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There is a good chance that until Wikipedia and thousands of other affiliated sites held a one day ‘blackout’ on the 18th January not many people had heard of the controversial American bills SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act).  Designed to do exactly what it says on the tin, the two acts are supported by a wealthy and increasingly politically influential Hollywood which appears to be unwavering in its desire to maximise profit and unwilling to alter its approach and embrace the benefits of the internet.  Although now temporarily postponed, what exactly is all the fuss about?

Designed to combat copyright infringement and piracy, PIPA and SOPA would allow any American company, group or wealthy citizen the ability to shut down a website without due process when suspected of hosting copyrighted material.

It does not take a genius to work out that this would be bad news for the much vaunted Western guarantee; ‘freedom of speech.’  Whilst the acts have undoubtedly been introduced with the best of intentions in a bid to combat the estimated 95% of illegally downloaded music, the approach would be akin to cracking a nut with a sledgehammer.  Or, as Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Digital Agenda Commission said on Twitter: ‘Speeding is illegal too, but you don’t put speed bumps on the motorway.’  In other words, the collateral damage for any action taken against a website would be enormous and out of proportion.

As a legal and technical nightmare for many large websites the proposed legislation is so unworkable in practice that it could force internet favourites such as Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and WordPress offline.  Required to monitor every posted link and upload, American companies would be responsible for essentially policing the internet and all their users.

Within dominant and largely uncensored search engines such as Google, PIPA and SOPA have not been well received.  In protest at the prospect having to regulate search results and remove links to foreign websites suspected of distributing copyrighted information, Google openly supported the thousands of websites that were ‘dark’ on the 18th January.  Although still available, the Google logo was ‘redacted’ and links were given to users urging them to contact their local political representative to make their objections known.

Likewise, Wikipedia caused momentary panic to thousands of students through being one of the most popular websites to ‘go dark’ in protest at PIPA and SOPA.  Whilst there were ways around this blockade, all java-enabled desktop users were greeted with a black imagine entitled ‘Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.’  In a related message, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales explained that Wikipedia was against the proposed legislation because it was ‘badly drafted’ and would be ineffective at preventing copyright infringement.  Instead, Wales believes it would damage ‘the free and open internet’ as there was a possibility that SOPA and PIPA could be used as a stepping stone towards more repressive and controlling legislation.

How Wikipedia chose to protest against PIPA and SOPA

It should be remembered that the World Wide Web is undoubtedly unique.  Free from the control of any one nation, the internet is a lively area where any information, pictures and media can be shared seamlessly around the globe.  Although daunting, this modern deluge of information has been invaluable to humanity.  From enabling people to find the best car insurance deal to ensuring the survival of the Arab Spring protest movement through the use of social media, the internet serves as a tool of progression for mankind.

An attempt by the United States to enforce PIPA and SOPA would severely hamper this.  Forced into a regulatory role, American companies would be required to censor the internet and as the world’s sole technological superpower this would naturally impact upon all other countries.  For instance, France already has the Creation and Internet Bill whereby users are given a ‘three strikes’ policy when suspected of downloading copyrighted content before their internet connection is disconnected and disabled.  Likewise, the United Kingdom has the largely hated Digital Economy Act, although this has yet to be passed into law due to a series of legal challenges.

Whilst there is undoubtedly a need to act against people who repeatedly distribute and download copyrighted content, the current brutal Hollywood-backed approach is not the correct course.  In addition to charging a fair price to reflect the fact that consumers are no longer receiving a physical product when digitally purchasing media, governments around the world should begin to make better use of existing laws before bringing in draconian and overpowered measures such as PIPA, SOPA and the Digital Economy Act.  As the world’s technological superpower and alleged guarantor of freedom, the United States must take the lead.

However, this does not mean to say that other countries should be afraid to act and seek a solution.  Whilst usually lamented for being nothing more than a place for endless discussion, the European Union has been surprisingly decisive when the freedom of the internet is discussed.  In a recent resolution that was almost certainly aimed at the United States, the EU stressed a ‘need to protect the integrity of the global Internet and freedom of communication by refraining from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names.’

In response to this resolution and a tidal-wave of public anger since January 18th, the United States Congress announced on January 21st that both PIPA and SOPA were to be suspended, pending further investigations.  It seemed like the world finally had something to thank the European Union for.  And then the secretive global ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) was signed in Tokyo only five days later by the very same European Union.

