2017: A year of corporate handouts and rising elitism

 

Donald Trump Inauguration
President Trump’s Inauguration. (Sourced from Wikipedia and labelled for reuse)

What can be said about 2017? While an improvement from its predecessor, it was often one of underhanded, back-room dealings at the top that benefited a few people as opposed to the many. Of course, it all started with Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, which contrary to what he would have you believe, wasn’t so massive in terms of crowd size. Running his presidency like a full-on businessman, staff including strategist Steve Bannon and press secretary Sean Spicer would leave the White House over the course of the year.

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Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un (Sourced from Wikimedia Commons and labelled for reuse)

Inflated egos in both North Korea and North America rippled outwards throughout 2017; Kim Jong-Un continued to test rockets, including some that could reach the western coast, making its neighbours understandably nervous and leaving others to wonder whether conflict was on the horizon. Despite a trading of childish insults back and forth between the two leaders, Trump and Jong-Un didn’t end up trading their words for missiles. In the US, emboldened by the President seemingly turning a blind eye to their actions, neo-Nazi groups began to come out of their closets, violently clashing with groups like Antifa in the process. It came to a head in Charlottesville in August where a Unite the Right rally saw one person die and thirty-nine others injured. So long as Trump refuses to condemn the return of these vile far-right individuals, their abuse will only continue.

Saffiyah Khan 2017
Saffiyah Khan standing up to an EDL member in April 2017 (Sourced from The Guardian)

The #MeToo Campaign exploded across Hollywood and many big names from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey were implicated in sexual assault. The sheer size of the movement which quickly spread across twitter and other social media networks drew plenty of attention to how big the problem of harassment and sexual abuse is worldwide. In fact, the year itself was a strong one for women; Saudi Arabia moved to allow women to drive for the first time in its history, and women in the United States formed the biggest march in US history to take on the President and his woman-abusing ways. This was followed up by a march for science in which hundreds of professionals moved to condemn Trump’s denial of science and proven facts. Personally, I feel the viral picture above of Saffiyah Khan standing up to the racist English Defence League tells the story of women in 2017 better than I can; nearly 100 years after they were first given the right to vote, women are making their voices heard on higher, more widespread levels and it’s easily the most positive story of the year.

Battle of Mosul
Peshmerga soldiers at the Battle of Mosul (Sourced from Wikipedia and labelled for reuse)

Despite terror attacks around the world, the worst of which being in the Middle East, ISIS lost a vast amount of territory in 2017 as military offensives worked to push them back. As far as physical presence goes, it’s hard to see the group lasting much longer, but their ideology may endure longer yet, particularly through their indoctrination methods. Despite this however, bombs continue to fall on the Middle East, with America making use of a MOAB for the first time; the praising of the use of weapons by the US media certainly didn’t help here. The impact of dropping so many bombs on the regions needs to be considered, particularly with regards to creating more terrorists.

Washington Redskins National Anthem Kneeling
Members of the Washington Redskins kneel for the US National Anthem (Sourced from Wikipedia and labelled for reuse)

Sports and politics collided in the US as Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players triggered a wave of peaceful protests against police brutality and the treatment of minorities throughout the country; it was a brave yet simple act that would continue throughout the year as others spoke out against their treatment while also exposing the monopolistic and neglectful behavior of the NFL itself. Of course, Trump and his rabid supporters moved to attack and abuse the players, brainwashed by nationalism into believing that they were disrespecting flag and country. What they seemed to forget through all this is the right to protest that lies in the first amendment.

French Election 2017
French voters celebrate outside the Louvre (Sourced from Wikimedia commons and labelled for reuse)

In spite of successful surges in 2016, the EU managed to stand strong for the time being as France and the Netherlands defeated far-right nationalism in their respective elections. Geert Wilders was beaten by Mark Rutters who will maintain his seat for another five years. In France, the French Front Leader Marine Le Pen, a big fan of Donald Trump, lost out to Emmanuel Macron, who has pledged to bring several ambitious reforms and possibly reach higher in the leadership of Europe. On the other hand, the Catalan Independence vote triggered further instability within Spain; both the EU and the United Nations chose not to recognise the vote as legitimate. Outside of these events however, 2017 was also notable for the first millennial coming to power; Sebastian Kurz, 31 is leaning to the right side of the political spectrum with one of his policies dictating that refugees who come to Austria will not receive benefits until they have lived in the country for five years. Future leaders who come to power in the future should be scrutinised and held to account.

Jeremy Corbyn 2017
Jeremy Corbyn addresses the Labour party at the launch of their election campaign. (Sourced from Wikimedia Commons and labelled for reuse)

Over in the UK, things really haven’t moved forward since last year’s debacle; Theresa May’s early UK election aiming to “crush the saboteurs” turned into a mess as voters were swayed to Jeremy Corbyn, forcing the originally unelected PM to bribe Ireland’s DUP 1.5 billion pounds to cling on to power. Further scandals would continue infest the Conservative party throughout the year. First development secretary Priti Patel left the cabinet for her plans to secretly send funds to the Israeli army, then deputy Prime Minister Damien Green crashed out after pornography was found on his computer, and Boris Johnson bungled a UK prisoner release in Iran. Bafflingly enough, David Davies and Jeremy Hunt are still in their jobs, despite their own negligence regarding Brexit and the NHS. The current UK government seems weaker than ever and some are looking at the prospect of yet another vote next year, one which the Labour party could take and come to power. Have they done anything positive this year? They did at least move to tackle the endless plastics flooding our oceans in the Budget this year, but they could have done so much more.

