wrong path.

As in Russia, where Putin can win any election but has so weakened all the other institutions of government that might be able to check his power. Another thin-skinned ego-maniac, with the help of the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin has managed to tap into to the deeply held religious-based nationalism with what the West considers conservative social values. He also garnered the resentment of Russians at being marginalized on the world stage for 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union. Like Americans, many feel they should be controlling the world.

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Michel Temer, the corruptor in chief

To watch the News in Brazil is to witness a cadre, actually more like a gang of the country´s top politicians actively ripping off the country while pretending to manage the its public resources. What is perhaps more irksome is that the millions of people who went to the streets to demand the ouster of Dilma Rouseff for cooking the books, which all governments here have done, stay at home when the current president, the ghoulish Michel Temer, has been revealed to be an absolute crook. Stealing by the left wing is outrageous while stealing by the right is worthy of no protest? Something is wrong and Brazil’s middle and upper classes were seemingly intolerant of the new powers of the emerging class, such as being able to fly on an airplane or buy a nice car. There is much disdain for the poor here, indeed everywhere.

So when you have characters like this with the reins of power, it is hard not to desspair, but we musn’t and we must trundle on and keep informed!

This week, stories written by students from the second year will be featured.

Anglo Blog Post 4, March 22-April 30

10 million people on the verge of starvation
The world is facing a situation unprecedented since the Second World War in terms of people judged to be in danger of starvation. Ten million people in four different countries face imminent starvation which, according to the United Nations and relief organizations, is the result of war, political instability and environmental factors.

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Countries where 20 million people at risk of starvation: Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria. The UN agency blamed a combination of war, political instability and environmental factors

The newest country in the world, South Sudan, which only won independence in 2013, is wrought by a brewing civil war, a fight between the president and vice president who come from different ethnic groups and claim legitimacy in ruling the country. The country has substantial oil and gas reserves but despite its natural endowments, most of the population is mired in poverty. A drought has exacerbated an already difficult situation.

Another country in the midst of a civil war, spurned by the different interpretations of Islam of the Shiite minority and the Sunni majority, is Yemen, strategically located on the south-eastern tip of Saudi Arabia. It is the latest arena of the deadly civil war going on within Islam, conflicts which indirectly involve Saudi Arabia and Iran, the former backing Sunni groups, the latter Shiite ones. Yemen has been wracked by political instability for decades, at one point divided between North and South Yemen.

Ever since the US invasion of Somalia in 1992, Somalia has fit into the new category of failed state, a country where there has been institutional breakdown and governing has been based on who has the biggest guns. Where there is chaos, there is violence, and the fundamentalist group Al-Shabab is active in wanton acts of terrorism. The recent drought has crippled an already country barely crawling along, and hundreds of thousands of people are now vulnerable to starvation.

Despite its considerable petroleum reserves, Nigerians in their majority continue to live in squalid conditions and corruption ensures this same population sees few benefits from oil exports. A brutal group in the Islamic North, Boko Haram, which means non-Islamic education is a sin, has wrought havoc on communities and 120,000 under their control are said to be on the verge of starvation.
Upping the Ante

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Weeks of rising tensions between the US and North Korea continue to feed uncertainty about what is going to happen in the event of further missile tests by North Korea and the US insistence that these not occur. The implications of a war are sobering given that within seconds of any attack on North Korea, that country would likely immediately retaliate with attacks on Seoul with the potential of thousands of deaths, unseen since the second world war. It is unclear how much leverage China has over its ‘ally’ Kim Jong-un and whether Donald Trump would actually attack the country. These uncertainties and military posturing by both sides create the conditions for miscalculations or even mistakes with tremendously far-reaching consequences.

 

Possible Vaccine Against Malaria
post4_image3The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that it will test a vaccine against malaria on a trial basis in Africa next year. There is much hope that this could become an effective tool in the fight against the disease that kills half a million people a year and afflicts up to 500 million, 90% of them in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the poorest regions of the world. Other tools being tried are genetically modified mosquitos which could stop the spread of the parasite. Simpler measures, such as the provision of mosquito nets, are also used to combat this harmful disease.
Venezuela Teetering on the Brink
The country of Venezuela has suffered from civil unrest over the month of April, with twenty nine people having died during this period as street demonstrations by those in opposition to Nicolas Maduro’s rule have turned violent and lethal.

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Those protesting are unhappy with the government, founded on the principles of Hugo Chavez’s form of “Bolivarian Revolution,” which has struggled to maintain the system shaped by the charismatic Chavez, and has been especially hit by low oil prices, Venezuela’s principal export. The economy is catastrophic and inflation is up to 700%. Many people are eating only two meals a day, and hours are needed to line up for food that often never arrives.

Both sides seem equally entrenched, with Maduro relying on the legions of loyal working class and poor Chavistas, who see that this government as the first to ever consider their needs, to ensure a degree of popular support. The opposition, mostly middle class and white, clamors for Maduro’s removal and new elections. The poor blame this group for historical exploitation and for the fact that, with the world’s largest oil reserves, a rich landscape and small population, what explains the fact that Venezuela has any poverty at all?

The key is the military. As long as Maduro has its support, he is unlikely to be removed before the next general election. It should be hoped that the army would not intervene as this would set a dismal precedent on a continent where increasingly politicians are perceived (and often confirming this perception) as being venal, corrupt and incompetent.
French Presidential Election: Europe’s future on the line
On May 7, French will go to the polls again to vote in the second round of their election either for Marine Le Penn, an independent candidate of what many consider extreme views about immigration and nationalism, and Emmanuel Marcon, a former investment banker and Minister of the Economy, who has never held elective office.

Le Penn paints a Trumpesque dire view of France gone astray, the fault of immigrants and foreigners who have corrupted some glorious past. Make France Great Again should be her slogan. Her father, a rather loathsome Holocaust denier, made it to the second round in 2002 and was trounced by an unpopular sitting president Jacques Chirac receiving only 17% of the votes. Le Penn is likely to do better, the political environment having changed dramatically with Brexit and Trump victories. Working class whites who formerly voted Socialist are now backing her, and she articulates their feelings of frustration with globalization and how it has adversely affected their lives.

Macron comes from a very privileged background and attended the famous Ecole nationale d’administration, which trains the elite to run the country, much as the Ivy Leagues schools in the US. He is trying to convince people that he represents more than just a better alternative to Le Penn. His establishment background taint him for many in the electorate and he will have to convince the skeptical public that he isn’t just a continuation of the (unacceptable) status quo.
Women given bats at wedding to defend against abusive husbands
post4_image5In a mass wedding ceremony in India on April 30, the brides were given 40 cm wooden bats to defend themselves against the alcohol-induced violence they commonly suffer at the hands of their husbands. The bats themselves are inscribed with the saying “for use against drunkards.” The minister of social justice state said he had become concerned with the levels of domestic abuse by inebriated husbands who often pilfer their wife’s money to buy more alcohol. Concern with excessive drinking have led some states to institute prohibition against the sale of alcohol and groups of vigilante women have forced those who sell alcohol to close their establishments.