China’s Wasted Capital

China has been criticized for being both a miser and wantonly in global trade circles. Its critics bash it both for careless over-investing at home and for depressing world demand through excessive thrift. In fact, it is not the size of Chinese domestic capital investments that stands out, but rather the misguided content of the investments. Considering the size of its economy, China actually needs to create much more capital than it currently possesses in order to reach levels comparable to those of the U.S. or Japan (see Graph 1).

China’s capital stock amounted to about 2.5 times China’s GDP in 2008, according to the APO, which was the same as America’s figure and much lower than Japan’s

Forty-four percent of China’s economic growth is due to brute accumulation of capital. The fact that much of this capital is useless contributes to the fact that Chinese growth model does not increase the living standard of Chinese citizens as well as it could. For one thing, Chinese citizens’ money in bank deposits is deprived of growth because of government-capped interest rates. In terms of trade, the renminbi’s low exchange rate suppresses consumption (by making imports expensive) and supports production of exports. Sadly, the proceeds that the government extracts from its citizens by capping the interest rate and stifling consumption gets malinvested “in speculative assets or excess capacity.”

The ones responsible for the malinvestment of Chinese citizens’ capital are local governments and SOEs (State-Owned Enterprises). It is their doing that 30 per cent of China’s GDP has become driven by demand from the property and construction centres. The officials have made revenues by buying cheap land from farmers who cannot sell directly to developers and who have to accept what the government is willing to pay. They have built cities, expecting urbanization to push people into them, before creating job opportunities for them. The city of Kanbashi, which was designed for 300,000 people, is today occupied by less than 30,000. Its Genghis Khan Square, comparable in size to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, is utterly desolate.

The urban center of Kangbashi (Ordos, Inner Mongolia) is swept by a single woman every day

Models of housing at the Noble City development sits on display in the new Kangbashi section of Ordos

In a paper called “Das (Wasted) Kapital”, David Dollar and Shang-Jin Wei “reckon that two-thirds of the capital employed by the SOEs should have been invested by private firms instead” mainly because so much of the capital used by SOEs has been left to rot outside. The SOE justify their investments by their incredibly high “profitability”. But the investments are only profitable because of the lack of competition in the markets that the SOEs occupy. What’s more, the SOEs’ input of land, energy and credit are artificially cheap. It is not surprising then that Unirule, a Beijing think-tank, has shown that “the SOEs’ profits from 2001 to 2008 would have turned into big losses had they paid the market rate for their loans and land.”


Old houses are demolished to make space for construction projects of local governments and SOEs

Miles and miles of empty houses in Huaxi village

China needs to change its growth model as quickly as possible because its economic growth itself is growing. Thus, as China acquires more know-how, better technology and development techniques, it produces more and more capital, which the government squanders. A good solution was proposed by Premier Li Keqiang, who urged “the introduction of a property tax, the reduction of local governments’ over-reliance on land auctions, the construction of housing in rural land designated for commercial development, and a change in education, welfare and household registration rules to reduce distortions – to ‘stamp out the phenomenon of families spending tens of thousands of dollars on unlivable pigeon-coop-sized houses near elite schools’.”

Still, there are scholars who believe that China’s priority should not be better efficiency in economic growth or raising the living standard, but growth itself. Scott Sumner of Bentley University argues that even if it does not produce “everything in the right order”, China ought to “produce lots more of almost everything”. These more optimistic scholars argue that China should produce as much as it can, until its capital per capita ratio and GDP level reach those of the U.S. and Japan. Xi Jinping’s announcement of a huge new economic zone in Xiongan, with the infrastructure build-out intended to cover 2000sq km (a size similar to the city of Shenzhen with 12 million people), indicates that his economic conviction belongs to the same boat. While he is president, China will have to deal with being called a miser and a wanton.

Russian in?

Lithuania, the small, southernmost Baltic state, has reached out for international military support due a surge of Russia’s presence in the region.

While Lithuania has a minuscule amount of ethnic Russians, making a pro-Russian rebellion largely from within its own borders as has been the case in Ukraine unlikely, Russia’s influence on the Baltic region seems very plausible. Lithuania has warned the West throughout the past few years about Russia’s growing impact in the region, which has largely come from fake news seeking to destabilize Lithuania from within. False claims regarding German soldiers raping a girl were mysteriously e-mailed to the president of the Lithuanian Parliament, as well as a story that incorrectly reported a chemical assault on U.S. soldiers in nearby Estonia. Russia’s recent behavior in its apparent attempts to impact the French and U.S. elections have stirred up added attention from the West on any potential Russian propaganda, especially when it occurs in a country with such geographic proximity to Russia. That country’s leader, Vladimir Putin, recently deployed nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, the Russian territory that borders Lithuania’s southeast.

Unlike Lithuania, Belarus, which shares a large border on Lithuania’s southeast, does have a significant Russian population, raising slight concerns over the ‘autonomy’ of a country already heavily influenced by Russia.