Grenfell Tower Fire
Firefighters tackle the blaze at Grenfell Tower (Sourced from Wikimedia Commons and labelled for reuse)

Around halfway through the year a fire erupted at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, London killing 71 people, injuring 74 and depriving 223 of a home. The disaster exposed incompetency in public safety on part of the Labour ran council, poor effort in financial relief from the current government and the ever-widening gap and subsequent neglect between the UK’s rich and poor. Currently the inquiry is ongoing, and details can be found online; who is to blame for this comes down to several factors; there were no sufficient sprinkler systems in place, nor was there enough funding given to make the building safer. I remember driving near the site and seeing its burnt remains jutting out among the other towers; it’s practically a monument to the horrendous and shameful way the poor have been treated in the UK and even now, many of those who did escape the fire still haven’t received their full compensation. Making sure it never happens again is only a starting point, the rift between rich and poor must also be tackled.

Brexit passport
Image sourced from pixabay, labelled for reuse

Moving to the highest level of governance, the backwards Brexit stupidity continued in the UK as gross nationalism and poor preparation took priority over careful thought and fair dealing. Without a single benefit to its name, the negotiations hobbled on and eventually news broke out that chief negotiator David Davies hadn’t carried out a single study into the economic impact of Brexit over the year the con took place. His laziness spoke volumes of the true attitudes towards Brexit; one where the abusive rich will be high and dry as they impose the oncoming economic chaos onto everyone in the lower classes. The madness only got worse with the announcement of blue passports; a ridiculous campaign in The Sun brought about the decision which could cost the taxpayer five hundred million pounds. Staying true to last year’s explosion of fake news and denial, an aide of Theresa May quickly denounced this figure; what’s more damning about the move is how it panders to the bigoted individuals in the UK while completely ignoring other problems like homelessness, healthcare and education. Clearly the magic money tree is well at work here…

Rohingya Persecution
Protests calling for the support of the Rohingya people in Myanmar (Sourced from Wikipedia and labelled for reuse)

On the humanitarian front, the worst crises came through Yemen and the Rohingya Genocide. After three years of endless attacks, famine and suffering have swept through Yemen and the sales of the arms trade have only made it worse. Further down the line, a genocide swept through Myanmar as ethnic cleansing masquerading as a crackdown on insurgency took hold, causing half a million Rohingya refugees to flee to Bangladesh. While Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel peace prize was not revoked, her downfall in the eyes of the international community was cemented with her complicity and failure to stop the suffering and treat the Rohingya people with dignity. On the other side of the coin Robert Mugabe was ousted in Zimbabwe with a military coup, ending a near four-decade period of economic failure through hyper-inflation. Many locals celebrated the move, praying for more prosperous times for their country. On the nature front, Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua were plunged into chaos when Storm Nate struck, but this also caused an outpouring of support with some Americans heading there on their accord to help those stuck without electricity.

Following on from last year’s Panama Papers, the Paradise papers shed further light on the abuse and hoarding of unequal wealth around the world. In fact, 2017 was also a big year for the top 500 richest people as they saw their wealth increase by a gigantic one trillion dollars at the expense of billions beneath them who lost out on stagnating wages, increasing homelessness and privatisation of public services as they continue to gain more power and influence over others. The same holds true for privatisation of services that belong in public hands; Virgin, through a rather callous lawsuit against the UK’s NHS, has acquired one billion pounds worth of healthcare contacts in this year alone.

Trump UN Speech
Trump delivers a speech at the United Nations (Sourced from Wikipedia and labelled for reuse)

In his continuing mission to take America backwards, President Trump received his first major victories; he withdrew America from the Paris Climate Accord (The only nation on Earth to do so), scraped through a watered-down travel ban from the Middle East region and towards the end of the year he pushed through a tax cut that will make the rich even richer. He went on to cop his biggest controversy for recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Bullying and emergency voting ensued at the UN as the US demanded the names of those who voted against their decision and vetoed any action against them. The reckless decision created an explosion of violence between Palestine and Israel. But Trump also received his first major defeat, losing Alabama to Democrat Doug Jones, something which could spell further difficulties in the mid-term elections next year.

Net Neutrality Protest
New York City protesters look to stop the repeal of Net Neutrality (Sourced from Flickr user Backbone Campaign and labelled for reuse)

To close out the year, another shock hit the United States as the net neutrality repeal was passed, ready to segregate internet users into paid groups. From there, Ajit Pai, the head of the Federal Communications Commission pranced about both on and off the internet, happy that he and his friends in corporate telecasters were about to get a lot richer by charging citizens for access to specific sites. This brings difficulties in a few ways; not only are consumers being ripped off for what should be an inclusive service, but the flow of information can also be manipulated. If any information and websites holding governments and organisations to account could be locked behind a paywall, then the public would be constantly misinformed through a form of corporate intrusion to ensure their continued dominance.

2017 was ultimately a year of people at the top pressing down on those beneath them; with the negative results of 2016 still in the mind, this isn’t surprising and the ways the elite took advantage of last year’s events manifested themselves in the twelve months that followed. There was pushback in some areas but there is still work to be done. One thing I saw felt quite indicative; on the way back through Brussels Airport earlier this year I saw the security barrier manned entirely by G4S employees, followed up by a billboard for Exxon Mobil, a company who has been given the go-ahead to drastically up their plastic production; considering the talk of giving G4S plans to arrest in the UK and Rex Tillerson’s questionable views on climate change, this is perhaps an indication of the power corporations and those at the top may soon hold. We should watch this carefully in the year to come.

(Images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)

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World Youth Alliance Emerging Leaders Conference 2017: A Reflection

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From November 26th to 29th 2017, I participated in the World Youth Alliance’s Emerging Leaders Conference in Brussels, Belgium. The theme: “Human Dignity in the refugee crisis” was the main anchor point and a central value for the organisation. Starting off slow on Saturday the 25th with a quick dose of exploring, I quickly mixed in with the other 69 attendees.

