Those itchy fingers

Today, I woke up to the news that US President Trump has withdrawn the US from the Iran nuclear deal reached during the Obama era with France, the UK, EU, China and Russia. This at a time when the US wants to talk to North Korea about denuclearization.

It seems Trump’s idea of a nuclear deal is a zero-sum deal where Iran or North Korea is expected to capitulate completely in exchange for no sanctions. That, or war…and Trump is on the record in saying he has the bigger button.

The same zero-sum approach has been used in the UN where its ambassador regularly reminds its allies and aid beneficiaries that it expects them to vote with the US on issues before the UN or Security Council. It has not always worked but they do it anyway.

For its allies, the US pulling out of its international commitments — the first being the Pacific free trade agreement followed by the climate change deal — gives them reason to doubt its ability to keep its word on anything already agreed on. The US still has influence, for sure, however, how much influence is up for debate. I wonder what the next administration will do to restore its credibility?

Then there’s North Korea. Seeing what it is seeing now, I wonder if it still wants to do a deal with the US.

With the US retreating into itself, Germany seems to be taking over the West. For the rest of world, it seems China is gaining ground. The world is indeed changing and it may not be for the better.

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Heroes in the age of populism

Marvel has just released its latest offering: Avengers: Infinity War, and it quickly earned the distinction of making the highest grossing opening for a movie ever. The one before that, Black Panther, is now the third highest grossing movie of all time. The thing about these movies though are not really the heroes but the villains.

Black Panther introduced Killmonger, King T’Challa’s cousin, who ruled Wakanda for a brief moment on the promise of making Wakanda/Africa great again. Sounds familiar?

The Avengers are facing Thanos, a galaxy traveling being bent on collecting the Infinity Stones for the purpose of killing half of all living things in existence for the sake of the other half. It is his belief that with the universe’s limited resources, he cannot allow life to continue running as is and deplete it or cause the ruin of entire planets. He has seen the effect on his home planet, Titan, and vowed never to let it happen again even if it meant killing half of those living. Again, sounds familiar?

What sets these villains apart from say the Red Skull and Hydra in Captain America: The First Avenger, or Aldrich Killian and Advanced Idea Mechanics in Iron Man 3 is that Killmonger and Thanos are more complex characters. You simply cannot label them as “evil” and leave it at that.

Killmonger believes that the resources of Wakanda should be used to better the black man’s plight and is willing to go to war for it. Anyone from Asia or Africa can identify with his cause. Indeed, we wonder what the world would have been like had Africa not been enslaved or Asia colonized.

Thanos, for all the blood he spilled across the universe, is actually torn by the sacrifice he has to pay to get the Soul Stone. A soul for the Soul Stone. Many lives are lost but one in particular is too costly even for the Mad Titan. His heart breaks but pays the price anyway.

The world today is filled with politicians with promises of a new tomorrow but none are more worrisome than the populists whose solution to anything and everything is war, death, destruction or exclusion, hyper-nationalism, isolationism, and protectionism. To some, these populists with their views are god-send. People who have suffered or felt excluded find their messages comforting. But what of the blood that is spilt in their path to this new tomorrow? Many turn a blind eye. Many stay silent. All for the hope that their lot in life will actually improve.

To some Killmonger and Thanos are the real heroes but that age-old adage that “the ends do not justify the means” loudly rings against such illusions. This truth should always guide us if we want a truly better world. The Good Book phrases it differently: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Killmonger lost his life pursuing a mad dream. The story of Thanos has not been finished. He achieved his goal of collecting the Infinity Stones and killing presumably half of all living things according to his plan. We have to see what it shall bring. We know that the Avengers will come avenging. What we don’t know is whether or not Thanos thinks it was all worth it.

One cannot escape comparing Thanos with the Christian God with the sacrifice of a child and what amounts to a judgment of those living but the good Lord does not kill half for the other half. The thing is, with all the Infinity Stones, his solution to kill lacks imagination. With the ability to bend reality or even time itself, there has to be a better way. There may be another motive behind his actions (if you want to know more, then read the comics/graphic novel version) but whatever else it may be, it can never reflect the love of the Father. Had we been stuck with the God in the Old Testament, then they might get away with it but the God of Love and Mercy is different.

Heroes are not only measured by their motives but the means they choose to achieve those ends. Life — all life — is precious. Saving our world cannot be at the expense of others. There is another way. Always. To close your mind to that makes you the villain.

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The World is due for a correction.

I was talking to my dad this morning and our conversation drifted here and there. Out of nowhere, he suddenly said “I have a theory: democracy will kill itself. Why? The objective of democracy is to make everyone equal. People will never be equal in one aspect or another. So, it will fall on itself.”

If we look at the world around us, then we can easily see what he means. The rise of the populists is a worldwide phenomenon that appears poised to engulf the whole world. 

The root of all of this might be traced to the recent troubles with globalization. The near collapse of the global economy brought about by the greed of the largest banks in the US. One can say that the principles of democracy that made the big banks free to do as they did caused the global financial crisis. That caused people to fear what democracy has wrought despite the fact that the global financial crisis was brought about more by the lack of effective regulation to curb that greed that caused all the mess rather than a failure of democracy itself. 

Then there were those who were not able to benefit from an inproved economy. If you look at the last six to eight years in the Philippines and the US, then you would note how their economies have improved over time. The problem is that not everyone have felt the effects of that economic upturn. 

From there grew the strangest, strongest opposition to our democratic institutions that led to the take over by populists. Powered by social media (including hacks and bots), and driven more by anger and hate rather than any clear program of action, populists have managed to take control over the Philippines and the US. 

Similar movements have tried to get ahead in other parts of the world. So far UKIP in the UK has failed to make any headway although it was, surprisingly, able to get the UK to vote for BREXIT, and it may now be paying the price for it.

Le Pen in France is already having a hard time at it and a European nation had rejected a populist party.

I suppose that the world have seen what populists can do to a country and decided to go against it. In the Philippines, a misguided war on drugs is blamed for the deaths of 6,000 men, women and children, while the US is grappling with a rising  nationalist agenda. The planned replacement of Obamacare was embarassingly pulled out and its anti-Muslim immigration executive orders have been slapped down by US courts. If this is how populists run their country, then it is a terrible future ahead for them and all those thinking of electing populists into office.

However, this is all part of what it means to be a democracy. The citizens were free to elect populists into office (let us put the issue of hacks and bots aside for now). One might say this is just a phase where nations try to press the reset button to get a reboot.

The hope is of course that after this terrible experiment, there is still something left to reboot. We get over that, then democracy will rise again. Perhaps, democracy will in fact kill itself as my dad says but it is quite capable of bouncing back into existence like a phoenix from its ashes. It is a dream I have…

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