Parasite

Parasite 기생충 - Official Trailer - YouTubeParasite (2019) is a film by South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho and the first non-English language film to win Best Picture at Hollywood’s Academy Awards. The film examines the effects of wealth disparity through two families on opposing ends of the social spectrum.

Parasite was an Oscar darling. As well as Best Picture, it received the following awards and nominations in 2020:

  • Best Director: won
  • Best Original Screenplay: won
  • Best International Feature Film: won
  • Best Production Design: nominated
  • Best Film Editing: nominated

It was the first Korean film to ever win, let alone be nominated for, an Academy Award.

The Kim family live in a semi-basement apartment. They are resourceful but uneducated. Their fortunes turn when son Ki-woo’s friend offers him a job tutoring the daughter of the affluent Park family. Ki-woo accepts, but to do so he must pass as a university student. Once in, Ki-woo helps his family get hired too, all lying about their qualifications and relation to one another.

Parasite movie house is stunning - realestate.com.auThe Parks live in a mansion designed by its architect former owner. They can afford tutors for their children, a chauffeur and a full-time housekeeper. The Parks are friendly and ‘nice’, though haughty and naïve. ‘She’s nice because she’s rich…’ Mrs Kim comments. ‘Hell if I had all that money I’d be nice too. Nicer even!’

Tonal shifts mark each act. While starting as a black comedy, the film takes a sinister turn and effortlessly blends thriller, horror and gothic. Careful attention is paid to its pacing and no camera shot, no line of dialogue, is without meaning or consequence. Symbolism abounds. The official premise describes Parasite as a ‘pitch-black modern fairy tale.’

An issue with film these days is a lack of originality. Nine out of ten of the 2010’s top-grossing films were either reboots, sequels or (in the case of Star Wars) both. Superhero flicks, or most big-budget all-ages action-adventure films, are often too predictable. Even if a film makes is visually stunning, well-acted or slick, it is all for nought if the audience immediately knows how it will end. The more films one watches, the more one notices clichés and tropes. Conversely, shoehorning twists or deux ex resolutions ruins a narrative if the unpredictability makes no sense. To work, a twist must be both surprising and plausible. Parasite achieves the balance perfectly.

Parasite movie review: Bong Joon-ho’s biting social satire ...

The opening scene shows the Kim family searching for a new wifi connection after a password encrypts the old. They are all capable workers, but in an economy where ‘an opening for a security guard attracts 500 university graduates’, their merit is irrelevant. Connections are paramount. Only through social connections can the Kims can find stable employment. The film’s stairway motif represent its characters’ social standing; whether affluence, near-poverty and destitution. 

Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, South Korea suffers social inequality. In 2015 the top 10% controlled 66% of its wealth. Status and money are everything. Success depends on getting into the right university and the stress shows: South Korea has the second-highest rate of suicide in the OECD. In a society obsessed with image and hierarchy, however, the popularity of Parasite and its critique of social inequality shows people are changing the way they think.

 

Sources: IMDB, New York Times, VOA News

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The 2010s

העשור השני של המאה ה-21 – ויקיפדיהThe 2010s were the second decade of the 21st century. It was a time of increased globalization, political upheaval and rapid technological advancement.

The world economy recovered slowly from the Great Recession of 2008, but new wealth fell into fewer pockets. Neoliberalism prevailed as the dominant economic structure.

An earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, killing over 230,000, injuring 600,000 and displacing 1.5 million. It was the worst natural disaster of the decade.

Newsela | The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring: In 2011, protests erupted across the Arab world. Demanding democracy and a fairer economy, they overthrew the dictators of Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain. With US air support, Libyan rebels toppled Muammar Gaddafi but plunged the country into civil war. The new government failed to assert control and by 2020 Libya was a failed state.

In Syria, President Bashar Al-Asad fought tooth and nail to hold onto power. When Rebels came close to winning in 2015, Russia saved the regime through a relentless bombing campaign. By 2020 only a few regions still hold out. Over 500,000 people have died.

