News Of The World (2019)

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Generally, North Americans believe that the rest of the planet is inhabited by angry people who hate us, so it follows that most media outlets don’t concern themselves with “foreign” news.  However, as spring slowly slides into summer — and there’s not much going on locally except baseball and basketball playoffs — a few items slip across the ocean, just to prove we remember that the rest of the world is still rotating.

In Hong Kong, a couple of thousand people held a march to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.  (Yeah, it’s been 30 years!)  Meanwhile, in the rest of China, nobody much noticed because officially the Tiananmen Square Protest (read Massacre) didn’t happen.  Oddly, most of the marchers look as if they weren’t even born when Deng Xiaoping ordered his tanks to clear out the student protesters and reaffirm Mao’s maxim that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

The European elections are over and, like 99.99% of North Americans, I have no idea what just happened.  First of all, it looks as if everybody and his sister gets a political party in Europe, and aside from the Greens, they’re all known by a variety of acronyms.  Plus, aside from the far right and the far left, to the untrained eye, they all look remarkably similar.  Then there’s the question of who represents who.  Here’s just one example (and this scenario played out all over Europe on Sunday.)  According to the media, in France, Madame Le Pen kicked the crap out of Monsieur Macron — except Le Pen’s group got 23.3% of the vote and Macron’s got 22.4%.  That’s less than a 1% difference!  And, according to my math, this means the majority of French people (54.3%) voted against both of them.  I understand that Europeans have been playing at politics for a lot longer we have and – look around — it’s worked out pretty well.  Besides, given our recent electoral history, we have no room to point fingers.  However, from this side of the Atlantic, it all looks like Game of Thrones – minus the dragons.

And finally, back in Asia

There’s a serious problem on Mount Everest – overcrowding.  Apparently, so many people want to stand “at the top of the world” that climbers have to form a line to reach the summit.  That means standing around in the cold and the wind and the lack of oxygen, waiting your turn.  And this year, the wait time is anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour and a half.  The problem is, like tourists everywhere, these idle alpine adventurers are dropping tons of trash on the pristine mountainside – which (from the pictures I’ve seen) isn’t pristine any more.  And, unlike most tourist attractions, there aren’t any janitors up there to clean up the mess.  As much as I worry about climate change, I’m beginning to think it’s going to be bucket lists and selfies that destroy this planet.

Tune in again next year for more news of the world.

North Korea — Again!

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I’m not going to turn this space into a political rant, but it bugs me — big time — when people’s World View IQ is lower than room temperature.  Last week, there was a lot of media ink spilled over North Korea, the USA and the impending nuclear holocaust.  Now that the rhetoric has died down and we’re unknotting our knickers, it’s time to remember George Santayana who wrote, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”  I wrote these two pieces four years ago.

North Korea: Time To Get Serious (April 3, 2013)

Could we just hit “Pause” for a second and think about this thing?  Maybe stand down the Stealth Bombers, unlock the lock and load and tone down the rhetoric?  I realize that when a punk like Kim Jong whatever-he’s-calling-himself-this-week is kicking sand in your face, it’s difficult to calm down – but let’s give it a try.  We need to remember a few things before somebody forgets what we’re dealing with and all hell breaks loose.

Okay, folks!  All aboard the reality train.

First of all, don’t let the tough talk fool you.  Ever since Dougie MacArthur, Truman’s ten-star general, threatened to turn Pyongyang into a mud puddle, the Kim boys of North Korea have been yipping a good fight without ever throwing down.  That’s not to say they won’t, but history has shown us that, like the elementary school bully, these guys are professional bum biters.  They pick their spots and never do anything serious enough to risk major retaliation.  They might talk like hard men and take a few cheap shots, but grandfather, father — and now, son — are smart enough to know just how far they can push it.  They realize that, if they ever did take a real run at the United States or any of her allies, they’d be out of a job by close of business Tuesday.  Cold War stalemates may have been all the rage in the 50s, but they’re pretty much passé these days.

