TTIP: Unveiling the ‘shelf life’ of Democracy

No TTIP European Day of Action, London, UK 11 Oct 2014.
(Photo credit: http://www.gbphotos.photoshelter.com)

‘The world’s most hated acronym’

Well, maybe just behind ISIS. Over the last few years, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has become a definite second. The proposed deal between the EU and the US has dominated headlines, political debate and has been written about extensively by journalists and academics alike. It has produced a ‘Marmite effect’ like no other: from cheerleaders to whistleblowers. What it represents is that in a system which has already produced an economic precedent of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, the next step is to secure political power.  The TTIP marks the age of the ‘having control’ and the ‘having no choice’. It’s a corporate manifesto for sure, but we’ve commissioned it.


The Two Tenets

Privatisation and deregulation. Two bedrocks of neoliberal thought, both equally disastrous for greater society. The promise: less state intervention in markets leads to greater productivity, efficiency and lower prices. The reality: ‘a race to the bottom’ which in essence is a forced embrace of lowering labour standards, environmental laws and evoking business tax cuts which ensure the preservation of  wealth concentration.

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Ronald Reagan’s wave of financial deregulation in the 1980s is what largely led to the global financial crisis of 2008, and did we learn the lessons? No, we bailed them out. The taxpayers were used to make corporate power “too big to fail”. From an environmental standpoint, companies have been negligent towards reducing pollution and lax regulations in food standards have led to increasingly negative effects on human welfare. ‘Chlorine’ chicken and carcinogenic pesticides will be the new European garnishes if the TTIP goes through.  Alarming issues for many, which have often formed the backbone of widespread protest against a deal that hopes to establish a ‘Regulatory Cooperation Council’ to override and dictate any future regulation measures.

Privatisation is no new notion to many European economies and is already firmly embedded into the economic make up of many countries. Private entities are good at doing many things, however controlling public services isn’t one of them. Selling off public assets and outsourcing public services has led to increased prices, poorer working conditions, inefficient service and a lack of accountability. Outsourcing a country’s welfare state where the primary concern of the public is replaced with that of profit, has had dire effects. So much so, that many political leaders have called for the immediate protection of the NHS from the TTIP proposals. While capital flows freely among the wealthy via offshore funds, working people are facing increasing job insecurity. This is no accident. Two tenets of the TTIP and two ways to erode government control. Our control.


Who orders, who follows.

  “Corporations are worms in the body politic.”  Thomas Hobbes

In effect the TTIP has cemented its own celebrity status through its illustrious advertising campaign. An array of heads of state, notably David Cameron and Angela Merkel, have stepped forward  like corporate cheerleaders, singing songs of free market, all in sound bites pure and sweet. Well, their message to us is very clear : there’s really no alternative. Coupled with with a European tour from 2008 Marketer of the Year, Barack Obama, the campaigning efforts of the TTIP team have been astonishing.   A move closer to swearing an oath to corporate governance, this trade deal represents the end product of decades of ‘power handing’ to the world of business and the aggressive endorsement of an ideology that only seeks to serve the rich and powerful; whilst consolidating the concentration of wealth and gap of inequality.

 

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(Photo credit: wikileaks.org)

The subservience of governments to the TTIP initiative is quite remarkable. Allowing US corporations greater say over EU regulations, environmental law and consumer rights is reckless. The TTIP would undeniably grant an exchange of sovereignty to an elitist group of unelected businessmen and the most alarming aspect is of course, the fact that leaders are so compliant in wanting its ratification. Strong petitions and campaigning efforts have done much to derail the progress of the deal and may well even prevent it from coming into practice. However, this only marks the start of corporate ‘power grab’ attempts against our democratic principles. The TTIP, in fact, is far from an isolated incident: its sister deal the TPP has already been finalised and is awaiting ratification. Furthermore, the final part of the free trading triangle, TISA, is all but ensured to hit the geopolitical shelves in the coming years. The three ‘Ts’ of total dependency on corporate- fuelled decision making.

So, what does all of this show? The TTIP is perhaps only a sign of the times we are heading for: an age of ‘who orders’ and ‘who follows’. The followers are increasingly proving to be our elected representatives; the people who are entrusted to do the ordering. Even political opposition is questionable. Anti-TTIP sentiment is often the result of populist style reactions to public opinion. Take the ‘Brexit’ debate, with many commentators suggesting ‘In’ or ‘Out’ will in fact do  little to counter the bombardment of corporate power grabs that are setting future economic trends. Its role within the US election also suggests that stances are often drawn in a sound bite fashion in order to entertain the concerns of voters. This is a time when campaign promises and pledges are often empty; TTIP is no exception. Behind the distraction pieces, it’s been granted a VIP pass on to the political main stage.


 To the highest bidder..