Let round two begin.


Loadsamoney!

For my own self-preservation I should probably start by making it known that I do not follow football.  Unless I am playing (badly), football is not something which appeals to me.  Add to this the fact that so-called Premier League ‘superstars’ are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week for what seems like quite a charmed life and it is unlikely that I will ever become a convert.

Before every avid football follower kicks off, take for instance the recently announced news regarding Didier Drogba.  As the star of the Chelsea team, Drogba has no doubt been instrumental in helping Chelsea to win numerous Cups, titles and trophies.  And as a trouble-free and committed player, Drogba is seen as a good role model to football mad youngsters who dream of competing on a professional level.  However, despite such accolades should one man be worth the eye-watering £270 000 a week that the Chinese football club Shanghai Shenhua were rumoured to be signing him for?  In a country where poverty is widespread and the average person only earns $5000, the suggested wages are astronomically ridiculous.

I do not doubt that a career as a footballer is hard work.  For every successful Premier League footballer there will be thousands of others desperate to take his place – the effort required to remain at the top of the game and away from the piranhas below is substantial.  By the very nature of the career being a sport, a footballer needs to remain physically fit, free from injury and eat relatively healthy foods.  Again though, does this really justify such a substantial wage?  Many ‘ordinary’ people eat healthily, keep fit and participate in sport without the need for payment.  They simply play for the sheer pleasure of playing.  Likewise, Championship players are paid nowhere near as much for an almost identical role.

Despite being in the depths of the worst financial crisis since 1929, some English clubs are now awash with Arab oil money and investing heavily in players; often paying wages which even before the economic crisis would have been classed as absurd.  Wayne Rooney is purported to be on around £250 000 a week.  Fernando Torres receives an estimated weekly wage of £220 000 and Manchester City’s Yaya Toure earns £220 000 a week.  For Manchester City, the wage demands of players in 2010 led to them spending an estimated 107% of their annual revenue on player salaries.

It has been argued by some that this focus on money has made the game inaccessible to ordinary families and unsustainable in the long run.  With the cheapest adult match tickets now priced at an average of around £35 to see a top-flight football match, the decline in the number of families attending games has been remarkable.  Instead of the family occasion it used to be, it could be argued football has now become a Saturday afternoon jolly; one dominated by wealthy professionals, corporate sponsors and devout followers from the working class.

It is somewhat ironic then that some of the wealthiest people choose to participate in a game played by 22 people and containing thugs such as Joey Barton and Wayne Rooney.  As the ‘star’ midfielder for QPR, Barton has been accused and convicted of common assault and actual bodily harm, yet still manages to commandeer a weekly wage of £60 000.  For a man universally disliked, is he really worth twice as much per week than the average soldier, fire fighter, police officer or nurse is paid in a year?

Joey Barton. Is this serial brawler really worth £60 000 a week?

It is not just footballers who share the unfortunate perception of being overpaid and out of touch.  Within the City of London, executive pay can often reach stratospheric amounts.  As former Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir Fred Goodwin oversaw the meteoric expansion of the bank.  Conversely, because of the actions he took as Chief Executive, Sir Fred Goodwin also oversaw the largest annual loss in UK corporate history; an estimated £24bn.  However, despite his failings resulting in RBS requiring a financial bailout from the taxpayer, Goodwin was awarded with a severance package and pension deal worth an estimated £16m.  The reward for failure had never looked so good.

So, can this be solved?  In the wake of recent public outrage the Coalition government has promised to investigate excessive executive pay.  However, before the righteous get excited it is unlikely that action will be taken because without global agreement, any action to limit executive pay would just be a shambolic and damaging gesture of goodwill designed to appease struggling families.  Legislation would simply force investment abroad, creating further problems for an already economically bruised Britain.

We should also be uneasy about the idea of government intervention to limit top executive pay.  To intervene would have all the hallmarks of a Stalinist state.  It would also risk opening the door to further government intervention regarding pay and bonuses – this affecting the very core of Western civilisation and the capitalist system on which we all depend.

The solution may be much simpler.  Perhaps executives, footballers and high earners should just adopt some common sense and implement some morals.


