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Spend five minutes listening to politicians and pundits talk about countries like Iran and North Korea, and you walk away thinking the world is a scary place. But politicians have agendas, and pundits want viewers. They aren't always the most reliable sources, but they're usually the loudest, which is why you probably believe that ...

Iran Could Start a Crazy War at Any Minute!

What You've Heard:

It's easy to see why people are afraid of Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and claimed the United States was behind 9/11. You wouldn't trust anyone who says things like that to be in charge of a country!

Especially not when they look like Doctor Octopus.


That's why Ahmadinejad isn't in charge -- Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is. Despite a title that sounds like an overcompensating member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Khamenei has been running the show for years. See, unlike our president, Ahmadinejad doesn't control Iran's nuclear strategy, armed forces or even foreign policy.

Motherfuckers act like they forgot about 'Nei.

Ahmadinejad is more like the Joe Biden of Iran -- he says stupid things that embarrass the country, but the guy in power thinks he's a good enough shit, so he keeps him around. Though even that gives President Spell-Check a little too much credit, because Ahmadinejad isn't even the second most powerful guy in the country.

Try 14th. In addition to Lord Sexgantic Ayatollah Khamenei, he's outranked by the 12 members of the Guardian Council, which sounds like something out of the extended Star Wars universe, but actually functions more like Ahmadinejad's boss. They can shoot down his ideas via veto and get to decide who runs for president in the first place.

Ahmadinejad can't even talk without their pictures standing guard.

As the Iranian people know, Ahmadinejad doesn't even have the power to get women into soccer games (one of his campaign promises in 2007), and he has become increasingly unpopular among the masses with every day in office.

This makes me Ahmadinesad.

The problem is that the West pays such an unreasonable amount of attention to Ahmadinejad that according to political experts, it's one of the only things keeping him relevant in Iran. Despite a failed economic policy, and the fact that he's pissed of the Ayatollah so much that experts don't expect him to finish his second term, the Iranian people feel like they have to pay attention to him because America is paying attention to him. And America is paying attention to him because his job title sounds impressive to us.

"A president? Those are the things we protest against!"

OK, but even if Ahmadinejad isn't in charge, the real leaders are religious hard-liners who hate America. So Iran is still a threat, right? Actually, their annual military budget is around nine billion dollars, which puts them behind the powerhouses like Greece and Australia. In terms of per capita spending, Iran is dead last in the gulf region. Nuclear weapons aren't a concern, either, as U.S. intelligence agencies believe Iran has halted its program.

Making your enemies seem like unbalanced lunatics is just an old propaganda trick. For instance, remember that comment about wanting to wipe Israel off the map? According to the people who translated the statement in the first place, it was translated worse than a Final Fantasy game, due to "time pressure to produce a translation quickly." It would be more accurate to say Ahmadinejad wanted to see a regime change, which is a pretty common statement in global politics.

All these men support regime change. Only Perry wants D.C. wiped off the map.

Of course, the media didn't have to exaggerate his statements denying the Holocaust and claiming that the U.S. was behind 9/11. They just had to ignore the fact that the guy saying it doesn't matter.

China's Economy Is Going to Steamroll America's!

What You've Heard:

According to The New York Post, America already owes China so much money that China can destroy our economy whenever it wants. So if you're reading this from inside the United States, we hope you like the taste of steamroller, because you and everything you love is about to get steamrolled by China's economic steamroller. And thanks to the gap between Chinese super students and America's bumper crop of dumbasses, Americans probably need to be told that China's economy isn't an actual steamroller.

Above: The first two years of any Poly Sci degree.


The media tends to portray America like China's deadbeat brother-in-law who keeps borrowing money and promising he's good for it. But the truth is that China is far more dependent on the U.S. than the other way around. If they decided to pull the rug out from under the U.S., they'd be pulling it out from under their own economy.