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The city of Brussels grew on me over time; I was staying over at a part of the city called “Botanique” and while that portion was relatively modern, the best aspects came through the more classical architecture that really hammered home the history behind the city. The royal palace, towering cathedrals and large statues are all monuments to the Belgian Monarchy which stretches back to 1831. Placing these older-fashioned buildings against the backdrop of the Christmas season was a brilliant match, with the work union buildings lighting up to the Grand Place in the centre of Brussels. Because of the closely-knit nature of the city, you could walk just about anywhere without having to use the transport services too much.

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Then there was the EU Parliament building itself; a massive complex that serves the beating heart of Europe; in terms of scale it was even bigger than the United Nations in New York, with a strong assortment of conference rooms, a media centre as well as a full public exhibition with a detailed timeline and history of the union. It brings a ton of context as to how the EU came to be from the end of World War Two in 1945 to end of the Cold War in 1991. This felt especially poignant to me as a British citizen; the last image on the extended timeline was in May 2016 with the Brexit vote (or what I would call a con). It put into perspective just how much we’re about to lose by leaving the European Union, from support and funding for various projects, to trade with our neighbours and connect with fellow Europeans across the continent. The EU isn’t perfect; no organisation ever is, but the benefits of membership far outweigh the drawbacks, most notably the promotion of common values that aim to carry across all member states.

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This same forward-looking mindset carried over into the panels which were all very engaging and informative, whether it was UK researcher Surindar Dhesi or Swedish MEP Lars Adaktusson. They have some genuinely smart and pragmatic individuals working at the EU who have a strong resolve to understand and address these very issues. The fact that some individuals want to smear them as enemies and obstructionists of the UK is extremely shameful. On the second day of the event, I made my own speech to the group on an idea called Responsibility to Integrate (R2I), a means to improve refugee integration and promote more tolerant societies. Despite it being my first time delivering a more extended speech of over ten minutes, I felt it went very well with a balanced pacing and tone of voice that allowed me to get across my points succinctly. This continued over into the final evening in which I read out part of the WYA’s declaration after a lovely meal at a Grill Restaurant.

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I haven’t been the most optimistic about the UK’s future with regards to Brexit, but to see so many inspiring and passionate young people all coming together to share their stories and perspectives felt incredibly uplifting. We hailed from very different countries including Croatia, Spain, Italy, Portugal, China, Algeria, Poland, Lithuania and Estonia among many others. The event was a fantastic time and it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of the organisers; but most all though, each and every person who attended formed a real sense of companionship by the end of the three days. While it went by quickly, I would definitely do it again and want to wish everyone all the best for the future. I hope that we can all contribute in our own ways to solving the world’s problems.

Clippings: The paradox of UBER losing its London license

UBER App

The latest issue, this time business based, that has people split down the middle in the UK is UBER losing its license; after five years of operating in the UK capital, Mayor Sadiq Khan, Transport for London and countless black taxi drivers turned around and said that the corporation’s ability to operate would not be renewed. Khan said: “all companies in London must play by the rules and adhere to the high standards we expect – particularly when it comes to the safety of customers”. Since the decision, a petition also rose to repeal it, with many crying foul at the decision.

UBER has long been criticised for its intrusion into local taxi businesses among other things.  I have a relative who works for a local black taxi company in and around Chester; when I asked him about the decision he said: “It was always going to happen when the laws and rules are repeatedly ignored and the safety of the public was constantly being ignored great news for us black cab drivers hopefully now the rest of the country will follow suit”. He’s just one of thousands who believe chastising the corporation was the right move to take. The company is said to exploit its drivers; before April this year, employees were not given sick pay among other rights that other workers have had for years. On top of that, another controversy has arisen regarding UBER’s plan to introduce driverless cars, which would cost thousands of jobs regardless of the licence decision. Taking away their license does send a straightforward and blunt message that their conduct is unacceptable.

On the other hand, though, many believe that UBER offers a reasonable and affordable service that’s done entirely from an app; others have said that they feel much safer and more secure taking a service that gives full details of the driver. But by far the biggest complaint registered by the company is the loss of jobs that will come if UBER cannot operate in the capital. This year there was said to be 30,000 drivers in the city and with the non-renewal coming into effect, many employees and their families are anxious as to how they will pay the bills. There’s no doubt the cancellation of UBER’s license will have a knock-on effect on its employees but is a price worth paying to teach the corporation a lesson in lawful business etiquette? Do we stand up to big business at the expense of those working under them?

UBER Protest
UBER Protest in Portland, United States

Or could there be a happy medium between the two sides? A means to punish bad corporate behaviour without removing their operations completely? Perhaps a company fine would be more sufficient, a chance to improve their business ethics? Personally, I can’t speak for the service as a whole; I used it just once when I headed to New York and journeyed to Fairleigh Dickson University. It was helpful to have payment done by card rather than cash in hand, not to mention the driver calling me on arrival to save massive phone use charges abroad. It’s good to have an efficient service for customers, but at the same time relying too much on corporate companies gives them more influence to the point where they can control the market; this is where the rules and ethics fly out the window, infecting other aspects of the economy as a result, particularly public services. Whether UBER will succeed in repealing their licence remains unclear, but it’s drawn quite the vocal reaction from both sides of the debate.

(Images sourced from Google, labelled for reuse)

Boris Johnson and the £350 Million: Positions, pandering and relations between politicians and media

Boris Johnson Mayor
(Image sourced from Google: Labelled for reuse)

Boris Johnson; what a character… That’s probably the simplest way to describe the UK’s current Foreign Secretary. For many years he’s been in the spotlight, his time as the mayor of London being one example, though recently this has often been for the wrong reasons; last year he was one of the spearheads behind the leave campaign and while he wasn’t quite as vitriolic as Nigel Farage, Johnson still gained infamy for his use of a bright red bus with the slogan: “We send £350 Million a week to the EU; let’s spend that money instead on the NHS”. Of course, we know that this trick worked and Boris hoped this would propel him towards a leadership position, which instead went to Theresa May. Dishonesty and its openness have drastically increased in the UK since last year’s referendum; a willingness to twist facts and get the result you want, in turn gaining a higher ability to impose your personal interests on everyone else.

