It’s Not About Chicken

Don’t get me wrong, I like chickens. As a child I loved visiting the farm and feeding the little chicks in their pen. I just don’t think when deliberating what’s at stake for the U.K in signing a post Brexit trade deal with the United States that poultry should be the focal point of debate. 

From Jeremy Corbyn to the BBC it seems everyone has bought into the idea that  chlorinated chickens entering the U.K food chain is the number one objection to a trade deal with Donald Trump. It’s bewildering to see political debate on respected current affairs progammes ask “Does Britain really want chlorinated chicken?” As if the primary impact of a trade deal with with the U.S is the quality of KFC.

To clarify, in the E.U chicken producers must adhere to strict hygiene and welfare regulations throughout the process of rearing, slaughtering and producing poultry. But in the U.S, regulation and hygiene standards are incredibly lax and substituted with a legal requirement to wash chicken carcasses in chlorinated baths to kill off bacteria, remove feces and make chicken safe to eat. What misery and disgusting conditions are inflicted upon chickens before they are slaughtered is for the market to decide.  

This is one example of how safety and welfare standards differ dramatically in the United States compared to the European Union. And it’s significant because when trade deals are signed, states usually agree to give equal access to producers from both countries to each other’s market.

If U.S producers are allowed to flood U.K supermarkets with cheap chlorinated chicken the question is, will giant American food conglomerates have to sign up to stricter hygiene measures to match the U.K’s regulations? Or will the U.K ‘harmonise’ its laws with the U.S and lower standards for everyone?

One might argue that this is a false dichotomy. Just because we allow U.S produce into Britain doesn’t mean we have to lower our standards for British farmers here. Britain can still enforce higher welfare and safety standards.

That is true but let me present the following scenario. A 2014 Populus survey found that price is the most important factor in purchasing meat for 61% of U.K consumers. If  supermarkets were to be flooded with cheaper American produce, and U.K poultry farmers started going out of business because consumers were switching to the cheaper alternatives, do you think the government would let British poultry farming collapse or would they slash regulations to cut the costs of production and make U.K farmers more competitive?

This is the context in which U.S chlorinated chickens should be discussed. It should be a gateway to a wider conversation about how a trade deal with the U.S will likely be a pretext for deregulation, threaten British industry and provide massive companies like Tyson foods with extensive legal rights in the UK.

But that’s not what happens, the public debate starts and ends at a costs/benefit analysis of eating chlorinated chicken. The economic right love this, as it presents objections to a trade deal as minor and rather trivial. In reality a trade deal would be a massive corporate power grab for U.S multinationals to ransack the welfare state and hamstring future regulation by gaining legal standing to sue the British government for potential infringements of investor rights guaranteed under a trade agreement.

This power transition is what Brexit has always been about for the American and British right. “Throwing off the shackles” of the European Union, of democratic accountability  and state controls in order to turn Britain into market run hellhole where government has no role in healthcare or food safety.

We must begin to take back control of the conversation and counter the narrative that objections to the deal are trivial in matter. Next time someone tries to drag the debate towards the pros and cons of chlorinated chickens – let’s politely tell them no. That we’d rather start from the point of corporate power and the potential weakening of democratic state controls. That we’d rather start the discussion with what a trade deal would mean for the NHS, for the BBC and for other treasured public institutions. We’d like to start with who is lobbying for a deal, how much money they have spent and how much they personally have to gain. After that, we can go for wings.

 

 

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Why Fascism Is So Tempting

(Image: Sky News

Have we forgotten what fascism means? Today calling someone a “fascist” is  more an insulting slur than a description of one’s political ideology.

In a recent speech historian and author Yuval Noah Harari argued that too often is fascism confused with nationalism. Harari argues that nationalism has been one of the most benevolent ideologies in human history. Nations are communities built up of millions of people who don’t know each other yet care about one another and cooperate because they share a common belief in nationhood.