A joint military exercise between Belarus and Russian soldiers planned for September has done nothing to quell Lithuania’s concerns over Russia’s aggressive attitude. Despite claims that the exercise will not consist of more than 13,000 troops, Russia’s military exercises in the caucasus last year were only supposed to include 12,000 troops. Instead 120,000 soldiers participated. Intel suggests the possibility of the joint  training exceeding 100,000 soldiers and even including nuclear weapons training in a country with an already significant Russian military presence.

On May 9th in Lithuania’s capital city of Vilnius Lithuania’s President, Dalia Grybauskaite, met with U.S. Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis. Grybauskaite requested a stronger presence of the U.S. military in Lithuania, noting NATO’s inability to act decisively as opposed to U.S. forces. The U.S. has had 150 soldiers in the country since 2014, but Grybauskaite is making a case for additional support in deterring the Russians from the Baltic region. Grybauskaite made a point that “It is important to have adequate response capabilities against possible threats,” clearly demonstrating her desire for a stronger U.S. presence in her country.

(Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite)

Lithuania’s Defense Minister Karoblis even labeled the September military drills to be conducted by Russia and Belarus as a “simulation of an offensive character against NATO.” Lithuania as well as the other Baltic states received encouragement from the visit of U.S. Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, who met with his counterparts of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in a Lithuanian town a day after his meeting with President Grybauskaite. Mattis reassured the states of the commitment of the U.S. in protecting its NATO allies, despite prior comments made by President Trump. NATO is expected to conduct a large air defense exercise in Lithuania in July, and has pledged 4,000 troops to rotate along its eastern border in the countries of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

(Jim Mattis second from left, Karoblis far left)
Russia’s intentions towards the West certainly do not look to be improving. Its military ‘practice’ with Belarus in September has only further escalated the tensions between Russia and the West that are pushing the world scarily back in the direction of a Cold War. What just months ago seemed like a soaring relationship between the U.S. and the Russian Federation, now continues to crumble, contributing to the chaos of American politics at home and abroad.

Region Profile: China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region

Though China’s encroachment in the South China Sea has rightly deserved the scrutiny it’s seen in the eyes of the media, there is another, much more insidious policy underway on the other side of the world’s most populous nation.

Meet the Uighurs.

If you haven’t heard of them, don’t worry: you won’t find “Uighurstan” or the equivalent on any geography quizzes, or on the map for that matter. Xinjiang (or “New Borders”), as it is called by the Chinese, is a Central Asian region that has long been conquered by empire after empire, most recently by the People’s Republic of China in 1949.  The Han presence in Xinjiang goes back millennia, but it has been by no means constant. The Chinese first occupied the area during the Tang Dynasty (pictured below), in order to maintain greater control of the Silk Road. Their hold was tenuous, however, local and Tibetan forces along the Silk Road intermittently seized control of the Road  until the Tang Dynasty’s collapse c. 900.

(borders are approximate; other sources show much narrower band of control)
(Borders are approximate; other sources argue much more limited Chinese control at the time)

As is common among desert regions, Xinjiang has been often invaded but rarely controlled. Gokturks, Mongols, Tibetans, and Russians play as crucial a role as the Uighurs or Han in its history. It was ultimately the Uighurs, a Turkic nomadic people with a long history in the steppes of Central Asia, who settled the region, subsequently adopting a lifestyle of agriculture, pastoralism, and trade. Even to this day, a few hunters and Silk-Road traders preserve the ancient traditions of the semi-nomadic Uighurs. The first Uighur kingdom in the region was founded around 1000 AD, and it was around this time that a majority of Uighurs began converting to Islam.

Western Tourists on a caravan ride through the Taklamakan Desert, Xinjiang, China
Western Tourists on a caravan ride through the Taklamakan Desert, Xinjiang.

But recently, however, Xinjiang’s most recent conquerors have taken measures to ensure that their control remains permanent. Unlike the Tang, the modern Han Chinese have adopted a policy of settlement rather than occupation. In the past half-century, the population has shifted from almost entirely Uighur to majority Han:

Since 2008, the Han population has grown even more, to just over 50%, though the numbers are contested.
Since 2008, the Han population has grown even more, to just over 50%, though the numbers are contested.

The Han have moved into the area en masse to capitalize on President Xi’s ‘pet project’ of reinventing  the Silk Road for modern oil and food industry transport, settling mainly in administrative strongpoints like the ancient trade city of Urumqi. Many of the biggest cities are concentrated in the north of the region, along the path of the old Silk Road.

Population demographics by district in Xinjiang. Red is Han, Black is Uighur. A prominent north-south divide is visible.
Population demographics by district in Xinjiang. Red is Han, Black is Uighur. A prominent north-south divide is visible.

Many native Uighurs have not taken kindly to the usurpation of their   homeland. Some have reacted violently, launching terrorist attacks against Han settlers in the region as well as larger cities in China proper. In 2009, a riot in Urumqi against the Han led to 200 deaths. As a result of these attacks, and the global stress on anti-terrorism efforts after 9/11, China has had comparative free reign in suppressing Uighur separatist efforts. It certainly doesn’t help the Uighur cause that Islam is a key part of their group identity and one of the many rallying points against the officially atheist People’s Republic.