Vote Leave Bus
(Image credited to ITV.com)

Recently, to the dismay of many, the “£350 Million” claim emerged again. Johnson took on his duties, visiting Donald Trump in New York only to then shirk them by repeating a lie using a newspaper as a bulwark for his endless schemes to become the leader of the Conservatives. His face was plastered on the front page with the headline: “I’ll secure the £350 Million for the NHS” followed by a 4000-word article outlining his plan for Brexit and telling people to believe in Britain, another empty phrase to pander to the nationalists and the ignorant. If the lie managed to trick common Britons into voting for Brexit last year, why not do it again to make it look like he’s standing up for Britain as a country? The UK Statistics Authority expressed their disappointment at the repeated use of the figure and James O’Brien, a popular political commentator might have said it best: “As Foreign Secretary, Johnson’s latest lie is an abuse of one of the Great Offices of State. That would’ve been a very serious matter once”. Some have called for Johnson’s resignation or sacking; I can’t help but feel the same.

Boris Johnson Headlines

Johnson’s veering off to the side to write a self-promoting article speaks volumes of how the press plays a significant role in political procedure. The papers hold UK politicians to account but often they’re known to throw their support behind a specific party in the election; the Daily Telegraph in Boris Johnson’s case is no different. Media ownership by rich moguls is a big problem in the UK and this facilitates a medium where a pompous self-interest takes centre stage. Since Johnson repeated the false £350 million claim, the Telegraph has followed up with further articles showing fellow politician Michael Gove throwing his support into the mix; they spread the slogan without questioning it, common people read and move towards believing them; with such a massive disconnect with politics in the UK, this is how it usually goes. In return, many politicians find themselves working for newspapers, the most recent of which being George Osborne becoming the editor of the Evening Standard and Nick Clegg joining the i Paper as a columnist.

FCO UK
(Image credited to LinkedIn.com)

Nowadays I find myself in a somewhat similar position; writing this blog and expressing my individual opinions with a journalism degree under my belt while pursuing a planned career in international affairs, particularly through the UK’s Civil Service. I’m of the opinion that you check your biases at the door when working for this sector; what would happen if I suddenly leaked some information to the press or wrote an article bigging myself up while working to undermine my superiors? I’d probably be sacked immediately, no questions asked. This comes back to my previous post on leadership where a lack of accountability has allowed the higher-ups to get away with breaking the rules set out by democratic institutions. In my opinion, the rules and ethical conduct of country branches should travel all the way to the top, ensuring accountability is maintained and that neglect of position and responsibility is cut down. As for Boris Johnson, he’s likely to keep his job, despite the frustration from commentators, with Theresa May apparently working to rein him in so as not to look to wobbly. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess, but he’s sure to be discredited further if continues to spread falsehoods.

(Images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)

Leaders, their actions and how rhetoric reflects on the people they represent

G20 Leaders
(Image credited to Country Digest)

What does it mean to lead a country in the 21st Century? While for the most part we’ve moved past the dictators and conquerors of eras past, there are still many cases throughout the world where the few are being catered to while the many are either being pushed down or worse, tricked into following the wrong stories or ideas. The United States continues to have problems with its leadership, striking a nerve over the past couple of weeks.

Charlottesville Counter Protest
(Image credited to Wikimedia Commons)

Recently President Donald Trump hit headlines (for the 200th time this year? I’ve lost count…) on his refusal to condemn the toxic surge of white supremacists in Charlottesville, before going on to equate Nazism with the counter-protesters (Some of whom are violent themselves) standing against it. A shameful move, but the impact it had on the society at large is arguably even worse. Trump’s actions continue to damage America, but it’s also a damning example of a leadership problem that exacerbates rather than working to solve societal problems. Some of his more unsavoury supporters go along with his dismissal of the media as saboteurs and while the mainstream hasn’t been wholly balanced across presidencies, Trump should expect to be scrutinised because without coverage there is little knowledge or awareness of what leaders currently stand for. This in turn not only generates a collection of opinions on a leader but also creates a ripple effect on common people. On the one hand, leaders mislead the people to maintain their own positions or on the other, they give themselves so much status and power that citizens cannot hope to hold them to account.

What Trump says and does, not to mention every leader in the modern world, carries a real societal consequence. Consider the way President Duterte is encouraging the killing of drug dealers in the Philippines, the way Hugo Chavez planted blame on democratic institutions such as the media and courts to trick the Venezuelan people into supporting an erosion of democracy and accountability. Or look at the way President Erdogan has bent Turkey to his will over the past year and the less drastic but nevertheless infamous phrase from UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove in the Brexit campaign: “People in this country have had enough of experts”, practically proclaiming that people should deny the facts even when they are right in front of them. But Trump’s refusal to condemn hateful groups stands as one of most telling attitudes of leadership today.

He refuses to openly condemn white supremacists because it’s unhelpful towards his own self-centred goals; he wouldn’t dare anger his most ardent fans when they’re the most important group towards keeping his floundering presidency alive. They keep the likes flowing on social media and the hate running through the minds of thousands. Keep them beholding to his wildly divisive presidency and they won’t see the real problems at the very top of management. Operating within his own self-interest is the name of the game and this attitude is very damaging to the society he represents. The same also goes for fact as it is twisted and skewed to manipulate people.

White Supremacists
(Image credited to Pinterest)

Not only are people more emboldened to go out and march for a disgraceful cause, it also feeds and enhances their superiority complexes; they believe in their disgusting beliefs with a greater passion and take bolder steps to defend it. Typically, I have believed that there is good and bad in every person, but Nazism is evil, no matter which way you frame it. Having demonised themselves throughout World War II, the fact that there are people getting behind this cause shames those who fought and died over seventy years ago. We’ve reached the point where individuals are defending Nazism, a movement that committed genocide. It should never be given a platform to spread but the way America’s leader has handled the problem only amplifies this.

