Olympics, Oxfam, SpaceX: what do they have in common?

In order to grasp the ethical relationship between the on-going PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Oxfam, an international partnership of charitable organizations fighting poverty, and the recent launching of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, now the world’ most powerful privately-developed space launch vehicle, it is important to have some background, as follows:

Russian athletes banned in 2018 PyeongChang Olympics

Beset by continued allegations that their athletes are taking performance-enhancing drugs, Russia is enduring unfounded allegations (remember the photo that spread in social media pitting top world tennis players Serena Williams, who’s obviously well-muscled, against the demure and slim Maria Sharapova back in 2016) of prohibited drug use for its participants in the PyeongChang Olympics games. Also note that this unsuccessful but damaging wholesale ban of Russian athletes was first seen in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Aid agency Oxfam employees hired sex workers in Haiti

One of the world’s most prestigious anti-poverty organizations, Oxfam has been caught in a major sex scandal involving employees hiring and even exploiting sex workers in Haiti during the organization’s relief efforts after a major earthquake struck and killed 220,000 people in 2010. Now there are talks that the non-profit organization, which raked-in some $44 million in government funds and donations last fiscal year, might lose such funding if this outrage is not rectified.

Private space launch company SpaceX successfully tests world’s most powerful rocket

What should have been a triumph for humanity, SpaceX’s spectacular and history-in-the-making test of the world’s most powerful rocket at the moment has had its share of envy-driven criticism from the mainstream media. In an article published in The Guardian, Harvard professor, writer, and accomplished author Nathan Robinson argued that the immense effort and financial commitment to put the rocket, and Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster to space en route to Mars, should have been spent fighting Earthly problems (pun intended) such as ending the war in Syria, or fighting disease. He wrote the piece like it is the visionary billionaire who caused the world problems in the first place.

Now what connects these three bits of news?

The word ‘double standard’ is described in the dictionary as “a set of standards that applies differently and usually more harshly to one group of people or circumstances than to another”, while ‘envy’ is defined as “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.”

For the Olympics, what should have been a sporting event to celebrate human physiological achievements has turned into the latest battle ground the West is asserting against its enemies, particularly Russia. Here are some examples of Western double standards: Lance Armstrong, the legendary American professional road racing cyclist who have won numerous world championships including the esteemed Tour de France, and the Olympics, have confessed to engaging in long-term doping offenses in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013; American comedian Jimmy Kemmel’s prank-turned-into-serious-news-by-US-mainstream-media wolf in Sochi, Russia incident where a wolf was seen casually walking in a hotel in Sochi but was actually in an ABC News studio in California; Russian athletes at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics having been forced to represent neutral in the sporting event, which means participants “competing as neutrals without a national team means that athletes will not take part in the opening ceremony, and their country’s anthem will not be played if they win any medals”, and that the Russian Olympic Committee, alleged by the International Olympic Committee to have allowed “state-sponsored” doping of the athletes must pay $15 million that would “cover the costs of the investigations” while forgetting that its most prominent athletes such as Venus and Serena Williams have been “specially allowed” to use drug enhancements that are “within the limits of the Olympic rules.”

For its part, sex allegations against Oxfam continue to pile up against not only its employees stationed abroad but also its management. The relief organization now has to face investigation after The Times reported that aid workers, and then country director Roland van Hauwermeiren brought in underage sex workers to an Oxfam office which it converted to a makeshift brothel. This complete betrayal of trust spanks in the face of those who are donating, the government included, to combat poverty and respond to calamities in other countries. In their website, Oxfam’s purpose include challenging structural causes of injustice, but with news that the organization has been aware of the wrong-doings back then and secretly gave its country director a dignified exit is a form of injustice.

In his article about the historic launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to space, Harvard commentator Nathan Robinson articulated that there is “no better way to appreciate the tragedy of 21st-century global inequality than by watching a billionaire spend $90m launching a $100,000 car into the far reaches of the solar system.” He added that “a mission to Mars does indeed sound exciting, but it’s important to have our priorities straight. First, perhaps we could make it so that a child no longer dies of malaria every two minutes. Or we could try to address the level of poverty in Alabama…perhaps once violence, poverty and disease are solved, then we can head for the stars.”

Such depiction of a remarkable science achievement is indeed depressing. The author clearly missed the root causes of inequality in the first place, when Western empires consumed entire countries and continents for slave labor during the Industrial Revolution, or when black Americans were not treated equal status as human beings before the human rights movement of the 1960s, or when the 2007-2008 financial crisis (which itself was caused by brutal financial speculation among America’s elite) hurt ordinary people around the world. Having expressed his article as if Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX, Tesla, founder of PayPal, and business magnate, is the sole billionaire who has intentionally overlooked the problems of the world, and that his space projects should be considered as a form of petty ego-trip undertakings.