Secondly, anybody who thinks Kim Jong-un is running the show north of the 38th parallel has got another think coming.  Yes, he’s the current Glorious Leader and latest member of the Kim dynasty that Stalin put on the throne back in the 40s — but that doesn’t mean much.  There’s an entrenched state apparatus in North Korea that’s been calling the shots for over sixty years.  These folks are the descendents of Kim il-Sung’s (Un’s grandpa) original band of gangsters revolutionaries.  They keep everything that’s worth controlling firmly in their grasp, and they’re not about to lighten up on that grip of steel any time soon.  In short, Kims may come and Kims may go, but the high-end folks of the Hermit Kingdom have a pretty good gig, and they’re not going to jeopardize it by taking a flyer on this kid’s nuclear adventuring.

Finally, and most importantly, North Korea is a “sovereign state” in name only.  It might have a flag and a national anthem, but in practical terms, it’s about as independent as Nebraska.   I doubt very much if the powers that be in Pyongyang go to the toilet without telling Beijing what they’re up to.  Unless you flunked history, economics and current events in high school, you realize that North Korea is China’s surrogate.  It is North Korea’s only serious trading partner, and, as such, controls over 70% of its economy – such as it is.  Besides, it’s not even close to plausible that the Chinese would allow a nuclear arsenal within spitting distance of the Dragon Throne if they didn’t have it on a leash.  And speaking of nuclear weapons, how does a “nation” without enough hard currency to buy a Happy Meal™ get its mitts on weapons-grade plutonium, never mind build the facilities it takes to make it work?  It’s obvious that China is pulling the strings south of the Yalu River.  This latest bit of sabre rattling may be nothing more than a no-consequence test of American resolve in the area.  Personally, I think it’s more than that (remember: China just launched its first aircraft carrier into the South China Sea.)  But then I’m not getting the big bucks from the State Department for my opinion.

However, if I were, I’d mention that this new kid in the Petty Little Dictator Club is trying to impress the neighbours and make a name for himself with the locals.  He’s talking a good fight, but like his daddy, he isn’t likely to launch anything more than his mouth — if he does, China spank.  We need to let him know, in no uncertain terms, he should back off before somebody (mostly he) gets hurt.  However, we also need to take our fingers off the trigger just in case somebody gets twitchy and this whole thing blows up – by accident.

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John Kerry And The Dragon Throne (April 29th, 2013)

Do you ever wonder what happened to Kim Jong-un?  He’s that North Korean guy with all the nuclear weapons.  Believe it or not, it was just three weeks ago that he was striding around, threatening to rain fire and hell on anything and anybody from Seoul to Guam (and all points beyond) unless he got what he wanted — which, BTW, was never made clear.  It actually got so serious that President Obama sent in some military ordinance — with real people inside.  So what happened?  Did he just take his finger off the trigger and go further out to lunch?  Maybe — but I don’t think so.  Even though I don’t have a direct line to the inner workings of American foreign policy (who does?) this is what I figure happened.

Okay, you do remember John Kerry?  He’s the guy who took Hillary’s job at the US State Department so she could run for President.  John’s been kicking around politics since the 70s and around Washington since the mid 80s.  He was never what you’d call a go-to guy, though.  After all, when it came to the biggest political decision of his career (Who’s going to be my Vice President?) he chose John Edwards!  Clearly, Kerry’s not exactly a fellow who does his homework.  Anyway, John’s job description comes with a couple of pages on nuclear crisis, so when Kim Jong Whoever started cutting up rough, he packed his suitcase and headed for Asia.  After a couple of whistle stops in Korea and Japan (to reassure the locals that America would kick the snot out of Kimmie if it came to it) John went to China.  This is where it gets tricky.  Nobody in their right mind would suggest that the Secretary of State of the United States of America (President Obama’s personal representative on Earth) had been summoned to appear before the Dragon Throne.  However, a couple of Saturdays ago, there John Kerry was — all smiles and hairdo — standing around Beijing, diplomatic hat in hand.  Ostensibly, John was there to discuss the Korean problem with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi.  Sounds legit, right?  Maybe, but I don’t think so.  Personally, I think the Chinese wanted something.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t have let Kim Jong-un shoot his mouth off in the first place.  Secretary Kerry was there to find out what.