Commentators have condemned the Chinese government for (what they view as) exaggerating the extremist tendencies in Xinjiang to further their own ends. Though China recognizes the 55 minority ethnic groups living within their nation, almost all power resides with the Han or (to a lesser extent) the closely-related Hui. Since the consolidation of China’s modern borders in the Communist takeover following WWII, two other sizable minorities have been severely oppressed. In the province of Inner Mongolia, the Mongolian population has either been out populated or entirely assimilated by the Han. In Tibet, religious persecution has forced the Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan (Theravada) Buddhists out of the country. The Uighurs, however, seem to be under cultural attack from the Han, who (perhaps deliberately) place advertisements offensive to Islam in religiously-significant cities, or force students to break fast during Ramadan. Whether these actions are deliberate, or a result of cultural misunderstanding, is difficult to discern. Perhaps that is exactly how China wants it.

Provinces, districts, and autonomous regions of China.
Provinces, districts, and autonomous regions of China.

In this era of growing tribalism, it is troubling, though hardly surprising, to see a nation with the power to supplant a centuries-old ethnic group in only a few decades. The world has changed since the genocides of the early 20th century, but newer, subtler methods have come to supplant genocide by force. Genocide by industrialization, by destruction of culture, and by out-population, are the weapons of the age. Demographically, Xinjiang’s destiny is already set: even if all the Uighurs united, they would be numerically outmatched by the Han in Xinjiang alone, not to mention the rest of China. The Han are richer, stronger, better-trained, adapted to the modern world, and simply too big to be stopped. The only choice left to the Uighurs is to dwindle as a minority in their own home, one more victim in the global march towards consolidation and the cultural domination of superpowers.

How Can Iceland be so Cru-whale to Harmless Creatures?

A minke whale being slaughtered on a whaling vessel in Iceland
A minke whale being slaughtered on a whaling vessel in Iceland

When people hear the word “whaling,” they normally think of Japan. Japan claims to kill whales for “scientific research,” even though vessels that are killing the whales suddenly become anxious and secretive when a camera crew rolls around?  Well, Japan may be in the limelight most of the time, but Iceland is just as bad as Japan, maybe even worse.  Here’s why.

Whaling in Iceland isn’t a big industry.  A man named Kristjan Loftsson owns the only company that kills whales.  Now, this may not be that bad, right?  Only one company?  Well, here’s the thing.  In Iceland, they kill two different types of whales, the solitary minke whale and the endangered fin whale.  Minke whale meat is mainly appealing to tourists, who are trying the “Icelandic cuisine” that they don’t really eat.  Fin whale meat, however, is unappetizing in Iceland, and it gets shipped off to Japan, where it’s not even that big, either.

Kristjan Loftsson, Icelandic fishing magnate, holds a box of frozen whale meat during a Bloomberg Television interview at the Hvalfjordur whaling station in Hvalfjordur, Iceland, on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015. Iceland is one of the last pro-whaling countries, for historical reasons (in Icelandic "stranded whale" means "great luck"), and, thanks to a long-standing, stubborn determination not to be lectured to by the outside world. Photographer: Arnaldur Halldorsson/Bloomberg
Kristjan Loftsson, Icelandic fishing magnate, holds a box of frozen whale meat during a Bloomberg Television interview at the Hvalfjordur whaling station in Hvalfjordur, Iceland, on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015. Iceland is one of the last pro-whaling countries, for historical reasons (in Icelandic “stranded whale” means “great luck”), and, thanks to a long-standing, stubborn determination not to be lectured to by the outside world. Photographer: Arnaldur Halldorsson/Bloomberg

Here are some numbers from the past years regarding Icelandic whaling up to 2015.  The numbers have increased in the past decade.  What is even more disconcerting is that the number of minke whales that are being hunted is significantly less than the number of fin whales, despite the fact that Icelanders actually personally use minke whales.

The number of minke whales killed from 1987 to 2015.
The number of minke whales killed from 1987 to 2015.  From Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society
The number of fin whales killed from 1987 to 2015.
The number of fin whales killed from 1987 to 2015.  From Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society
The total number of whales (minke and fin) killed from 1987 to 2015.
The total number of whales (minke and fin) killed from 1987 to 2015.  From Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

The past two years, whaling trips targeting fin whales have been cancelled because of a lack of demand in Japan.  Minke whales, however, are still being hunted.  

So how is it that the Icelandic people are able to hunt whales, despite the fact that it is illegal everywhere else?  They’ve found a loophole in the deal with the International Whaling Commission (IWC), where they could continue “scientific whaling,” up until 1992 when they left the IWC.  They rejoined in 2002, and established a “quota” they they must reach/cannot go over for each year.  They say that it is an important part of their culture, and that their economy would not do well if they stopped whaling.  This is not true whatsoever, because they barely gain any profit from trade with Japan, which is what Iceland says is where some of their income comes from.
So why do they continue whaling?  That is the question we all must ask, because the senseless slaughter of innocent creatures is not condoned by anyone, except maybe the “scientific” community.