Alex Salmond: Freedom Fighter

The future flag of the United Kingdom?

The rebels in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt would not exactly call him a ‘comrade in arms.’  Hollywood would no doubt decline any offer to create a movie documenting his ‘struggle,’ and apart from his arrogance he shares little in common with William Wallace.  I am of course referring to Alex Salmond – leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Scottish First Minister and chief antagonist in the push for Scottish independence.

With the referendum date now pencilled in for 2014, who exactly is Alex Salmond, what do the SNP want and how will it all play out?

Famously protective of his private life, Alex Salmond was born in Linlithgow, Scotland and is married with no children.  Able to trace his ancestry to before the 1707 Acts of Union between England and Scotland, Salmond studied economics and history at the University of Saint Andrews.  Upon graduation, he pursued a career as an economist.

Unlike his private life, much more is known about Salmond’s political beliefs.  As a fierce left-wing supporter of Scottish independence, Salmond’s political career almost ended spectacularly early when he was suspended from the SNP due to his support and involvement in the radical socialist republican 79 Group.  As can be seen from this song the group are hardly politically liberal, open minded election material.  However, by 1987, Salmond had been able to claw his way back into the SNP, defeating the Conservative MP Albert McQuarrie in a local election.  It is here that his stratospheric rise through the ranks of the SNP began.

Appointed as SNP Deputy Leader in 1987, Salmond took advantage of the power vacuum within the party in 1990 by standing for and winning the leadership election.  Throughout the 1990s he was heavily critical of Westminster whilst maintaining heavy involvement in supporting policies promoting Scottish devolution.  However, by 1999 Salmond had resigned after facing a virtual media blackout, heavy criticism and the full force of Westminster for a number of political blunders including opposing the NATO bombing of Serbia through likening it to the Nazi German bombing of Glasgow.

Despite this, it was in 2004 that Alex Salmond had once again clawed his way back into the SNP and public eye.  Having entered into the 2004 SNP leadership battle, Salmond emerged victorious with a majority of around 75%.  Since then, he has overseen the continued electoral success of the SNP with these successes culminating in the 2010 general election in which the SNP emerged victorious within the Scottish Parliament.  Armed with a sizeable majority, the SNP have promised to hold a referendum on Scottish independence; the desired ‘yes’ vote being their final hurdle in a bid to become independent of the United Kingdom.  Arguably, this video explains the issue most succinctly.

Currently, the main three political parties of Westminster are opposed to Scottish independence.  In a rare display of unity, both David Cameron and Ed Milliband have spoken out against Alex Salmond, claiming that Scottish independence would profoundly affect the British Isles and considerably weaken the political union.  Both political leaders have also stated that independence would be ‘bad’ for the UK economy, especially if Scotland were to abandon Sterling and adopt the Euro.

How the independence referendum will play out is unknown.  All current indicators appear to support the conclusion that if a referendum were to be taken today the idea of an independent Scotland would be rejected by the population; Westminster arguably pushing an early referendum for this precise reason.  There is no doubt that Britain would be weaker should the union be broken.  Not only would the breakaway of Scotland throw the future of the remaining Union into doubt, but additionally there would be significant headaches for politicians involved in discussion over the military, economic policies and border controls.

It is also highly likely that whatever the result it will destroy the losing political party.  For the ruling Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition a defeat would likely be the final nail in a coffin for a political relationship that has already suffered heavily from the continuing slew of poor economic data, high unemployment and widespread public discontent with severe budget cuts.  On the other hand, for the SNP a defeat would signal the end of a party which does not appear to have much policy and substance past opposition to Westminster, support for independence and bribery of the population via free prescriptions and non-existent university fees.

And despite these problems, should Scotland become independent it must be remembered that the politicians will have a responsibility for at least a small portion of the often talked about and over-hyped national debt – all £1 trillion of it.  For a country with an economy only totalling £140bn this would be a substantial burden.  After independence the SNP would no doubt soon realise that money is no longer channelled from the wealthy South East of England towards a deprived and desolate Glasgow City.  The English taxpayer would no longer be responsible for funding expensive Scottish nationalism and Scotland would no longer have the benefit of a highly-trained and professional army, paid for and maintained by Westminster.

