News from Around the Globe, November 3, 2012
A collection of current news stories from around the world.
Switzerland …. Swiss ecologists seek to curb immigration.
Not sure what to make of this story. The Swiss environmentalist organization, Ecology and Population (EcoPop), has collected enough signatures to begin the process for a vote on a National Referendum that would severely limit immigration. Due to the legal and administrative process that is involved in a national referendum, the earliest that a vote could be held on this proposal is 2015. The group says that their concerns are not racially motivated, but rather, environmentally motivated. The population of Switzerland is currently 8 million and the group says that scientific studies have shown that the country can only sustain a population of about 10 million people. Recent polling shows that the Swiss people overwhelmingly support the idea of limiting immigration. Currently, the normally left leaning group Ecopop is trying to distance itself from the support that its proposed referendum is receiving from far right conservative anti-immigration groups.
This is an extremely interesting story. Greek journalist Costas Vaxevanis published the names of more than 2,000 Greek citizens who have used Swiss banks to avoid paying an estimated 40 Billion Euros worth of taxes in Greece. He was tried in court for violating the privacy rights of those on the list. On Thursday, he was acquitted of breaching the privacy of those whose names were on the list he published. Perhaps more than any other European country, Greece has been devastated by the implementation of austerity programs. Austerity measures have touched the lives of virtually every average Greek citizen, and in a case that highlights the power of true journalism, Costas Vaxevanis did something that the Greek government was either unable or unwilling to accomplish. He brought to light what appears to be the beginning of a very serious scandal for the Greek government. The real issue is that his findings have implicated the Greek government in a massive cover-up scheme. Names on the list not only include prominent business people but also Greek politicians. In a more clueless approach to the way the world works for the 99%, the Swiss government is now withholding the passage of a new tax treaty between Greece and Switzerland.
To me, this is the most important part of the story. I will quote it directly: “Vaxevanis published a list that had been passed on to the Greek government in 2010 by France’s then finance minister Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund.” How can Christine Lagarde being shoving austerity measures around the world while she is herself assisting the wealthy in avoiding taxes? It’s a crazy freaking world.
Austerity measures continue in Spain. Public healthcare is the latest casualty of Spanish austerity. In what is most likely the opening salvo on healthcare, six new hospitals will be sold to the private sector and ran on a for profit basis. What could possibly go wrong with implementing a for profit healthcare system?
Austerity has changed the lives of all those living in Spain and will most likely affect the lives of Spanish citizens who have not even been born. In order to secure loans from the European Union (in actuality that means the Germans), Spain had to agree to several dramatic ‘reforms’ (reform is rich guy lingo that means ‘to destroy’) to their national retirement system. Specifically, the retirement age at which a citizen could draw their benefits had to be raised. In 2011 the age was raised from 61 to 63.5 and to 65 in 2012. Now, the government wants to increase the age from 65 to 67. America is exporting more than our culture; we are also exporting our own failed economic policies. Work longer for less. The American way is fast becoming the European way.
For almost two years the Syrian rebels have been engaged in a civil war with the government of Bashar al-Assad, but now it appears that the rebels will soon also be fighting Kurdish militias. Officially, there are about 2 million Kurds in Syria and they represent about 9% of the Syrian population. However, Kurdish activists claim the real number of Syrian Kurds exceeds 4 million. Numbers vary, but it is generally accepted that there are between 25 and 30 million Kurds living in the Middle East.
This is a little complicated but I’ll break down as simply as I can. The Kurds are remaining neutral in the civil war and using the war as an opportunity to carve out a completely autonomous region from existing Syria. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is the primary Kurdish military organization. Think something along the lines of the Irish Republican Army but with much, much heavier military weapons. The Turkish military engages the PKK on a fairly regular basis and is often fought to a standstill. Turkey has an enormous Kurdish population which has agitated for their own autonomous region for decades. Under pressure from Turkey, the United States and the European Union have both declared the PKK a terrorist organization. That designation prevents the US from providing any sort of assistance to the PKK. However, the PKK is not what most would think of when they think of a ‘terrorist’ organization. The Syrian civil war is accelerating the growth of the PKK as more and more Syrian Kurds defect from the Syrian army to join the PKK.
The primary battle between the Syrian rebels and the Kurds appears to be originating solely with the Sunni Islamist militias. The primary Syrian opposition groups are the Muslim Brotherhood and various Arab nationalist groups. There are several Islamist militias currently operating in Syria. The Islamist militias are well funded and have an Islamic state as their goal for Syria. None of the groups have any concerns for Kurdish rights or the wishes of the Kurds. So, the Kurds are not joining in the fight against Assad and that is causing increasing tension between the opposition groups and the Kurds. The long term goal of the Kurds is to establish the country of Kurdistan which would incorporate parts of Syria, Turkey and Iraq. The Syrian civil war just might make this goal a lot more realistic.
The Taiwanese LGBT community held their annual pride parade and more than 50,000 participated. Taiwan does not currently permit same sex marriage (which is probably quite a few years away from) but they do have a very vocal LGBT community. As in most countries, Taiwanese society has become more accepting of the LGBT community, but it has stopped short of giving them the same legal rights afforded to heterosexual citizens. This is a very interesting article from a part of the world that is not often discussed in American news.
Did you know that Uganda is considered a military powerhouse in Africa? Did you know that Uganda has troops in Somalia? Well, not for long anyway. Uganda announced plans to remove all of their troops from Somalia to protect itself from a possible invasion from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The more likely explanation to Uganda’s announcement is that the second Great War of Africa is about to begin. You may not have heard of the bloody war that took place in Central Africa from 1998 to 2003 (officially), however, eight African nations participated in the war and more than 5 million people died. Although most of the deaths were related to disease and malnutrition, if not for the war, the deaths would not have occurred. Anyone interested in learning more about this war, which is virtually unknown in the West, might wish to read Gerard Prunier’s amazing book: Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe. The subject is simply far too complicated for me to explain here in less than a thousand words.
Enjoy your weekend.