The Government of Ukraine

Protesters filled the streets in 2014, hoping to bring down President Viktor Yanukovych. The Ukrainian people longed for a favorable government. The pro-Russian Yanukovych had made several unpopular decisions. He imprisoned his political rivals, he harassed several independent journalists, he ordered military force upon peaceful protests, and what pushed most Ukrainians over the edge was his decision to not sign an agreement that would form an alliance between Ukraine and the European Union.

Ukraine’s only problems are by no means solely political as the state of its economy has plummeted. The hryvnia, Ukraine’s currency, trades at a rate of about 10:1 with the US dollar. Ukraine’s government has recently been confronted with short-term debts with interest rates that peaked at 15%. In 2014, Ukraine’s bonds were just as weak, if not weaker than Venezuela’s. Directly after the post-Soviet era in 1991, Ukraine became an extremely unproductive economy. Ukrainians experienced large amounts of hyperinflation, which frightened them. The Ukrainian central bank made the switch from their old currency of karbovanets to their current currency of hryvnias and pledged to keep it stable; this currency change took place in 1996. Ukraine’s government certainly has not been stable since this pledge. Numerous Ukrainian businesses refuse to pay taxes, and this of course deprives the Ukrainian government of revenues. The most recent prime minister of Ukraine has approximated that about $37 billion left the country’s possession during Viktor Yanukovych’s rule. According to the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Ukraine is ranked 130th out of 168 countries in terms of corruption, 11 spots behind Russia.

In early August of 2014, the US’s Democratic Party divided when deciding to send lethal weapons and gear to Ukraine. The Obama administration had given to Ukraine non-lethal equipment (i.e. night-vision goggles and armored vehicles). Many, alongside Committee Chairman Carl Levin asked President Obama to go even further and send Ukraine lethal weapons. The demand for US weapon support will increase as Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine and the risk of open warfare develops. Barack Obama hinted at the fact that weapons could very well be sent to Ukraine if Russia decides to invade Ukraine. John McCain has accused the Obama administration of showing a “cowardly” approach to the situation by not sending Ukraine the necessary weapons and equipment that Mr. McCain believes they need. Ukraine’s military force has previously shown signs of unprofessionalism, and they have lacked the preparation skills of other military forces. In the summer of 2014, 311 Ukrainian troops decided to leave their weapons behind and cross the Russian border. The government in Kiev claimed that the troops had just experienced a short supply of ammunition. There have been several cases of odd behavior from the Ukrainian military. The US should most likely hold off on sending Ukraine any means of lethal weapons until they show that they are capable of a larger degree of discipline and professionalism. Ukraine clearly has several issues, and their government seems to be far from closing in on solutions for these problems.

Ukraine’s government has several political worries. About 50% of Ukrainians back improving relations with Russia; while the remaining 50% of Ukraine’s population are entirely opposed. One major recent issue is that the Ukrainian government in the country’s capital, Kiev, has recently lacked authority its eastern territory territory. Investigative journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter gave an interview and stated, “we have to realize that in the eyes of those protesters, the government in Kiev is a sort of gang of oligarchs, of organized crime, of terrorists, and of course hooligans, and when we see who is right now governing in Kiev, they are not so wrong”, when asked about protesters in Kiev. The government in Kiev greatly desires the military and economic backing of the West, especially NATO and the European Union. The government wants to encourage Russia to take military action, according to Ochsenreiter.

Ukraine has the possibility of striving as a country if it can build and maintain a strong as well as an improved economic and political situation. It would be ideal for Ukraine to become a completely democratic country, but they first need to come across a solution that will hopefully unify the country and solve their problems with government corruption.

The Russian Wildcard: A Losing Hand

For the United States, Russia is the focus of mixed emotions. In more informal media, it is the source of great humor over their tough-as-nails, vodka-drinking stereotypes. Other times, the country, and specifically its leader, Vladimir Putin, get attention for being nefarious underdog competitors of the United States, slowly and indirectly trying to strike back at us in a revival of Cold War tensions. The reality of modern Russia under the leadership of Mr. Putin is not ideal, but not terribly dangerous to the average US citizen. Their resource based economy has been severely hurt by the drop in oil prices and the international community’s response to their aggressive actions in Ukraine and the Middle East. A quick search shows that the US Dollar is equal to almost 60 Russian Rubles. It is true that they sit on the largest nuclear stockpile in the world, but it is also true that the United States possesses a stockpile ranked at a dangerously close second, enough to keep the dynamics of mutually assured destruction alive. In any case, Russia has been trying to strengthen its influence on the world stage in recent years, despite its weakened economy. This pursuit causes the government of Russia to, at times, act more like a gang than a respectable, permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

