The Age of Trump: For Better or Worse

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Has anyone built a time machine yet? No? Well, then I guess we will just have to stop whining for once and deal with the now. Orange is the new reality. Some may still put faith in the US Constitution and the 25th Amendment that could rid us of the menace and others hope for swift impeachment stemming from the Russia probe. Neither is very likely to happen any time soon or ever, for that matter. To be honest, would the alternative really be that much better? Were Donald Trump to fall in a coma or impeached, the Vice President Pence would get a shot at his gay-bashing, Hawthornean Scarlet Letter-like utopia and unlike President Trump, President Pence would be more than capable of implementing his policies. It is time to stop crying havoc, acknowledge the reality and make the best of it. Although most people might not realize it, there are actually some areas where the Trump presidency is actually being helpful.

The first such issue is North Korea. Before the age of Trump we had had eight years of cautious Obama policies. That was akin to trying to tame the tiger with sugar. The Korean tiger, however, needs a lot more than that. It is now time for the stick, but we are faced with the problematic fact that North Koreans do not trust the United States anymore. Not since the Bush era when the US last reneged on their deals with them. Trump is right to realize that the stick must come from a different place and that place is China. China is the true addressee of the inflammatory speeches and erratic behavior strategy. The language used is the only language North Korea understands. They live off making threats and using them as leverage during the eventual talks, but keep in mind that nobody in South Korea worries about their neighbor. They see through the charade and so should we. China is the key to this treasure box and the Trump strategy is working, since, for the first time, we are seeing a real progress on their side.

The president has a way of stating the obvious in the most insulting manner we can imagine and that tends to obscure the grain of truth in it, but it is there nevertheless. On the European front his comments have had a tremendous positive impact. In particular, it was the comment about NATO being obsolete. Let’s face it. The way it is, it is obsolete. Europe is rich, powerful and we have been slipping, leaving our defense in the American hands. Is it not finally the time to band together and build a secure Europe, defended by Europeans and paid for by European money? Whether he meant it so or not, his infuriating comments have pushed European countries to do a better job at upholding their financial commitments to NATO and the good old idea of a European army has been raised from the dead. Hopefully, it will lead the European Commission, headed by President Junker at the moment, to focus on more ambitious issues than improving European Wi-Fi availability.

Domestically, President Trump is taking a lot of flak and rightfully so, but let’s also look at the silver lining of his actions. The efforts to destroy Obama care have made the proud nation to realize that healthcare is kind of important. Due to the failed Republican efforts we also know that 35% of Americans did not know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing. They do know now and they happen to like it. Donald Trump has made it harder for the Republican Party to quietly do away with the basic human right that healthcare is. His blistering rhetoric has had an undeniable effect of uniting the people, even if they unite on the other side of the barricade.

The man is a veritable mirror to the society embodied. Every issue we have and every problem we chose not to talk about is alive within him. Love him or hate him, but take him seriously, because whining about the things we do not like has never helped us bring the world a better tomorrow. The age of Trump is the age of change and change hurts. Sure, we were quite content with the way things were, but the sad truth is that we got lazy and took our eyes off the ball. The usual result of me taking my eyes off the ball is getting hit with it right in the face and I am convinced that Trump is the ball in our faces. We may not like it and we may even curse at it, but, one way or another, we needed it.

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Populism and Human Rights

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Hi everyone,

this week I would like to look at an issue that is becoming increasingly important and yet it is often overlooked. We all know that populism has been given a new lease of life around the globe and we also know that there are abusers of human rigts as well, but what has not been particularly emphasized is the new trade-off between these two problems. For simplicity, I would like to point out three starkest examples of that happening right now.

Firstly, Donald Trump, probably the most infamous populist demagogue right now, has gained significant traction, even with those most recent gaffes. The Donald’s main idea ( I really cannot stop thinking about Donald the Duck whenever he is mentioned, the resemblance is striking) is establishing law & order (i’ll let this one go) by doing some pretty unorthodox things like establishing surveilance and bans on certain communities. He has also been advocating for waterbording and murders of famillies affiliated with terrorists.

