Month: September 2014

Democracy in Hong Kong

Over the past few weeks pro-Democracy movements have sprung up around Hong Kong led by a group of young school students. The protests are in an effort to bring Democracy to Hong Kong, which at the moment is a dictatorship like government. While the protests started out peaceful they quickly turned violent as police launched tear gas and charged protesters with batons.

The protests started mainly a form of civil disobedience to protest the government tightening on electoral changes, despite them promising that city residents would be allowed to elect their own leader by 2017. Simply put, many people in Hong Kong are angered over the fact that their voices are not being heard, so they are taking to the streets to hopefully change that. While I am a strong advocate for peaceful protesting in the name of democracy and freedom, the protesters were reported to be attacking police officers and government officials while also damaging public property. while desperate times call for desperate measures, attempting to gain Democracy, something based on compromise, through force, doesn’t sound exactly ideal.

While Hong Kong is considered an independent city state, it is heavily influenced by China, relying on it for defense and foreign policy. Internal politics were supposedly autonomous by Hong Kong, however Beijing’s presence is surely felt in the politics as they have a large say in the elected officials and laws of Hong Kong. At this time China is standing firm on it’s stance to restrict the coming electoral laws by making sure supporters of Beijing stay in power.

When the protests turned violent many protesters fled, however an unusual number stayed. They used the violence of police to further their cause with one protester saying, “The actions of the police are showing the public what a tyrannical government looks like,”. While violence by the police is surely inexcusable the protesters have to realize that if they are going to turn violent the police are going to protect themselves. There have been mixed claims as to who started the violence, but many outside new sources claimed the protesters began it when they rushed government building and attacked city officials.

What’s incredibly interesting about this protest is that Hong Kong and it’s citizens have lived under a mostly democratic government for as long as they could remember. Citizens enjoy free press and free markets, but they are now facing a threat of that being taken away. This differs from most protests of this sort where the protesters are attempting to gain Democracy from an already oppressive government. Without a doubt the way these sets of protests turn out will affect the future of Hong Kong and other independent city states in the coming years.

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A free internet

Recently in the news has been the talk over internet censorship and control. Numerous bills have made their way through congress since 1996 that have attempted and succeed to censor parts of the internet. Many of these were challenged and repealed later on as most were ruled unconstitutional, but still more are being introduced. The claims on the internet come from both government and corporate bodies in an effort to gain power and capital in a world that has become increasing dependent on the internet and its freedom.

Challenges to a closed internet have come from all over and en mass. From ordinary every day users, small internet based companies that count on a free internet to make their living, and also large corporations and important figures, recently including the founder of the World Wide Web himself, Tim Berners-Lee. Berners-Lee, who ‘invented’ the internet 25 years ago, recently came out and talked about a threat to the internet in the form of censorship and availability. He talked about how an open internet is essential to our future and the information we have available to us as users. He says, “If a Government can block you going to, for example, the opposition’s political pages, then they can give you a blinkered view of reality to keep themselves in power.”. In bringing up this point he echoes what millions of ordinary people have been fearing about, government corruption encroaching on the internet. With the past revelations on the NSA’s PRISM program, these fears may already have been realized.

Being from Britian, Berners-Lee also discussed the recent right to be forgotten act that was introduced to the EU that mandated search engines to erase all information about an individual if they call for it. All of these recent attacks on internet freedom and availability has led to Berners-Lee to call for an internet Magna Carta, a 13th century document that guaranteed basic rights to English citizens. In essence this proposed charter would guarantee unalienable rights to internet users and the internet itself that would make sure the internet was left uncensored and free.

Imagine an internet where you can only access certain webpages approved by a government or corporation. Your favorite YouTubercan no longer produce videos because their content doesn’t fall under that government or corporations guideline, your favorite subreddit was blocked because a user said something that contested the government or corporations views. This is an internet I hope I never have to see. This blog would without a doubt be taken down or censored in this theoretical ugly internet. And that’s something I and many wouldn’t want to see.