One of the more blatant examples of Russia’s indiscriminate tendencies is their consistent bombing of rebelling Syrian forces in the city of Aleppo at great cost to the civilian population. They do this in support of President Bashar al-Assad and his fiercely nationalist administration. President Assad is infamous for using chemical weapons against citizens of his own country, most notably in August of 2013, when his military dropped about 1,000 kg of sarin gas in the rebel-held suburbs of Ghouta, killing over 1,000 men, women and children. Mr. Putin’s government has no qualms about supporting people who use those kinds of brutal tactics. The only sign from Russia that may be taken as a signal of their disapproval of such tactics came when they did not veto a UNSC resolution “…to investigate and determine the perpetrators of the chemical attacks in Syria.” Since then, Russia has continued to support the Assad regime’s fight against the rebels, even if it means killing civilians. The Human Rights Watch NGO states that in two months alone in the city of Aleppo, the Russian-Syrian coalition’s bombing campaign “…killed more than 440 civilians, including more than 90 children.” Both the targeting strategy and the types of weapons used were “recklessly indiscriminate.” At least one hospital was purposely targeted and cluster munitions and incendiary weapons were used to inflict maximum damage.  The situation in Aleppo represents a tremendous and unnecessary loss of life as a result of Russia’s attempt to support an ally and back nationalistic causes.

Devastation in Aleppo
Devastation in Aleppo

Russia has also tried to broaden its influence through direct interference with the United States presidential elections, strengthening its stance as the wildcard of world politics. The US government has confirmed that Russia was behind the successful hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other organizations within the Democratic Party. According to CNN, this Russian hacking publicized “…thousands of stolen emails, many of which included damaging revelations about the Democratic Party and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton…” The CIA later discovered and announced that Russian hackers were responsible not only for attempting to damage Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, but also for helping Mr. Trump through assistance in the spreading of fake news about Hillary Clinton. In both cases, Russia was successful in its attempts to bolster its reputation as an international wildcard with far-reaching influence.

In the same way that cash is king in a gang hierarchy, the same goes for Mr. Putin and his inner circle of Russian oil aristocrats. In the time since Mr. Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States, Russian billionaires, many of which have close ties to Mr. Putin, have gained a combined total $29 billion on their net worth. These astronomical figures attract suspicion to Mr. Putin’s personal financial dealings and his motivations to authorize the hacking that the CIA has now stated helped Trump in his election campaign. Gennady Timchenko has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the rise in wealth. In 2014, he withdrew his stake in an oil trading firm the day before the United States brought sanctions against it due to Mr. Putin’s alleged personal investment in the firm. So, like a gang leader, Mr. Putin has a vested interest in the success of the major companies he is tied to.

As it appears, Mr. Putin currently sits as the ring-leader of a gang of Russian oil and steel magnates, looking out for their monetary well-being and potentially getting a cut of the profit in return. When combined with Russia’s purposeful killing of civilians in Syria, it makes for a grim picture of the troublesome nuclear power that is Russia in the 21st century.

The PKK: Back Where We Started

Both ideologically and in the way it emphasizes violence, the PKK is the most radical Kurdish political movement Turkey has ever seen. In the final two decades of the twentieth century, the PKK waged a bloody and costly guerilla war on the Turkish government which killed tens of thousands of people, reaching its peak in the 1990’s when many villages in the southeast part of Turkey (a predominantly Kurdish region) were destroyed. Thousands of Kurds were displaced and fled to other parts of the country.

The PKK originally emerged from one of the radical left tendencies in the Kurdish student movement of the 1970’s when some students (both Kurds and Turks) decided to dedicate themselves to the cause of liberating the Kurdish people from oppression on a class and a national level. They went east, attempting to mobilize disaffected Kurdish youth against the government. Abdullah Ocalan became their leader as they formally organized the group in 1978, assuming dictatorial powers.

Back in 1920, following the end of WWI, originated the reason for Kurdish oppression; the Treaty of Sevres, which was supposed to be implemented in Turkey in 1920, providing for an autonomous Kurdistan. However, Turkey forced modifications to be made in the treaty and the plan was never put into place. Since then, the Kurds have never been allowed full rights as a minority in Turkey.

So what is it that they want? The goal of the PKK, in the eyes of the Turkish government, is to separate from Turkey and create their own state. Most Kurds, however, simply wish for greater autonomy within the existing borders of Turkey.

The PKK was one of several Kurdish nationalist organizations around the time of the 1980 military coup in Turkey, and it was the sole survivor; the rest of the groups were wiped out in the wake of the coup. Ocalan had escaped to Syria earlier, where he gained support from Palestine and Syria and was able to organize guerilla training in Lebanon and later northern Iraq.

By 1984, the PKK actually started carrying out raids on military positions in Turkey, and despite all of Turkey’s counterinsurgency operations, such as bombings of suspected Kurdish camps and even invasions of Iraq, the PKK struck deep into the heart of the country. The countryside was torn apart as both the PKK and the government pressured villagers to take sides and either group would react forcefully if they suspected any disloyalty. The 1990’s brought on a few ideological and strategic changes as the PKK renounced their original goal of a united, independent Kurdistan and instead aimed for a much more modest deal with the Turkish government. It showed support for legal, pro-Kurdish parties, attempting without much success to bring them under its control.