ISIS declares establishment of a caliphate – the ‘Islamic ...The Islamic State, an Al-Qaeda splinter group, took over half Iraq and Syria in 2014. In Iraq, they slaughtered over 8,000 Christians, Shiites, Yazidis and other religious minorities. By 2019 Kurdish and Arab militias had destroyed their short-lived ‘caliphate’ with Russian and American air support.

Russia, under Vladimir Putin, annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine fought Russian-backed separatists on its eastern border.

The War on Terror continued. As of February 2020, NATO forces are still fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Groups and Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab threatened the safety of the Sahel and East Africa. In the US, more died from mass shootings than any previous decade. White nationalism became the leading cause of domestic terror.

China’s Xi Jinping rolls out the big guns for his European ...

China became the world’s second-biggest economy (overtaking Japan). In 2017 Xi Jinping (pictured)  made himself dictator for life and the strongest leader since Mao. China expanded its economic hold over the developing world through its Belt and Road initiative. Uighur Muslims became second class citizens.

Nationalism resurged across the globe. Hungary, Turkey, The Philippines, India, Brazil, and the USA elected authoritarian strongmen on populist conservative platforms. In 2016, Donald Trump’s election and Britain’s Brexit referendum upset the old balance of western democracy. Politics became more volatile and divisive.

iPhone X Software Secrets Revealed! Dock, Gestures & More ...Smartphones dominated the 2010s. Since Apple released the first iPhone in 2010, Chinese, American and South Korean companies have turned new models at a rapid pace. By 2019, over 3 billion people owned one. Smartphones of today include cameras, music players and constant access to the internet. We can now fit the sum of recorded human knowledge in our pockets.

Digital technology became the world’s strongest industry. Facebook went from 482 million users in 2010 to 2.5 billion in 2019 in addition to acquiring Instagram and Whatsapp. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos became the richest man in the world.

Leaps were made in progressive politics. 18 countries recognised same-sex marriage. Saudi women attained the right to drive and four countries (and 10 US states) legalised recreational marijuana.

Streaming services change the way we consume media. Instead of purchasing an album or DVD, we can now enjoy unlimited access to music, film or television through subscriptions to streaming services like Spotify or Netflix. The business model evolved in response to online piracy and dominated by the latter half of the 2010s, being much more popular with viewers.

Hip-hop, EDM and R&B became the most popular music genres.

‘Avengers: Endgame’ directors just explained some of the ...

Visual media developed significantly. Superhero films became the most popular cinema genre with Avengers: Endgame (2019) grossing over $858.4 million, the highest of all time. Following the likes of the Sopranos, HBO’s series Game of Thrones (2011-2019) showed what television could achieve with a big enough budget. Minecraft became the bestselling video game of all time. The Walt Disney Corporation acquired the rights to Marvel films, Star Wars and 21st Century Fox.

US stay is extended for 58K victims of 2010 Haiti ...

Major Natural Disasters

(Over 5,000 deaths)

  • 2011 Haiti Earthquake, 200,000 + dead.
  • 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami (Japan). 16,000 + dead.
  • 2015 Nepal Earthquake. 9,000 + dead

COLOR REVOLUTIONS AND GEOPOLITICS: The Technique of a Coup ...Revolutions:

  • Kyrgyzstan (2010)
  • Tunisia (2011)
  • Egypt (2011)
  • Bahrain (2011)
  • Libya (2012)
  • Ukraine (2014)
  • Sudan (2019)

Major Wars

(Over 10,000 casualties.)Siad Barre’s Fall Blamed for Somalia’s Collapse into Civil War

  • Mexican Drug War (2009 -)
  • Somali Civil War (2009 -)
  • Boko Haram Insurgency (Nigeria, 2009 -)
  • Syrian Civil War (2011 -)
  • Northern Mali Conflict (2012 -)
  • 2014 Israel-Palestine Conflict (2014)
  • War in the Donbas (Ukraine, 2014 -)
  • Iraqi Civil War (2014 – 2017)
  • Yemeni Civil War (2015 -)

Myanmar Follows Global Pattern in How Ethnic Cleansing ...Genocides: 