 ‘A free people regimented into the service of a limited few’ –Franklin D. Roosevelt

Corporations control countries. This is evident throughout history. The ‘Banana Republic’ and East India trading company, both symbolise the extent of control and influence corporations have had on government and populations. Additionally, corporations have equal rights to individuals in the US and the right to vote in the UK. They have become a powerful entity that we have helped to establish, holding a non-negotiable position in global politics.

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(Photo credit: http://www.womensrights.informationactivism.org)

The TTIP, in common with other free trade agreements, confirms the platform and status
we have gifted to corporations; whether it be through aggressive lobbying industries or an unwavering oath of loyalty to neoliberal ideals. In conjunction with the recent Panama papers scandal, the TTIP and other transatlantic trade proposals only add weight to the argument of one set of rules for them and one set of rules for us. Inequality is corroding the values of democracy. Public opinion is supposed to have a strong input on government decision – that is one of the bedrocks of any democracy. Well, this is the consequence of allowing the concentration of wealth and power ; as Adam Smith stated: “the principal architects of policy are the people who own society and they make that their own interests are cared for.” The ‘masters of mankind’ are financial institutions and multinational corporations following the vile maxim of “all for ourselves and nothing for anyone else”. The system is manufactured to reduce democracy and preserve the status of the ruling minority.

While we seem more concerned with exporting our brand of Western democracy to the rest of the ‘underdeveloped’ world we should first read our own product information: a system where corporate hegemony far exceeds government influence and public will. In fact, Western democracy is currently an illusion; what we are moving towards is a ‘corporatocracy’. The TTIP may be the most hated acronym on our lips, but there’ll be plenty more abbreviations where that came from, I can assure you. So, the shelf life of our freedom is in fact nearing it’s expiry date. But, the lesson to be learnt here is that by embracing a participatory democracy and not a spectator one, we may have a chance to save it.

 “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.

— John Maynard Keynes

 

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TTIP: Unveiling the ‘shelf life’ of Democracy

The Panama Papers: Everything we’ve come to expect?

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(Photo credit: panamapapers.sueddeutsche.de)

So the largest release of data hit the digital shelves on the 3rd April. The leaked files go back decades and reference 12 current or former world leaders, as well as 128 other politicians and public officials. Where does that leave us, the people, with those who call the shots? In an age of mistrust and  mass disillusionment with global institutions, corporations and the ruling elite, will this information overload of greed and deceit spark the beginning of the end for a system designed to conceal corruption at the highest level? While a global uprising seems too premature to predict, there will no doubt be those calling for the heads of the global establishment. For the majority, is it a case of “Well, I didn’t see that coming”. The truth of the matter is, isn’t this just everything we’ve come to expect?


Havens and hell

And on the first day man created Tax havens. With secrecy as their main selling point, tax havens have, since their inception, escaped the clutches of authorities and more importantly, the prying eyes of the public. What does this tell us? Well, for as long as there’s been taxation there’s been evasion. For some, money is the root of all evil, but what’s prima facie is that one of the fundamental pillars of the global monetary system is greed. A “Founding Father” in the accumulation of capital? When a system is designed to stem the flow of wealth to a concentrated few, the next step is to preserve it.

There’s something cruel about the chosen locations of these offshore accounts. Take The Seychelles for example, the archipelago in the Indian Ocean, where the law firm at the centre of the offshore revelations, Mossack Fonseca, has incorporated tens of thousands of companies in its portfolio. It’s a setting described by Lonely Planet as ‘dream like’ and ‘brochure material’. A popular choice for newlyweds, this talcum-powder beach paradise is far removed from the realities of the travelling masses: where hardship replaces luxury hotels and coastal walks are swapped for poverty safari trips. The juxtaposition of these offshore utopias, with the real world we all live in, is symbolic of the divide between the 1% ruling elite and the 99% of us left to fight for a share of the economic pie. If the Panama Papers reveal one thing, it’s that the scope of global power players involved have made borders and nationalities irrelevant. As much as this may be everything we’ve come to expect from the mighty 1%, we can at least be united in the resulting sentiment. I’m 99% sure of that.


Counting the accountable

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(Photo credit: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk)

Catching the criminals? Well, there’s been a start. Perhaps most notably so far, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson has been the first high profile casualty of the leak. After failing to declare stakes in an offshore company, thousands of Icelanders voiced their anger in mass protests across Reykjavik. One down, more to follow? Other high profile leaders include: Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko and Argentinean President, Mauricio Macri. Will these countries act in the same vein and remove those who have been caught red handed? For the moment, their fate is in the hands of the people. In states where freedom of speech is silenced, the room for unrest will be quickly subdued. Despite his inner circle being implicated repeatedly in this scandal, it seems certain Putin will weather the storm. On the other hand, some states have already taken drastic action. Take China’s response, after Premier Xi Jinping was indirectly implied. With one click, the issue has already fallen victim to the ‘Great Wall’ of censorship that engulfs the Chinese masses.