Secondly, there is the great ‘Punisher’ of Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. President Duterte has sadly been recently elected into office and to his honor he has started doing what he promissed during the elections. More precisely he gave free rein to police to shoot all the criminals if they resist and enacted several other dubious policies. Needless to say that the body count has been quite high and the responsibility for these killings has been also claimed by vigilanties as well as the police.

Thirdly, we have Turkey (Not the sandwich) (I admit that is a horrible joke, but I just can’t help it ! Again). President Erdogan has been on a rampage ever since the attempted coup. Reportedly there have been purges of about 60’000 state employees, including teachers and judges as well as millitary officers. In the latest episodes of the Erdogan show he started haggling with Europe over the refugee agreements that have been so hard to negotiate in the first place.

All these men have something in common. They propagate the idea of public order and acting as strongmen. While on one hand, these policies could achieve their goals, it seems that none of it would be achieved without persecution and violating human right. Whether it is Trump’s waterboarding, Duterte’s shoot-to-kill policy or Edogan’s jailing journalists, there are some human and civil rights undeniably being trampled upon. The strongman’s argument is that you cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs. I have recently had a chance to talk to a Duterte’s supporter and he was no evil guy. He was an inteligent young man who was wery concerned with the state of corruption and raging drug wars in his country. In his lifetime he hasn’t seen the system working at anytime and he had a sincere hope that under Duterte’s strong words lies genuine concern for the country, just like the one he has. I, personally, understand that view and sincerely hope he is right, but my beef is with the fact that this supporter, just like supporters of the other two stars of this world sociopath show, believes that violating human and civil rights ‘a little’ is fine as long as you have the right goal in mind. They would prefer not having to do that, but they also believe it is the neccessary evil.

I, for once, completely reject that view. Violating human rights in any way is criminal, even if your ultimate goal is world peace. That same logic could be applied to war criminals after all. They oftern believe in what is the best for their country from their point of view and yet we hang all war criminals anyway. Even if Duterte’s policies are successful he should be facing international condemnation and criminal charges, because we should once and for all decide that the goals do not justify the means. Too many leaders on too many occasions in the past had our best interests in mind and yet it became a disaster. The mark of the 21st century should be that human rights are universal and untouchable and those who trample upon them should face the same charges as criminals do, because that is how we stop the history from repeating itself.

Unfortunatelly, many around the globe do not really see that point and bond themselves to people who violate human rights. The starkest example has been the disgusting behaviour of the European Union towards Turkey. For years we have been ignoring Erdogan’s excesses, because criticising him could damage our own interests. Also it seems that the US has even stronger stomach than Europe and that the Cold War politics of supporting whoever supports us is far from dead.

If we want to live in a peaceful world, we as standard-bearers of democracy, universal values and peace should not be flapping in the wind, but defend our principles and not trade them for our own benefits. At times like these I always think about what one captured terrorist told the CIA during his debriefing. Essentially he said that while we feel moraly superior, to the rest of the world we are the Empire and they are Luke and Han. No wonder that the US has been voted the biggest threat to the world peace just recently.

Michael

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Islamic Democracy -Implanting Values

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Hi everyone,

this week I would like to briefly talk about the Middle East and the issues we are facing there today.

As a society based on values of liberty, we tend to think of our system as the best system and we also have trouble understanding why others may not think so. People raised and educated in democratic systems usually share the unshakable belief of its superiority to all other systems. The point of this article is not to diminish or praise a certain way of life, but to point out the, maybe, unsurmountable obstacles in promoting our kind of democracy around the globe.

Human beings are extremely diverse and as such have multitude of roots. The democracy we know today has roots in the Ancient Greece. We sometimes call Greece the cradle of democracy. The world of the Middle East is, however, far more complex and despite taking on much of the Greek knowledge after the fall of the Roman Empire, not all of it was accepted as viable. Islam that probably is the most defining factor of the Middle East today is widely misinterpreted in the West and incredibly diverse within itself. For simplicity, I will mention only one example of such misinterpretation. The word “sharia” usually conjures very bad connotations in western minds, but it does not have to be so. Sharia is literally “the way of life”  and it is derived from Quran, life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. The misinterpretation lies within ‘fiqh’ which is jurisprudence responsible for interpretation of sharia. While some brutal regimes interpret it in a truly awful manner, it is not fair to say that sharia itself is evil. For many, ideal sharia (way of life) is what we have in the West, but Middle Eastern politics often prefers other interpretations.

