Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Global Impacts of $1.5 Billion (Give or Take)

$1.5 billion is a lot of money. But what it takes to get that much money says a lot about the world we live in.

UN seeks $1.5 billion for suffering Syrians
Inside Syria, U.N. agencies aim to help 4 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, including an estimated 2 million displaced from their homes by fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels trying to topple him.

The plan provides for food, shelter and bedding, water and sanitation, emergency medical services, clothes, kitchen sets and baby supplies for beleaguered civilians in all 14 provinces.

The U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP) is reaching 1.5 million Syrians inside the country with food rations each month, but said it faces increasing constraints, including mounting insecurity and fuel shortages.
UBS fined $1.5 billion in LIBOR scandal
The $1.5 billion UBS penalty is the second largest ever imposed on a bank, exceeded only by the $1.9 billion that HSBC agreed to pay to settle U.S. charges in connection with the laundering of drug cartel money.

"We deeply regret this inappropriate and unethical behavior. No amount of profit is more important than the reputation of this firm," said UBS Chief Executive Sergio Ermotti.
Either way, it's still not enough money to undo the world's mistakes.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Everyone is Losing in Syria

[via CNN]

Yesterday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah claimed that the Syrian rebels couldn't win against the pro-Assad forces in Syria.
"The situation in Syria is getting more complicated (but) anyone who thinks the armed opposition can settle the situation on the ground is very very very mistaken."
Today, Syria's Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa claimed that neither the rebels or the government could win.
Sharaa said the situation in the country was heading from bad to worse and that a "historic settlement", involving the formation of a national unity government, was needed to end the conflict, al-Akhbar newspaper cited him as saying in its Monday edition.
Now even Palestinian refugees are being bombed for taking sides.
Syria is home to more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees, most living in Yarmouk, and both Assad's government and the mainly Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels have enlisted and also armed Palestinians as the uprising has spread. 
Heavy fighting broke out 12 days ago between Palestinians loyal to Assad and Syrian rebels, together with a brigade of Palestinian fighters known as Liwaa al Asifah (Storm Brigade). 
Clashes flared again after the air strike as Palestinians from the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) fought Syrian rebels and other Palestinians, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group.
The civil war continues, and unsurprisingly, no one can agree on a solution

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Golden Dawn Goes Global, While Scaring Politicians In Greece

In my latest Gapers Block piece, I analyze how and why Greece's far-right party, Golden Dawn, has opened branches across the world:
Barely a month after their electoral victories, Golden Dawn launched a widely-criticized branch in Melbourne, Australia, home to one of the largest Greek populations outside of Athens. In October, several groups protested the opening of a Golden Dawn office in New York City, which had opened for the explicit purpose of building support for the party among Greek expatriate communities and collecting food and medicine to distribute in Greece -- but only for Greeks. And in Montreal, Golden Dawn is holding a Christmas food drive. The catch? They're only giving food out to Greek Christians. 
But this quote near the bottom of the last story is what really caught my eye: 
"Golden Dawn members in the United States have told CBC News they plan to open chapters shortly in Chicago, in Connecticut and in Toronto."
Meanwhile, this is what people think about them back home:

Greek government considers outlawing Golden Dawn
In Sept. Digital Journal reported Greek ministers had debated outlawing Golden Dawn but Prime Minister Antonis Samaras did not give his support to the initiative. Now KTG reports unconfirmed sources reveal Samaras and third party coalition leader Fotis Kouvelis, allegedly gave their consent if the proposal has a sound legal basis.

Currently it would be against the Greek constitution to outlaw a democratically elected party.
High police support for Greece's Golden Dawn
In 13 nearby polling stations, Golden Dawn averaged more than 20 per cent of the vote, whereas in the neighbouring "civilian only" polling stations it received 6 per cent of the vote, or below the Athenian average.

In other words, it seems that it is the police presence that is the variable, which is pushing the Golden Dawn vote upwards.

If we make this assumption (and yes, it is an assumption), we can conclude that the percentage of police who are voting for Golden Dawn is consistently higher than the actual result from the polling station.
Greek Prosecutors to Review Video of Threat by Extremist
In a video posted on the Internet, the spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, can be heard arguing with police officers after demonstrators gathered near the site of one of the party’s events on the island on Sunday. Mr. Kasidiaris, who in June was charged with assaulting two rival lawmakers during a live television debate, told the police there would be deaths if the protesters were not removed.
“Believe me, you’ll have dead people by tonight,” Mr. Kasidiaris can be heard telling a senior police official. On Monday, as political parties condemned his outburst, the Greek police said the video had been sent to a prosecutor in Crete.
Golden Dawn is a political minority in Greece, but their presence has set off alarms in the country and abroad - and for good reason. Lest you believe they operate just like any other political party in Greece...

Right now, they aren't exactly seen as the most hospitable organization in Greece. How their outreach programs fare with the Greek-American, Greek-Canadian, and Greek-Australian communities remains to be seen.

Friday, December 7, 2012

PSY, Reggaeton, and the Politics of Pop Music

By now, you've probably heard the news about Korean K-Pop superstar PSY's anti-American concert performances.

In 2002, PSY protested the deaths of two Korean girls who were hit by a U.S. convoy by dressing like the above picture and smashing the prop tank on stage.

In 2004, after a Korean missionary was kidnapped and killed by a jihadist group over Korea's refusal to not deploy troops to Iraq, PSY joined several artists in condemning the terrorists. However, he had some choice words for the U.S. military:
Kill those f****** Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those f****** Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully
People in the U.S. have been pissed all day today, and soon enough, an apology (probably written by his publicist) appeared:
The song I was featured in – eight years ago – was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time. While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words.
However, people are still calling for his performance for President Obama at the Christmas in Washington event Sunday to be cancelled.


While not nearly as widespread of a news story, a very different strand of pop music has been banned in Cuba for very different reasons:
In an interview with state-run newspaper Granma, Orlando Vistel, the director of the Cuban Music Institute, explained that the island's government will take licenses away from musicians that "violate ethics" rules during concerts, adding that "severe sanctions" will be administered to officials who allow such groups to perform.

These measures could disproportionately affect Cuban reggaeton performers like Osmani Garcia, who have become hugely popular across the island thanks to songs with sexual lyrics and thumping rhythms that can be danced along to in a not-so-subtle way (read: perreo). This popular hit, called El Chupi Chupi, could become one of the first targets of the new music regulations.
Apparently, this isn't pro-revolutionary enough for the Cuban government:


There are a couple other interesting parallels here:

Most K-Pop borrows heavily from Western dance pop (It's worth noting that PSY studied in the U.S. at Boston University and the Berklee College of Music.) Meanwhile, Reggaeton comes from Puerto Rico and is popular across the Latin American world.

There's also a past vs. present dynamic at work here. A decade ago, PSY was happy to jump on the anti-American bandwagon twice to stay in tune with the sentiment of South Korean culture. Now, his international viral hit has plastered him and his horse dance all over U.S. television, and potentially even on a stage in front of Obama. Cuba's Reggaeton censorship reflects an older generation's desire to preserve certain music traditions vs. the vastly more popular reggaeton and hip-hop genres amongst the younger Cuban generation.

Despite the seeming ubiquity of popular dance music and culture across the world, lyrics still have the power to shock, offend, and spark debate. As more and more artists emerge in the coming years across cultural/lingustic boundaries and within authoritarian states, you can expect controversies like this to happen over and over again.

But if you're going to write words to a song, please put a tiny bit of thought into them, okay?

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