Keyword in Focus: Euro

Europe on a shoestring, photo: Howard Lake/flickr

With Spain next on the list of eurozone countries on the brink of financial abyss, nerves about the future of the great European experiment are at an all-time high. The narrative of the euro’s crisis seems self-fulfilling as  markets move from one financially challenged euro country to the next, and after the Irish bailout, Portugal and Spain seem to be next in line, with cups in their hands and market speculators on their backs.

The collapse of the Spanish economy, with its overstretched banks, chronically high unemployment and a much larger economy than previous recipients of EU/IMF bailout money, is a particularly worrying prospect, yet European leaders seem committed to saving the euro. Even Britain’s George Osborne, the deeply euro-skeptic Chancellor of the Exchequer, acknowledged last week that despite not joining the euro (and still thinking it was a bad idea- “Hah, I told you so!”), it is in Britain’s interest to help with the bailout efforts and to ensure that neighboring countries like Ireland are repaired and revitalized.

With the air of crisis set to loom over Europe for months to come, EU leaders and Europhiles everywhere must be asking themselves: How do we get out of this mess (and how did we get into it in the first place)? Because as much as Americans or even the Brits might enjoy gloating in the face of this largely self-inflicted mess, the EU and its experiment with a common currency are here to stay.

For an excellent set of resources on this highly topical issue, check out our Euro keyword.

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ISN Insights: Look Back, Week Ahead

 

Last week, ISN Insights looked at:

This week, we will be focusing on the issue of global health from the following perspectives: global health funding, horizontal vs. vertical health aid, the ‘rationing’ of care, the global health governance architecture and the AIDS pandemic.

Make sure to ‘tune in’ each day for the newest ISN Insights package. And if you’re an active Twitter or Facebook user, look us up and become a follower!

Mr. Chavez and the Jews

In Venezuela, respect for minorities is all but hot air, photo: a•Andres/flickr

Merely a decade ago, close to 20,000 Jews called Venezuela their home. Yet in these past ten years, during President Hugo Chavez extended tenure, their number has dropped to less than 9,000. This exodus intensified between 2008-2010, with over 5,000 leaving the country, mostly heading to Miami in the US.

If someone were to rank the most embattled Jewish communities in the world today, the Jewish community of Venezuela would certainly be high on the list. Yet this has not always been the case. Venezuela’s Jewish community is among the oldest in South America, dating back to the middle of the 17th century, when groups of Marranos (Spanish and Portuguese descendants of baptized Jews, which secretly continued to adhere to Judaism) lived in Caracas and Maracaibo.

In the middle of the 19th century, the Jewish community in Venezuela became fully established, with a majority of the Jewish population descending from a continuous influx of European and North African immigrants. Most settled in and around the capital city of Caracas, comprising a tightly knit community converging around the Club Hebraica, a large complex in the eastern part of the city. » More

Keyword in Focus: North Korea

When will this border be crossed again? photo:fresh888/flickr

After Tuesday’s incident, in which North Korea reportedly shot 170 rounds of artillery on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong killing two civilians and two marines, tensions have been at an all-time high in East Asia. Increasingly unpredictable and volatile in its behavior, the Kim regime seems to have embraced a whole new level of brinkmanship in this long-running conflict. Explanations in terms of reasons for such a brazen attack vary, from the internal power dynamics of the elder Kim shifting power to his newly appointed heir-apparent, to simple blackmail. Although we may never know what caused North Korea to risk so much (also in relation to its increasingly impatient ‘big brother’, China) the worry that the Koreas and their closest allies might be drawn into a war because of a provocation or freak accident is as worrying as ever.

I don’t believe that this conflict will escalate further. North Korea has pushed proverbial buttons before and will undoubtedly continue to do so, whether to consolidate the heir-apparent’s power base in the military or in order to push members of the six party forum to grant it further concessions in a yet unforeseeable round of talks. It is, however, unlikely to be willing to sign its own death certificate in the form of a highly destructive war and one which could involve the threat or actual use of nuclear weapons (shudder). We may not want to place much trust on the rational capabilities of Kim and his entourage, but China, for one, will do all it can to prevent this. » More

The Even Darker Face of PMCs

Kitbash Private Military Contractors, courtesy of Shaun Wong/flickr

We have all heard about Blackwater and American, English and South-African modern-day “mercenaries” serving in Iraq, protecting targets in the Green Zone and in the Red Zone.
But few of us have heard of the thousands of private military contractors (PMCs) that come from developing countries, such as Uganda or Honduras.

According to some estimates, there are up to 10’000 Ugandans serving in Iraq as security guards.  Poorly paid (about $600 a month), they represent a cheap alternative to the $15’000 a month American guard. According to the former Ugandan state minister for labor, the Iraq war and the associated security business brings Uganda $90 million a year, more than their main export product- coffee. The business is beneficial for both, the sending state and the receiving country.

So Ugandans, among others, are serving as cheap security guards in Iraq – what’s the problem? » More

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