The fundamental concept of our democracy is the separation of the church and state. To modify it for our purposes we could say that no modern democracy can exist if faith of any kind is involved in the political process. For great many Muslims the idea that God should have no part in direction of the country is simply ridiculous and there is little value in such secular life without God. As much as we can see their mistake in thinking that, they see our mistake in thinking the very same thing. One of the reasons why the USA was so surprised that no new government emerged in Iraq after the old one was deposed is that the Iraqi people simply don’t value what we value and have had no previous experience with democracy as we see it.

The Arab spring has clearly shown us what happens when we try to plant our ideas of democracy onto such different roots. One outcome is a despotic faith-based regime that destroys anything that is not deemed worthy or we create a new dictator who is worse than the previous one as it happened in Egypt. You could point to the example of Tunisia, but there I would claim that ‘exception confirms the rule’ and the system there is still very shaky. We must face the fact that we simply have no idea what an Islamic democracy should look like and regrettably the people in the Middle East have a very little idea about it themselves. The outlook is very grim, but we are not entirely out of options. We must finally put an end to the Cold War politics of propping up unworthy regimes, just to prevent possible greater evil. We must ask why we support Saudi Arabia more than we support Jordan ? Is it money or oil ? Is it because the Saudis have more influence ? The Saudi regime stands on legs of Wahhabi clergy who are one of the most radical sects of Islam while the King of Jordan has actually gone to considerable lengths to unite the world of Islam as shown by the Amman Message project from 2006.

Just to show that the problem is not just in the Middle East, we should also remind ourselves of our ‘success’ in Asia. Our unilateral dissemination of democracy has resulted in very undemocratic regimes and dictators that exist to this day. One example for all would be South Korea. It was built on foundations of an anti-communist dictator with full US support and since then it has gone through number of military dictatorships and while they currently have a woman president (which certainly is an achievement) we should not forget that she is the daughter of Korea’s greatest 70s dictator and has previously used the secret services to prop up her election campaign among other very undemocratic practices.

It is time to stop sacrificing human rights and universal values for short-term gain. It is time to acknowledge that forcing our ‘righteous’ system on everybody else is not the right path. Just to be clear, this is not an advocacy of despotic dictatorships and ideologies or call for abandonment of the struggle for a fair world, but a call for greater co-operation with the actual people who have to live in the actual countries we meddle in in order to create the future that they want to live in, not the future we dream about. Kale is surely healthy, but you can’t force it down everyone’s throat.

Michael

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Donald Trump – The star that’s not so bright

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Hi everyone,

Donal Trump seems to be considered as a unique, wild factor in politics at the moment by his supporters and even by those who cannot stand him. I am not going to did into his policies (if we can call it that) or the content of his platform. I would like to talk about the style of his campaign.

Donald Trump is well experienced in entertainment. He has a rich background and always seems comfortable in the spotlight. As some have pointed out, he knows well the rules of rhetoric, showmanship and persuasion. We are all mesmerised by him, no matter whether we agree with him or not.

Well, I want to bring up an old cliché that history repeats itself, but we always tend to not notice when it happens. Donald Trump is not the first to enter the race on platform of money and glamour. In fact one of the most revered presidents in US history did very much the same. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a man of money, charm and fame. In all his political races he was a voter magnet due to his personal charm, but if we dig deeper, we find that it was not the only thing that always got him elected. The one particular case that I want to point out is his race against Hubert Humphrey in presidential elections of 1960. In that race JFK picked up a rumour that H.H. might have dodged the draft during the WWII. and made sure it stuck. The same labelling strategy is working for Donald Trump today. Just as Donald Trump, JFK had a personal plane to fly him around the country as well. JFK was very comfortable with cameras and knew all too well how to work them as it showed during the first-ever televised debate against Nixon. With friends like Frank Sinatra he surely wasn’t a stranger to showbiz.

Of course there is a significant difference between the content of the Kennedy campaign and Donald Trump, but the truth is that JFK wasn’t shy to pay off informants against the Nixon campaign and since in the end it was such a narrow win it is undeniable that his ‘dirty’ tricks worked for his election quite well. In addition, celebrities in the US have had quite a good chance of success when reaching for political office. To name just a few : Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Fred Thompson, Clint Eastwood, Al Franken.

