3 Things You Can Tell About America from the US Election Presidential Candidates

Co-author Jakob Possert

The United States has started casting its votes for its presidential frontrunners for the 2016 US election. There are currently a solid half dozen candidates to lead the Democrat and Republican contest, you can freshen up on who those candidates are here. Soon only two of these people will matter to anyone and the US election will really start. Before the rest end up consigned to history, we take a look at the full spread of candidates to see what we can tell about what’s going down in America right now.

TTIP Explained; 10 Things You Need To Know About TTIP

What the hell are you talking about?

Something called TTIP is being discussed in Europe. It’s all about Europe and America.  Those in the know are getting pretty vocal about it; so it’s about time we got decoded.


TTIP Explained


1) TTIP stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

TTIP Explained; Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

I don’t understand.

Say what?


2) TTIP Explained; it is a proposed business and trade deal between the European Union and the United States of America.

TTIP Explained; Actor Jason Segel shrugs

Umm… No.

This means nothing to me.


3) It’s all about making trading of goods and services easier between the USA and Europe.

TTIP Explained; it will make trading easier between the USA and the EU

TTIP Explained; Gotta trade ’em all

OOOOH, trade. Like with Pokemon cards?


4) Regulations are boring. TTIP will get rid of the red tape.

TTIP explained; TTIP will get rid of red tape and regulations


Right now there are lots of problems with the EU/USA trading and doing business. Due to the fact that the US and Europe test products like cosmetics and genetically modified foods in different ways, they aren’t able to trade with each other.

This has been annoying companies on both sides of the Atlantic for a while now, so they’ve designed this new deal to sort it out.

TTIP will cut the red tape by merging current standards for testing. If TTIP is passed, products such as makeup from both the EU and America will be tested the in the same way, seamlessly enabling trade overseas.



TTIP Explained; the “Investor State Dispute Settlement” will allow companies to sue governments

Oh boy.

TTIP also aims to give businesses the same rights as states. One major part of the proposed TTIP treaty is called the “Investor State Dispute Settlement”. I don’t know how they come up with these kickass names?!

This means companies will be able to sue if the government’s policies cause the company to lose money. This also includes expected future profits.

Example; the Australian government created laws which made all cigarette packaging blank. Business boss Phillip Morris then sued the Ozzies in 2011; his argument was that the blank packaging law had damaged his sales.


6) TTIP explained; this could mean big moneys.

TTIP Explained; it will free up lots of money for the economy

OK now I’m interested.

Standardized regulation on both sides of the Atlantic is quite a good plan. It means less red tape, which is better for business, which in turn means more jobs.

It’s estimated this could free up £100 billion for the economy, £10 billon of which would be going into the UK economy. That’s around £400 per year for each household.

Now we’re talking.


7) TTIP Explained; But lots of people aren’t convinced.

Scene from Aladdin, suspicious


So, about those figures… they’re estimates. No-one knows how much money TTIP could make, and you’ll get different answers depending on who you ask.

The Guardian reports that a committee of MPs stated that at present it is impossible to work out how much money TTIP would make. They say the government should actually investigate things properly.

Does more money for business mean more jobs really? Or will the rich bosses get richer, extending the gap between rich and poor?


8) TTIP Explained; Standardised standards = Lower Standards?

Standardizing regulation is all well and good. But the USA is much laxer when it comes to regulation; so this could lead to a drop in standards. The EU bans cosmetics testing on animals… and the USA doesn’t. Standardize that, if you can.

TTIP Explained - would TTIP lead to lower standards

Don’t expect much.



TTIP Explained; People are worried the NHS will be privatised

Will TTIP lead to NHS privatisation?

TTIP isn’t just about the trade of goods; it’s also about the trades of services. And people are majorly worried about public services.

At present around 6% of the NHS budget is spent on hiring private companies to provide services. Agreements like TTIP open up public services to the international market; meaning private companies from other countries get increased access to public sector contracts.