  • Rohingya Genocide (Burma, 2017), 24,000+ killed
  • ISIS killing of Christians, Shiites and Yazidis (2014), 8,000+ killed

New countries:

  • · South Sudan (2011)

New Technology

  • Smartphones
  • Cryptocurrency
  • AIDS treatment
  • Self-driving cars
  • 3D Printers
  • 5G network

Extinctions: Animal | Connie's Blog

  • Eastern Cougar (2011)
  • Japanese river otter (2012)
  • Pinta Island Tortoise (2012)
  • Cape Verde giant skink (2013)
  • Formosan clouded leopard (2013)
  • Bermuda Saw-whet owl (2014)
  • Christmas Island Forest Skink (2017)
  • Western black rhinoceros (2018)
  • Bramble Cay memomys (2019)

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Balance, Counter Extremism Project, Cnet, I Am Syria, Mint Hill Times, Statista, Vox, Wikipedia

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E. Lucas Bridges – Uttermost Part of the Earth

UntitledUttermost Part of the Earth (1948), by E. Lucas Bridges, is the definitive story of Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina. The memoirs of the land’s ‘third white native’, it details his life amongst the indigenous Fuegians, their cultures and the effects of colonisation. Part autobiography, part ethnography, part history book and part adventure novel, Uttermost Part of the Earth is the most detailed account we have on a people now extinct.

Lucas Bridges (1874 – 1948) was the eldest son of Reverend Thomas Bridges, who established the Anglican Mission at Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego. He grew up amongst the coastal Yaghan people and, as a young man, explored the island’s interior, where previously uncontacted tribes lived.

AF Tschifferly, who rode from Argentina to Washington DC on horseback, convinced Bridges (below) to write down his stories. In his 70s, Bridges applied his lifelong energy to writing this book. It describes his later life – service in WW1, adventures in Paraguay and South Africa, only in passing. Tierra Del Fuego is the focus.

The book five parts:Lucas Bridges y las creencias religiosas de los selk'nam ...

  • Ushuaia, 1826-1887: European exploration, Bridge’s early life, the Yaghan.
  • Haberton, 1887 – 1899: adventures on the coast, the Manek’enk (Aush), first contact with the Selk’nam.
  • The Road to Najmishk (1900-1902): the Selk’nam conflict, adventures in the interior
  • A Hut in Ona Land (1902-1907) Bridges’ sheep farm. Selk’nam culture, Fuegian animals, myths and legends.
  • The Estancia Viamonte, (1907-1910) The story concludes

Vivid descriptions bring the prehistoric wilderness of Tierra del Fuego to life, its rugged cliffs and islands, snowy forests, mountains, moors and bogs and the creatures who call it home. Bridges alternates between the main narrative and such descriptions, peppering them with strange and fantastic anecdotes.

While his father dedicated his life to transliterating the Yaghan language, Bridges is most interested in the mysterious tribe beyond the mountains. After making contact, he lives and hunts amongst the Selk’nam hunter-gatherers (whom he calls ‘Ona’, their Yaghan name) for over ten years. He learns their language and customs, makes friends and enemies, and is eventually the only outsider initiated to their lodge. His accounts cover everything from courtship to clothing to secret societies and the Selk’nam’s (lack of) religion. Though the author veers on paternalistic, he treats the Fuegians with genuine respect and is free from the naked racism so common in his time. He tries but does not succeed, to ‘soften the blow of civilization’ and help the Selkn’am adapt. They left no records of their own.

The cast of characters can be bewildering. Many key players have unfamiliar Fuegian names. Bridges does well, however, in describing their backgrounds and personalities, while reminding the reader of past events. Memorable individuals include the insane ‘wizard’ Minkiyolh, the hunter Ahnikin and the gaucho Serafin Aguirre.

The many stories in these pages are fascinating, heartwarming and sad. There are true tales of abduction, murder, hunting trips, shipwrecks, escaped convicts, massacres and suicidal horses woven throughout its pages in simple and matter-of-fact prose.

Overriding the stories, however, is the sobering doom Bridges alludes to from the start. Civilization will triumph. Roads and airstrips will conquer South America’s last frontier, and guns, alcohol and measles will destroy the indigenous way of life.