As for China's educational superiority, it's definitely true that China kicks America's ass in educating its children, and they even produce more college graduates than America. It's just that their colleges suck. One Chinese professor said that the average Chinese engineering graduate may not know more than a typical auto mechanic.

To be fair, we don't understand this guy's job any better than we understand nuclear engineering.

From an early age, Chinese students are corralled into career paths based on test scores. A bad day in seventh grade might shut you out of entire industries. Unfortunately, the idea that childhood intelligence has anything to do with future success has been pretty much completely debunked.

The things that tend to matter are how hard you're willing to work at your job. And if it's some bullshit your seventh grade teacher decided you should do for the rest of your life, we're guessing that's only as fast as you can work while making the wanking motion with one of your hands.

Somehow, we doubt this man is being all he can be.

But probably their biggest problem is something called the dependency ratio. It's a simple idea that is shockingly good at predicting economic success and failure. Basically, you put people who are of working age on one side of the scale and people who are too young or old to work on the other. The more the workers outweigh the babies and old people, the more your economy tends to thrive. For instance, America did great when the baby boomers were passing through their working years and is facing a slowdown now that they're retiring.

This ratio is also one of the main reasons China is kicking so much ass at the moment. There are so many working-age people that they had to put policies in place to keep them from having too many kids. You've probably heard of the one-child policy. An earlier public campaign cut China's fertility rate in half in the '70s. That was good for China's dependency ratio up to this point. That's half of a generation of useless, non-working babies off the books. But over the next 25 years, China is gearing up to age faster than any developing country ever. By 2035, 280 million Chinese will be 65 or older. Senior discounts alone will cost China billions.

On the plus side, Sizzler's future has never been brighter.

So if you are working for China in 25 years, like the media predicted, chances are it will be at a nursing home.

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America Relies on Its Enemies for Oil!

What You've Heard:

America is at the mercy of a number of foreign countries that control our oil supply and could choke out our economy at a moment's notice. It's no wonder we started all those wars in the Middle East. We were trying to control the oil fields.

When we should have been mining children all along.


For starters, 36 percent of American oil is domestic. Another 22 percent of America's oil comes from the hostile and violent country of, uh, Canada. In fact, our friendly neighbor to the north produces more of America's oil than all the gulf countries combined. So that's over half of America's oil controlled by countries with NBA franchises. Did we mention that America's third largest supplier of oil is Mexico?

Still, a good chunk of America's oil does come from countries that are on less than friendly terms with the States. Venezuela is a good example -- what's to stop Hugo Chavez from waking up on the wrong side of the bed one morning and cutting us off?

The American consumer is the little kid in this picture. Chavez is himself.

Well, the United States gets about 11 percent of its oil from Venezuela, while America represents a full half of Venezuela's oil exports. Screwing with the supply would be irritating to America's economy, but it would put Chavez on the business end of a Venezuela-sized angry mob of broke people. We're not just guessing that America could absorb an 11 percent hit to its fuel supply. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Gulf of Mexico's oil industry, that's exactly how much of the oil supply was taken out. If you don't remember it, that's because you don't live in Georgia, where people faced longer than average lines at the pumps. Everything else was business as usual.

Plus, Chavez needs that oil money to fund his zany hat collection.

Of course, when you picture foreign oil, you don't think of Canada or Venezuela -- you think of the Middle Eastern nations who, we're told, can hold us hostage. And that's not all the media's fault. In the '70s, Middle Eastern countries staged an oil strike that coincided with the American economy spiraling into a recession.

But since then, the American economy has shrugged off bigger interruptions like a guy who trips and then breaks into a jog for a second like he meant to do that. They shook it off in the '80s, when Iran and Iraq went to war to determine which one had the better second consonant. The war lasted six years, screwed with both country's oil exports and barely made a ripple in the States.

"Lines at the gas pump? My comfy suburban life is no longer worth living!"

Of course, like most stories with the moral "maybe we're not quite as screwed as we thought," the media didn't make much of it. As recently as the '90s, if you told an expert that oil prices were going to double, they would have told you to invest all your money in canned goods and weapons bunkers. And then oil prices quadrupled between 2003 and 2007 and ... nothing happened.