How sustainable are those free prescriptions and subsidised university fees now?


The New World Order

Largely ignored by the mainstream media, a recent Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) report has shown that in terms of the world economic league table rankings, Brazil overtook the UK in 2011 to become the world’s sixth largest economy.  Whilst disappointing for Britain, other key European countries suffered a similar fate.  By 2020 Germany, Italy and France are also expected to slide significantly down the league table, having been overtaken by the rapidly emerging Asian ‘tigers’ and BRIC countries.  Aside from the obvious dent to national pride and international economic influence, what does the report mean for the future of the United Kingdom, Europe and the Western world?

When considering Western decline, most concerning for Europe, America and Japan is the spectacular rise of two BRIC countries; Russia and China.  Largely reliant on natural resource exploitation for predicted future growth, Russia is both a past adversary of the West and a likely future one.  Recent Russian defence spending has focused on enlarging the armed forces to cope with high unemployment, joint military manoeuvres with China and an increasingly bombastic international role culminating in the now largely forgotten 2008 invasion of Georgia.

Unlike Russia, China is not particularly resource rich.  Despite this, the official Chinese military budget has increased by nearly 200% since 2001; this being fuelled by exceptional double-digit economic growth throughout the decade.  Unofficially, the budget is rumoured to have increased by an even larger amount.  This budget amplification has enabled the Chinese to design and produce advanced stealth fighters, create a naval base in the Seychelles to directly threaten India and purchase rusting Russian aircraft carriers.  Again, similar to Russia, China has become increasingly vocal within international politics by peddling ludicrous territorial water claims and adopting an ever more offensive posture with regards to Taiwan.

Will the Chinese Army become a common sight aound the globe like the US Army is today?

When Russian and Chinese investment is contrasted with severe Western military budget cuts (including those recently announced by the United States) and combined with increased international posturing, commentators are rightfully concerned that the West faces a tough choice; to either submit to the new economic powerhouses or invest in the military and suffer from increased debts and economic stagnation.  Furthermore, it is a certainty that at some point this century the United Nations Security Council will have to be overhauled to reflect modern day politics; this likely costing the West dear in terms of their previously almost unrivalled control of international affairs.

Faced with the CEBR report, continued Chinese and Russian intransigence combined with military expansion, a stubborn economic financial crisis and a continuous slew of disappointing economic data it would be rational for Western politicians to panic at the prospect of a century increasingly dominated by a series of unstable, unmanageable and untested countries.  Especially countries ever more flush with cash and lacking a fondness for quaint European traditions, American excess or Japanese electronic domination.

However, this predictable panic is often unnecessary.  Since 1945, the UK has been suffering from a slow international decline as the Empire has been gradually disbanded; a direct result of having fought and shouldering the burden of two devastating world wars.  Despite such decline, this has not meant an end to peace and prosperity for the British people.  Instead, decline has been ‘managed’ to ensure that aside from brief periods in history, British military power and influence around the globe has remained constant, national security has not been threatened and living standards have generally increased, decade after decade.

If managed correctly, many commentators are confident that gradual Western economic decline is not necessarily the doomsday scenario that scaremongers predict.  Whilst international politics and conflict is inherently difficult to predict, unbiased observers are able to see that economic decline does not always correlate with a demise in international influence, foreign policy or military power.  Provided that investment is made in the right areas, the British – and in some respects, Western – role in the world as nations of highly educated and skilled designers, service sector workers, high-end manufacturers and engineers can only complement non-Western economic growth.  Indeed, the rapidly growing countries of Asia and Latin America need our skills and expertise as much as we need their natural resources and mass produced factory goods.

Whilst the CERB report is undoubtedly a blow to British and Western visions of self-importance, I can still see one reason within the report to be cheerful.  Apparently, should the predictions turn out to be accurate the British rate of economic decline will not be as quick as that of our closest continental neighbour and age old national adversary, France.  By 2020, the United Kingdom will have come from behind to beat the French to eighth in the global pecking order, and by quite a considerable margin too.  Now that is a cause for celebration.  Someone pass the Chardonnay…


The Turkish problem

It was back in 1987 that Turkey first applied to become a member of the European Commission.  Situated at the fringes of Europe and with a blend of Western and Eastern cultures, Turkey is a cultural melting pot at what is often referred to as the ‘crossroads of the world.’