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(Photo credit:www.firstcriterion.com

While there are still many good guys out there,some countries have already launched official investigations. Sound bites from Obama and co calling for international tax reform sound promising but leave a bitter taste of hollowness. In any case, from a US perspective, how much could these events shape the outcome of the coming election? A thoroughbred business tycoon in Trump vs a Clinton campaign that is part funded by a lobbying firm with connections to the Panama Papers? All of these revelations add weight to the question that at the highest levels, is there really a ‘corruption-free’ choice? A quote by Albert Camus has never seemed so accurate: “Democracy is not the law of the majority, but the protection of the minority”.  For the decades that they have escaped the clutches of the global electorate, now is surely the time that we must start holding everyone to account.


 

Only the beginning

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(Photo credit: http://www.sociologydiscussion.com)

What will it take for a collective paradigm shift in our acceptance of global governance? As of yet, the question remains unanswered. What’s for certain, is that we, the voting public, surely deserve better. By releasing these documents, the ICIJ has made inroads into establishing a model for the global elite to reverse its untouchability. A triumph for ‘leaktivism’, this latest development is finally laying the foundations for a global ‘Networked Fourth Estate’. The wealth hidden by these law firms is money that should be spent on our public services, schools, hospitals and used to support hardworking people enduring austerity and the brunt of the crumbling global financial system. Our representatives have instead, tacitly or actively, chosen to facilitate and help preserve this corrupt system of loopholes. An estimated 8% of the world’s wealth is stuffed away in offshore accounts, and alarmingly, most of it done legally.

In the age of Globalization, we have become accustomed to many things: faster services, revolutions in communication, the sharing of ideas, experiences and lifestyles between people and cultures. Every day the world is becoming smaller, more integrated and more interdependent. But underneath all of this, Globalization has allowed the interests of the few to unify the ruling elite. A form of collective corruption sold as an affordable luxury to the privileged. The Panama Papers may have confirmed what we’ve come to expect, but we should expect a whole lot more. The ‘biggest’ leak in history? For the time being, at least.

Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.”   –   Martin Luther King

 

 

The Panama Papers: Everything we’ve come to expect?

Welcomed with open arms: Britain’s blood money

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(Photo credit: http://www.angelarayner.com)

As Cardiff prepares to host the Defence, Procurement, Research, Technology and Exportability exhibition (DPTE) on 16th March, why is one the most immoral forms of profiteering often absent from mainstream media and exempt from political condemnation? 100 years from now will the concept of businesses amassing fortunes from oppression, death and torture be nothing but a dark chapter engraved into the history books? I fear not. The current reality of the atrocities man commits against one another suggests no derailment of this industry is in sight. If anything, these hidden suppliers of destruction remain as unaccountable as ever. Neville Chamberlain once stated: “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.” Not true. War is a big business and Britain has benefited massively.


The Price of Profit

Only surpassed by the U.S.A, Britain lies claim to the third largest arms company in the world: BAE Systems. Responsible for the sale of billions of pounds worth of arms to countries around the world, BAE Systems is one of the leading beneficiaries from the War economy. Sales rose by 7.6 percent in 2015 to a staggering £17.9bn; additionally, the company’s share price exceeded prior predictions.

BAE Systems Announce 500 Job Losses In The UK
(Photo credit: http://www.theguardian.com)

So who are the customers? Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey to name but a few. As its principle client, BAE sells weapons, aircraft, drones and missiles to Saudi Arabia which, as an investigation now gets underway, are all being used in the current bombardment of Yemen. If conclusive evidence is found this will stand as a breach of international human rights law and could trigger calls for the UK government to be indicted for war crimes. And rightly so. Yet, this isn’t the first time either; BAE supplied the tactica armoured vehicles used by Saudi Arabia in 2011 to crush pro-democracy protests in Bahrain. BAE provides Israel with means to wage war on Palestinians and supplied display units which were used to equip Israeli F-16 fighter jets. In an another recent sale, it supplied Turkey with tanks which were used against minorities in Kurdish regions in 2015. In all of this, each sale is granted and licensed by the UK government. A careless rubber stamp to legitimise state brutality.

Other UK companies which make up the top 100 list include Babcock International, Sarco and Cobham, to name but a few. Combined, these companies along with BAE Systems, made up 10.4 percent of the total $401 billion worth of weaponry sold globally in 2014. An amount which has continued to grow. And don’t worry, military vehicles are more than capable of carrying these arms. Rolls Royce see to that; through engine sales, of course.


What’s being done?

Not enough. In light of revelations that arms sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in the mass slaughter of civilians in Yemen, there was a brief sense of outrage from political circles and media organisations. But nevertheless, the weapons are still being produced, deals being finalised and lives being lost. MPs have launched an investigation into whether British arms have been used by Saudi forces, but this overshadows the question: why they were being sold in the first place? The EU has proposed an embargo, although the process by definition will be long, arduous and inevitably fruitless in its outcome. A glance at resolutions previously set against the torture trade reveals many loopholes for companies to trade in tools designed specifically for the use of torturing.