As the New Statesmen reports the Investor State Dispute Settlement (see point 5) would make it virtually impossible to reverse NHS privatisation as companies would be able to sue the UK government if changes to NHS policy risked their profits.

Labour leader contender Andy Burnham has promised the NHS would be kept out of any trade deals. But TTIP could make it harder for the government to back out of any future privatisation deals. A leaked draft deal showed some wording that suggests the NHS will be kept out of TTIP, but people are not convinced.


10) TTIP Explained; We just don’t know what’s being negotiated.

Most of what we know or think we know about TTIP is guesswork; based on small leaks of information.

The meetings are being kept top-secret. But it has been reported that 90% of people meeting officials to advise on TTIP were from private companies. This has made people wonder if the decisions will be influenced in some way.


Trade deals have never been this exciting.


TTIP Explained; a new trade deal for the USA and Europe. Good points – Less regulation means more profits. Bad points – companies will be able to sue governments.

Now you’ve had TTIP explained for you do you think we should go for it?


Find out more about TTIP at the European Commission


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US Hostage Update; Mum Can Save Me Now

What’s a Hostage?

You ain't going nowhere, mister.

You ain’t going nowhere, mister.

Hostages are people that have been kidnapped and taken prisoner. Their safe return is then offered in exchange for ransom money. Pay up, and the hostage is returned in one piece. Refuse and… well, then it gets really nasty.

Hostage taking is big business for terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. The New York Times reported that Al-Qaeda have made $125 million from hostage taking.

More worryingly; this article in The Telegraph suggests that recent ransom demands from IS are part of a battle with Al-Qaeda to outperform one another.

The question is; should we pay up to get our loved ones home?


Which governments pay hostage takers?

Carrie Matheson held hostage in Homeland Season 2

No pay for terrorists.

Both the UK and USA governments are clear; no ransom will be paid to terrorists. Their view is that paying ransoms just encourages the groups.

Some European countries take a different stance. Despite all major western countries agreeing to a G8 commitment not to pay terrorists, countries like France and Germany have not stuck to the bargain. The more that gets paid; the higher the ransoms go. C’mon guys, get with the programme.

When US journalist James Foley was murdered by Islamic State a few months after his European co-worker was freed people asked; why didn’t the US government just pay up? The amount demanded for Foley’s release was $132 million. The average amount asked for a Western hostage is £6 million. The amount asked for Foley was higher because as a US journalist, he had immense political value. As well as being illegal, hostage ransoms are just really unfair.


What about the families and friends? Are they allowed to pay?

Hostage takers used to take cash, now payments are sent by bank transfer

Should we pay hostage takers?

For years the US were also pretty tough on members of the public paying off ransoms. People paying to get loved ones home could face prosecution. Even discussing a ransom with a terrorist could be seen as a “concession”.

In the UK the Terrorism Act 2000 made funding terrorists illegal. “It’s a criminal offence to provide, use or possess funds or property where an individual intends or has reasonable cause to suspect that such funds/property will be used for the purposes of terrorism”

And in 2014 Home Secretary Teresa May made further changes; insurance companies would no longer be able to reimburse people if they had sent ransom money to terrorist groups.

So far, so tough. However, President Obama recently made an announcement that may change things.


What has Obama announced?

Obama changes his stance on hostage takersPresident Obama says families will no longer be prosecuted if they send money to hostage takers.

The US government’s official policy is the same; no deals for terrorists. But the White House now also says this “does not mean ‘no communication'”.

So they won’t pay up, but they will communicate with terrorists sometimes on behalf of the families.

Does Obama’s U-turn mean the UK government will also reconsider?

We decided to ask the Home Office that very question;

“The UK’s position on payment of terrorist ransoms is very clear: we do not pay, on the basis that providing money or property to a terrorist group fuels terrorist activity; and encourages further kidnaps.”


That’s a no then.