Whilst much progress towards Turkish European Union membership has been made, a recent diplomatic spat with France has highlighted the problems facing Turkey and a liberal European Union only too well.  As reported by BBC News, the French National Assembly passed a bill on the 22nd December 2011 criminalising denial of the 1915 – 1916 Armenian genocide, of which the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) was the chief protagonist.  Whilst the bill is unlikely to be passed by the French Senate, the sabre-rattling has been highly successful in highlighting an issue that EU negotiators would rather ignore, gaining the attention of Ankara and bolstering support for President Sarkozy from the sizeable Armenian population within France.

The Armenian Genocide is not the only historical grievance that European countries have with Turkey.  Whilst the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus occurred over 35 years ago in response to an alleged Greece Cypriot coup, Cyprus is still divided along a United Nations monitored Green Line.  Although several solutions have been offered and a recent, high-profile ‘Kofi Annan’ plan endorsed by Turkey, the United Kingdom and United States was produced, an agreement between the Greek and Turkish governments has yet to be reached.  For many European countries, Turkey’s history is a sticking point; and unfortunately for Turkey a sticking point that will hinder full European Union membership until errors are recognised and apologies are made.

The Armenian genocide - an issue Turkey would still rather avoid.

Although important to some Europeans, history would appear to be irrelevant for a sizeable section of the Turkish population.  In 2004, a poll taken among Turks placed support for EU membership at 73%.  By 2010, this figure had declined to 38%; interviewees citing growing economic prosperity and hopes of greater Turkish significance in the region as reasons for the lack of support.  Whilst support for full membership has undoubtedly declined, it is likely that support will once again increase as the European economy recovers and the current rose-tinted view of the Arab Spring darkens.  Similarly, it is predictable that the resulting Turkish advances for a fast-track membership will be welcomed by an EU hoping to use Turkey as a bridge to influencing euphoric and naïve governments set up in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Aside from historical and public support issues, Turkey has primarily been withheld from full EU membership because of the failure to adopt and adhere to the 35 chapters of the ‘acquis communautaire’ – in effect the EU Law which all member states must abide by.  For instance, considerable efforts are still required with regards to agricultural and rural development, the environment and ensuring implementation of legislation allowing female equality.  Despite the best efforts of negotiators, negotiations have stalled several times due to Turkish intransigence and it is still unclear as to whether these obstacles and other considerable hurdles can be resolved within the next decade.

So, will Turkey ever join the European Union?  At present, there is no reason why it should not, and it is highly likely that Turkey will join the EU in the not too distant future as European leaders take measures to maintain political, economic and military influence when faced with the growing might of a resurgent Asia.  Likewise, the push from European leaders for diversification of energy suppliers will only become stronger as time progresses and Russia becomes more erratic, this forcing Turkey into the spotlight due to Turkish geographic location and proximity to Middle Eastern oil and gas pipelines.

Additionally, despite tough-talking rhetoric from France and Germany, Turkey enjoys substantial support for integration from the United Kingdom, United States, Spain and Italy.  France has also recently watered down amendments to the French constitution that called for a public referendum when Turkey is eligible to succeed to the EU; instead choosing to leave the decision to elected officials.

The only certainty with regards to Turkish membership of the European Union is that Turkey will not be fusing with Europe within the next decade.  This is due to two reasons – one being that Jose Barroso, President of the European Commission has stated that succession will not be possible until at least 2021 so that differences can be resolved, and two being that the European Commission is currently distracted with the on-going Eurozone economic crisis.  Rightfully so, the EU should ensure that the status quo is stable and free from further shocks before adding more strain to an already fragile system with a country such as Turkey that will no doubt require substantial economic, political and agricultural assistance in the early stages of integration.

However, despite this positive outlook it should not be forgotten that the EU is currently in severe trouble.  Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal are at risk of economic collapse, their political collapse already complete.  In the face of economic disintegration intense political negotiation designed to find a solution has only produced bickering and deadlock; this resulting in a failure to produce any long term plan to soothe global financial markets and bring down borrowing costs to a manageable figure.

Such a peculiar political situation begs the question – if European leaders are unable to negotiate constructively and agree over a matter survival now, will they ever be able to agree enough to allow a controversial Turkey to join the EU?


