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“Networks” of influence

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Amid the global coronavirus pandemic, social media, above all Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have de facto assumed the role of “arbiters of truth,” at least when it comes to medicine. Small wonder, since this role offers considerable potential, both commercial, which is already being played out now, often covertly, and political, whose versatile forms have yet to be revealed and studied.

Control over information has always been a key element of state power everywhere. Equally undeniable is the impact that “technological inequality” has on state sovereignty, international relations and the economy. Historically, control over cutting-edge technologies always allowed large political actors, usually states, to dominate their societies, as well as expand their sway abroad, and ensure “undeniable military superiority” and the ability to “dictate their will to less developed countries.”

From time immemorial, transnational corporations of every hue have competed with state institutions in formulating the political agenda. By the second half of the 2010s, information technology giants had moved to the forefront, and their political role was already speaking for itself as social media and fake news influence election results “from Minnesota to Myanmar.”

“These days, all you need to do to exchange ideas and views – even extremist and outlawed, is just to touch the screen of your computer or click the mouse button.” The technological revolution called into question the political establishment’s monopoly on the formation of both the views of individual social groups and the mass consciousness as a whole. This “weapon” is now available in an equal measure also to opposition forces, including structures that are unable to operate inside a country.

Politicians worldwide had finally realized the importance of the long-term, strategic aspects of the development of high-tech industries from the standpoint of the future of countries and entire regions shortly before the COVID-19 crisis struck. Digital technologies are becoming the nervous system of modern society, forcing people to “change their habits, behavior, lifestyle,” thus turning into an integral element of the political life, both at home and of the country’s policy abroad.

The significant role played by the new social media was particularly evident in the rapid rise to media prominence of the ISIS group (banned in Russia), of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election in 2016, which came as a surprise to many observers. Social media’s role went clearly beyond what most representatives of traditional political classes were ready to accept. Not surprisingly, the idea of “nationalizing” critical technologies is gaining popularity in all leading countries.

During the initial stage of their development, social media almost defiantly shunned the role of “arbiters of truth.” This did not prevent them from interpreting, sometimes in a completely “unconventional” way, many phenomena of political, religious and social radicalism. However, since their content, the main driver of their growth, was created by their users themselves, they had to abide by the terms of US jurisdiction and mention the place of registration of the head offices of the vast majority of their parent companies. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), which added Section 230 to the Communications Act of 1934, generally protects social platforms from collective lawsuits filed by third parties only if they act as a “neutral” platform or service provider.

By early-2010s, the leading social media outlets, which had initially stayed away from political lobbying, had realized its value in protecting their own commercial interests.

“In 2012, the White House helped Silicon Valley kill the anti-piracy bill” (Stop Online Piracy Act – SOPA), promoted by leading Hollywood companies. IT giants have also drummed up support for “millions of network users,” whose pressure Washington politicians were quick to feel. During the 2016 US presidential campaign, media platforms played a significant role in promoting both major candidates. Even though Hillary Clinton was their clear favorite, Trump’s victory (as well as the previous campaign in support of Brexit) was largely attributed to the lack of “proper” regulation of the political content coming through social media channels.

Since the advent of the global pandemic, the major multinational media platforms have been systematically trying to check the spread of false information, fake news, panic rumors, etc. As a result, this “thorough” and “aggressive” fight against “content harmful to society” started getting traction with commentators representing the traditional establishment, who believe that this tactic should be applied also to other areas of the information environment during the post-viral period.

It looks like some Internet platforms are getting more and more attentive to the opinion of the ruling class in the West and are acting in unison with the interests of this class. Twitter has just appended a link to two of President Trump’s tweets, which he had posted about mail-in ballots, claiming that they would cause the November presidential election to be “rigged. The links urged people to “get the facts” about voting by mail.

Trump responded by signing an executive order on the regulation of social networks. Critics of the politicization of social media believe that despite their being “technically universal tools,” the activity of the global networks should not lead to “uniform social and political effects of interactions they participate in.”