Although the PKK attempted to engage Turkish authorities in negotiations and at several points announced a unilateral ceasefire, the PKK was unable to turn the war from a military struggle to a purely political one. Abdullah Ocalan was hunted down and put on trial for high treason in 1999, and was originally sentenced to death, but the sentence was later changed to lifelong imprisonment in 2002. At this time, the PKK underwent a bit of a struggle with its identity, changing the name of the organization numerous times in just a few years, claiming non-violent and democratic intentions, and saying it would work within the confines of Turkish law to improve the status of the oppressed Kurdish people.

What needs to happen for the Turkish government to make peace with the Kurds? The struggle in Turkey seems to spiral more and more out of control as time goes on, with the end of the brief ceasefire between Ankara and the PKK in 2013 and with President Erdogan fueling the fight with the PKK in order to gain a political advantage in 2015. Since the breakdown of the ceasefire in the summer of 2015, the violence in southeast Turkey has been reminiscent of the devastation of that region in the 80’s and 90’s. The situation must be disturbing for Erdogan, who is seen as the perpetrator of this war; he took on the Kurds militarily, using his campaign against them to garner votes  He persuaded voters that he and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) were the only ones who could cope with the PKK terror threat.

Erdogan claims he wants a deal that would end the thirty years of war between Turkey and the PKK rebels, but hasn’t taken any action to push forward with a peace process. According to a 2013 New York Times article, “until he understands that the Kurdish problem in Turkey is about politics and identity, and not just about getting the guerrillas to withdraw from Turkey and give up their weapons, there will be no hope for peace.”

But Erdogan is not the only problematic person involved; Ocalan may not be the right guy to negotiate with, or to ensure democracy for the Kurds, as he is highly authoritarian – while he was based in Syria for nearly two decades, he consolidated power by killing or isolating challengers. A peace deal between the Turkish government and the Kurds needs to answer the Kurds’ call for human rights in a way that will protect the views of the Kurdish people as a whole, not just Ocalan and the PKK.

The Kurds aren’t asking for as much as they once were; they desire autonomy and an end to the repression of Kurdish activism. Turkey hopes for security and preservation of its borders. Rather than treating the PKK as a sort of security problem and negotiating solely with Ocalan, Erdogan should focus on a solution that actually addresses the Kurds’ grievances concerning cultural rights and autonomy.

The Sicilian Mafia: An Offer the Italian Government Can’t Refuse

When you think of the mafia, you probably think of gangsters and mobsters with guns and Marlon Brando calling the shots. In reality, it isn’t just a bunch of Italians shouting and shooting at each other. They are actually very involved in Italian society, politics, and the economy. The Sicilian Mafia are basically a state within a state; they have their own citizens , land, and laws. The Mafia offers physical protection and security, which the Italian government hasn’t been able to promise since their reunification in the 1860s. Today, the Sicilian Mafia actually works alongside the Italian government as a governing power.
The Sicilian Mafia originated in the 1800s. Sicily, the southern island of Italy, was a prime location and target for raiders to come and try and take over the land. Sicilians came together to form groups in order to protect themselves from invaders. Later, these groups became private armies called the “mafie.” They extorted protection money from landowners and eventually become the violent “Sicilian Mafia,” or in Italian, Casa Nostra, meaning ‘our thing,’. Sicily became a unified part of Italy in 1861, but the Sicilian Mafia acted as a government while the Italian government struggled. The Italian government was established in Rome, and the distance and geographical circumstance of the island of Sicily made it difficult for the government to gain a hold there. In the 1870s, the Italian government asked the Sicilian Mafia to go after dangerous criminal bands that were causing them trouble. In exchange, the government would ignore the Mafia’s taxing of landowners. The Italian government thought that this would be a temporary fix to their problem as they tried to establish their government. However, this allowed the Sicilian Mafia to gain more power and further engrain themselves in Italian society, politics, and economy. For example, the Mafia started threatening people to vote for certain politicians who supported the Mafia. The Catholic Church even hired the Mafia to watch over land holdings and keep farmer tenants in check.
Today, the Mafia consists of an estimated 1,500 men categorized into 67 ‘families’ just in the province of Palermo, Sicily. A regional committee governs the Casa Nostra, and under that is a provincial committee. Then, there is a colonel who watches over three families. Each family has power over a certain territory. The families each have a chief, counselor, deputies, sergeants, and soldiers. The families are somewhat kin-oriented. Members of the family tend to be extended through from father to sons, uncles to nephews, and through godparenthood. However, talent is a big part of the job, so some sons of cosca members who are thought to lack the criminal abilities (cough cough, Al Pacino, cough cough) are passed over in favor of promising delinquents from unrelated backgrounds.
The Mafia is extremely integrated in Italy’s economy and politics today. They account for about 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, making it Italy’s biggest business. Popular professions include professional tailors for high fashion companies in Milan, pirating DVDs, fishermen, and brewmasters. Their role in politics is also extensive. Antonino Giuffre, number two in the Sicilian Mafia, recounted after his arrest that former prime minister Giulio Andreotti was associated with the Mafia, saying that “Relations between the Christian Democrats [CD] and Cosa Nostra were serene for at least a decade, there was absolute peace.” The Mafia support certain candidates and often rig elections so they win, and in return, they receive political impunity for their violence and crimes. It assumes some government functions such as protection and works parallel to the government when it elects its supporters to key positions. Palermo Prosecutor Giancarlo Caselli says that this is possible because the Sicilian Mafia has a “fifth column” in Sicilian life.
So, it doesn’t seem like the Mafia will be going anywhere anytime soon. Between an inept stateno stable government, and deficient public service system, Italy seems to need the Mafia. The weak Italian government aside, “The mafia-dominated corruption that entangles the country is so deeply rooted that it is all but impossible to reform (or preferably eliminate). Such reform could today only come about by eliminating the central government,”. The Mafia’s idea of honor is still held by many Sicilians who wouldn’t dare support the elimination of the Mafia. The Mafia’s strong roots have supported its control of Italy since the 19th century. Its extensive role in Italian society, economy, and politics demonstrate its role as essentially a shadow government.

