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.

 

 

The Corporate Capture of Social Change

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”

Anand Giridharadas isn’t afraid of controversy. His debut book Winner Takes All is a blistering take down of the faith put in the biggest beneficiaries of capitalism to lead capitalism’s reform and change the world for the better.

Be it the next Silicon Valley start up or philanthropic foundation, the underlying assumption pushed by the rich is always that business, entrepreneurship and the private sector are the most efficient and effective means of tackling society’s collective problems.

Giridharadas describes how even the language of social change which has historically been associated with grassroots movements, social justice and mass protest has been colonised by market logic and the billionaire class.

Rather than discussing social change as being rooted in rights, justice and systemic reform, the new corporate conception of social change sees inequality, climate change and poverty as a set of technical problems with market solutions. For these people  fixing the world is not about challenging powerful interests and overhauling a rigged economic system but about empowering “global leaders and opinion formers” to leverage “capital, data and technology to improve lives.”

What this actually means is cutting the public out of decision making for what the future should look like. Instead of community leaders, unions and businesses engaging in dialogue to decide whats best for their communities, we are instead told to look to McKinsey consultants and Goldman Sachs analysts to crunch numbers and provide reports on how to “restructure” the economy, to prepare for “inevitable” disruption and spur economic growth.

The glaring contradiction of putting the winners of our broken economy in charge of its repair is that the winners are actually quite comfortable with the status quo. Why would Goldman Sachs want solutions to social change if social change threatens their status, money and power?

By capturing social change within their control they are able to ensure social change is not pursued at all. Angel Gurria secretary General of the OECD describes the top down approach as “changing things on the surface so that in practice nothing changes at all.”

[END of part 1]

 

 

“The truth is there are no races”

 

“The truth is that there are no races” Kwame Anthony Appiah controversially wrote in 1985 launching him into fame and notoriety among his professional peers.

In this fascinating conversation between two of the most esteemed and provocative thinkers on racial identity, Appiah sits down with Professor Priya Gopal to unpack the philosophy of race, it’s historical development and why it’s not a ‘biological category.’

For both, race should be understood as a historical categorisation usually used to otherise people by physical characteristics or geographical location.

One of the most interesting talking points of the conversation is the question of “mixed-race” identity. Taking the example of Barack Obama, Gopal explains that despite having a white mother and black father Obama does not walk in the world as a white man. He is racialised as black and American society categorises him as if he had two black parents.

Similarly Gopal is racialised as “minority ethnic” in the West and as “upper caste” in India. The key point is that for both Obama and Gopal, historical categorisation not biology determines how they are racialised.

Appiah argues if we want to eradicate racism we must begin seeing race through this lens of constructed rather than fixed reality. Once we see that having different skin colour is as unremarkable as having different hair colour, we will undermine and immobilize those who wish to exploit imagined divisions between us. Is he right?

Further reading:

 

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.

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?

Vegas Victims Have No Right To Healthcare

With No Public Right to Healthcare GoFundMe is only way Victims of Mass Shooting Can Afford To Be Looked After.

 

In the aftermath of routine mass murder with legally purchased weapons of war, we in Europe tend to turn our heads west with disgust at the outrageous absence of gun regulation. Rarely however, do we examine the equally disturbing humanitarian disgrace that is the absence of a universal public healthcare system in the richest country on earth.

I was dismayed to read that Vegas County Commissioner Steve Sisolak has had to set up a GoFundMe, the private crowdfunding online service to try and raise money for victims to receive proper medical treatment and care. How humiliating that with the largest mass shooting in U.S history the victims have to beg for charitable donations rather than be cared for by their state. Nevada’s Republican Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed legislation in June that would have allowed Nevadans to buy into the state’s Medicaid program.

Its important to remember that thoughts and prayers are free, when the likes of Trump and Lindsay Graham grandstand about their horror at “Pure Evil” watch their wallets and not their words.

The next is an excerpt from The Intercept on the extent of the problem:

“Asking strangers for charitable donations to tackle medical bills is ubiquitous in the United States. A report by NerdWallet released in 2015 found that $930 million of the $2 billion raised by GoFundMe since its 2010 launch have been related to medical bills. Yet NerdWallet’s comprehensive survey of crowdfunding sites found that barely 1 in 10 medical campaigns raised the full amount they asked for.

Contrast this American experience with that of some of our allies. In June, dozens of people were injured and eight people were killed when London terrorists ran a van through a crowd and then proceeded to stab multiple people. It was the second major terror attack of the year, the first one being in March in Manchester.

In the United Kingdom, most health care is free. The National Health Service, erected in the ashes of World War II, provides comprehensive health care to all British residents.

At the London attack, NHS staff were on the scene within  six minutes,aiding the injured. Last month, the NHS gave a special honor to the first responders, nurses, and doctors who aided the victims of the London terror attack. “They highlighted the resilience and the compassion of the NHS staff who time after time responded to victims, who had suffered unimaginable injuries – putting the needs of those people first. This is the NHS at its best,” Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer of the NHS, said.

In the Manchester attack, American Kurt Cochran was killed. His wife, Melissa Cochran, returned to the U.S. with the need for continuous care. With no American NHS, she had to set up a GoFundMe to finance her treatment. Thankfully, this one both met and exceeded its goal, having raised $83,512.”

 

Watch Kyle Kullinski discuss in more detail here: