States or Companies? Whose responsible for the dumping of plastic into the ocean

A 2016 report produced by the Ellen MacArthur foundation studying the impact that the growing importance of plastic in global economies is having on the level of sea pollution in the region found that plastic production has increased twenty fold since 1964 and reached 311 million tonnes in 2014. Additionally, the report noted that currently the equivalent of one garbage truck of waste is being dumped into the ocean every minute and this figure is likely to double or triple by 2030 and 2050 if no action is taken. However, despite the damning evidence and blatant impact that rising levels of plastic in the world’s oceans is having on the environment there has been little to no interest in solving the crisis from the country’s most responsible:

  • China
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
  • Vietnam
  • Thailand

These five South-East Asian countries contribute to 60% of plastic in the world’s oceans. A contribution which has been steadily rising at a time correlating with the increasing westernisation and industrialisation of the state’s economies. This correlation has slowed the process of solving the environmental crisis as there has been increasing debates as to where responsibility truly lies, as the responsible states have been keen to highlight the significant role that Western companies indirectly play in the dumping of plastic. Is it therefore possible that those directly dumping are not mainly responsible for the roughly 8 million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the ocean each year? And will the dumping continue and potentially grow if neither side is willing to acknowledge their accountability?

The core argument framing Western companies as the main culprits of plastic pollution in South-East Asian countries revolves around noting the impact the selling of cheap small products made in disposable non-recyclable plastic has on the environment. The size of the products sold by these companies is the most significant factor noted by the leaders of China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand as well as environmental actors such as Greenpeace. These states and NGOs contend that Western companies take advantage of people on low and limited incomes to sell cheap goods in small quantities without any thought for the environmental impact. The selling of goods in this manner has led to the coining of the phrase ‘Sachet economy’, and the Philippines is a great example of this, as products such as instant coffee, shampoo, cooking oil, food seasoning and tooth paste are sold in single use sachets to a country of 103 million people where the high levels of poverty minimise the financial ability of bulk buying. The problems resulting from ‘sachet economies’ are only likely to worsen as the increasing modernisation and westernisation of these states economies has led to a dramatic increase in demand for consumer products, and yet there is no interest from the western companies producing the small cheap goods polluting our oceans due to there being no acknowledgment of responsibility and financial benefit for them.

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However, Western companies such as Nestle cannot be held totally accountable for the increasing rates of plastic pollution. In fact, in a 2016 report Greenpeace criticised and declared both Western companies and the South-East Asian countries as culpable for sea pollution. Using the Philippines as an example once again, Greenpeace found that 1.88 million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the ocean was in fact recyclable. This statistic becomes less shocking when one considers that 74% of plastic being dumped by the Philippines happens after the waste has been collected. In this sense, even if Western companies did improve the recyclability and size of its goods, it remains unlikely that we would see a drop-in the levels of plastic in the ocean unless collection facilities and transport systems were modernised.

This is a trend that is present throughout the five countries most responsible for dumping as on average only 50% of their total trash is collected. Therefore, a key method of improving levels of plastic in the ocean would be a modernising and expanding of garbage services, as well as closing leakage points in collection facilities, improving education on the benefits of recycling and increasing the financial incentives linked to being environmentally friendly. Should some or all of these suggestions be adopted then these five countries could reduce their plastic leakage by 65%, which would cut global leakage by 45% by 2025 at a cost of just $5 billion a year according to the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment. However, the determination from these South-East Asian countries to grow economically at the expense of any other concerns including environmental makes the implementation of such changes extremely unlikely.

What is therefore required is a recognition of responsibility from both the Western companies supplying one-use throw away goods and the South-East Asian countries allowing the dumping to occur. Once there has been this recognition then the childish squabbling can cease and there can finally be effective discussions about how to end this growing crisis. Yet, when one considers that financial concerns consistently trump environmental worries then the implementation of real and lasting change on the volume of plastic being dumped into the ocean unfortunately remains slim.

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Can abortion restrictions be justified?

Abortion within the first trimester of pregnancy has been legal in America since 1973 due to the 7-2 decision reached within the Supreme Court case, Roe v Wade. However, with the infamously anti-abortion Republican party holding the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House, there has been renewed pressures and regulations placed on abortions at a national and state legislative level. Coupled with this has been a dramatic increase in the enactment of limitations on a woman’s right to an abortion. However, when one considers the decisions reached within Roe v Wade the legitimacy of the implementation of such limitations becomes questionable. Can abortion limitations be justified by pro-life supporters? And more importantly, can they be considered constitutional?