Some people like John Lennon imagined that without nationalism the world could live as one. Far more likely argues Harari is that we would be living in tribal chaos. The most progressive and prosperous nations in the world such as Sweden, Switzerland and Japan all have a strong sense of national identity. Conversely, countries with a weak sense of nationalism such as Congo, Libya or Afghanistan tend to be violent and poor.

The difference between nationalism and fascism is that while nationalism tells you the nation is unique fascism tells you the nation is supreme. In democratic nations most people have multiple layers to their national identity. For example I am loyal to my family, my employer my friends and my football team. None of these loyalties preclude loyalty to my nation. And when my identities do conflict, I strike a balance and hierarchy based on what is most important at the time.

Fascism on the other hand tells us to ignore complex identities. It tells us the only identity that matters is national. All moral and ethical questions can be answered by simply asking, is this good or bad for the nation? For the fascist, whether a movie, monument or massacre is justified depends on whether it advances or undermines the goals of the nation. Uncomfortable truths or individuals do not matter, what matters is collective order and national harmony.

The recent 29th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre serves as a stark reminder to the horror of fascism. (Even if the description of modern China as a ‘fascist State’ is debatable.) Yet Harari argues that most of us do not understand fascism. In Western popular culture fascism is depicted as “evil” “savage” “cruel” with its leaders imagined as Disney villain caricatures.

If that was the case why is it so seductive? Why would people follow such evil, ugly villains? The problem with this depiction is that real-life fascism often appears valiant, beautiful and destined. This is something Christianity has understood for a long time. In Christian art, Satan is often depicted as the fallen angel – beautiful, charming and difficult to resist.

Fascism feels irresistible for similar reasons. Beauty, nostalgia and propaganda cultivate the belief of belonging to the most beautiful and special group in the world, the nation. To resist a return to fascist dictatorship we must not fear the politician who tells the ugly truth but the one that tells the beautiful lie.

There is No Anti-Elite

“If you believe you are a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere”

 

Theresa May condescendingly cackled as a rapturous applause erupted in the hall of the 2017 Conservative Party conference.

No longer was the Prime Minister going to tolerate the smug, cosmopolitan elite who spend their summers in San Francisco and winters in the Andorran alpine sneering down with disgust upon those who embrace national pride and British identity.

For too long the “citizens of the world” have had it all their own way at the expense of “ordinary, decent people”. And while the last three decades of  liberalization in the global economy have brought financial and cultural enrichment to the London elite it has come at the cost of devastating traditional industries and working class communities whose livelihoods depended upon the mining and steel industries.

Instead of trying to better understand this pain and work toward making globalization an inclusive project that works for everyone, elites have lazily opted to label those who are suffering as closed minded, nationalistic bigots.

The establishment has morally and politically failed to articulate a compelling vision of the future which includes a better life for working class people. Instead Parties have abandoned the poor in the dark corridors of Amazon warehouses to scrape by on the scraps of the gig economy.

Yet recent political events suggest this political ignorance is unsustainable. The rise of authoritarianism, increasing hostility aimed at immigrants and the collapse of political centrism reveal a rapid decline of faith in the liberal system. By downplaying the flaws of globalization, liberal elites have paved the way for self acclaimed “anti-elites” to claim the conversation and sprout the narrative that immigrants, experts and independent media are at the core of the problem.

Turkish writer Elif Shafak -a self described citizen of the world – best explained why anti-elites are not the answer to society’s ills:

“We have to make one thing very clear not everyone who voted for Brexit is a xenophobe, how could anyone think that? Not everyone who voted for Trump is an Islamaphobe and not everyone who votes in a certain way is a racist, of course they’re not it’s ridiculous!

But here is where I differ, the populist demagogues are also telling us that they are the spokespeople for the “real people” and I want us all to be very careful about that dichotomy. Who are the real people and who are the unreal people? What does that mean? We are currently seeing a shift in elites – one elite is losing ground [liberal elites] but let us understand that Marine La Pen is no less elite than the people she is criticizing. She is also part of the establishment. So many of the figures from Victor Orban to Vučić – one after another in every country, they’re also part of the elite except it’s a different elite with a different world view.”