America should really think about what is so fascinating about giving celebrities power. If we cannot see through the ordinary glamour and base our vote on reason and real agenda, then we should skip voting the next time around and simply choose Morgan Freeman for president. I mean, in movies it always works out great when he’s at it.

Michael

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Defending the Norwegian System

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Hi everyone,

for a while Norway shocked the world by the state of its prison. To many of us Norwegian prisons look like a really comfortable spot for weekend outings where even people charged with murder get to handle knives and are jolly with the rest of the inmates (yes, the inmates seemed equally jolly, at least on camera).

Maybe it is some kind of innate human jealousy that we have had trouble understanding such system. The last place we want to send our criminals to is a place resembling a luxurious spa resort, right ?

On the other hand, the system seems to be working. There are fewer criminals returning to prison than in most countries. We should probably look at the context before we make our judgment. We could say that Norway with GDP per capita around 100’000 USD is a pretty rich country. We could also say that it is in quite a remote part of Europe and scarcely populated considering there are 5 million people spread at the rate of 14 people per square kilometre. It is probably safe to assume that if you have a small and super rich society you would expect low crime rates. Due to its location, the Norwegian society has been pretty homogenous too. The number of immigrants has risen considerably only in the past few years.

So is the efficiency of Norwegian prison system owed to the specific environment of the country and inapplicable elsewhere ? In the way it is set up now I believe it to be true. If you take it as it is and import it to places like the US it would be an unmitigated disaster, because other Western societies, US in particular, has much greater problems with racism and social inequality that surely has an effect on crime rates. I believe, however, there is a lesson to be learnt from Norway.

Contrary to many action movies, violence, terror and fear breed many more villains than Bruce Willis-type heroes. Instances like the Stanford prison experiment and the subsequent research of Dr. Zimbardo into human behaviour points to the idea that if terror and fear brings out the worst in people, why should we expect it to deliver good results when used as means of correction ?

Michael

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Let’s Embrace The Gridlock

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Hi everyone,

in recent years popularity of personalities like Donald Trump, Senator Sanders or Rodrigo Duterte in Philippines has been sharply rising. These people seem to have caught on the wave of discontent and are riding it towards radical changes. The one thing that all populist leaders have in common, never mind the political orientation, is the claim that there is something horribly wrong with the system and it needs to be changed. This trend is, however, present not only among populists, but also among young politicians as well.

I dare to claim just the opposite. I believe that the fundamental problem does not lie within the democratic processes as they are today, but within our conception of what these processes are and should be. Citizens of all countries are upset when their legislative body i.e. congress or parliament is in gridlock and important laws and reforms are hard to pass. That seems intuitive and naturally so many are calling for a change. I am risking sounding crazy here, but I say let’s embrace the gridlock.

The concept of democracy first emerged in Ancient Greece and it was slightly different than what it is today. At that time it roughly meant all the male citizens of a city getting together, discussing and passing decisions directly. Funnily enough, some of the Greek philosophers hated the idea, since they didn’t consider general population smart and educated enough. Even then it was difficult to make decisions when people with different opinions clashed. The democracy as we know it today is based on representation. People that you elect are meant to represent your opinions and pass regulations that are in your interest. What naturally happens is when the society is greatly divided, the representation will be divided too and that’s when gridlock comes to play. The problem of gridlock is then rooted in the society and voters themselves, not in some kind of faulty system. I would go even further and say that gridlock is actually a sign that the system is working as it should.

Now, how do we solve the problem ? How do we embrace the gridlock as a natural thing and actually get things done ?

There are two solutions. One is represented by people like Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte who claim the only remedy is to make radical changes to the system. Surely it sounds very appealing, but let me draw an analogy here between these populists and another well-known populist. Adolf Hitler. Germany in the 30s was very poor and its republic struggled with many issues. Adolf Hitler claimed the system was dysfunctional and the first thing he did when in power was changing it. The rest is history. This was just one of many examples. When a politician embarks on the quest of changing the system in order to make it smoother, faster and more efficient what it really means is creating a dictatorship. Dictatorships are generally very efficient. The problems is that dictatorships rarely have goals benefiting the people. I think that the world of 2016 should finally learn from all the instances of this happening in history.