The 45%

After a close vote for Scottish Independence last week, many pro-independents have been continuing to take to the streets to share their ideas with the world and Scottish citizens. The vote, which would have seen Scotland break off of Britain, was failed much to “the 45%’s” dismay after the yes vote received 44.7% of voters votes. In a vote this close, things are never over after the bill was shot down, and with such a large turnout, 84.59%, surely the fight for independence is not even close to over. Recently a new type of political activism has been shown throughout Scotland in the form of small grassroots political activism which these 45%ers are hoping to capitalize on.

The activists, who are continuing to preach for Scottish independence make multiple references to the division of the vote, “referring to the alleged vote rigging during the Scottish referendum”. After making serious claims such as vote rigging many would thinks some kind of internal investigation would happen to preserve the promises of democracy, that the majority will rule. However, no such thing has happened as many anti-independents have cheered in the streets and committed themselves to counter protests to share their side of the vote in turn with “the 45%”.

Although the vote was shot down, the fact that there was a vote and that the vote was so close speaks to the fact that serious political, economic, and social compromises are essential in the very near future to keep the unity of the United Kingdom in tact, especially after the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, promised more rights and representation for Scottish citizens if the vote was determined to be no, and that Scotland would remain apart of the United Kingdom. These promises of extended powers to Scotland came the day before the vote leading many to believe it was a last ditch effort to convince Scotland to stay and that none of the powers would actually go into effect. As of yet none have which begs an interesting question, if these powers are never seen instituted in Scotland will another vote for independence come about, and will the result be different.

In the end this vote is a testament to how fragile the world really is and that, still, in this day, citizens will take to the streets to fight against injustices done by their government or another and attempt to change it. Even though the vote for Scottish independence was shot down it speaks to a lot of people in that they now know that things can be changed for better or worse.

A fight against Climate Change

Finally, people have ended the useless “debate” over climate change, and have realized that it is a real and imminent threat, much greater than that of any plague, terrorist group, or tyrannical government. On Sunday New York and world citizens took to the streets in the largest march for climate change awareness ever seen. The demonstrates of all ages, walks of life, and cultures took to the Manhattan streets in an effort to convince world leaders that climate change is an important issue they should all address and carry out plans to combat. The people on those streets were not of just one type however, out there were senators, actors, janitors, painters, kitchen cooks, and all other occupations. It shows the unity in which people can come together to show support for something they care and feel strongly about. It’s something we don’t see a lot of these days and it gives me happy feelings.

Not only are they doing it for themselves, but also for future generations who have to use this planet after we are done here. While we are without a doubt in an important crossroads in history, one in which we decide to let climate change happen or to combat it, we are not the only ones’ affected by the decision. I remember when I was younger, everyone would make the claim that, “who cares if my grandchildren won’t see a polar bear?”. It’s no longer about seeing polar bears though, it is more than likely about the survival and livability of our planet.

Aside from those people who selflessly care about the next generation. Other people came with viable concerns about climate change. Citizens from industrial areas of New York came to discuss and share with the protesters how even though the factories they lived by were made to clean air and water for surrounding suburbs, it was causing problems with their own water and air around the factory. They were arguing that it was a waste of time and effort to help clean something by polluting something else. Additionally, the demonstration saw a multitude of Eastern Asian attendees who are without a doubt the area biggest affected by climate change as more and more powerful hurricanes and typhoons ravage the area claiming lives, property, and hope.

Hopefully these demonstrations will be more and more proactive and finally be able to convince world leaders that climate change is a real and scary issue that needs to be addressed before it is too late to stop it.

Can anything justify violence?

On Sunday, Pope Francis of the Catholic Church visited Albania being the second modern Pope to visit Albania, the first being John Paul II in 1992 after the fall of the communist regime there, where he too spoke out against one of the main points of Pope Francis’ visit, violence. Among other things, Pope Francis made direct mention of ISIS in his visit when saying that, ““May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against fundamental rights”. This comes after the Pope directly condemned ISIS for their persecution of Christians and other religions in the middle east. Playing Devil’s Advocate here for a second though, it’s quite hypocritical that the Pope would say that religion can’t justify violence weeks after he advocated for some kind of U.S. intervention to stop ISIS and defend persecuted Christians. While he did not specifically say “bomb them”, his quote made most think that is what he meant. I do however agree with Pope Francis, when he said, and most likely meant, that these people need to be stopped in some way. Seeing as recent diplomatic efforts have failed, unfortunately, the only viable answer now is through force. This brings an interesting question though, if religion can’t justify violence,what can? Many will answer it’s only justifiable if people’s rights and lives are at stake, however by responding to violence with violence aren’t you just adding to the risk that innocent people are killed or rights are revoked. It goes back to the saying that you can’t fight fire with a bigger fire. It’s an interesting world we live in where opposite sides of stories can be instantly seen, and it helps to raise questions as to if what we’re doing in the world is right or not. The way we see it, we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys, however from the opposite side, the roles are reversed. While we aren’t beheading innocent journalists and posting video of it on the internet, that same violence is still prevalent, but on a less personal scale. How do you realize the scope of the victims of an air strike? It’s thoughts like these that make me question my own beliefs, and it seems that in today’s age, and possibly for the rest of the existence of humanity, unjustifiable violence will be a constant, and combating that unjustifiable violence just leads to more death, destruction, and loss.

Never too late to prosecute

Last week, a 93-year old former Auschwitz guard, Oskar Groening, was charged  as an accessory to 300,000 murders in an effort to make final legal penalties for the people involved in the Holocaust before it is too late. In a sense the prosecutes are arguing that there needs to be some kind of legal punishment for these people before they are all dead, a legal closure in a way. What confuses me is why they charge a 93-year old man, who’s crimes were inexcusable without a doubt, 70 years after they were committed, even though they have no proof of his particular involvement, only that he was a guard there. On top of this, this man, who was the only one of many to be able to be tried as the rest are too frail, promotes programs to end Holocaust denial throughout the world due to his experiences there. While I completely agree that what happened in the Holocaust was a disgusting and inexcusable event, I don’t understand why this particular man, who even requested to be drafted to fight on the front lines after seeing the horrors of the concentration camps, would be tried for this crime. In his mind, essentially sending himself to death on the front lines of WWII would be better than guarding a concentration camp. While the argument could be made that he knowingly signed up for the SS, you have to be aware of the situation in Germany at that time. Being patriotic for their country was the highest award and anyone who was not was often ridiculed or disconnected from others.

More than likely these charges will either not be followed through with, or the penalty will be much less than what one would expect. If these kinds of charges were brought up in an American court system, the perpetrator would without a doubt be sentenced to life in prison, or death. However given the circumstances of these charges, Groening will more than likely not be punished at all or the sentence will be extremely light. In a sense, these charges and the sub sequential court trial are a metaphoric and literal closure to a horrific event that everyone involved in the case never want to see happen again. It is with this thought in mind that gives the reason for Mr. Groening’s acceptance of the charges and almost gratefulness to them as he sees it as a way to not only bring closure to that event, but also to his role in it.

 

 

 

 

Ebola on your mind?

The recent Ebola epidemic that threatens millions of lives in West Africa seems to claim more and more each day. It’s easy to be detached from this topic because, well it can’t reach us here, right? It’s Africa’s problem and not ours. While that is the case right now, it could change more quickly than some might imagine. With Liberia and Sierra Leone being the hardest hit countries, many WHO  critics are claiming that the window for opportunity to contain the virus effectively has diminished. They claim that much more aid than is being given right now is required to remotely solve the problem at hand. Many of you are asking right now, “How does this affect me?”, and the answer to that is right now it doesn’t. However if Liberia and Sierra Leone are unable to keep the lid on the bottle that is the Ebola virus, it will not be long until it starts spilling into other countries. While Africa is an ocean away, we live in an extremely connected world both physically and informatively. Think of it this way, how hard would it be for someone who was unaware they were infected with Ebola to take the next plane to the U.S. and pass it on to your next door neighbor. While this is surely paranoia speaking, it is always a possibility. Even though many more countries are stepping in to help combat the Ebola crisis, will their combined aid be enough to stop the epidemic at this point?