How you choose to represent the people and lead reflects the amount of responsibility resting on your shoulders; the people spot you so much in the media and in society that they typically form an opinion or reaction from it. Leaders should set an example to follow, not bring popularity to the worst aspects of society while turning a blind eye to behaviours that should have died out decades ago. They say that once an idea comes about, it never truly dies; efforts must be made, especially from leaders to promote and shape progressive ideas and work to shut out hateful ones, but right now that’s not on the agenda as accountability erodes and greater control is enacted either through misdirection or placing one’s self above others. The same also goes for corruption; instead of facing ramifications, it is instead swept under the rug and many unethical decisions that directly affect common citizens are hidden away behind closed doors, leaving the media, mainstream or otherwise to scrape out the details.

Free Press March
(Image credited to Common Dreams)

Indeed, no leader or the country they represent has ever been completely spotless which brings us to the official definition of the word: “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.” Surely now is the time to refine that statement by adding on at the end: “with good grace, ethics and accountability”. We have the modern systems to include the people in political procedure including NGOs and some efforts from the UN but more of an effort needs to be made to raise awareness of leader’s deeds and how they are held to account. UNA-UK, an organisation working to build a bridge between the UK and the UN has suggested some measures to bring more accountability regarding the sustainable development goals, which speaks volumes of greater issues. If you have stonewalling and deflections at the highest levels of governance then the world’s problems will be very difficult to solve; therefore, leadership and ethical conduct are becoming increasingly important as world issues affect more and more people.

(Images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)

The Youth Assembly at the United Nations 2017: A Reflection

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From August 7th to 12th I journeyed to New York for the 20th Youth Assembly at the United Nations, an event which brings together a vast collection of people aged between 16 and 28. Most applicants were chosen based on their individual initiatives and their contributions to society at large. I took part in the event with five other team members under Global Young Voices, who served as a media partner. After posting the event around a few times on social media, I thought I’d share a bit more of it here.

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Heading to New Jersey for the first part of the event, I found that Fairleigh Dickson University (We were based on the Florham Campus) was the birthplace of Global Young Voices. Two members of the team attended the university on study abroad and came up with the media outlet between them; from here FDU threw in their support, which in turn both grew GYV and allowed us to attend the Assembly. A sort of prologue to the Youth Assembly took place at the university called “Sustainable Ventures for Sustainable Development” (SVSD) which interestingly, was made up of mostly African, Chinese and Middle-Eastern groups and their initiatives.

Hope for Oppotunity Interview

Two of the first people I interviewed at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Suaad and Juwahar were from Dubai and had received some recognition for their initiative: “Hope for Opportunity” which aims to promote Saudi Arabian assistance in the refugee crisis. I was struck by how positive and uplifting they were; they understood the kind of injustices in the world yet they believed in their ideas and wanted to take them to the next level. That’s the same thing I can say about each of the delegates who attended the session; they all had such great ambitions and a powerful resolve that brought everyone together as a community. The speakers and panellists at the session would only continue to build these bridges.

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From here, we and the delegates who attended the SVSD moved to New York and UN Headquarters. The opening ceremony featured a range of speakers and saw the GYV set about covering the sessions. There was a wide variety here from Microsoft showing up to teach coding and how robotics can shape the addressing of world issues, a media panel featuring GYV’s founders Edy and Camilla and plenty of other inspirational stories. I remember one speaker in a climate change session receiving a standing ovation after her impassioned speech on living in a United States with difficulties accepting and tackling the very real issue. Throughout the week I did a variety of tasks from collecting images, taking notes of each session and presenting each interview (Live or otherwise) to go up on the GYV website; the latter I thought went very well as I brought a relaxed presence to the delegates who each took it in turns to answer questions. The only real downside was that all the work we did over the four days meant we had little time to explore the city which was probably a little disappointing for those who hadn’t visited New York before. Personally I’ve visited the Big Apple three times over the years, the last being in 2012 where I passed through on a school ski trip.

Stories Across Borders Session

The main goal of the trip though was to run our own session at the UN Assembly; entitled “A Society for All: Stories across Borders, the goal of which was to grant more exposure to initiatives while also building delegate’s confidence in delivering their ideas to others. In the lead-up to the session I was introduced to Ceylin Sener, a sixteen-year-old from Turkey who was chosen to present her initiative, the “Humans First Club”, a group which has assisted Alzheimer’s patients and taken education to children in underdeveloped rural communities. Ceylin, along with three other speakers each gave a ten-minute speech in the style of a TED talk. We all worked together very well and I thought Ceylin really rose to the challenge of delivering that ten-minute speech. The event was my first time mentoring another person and when it came to feedback, I felt I was quite precise with tips. But to improve I feel I could have gone the extra mile by practicing with Ceylin alongside the presentation slides more; there were also a few gaps when it came to presenting on the day such as when and who would change the slides throughout the speech. Despite these gripes, each of the four speeches got some great reactions from the audience, a full house who took up the entire conference room; all ten of us are sure to keep in touch long after the Assembly.

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The GYV team, along with our speakers

All in all, the Youth Assembly was a fantastic event and a real honour to attend as both a citizen of the UK and a member of Global Young Voices. Looking back on an event as big as this really hammers home the importance of many things; networking and collaborating with others, the kind of passion and commitment that can take you to the heights of world leadership (Which some delegates were singled out for in the closing ceremony) and of course the notion that if we all work together by pooling initiatives together then real positive change will come about. I especially enjoyed how the event was a blend of media and governance, bringing the two experiences together.

I’d like to thank many different people; my two colleagues at the Cooperative store who covered an entire week’s worth of shifts, my parents for supporting me in these opportunities, the FDU staff for accommodating us and assisting with equipment, and finally the Global Young Voices team for allowing me to come along and everyone I met and spoke to during the week; you were all amazing people and I’m hoping we’ll be able to attend again in the future.