The primary debate between the pro-choice and pro-life supporters is whether the procedure of abortion should be considered a public or private matter. Pro-choice supporters argue that abortion is intrinsically a private matter due both to its relationship with bodily integrity and the individual’s right to freedom from governmental intervention in their private lives. The second argument is significant as it relates abortion with the right to privacy inferred within the fourteenth amendment and thus condemns any regulations and limitations as being unconstitutional.

Alternatively, pro-life supporters offer the arguably weak argument that abortion is a public matter due to the operation being conducted in the presence of a state certified medical practitioner in a regulated health facility. Therefore, they argue that increased access to abortion invariably requires more governmental regulation in order to maintain health and safety standards. Additionally, the maintenance of high health and safety standards will alleviate the risk attached to abortion, thus making it safer and lowering the chance of death.

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However, it is worth noting that the continued implementation of abortion restrictions on both a state and national legislative level will likely force women into using less reputable practitioners without governmental regulation, which inevitably increases the risk of injury and death. Therefore, the argument that abortion limitations are justifiable due to both the procedure being a public matter and requirement to uphold safety standards is incorrect as the implementation of restrictions increases the threats to the woman’s health.

Equally, the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade nationalised the issue of abortion, as well as drastically increased the judicial oversight given to legislation relating to privacy and abortion restrictions.  In this sense, the enactment of limitations not only becomes unjust, but also unconstitutional. Primarily, as the supremacy of the Supreme Court’s decisions means that congress cannot interpret the constitution in a way contradicting the decision in Roe v Wade. Therefore, the argument that national and state level legislation limiting abortion is justified due to them both having a right and a responsibility to regulate can be considered unconvincing.

Therefore it becomes clear that there is minimal justification for the enactment of abortion limitations. Mostly this is due to both abortion being a private matter meaning it should be free of governmental intervention, and also the fact that the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade legislatively outranks any decision reached on a national and state legislative level.

Far-right Virginia attacks: Why Trump did not single out the alt-right

In the wake of the racially-motivated violence in Virginia as well as Trump’s condemnation of the attacks from ‘many sides’, new questions and criticism have arisen about the President’s relationship with the so-called alt-right. Thought to have emerged in the wake of Pat Buchanan’s failed bid for Republican Presidential nomination in 1992, the alt-right is comprised of individuals who are frustrated by political correctness, feminism, immigration and the ‘suppression’ of the white identity. The final characteristic frequently linked with the alt-right relates the movement to groups seeking white supremacy such as the Ku Klux Klan, thus making Trump’s willingness to be associated with and unwillingness to criticise the alt-right questionable. Therefore, one must seriously wonder why Trump was not able to solely criticise the alt-right for the blatant racially motivated violence that occurred in Virginia.

Indeed, it seemed obviously out of place for President Trump to refrain from using his vicious rhetoric that we have seen so frequently through his attacks of Hilary Clinton, John McCain, mainstream journalism and fellow Republican politicians. Instead, his response to the violence in Virginia appeared vague and unwilling to give his true opinion out of fear of receiving widespread criticism or losing support. After all, Trump’s campaign as an insurgency outsider nomination was often tied and supported by various alt-right groups which most commonly were linked with white supremacy. Support from these groups as well as Trump’s tailor-made policies and rhetoric to target white Americans enabled the President to gain 63% of the white male vote and 52% of the white female vote in the 2016 Presidential election according to the Independent. In this sense, it would be unsurprising that Trump would be unwilling to singularly condemn white supremacists and risk losing their votes and support, thus framing the President as a man willing to put his career aspirations over the lives of the electorate.

830783084A second explanative factor to consider could be the President’s wish to not create further confusion and divides within his administrative staff. Although, Trump’s presidency has been marked by constant resignations or sackings of high level administrative staff, the dismissal of the disruptive Anthony Scaramucci from communications director after eleven days seemed to signify the end of the period of confusion. Therefore, when one considers the number of individuals tied to the alt-right within the Trump administration, most notably White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, it should be expected that Trump would resist outright criticising the movement. However, this argument again highlights the President’s intention to place unity within his administration over the recognition of the victims of the attacks in Virginia.

Reflecting upon these arguments, the violence in Virginia and the President’s response, one must truly question whether Trump is fulfilling the role of President. After all, as stated in the constitution the role of the President includes being the chief of state and chief citizen of all citizens of the United States. In this sense, the President is obligated to place the requirement to represent the electorate over his career aspirations and desires for re-election. Considering his comments in the aftermath of the alt-right violence in Virginia, one can conclude that Trump has failed to achieve this requirement.