Bridges does not discuss the Selk’nam genocide at length. That happened in northern Tierra Del Fuego in the 1890s, before Bridges made contact. Those he meets are the remainders yet untouched by colonialism. Due to libel, Bridges does not disclose the names of murderous settlers. Their children were still prominent landowners when he published.

Obtaining this book was difficult. It went out of print years ago and the only copies online are expensive second-hand ones or third party reprints. I opted for the latter option and paid around $30 to have it delivered from New Delhi. It is a hefty book with well over 500 pages. Unfortunately its many black and white photographs and maps were barely visible. They are one of the books’ main draws.

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This passage (page 336) stands out:

“Talimeoat was a most likeable Indian. I was much in his company. One still evening in autumn, just before business was to take me to Buenos Aires, I was walking with him near Lake Kami. We were just above the upper tree level, and before descending into the valley, rested on a grassy slope. The air was crisp, for already the days were getting short and, with weather so calm and clear, there were bound to be a hard frost before sunrise. A few gilt edged, feather clouds broke the monotony of the pale green sky, and the beech forest that clothed the lake’s steep banks to the water’s edge had not yet completely lost its brilliant autumn colours. The evening light gave the remote ranges a purple tint impossible to describe or to paint.

Across leagues of wooded hills up the forty-mile length of Lake Kami, Talimeoat and I gazed long and silently towards a glorious sunset. I knew that he was searching the distance for any sign of smoke from the camp-fires of friends or foes. After a while his vigilance relaxed and, lying near me, he seemed to become oblivious to my presence. Feeling the chill of evening, I was on the point of suggesting a move, when he heaved a deep sigh and said to himself, as softly as an Ona could say anything:

“Yak haruin.” (“my country”)

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Books I Read in 2019

Bookshelf PornI read more non-fiction last year and was happy with what I read. Books are dated by the month I finished reading them, click hyperlinks for full posts.

February

  • Mark Twain – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). A boy and a runaway slave go on an adventure down the Mississippi River. A Great American Novel known for writing dialogue in the actual dialect of the time. Not as engrossing as I hoped. 4/5

April

May

  • Larry Gonick – The Cartoon History of the Modern World Part 1: From Columbus to the U.S. Constitution (2006).
  • Nicholas J Wade – Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors (2007). About the first migrations out of Africa and the founding of world populations. 4/5
  • Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind (2014). I cannot recommend this book enough. Everyone I know who read it loved it. 5/5

July

  • George RR Martin, Elio M Garvia, JR and Linda Antonson – The World of Ice and Fire (2014). About the fictional history of the Game of Thrones universe. Quite imaginative but I lost interest soon after the show finished. 4/5

August

  • John Mann – Attila: The Barbarian King Who Challenged Rome (2006) Less is known about this figure than we hoped but Man pads the pages with background and his trip to Mongolia. 4/5
  • Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley, Alain de Botton and Malcolm Gladwell – Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead? (2016). A paperback transcript of the 2015 Munk Debates.  Interesting perspectives on an interesting question. Only 100 pages. 4/5.

October

 November

  • Time–Life Books – The March of Islam, AD 600-800 (1988). Discusses the Arab Caliphates, Byzantium, Charlemagne, Tang China, The Khmers and Early Japan. Interesting subject matter but the prose is too flowery at times. 3/5

December

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Top Films of 2019

Missing movies! | The Case for Global Film

Here are my favourite English language films of 2019 ranked from ten to one. Subject to my opinion and what I saw, of course.

Honourable mentions: Rocketman, Yesterday, Toy Story 4, Knives Out, Blinded by the Light, Little Women,  Avengers: Endgame (highest-grossing to date!)