The Economic Impact of Brexit

It’s been four months since the Britons decided to leave the EU and the reactionary sentiment in Europe couldn’t have been more mixed. While many aspects of the vote have been contested, one thing remains sure – the EU has lost an important free-trade advocate, whose voice will be missed in a future, which looms with rising protectionism and nationalism. But the focus of Downing Street has now shifted from the EU’s concerns toward Britain itself and its future. The new prime minister, Theresa May, plans to turn Britain into “the Great Meritocracy” together with her Conservative “party of workers”. Her initially pro-EU rhetoric has changed in order to reflect the will of the people of UK, which they manifested in the Brexit referendum.

“We applaud success. We want people to get on. But we also value something else: the spirit of citizenship. A commitment to the men and women around you who provide a service. A social contract which says you take on local people before cheap labour from overseas. But today too many people in positions of power behave as if they have more in common with international elites rather than the people they employ, the people they pass in the street.”

Even though the referendum has not yet had a markable negative impact on the British economy, the economic projections after its leaving the EU remain unpromising. Officials like Theresa May believe that the success of Brexit will be judged based on more than just GDP and trade figures, but also on the extent to which Britain regains its sovereignty and sustains its national identity. This does not mean, however, that Britain’s economy, especially its future trade-relations, won’t play a significant role in determining the success of Brexit. Let’s look, therefore, at the prospect of these trade relations by examining the effect of the referendum, and of Brexit itself, on Britain’s closest trading partners.

Although the result of the referendum spurred concern and uncertainty in, for example, the automobile industry of the EU, the 14% drop in sterling in about 4 months after the vote caused a rise in foreign direct investment in the EU, as investors fled the sterling. “The referendum has cut off one of the EU’s wings, but the EU keeps flying,” says Jean-Claude Juncker. But Britain keeps flying too – and much swifter than expected for that matter. In fact, its GDP figures in the quarter following the Brexit referendum have seen a growth of 0.5% – higher than the 0.3% growth predicted by many economists. The expansion, nearly exclusively in the services sector and fueled by a higher consumer spending, has been made possible by a weaker sterling. Even though the devaluation of the pound has, surprisingly, failed to stimulate British exports, it may yet bring about a slump in British imports as foreign, mostly primary products become less affordable for Britons. Such a vision is especially gloomy for Britain’s closest neighbour, Ireland.

“The figures show the cost of Brexit to Ireland will be significant, possibly in some areas even worse than in Britain itself.” That is hardly surprising when one considers the tariffs that could be imposed on, e.g., Irish exports of meat and dairy products, were Britain to leave the EU Single Market. These could possibly climb as high as 20-30% and compromise the Irish barrierless cross-border trade with Britain, on which farmers heavily depend.

The imposition of all future tariffs and nontariff barriers depends on the outcome of the negotiations between the British government and foreign economies. Theresa May has already initiated some of these negotiations, not surprisingly, by a visit to India, where she discussed the possibilities of a future trade relationship for the two countries with its prime minister, Narendra Modi.

Not all countries, however, are as welcoming to Britain as India. Britain’s leave of the EU will hugely detract from its lucrativeness as a trading partner. Its most important one, the EU, has signaled that the negotiations between the two actors won’t be initiated until Britain triggers Article 50. As the EU’s Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmstrom, put it, “First you exit, then you negotiate.” The problem is that once Britain triggers Article 50, it will only have 2 years to negotiate a deal with the EU, unless it wants to start operating according to the rules of the WTO and risk the imposition of more than 20% tariffs on certain products. Some pundits say that this time is insufficient to prepare an acceptable trade agreement between the two polities.

This is hardly surprising when one considers Britain’s likely requirements in these trade negotiations: a continuation of the free trade of capital, goods and services; and the abolition of the freedom of movement. In other words, the UK would like to rip out the “four freedoms” of the EU – its most fundamental tenet – and only pick three of them. But EU bureaucrats have never granted such an opt-out, and they are highly unlikely to do so in Britain’s case. Will they let Britain both have its cake and eat it?

