Need to Know: August 15, 2012

By Victoria Scrozzo

Two important anniversaries occurred this week: in Cuba, Fidel Castro’s 86th birthday reminded the country that as the revolutionary ages so does the country’s population,  a fact only exacerbated by the island’s low birth rates and growing outmigration of the young says the Christian Science Monitor; and in The Economist the city of Prague celebrates its second annual Gay Pride week, an event that was met with “indifference and scorn from the political establishment”  last year is increasingly accepted in the city today. In the Middle East, The Washington Postreports on increasing concern in Jordan as the conflict in Syria continues to escalate and the uncertainty of an outcome looms over Jordan, a “relative oasis of stability in a volatile region”; and activists claim U.S. sanctions aimed at both the Iranian and Syrian governments are working too well, potentially blocking much-needed access to online services  and technology the opposition could make use of.In Editorials & Opinions, we’ve chosen to highlight some culturally significant, but still very much political, stories.  The 3 detained members of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, currently on trial for “hooliganism”, await a verdict in their case as one member uses her closing statement  to remind the world of the band’s “politics” (Guernica) and whether you’re an American or not be sure to take a  look at why The Atlantic believes  “global citizenship” is, in fact, a farce.

Fidel Castro’s Birthday Highlights a Graying Cuba          (Christian Science Monitor)
It’s Aug. 13, so today the world will stop to acknowledge the birthday of Cuba’s former leader, Fidel Castro (it’s his 86th today).Since taking power, in 1959, his birthdays have been marked by mass celebrations in Communist-run Cuba and garnered an outpouring of greetings from across the globe. Each year also added another notch in power, until Mr. Castro became the world’s longest-serving leader (a title he still holds, even though his brother is now the chief of staff)…. But the celebrations that mark Aug. 13 each year also have become a tally of another type in Cuba: the increasing collective age of its population.

Gay Pride in Prague          (The Economist)
What a difference a year makes. When Prague became the last European Union capital to host an event celebrating lesbian, bisexual and gay and transsexual (LBGT) culture last year, the inaugural event was greeted with a combination of indifference and scorn from the political establishment. An aide to President Václav Klaus named Petr Hájek wrote a controversial opinion piece condemning the event. Mr Klaus refused to condemn the comments even posting a statement on his own web site saying, “I do not feel any pride in the event either”. A heated controversy ensued. Martina Navrátilová, a tennis legend, native Czech and out-of-the-closet lesbian weighed in deeming the comments “extremely unenlightened remarks coming from a very worldly man”.

Jordan Squeezed as Syrian Conflict Rages Next Door          (Washington Post)
Throughout much of the conflict in Syria, Jordan has hewed toward neutrality to avoid antagonizing a powerful neighbor that has long been an important trading partner and transit route for Jordanian goods. But the accelerating refugee flow and protracted war have complicated that stance, and the kingdom is raising alarm about the potential for regional instability and increasingly siding with the Syrian regime’s opponents.

4 Decades on, U.S. Starts Cleanup of Agent Orange in Vietnam          (New York Times)
In the tropical climate of central Vietnam, weeds and shrubs seem to grow everywhere — except here. Forty years after the United States stopped spraying herbicides in the jungles of Southeast Asia in the hopes of denying cover to Vietcong fighters and North Vietnamese troops, an air base here is one of about two dozen former American sites that remain polluted with an especially toxic strain of dioxin, the chemical contaminant in Agent Orange that has been linked to cancers, birth defects and other diseases. On Thursday, after years of rebuffing Vietnamese requests for assistance in a cleanup, the United States inaugurated its first major effort to address the environmental effects of the long war.

China’s Growing Jihadist Problem           (The Diplomat)
On August 2 2012, security forces arrested 20 individuals from various cities in Xinjiang on charges of terrorism and secessionist activities. The regional government is attempting to take pre-emptive measures against Uyghur groups in the province to ensure that no major terrorist incident occurs before the leadership transition in Beijing in October 2012. While the ability of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) to conduct a major attack in China remains limited, jihadist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan are increasingly likely to view Chinese assets and personnel as legitimate targets.

What’s it Mean That an Islamist Rules Egypt?          (Christian Science Monitor)
Gender segregation as practiced in Saudi Arabia. A ban on drinking alcohol in public. Rolling back women’s rights. Outlawing offense to religion. For decades, dictators across the Arab world warned that this is what awaited their citizens if the region’s Islamist movements gained power. Now that those dictators are gone, the Islamists they oppressed are entering politics amid excitement and scrutiny. Many still wonder what they intend. Governance offers them a chance to experiment and evolve.

Sanctions Aimed at Syria and Iran are Hindering Opposition, Activists Say         (Washington Post)
United States sanctions targeting Syria and Iran have inadvertently undermined the opposition movements they are intended to help, making it more difficult for those groups to access technologies that can evade electronic surveillance and censorship, according to security experts and activists. The economic sanctions imposed by the Obama administration have forced many Western companies, including technology firms, to sever relationships with Syria and Iran. The measures have helped to isolate those governments internationally. But many of the same measures also have blocked access to online services and software — including e-mail, blogging platforms and security tools that would prevent user activity from being traced — that could prove helpful to opposition movements, experts say.

Editorials & Opinions 

Breaking Up the Euro Area: The Merkel Memorandum           (The Economist)
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor—and also, in effect, the euro area’s boss—has always insisted that she wants to preserve the euro area in its current form. But as the euro crisis intensifies and the potential bills for Germany mount, she would be imprudent not to be considering a Plan B. Drafted in utmost secrecy by a few trusted officials for the chancellor’s eyes only, this is what the memorandum outlining a contingency plan might say.

Keep BRICS and IBSA Separate          (The Diplomat)
South Africa’s successful inclusion into the BRICS grouping in 2011 was much more than a mere expansion of the emerging powers’ club by one member. Rather, it marked the moment in which the BRICS assumed ownership of an idea conceived a decade earlier by the Goldman Sachs investment banker Jim O’Neill.

Why There’s No Such Thing as Global Citizenship          (The Atlantic)
Are we citizens of the world? In recent years, an unlikely collection of lefty environmentalists, Internet libertarians, multicultural educators, and voracious capitalists has coalesced around the idea that nations don’t really matter anymore – that all we need is state-free citizenship of the globe. It’s a powerful vision. It has in its favor much evidence and many trends. And it is a mirage.

Pussy Riot’s Closing Statement           (Guernica)
It gave me chills the first time I saw streaming video of Pussy Riot performing outside in tights and balaclavas striking rock and roll poses and getting run off by security guards. When the music video of them bum-rushing Moscow’s Christ the Savior cathedral in the same ski-masks came out, the one that got three of the half-dozen or so members arrested, I thought it was fake. Who would dare such a thing in Putin’s Russia?


Need to Know is a weekly roundup of behind the headlines analysis, unique perspective pieces, and interesting global affairs stories you may have missed in the clutter of last week’s news cycle.Think we’ve missed something interesting in global affairs this week? Get in touch! Tweet us @theGlobalY #NeedToKnow


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