  1. The King
  • The latest film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Immaculate set design and costumes and gritty fight scenes. Historically inaccurate at times and, though he gave a good performance I found (unpopular opinion), pretty-boy Timothee Chalamet miscast as the martial king Henry.
  1. Marriage Story
  • About a rich white liberal divorce with all the legal nastiness. Sad and compelling. Stars Scarlett Johanson and Adam Driver.
  1. Dolemite is my Name
  • Eddie Murphy stars as ambitious but down and out comedian Rudy Ray Moore in 1970s Los Angeles. With zero experience he directs and finances a homemade kung-fu themed Blaxploitation film. Murphy’s best performance in years.
  1. Jojo Rabbit
  • The latest from director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnorok). A shy boy and proud Hitler Youth finds out his mother is harbouring a Jew. Waititi is hilarious as a camp Hitler, his imaginary best friend. Quite moving toward the end.
  1. El Camino
  • A sequel movie to the tv show Breaking Bad (2008-2013). Rivetting conclusion to Jesse Pinkman’s story.
  1. 1917
  • Two British soldiers travel through no man’s land to halt 1500 men from advancing to their deaths. Thrilling and harrowing: brings the horrors of trench warfare to life.
  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • A colourful and violent ode to 1960s Los Angeles.
  1. Joker
  • A disturbed and impoverished clown turns violent. More psychological thriller than DC flick. Dark but engaging. We live in a society.
  1. The Irishman
  • Mob epic from Martin Scorcese. Suspenseful and thematic.
  1. Parasite
  • Well crafted, topical and deeply unsettling. A Korean language film and only non-English one to make the list.

What were your favourites? What should/will win Best Picture at the Oscars? What were the best foreign-language films?   Let me know in the comments below!

 

The Death of Qassem Soleimani

Iran's elite Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani ...Qassem Soleimani was Iran’s top general from 1998 – 2020. A US drone killed him and 54 others near Baghdad Airport on January 3rd 2020 on orders of the Pentagon and President Trump. The attack could be considered an act of war against Iran and has significantly escalated tensions between the two states. If worst comes to worst, history will remember him as the Franz Ferdinand of our time.

Soleimani led the Quds Force, the foreign branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. He was the country’s second most famous person after the Ayatollah and favoured by 82% of Iranians, according to a 2019 poll. Known for his calm and calculating demeanour, Soleimani had a knack for forging friendships amongst unlikely allies. He coordinated the alliance between Iran, Russia and Syria and allied Shia militias: Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in Iraq.

US-Iran: Tehran asks regional powers to unite against US ...Born poor in 1958, Soleimani supported the 1979 Revolution that established the Islamic Republic of Iran. He made a name for himself in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s and by 1998 was leading the Quds Force. Soleimani led the fight against ISIS in Iraq by forging an unlikely alliance between the Iraqi military and Shia and Kurdish militias. With ISIS defeated, Iran contends with Saudi Arabia and the USA for influence over the region.

The US has considered assassinating Soleimani since 2003. Both Bush and Obama recognised his value to rival Iran but considered the implications too risky. Trump authorised the drone strike but did not consult Congress, legal only when responding to an ‘imminent threat’.

The attack was a culmination of a tit-for-tat feud between the US and Iran in Iraq:

  • 27/12/19: PMF (Shia militia) attack an US-Iraqi base, killing one US contractor and two Iraqi soldiers
  • 29/12/19: US airstrikes kill 25 PMF militiamen
  • 31/12/19: PMF storm US Embassy in Baghdad. 0 casualties.
  • 3/12/20: US drones kill Soleimani, the PMF’s second in command and 53 others

The current crisis began in 2018 when the USA pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions. Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, which would deter the USA from invading and bolster its international standing. Considering their ties to rivals Russia and China, and hatred for ally Israel, the US wants to stop that. Sanctions can slow the process, but only invasion can prevent it.

Vital: The Deeper Story Behind the Assassination of ...Iran’s leadership vowed to avenge Soleimani’s death. Hundreds of thousands attended his funeral in over 8 cities, including his hometown of Kerman, where a stampede killed 80 mourners. President Trump responded via Twitter, threatening to bomb 52 sites of cultural significance if Iran retaliates. They did retaliate, but only with a symbolic missile strike on an American base in Iraq that killed no one. On the 9th, January however, a commercial plane bound for Kiev crashed in Iran, killing all on board. The 176 passengers were mainly Iranian and Canadian citizens. Canada’s Justin Trudeau blamed Iran. After initially denying involvement, Iran accepted it had mistakenly shot the plane down.