You can find more of our coverage, including interviews, write-ups and videos on the Global Young Voices website at: http://www.globalyoungvoices.com/the-youth-assembly-at-the-united-nations

General Election 2017: Winners, Losers and Change across the board

 

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Image credited to the City of London Corporation

The UK’s General Election in 2017 was an amalgamation of paradoxes, coming only two years after the previous one in 2015 and a year after the EU Referendum When campaigning first got underway in April this year, the Conservatives expected an easy win, a landslide that would, as the Daily Mail put it: “Crush the saboteurs” and give them free rein to do whatever they wanted to the UK, even if it came at the expense of everyone who wasn’t earning £100,000 or more a year. On top of that, they hoped that such an audacious announcement would send the other parties into panic mode, giving them barely enough time to organise a campaign to combat the Conservative onslaught. The results were far from what the Conservative party wanted. While they still came out on top with 318 seats in Parliament, this was just short of the 326 needed to form a complete majority. Labour came in second with 262, a drastic increase on their previous result, while the other parties including the Liberal Democrats and SNP in Scotland made average ground by comparison. UKIP were the biggest losers of the night, winning no seats as their leader Paul Nuttall resigned shortly afterwards. All in all, the BBC ranks the overall voter turnout at 68.7% but the real gap between votes showed with age differences. The younger crowd turned out in droves to support their preferred candidate who would deliver change while the elderly were on the opposite end of the spectrum, going with what they voted for numerous times over the years and wishing to keep things as they were.

Image credited to The Liverpool Echo

Jeremy Corbyn didn’t win the election itself but he still achieved his own victory by shrugging off every personal attack levelled at him to deny the Conservatives their majority Is socialism a real possibility for the UK? Absolutely. With such a massive youth turnout led by a man of principle and impassioned goals, we stood up to the elites and showed that another UK is possible. The Conservative party spent over a million pounds on targeted advertisements made to attack Jeremy Corbyn and the fact that he withstood all of that and more speaks volumes about his unwavering commitment to improving and mending the country. By doing so, he’s also won over the support of just about every Labour candidate in the party, even those who doubted his ability to lead. He went on to inspire thousands of people with his message up and down the country, addressing countless rallies and word quickly spread, especially through the internet. This was the first UK election where social media overpowered the influence of the mainstream with countless shares and spread getting the word out. Whether it was news of Corbyn’s impassioned speeches, or May’s embarrassing blunders, the two sides were clear cut, resulting in a mostly two-horse race across the country. While this drew a line between the socialist and capitalist policies, it was disappointing to see a lack of support for a progressive alliance. While the Green party did stand down at several seats, many oppositions were unable to best the Tories in their respective constituencies.

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Image credited to The Sunday Post

As for the opposing side, it was clear that Theresa May was not pleased when she entered Number 10 a day ago and her struggles will only continue despite managing to scrape together a majority by going into coalition with the DUP (Democratic Unionists Party). Ironically enough, the very basis of her personal attacks on Corbyn has now become the ground-work on which she bases her latest government. A coalition of chaos alongside known terrorist sympathisers. At this point it’s looking like there will be quite a few disagreements between the two parties, especially where Brexit is concerned, which has caused the Conservatives to water down many of their controversial policies; considering how the Tory campaign was essentially a crush that only the super-rich would escape, this is a much better result. Even Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul bankrolling the worst aspects of journalism and manipulation in the United Kingdom, apparently stormed out of the room when exit polls showed the Conservatives would not obtain their desired majority. In fact, some individuals were fed up with the lies published by many mainstream outlets and moved to support other parties. All the patriotic drivel spewed by the papers couldn’t overcome the power of voters spurred on by the possibility of real positive change.

UK Electoral Map
Image credited to Research Briefings at the Commons Library. (Information in the public domain)

 

What went wrong with Theresa May’s campaign is down to many things; from the moment she first announced the election, she was u-turning on something she had promised not to do and from there her public opinion went downhill quickly. She barely met with any voters out on the road, refused to meet and debate with her biggest opponent and came off as incredibly weak whenever she did show up on televised debates. In short, May hid away from the public eye, manufactured her “strong and stable” position with robotic repetition and waited for the billionaire owned press to spin the election for her. Her gamble was a failure because she underestimated the power of the voters, who this time had an inspiring and capable leader to get behind. Now she’s facing calls to resign; respectfully she should, considering how David Cameron had the good grace to step down after his EU Referendum fell flat last year. According to the blog Another Angry Voice, 60% of all Tory MPs want her to resign but May insists on clinging on. Instead she’s letting her advisors take the fall which may only be the first of many wobbly steps towards maintaining her power. That and her new cabinet which doesn’t seem all that progressive so far; with a few exceptions, most of the higher ups in the Conservative party are keeping their jobs. Things aren’t much better since last year. We have an environment secretary who doesn’t believe in climate change, a justice secretary who doesn’t believe in LGBT or human rights, a health secretary with schemes to destroy the NHS and a foreign secretary who hasn’t been all that effective so far. After further research, the DUP is merely a number to cobble together a government, unable to vote on any issues in the UK.

With a plan to create stability turning into even more uncertainty for the UK, where will we go from here? Instability is the centrepiece of the Conservative-DUP coalition with some backhanded deals being made to ensure their cooperation. Currently the Queen’s speech is on the way and Corbyn saw fit to throw Theresa May’s insults back at her at the first meeting of Parliament. Is there still a possibility of his morals and values becoming the guiding force of the country? Perhaps, but Jeremy Corbyn has given an inspiration unlike anything seen before from the Labour party, something that has the potential to change the shape of UK politics. That alone is incredibly commendable; the predictability of previous elections has taken a step towards progressive change.