The once maligned authoritarians of Europe are feasting on the crisis of European liberalism. Aided by the polarizing effects of social media they have exploited the anger and fear experienced by many in the precarious, instability of the twenty-first century. Part of that exploitation is trying to seduce us to believe the false dichotomies of an “elite” and “anti-elite”of  “patriots” and “traitors”.

In challenging the elite of cold-hearted globalization beware the elite of hot-blooded nationalism.

How Cryptocurrencies Are Building A New Internet

Author:     Henry Benjamin of SkyCoin

 

At present, no one knows how the FCC plan to roll out their unwelcome Net Neutrality Repeal. Nor does anyone know how it will affect end users and companies who might have conflicts of interest with large Internet Service Providers (ISP’s).

Whatever way it turns out, we know there are going to be changes in the way we use the internet and most will benefit the Service Providers rather than businesses or individuals.

What We Know So Far

When ISP’s decide to change the way they provide us with internet, a lot of companies might find they no longer have access to the fast lane and either have to pay surcharges to keep up full bandwidth, or will have to rethink what and how they conduct their business.

Yet ultimately it will be end users most affected. Services which are now free to sign up to might soon become subscription based with a fee to join. Users will also have to worry about increased data tracking from which is something that has become increasingly profitable and popular.

Running alongside the story of Net Neutrality in the media is the explosion of cryptocurrencies. Yet little discussion has connected the two and asked how the repeal of net neutrality will affect blockchain transactions?

Cryptocurrencies may just be negatively impacted in the same way larger corporations would be. It’s quite easy for an ISP to throttle connections where any cryptocurrency is in use or restrict access to exchanges where coins are traded.

Yet many cryptocurrencies have looked at the way the internet works and taken it upon themselves to see if decentralization is a way they can operate independent of ISP’s. 

To truly decentralize the internet is no easy task but some crypto’s has taken a radical approach to achieve it.

Decentralizing  and Creating A New Internet

To find the best solution to creating a decentralized internet, it is best to look at the cryptocurrencies themselves to see what answers to the Net Neutrality problem they have. Here are some of the ways the internet could be decentralized:

  1. Blockstack

The way this works is through a dedicated browser. The lower layers of the internet are still used while Blockstack focuses on the application layer.

Here users are able to decentralize their storage along with user identity and authentication.

Central points of control are removed, and users run decentralized applications through this browser where they can give explicit read and write permissions to their data.

All data is retained on user devices so there is no central point or data warehouses that can be hacked into.

2. Maidsafe

The SAFE (Secure Access For Everyone) network is next generation and very secure.  It decentralizes the internet and data management. With this, unused computer resources can be shared around the system.

Every user on the SAFE system shares a proportion of their computing resources be it storage, CPU power, and internet connectivity.

All data on the Maidsafe network is broken into separate pieces and spread throughout the network. This is then allocated space on various systems.

These pieces are stored without any users knowledge or having access to it, so the entire process is highly secure and private. Each user that participates in providing these resources receives compensation in the form of Safecoin crypto tokens.

3. Golem

In its purpose Golem is similar to the previous coin in that it shares computing resources in a decentralized network. All resources shared can be from a single user to spare capacity in a data center.

Uses can be anything from hosting a website to the rendering of images or film which takes considerable amounts of computing power.

Golem also pays incentives to users who share their resources by renting out spare computing capacity. These incentives are paid through exchanges, and the entire network runs atop the Ethereum Blockchain.

4. Substratum

This is one coin that many people are looking toward after the FCC-Net Neutrality decision. On this network, users are able to browse or host services between each other compared to a centralized network that has many of these services stored in large data centers on their physical servers.