From here, nobody but John Kerry, Yang Jiechi and Wikileaks will ever actually know what went on — secret private talks are, after all, secret private.   However, unless you flunked history in high school (twice) you do understand that, despite a century of assurances to the contrary, secret protocols between nations do happen — with surprising regularity.  So it’s interesting to note that a couple of curious things have occurred since John and Jiechi put their heads together in the Forbidden City.  First, the Chinese government has suddenly jumped on the environmental protection bandwagon — which is totally odd because, less than a month ago, their official Party line was Climate Change was something the West had made up to piss them off.  Remember these are the folks who spray-painted the Beijing grass green to impress the IOC.  Secondly, and most curious of all, Kim Jong-un, who, two weeks ago, was mad enough to nuke a basket of puppies, has fallen off the radar entirely.  He doesn’t seem to want to vaporize his neighbours anymore, kill Imperialists, play with his warheads or even test his missiles.  In fact, aside from chillin’ with Dennis Rodman, nobody’s heard from the guy.

So what caused these momentous events?  There are three possibilities.  One, John Kerry is the greatest diplomat since Coenus the Weary convinced Alexander the Great to give it up at the Ganges River, turn around and go home.  That’s a nice idea, but I don’t think so (given John’s track record.)  Two, the Chinese suddenly discovered their Inner Altruist and couldn’t wait to share it with the world.  Again, a nice thought but…  Or, finally, three, the Chinese (who, as you know, play puppeteer to Kim Jong-un’s marionette) got what they wanted.  Then, happy as a clam, they told Kim to sit down and shut up, tossed Kerry some Climate Change rhetoric to take home and called it a day.  If you go with Door #3 on this one, I don’t know what you bet — but I think you won.

But the most curious thing of all is, even with a multibillion-dollar budget, it appears as if the folks down at Foggy Bottom have never seen fit to buy a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War — and if they have, they sure as hell have never read it.

Plus ça change …!

Winnie The Pooh And Bieber, Too

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I’ve seen some hardcore people in my time, but for the record, Justin Bieber isn’t one of them.  Except — oops! — apparently, he is.  Last week, the powers-that-be in the People’s Republic of China banned Bieber for — uh — “bad behaviour.”  (So, play nice, children — or China spank.)  Actually, with lyrics like “Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby” I can see China’s point, but just how subversive can a punk kid from Canada be?  Canada is, after all, the Land of the Bland.  We say “Sorry” as a greeting.  Of course, this comes hard on the heels of China’s banning that other badass, Winnie the Pooh*.  I’m still laughin’ about that one.  Bieber now joins a pretty select group of notorious troublemakers.  They include Harrison Ford (who, as Han Solo, was indeed, a member of the Rebel Alliance) Brad Pitt (who once made a movie called Seven Years in Tibet, a place China says doesn’t exist) and Richard Gere because — well — Richard Gere.  They’ve also banned Sharon Stone, but it’s just her movies that are unwelcome in the Middle kingdom. She can show up anytime (assuming she keeps her legs crossed.)

Over the years, along with Iran and North Korea, China has been in the forefront of state-sponsored censorship.  They’ve banned — or thrown in prison — all the usual suspects: poets, painters, writers, Nobel Prize winners, and generally anybody with an opinion who doesn’t keep their head down.  They’ve also banned Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and all the other stalwarts of Western social media — plus a myriad of Western movies and television programs — including, oddly enough, The Big Bang Theory. (I guess Sheldon is a jackass in any language.)  Of course, like all dictatorships, China has also bans books — thousands and thousands of books — and I suppose this is where things get serious.  However, I have a lot of trouble not laughing at a regime that feels the need to ban Alice in Wonderland and Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.  I can just hear the proclamation:
Will you ban Green Eggs and Ham?
Yes, I’ll ban it, if I can
I will ban it in Beijing
I will ban it in Nanjing
I will ban it here and there
I will ban it everywhere
Yes, I’ll ban Green Eggs and Ham
In Hong Kong, Szechuan and Hunan

*BTW, Winnie the Pooh’s offence was that people were using him as a caricature of President Xi Jinping, the guy who’s currently sitting on the Dragon Throne and running the show on the Yangtze.  Clearly, dictators don’t like people laughing at them.