It’s impossible to tell if Obama’s changes will lead to a rise in kidnappings across America. What is certain is that the price of hostages is being pushed up. This leads to a difficult situation. All ransom demands are different, and are calculated on the financial and political worth of the hostage. We are reaching a situation where some families will be able to afford ransom demands, whilst others may not.


Ransom Talk;

Reactions to President Obama's change to the hostage rules


Hostage Learnings; governments are getting hung up about whether to pay up… are they missing other ways of stopping terrorists?

Hostage Negotiation; is funding terrorists acceptable even to get your family back safe?


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How Same-Sex Marriage Became Legal In ALL American States

I thought America already had gay marriage?

In 2004, the state of Massachusetts became the first American state to legalise same-sex marriages. More and more eventually legalised until 37 out of the 50 American states allowed same-sex marriage. Go progress!

Which states allowed same-sex marriage?


Why was Same-Sex Marriage legal in some states and not others?

America is divided into different states – and each state has its own state government. The USA also has a federal government, which is the national government for the whole of the United States.

Power is shared between the two – which is why different states have different laws.

The United States Presidential System Explained


Why did the Supreme Court get involved?

The Supreme Court is the highest court in America. There are nine judges in the Supreme Court, and each one will have been nominated by the President, and then confirmed by the Senate. They rule on the biggest decisions that affect laws over all of the country.

Until 2013, there was a federal law: The Defence of Marriage Act. This allowed states to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages that had been granted in other states as legal. In other words, even though federal law should technically be obeyed by every single state, the Defence of Marriage Act meant that some states could abide and others not. Talk about big sister vs little sister syndrome.

BUT THEN…The Supreme Court went “HELL NO!”, and destroyed the Defence of the Marriage Act.

Removing the act was a big win for the gay rights movement, but it has not meant that other states automatically have to recognise same-sex marriage….UNTIL NOW.

Check out Vox.com’s awesome video showing how same-sex marriage has been legalised across states over time:



Not all states were happy with the law being removed. People dissatisfied with the decision of the Courts lodged an appeal with the Federal Appeals Court (so many courts, so little time). The Appeals Court couldn’t agree on a decision so the Supreme Court had to sort it out once and for all.


What did the Supreme Court say?

Same Sex Marriage

Same Sex Marriage supporters rally in America

Out of the Nine justices of the Supreme Court, Five voted in favour of gay marriage. This ruling strikes down same-sex marriage bans across the whole of the USA. It also means states have to accept sex-sex marriages performed in other states.

All eyes were on Justice Anthony Kennedy: he was the swing vote who could have gone either way (no pun intended). Kennedy and four other judges rejected claims that marriage was just for pro-creation and for creating a family.

They ruled that prohibiting same-sex marriage is discriminatory and against the United States Constitution.

The what?

The 14th Amendment of the Constitution says that states must provide equal protection under all laws to all groups of people. Therefore, you can’t ban same-sex marriages as that would mean they have fewer rights than heterosexuals.

This argument was successfully used in 1967 to rule that states were NOT allowed to ban inter-racial couples from marrying. It was part of the case in 2013 that removed the Defence of the Marriage Act.


Twitter went mad;

Reaction to the Same-Sex Marriage ruling on Twitter


What we learned today: America’s legal system is crazy complicated.

Get involved in the conversation; #lovewins

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6 Reasons Why National Flags Are So Important To Us

Flags, Flags, Flags. Yeah, we all have them, but why are national flags so important to us? Scenes of Reason went and decoded it. Here are 6 things we found out.

1) National Flags make you look important

National Flag of America with Presidents Obama, Bush and Reagan

Americans love their national flags

Flags make you look patriotic. The bigger they are, the more important you and your country look. That’s the intended effect, anyway.

Flags were used as a method of claiming land for your country. When America became the first country to land on the Moon, they planted an American flag as a symbol of American power.

In tough times and in wartime, national flags are often used as a beacon of hope, and a symbol of what the country stands for. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it.