When the network runs, users will only pay for network bandwidth they consume. As with other systems, users are free to allocate a proportion of their resources to earn coins for themselves.

All this can be set to run specific times, so there is no conflict if their system is in use. Through this method, Substratum offers both browsing and hosting that can be a much cheaper alternative than what end users subscribe to now.

5. Continual Flaws

There is a good deal of cryptocurrencies that aim to fix flaws with first generation or second generation cryptocurrencies, or they seek to offer services in which they think users will be interested in.

One problem though is many still run on top of the current internet infrastructure rather than being separate altogether. They might bypass any restrictions ISP’s imposing yet they might find they are still in the same situation further into the future.

Building a New Internet

One company which has done things a little more radical is Skycoin.  What we are proposing to create is a new internet which is separated from the current Internet. This is done using nodes (miners) which are all interconnected wirelessly.

This takes away the need for current infrastructure and creates a mesh-network that is secure and private.

ISP’s are unable to track users, and as data is divided between these nodes on the Skywire network, no single point has a weakness. The coin also brings benefits as transactions are instantaneous and the coins require no mining.

The miners are paid for hosting the mining rigs, so the entire network is self-sufficient and brings with it plenty of value and interest.

Unlike the BTC Blockchain SKY has their own Blockchain that uses a new web of trust (consensus) to perform transactions. It also gets faster and more secure the more users who join the network.

The company has been developed by some of the original BTC and Ethereum developers who have looked at all the flaws with first and second generation cryptocurrencies and looked at the best way of addressing these issues.

As the network grows, this is one to watch as users will no longer be tied to a connection at home. It will give security, privacy and will be fully mobile. A new internet. 

 

To learn more about Skycoin check out their website here: 

https://www.skycoin.net/

Why Satire Isn’t Funny

It’s often promulgated that satire is the great weapon of the powerless against the powerful. Nothing can send the unhinged megalomaniac or deranged despot faster into a toddler tantrum than simply being laughed at.

Yet there is growing criticism that today’s mainstream political satire serves to promote rather than undermine the establishment and extremist politicians. By providing the likes of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg a platform to sit on comedy panel shows and project a “down to earth” persona, willing to “have a laugh” often at their own expense, the viewer (voter) is more likely to associate that politician with the entertaining likable character from TV as opposed to the extremist politician who wants to take away their healthcare or reproductive rights.

Author and scriptwriter James O’Farrell argues that politicians are actually desperate to be satirized as they know it elevates their profile and popularity. He is scathing of the smug, condescending, supposed “satire” of Donald Trump on shows such as SNL, arguing that there is rarely any meaningful or constructive purpose to sketches but that they merely exemplify the arrogant, dismissive attitude of America’s elite toward a serious threat to the future of democracy and global power dynamics.

“At times where there ought to be outrage, comedy substitutes it with ironic acceptance”

The countless number of comedians who masquerade as political commentators see Trump as a goldmine, an endless supply of gags. But is this laughter helpful? Or is it emblematic of the same ignorance The New York Times editor Dean Baquet acknowledged when saying  “we missed it” in relation to the paper’s failure to chronicle the rise and genuine appeal of Donald Trump in a grossly divided, unequal society before it was too late.

Satire can be a brilliant means of entertainment but is it the politicians who are getting the last laugh?

Boris? Trump? Rees-Mogg? How Social Media Gave Us Pantomime Politics

Ridiculous statements go viral. From Boris’s bombastic Libya remarks to Trump’s daily Twitter toddler tantrums, nothing gets our thumb tapping that retweet button faster than outrageous political buffoonery. Be it virtue signalling, endorsing or simply showing our sheer shock and dismay, social media users love reacting to silly soundbites as newsfeeds are coloured with witty one line responses and hastily published news articles looking to cash in on clicks.

Welcome to the age of pantomime politics. The digital marketplace where politics is reduced to its entertainment value while social and monetary capital is earned through the capture and re-sale of human attention.