Behind the hire & fire approach of President Trump

There are few things one can count upon in the Trump administration. Of course, there are a couple of items which can be considered regular such as accusations of Russian involvement in the Presidential election, anti-press rhetoric and obviously a regularly update twitter feed. One such item used to be the entertaining and arguably hostile daily press conferences held by Sean Spicer, who joined the already lengthy list of white house resignations when he left his post as press secretary on July 21st, 2017. Despite holding a greater household name recognition than most press secretaries, Spicer frequently appeared out of his depth in his role by using improper language (referring to concentration camps as ‘holocaust centres’), engaging in the selective banning of certain news outlet’s (BBC, CNN, New York Times, La Times) from white house press briefings and of course the now infamous ‘facts’ about the size of Trump’s inauguration audience.

However, it is the basis of Spicer’s resignation which should be so concerning to the rest of the world. According to the New York Times, Spicer informed President Trump that he ‘vehemently disagreed’ with the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communication director. Arguably, Spicer’s protestations are entirely justified when one considers Scaramucci has no previous experience within the political media aside from the odd appearance on Fox News, served as a fundraiser for former President Barrack Obama, previously supported the Republican nomination of Jeb Bush and Scott Walker and holds a liberal position on social issues with him tweeting in the past that he has ‘always been for strong gun control laws’ and that ‘Republicans should support gay marriage’. Yet despite the mass of evidence suggesting Scaramucci is the antithesis of many of the Republican parties values, Trump proceeded with the appointment anyway. The assigning of Scaramucci to White House communications director against the advice of the more experienced and qualified Sean Spicer suggests that Trump’s approach to governorship is slightly dictatorial and that not supporting or agreeing with him may cost you your job. The undertaking of such an approach can be argued to be entirely against the vision of the founding fathers as it leads to the diminishment of democracy as the majority of the decision making as well as the political agenda is set by one man. To further support this argument, the article highlights three more executive resignations/dismissals caused by disagreements with President Trump.

Patrick Kennedy, Joyce Anne Barr, Michele Bond & Gentry O. Smith – resigned January 26th, 2017:

The Trump administration did not have to wait long to have its first causalities as Patrick Kennedy (Under Secretary of State and Management), Joyce Anne Barr (Assistant Secretary of State for Administration), Michele Bond (Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs) and Gentry O. Smith (Director of the Office of Foreign Missions) all resigned under the advice of newly appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just six days after the inauguration. Now, usually a mass resignation a couple of days after a changing of administration would likely be due to disagreements with the new direction of the executive department as well as loyalties to the previous president, however seven months on the roles served by Kennedy, Anne Barr, Bond and Smith have still not been filled. In fact, there is a multitude of executive positions currently available due to Trump’s unwillingness to select a nominee, with CNBC reporting that Trump has nominated just 63 out of the 559 jobs classified high priority by the Partnership for Public Service and only 39 of those have been approved by the Senate. Moreover, a number of differing media outlets consider trust and loyalty to be the main characteristics sought after by Trump and therefore the minimal executive appointments suggests the President feels that he cannot trust anyone and is thus isolated. This is a dangerous mindset to undertake as it frequently results in the hiring of individuals less qualified for the position and leads to the formation of a siege or us versus them mentality. In this sense, Trump will only hire those who swear complete loyalty to him and his policies leading to a lack of differing opinions on the direction of the political agenda and legislation.

Sally Yates – dismissed January 30th, 2017:

The dismissal of Sally Yates as Acting United States Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General is a prime example of the dangers posed to your career by disagreeing with the decisions and policies of President Trump. Intriguingly, like Kennedy, Anne Barr, Bond and Smith, Yates was appointed Deputy Attorney General by former President Obama and therefore it could be argued that Trump was always suspicious of where her true loyalties laid. Although, it should be noted that Yates objections to the so-called ‘Muslim’ travel ban had nothing to do with loyalty, but rather the legality of the legislation. After all, Yates’ position required her to ensure the Trump administration remained within the law and was thus simply fulfilling her duties by ordering the justice department to not defend President Trump’s executive order on travel and immigration’. Regardless of this, later that day Yates’ was dismissed from her role and was stated to have betrayed the justice department and risked the safety of US citizens by refusing to support the executive order. The decision was met with widespread condemnation from the media, the Democrats and even Trump’s own party, as congressman John Coyners (R.) likened the dismissal to that of a reality show such as the Apprentice. In this case, the fire and hire policy used by Trump was shown to know no limits as even the highest-ranking position in the Justice department was deemed expendable. Moreover, the Yates’ dismissal further highlights Trump’s true desire to have an executive made up of yes men who will instigate his policies and beliefs without question.