The second possible solution is emergence of a uniting strong leader that is capable of compromise. Such leader can make the system work even in greatly polarised society and pass laws that we need without radical changes. It will not be smooth sailing. When things are too easy it means there is something wrong with our democracy. The possibility of all of human kind being on the same page is probably just as high as the possibility of falling in love with your mother-in-law.

Let’s embrace the gridlock and find new generations of great leaders instead of great dictators. Leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, JFK, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela or Angela Merkel. These leaders were and are powerful within the democratic process and sometimes were forced out by the very system they strived to create or tweak and that is the way it should be. Our democracy is only as strong as our own ability to compromise. Let’s not consider gridlock as a fault and weakness, but as a sign that it is time to find common ground instead of making wild claims and radical changes.

Michael

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The American problem with NATO

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Hi everyone,

politicians from both parties in the US have professed many opinions on NATO in the past few weeks. I think a European perspective is due.

First of all, dear Republicans please stop using Europe as an excuse for enacting your own insane policies (European mismanagement of ghettos is really not the reason to oppress your own citizens with police bigotry mr. Cruz). It was you who started the war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Vietnam and what is Europe dealing with now is the result of your war on terror.

Secondly, when talking Republican let’s look at the claim that NATO is obsolete as proposed by mr. Drumpf. The North Atlantic Alliance was indeed created in post-WWII Europe in order to protect Western Europe. Without NATO the Soviet Union would easily take over the west as quickly as it did of the east. At the time US presence was vital, because weakened Europe, destroyed by war, would not stand a chance alone. It is true that the US then payed the majority of the bill. Let’s not forget though that the US rarely does anything selflessly. The Cold War was a geopolitical conflict featuring the Soviet Union and the US as the main stars of the show. Therefore the US had a vested interest in NATO. I am not afraid to say that it has so today too. The US and Russia are not friends. The Cold War is not over. It has just turned into a clandestine operation involving few more players. It doesn’t matter whether they fight a proxy wars in Syria or bully each other’s ships in the Baltic sea. Since 1993 the Russian Federation has involved itself in numerous conflicts either directly or indirectly in places like Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The one thing these places have in common is that they are not in NATO. Russian aggression is real and undeniable, so calling NATO obsolete is ludicrous. If Ukraine was in NATO it would never have to face the current situation. Of course you can ask : why doesn’t Europe do something about it then ? Why does it need America ? Russia controls over 140 million people that can be all rallied up towards one goal (Soviet Union has shown that). Europe is fractured among dozens of nations, many of which have only several million inhabitants and each need to follow it’s own democratic processes. That is why Europe alone cannot involve itself in such large scale conflicts.

There was another claim from Senator Sanders that European NATO members should pay more and the USA should not pay 70% of the budget. There is some debate over what the percentage is. There are in fact three separate NATO budgets and the US pays about 22% to each which then adds up. In 2013 the US payed 66,6% of the total budget. Now that surely sounds unfair. After all, EU has 28 members so we should put up more of the budget, but there is also another number to consider. Total population of EU is about 508 million people. US population is roughly 316 million. Now, call me crazy, but the 66% of the budget doesn’t sound that inappropriate. Major European countries like UK, France or Germany do put up a significant amounts of money and so the problem lies with all the small countries. If you have just couple of million people you cannot even dream of defending yourself against 140 million strong Russian bear and so it doesn’t really feel right to put so much money into the army. Nevertheless, there are many small countries that have great military budgets and therein lies the problem, because instead of NATO we are putting money into our personal armies which is money well-embezzled of course. So what Europeans should do is to change the way money going to the army is spend, not to increase the volume. Point taken Senator Sanders.

In the end, the US have much bigger geopolitical interests than the Baltic states for example. The Baltic states just want to be safe and not to end up like Ukraine (It has a reason to worry, Russia historically have always had a fetish for owning small countries around its borders). The US wants to be the world leader and all parties use NATO’s might appropriately, so I think there is really no debate about usefulness of NATO or even who should pay more.

Michael

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