And few have capitalized more by capturing the human brain by the shareable click than Jonah Peretti the creator of Buzzfeed. Peretti was a pioneer in understanding what makes us click and share.

Buzzfeed discovered that humans are programmed to react impulsively with either alarm or allure to images of Sex, food, death and gossip the fundamental components of the survival instinct. This neurological understanding allowed Buzzfeed to create an incredibly effective albeit cynical digital media strategy premised upon producing content that hacked the basic impulses of human biology.

buzz

As Tim Wu, author of “The Attention Merchants” explains: “These modern day clickbait things are getting at very basic principles of our neurobiology that are there for a reason,”

Developing tricks of the trade to attract attention was by no means a new phenomenon but with the changing medium of human interaction from the physical to digital landscape mastering the art of clickbait became a revolutionary development to trap and capture consumer attention like never before. The smartphone era enabled media companies to become omnipresent in our lives, pressing biological and psychological buttons every second of the day with the aid of addictive technologies, push notifications and personalized algorithms enslaving us to their ‘ping’.

As Ian Leslie writes:

“Be it the emails that induce you to buy right away, the apps and games that rivet your attention, or the online forms that nudge you towards one decision over another: all are designed to hack the human brain and capitalise on its instincts, quirks and flaws. The techniques they use are often crude and blatantly manipulative, but they are getting steadily more refined, and, as they do so, less noticeable.”

If this phenomenon was confined to the online arena of cat videos and “5 things you have to do before you turn 25” it would be worrying enough but it’s the invasion of clickbait into the sphere of political commentary that is such a threat to democracy and social order itself.

As the commercial viability of print journalism has dramatically declined, traditional media outlets have began marketing their content in the style of Buzzfeed while new digital media outlets have simultaneously begun branding themselves as reputable news sources competing in the same space as The New York Times or the BBC.

The 2016 U.S election is a recent example of how this plays out in practice harming democracy on a number of fronts. A current Senate hearing investigating Trump’s ties with Russia has heard that 1,000 people were hired to create anti-Clinton misinformation “news” sites in key US states during election. Most of the supposed “Fake News” outlets were coming from countries in the Balkans allegedly being bankrolled by the Kremlin.

Post truth became a popular reference describing how people were believing things that “feel right” or that “should be true” as opposed to facts. But with the barrage of information and the reality thaat reputable news sources were often exaggerating stories for clicks It was almost impossible to disentangle the “fake news” for the purposes of political subterfuge from the hyper exaggerated junk stories published for the purposes of simply drawing clicks.

The culture of clickbait has led to the demise of journalistic standards and ethics as more and more stories are selected on their potential virality rather than their public interest value. Important investigative journalism is no longer funded by traditional media as it simply isn’t generating website traffic while snapshot stories pitting social subgroups against one another has shown to be far more effective at drawing in the crowds.

Our political discussion and headlines are now dominated by personal spats and horse race politics while significant analysis on policy substance is continuously being downgraded beneath political entertainment.

 A tragic play featuring 140 characters

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the latest pantomime villain to pop up in the British political sphere with his caricature Tory persona and playful media interviews.

jacob

 

Mogg became a viral internet icon after a video of him casually dropping the word ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ in parliament spread like wildfire. In a similar vein to Farage and Trump, Mogg is admired for his “Tell it like it is” attitude unafraid and unapologetic of his conservative, Christian views.

Admittedly, he is an infectiously entertaining character. Watching a Mogg interview is like watching a 13th Century pampered Prince John transported through time and put in a suit. There is a complete disconnect between the reality of Rees- Mogg as a politician and the playful character who’s every word is an opportunity to create memes, gain social credit and personal brand points by mocking.

Mogg, Boris and Trump oh what will they say next?

Welcome to the world of pantomime politics.

Why Spain’s King Felipe Made The Strongest Case For Catalan Independence

Author: Dean Molyneaux

Can royal intervention solve a constitutional crisis? The Catalan experience suggests the answer remains ‘no’.