Meanwhile, IT giants are also playing an increasingly significant geo-economic role. According to one scenario, the Chinese yuan may not be the US dollar’s most likely rival as a world reserve currency “in the next 20 to 30 years.” Rather, this role may be played by “relatively stable quasi-monetary units, supported by major global corporations,” such as Amazon, which is worth about $1 trillion, or Facebook, with an audience of “half of the world’s population over the age of 15.”  US experts even link China’s efforts last year to fast-track the creation a national digital currency (“digital yuan”) with the publication of the idea of a private global monetary system, known as Libra, under the auspices of Facebook .

Another area creating the prerequisites for enhancing the political influence of digital platforms is the collection and analysis of “Big Data.” In contrast to statistics that operate on the basis of pre-formulated hypotheses and models, data is generated “naturally” as a result of any action (and even inaction) of the user. With the introduction of 5G communication technologies, most aspects of life will be covered by the “Internet of Things.” Microchips installed in almost all industrial and consumer products, and transmitting all kinds of information, are able to receive control commands from the outside. People are getting increasingly worried about the prospect of the world moving in the direction of “snooping” (“surveillance capitalism.”)

Processed by data centers, large arrays of widely varied data make it possible not only to identify behavioral patterns of huge masses of people, but also to predict, with great accuracy, the emergence of certain trends, including public moods and preferences. Moreover, unlike the collection of statistical information, big data is collected without people’s knowledge, and the methods of analyzing them are generally kept under wraps, as they are considered by collector platforms as commercial know-how. However, when it comes to determining the political moods of huge masses of people in almost real time, one may inevitably be tempted to manipulate the mass consciousness at a qualitatively new level.

Politically, the technological and social media giants’ rise to power may culminate in what is called “netocracy,” – a form of political management of society, where the main value is information, not tangible things such as money, real estate, etc.,” and the main instrument of power is “full access to reliable information and manipulation with it.” According to critics, in a society where the ruling elite are mainly represented by “netocrats,” there will be “no state, no laws, no ethics” .

In general, the impact of the global corona-crisis has revealed a two-pronged political trend. On the one hand, what is anticipated is a speedy transformation of economic and business processes towards network distribution, as well as an increasing number of people moved to performing distance jobs. This trend, among other things, is turning IT giants into an increasingly significant force in the labor market. Generally speaking, we are talking about a qualitative increase in the potential impact of social media and the Internet giants that control them on all aspects of everyday life, including the people’s political and ideological views and preferences.

Simultaneously, we see the renaissance of national states. The pandemic has proved sovereign states to be way more efficient, both in terms of legitimacy and in terms of resources that can be scrambled to combat a challenge of catastrophic proportions . “Massive demand for protection” makes dirigisme fashionable again.

“Frightened societies will stop questioning the merits and democratic nature of these measures …” Western experts say. Digital supervision and control of citizens is becoming widespread, becoming a kind of “a standard”, “less and less questioned,” and increasingly perceived as “necessary” and “useful”.

States are able to directly tighten their control of the new media. What we are talking about is the creation of some cross-country network associations, whose audiences can only be accessed by companies that meet certain political and ideological criteria. In the extreme case, the very audience of these international services is limited only to citizens of countries that are members of a closed community. This is a kind of geopolitical “fragmentation of the Internet”, or at least of its media space. Since the mid-2010s, the United States has been going back to the aggressive use of sanctions designed to check the technological progress of rival powers. Even in Europe, more and more people now see Washington’s new line as an attempt to change the balance of economic power in the world.

Thus, emerging right before our eyes is a kind of a communicative digital “ocean” that the life of the vast majority of people and economic entities will plunge into in the coming decades. Industry, global supply chains, military affairs, agriculture, transport, medicine, methods of managing the national infrastructure, and the overall quality of life of billions of people are set to go through dramatic changes.

Any country or a group of countries, which have set themselves the task of closing their technological lag in a matter of just a few years, knows just how difficult and expensive, if possible at all, this can be. And if the main political battles are now being fought over technological issues, then in the future the politicians will be focusing on how to fill the technologies-formed media environment with a new “content.” 

From our partner International Affairs

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Americas

Flames of Globalization in the Temple of Democracy

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Authors: Alex Viryasov and Hunter Cawood

On the eve of Orthodox Christmas, an angry mob stormed the “temple of democracy” on Capitol Hill. It’s hard to imagine that such a feat could be deemed possible. The American Parliament resembles an impregnable fortress, girdled by a litany of security checks and metal detectors at every conceivable point of entry. And yet, supporters of Donald Trump somehow found a way.

In the liberal media, there has been an effort to portray them as internal terrorists. President-elect Joe Biden called his fellow citizens who did not vote for him “a raging mob.” The current president, addressing his supporters, calls to avoid violence: “We love you. You are special. I can feel your pain. Go home.”

That said, what will we see when we look into the faces of these protesters? A blend of anger and outrage. But what is behind that indignation? Perhaps it’s pain and frustration. These are the people who elected Trump president in 2016. He promised to save their jobs, to stand up for them in the face of multinational corporations. He appealed to their patriotism, promised to make America great again. Arguably, Donald Trump has challenged the giant we call globalization.

Today, the United States is experiencing a crisis like no other. American society hasn’t been this deeply divided since the Vietnam War. The class struggle has only escalated. America’s heartland with its legions of blue-collar workers is now rebelling against the power of corporate and financial elites. While Wall Street bankers or Silicon Valley programmers fly from New York to London on private jets, an Alabama farmer is filling up his old red pickup truck with his last Abraham Lincoln.

The New York banker has no empathy for the poor residing in the southern states, nothing in common with the coal miners of West Virginia. He invests in the economies of China and India, while his savings sit quietly in Swiss banks. In spirit, he is closer not to his compatriots, but to fellow brokers and bankers from London and Brussels. This profiteer is no longer an American. He is a representative of the global elite.

In the 2020 elections, the globalists took revenge. And yet, more than 70 million Americans still voted for Trump. That represents half of the voting population and more votes than any other Republican has ever received. A staggering majority of them believe that they have been deceived and that Democrats have allegedly rigged this election.

Democrats, meanwhile, are launching another impeachment procedure against the 45th president based on a belief that it has been Donald Trump himself who has provoked this spiral of violence. Indeed, there is merit to this. The protesters proceeded from the White House to storm Congress, after Trump urged them on with his words, “We will never give up, we will never concede.”

As a result, blood was shed in the temple of American democracy. The last time the Capital was captured happened in 1814 when British troops breached it. However, this latest episode, unlike the last, cannot be called a foreign invasion. This time Washington was stormed by protestors waving American flags.

Nonetheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the poor and downtrodden laborers of America’s Rust Belt currently feel like foreigners in their own country. The United States is not unique in this sense. The poor and downtrodden represent a significant part of the electorate in nearly every country that has been affected by globalization. As a result, a wave of populism is sweeping democratic countries. Politicians around the world are appealing to a sense of national identity. Is it possible to understand the frustrated feelings of people who have failed to integrate into the new global economic order? Absolutely. It’s not too dissimilar from the grief felt by a seamstress who was left without work upon the invention of the sewing machine.

Is it worth trying to resist globalization as did the Luddites of the 19th century, who fought tooth and nail to reverse the inevitability of the industrial revolution? The jury is still out.

The world is becoming more complex and stratified. Economic and political interdependence between countries is growing each and every day. In this sense, globalization is progress and progress is but an irreversible process.

Yet, like the inhumane capitalism of the 19th century so vividly described in Dickens’ novels, globalization carries many hidden threats. We must recognize and address these threats. The emphasis should be on the person, his dignity, needs, and requirements. Global elites in the pursuit of power and superprofits will continue to drive forward the process of globalization. Our task is not to stop or slow them down, but to correct global megatrends so that the flywheel of time does not grind ordinary people to the ground or simply throw nation-states to the sidelines of history.

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Deliberate efforts were made to give a tough time to President Joe Biden

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Image credit: Todd Jacobucci/ flickr

President Trump-Administration is over-engaged in creating mess for in-coming President Joe Biden. The recent deliberate efforts are made to give a tough time are:  naming Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, Terming Iran as a new home to al-Qaida, and lifting restrictions on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan.

The consequence may turn into dire situations, like a return to cold war era tension. Efforts were made to resume Cuba-US relations to normal for decades and were expected to sustain a peaceful co-existence. Any setback to relations with Cuba may destabilize the whole region. Pompeo’s redesignation of Cuba as a sponsor of state terror will possibly have the least material impact, but it signifies a personal loss to Biden and a momentous political win for Trumpism. In doing so, Trump is hitting the final nail in the coffin of Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

Yemen issue was a creation of Arab spring sponsored by the CIA, and after realizing the wrongdoings, the US was trying to cool down the tension between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but with the recent move to name Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, may open new hostilities and bloodshed. It has been designated by UNICEF as the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people — some 80 percent of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children.” Such statements may halt humanitarian assistance and may result in a big disaster.

The history of rivalries with Iran goes back to 1953 when the UK and the US jointly overthrew the legitimate government of Prime Minister Mossadeq. But the real tension heightened in 2018 When President Trump withdrew from JCPOA. But the recent allegation that Iran as a new home of al-Qaida may take a new turn and give a tough time to Joe Biden–Administration. Although there is no evidence, however, Secretary of State Pompeo made such an allegation out of his personal grudge against Iran. It can complicate the situation further deteriorate and even may engulf the whole middle-east.

Lifting constraints on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan, is open violation of “One-China Policy.” Since Washington established formal diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, it has resisted having official diplomatic associations with Taipei in order to avoid a confrontation with the PR China, which still comprehends the island — home to around 24 million people — as part of China. Chinese are very sensitive to the Taiwan issue and struggling for peaceful unification. However, China posses the capabilities to take over by force, yet, have not done so far. Secretary of State Mr. Pompeo’s statement may be aiming to instigate China and forcing toward military re-unification. It might leave a challenging concern for Joe Biden-Administration.

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said, “The Trump administration is locking in place a series of conflicts that change the starting point for Biden walking into the office on the world stage.”

Even Mr. Pompeo had a plan to travel to Europe to create further hurdles for in-coming administration, but fortunately, some of the European countries refused to entertain him, and desperately he has to cancel his trip at the eleventh hours.

It is just like a losing army, which destroys all ammunition, weapons, bridges, infrastructures, etc., before surrendering. Although President Trump’s days in office are numbered, his administration is over-engaged in destruction and creating hurdles for the next administration. He is deliberately creating hurdles and difficulties for President-Elect Joe Biden.

President Joe Biden has many challenges to face like Pandemic, unrest in the society, a falling economy, losing reputation, etc. Some of them might be natural, but few are specially created!

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Latin America and the challenges for true political and economic independence

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Latin America – and its core countries, namely Brazil, Argentina and Mexico – has become a region of high global strategic value due to its vast territory, abundant resources, great economic development, unique geographical position and active role in global and regional governance.

Factors such as history, geography and reality, combined with the complexity of the region’s internal political logics, have once again made Latin America a place where major powers pay attention to and play key games.

Latin America’s cooperation with ‘external’ powers has become ever closer, leading to unfounded suspicions and malicious provocations among the countries of the region concerned.

What bothers ‘democrats’ and ‘liberals’ is the presence in the area of countries without a colonialist and exploitative past.

Historically, Latin America and the Caribbean were the coveted location of various Western forces. Since the Latin American countries’ independence – and even today – large countries inside and outside the region have competed in this area.

The complexity and uncertainty of the current global political and economic situation in Latin America lie behind the competition between the major powers in geopolitics and international relations.

Latin America’s vast lands and resources are linked to global food security, the supply of agricultural and livestock products, and energy security. It is an important ‘product supplier’ that cannot be neglected.

Latin America has a huge surface of over 20 million square kilometres, covering four sub-regions of North America (Mexico), the Caribbean, Central America and South America, with 33 independent countries and some regions that are not yet independent, as they are tied to the burden of the old liberal-colonialist world.