Soleimani was no terrorist. He had blood on his hands and threatened the geostrategic interests of the USA and her Middle Eastern allies but not American civilians.

Ukraine-bound airliner crashes near Tehran, killing 176 ...His death comes at a crucial time for both countries. Iran is undergoing anti-regime protests and economic hardship. In 2020 President Trump of the US, who promised his voter base both to defy Iran and avoid overseas conflicts, faces reelection and impeachment. Tensions with Iran could rally nationalist support for Trump and get Republican hawks on his side – their support he needs when facing the senate.

Sources: ABC News, Al Jazeera, BBC, The Economist, The Guardian

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Protests of 2019

Tahrir 2019, Tiananmen 1989, and the Second Signpost – THE ...

More people have taken to the streets in the past 12 months than any year since 1989. 2019 surpasses even 2011, the year of Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. Around the world, demonstrators challenge corruption, unjust laws and political repression. People are tired of the ageing establishments that have failed to tackle problems like climate change or wealth disparity. Protests peaked in October 2019, and in places like Chile and Hong Kong, are ongoing.

Government decrees sparked protests. In Lebanon, it was a tax on Whatsapp calls, in Chile a 4% hike in metro tickets, in India a law that grants citizenship to neighbouring refugees so long as they aren’t Muslim. Hong Kong’s protests started with a bill to extradite criminals to mainland China.

Lebanon Report - October - MEIRSSAmnesty International identifies five common causes:

  • Corruption: Protestors accuse their leaders of misusing public funds and demand their resignation. Egypt (October -), Lebanon (October – ), Chile (October -). Iraq, (October- ) Pakistan (November – ) Colombia (November -).
  • Cost of living: Austerity measures, sanctions and faltering economies have increased day-to-day costs, particularly petrol. Egypt (September), Haiti (November 2018 – ), Ecuador (October), France (November 2018 -), Iran (November – ).
  • Climate justice: Protestors, particularly the young, rally against government and big businesses’ slow response to climate change and environmental ruin, including forest fires. In September 2019, 7.6 million people in 185 countries participated in climate strikes. Worldwide school strikes, Extinction Rebellion (January -). Bolivia (October).
  • Political freedom: Protestors demand true democracy or greater independence in their respective regions. Hong Kong (June -), Sudan (September – ), Catalonia (October), India (October – ). Guinea (October-).

President says sorry but Chile faces more protests, strikeChile is the wealthiest country in South America, yet suffers crippling inequality. Unrest has cost over $3 billion in damage, 26 people dead and over 3,461 injured. In response, the government promised a referendum in April 2020 to replace the current constitution, drafted under Pinochet, with a civilian one. Two-thirds of Chileans support the protests, according to Al-Jazeera.

Hong Kong Protests: Massive Crowds and Police ClashesHong Kong protestors demand universal suffrage and accountability for police brutality. China is trying to bring the autonomous territory closer into its fold, and have it comply with its laws and restrictions. Demonstrations have seized the city every weekend since June and forced its economy to a halt. The protests have cost Hong Kong $950 million in police overtime.

Government responses are more restrained than in the past. They know indiscriminate killing can vilify the state and embolden its critics. In addition to lightning-fast coordination, smartphones and social media let protesters broadcast state brutality for the world to see. Were Beijing to pull a Tiannemen square in Hong Kong, it could not hide it again. Mass arrests and nonlethal weapons like water cannons and rubber bullets make a better strategy. Protests have largely been peaceful; though in some cases have broken out into riots. The most violent crackdowns are in Iran, where the government is hiding bodies.

As Protesters Clog Catalonia, Court Snuffs Out Declaration ...

The protests of 2019 expose a faltering world order. Neoliberalism has reigned supreme since the Cold War and is predicated on economic freedom and limitless growth. Since 2008, however, new wealth has fallen into increasingly fewer hands. According to Oxfam, the world’s richest 26 people own more than the poorest half.

Sources: Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, The Economist, The Guardian, Oxfam, Washington Post

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