 

For many of a certain age in Spain, the appearance of King Felipe VI in a rare live television address to the nation yesterday will surely bring back memories of the turbulent transition from dictatorship to democracy that the country experienced in the aftermath of Franco’s death.

During those uncertain days, Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos I, made an unprecedented and succinct address on the airwaves, in order to delegitimise the military coup led by franquista military commanders who had barricaded themselves in Congress, while reinforcing the then recently ratified Constitution. It worked. The King became a national hero (for a while) and the Spanish nation was cemented as an indivisible constitutional monarchy.

After two short years on the throne, last night’s address was arguably Felipe’s first opportunity to win back hearts and minds not only in tumultuous Catalonia, where a protest and general strike had been ongoing all day in response to police brutality during the illegal independence referendum on Sunday, but also across the other regions, where an increasing disenfranchisement with the Casa Real has been festering since long before Juan Carlos’ abdication.

With thousands in the streets of Catalan towns and cities, national police being driven from their lodgings by angry hordes and the possibility of a unilateral declaration of independence imminent, Spain is facing its greatest constitutional crisis since the coup of 1981. This is the time for leadership from above politics, a chance to demonstrate that monarchs can still play a role in steering the ship when everything below descends into chaos.

Yet Felipe VI decided to demonstrate all the intransigence of Thatcher in the early days. Unlike his father, who reacted to the coup in real time, Su Majestad had 48 long hours to consider how to best address his subjects. He went on to spend some five minutes reiterating that the Constitution should prevail and that the Generalitat (Catalan administration) had acted outside the law.

He’s not exactly wrong in the technical sense but when there are 700,000 souls tramping through Barcelona’s streets, a small dose of tact can go a long way. Instead, he focused on lambasting the Catalan government with the same terms that have been spun out time and time again by prime minister and leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Mariano Rajoy and which have caused such great ire amongst many Catalans, even those nonsupporting of independence.

catalan referendum 1

An optimist would have predicted that the term ‘diálogo (dialogue) would be uttered, as it has been by many both in the streets of Barcelona and by the opposition Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). If the King wants dialogue, there is a good chance that the monarchist PP will give him dialogue. Instead, we heard the tired rhetoric of unity and perseverance – more like a secondary school politics class on the basics of democracy; lacking in fervour and devoid of any condemnation of the violent clashes which saw hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officers injured on polling day. Casualties? Nothing to see here.

Regardless of where you stand on the legality of the referendum and the need to adhere to the Constitution – which, let us not forget, does not permit regions to secede from mother Spain without an amendment – it is hard not to conclude the best short-term solution some form of dialogue between Madrid and the various players in the rather fractured separatist movement.

The outcome of this is anyone’s guess but if it restores calm across the region and prevents the deployment of troops, it would be a good place to start. The present strategy of inaction, one of Rajoy’s signature moves, while tentatively threatening to invoke Madrid’s constitutional power to suspend the Generalitat, will undoubtedly lead to more civic action, likely in the form of strikes and mass protests. The net result of that? An even more bitter division than exists at present.

What is sad is that from a Spanish perspective, the King has truly scored an own goal. A significant number of those in the silent majority who were either passively or actively against independence, now find themselves disgusted with the treatment of Catalan civilians by state forces; many interviewed in the street described it as a watershed moment. Even though dedicated separatists would naturally disregard any royal message as basura, there was an open net when it came to the millions of other Catalans who wanted to hear compassion, rather than accusation.

They are now rightfully angry at their King as well – the one man who could have commanded some degree of moral authority. Felipe’s intervention may prove to be as irrelevant to the current crisis as it looks to be on the surface but it will surely leave many in Spain and abroad questioning the relevancy of a monarchy already viewed as out-of-touch by many, not to mention thousands fewer monarchists in Catalonia.

 

Dean Molyneaux read Hispanic Studies at Durham University and is a Law Graduate of Trinity College Dublin.