Not that any of this is going to stop the media from reporting that America is dependent on Middle Eastern oil. At least not until they figure out how to make Canada scary.

Poutine is a pretty good start.

Al-Qaida Is Still a Huge Threat!

What You've Heard:

In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, the government was quick to tell us that al-Qaida is still dangerous. After all, bin Laden was just one man -- there are plenty of al-Qaida members ready to stand up and be the Simon Gruber to Osama's Hans. These people are ideologically motivated, and they won't stop until they've defeated us.

They hate our freedom almost as much as they hate our lack of beards.


They're stopping, or at least slowing down to the point that it's hard to tell the difference. It's true that bin Laden's death didn't cripple al-Qaida, but that's mostly because they were in terrible shape to begin with. In what had to have been at least a little anti-climactic, the computers seized from his fortress revealed that bin Laden had spent his final months worrying about al-Qaida's bank balance.

Apparently cave dwellings and camcorders from 1986 add up after a while.

One problem is that al-Qaida has a terrible business model. They're trying to fund a war against the richest military in the world by asking people for charitable donations that would get you yoinked out of your home country and taken to international jail instead of getting you tax breaks. In fact, the head of al-Qaida's counterintelligence wing complained that his budget was too small to be effective right before bin Laden was located and killed. For comparison sake, the American military was in the process of training spy crows to locate bin Laden at that time. If you can't fund the guy whose job is to keep you alive and your enemy has money to throw at Wizard of Oz science, you're in trouble.

"Here's a billion dollars. Science me up one of them flying animal spy things."

Another problem for al-Qaida is recruitment. As much as the media loves to make it seem like we live in a world of dedicated lunatics, al-Qaida has been struggling for years to attract new members. When your health care plan is "blow yourself up in that bus," you're going to need to compensate with some serious perks to make up for it. But new al-Qaida recruits faced terrible living conditions, which produced disillusionment among people who were already in bad enough shape to join al-Qaida in the first place. The al-Qaida HR department is in need of a serious overhaul.

Playle's Online Auctions
Some wacky posters might help.

Most importantly, support is plummeting around the world. For all of their talk about destroying America, most of al-Qaida's victims are Muslim -- which is why, year after year, polls in countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Jordan find that fewer and fewer people support them. Meanwhile, more and more Islamic clerics are speaking out against terrorism. Most anti-terror intelligence comes from the friends and family members of would be bombers, who are increasingly likely to view al-Qaida membership as falling in with the wrong crowd. Al-Qaida's message is becoming irrelevant in a world where change can be made peacefully. Some analysts describe it as a failure to appeal to the younger generation. How bad is it? They're resorting to terrible rap music.

Something tells us democracy is safe for, oh, at least the next week or so.

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North Korea's Military Is Dangerous and Insane!

What You've Heard:

On paper, North Korea's military looks pretty scary. It's the most militarized country on the planet, has the fourth largest army in the world and spends a larger portion of its GDP on the military than any other state. Shit, how is it not dangerous?

Their camcorder technology is decades ahead of al-Qaida.


North Korea may spend a huge chunk of its GDP on its army, but its GDP is tiny -- which shouldn't surprise you, considering the chief exports are requests for food aid and passive-aggressive threats. In actual dollars, North Korea's military budget is only five to eight billion dollars. By comparison, South Korea's military budget is over triple that. Actually, South Korea spends more on its army than North Korea has in its entire budget.

And their StarCraft players get paid more than North Korea's generals.

This is important because South Korea is North Korea's most likely target, and most experts agree the South would now destroy the North before America had time to get their aircraft carriers wet. That's because North Korea's advantage in raw numbers has some pretty serious caveats. Their most advanced weapons are based on technology from the '60s, and some of that cutting-edge equipment probably isn't functional because of fuel shortages and poor maintenance.