(Images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)

 

Clippings: UKIP’s end and their impact on British politics

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Of all the political parties in the UK, it’s UKIP who have been the biggest wild card. Formed from a set of disillusioned Conservatives who broke away to build their own party, UKIP has been difficult, a thorn in the side of their former party for years. Even the entire EU referendum was proposed by David Cameron to get the rebels in line. Last year, the United Kingdom Independence Party was one of the staunchest supporters of the leave campaign and celebrating across the country when the result came; Nigel Farage declared Brexit the UK’s Independence Day and despite only having a single MP in parliament, the party nevertheless made their mark.

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(Image credited to The Independent)

Almost one year later and UKIP is singing a different tune; its entire namesake was based on leaving the EU and once they got what they wanted, the tide began to change for the party. Nigel Farage would step down on July 4th 2016, having achieved his goal and was replaced by Paul Nuttall who has proven to be an incredibly weak leader; his lies concerning Hillsborough and the bending of the truth in general have dragged his reputation through the mud, putting a lot of people off UKIP as a whole. Media coverage slipped away as Farage went off to join the LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation) radio station, directing much of the traffic towards him instead. There may also be a problem with funding for individual members as well. In the lead-up to local elections I spoke to a UKIP candidate who said that they had no team, no office and hardly enough funding to get their message out. All they could do was man the polling stations from time to time; when a party is this weak on a local level, it’s hard to see them making an impact.

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(Image credited to LBC.co.uk)

Is UKIP on its way out? Maybe; the local elections on May 4th 2017 saw the party lose almost all of its seats on councils all over the UK, setting them up for “annihilation” at next month’s election. This is sure to be good news for the Conservatives as many members of UKIP may re-join their side through assimilation as the June General Election approaches. Just as the Liberal Democrats lost massively in 2015, the same now happened with UKIP. Why? Because no one can take them seriously anymore. But ironically as they spiral down their outlandish ways have been adopted by both press and politicians. Speak to the people in loud, simplistic repetition and you’ll win them over in no time. By playing to people’s fear and anger it was UKIP’s ideas, not their political strategy that stood out recently, so much so that the Conservatives have adopted this mind-set too.

Theresa May 2017 Front Pages

Recently Theresa May scolded the EU for apparently interfering in the upcoming UK elections in June. This manner of speech combined with the papers following along is a nasty way of framing proceedings, painting a superiority complex, something personified by the party’s 2015 slogan: “If you believe in Britain, vote UKIP”. Alex Salmond, the former leader of the Scottish National Party hit it on the head recently: “The sort of extreme language that Theresa May used in Downing Street the other day, that could have come from Nigel Farage”. Sadly with such a massive disengagement with politics nowadays, this divisive in-your-face attitude is quickly becoming the norm when it comes to winning votes, especially in the right-wing campaigns. In the end, UKIP was a party that could not be ignored; they may not have made it into parliament but their mannerisms did and that could stick around in UK politics for a long time to come.

(All images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)

America’s Syria strikes: Influencers, deflections and the media band-wagon

Chemical Attacks UN Discussion
Image credited to nytimes.com

In April 2017, a sarin attack slammed into Khan Sheikhoun in Syria; 80 people, many of them children, lost their lives in horrific images that quickly spread worldwide. In response to this, President Donald Trump, quickly pinning the blame on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, authorised the US navy to launch 59 tomahawk missiles (each costing about a million dollars each) at Assad’s air force bases. From here Trump is now openly intervening in Syria and more recently said that NATO has regained its relevance, his first major U-turns since coming to power in January. His decision to hit Syria is extremely dubious for not consulting congress first and the fact that the cost of a tomahawk missile could have easily gone towards other sectors including education and infrastructure. On top of all that, we had no idea who carried out the chemical attack, but now there’s plenty of evidence that points to the American government’s point of view being a fabrication, a sham to justify the further use of more powerful and expensive weapons that do nothing but exacerbate current conflicts and give more fuel to companies consumed by a lust for profits. Appearing on the BBC, Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy to Syria said that Trump had just “given jihadis a thousand reasons to stage fake flag operations”; it’s baffling that we still don’t get that dropping more bombs creates more terrorists. Ironically it was the Bolivian representative Sacha Llorenti who called out the United States for its actions and demanded further accountability and investigation at the UN itself.

US Tomahawk Missile
Image credited to nbcnews.com

The decision itself raise many questions about America’s newest president; what does he really stand for? Are the Syria strikes proof that he panders to the war profiteering business or is it a distraction to break off from his apparent collusion with Russia? In either case, it’s extremely hypocritical that Trump is more than willing to react when an atrocity occurs by dropping more bombs but fails at actually helping refugee children caught up in the horrendous attack. They say that weapons used to be manufactured to fight wars, now wars are manufactured to make weapons; it’s very telling that Raytheon’s stocks (The company who builds the tomahawk missiles) went up right after they were launched by the US Department of defence. Whether Trump himself profits from this remains unknown.

Battle lines in the Syrian conflict remain incredibly one-sided with the United States and Russia placing their own interests into the conflict with their respective allies following behind. Recently I spoke to a fellow student on my course whose family originates from Syria who had a lot to share about recent events. He believed that Assad would not use chemical weapons and risk an international incident when he is close to winning. In turn this is also backed up by other often obscure sources; the UN’s Carla Del Ponte branded investigations as “inconclusive” while pointing to evidence that rebel fighters in Syria may have access to chemical weapons. In addition, further evidence from American MIT scientist Theodore Postol said in a fourteen-page paper that the so-called crater made by the chemical bomb may have been fabricated “Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real,”. No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it.” It all points to a suspicious event that paints a narrative of warfare masquerading as humanitarian intervention.