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(Photo credit: http://www.voanews.com)

Some prominent groups like the Campaign Against the Arms Trade have, for years, called tirelessly for further accountability of arms trade companies and the overall abolishment of the practice. However, regardless of how much these issues are being lobbied, they rarely enter the doors of parliament for serious consideration. In a recent visit to a BAE Systems factory in Preston, David Cameron’s comments suggest the obstacles that still remain at the highest levels. He stated; “ I’m going to be spending a lot of the next four months talking about this issue but I promise I will not be taking my eye off the ball, making sure the brilliant things you make here at BAE Systems are available and sold all over the world.” Reassuring stuff.

It seems irrational to think that a government would elicit the sale of arms to other countries with such appalling track records in human rights violations and oppressive governments, but sadly this is the case. What’s become clear is that in the pursuit of profit, human life does not hold any value.


A Humanitarian paradox?

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Politics is riddled with hypocrisy. A prerequisite that we’ve no doubt become accustomed to. And sadly, conflict seems embedded within us as a race. Britain’s role is yet another example of this. On the one hand, rhetoric condemning the barbaric actions of regimes, and the resulting chaos wreaked upon lives of innocent civilians. The boats continue to arrive on European soil as desperate families seek refuge from the bloodshed and destruction. Governments then reluctantly offer an arm in the name of compassion and western democratic values. Juxtaposed with this is the continued backing of arms sales to the very same region where instability has become synonymous since the Arab Spring uprisings. By permitting the sales of arms to regimes like Saudi Arabia, the UK is fuelling the cycle of death and displacement that will undoubtedly lead to further humanitarian crises and the loss of human life. Within this quagmire exist companies profiting from the bloodshed. If the UK government ever had a moral compass, it sunk with the first boats that fell short of Greek shores.

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(Photo credit: http://www.time.com)

The UN Arms Trade Treaty was ratified by around 50 countries and came into force in December 2014. It would appear that there are people in power who understand the grave consequences of allowing this dangerous practice to continue without being rigorously scrutinised and regulated. The sale of arms by definition, lacks any morality and concern for human welfare. As long as the pursuit of profit sees no boundaries, even death, then this reinforces the idea that we are the biggest threat to our own existence. So as the stalls are set and Cardiff welcomes this years annual DPTE fair on the 16th, remember that the celebration of suffering has now become a societal norm. It’s said that “A sword is never a killer, it is a tool in the killer’s hands”. Maybe so. But I can’t help thinking that the creators of these tools have hands just as red.

Welcomed with open arms: Britain’s blood money

‘Brexit’: Does it even matter?

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(Photo credit:www.conservativehome.com)

As the referendum draws nearer, the debate is now heating up regarding the European question. Both camps are employing the full repertoire of the art of rhetoric: cameos from CEOs, political leaders and academics all ensuring no surface of the public canvas is left uncovered. But behind all this showmanship, triumphs not a big thumbs up for ‘power to the people’, but a prime example of smoke and mirrors that detract from the real problem. While the voting cards will display the age old question on everybody’s lips. The real question is – does it even matter?


In, out, shake it all about…

‘If I’m not part of the gang, can we still be friends?’ While evoking a playground sensitivity, in its essence, this question represents the uncertainty that entangles the arguments of the ‘leave’ campaigners. Citing real alternatives shows there is light at the end of the tunnel if Britain were to leave the EU. Norway, Switzerland and Turkey all boast non-membership on their respective CVs and low and behold, each provide examples of co-existence alongside the ‘single market’. While commentators are eager to stress that emulating the approaches taken by such countries would be near enough impossible, logic suggests that a ‘Brexit’ wouldn’t necessarily necessitate the key ingredient resulting in an economic meltdown. In any case, with another four years of George Osborne as head chef, surely the promise of an ‘Eton mess’ still remains intact?

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(Photo credit: uk.businessinsider.com)

While Boris and other Tories are rallying an anti-European sentiment, the ‘remain’ campaign, captained by Cameron, is adamant that staying in the EU will ensure the security of businesses, provide job creation, consolidate appeal to foreign investors and enforce Britain’s presence on the global stage. Key to Cameron’s argument is that a renegotiated deal with Brussels has emerged as an added extra and this is something that he’s been keen to dangle in front of the public eye.

While it’s perhaps become natural to disregard the sincerity of every utterance to emerge from a politicians lips whenever the word ‘promise’ is mentioned, Cameron’s belated fulfilment of his European referendum proposal has, inadvertently triggered something of a ‘Hokey Cokey’ effect within the Brussels elite. Already experiencing its most turbulent period since its inception, the last thing Brussels wants to further tarnish the Union’s power and legitimacy, is a defector.

Without a doubt, the arguments run deep for both sides and come June, Britain will either

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(Photo credit: http://www.britain-europe.com)

be re-affirming its commitment or running away from this dominant force that is constantly affecting the lives of ordinary Europeans. Stay or go, the influence of this leviathan will remain. As it’s confronted with the ongoing humanitarian and economic problems of global politics, this erstwhile economic union is fast becoming a powerful governing body. As ever-present as it has become in most facets of politics, surely then the referendum question is redundant: in or out the UK will still be heavily influenced and dictated to by the EU.

So, does it even matter? To an extent, no. But more importantly, who’s really making the decisions in Brussels?


‘It’s not me, it’s EU’

‘Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand people who are silent’.

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So said Napoleon. This quote encapsulates the genetics of the decision making process in Brussels. Thanks to the billion-euro lobbying industry in Brussels, the EU has become ‘corporatised’. Prominent watchdog the Corporate Europe Observatory, estimates there to be at least 30,000 lobbyists based in Brussels, which essentially matches the 31,000 staff employed by the European Commission. These represent some of the biggest companies, PR consultancies, law firms, trade associations and banks that the corporate world has to offer. All present together with the objective of influencing the decision making process of the single market, striking trade deals and determining the economic and commercial behaviour in a union that directly affects the lives of 507 million people. Fantastic.

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(Photo credit: http://www.debatingeurope.eu)

In effect, while arguably being elitist in its structure, is the EU also merely an empty vessel of which corporate giants are able to exercise their influence over the masses? If this is the case, then the continuing growth of the EU as a governing body does not sit well in the stomach of democratic principles. The question of in or out is irrelevant when the system itself is corrupt. After all, admission does not mean access. It’s not the countries that are causing problems (Greece, Britain) but the organisation itself which is manipulated by volumes of unelected representatives. Until accountability and transparency can become true realities of a reformed EU, citizens from member states are going to slowly but surely become more disenchanted and skeptical. As it stands, it is estimated that around 75% of all legislature is directly influenced by the lobbying industry. Without doubt this rivals the situation present in U.S. politics.


Asking the wrong questions…

For too long we’ve been asking the wrong questions. The June referendum will pose the question of either a re-commitment or removal from the ‘single market’. Once a shared vision of governments, this is now firmly spearheaded as a business led initiative. As the British public will decide their own fate come June, concerns over job losses and the survival of businesses will continue, regardless of the outcome. The sooner governments and the public realise that what is growing and developing in Brussels is not a Union of member states, but a vessel nurturing the interests of the few, the clearer the future will be. A Europe Inc.

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(Photo credit: http://www.corporateeurope.org)
‘Brexit’: Does it even matter?

Balloons and K-pop: How to slam-dunk Lil’ Kim

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(Photo credit: http://www.testtube.com)

 

All the gear no idea? It’s a dangerous combination when your trying to uphold the distinguished legacy of the most politically deranged and isolated state in the world. Lil’ Kim is yet again trying to re-establish his political relevance, in a time when non-state actors are the primary focus of Western hostilities. Is there an answer to the North Korean problem or has the existence of this wannabe Bond villain become an accepted element of the international political pantomime? In case you can’t quite picture him mud-wrestling with Daniel Craig, here’s three potential solutions, the essence of each being an avoidance of military force:


 

1. Continued isolation, but nuclear recognition

The North’s solitary ally, China, is perhaps the key holder when it comes to their survival within the international community. It’s principle trading partner and vehicle in financial transactions, it also supplies the country with fuel and food. Ending the 60 year affiliation? They would likely inherit a refugee crisis and have to welcome the arrival of a potential U.S puppet state right next to their borders. Problems of course that they would rather avoid, although this continued association with the ever-unpredictable Kim Jong-Un in itself offers more uncertainty than regional stability. As Washington presses China for support on imposing UN sanctions over the fourth nuclear test, is this once dependable lifeline being progressively cut-off? Recent moves to strengthen relations with South Korea suggest a possible reluctance to support Pyongyang amidst the provocative moves taken under Kim Jong-Un’s leadership. The Chinese question is a key factor to the solving the problem of North Korea. If Beijing pull the plug, and plummets North Korea into almost complete isolation, the lights go out. Simple.

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(Photo credit: http://www.thedearreader.wordpress.com)

The inability to become economically self-sufficient when your being choked out by neo-liberal global capitalism is self-implied, and something surely Castro would vouch for. Presuming Kim Jong-un made use of the private Western education he received, then surely he already knows this? Like Frank Zappa said: “Communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff.” However much of a point Kim Jong-Un is trying to prove, undoubtedly he’s only proving his own stupidity.

Through collectively isolating North Korea further, Lil’ Kim will be forced to come to the negotiating table or accept the collapse of his regime. The elephant in the room here, is his nuclear ambitions. So how can they be curtailed? The current approach of demonisation taken by the U.S. is only adding fuel to the fire of hostility. The nuclear program is Kim Jong-Un’s last bastion of self-preservation. Why would he give his insurance policy up? For a death sentence and free admission to the “choose no-nuclear get banged” club?