Latin America is blessed with favourable natural conditions. For example, it has become a well-known ‘granary’ and ‘meat provider’ because of its fertile arable land and abundant pastures. It is an important area  for the production of further agricultural and livestock products. At the same time, other countries in the region have huge reserves of natural resources such as oil and gas, iron ore, copper and forests, and have become important global suppliers of strategic materials.

Secondly, the Latin American region has a relatively high level of economic development and has brought together a number of important emerging economies – a significant global market that cannot be ignored.

The Latin American region plays an important role in global economy. Brazil and Mexico are not only the two largest economies in Latin America, but also the top 15 in global economy.

At the same time, recent calculations on 183 countries (regions) with complete data from the World Bank and related studies show that the group consisting of Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, etc., has entered the ranking of the “30 emerging markets” (E30) worldwide. According to World Bank statistics, Latin America’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018 was about 5.78 trillion dollars and the per capita GDP exceeded 9,000 dollars. With the exception of a few, most countries in Latin America are middle-income and some have entered the high-income ranking.

Therefore, Latin America has become a large consumer market that cannot be ignored due to its relatively high level of economic development, high per capita income and a population of over 640 million people.

Indeed, as Latin American region with a high degree of economic freedom and trade openness, it has been closely connected with the economies of other regions in the world through various bilateral and multilateral agreements, initiatives and free trade mechanisms.

Thirdly, Latin America’s unique geographical position has a significant impact on global trade, shipping and climate change.

Latin America is situated between two oceans. Some countries border on the Pacific, or the Atlantic, or are even bathed by both oceans. This special position gives the Latin American region the geographical advantage of achieving ‘transpacific cooperation’ with the Asian region or building a link of ‘transatlantic cooperation’ with the European region. Thanks to the Panama Canal, it is the fundamental hub for global trade.

Besides its strategic relevance for food security and clean energy production, the Amazon rainforest, known as the ‘lungs of the earth’, has a surface of over six million square kilometres, accounting for about 50% of the global rainforest. 20% of the global forest area and the vast resources covering 9 countries in Latin America have become one of the most important factors influencing global climate change.

Finally, as an active player in the international and regional political and economic arena, Latin America is a new decisive force that cannot be neglected in the field of global and regional governance.

Firstly, as members of organisations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the major Latin American countries are both participants in and creators of international rules.

Moreover, these countries should be considered from further aspects and viewpoints of multilateralism.

The major Latin American countries, particularly regional powers, such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, are members of the G20. Brazil belongs to both BRICS and BASIC.Mexico, Chile and Peru are within the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Mexico, Peru and Chile are members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), while Mexico and Chile are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

They are playing an irreplaceable role in responding to the economic crisis and promoting the reform of global governance mechanisms; in promoting the conclusion of important agreements on global climate change; in advancing economic cooperation between the various regions; in leading ‘South-South cooperation’ between developing countries and in holding a dialogue on the main current issues (opposition to unilateralism, protectionism, protection of multilateralism, etc.).

It must also be said that Latin American countries are naturally also active in regional organisations and institutions – such as the Organisation of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, etc. – so that they can participate directly and try to oppose U.S. hegemonism.

Within the Latin American region, these countries first initiated a process of cooperation and integration and later established various sub-regional organisations -such as Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur-Mercado Comum do Sul) and Alianza del Pacífico (Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru) – to cooperate with other regions of the world and shake off the unfortunate definition of “America’s backyard”.

Located in the Western Hemisphere, where the well-known superpower is present, Latin American countries have long been deeply influenced by the United States in politics, economics, society and culture.

In 1823, the United States supported the Monroe Doctrine and drove the European countries out of Latin America with the slogan ‘America for the Americans’, thus becoming the masters of the Western Hemisphere.

The Monroe Doctrine also became a pretext for the United States to interfere in the internal affairs and diplomacy of Latin American countries.

In 2013, 190 years after the aforementioned declaration, the United States publicly declared that the Monroe Doctrine era was over and emphasised the relationship on an equal footing and the shared responsibility between the United States and Latin America.

Nevertheless, the current Latin American politics shows once again that the end of the so-called ‘Monroe Doctrine’ era is nothing more than a common myth.

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