Of course, you could have an army of a dozen paraplegics with Nerf guns and still be a threat if you had nuclear weapons. But while it's true that North Korea does have a nuclear program, they lack the technology to effectively deliver a warhead.

Those missiles actually double as septic tanks.

Imagine North Korea as Wile E. Coyote, and the rest of the world as the Road Runner. The Coyote may be able to afford a giant ACME anvil, but he doesn't know how to accurately drop it on the Road Runner -- he'll miss, and maybe even hurt himself in the process. North Korea's nuclear program is like that, except if the Coyote got lucky and somehow scored a hit, the Road Runner would turn around and obliterate him.

Again, the media's version of events relies on the very specific appeal to reason that assumes because a country could do something, they might actually do it. For instance, President Obama could text a picture of his junk to The New York Times right now. He has the technological capacity to do it. Nevertheless, we can say with one hundred percent certainty that he won't do that because it would be suicidal.

"Also, those fuckers have my number blocked."

That's why experts agree that North Korea isn't going to start a war, nuclear or conventional. It knows that if it did that, step two would be getting quickly turned into the world's largest parking lot. So instead, it's going to sit around and lob ridiculous threats at the West like the YouTube commenters of the international community. And our media is going to read them to us on the nightly news.

Look at the size of their flags! North Korea is unstoppable.

The World Hates America!

What You've Heard:

This one takes different forms depending on who's talking. The right wing will tell you that everyone from France to Iraq hates our freedom, or our democracy, or our ability to get chili cheese fries added to any meal. The left will tell you with a grim fatalism that the developing world hates us because we've been occupying their countries, damaging their culture and our reputation for years. The idea that the rest of the world hates America isn't really an argument so much as it's the assumption that every argument about American foreign policy starts from.

This is pretty much a normal afternoon anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line or south of Texas.


Since 2005, the BBC has conducted a poll on world attitudes toward various countries. In 2011, 49 percent of people surveyed said America had a positive influence on the world, while 31 percent held negative views. That's better than most presidential approval ratings from the past 20 years, and we elected those guys.

Even some of the most well known haters of our freedom in reality are more likely to give the U.S. a slap on the back and a "This guy! He's crazy, but he's alright." Unfortunately for purveyors of freedom fries, even the French attitude toward the U.S. has recently shifted from negative to positive (as has the U.K.'s and Canada's). And as for all those claims that the developing world hates us, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and the Phillipines actually have a more positive view of America than Americans do.

"We hear you have very few lions."

Granted it's not all pen pals and warm wishes out there, but when you look at the world's six largest economies, the U.S. is better than average. The world views America more positively than countries like China, Russia and India.

The statistics from countries considered America's enemies are also pretty surprising. In Iran, for instance, a majority of Iranians are cool with the American people, and just dislike the American government. Better yet, most Iranians and Americans want to see diplomatic relations between the two countries improve. Even more encouraging is the fact that a majority of people in both countries believe the Islamic and Western worlds can find common ground -- not bad for two states whose governments have referred to each other as the Great Satan and a member of the Axis of Evil. It is kind of cool that our foreign policy disputes sound like Dio albums.

"The Great Satan" is almost too metal for metal.

So where is all the hatred coming from? Well, the people who have the weapons for one. Just as the Western media is better off when you think the world is a horror movie teetering on the brink of a post-apocalyptic tale of survival, the guys controlling every army in the world are better off if you think you need them. If everyone likes each other, then they're the weirdo bringing a gun to a tea party.

So the next time you hear a politician or pundit going on about how people from countries like Iran want to see America destroyed, think of them like the mean girl in middle school who makes up rumors because it's the only way to get people to listen to her. Saying, "Iran is a little suspicious of America but wants to get to know her better," may not make for good television, but it's way closer to the truth.

America thinks Iran is really cute, but we've been burned so many times before.

You can read more from Mark at The Smoking Jacket. Or see him explore the Internet's strangest communities at Zug.

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