Dictators and Dynasties, Tyrants and Terrorists

It would not be unfair to say that 2011 has not been a good year for many of the above.  Due in large part to the actions of protesters participating in the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions across the Middle East and a renewed American determination to pursue terrorist networks with drone aircraft, several tyrannical regimes and terrorists have been ousted from power across the globe.

In the Middle East, what began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor in protest at the confiscation of his goods by local authorities led to wider political and social protests throughout Tunisia; this in turn providing the catalyst for similar ‘revolutions’ across the region.  This series of events became known as the ‘Arab Spring’ and has since resulted in the downfall of the autocratic Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan and Yemini governments.

Furthermore, Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaida, was eliminated after a daring raid into sovereign Pakistani territory by US Navy Seals.  The information gathered from Bin Laden’s lair in turn led to the death of high ranking Al Qaida leader Al-Awlaki in Yemen following a CIA drone strike; his demise severely disrupting Al Qaida’s operations in the Arabian Peninsula and having the added bonus of taking out an important American born, internet savvy jihadist recruiter.

So, at the risk of making a series of fanciful predictions akin to the one made by Yale University economics professor Irving Fisher in 1929 when he stated that “stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau,” are further dictators and tyrants likely to fall in 2012?

Next to fall?

Unfortunately the short answer is no, there are not.  Despite all international media attention currently being focused upon Syria and its authoritarian President, Bashar Al-Assad, the end result is unlikely to result in victory for the protesters and rebels.  For instance, although in a recent ludicrous interview with the American network ABC Assad claimed that he was not in full control of Syrian security forces, the United Nations has since stated that this is unlikely to be the case and that troops loyal to Assad will continue to brutally clamp down where needed.

Additionally, unlike Libya, there is virtually no chance of Western nations imposing a ‘no fly’ zone to protect civilians and remove Syrian armour to the benefit of protestors due to a lack of political, financial and public support.  Instead, the United Nations has chosen to pursue a policy of enacting sanctions – although such sanctions are doomed to failure since there is a crucial lack of support from both Russia and China, and also because Syria has been an international pariah for years and is therefore well-versed in dealing with Western threats.

Similar to Syria in some respects, the North Korean state under the ‘Supreme Leader’ Kim Jong Il is also unlikely to buckle soon.    Isolationist, isolated and weak, the country is often referred to as a Stalinist dictatorship with one of the lowest human rights rankings of any country.

Despite such horrors and other issues such as a widespread famine and continued international pressure, the family dynasty has remained intact and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future – mainly due to the elaborate government controls on all aspects of North Korean life.

Presently, one of the only authoritarian countries showing signs of potentially abandoning autocracy is China.  With the prospect of increased personal wealth and travel opportunities for millions of urban Chinese threatening the absolute authority of the Communist Party, the Chinese leadership has begun to slowly grant citizens more personal freedoms in a bid to retain control.

Even with such a small increase in personal freedoms it should still be noted that there is still complete government control of the media and political system.  Political protesters and citizens routinely go ‘missing’ and many never return, often presumed to have been executed by the authorities.

Whilst still a cause for concern, if compared with the paths taken by other industrially advanced countries it is hoped that further Chinese economic development will fuel deeper international involvement and responsibility; this in theory leading to increased personal freedoms and an abandonment of authoritarian practices.  It is unlikely however that this process will occur anytime soon, even if such predictions were to prove correct.

Despite what would appear to be an overwhelmingly negative outlook with regards to disposing of more dictators, tyrants and terrorists, the future is actually not as bleak as it may seem at a first glance.  Not only are my predictions just that – predictions – but they are also based on rationale and logic; both these things are inherently difficult to apply to the constantly morphing world of international politics.

An example of this constantly morphing political world can be seen during the height of the Cold War when despite high-level meetings between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev no political commentator from either the East or West predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union.  Instead, complacency and a purely accidental misunderstanding on the part of Soviet press secretary Günter Schabowski led to the downfall of Communism in Europe.

There are also far more dictators, dynasties, terrorists and tyrants remaining in the world than covered in this article; these including the governments of states such as Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Burma as well as the second in command of Al Qaida, Al Zawahiri.  Each has their own unique circumstances and to analyse all would be a task of enormous undertaking.