Savvy to the idea of avoiding the fate of Muammar Gaddafi, who prior to his regime’s collapse, gave up his nuclear program in 2008, Kim Jong-Un would require a different approach. As an alternative to the unlikely event that he would simply post the keys through the letterbox, an approach of recognition would be the most suitable tactic. Something mirroring the Iranian model. A little more carrot and a lot less stick. Sanctions relief, further food aid, economic help and humanitarian assistance. A hamper prize recently offered by Foreign Secretary John Kerry, that would serve as an irresistible offer for a North Korea unable to depend on a Chinese cushion to soothe its economic back-ache.


2. The power of communication

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(Photo credit: http://www.bellenews.com)

So how do you solve a problem like North Korea? Nominally, the threat posed is not ideological and geographically nobody’s hiding, so presumably it wouldn’t present the same difficulties that the current witch hunt against global terrorism entails. What the international community is up against (and when I say that, I mean U.S. Foreign policy directives) is an isolated state: lost within its own propaganda machine, economically obsolete and ideologically outdated. The second solution to North Korea is not found in B-2 bombers or nuclear arsenals, but communications. The only thing that can truly overthrow the North Korean state is the people themselves. Access to information which dispels the regime’s brainwashing efforts will empower the North Korean people to stand up for their own democratic freedoms. A digital revolution of sorts that has become synonymous with the overthrowing of despotic regimes in recent times. Think the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions between 2010-2011, which via the power of communication and technology were able to bring down regimes that had ruled for nearly 30 years. While a revolution may inherently lead to fatal outcomes, at its grass-roots level, social media and other forms of modern communication can at least be utilised as catalysing forces for pro-democracy movements.

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The current generation of young North Koreans are undergoing their own passive revolution. As well as defectors, there is a growing underground black market which exists to supply information from the outside world. Slowly but surely the younger generation are becoming more aware of the lies they are being force fed. They are the first generation to have lived after the ruling of Kim Il-Sung, so perhaps there is less of a moral obligation to remain fiercely loyal and avoid questioning the legitimacy of the state? What is now undeniable, however, is that in a country once founded on the subservience of the collective, the individual now exists.

If the power of communication could be harnessed to enlighten the North Korean people, their collective will would be immovable. Already, many human rights groups are seeking to pursue this avenue in order to combat the regime’s information embargo. Tactics include balloon drops containing DVDs, USB sticks and transistor radios filled full of information about the outside world. Other strategies being explored for future use are things like Google’s Project Loon, which can transport Wi-Fi to remote areas via balloons. By slowly hacking away at the wall of lies and propaganda, the truth about the outside world will eventually be revealed to the masses.


3. Pushing for unification

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Although still considered to be unachievable by many and despite recent stumbling blocks, the movement towards unification has made strong progress in recent years. This issue has been engaged with both politically and in popular culture.

The six party talks between the two Korean nations, Japan, Russia, the US and China provide the best environment for constructive talks regarding the question of unification. Their resumption would again render golden opportunities for all parties involved to strive towards the final goal of unification. If the strategy of isolation was further enforced upon the North Korean regime, from a negotiation standpoint, the Six party talks would represent something of an escape route for Lil Kim and Co.

South Korean President, Park Geun-hye is has paved the way for unification by setting up the presidential committee for unification preparation.
“The committee’s mission is to try and forge national consensus among different groups”, states vice-chair Chung Chong-Wook. Although this committee deals mainly with ideas, it does confirm that a mandate exists among the political elite and potential avenues are being seriously considered.

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(Photo credit: foreignaffairsreview.co.uk)

In 2014 K-pop superstar Lee Seung-chul set up the ‘One Nation’ campaign in hope of finally re-uniting the two divided countries. He collaborated with a choir of North Korean defectors in order to galvanise support for a move towards unification. The campaign consisted of a number of TV appearances, talks and a performance on the disputed Dodko islands. Ironically, these are territories which the two countries actually agree on. The chosen location was heralded as “the ultimate symbolic gesture of unification”. By giving unification a familiar face, younger generations can be inspired to make what was once an illusion, become a reality.


So there you have it: three potential solutions to the North Korean problem. And not a whiff of military might. They say Kim Jong-Un is an avid fan of American basketball. Maybe it’s about time he stopped trying to act like such a baller…

Balloons and K-pop: How to slam-dunk Lil’ Kim

‘Trumpelstiltskin’: just a fairy tale?

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(Photo credit: http://www.thenation.com)

Of all the wild-cards that preside over the presidential candidacy, perhaps Donald Trump’s lofty rise to the political mainstream has been the most surprising. Representing a Republican party which is bidding to regain the keys to the White House after two terms in the political wilderness, is the rise of Trump merely a flash in the pan or is this transitional type of politician something that we should be getting used to? Above all, could this be beneficial or inherently damaging for society?


Top Trump?

Business tycoon turned politician, Trump’s transition to the political platform has been nothing short of dramatic. He’s currently enjoying healthy poll ratings and is surpassing his closest competitor, Ted Cruz. With ample media coverage and a seemingly unlimited budget, Trump’s campaign is well equipped to say the least. By using his own personal brand and populist style policies he has crafted an effective mix to attract disenchanted supporters, the backing of the corporate sector and the abandoned middle class. These combining factors have enabled the idea of a Trump presidential candidacy to become that little more probable.

His recent remarks against Muslims, however, indicate that Trump may lack the intellectual credentials for the big job. While this may have galvanised a small minority of Trump die-hards, seeking a tougher stance as a result of the Paris attacks, the general reaction to Trump’s controversial ‘speech’ would have deterred a lot of potential affiliates, not only in the public sphere but also within the Republican party itself.


An ‘Instagram election’

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(Photo credit: http://www.futureofbusinesstech.com)

Coined by former president Bill Clinton, his analogy to the current presidential race is in fact, quite accurate. In an age of sound-bites and quick responses, it’s not a manifesto but a tweet that gets you coverage and more importantly: your message across to voters.

This, if anything, is Trump’s forte. With the added clout of his personal brand, his rivals are up against a well-seasoned player. When it comes to tapping into the power of social media, Trump vs the career politician, is not a fair fight. This home advantage will undoubtedly serve as a renewable fuel for his relevance and continuance in this presidential race.


Good business

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The attraction of Trump to voters can be boiled down to him carefully playing on the emotions of the electorate, who are in part: fearful, confused and seek security.

He’s a familiar face and in the world of business, his name speaks for itself. Somebody who you watch on TV; calling the shots and making examples out of people. Like it or not, when Trump speaks, you listen.

Trump isn’t the first businessman to take the leap into the world of politics. And while he may ultimately fail, others have succeeded.

Corruption, tax fraud, bribery, child prostitution, illegal financing. No these aren’t sub-plots for a crime thriller, but a list of allegations and convictions against former businessman turned prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

Italy’s longest serving post- war prime minister, epitomised controversy but also secured enough support to remain in office for nearly a decade.

Before his entry to politics, Berlusconi was an incredibly successful business tycoon, with a portfolio largely focused in media ownership. His business pedigree is something that would rival that of Trump’s and his overall performance suggests the inability of former men of the boardroom taking the leap ‘into the field’ to separate private interests from accountability to the public and the job at hand.

Although it would seem hazardous to guess if this would mirror the political destiny of Donald Trump, if he were to make it to the top, the case of Berlusconi does highlight the very real danger of allowing somebody of such character to reach the heights of political power and the damning consequences this may have on a country’s politics.


The art of the deal

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(Photo credit: http://www.smh.com.au)

So as the U.S. Presidential race heats up, the time is nearing where the American people will soon realise who their choices will be for the next election. Donald Trump has done well to still be in contention and the reality is: he’s not going away. The fairy tale isn’t over, just yet.

A savy businessman at heart, Trump is chasing the deal and his growing support suggests that he is ever nearer to finalising it. Is he the man to stand in the Republican corner? Will he be another Berlusconi or can he present something to the American people, that so far seasoned Democrats and Republicans alike, have failed to conjure? Time, as always, will tell.

Nevertheless, come election time only the public will decide how this story ends. When the ballots are cast, they will need to make a choice: blue or red. And for those who are searching for inspiration and advice on making their decision, they need look no further than to the man himself. “Sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make.” Great tip, Donald.

‘Trumpelstiltskin’: just a fairy tale?

The Putin Doctrine: Russia’s claim for hegemony

 

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0 (Photo credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk)

The current landscape of global politics is a confusing collection of disorder, bloodshed and despair. Since its inception, the EU has achieved one of its primary aims: keeping its member states in check, and preventing any country from developing into a superpower. The result of this: a European super-power vacuum. With waning US foreign policy and NATO’s indecisive actions, is the baton being passed to Putin?


Worsening conditions

NATO’s lack of decisiveness has enabled Russia to take the initiative and intensify its involvement in Syria in support of the ‘west-waged’ war against the so called Islamic State. A Russian passenger jet blown up by terrorist bombers has given Putin moral authority to carry out decisive aerial bombardments, and he’s grabbed the opportunity with both hands. NATO are reluctant to accept the fact that Russia is now batting for the same team as them. On the surface everything seems constructive, but underneath all of the handshakes and conversations with Obama and Western leaders, what are the real motives of Putin? Is he acting as an ally of Western ‘democracy’ or reigniting the flame of Russian superiority?

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(Photo credit: http://www.marketoracle.co.uk)

Well for starters, the Cold War never ended. Symbolic scenes of the Berlin wall collapsing, might have marked the fall of the Soviet Union, but considerable East-West tension continues unabated. ‘You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea‘. In essence, the fall of the Berlin wall was superficial as much as it only signalled the start of an ideological ceasefire. Well, that ceasefire is now over. The tentative inroads into democracy made by Gorbachev have been systematically undone by Putin. His dealing with the West as of late, while echoing signs of ‘obedience’ and a level of pragmatism, is fundamentally underpinned by a deep-rooted distrust that Russia has never been able to overcome. Equally, NATO’s apprehension to swearing an oath of friendship confirms the extent to which these old hostilities still remain. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude – it’s as prevalent as ever.