He has failed mention that such endeavors as Tesla cars helping alleviate climate change by going electric, and helping explore other worlds that humans might migrate to in the future be worthy endeavors that transcend politics of the world today. On the contrary such existential matters as global warming and space exploration will probably be the problems that future generations will have to contend with if we fail to at least take small steps to tackle them today. Indeed the politics of today will eventually come to pass, but our continued survival will be a nagging issue for generations to come.

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The World in 2018

Outlets from media to think tanks to governments have published their annual prognostications for the year ahead. From sports, to culture, to economics, to global politics, here I present a calendar of events, as well as predictions for the next 365 days.

Sports

The 2018 Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held in Pyeonchang, South Korea. The international multi-sport event will take place from February 9 to 25, and the country of 51.25 million sees this as their first time hosting the Winter Olympics, and their second Olympic Games.

The World Cup 2018 will be held in Russia. This once-in-four-years football event will take place from June 14 to July 15 and is said to be the first World Cup to be held in Europe since 2006.

Economy

The global economy in 2017 was for the most part about steady growth, and the year 2018 sees this trend continuing to 3.6 percent for 2018 compared to 3.5 percent the previous year. In fact the major economies of the world have had their growth forecasts revised from 2016: the International Monetary Fund collectively described them as ‘positive surprises.’

Goldman Sachs predicts a generally ‘strong expansion in the world economy’ at 4.0% real GDP growth in 2018. It further added that the “strength is broad-based across advanced economies (US, Japan, Euro area)”, except for the UK with a much slower growth.

As for emerging economies, Goldman Sachs are positive about the economies of India and Russia, while China “appears to be slowing modestly.”

The annual World Economic Forum, a gathering of the world’s biggest economic leaders, top CEOs, and millionaires and billionaires, will be held on January 23 to 26 in Davos, Switzerland. It is said that this year’s edition will be the first time in two decades an Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will be visiting this ski resort.

Politics

Russia’s incumbent president, Vladimir Putin, will once again run for presidential elections in April this year. The 65-year-old leader is expected to lead the polls once again, but as an independent candidate after leaving United Russia, a political party he has been associated with since 2001.

In the United Kingdom, another Royal Wedding is stirring up moods and spirits. This one’s a bit special as the bride-to-be, Meghan Markle, to be married to Prince Harry, is an American. When she becomes Royal on May 19, 2018, the former TV actress says she will focus on humanitarian work.

The United States will once again be busy at the polls as the midterm elections takes place on November 6. This midterm election is expected to shakeup the House of Representatives and the Senate as Democrats rally their way to Capitol Hill (and to opposed and worsen the presidency of Republican Donald Trump). Although in the minority right now, the Democrat’s win is not as far-fetched as it sounds since Conservative Trump has quickly become one of the most-hated presidents in US history.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s move to lessen conservatism will start with allowing women to be issued driving licenses starting June. Women will now be allowed to attend sporting events (although segregated through designated ‘family sections’), as well as the return of movie theaters to the kingdom since the 1980s by March this year. Also important is Riyadh’s plans to offer its first tourist visas in 2018.

The Palestine issue will be a pivotal topic in Middle East politics especially after the United States and Israel angered the world with the announcement that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel (and with it the relocation of US embassies to the city) back in December. Trump was quick to lash out those who opposed the decision (where a UN vote saw 128 to 9 votes against the Trump declaration) by threatening to withdraw billions of dollars of US aid to countries that opposed him.

Science

Outer space and the Moon is expected to be in the headlines in this Year of the Dog as private companies try their hands on economizing the last frontier. Elon Musk, the American business magnate who owns Tesla Inc. among other big ventures, announced his outer space company SpaceX will send two (unidentified) space tourists on a trip around the Moon in 2018. If successful, this leisure trip will be the first time humans have ventured beyond low-Earth orbit since 1972.

British billionaire Richard Branson has announced his company Virgin Galactic is on track to begin commercial passenger spaceflights before the end of 2018. This prodigious plan will be accomplished by Virgin Galactic’s air-launched suborbital spaceplane SpaceShipTwo, allowing extremely well-paying passengers to experience a few minutes of microgravity and divine views of the Earth below.

Another space-faring company, Moon Express, announced that it is “definitely” going to land a spacecraft to the Moon in 2018. Moon Express is owned by Indian-American entrepreneur Naveen Jain. His company (so is SpaceX, and other space venture companies) is a participant to the Google Lunar X-Prize, an international prize space competition which challenges private funded spaceflight contestants to “be the first to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, travel 500 meters, and transmit back high-definition video and images.” The $20 million reward will and should be awarded at the contest’s conclusion on March 2018.