And to answer the question posed earlier in the article?  Yes, there are many despicable people and governments left in power and yes they will eventually fall.  History has repeatedly proven this.  All that remains to be seen is how, when and where.


The great charity robbery

It’s official.  With little time left to donate, Children in Need 2011 has raised a record breaking total of £26.3m; undoubtedly a worthy achievement.  The impact this money will have on some lives, families and organisations is immeasurable, although when compared with the UK foreign aid budget the money raised appears almost paltry in comparison.  Alarmingly, the impact of much of the UK’s 2011 £8bn foreign aid budget is measurable, often in terms of what it fails to achieve – a recent House of Commons report stated that with regards to British aid spending in Malawi, ‘evidence of the value for money of its spending… is hard to find.’  Even the United Nations has recently begun to question whether foreign aid is the best way to help countries.

Two of the biggest receivers of UK foreign aid are India and Pakistan.  In both countries severe poverty affects vast tracts of the population; although despite this both countries in 2011 were able to afford to research, build and maintain vast armies and large nuclear forces.  For example, Pakistan has just announced the purchase of two squadrons of J-10 fighters from China, at an estimated cost of $1.4bn.  Likewise, India has signed a $10.5bn fighter jet contract, allegedly one of the world’s largest on offer.

If India and Pakistan can afford to lavish money on capabilities which almost all Western donor nations have either cut or are considering cutting at a time of global economic uncertainty, how is it that they are unable to feed their own population and release millions from the clutches of desperate poverty?  Some respected academics such as the Zambian-born and Harvard-educated Dambisa Moyo have speculated that it is because there are often no caveats attached to foreign aid donations.  Often, these donations simply provide freely usable cash.

According to the hype that encourages the public to donate to Children in Need, many British charities owe their existence solely to the generosity of the public during the annual Children in Need money raising drive.  One of these charities is the Leeds Spiders Wheelchair Basketball Club whose aim is to promote inclusion in sport for disabled people in Yorkshire.  In an interview with the One Show, Paralympic basketball star and TV presenter Ade Adepitan discovered that were it not for Children in Need and the donations of the taxpaying public, the vital service that the Leeds Spiders provides to disabled people would have ceased to exist long ago. As of today, Leeds Spiders is a charity which receives virtually no public funding despite the tremendous work that they do.

The Air Ambulance. Often unknown by many that this vital service is totally reliant on charitable donations from members of the public.

Alas, it is not just the Leeds Spiders who do not receive public funding – there are countless numbers of other charities around the UK who provide a fantastic service to that are in need yet rely solely on public goodwill.  The British Heart Foundation, Marie Curie Cancer Care and regional Air Ambulances are just a few of the names that can be found on the high street, relying almost exclusively on public donations.  Such lack of support creates the question; instead of hosing down ungrateful and uncooperative foreign governments with increasing amounts of increasingly scarce cash, why does the UK not do more to help domestic charities?

In comparison, the £26.3m that Children in Need 2011 raised is a mere 2% of the £11.4bn the UK expects to donate annually as foreign aid in 2015.  There is even evidence that in some instances foreign aid harms countries more than it helps because it gives dictators a free, untraceable supply of money and therefore the means to remain in power and dominate their populations.  The same cannot be said for those British based charities lucky enough to receive donations from a well-intentioned public; even a charity which could be accused of ‘wasting’ money must still file their annual financial information with the Charity Commission so as to aid public trust and show transparency.

My point is this.  Whilst much of the mammoth UK foreign aid budget is designed to fund noble projects and eliminate severe poverty around the globe, why does the UK government instead choose to rely virtually solely on the generosity of the British public to pay to help people of Britain who are also in need of charitable help?  Why is Her Majesty’s Government unable to provide these charities with some of the capital they need to help domestic citizens?

After reading this article one could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that I am promoting the abolishment of foreign aid.  However, this assumption would be incorrect.  When used responsibly and fairly, UK foreign aid has the potential to help millions of people around the world.  Likewise, if a fraction of this money were to be used to help British charities in the UK, such aid would also have the potential to help millions of British people.

After all, in a rational world providing partial funding to an award winning Paralympic basketball team is surely fairer than funding the military expansion of a nuclear armed country…