Economic or military super-powers?

Unlike normal ‘superpowers’, which are often formed as a result of conflict and domination, the European Union had emerged as a result of peace and cooperation. While it may remain unique as a superpower in that sense, this lack of military pedigree has left it redundant in facing many of the problems that threaten the peace of the continent today. The control of the means of production rather than control of the means of destruction, is something that the European claim to superpower status, is founded on. However, the recent requirement for ‘hard power’ and military means has provided a window of opportunity for Putin to relinquish some form of military superiority and fill the void that the EU has created.


Putin’s cult

As recent polling suggests, his support in Russia is strong. His tight grip on politics , liberties and a carefully engineered propaganda machine have not only enabled him to serve for 15 years, but also allowed him to rekindle support in the the former Eastern bloc. The strength of his image is something not to be underestimated. Take Ukraine as an example. A country fundamentally divided, in a manner resemblant of postwar-Germany. Centrally, the key division is the enduring affiliation Ukrainians have to Russia. In part, this adopted nationalism is due to the ‘Stalinist’ style image that Putin has created so far, through his stubborn and resilient leadership.

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(Photo credit: ciceromagazine.com)

The Ukrainian question in itself had revived old tensions and perhaps signalled a resurgence of Cold war sentiments. While he has been condemned and sanctioned by the West, Putin has continued to defy, slowly but surely establishing a foothold back among the power-players of global politics. Putin’s carefully crafted cult, fortified at home and feared abroad, has given Russia a new sense of legitimacy that has been sorely missed since the heydays of the Communist era.


The ‘Goldilocks’ principle

The cold war never turned ‘hot’ because it was covert and fought via proxy wars. The outcome of direct conflict between Russia and the U.S. would have been mutually destructive for both sides. A zero-sum game. This fear of direct conflict is what largely kept the guns on safety lock and served as the ultimate blockade between rhetoric and conflict. An approach NATO has successfully preserved through times of potential unrest; The Cuban Missile crisis, the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and deployment of nuclear weapons in Western Europe in the 1980s all represented triumphs of inaction and an aversion to direct conflict. Keeping the temperature ‘just right’.

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The tangible threat of global terrorism, has signalled the rise of a mutual enemy for both East and West. Something that can only be overcome through complete cooperation and a concrete plan of agreed action. As of yet, this remains to be seen. Why? Because the bipolar relationship between Russia and the U.S. never went away.

Obama’s recent comments regarding the downing of a Russian plane in Turkey only confirm this. His reluctance to remain neutral and instead stir old sentiments, have ensured such feelings are preserved. Putin has taken extra steps to escalate tensions, an act of antagonism to shift the power into Russian hands. This incident is particularly disconcerting as Turkey is a NATO member. If it were to receive a military retaliation of some sorts, then the country would be in a position to ask for assistance from the alliance. Unlikely as this may be, however, it is putting extra pressure on Russia’s fragile relationship with the West, at a time when it needs to be stronger than ever. For years Putin has looked to undermine the unity of NATO and now its been presented to him on a plate. I’m guessing he’s relishing it.


‘Coopetition’

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What is currently happening is not cooperation as such, but a form of ‘coopetition’. An involvement of two competing sides, combating one thing, but with different set agendas and motives naturally opposed to one another. Self-preservation being the primary desired outcome. The prize on offer? A firm re-establishment as the global military superpower, a step in the direction of hegemonic dominance. Looking back to the days of the Cold war, the current situation resembles a modern day ‘race’ of sorts. Not ‘space’ or ‘arms’ this time, but a race to mass-destruction. The competition is not judged on development and technological advancement, but by the devastating results achieved and eradication of a mutually perceived ‘enemy’. With the casualty count being far away from both Russian and U.S soil, there is less reluctance to act with brute force. In turn, as the horrendous outcomes will go largely unreported and unverified, less of a mandate is needed at home.


A dangerous game

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(Photo credit: vox.com)

Bombing a country decimated by civil war should not be a way to decorate your superpower trophy cabinet. For Putin, its time to stop ‘flexing’ and start cooperating. Likewise, NATO need to set aside their differences and engage with Putin to develop some form of collaborative approach, if they are concerned with the most beneficial outcome for all, including that of the Syrian people. Otherwise it seems unavoidable that the the Syrian conflict runs the high risk of sliding into a form of proxy war between NATO and Russia. In any case, the real winners in all this are not Russia or NATO, East or West, but ISIS. Fighting amongst ourselves. That’s what they want, isn’t it?

The Putin Doctrine: Russia’s claim for hegemony