CNN Chemical Attack Fake News
Image credited to theduran.com

Throughout the week that followed, the mainstream media was utterly complacent to the use of tomahawk missiles; one particularly horrifying quote from Brian Williams of MNSBC remarked: “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: I’m guided by the great beauty of our weapons”. In addition, many articles written about the chemical attack were framed towards assigning blame, rather than considering evidence. What does this say about the media at large? They hound Trump down all the way through the campaign for his bigotry and now suddenly they’re perfectly fine with the use of destructive weapons? World Socialist Web Site sums it up best: “No lie is too great. If the US intelligence agencies declared tomorrow that Putin was responsible for an outbreak of tornadoes or a hurricane striking the US Gulf Coast, by means of a secret Russian program to alter the weather, their claims would be presented as the gospel truth by NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and Fox, while the New York Times would publish a four-page “investigative” report, complete with maps and charts provided by the CIA.” It’s indicative of the way fake news is slowly consuming modern society What better to distract the masses than with a major conflict facing further ignition by the entrance of western players? If anything wars also deliver profit for the media as they can rack up the viewership and social media hits with every nasty event that occurs far from their shores.

MOAB
Image credited to USAF/Getty Images 

Most recently the United States chose to use a MOAB or mother of all bombs to target terrorists; easily the most powerful non-nuclear device ever built, it’s a further escalation of an already raging fire. Just how far can Trump and the United States go? Will the bombs ever stop dropping? As an administration and as a country, they must rethink their attitude and approach now. Pompous use of military muscle can only lead to more conflict and more profiteering at the expense of innocent people.

(Images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)

Sources (In order of appearance)

Britain’s NHS: A devious plan for privatization

NHS Hand-in: Department of Health

Britain’s National Health Service; good healthcare for all. Proposed in 1948 by then health secretary Aneurin Bevan, it has been the envy of many nations, many of whom are forced to pay gargantuan fees just to ensure their own wellbeing. Ever since the Tories came to a majority in 2015, the problem of underfunding has intensified; as 2017 has kicked off, the full scale of the crisis has exploded onto the scene. Hospital beds are filled to burst, waiting times are higher than they have ever been and the Red Cross, a humanitarian organisation usually dedicated to lending assistance overseas has been drafted in to help. It’s the lowest point the service has faced in decades and is the result of deliberate mishandling for the purpose of eliminating free healthcare in the UK altogether.

Consequences of the government’s abuse have so far been disastrous; 66 out of 152 health trusts across the UK have declared major alerts, meaning that they are under extreme pressure and cannot deliver comprehensive emergency care. Operations on cancer and other serious illnesses are being cancelled due to overfilled schedules and some doctors are choosing to leave because of sheer pressure placed on them and their colleagues. According to a post by Evolve Politics, this kind of exploitation stretches all the way back to 1992 when the Conservatives dreamed up the idea of saddling public services with expensive leases from the private sector; they were then forced to pay back debt on ridiculous interest rates over thirty or even fifty years. Under the guise of friendly modernisation, private finance initiatives, which cost an estimated £3,700 every minute, have been slowly eroding the funds dedicated to the NHS and its ability to serve the public effectively. Sure, the hospital buildings we see may look modern and capable of handling modern medical needs, but they’ve been built on the promise that they will one day be sold off for private use, removed from the hands of NHS trusts across the country.

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With a struggling public sector comes far greater pressures on the workers within it. Jeremy Hunt, having done an abysmal job as health secretary is set to earn millions through the sale of his private business, earning 722 times that of the ordinary NHS worker; he claims that only a small number of hospitals are having problems but there is countless evidence to counter that. Eyewitness accounts from hospitals have been grim to say the least, with patients being turned away and staff members feeling unsafe in their own jobs. It all comes down to the contract he forced on NHS staff last year, one which drastically demotivates current staff and any who wish to train and join. Drive out the junior doctors, make them less inclined to join the NHS and the service will grow understaffed; then the knock-on effect on hospitals means more waiting times and fewer GPs to see patients. The same also goes for the countless EU citizens who are delivering their time and skills to the country’s healthcare system. This causes a frustration among citizens who are then manipulated into believing that the system isn’t working, make them believe that and you have a set of people who become willing to trust in private care. The cost will be a hard pill to swallow, but if it’s better than the free version then people are more likely to pay up.

The connections to private healthcare are nothing new, third parties such as Benefit Fraud have uncovered seventy different connections between MPs and private health companies. The deal goes as follows; MPs work towards dismantling our NHS and the private health corporations deliver donations to the political parties to help them fuel their propaganda machine (and possibly pop a few pennies in individual MP’s pockets as well). Corporations bank on elections being won and the slow process of gutting public services continues unabated. With control of healthcare in their hands, they would be free to set prices on treatment, medication and even things as miniscule as plasters and personal items. The list includes the likes of David Cameron, Ian Duncan Smith, Liam Fox, David Davies, William Hague, Phillip Hammond, Amber Rudd, George Osborne and even Nick Clegg. It speaks volumes of a rotten greed at the heart of our political system.

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Without a doubt, the NHS is suffering right now and instead of addressing the problem, our government is pointing fingers and denying any accountability, all the while working on their plan to deconstruct one of most comprehensive universal healthcare services in the world. “It isn’t us or underfunding” they cry: “It’s the foreigners, elderly and working class scroungers bleeding the NHS dry”. It’s horrendous how this deflection from the cuts destroying our healthcare system is working, it will have faced an insane £40 billion worth of cuts by 2020 and some NHS staff don’t believe the service will last the next winter. But amidst the crisis, there is a strong pushback going on; as Aneurin Bevan put it: “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”. Countless protestors and NHS employees are standing up to the government’s lies, particularly groups such as UniteTheUnion and KeepOurNHSPublic. Surprisingly even the Mirror newspaper is targeting May, Hunt and other abuses of the NHS; all being told, you simply cannot put a price on health and privatising the NHS can only lead to further exploitation by corporate power.

Sources

(Images sourced from Google: Labelled for reuse)