14 July 2011

Other Problems to Worry About

I've been following the eurozone crisis from a distance because I cannot summon enough economic knowledge to fully understand this financial crisis.  The CCGA panel was helpful, but I still feel like I don't understand the complicated world of imaginary money.  Does anybody really understand it?  I always get the sense it's morphed into a complicated beast no one knows how to tame.  So now I need something else to talk about, which is difficult since most of the news outlets are freaking out about that.

There's the E. coli breakout that's also making headlines.  The whole situation has devolved into a messy witch hunt.  Cucumbers were blamed, then sprouts, beans...I stopped following because it was clear that no one knew for sure and editors needed to fill up news space.  Of course, Russia decided to give Europe the old what-for and pull the plug on their produce out of fear (or malice? They generally seem rather unconcerned about their citizens' health).  This infuriated Europe and simultaneously embarrassed the continent.  The solution?  Blame Egypt!  Yeah, they gave us the seeds!  Given the number of times the investigation has made an epic twist, I'm not sure I buy into it.  The tunnel may not have found its end yet, so I'll patiently wait until it has been proven that Egypt is the perpetrator of the outbreak.  The major disadvantage of news is real-time reporting.  That's also one of the best advantages.  In this case, it's shooting the issue in the foot by crying wolf every time investigators have a new lead.  In the world of 24/7 news competing for viewers' attention, no news outlet can back off and say, "Investigators have not concluded their study yet."  If they did, someone else would steal the thunder and become the more reliable source. I wish that we could all take a deep breath and hold our horses until we know for sure that caused the outbreak.  Is that too much?

Hungary's Fidesz is ratcheting up their efforts to control the country in perpetuity by reforming elections.  I wish I understood the structure and working nature of their government because it seems like Parliament has the run of the coop and that the other branches are withering under its gaze.  The Ministry of Justice used face parliament to symbolically portray the balance between law making and law keeping.  That is now the Museum of Ethnography.  Given the recent, unchecked efforts by Fidesz in the seats of Parliament, this seems like a prescient metaphor.  (The current building for the ministry is just south of parliament, facing a tiny entrance instead of the large facade.)  Is there any check on Fidesz's efforts in any branch of government?  I don't pretend to know, but I sure hope there is.  Protests don't seem to be working.  I'm worried for Magyarország.  The next best thing is for Hungarians to vote Fidesz out of power in the next election and undo this mess.

Also: Fidesz is considering a Chinese approach to unemployment and public works.  I get that China is a shining example of capital success, but forcing the unemployed to work is a human rights problem (and China is riddled with violated human rights anyway, so why do you want to emulate that).  Slavery, anyone?  Fidesz says the police officers will not be "overseers", but that's a semantics issue.  Forced workers under the careful watch of the law is slavery or a chain gang.  Either way you cut it, isn't it people's right to choose what work they do and if they do it?  Orbán is talking about the public, not imprisoned criminals who owe a debt to society!  Plus, let's not forget how both Communists and Nazis used work to bolster their power ("Arbeit Macht Frei" and "Workers Unite" come to mind).  I think Fidesz is confused about why 1989 toppled communism in CEE.  Perhaps they need a refresher course in why communism was a super bad idea in practice.  I have a few books to recommend.  They're really good, Orbán!

Belarus' situation is becoming more precarious by the week.  Lukashenko is probably getting to the point where he will outlaw clapping.  These small protests by the young, idealistic, and restless will start to feed into mainstream public unrest as the economy and all its social safety nets become the proverbial "shit" hitting the fan.  Belarus is not Russia's prodigal son, so it better stop eating pig slop real soon because there is no forgiving father willing to take him in.  With both sides (including Russia, his frenemy) squeezing in on Lukashenko and an economy just waiting to implode, Belarus will become a seriously depressing place.  The idealism and revolutionary spirit that seems to be bubbling are inspiring, but everyone agrees it'd be a whole lot nicer if they weren't needed.  I'm keeping an eye out for events there.  I missed 1989 because I wasn't old enough for it to be personally significant, so maybe Belarus will be my chance.  I know you can do it, Belorussians!

Other problems: less people paying attention to this corner of the world.  The Berlin Wall has faded from the collective memory of America except in moments of Ostalgie, but CEE is moving and shaking.  The importance of this region is growing, but of course the Middle East has center stage right now.  If more people paid attention to CEE, I'm sure there would be a lot more grassroots NGOs and NPOs combating the pervasive, yet not highly visible (e.g. dead bodies), issues.  Belarus is almost up there with China in terms of human rights violations but no one except think tanks or politicians seem to notice.  Promote CEE awareness!

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