Craig Deare – dismissed February 17th, 2017:

The final resignation/dismissal focused upon arguably went under the radar amid the numerous scandals and leaks following the dismissal of Michael Flynn three days prior. However, the dismissal of Craig Deare from Senior Director of Western Hemisphere Affairs again shows the dangers of criticising Trump and his advisors, along with highlighting any problems within the administration. Deare lost his position following a speech given at the Woodrow Wilson centre in which he reportedly criticised the handling of Latin American affairs by the Trump administration and noted the overall dysfunction within Washington generated by a high turnover of staff in high priority positions. In response to this criticism, the Trump administration proved its dictatorial/siege mentality approach to governorship by issuing a warning to the remaining staff that ‘if you don’t support the President’s agenda then you shouldn’t have a job in the White House’. The use of such rhetoric would suggest that any individual who opposes or even suggests improvements to any of Trump’s policies would be at risk of losing their job, therefore resulting in an administration which is intrinsically in opposition to the desires of the founding fathers who made the constitution and designed the structure of American politics in such a way to avoid a dictatorship. Thankfully, opposition within the House of Representatives and the Senate (mainly from Trump’s own party) means that America is not currently living in a dictatorship, however should Trump’s approach to hiring those who are loyal rather than qualified continue one can suggest that by the end of Trump’s term in office American politics will be the executive in constant opposition to the judiciary and the legislators.

Is there no such thing as bad publicity?

In an age where the language of politicians is seemingly becoming more colloquial, eye-catching and deliberately provocative, one must seriously question is there such a thing as bad publicity? After all, the Trump campaign for both the Republican Presidential nomination and the Presidential campaign was arguably based around the deliberate use of controversial rhetoric and proposed policies for the purposes of gaining media attention and exposure at the expense of his political rivals. Obviously this approach proved to be successful in both elections which therefore begs the question if political controversy is the best means of attracting media coverage. Furthermore, one must also consider whether Trump’s approach is undertaken with social media in mind rather than traditional mainstream outlets. With services such as Facebook and Twitter offering the user the ability to share stories meaning articles that both support and condemn the politician in question can go viral and reach far more people that traditional mainstream media outlets can.

Focusing prominently on the question posed, multiple studies have conducted research on the supposed relationship between media bias, candidate popularity and the political attitudes of the reader. Unsurprisingly, one candidate regularly focused on is now US President Donald Trump, who despite regularly attracting harmful press won the Republican nomination and the US Presidential election. In this sense, the continuous negative media campaign against Trump from mainstream American and global media outlets may ironically have boosted his quest for candidacy. After all, through sound bites and ill-thought supposed policies, Trump was able to capture the attention of both the electorate and the media, thus giving him his far more coverage than his more qualified and experienced political opponents. Furthermore, multiple studies consider that negative press generates far more interest than positive press. Primarily, these conclusions are drawn due to the fact that the number one priority of media outlets is to publish stores that will drive traffic and attract readers. Frequently, the stories which generate the most interest and are often the most talked about are based around the controversial viewpoint of a politician. The method of using controversial rhetoric and policies to gain media exposure was regularly utilised by the Trump campaign, which along with his already established pre-existing fame lead to sole focus being placed on him and a sense of selective exposure from media which was particularly evident in the race for Republican nomination.

Moreover, if one assumes that exposure is the primary aim of any politician running for office then negative press may be the most efficient means of attaining it. After all, as previously noted political controversy often leads to a higher number of articles being produced on the subject as well as encourages debates on the true meaning and legitimacy of the claims made. The second consequence noted is particularly significant when one considers the popularity of social media platforms. In this sense, controversial comments which attract interest can frequently go viral and reach millions without the influence or input of professional journalists. This conclusion can be considered particularly significant when one considers that a study conducted by Ipos Mori found that 34% of 18 to 24-year olds admitted that their political ideals and allegiance could be altered by something they read online. Additionally, a separate study conducted on the same topic supported Ipos Mori’s results by noting that 41% of young people aged between 15 and 25 had at some point engaged in a political debate online. The data provided by the two studies seemingly supports the claim that there is a positive relationship between media coverage and electoral success.

Finally, one can consider negative publicity and the media’s relationship with it to be a cycle of exposure which may or may not benefit the candidate. This cycle has three distinct sections which motivate one another. These are: controversial comments or policies by the political candidate, negative publicity and increased coverage in mainstream media and reaction on social media platforms. Furthermore, the cycle begins through the controversy generated by the politician, such as Trump’s pledge to build a wall along America’s southern border, consequently a multitude of analytical articles appear through traditional mainstream media outlets as well as online. The rise in online articles will invariably increase the likelihood of the story going viral and being read by millions of people. Moreover, as a consequence of a higher number of people being interested in the story and the fact that journalists have to publish stories which will generate traffic, the candidate’s coverage in mainstream media is rapidly enlarged and increases likelihood of success in the polls due to the candidate holding house-hold name recognition. In this sense, there is really no such thing as bad publicity as the primary aim of any modern day politician is media exposure and recognition.

By Jonathan Evans