From above the speck of sand that is the sovereign country of Nauru looks derelict, desolate, and abandoned. Although not abandoned, the third smallest independent nation in the world is certainly derelict and desolate. The island has one paved road that encircles the tiny atoll like a racetrack. Its people are the worlds most obese and some of the sickest. At one point, desperate to raise revenue, it tried to become a tax haven. It became a tax haven alright---for terrorists, money launderers, and other unsavory characters. Discarding this idea, they offered to become a detention center for would be immigrants to Australia.
The irony and tragedy of all of this is that the people of Nauru were once the richest in the world. Well sort of, per capital income was such that, on paper anyway, every Nauruan was well off. Throughout the 1980s, the government spend lavishly. People who had never left the island started chartering flights to Australia, Japan, Hawaii, and various European capitals. Housing was free. You want to study something we cannot offer in Nauru? No problem. Hundreds (the country today only has 10,400 people) of young people were sent to the best schools in Australia...free of charge. Luxury cars were imported to drive around that one road. Where did all this wealth come from? It came from, no joke, bird poop. Partly anyway. Thousands of years worth of bird droppings mixed with the soil in such a way it created one of the richest phosphate deposits anywhere in the world. What is phosphate used for? Fertilizer. No matter how you look at it, Nauru was rich because of poop. The island was literally stripped of the resource first by Germans, then by Australians, then by the Japanese, then by the Australians again, and finally Nauruans themselves. Because it was evident the resource would one day be depleted, the government set up a trust to ensure financial stability in the future. It didn't. Successive governments allowed themselves to be duped into dubious ventures. One of the most talked about was the millions of dollars put into a musical about Leonardo Da Vinci. The musical flopped. When the phosphates did run out, the trust was not as large as it had been and was in fact losing money. Now the island is bankrupt and, as mentioned before, has become Australia's detention camp for refugees...and now you know the gist.
Sunday, June 3, 2018
Thursday, May 5, 2016
By now, hopefully, most Americans know that the 16th of September and NOT May 5th is Mexican Independence Day. So what exactly happened on this day and why do we celebrate in the United States? Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of the outnumbered and outgunned Mexican army over the French Imperial Army at the Battle of Puebla. Emperor Napoleon III of France (not THE Napoleon) needed a military victory to quell discontent at home, so when the administration of Benito Juárez suspended European debt payments France (along with Spain and Britain) invaded. The Mexican contingency was led by Ignacio Zaragoza, born in what was then Mexican-ruled Goliad, Texas. News of the battle and the role of Zaragoza, "the native son," arrived in Texas as early as 1867 when performers like Onofre Cárdenas from San Ignacio, Texas, sang ballads about both. It was not until the Chicano movement of the 1960s that Cinco de Mayo became widely celebrated in the United States, however. Although the day is technically about the Battle of Puebla, it became a day to celebrate Mexican-American identity. Oh, and the Battle of Puebla only temporarily stopped the French invasion. The French eventually occupied Mexico for three years and installed an Austrian Archduke as Emperor Maximilian of Mexico...and now you know the gist.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Recently, the news has been awash with stories about two things: Donald Trump losing the Wisconsin primary, ensuring a contested Republican convention, and the "Panama Papers." The Panama Papers are 11.5 million files that were leaked from the database of the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. The unprecedented leak exposed 143 politicians who were using offshore accounts in various tax havens to stash their cash (you know, secretly). Included in this list are close associates of Russia's Vlamir Putin (shocker), former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Argentina's Mauricio Macri, and the Prime Minister of Iceland (who was forced to resign after all this came to light). Commentators were quick to note that almost no Americans were among the people named. Surely it is because we are a more law abiding society. If only...NBC quotes Ana Owens:
"This firm is one of thousands in the world and there are hundreds or thousands just like it in the U.S. If a company in the U.S. can do the exact thing for you as this company in Panama, then you might as well do it right here in the U.S. And its perfectly legal..."
So who leaked the story? The firm says they were victims of a hacker, but we don't actually know exactly which hackers. So what does this all this hoopla mean? Only that offshore tax havens may no longer have their biggest selling point: secrecy....and now you know the gist.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
The Sunni, the Shia, and the Middle East
|OF COURSE a minority group would live in the oil-rich|
parts of the Persian Gulf....
Friday, April 17, 2015
The Pope, the Kardashians and the Armenians
The 100th anniversary of the mass killings of ethnic Armenians in what was then the Ottoman Empire (Turkey is its modern day successor) is on April 24th. Sadly, many only heard of this important part of history because Kim Kardashian, her current husband, and her sister visited their ancestral homeland and laid a wreath at a memorial in Yereven this past week. Armenians (and, most recently, Pope Francis) calls the mass killing of 1.5 million of their people a genocide. In 1915, at the height of the First World War, Armenian men, women, and children were rounded up and forced on death marches across the Iraqi desert without food or water. Turkey denies that there was a systematic effort to exterminate Armenians (this denial is one of the reasons Turkey has not been admitted into the European Union). The Turkish government has gone to great lengths to make sure the word ‘genocide’ is not associated with the deaths of Armenians during the war (on one occasion it used diplomatic pressure to force London’s Tate Gallery to remove the word genocide from an Armenian art exhibit). The leading Holocaust expert, Hebrew University’s Yehuda Bauer, disagrees saying the Armenian Genocide is the closest parallel to the Holocaust in history. Although President Obama promised to recognize the Armenian genocide during his 2008 presidential campaign, that has yet to happen (shockingly, politics seems to have gotten in the way). Armenians across the globe continue to push for recognition of one of the darkest periods of their history….and now you know the gist.