2) They are a good way of keeping track of where people are



Spot the flag.

Historically, flags were used in battle to keep track of where different armies were on the battlefield. Generals would use flags to work out where their regiments were.

However, they also showed the enemy where you were. Making you prime target number one. Not a good plan.


In the Napoleonic Wars between Britain and France the British regiments carried flags called colours. It was considered shameful to lose your flag in battle. Enemy flags which were captured would be paraded up and down.

3) National Flags can tell us about our history


National Flag of Great Britain, Union Jack and the evolution of the Union Jack

Nothing for Wales?

The Union Jack (flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain) shows how the country has changed over the years.

First we had the Flag of England, and the Saltire, the Flag of Scotland. The first Union Flag was created to mark the bond between the two countries.

Then in 1801, two red stripes were added to mark Ireland becoming part of the union. This is the version we have today.

The Union Jack has no reference to Wales, as it was already part of England when the English Flag was created. Rhy ddrwg (Too bad).

4) Flags aren’t just for individual countries, they are for the world


International Flag of Earth

International Flag of Earth: Now all we need to do is find a planet to conquer

We have flags for the European Union, the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

An artist has even created an International Flag of Earth. And it’s pretty cool. Even if it does look a little like a nuclear warning.

Somalia used the United Nations blue colour as part of their new flag design, to show appreciation for the UN support in creating their independent state. Ain’t that nice.

5) The number of National Flags you have can send out a message (apparently)

National Flag of Australia Tony Abbot Imported by ShutterSnitch;ShutterSnitch;MPB28521.JPG;

National Flag Overkill?

There’s a mysterious relationship between Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the number of Australian National Flag surrounding him.
When making official announcements he started off with two or even no flags. Then it grew to four; then to six. By the time he was making speeches with eight flags the world had noticed. Some bright spark even created this helpful graph to map his flag use.


People started making the link between the number of flags and the importance of the announcement. Or was it that the number of flags was a distraction from the announcement itself? Sending troops to Iraq?  Eight Flags. New changes to citizenship rules? An amazing ten flags!!


God help us if we get to a Twelve Flag Announcement.

6) Flags are all around you

Yeah, so they may not actually be on a pole, but it could be argued that the branded items you carry around are flags of some kind. Lots of products use the Union Jack as a design, and it’s the same in other countries. Products like an Apple laptop, a super-dry hoodie; all of these have logos on them. A lot like the national flags, the logos show that you belong to a certain group.

What happens when someone uses a flag to hijack your national identity?

After the Charleston shooting, where a white man called Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black people, many have been calling for the Confederate flag to be removed from the State House in South Carolina.

National Flag; the confederate flag linked to Dylann Roof and racism, but is this true? Or is the flag just a way of remembering the past

A source of evil?

The Confederate Flag was the flag used by southern general Robert E. Lee, in the American Civil War. After the war ended it was kept on as a memorial to those who died in the war. The American Civil War was caused when 11 southern states decided to leave the United States, over differences with the government led by Abraham Lincoln. One of those issues was the slavery of black people shipped to America from Africa.

The American Civil War wasn’t just about slavery, and for many the flag is seen as nothing more than a link to their past and to those who died in the war.

However, white supremacy groups like the Klu Klux Klan have hijacked the identity of the Confederate flag over the years; linking it to their causes.

The Charleston shooter Dylann Roof was photographed holding it, and now people are demanding it be removed.

Once you have a national flag, it’s hard to change

New Zealand is discussing whether or not to get rid of the Union Jack, which is part of the design for their national flag. This dates back to when the United Kingdom ruled New Zealand. They are planning a referendum to decide whether or not to change the design. Good to see the important decisions are being made.

Things we flagged up; even if you don’t know the history of a National Flag it doesn’t matter all that much. New events constantly change the meaning of the flag.

Are people demanding the removal of the Confederate flag right to do so, or stupid? Is there really a link between the flag and the murders committed by Dylann Roof?

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