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Make Sense of the World: Weekly Roundup

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January 28, 2014 07:42 EDT
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Fair Observer's roundup of the week's events. [Note: Click here for the full report.]

The past week saw the World Economic Forum gather in Davos to supposedly ponder the perilous year ahead. While Davos wallowed in platitudes, Nobel laureate Michael Spence penned one of the most incisive commentaries on the world economy in recent times.

North America

Republican Congressman Trey Radel resigned from his seat after pleading guilty to cocaine possession. Radel represented Florida’s ultraconservative 19th Congressional District and had voted to mandate drug tests for poor Americans who apply for food aid.

Scandals involving politicians is old hat. The point is not that some elected representative took drugs or slept with a man or a woman. What is worrying is that such a representative adopted a doctrinaire position that contrasts diametrically to his actions. Prudery has generally led to prurience. James Brundage has an excellent flowchart regarding medieval Christian rules about sex. The one thing we know about these rules is that they caused much unhappiness and did not work, leading to both perversion and hypocrisy.

Finally, a week after US President Barack Obama gave a speech on the National Security Agency (NSA) and on the eve of his 2014 State of the Union, Google’s chief legal officer has called upon the government to change its intelligence policies to restore trust in the Internet. This is a serious blow to Obama, whose approval ratings have plummeted to the same level as his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Latin America

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, delineated the maritime boundary between Peru and Chile. Peru had appealed to the ICJ to settle the matter in 2008. The ICJ gave Peru around 20,000 square kilometers outright and control over a further 28,000 square kilometers. Both countries have pledged to abide by the ICJ ruling.

Clearly, Peru gains from the ruling but the key fact to note is that both countries appealed to the ICJ instead of resorting to saber rattling. China and Japan could draw lessons from their Latin American counterparts.

A week after gaining kudos for its enlightened immigration policy, a deep-water port funded by Brazil has opened in Cuba. The port of Mariel is in the heart of a special economic development zone to which Cuba plans to draw foreign investment. It will be able to host larger ships passing through an expanded Panama Canal.

Europe

After months of turmoil in Ukraine, the first deaths in the protests and the spread of revolt to towns in the eastern part of the country, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azorov has finally resigned. The Ukrainian parliament voted by 361 to 2 to repeal controversial anti-protest legislation. President Viktor Yanukovych had already offered Azorov’s job to the opposition leader, who turned it down. Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, is set to meet Yanukovych and opposition leaders. The ding dong battle between Russia and the European Union (EU) over Ukraine will carry on as the country seems delicately poised over the precipice of civil conflict.

In 2006, the Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was murdered through polonium-210 radiation poisoning. Barely three weeks prior, Anna Politkovskaya, a fearless investigative journalist, highly respected both at home and abroad, was brutally murdered on October 7, 2006, in Moscow. That day was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 54th birthday and it was widely suspected that she had been killed on the orders of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a loyal Putin ally.

Middle East & North Africa

The Geneva talks between the Syrian government and the opposition have begun. So far, the talks have resulted in a deadlock. President Bashar al-Assad's regime refuses to countenance the demand for a transitional government by the Syrian National Council.

Brutality has been ratcheting up on all sides. Over 130,000 people are dead and millions have fled their homes. Yet the talks are unlikely to reach a successful conclusion because two key actors are missing. Iran and Islamist rebels are not at the table, making any lasting deal impossible. Iran was incongruously disinvited at the last minute from the Geneva talks, while Saudi-backed Islamists had no intention of negotiating peace in the first place.

In Egypt, the third anniversary of the Mubarak regime's ouster ended with a sense of déjà vu. Mubarakism continues to flourish even though Hosni Mubarak has gone. As bomb blasts killed six and wounded 100 others, the specter of a full-blown Algeria style civil war continues to haunt Egypt. The banned Muslim Brotherhood strongly denied the attacks, which were held to be the responsibility of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a group inspired by al-Qaeda.

Africa

As predicted in a previous report, a ceasefire has been signed by the government and the rebels in South Sudan. Although rebels have accused the South Sudan army of violating the ceasefire, the uneasy peace should hold.

Three reasons led to the ceasefire. First, major powers such as the US and China put pressure on both parties to conclude a deal. Second, foreign powers had more leverage because of South Sudan’s oil reserves. Both parties want a share of oil revenues and have an incentive to listen to the buyers of oil. Third, neither side has an appetite for a protracted war. All clashes will not entirely cease immediately, but the ceasefire has a decent shot of being a first tentative step to peace.

Acclaimed Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina has declared that he is gay. He is one of the most high profile Africans to ever do so. Wainaina has written about his sexuality in a new essay that he refers to as a "lost chapter" of his memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, which was published in 2011.

Central & South Asia

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the anglicized heir of the Bhutto family, has called for military action against the Taliban. A darling of the Western press, Zardari Jr. has a reputation as an effete prince who prefers partying in London over dealing with the hoi polloi. At 25 years of age, his sliminess and dishonesty are already being noted by astute Pakistanis who resent the power he wields because of the ill-gotten gains made by his family and the patronage dispensed by them in a highly feudal society. Meanwhile, airstrikes continue against the Taliban regardless of what Zardari Jr. says. Thousands fled Pakistan’s troubled northwest region bordering Afghanistan, following airstrikes against suspected Taliban militant hideouts that killed dozens of people.

In India, Rahul Gandhi is in the news after making a fool of himself in his first individual interview in ten years. He showed his intellectual bankruptcy by parroting clichés for 80 minutes, demonstrating a complete lack of self-awareness.

Gandhi is a scion of the Nehru family that has largely ruled India since its independence in 1947 and, barely ten days ago, The Economist hailed him as "a decent man, shy in public, keen on development work and out of place in the snake-pit of politics." For long, this lily white English publication has had a soft spot for India’s notoriously corrupt ruling dynasty that sided with the Soviet Union, imposed socialism on the country and continues to implement populist economic policies. The Economist conveniently forgets its free-market liberal principles when covering India, which is unsurprising given that it opposed the country's independence since its inception in 1843. Gandhi incongruously kept claiming to fight the system just like Zardari Jr., even though both these young gentlemen are merely in their positions because they are members of the lucky sperm club.

Asia Pacific

The battle for Thailand’s soul is only getting fiercer. On the one side are the "red shirts" of Pheu Thai party from the Shinawatra clan. Its support lies in the poor northern and northeastern provinces of Thailand. On the other side is the Thai establishment led by Suthep Thaugsuban, whose support base lies in the capital Bangkok and the southern provinces. As mentioned repeatedly in earlier reports, Thaugsuban has taken to the streets and brought the country to a standstill. He is boycotting the elections that are due to be held because the Pheu Thai will win again. Instead, he is demanding that the government resign and surrender power to a body appointed by the monarch. This is a ridiculous demand that makes a mockery of democracy and weakens Thailand’s still nascent institutions.

The Philippine government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front have successfully concluded peace talks in Malaysia, which brokered the negotiations. The Moro insurgency began in the 1970s and has killed 150,000 people. The peace deal will end the instability that has exacerbated the poverty of the region.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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