After the referendum, EU officials have redirected their attention to a further integration of the EU. They have pushed for policies which are the least common denominator of all its constituents, specifically the establishment of a border-control agency and a push for a closer military cooperation. Furthermore, because it is in their interest to discourage other countries from leaving, they now have an incentive to “punish” Britain for Brexit. The German finance minister signaled what has now become a widespread stance toward granting any opt-out or “special agreement” for Britain: “[Such an opt-out] would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”

But the EU also has an interest in keeping the one major global financial center, London, on its continent. If its officials become too obstinate in their negotiations with Britain, they could disrupt London’s prominent status in the world of finance. And even if London’s financial institutions were to resettle in other EU cities like Frankfurt, Paris, or Dublin, these cities lack the potential to fully substitute for London.

As complex and negative as its effect on foreign countries may seem, Britain will not leave the EU for the sake of other countries, but for the sake of its own populace. Brexit will and should be judged by the extent to which it accomplishes to deliver to the British people what they placed before the ideal of a supranational, European identity – British identity and the independence from Brussels. Even though such an aspiration has recently become viewed as a wayward contradiction to prosperity, it is often forgotten what Britain managed to accomplish when it last upheld a very similar worldview during the reign of Margaret Thatcher. Repudiating the concept of a “European reality,” she said: “Europe’ in anything other than a geographical sense is a wholly artificial construct. It makes no sense at all to lump together Beethoven and Debussy, Voltaire and Burke, Vermeer and Picasso, Notre Dame and St Paul’s, boiled beef and bouillabaisse, and portray them as elements of a ‘European’ musical, philosophical, artistic, architectural or gastronomic reality. If Europe charms us, as it has so often charmed me, it is precisely because of its contrasts and contradictions, not its coherence and continuity.” It looks like we’ll be hearing such statements much more often in the upcoming months, as Britain prepares to trigger Article 50.

Why Are Finnish Students Smarter Than Us?

Many countries have looked toward Finland when their education systems need improvement. Researchers have found that Finland produces the second-highest performing graduates, outperformed only by Japanese graduates. In 2009, Finnish students placed sixth in math, second in science, and third in reading according to the Program for International Student Assessment. American students, on the other hand, placed 30th, 27th, and 17th in the same categories. Leaders of other countries seek to import Finnish techniques in order to achieve the same success, but soon find that it is not quite that simple. Much of the success of the Finnish educational system is connected to the culture itself, deeply rooted in the ideals of the people, and cannot be replicated in another country, leaving the Finnish system out of reach.

The methods used in Finnish schooling are unique, based on an innovative philosophy which places emphasis on the importance of education and progress. In Finland, education is viewed as crucial to the success of the country as a whole, and therefore the government invests heavily in schooling. Teachers in Finnish schools are required to hold a Bachelor’s degree, but often have a Master’s degree as well. Those admitted into teaching education programs are carefully selected, and if they do become teachers, are required to participate in in-service training each year to ensure that they are well-prepared. The great amount of effort that goes into selecting and training teachers and that the teachers put into preparing leads to a great respect for the career and professional wages. All schools are well-equipped not only with well-educated teachers, but also with all the supplies needed – no school is insufficiently supplied, and the government provides for each school equally. As there is an immense amount of money that goes into the educational system, Finnish students never have to pay for their schooling, even in college, because their tax dollars provide for it all. Most importantly, the educational methods used in schools are some of the most effective in the world. Instead of yearly standardized tests, Finnish students only take one test at the end of their education: a holistic exam that tests students on aptitude and skills rather than memorized information. This leaves teachers with more freedom to teach a unique, creative curriculum not limited by government regulations or required courses. Given this freedom, teachers are able to better engage students in the subject material, which is covered in a shorter school day than almost any other country’s. This philosophy of creativity and freedom that allows for progress and innovative thinking have delivered excellent results.

This success is not due simply to the methods employed by teachers and the government funds, however. Finland is a country with an extremely homogeneous population: 98.3% of the population consists of Finns, meaning only 1.7% of people in the country come from a different ethnicity. This uniformity among the people leads to a great degree of cooperation and trust between citizens and the government, and therefore the school system as well. The Finnish culture places great emphasis on the group rather than the individual, and this is reflected in high taxes, which have kept the Finnish economy stable and contribute funds for important government programs, as well as this high-functioning education system. The solid Finnish economy also ensures that there are low poverty rates, meaning that most Finnish families are well off, protecting the stability of the educational system as well. The ample educational funding and high level of trust between the people and the government found in the Finnish culture have created an environment in which schooling has flourished.

Therefore, though many educational concerns could be solved by recreating the Finnish educational system in other countries, the real problems rest in the societal issues underlying the failing school systems. Until other countries find a way to form a cohesive, trusting culture, an educational system on the same level as Finland’s will most likely remain out of reach.