political

Broken America

How many more innocent lives have to be lost?

How many more families have to grieve?

How many more people have to live in fear for this money-dominated American government to put aside its childish differences and work cooperatively to uphold the rights and lives of the citizens that they were elected to protect?

In light of the barbaric events in America in the past couple months, this has been a particularly hard piece to write, since the topic has left me and millions of others around the globe devastated and appalled.

Gun violence in America is no secret to anyone. After the the Supreme Court decision DC v Heller in 2010, the right for an individual to own a handgun was constitutionally protected and upheld by 9 unelected and unaccountable justices. Since then, we have a seen seemingly endless number of innocent lives taken due to gun crime – the massacre of LGBT citizens in Orlando last month being just the largest. The most recent horror story to come from America is the unprovoked and unjust killing of Philando Castile by a US police officer – yet another name to add to the list of the 1,134 young black men murdered by the police in the last 7 months.

Many issues could be highlighted here: the blatant discrimination against non-white American citizens by the police; the still very present homophobia in America, arming the police force and, of course, giving individuals easy access to guns based on the rigid interpretation of an 18th century document by 9 justices; 9 people risking the lives of 318 million people due to a decision based on this vague statement: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”- Amendment II

However, from all of these issues, I choose to focus on the latter, since limiting gun usage in America or banning it altogether is something that can be done. Changing the racist, sexist or homophobic  mindset engrained in so many is a challenge more onerous and quite frankly, I find the reality that some people still think in this way rather hard to swallow.

Since Obama was elected President in 2008, he has attempted and ceaselessly pushed to limit gun usage in America. Just this morning he spoke through tears to an immobile Congress about the necessity of gun control after the recent killings: “In Dr King’s words, we need to feel the fierce urgency of now, because people are dying,” – Obama. However, this is where the issue lies. When Obama lost both Congress and the Senate by 2012, his presidency became stagnant to say the least and he has been unable to pass laws necessary to the protection of US citizens due to the “hyperpartisanship” in government. You would assume that anyone with one shred of decency would agree to restrict gun usage after the massacre in Sandyhook and the shooting of a class of 4-5 year-olds in Newtown. However, it would seem that The Houses are putting their political interests first and blocking any laws Obama tries to pass to demonstrate Republican dominance and authority in government. They must get some sadistic kick out of stopping Democrat laws from being passed, despite the outcome for the US citizens that they have sworn to protect.

The National Rifle Association (America’s largest and wealthiest pressure group campaigning for no restrictions on gun ownership) claimed that restricting gun laws is “political correctness gone mad”. This being the same group that funds mostly Republican members but even some Democrats to be pro guns. Corruption at its most dangerous. On this topic, left wing activist Jolyon Rubinstein fears that “it is so patently clear that the only thing really standing in the way of changing the laws is big money. Big money blocking something that is completely sane, rational and necessary. It is terrifying.”

We are hearing more and more of these cases and these are just the high-profile ones. This is just yet another plea to add to the many for America to at least restrict individual gun ownership – hardly an irrational or unreasonable ask. To read more about the ways in which you can help with this problem, follow this link:

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political

Brexit: What’s It All About?

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It would be hard to have missed the overwhelming onslaught of information and partisan jargon firing from both sides of the EU campaign in the news over the past few months. Since David Cameron announced that he would be holding a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU 7 months earlier than he stated in the Tory manifesto, the media has been saturated with threats and exaggerated claims over our membership of the EU. As the most politically significant event of our lifetimes and one that is fragmenting the Conservative party draws near, you have to ask yourself two questions: Firstly, why each side is campaigning so negatively, promoting fear rather than pure sense and, most importantly, why this insultingly simplistic and belittling term “Brexit” is being used to describe the event which could create a seismic shift in Britain’s place in the world.

The European Union is a political and economic union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe. Covering 7.3% of the world’s population and with an estimated population of over 508 million, the EU has been described as a potential superpower. It was established after World War II to ensure economic cooperation between these countries, with the idea that trading freely together would presumably prevent wars breaking out between the countries. Another key feature of the European Union is that it encourages “free movement” amongst the countries involved e.g. A British citizen could live and work in Spain without a Visa – the area of immigration in the EU is a controversial one, and one that has fuelled many debates and protests.

What is a referendum? A vote in which everyone within voting age can vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It is a form of direct democracy, since the people get to have their say directly rather than being represented by an MP. Whichever side gets more than half of the votes cast is considered to have won, which is why it is incredibly important to vote in a referendum. In a referendum, everyone’s vote counts and, unlike in the system used for our general election (First Past The Post), there are no wasted votes. If there is a low turnout for a referendum, it is dangerously damaging to the legitimacy of the result e.g. In 2011, Britain voted on whether to change the British electoral system from FPTP to the Alternative Vote system, a more proportional and fair system. The turnout of this election was 41%, meaning that more than half of those eligible to vote did not turnout to vote and, therefore, more than half of the UK did not get a say in the result of this crucial referendum – perhaps if that 59% of people had bothered to exercise their democratic right then we would have a more proportional electoral system and the Conservatives would not have been able to get a majority in 2015, meaning that Britain would end up having a multi-party government today. This is how crucial it is to turnout to referendums!

There are clear and simple arguments for staying in or leaving the EU that will have consequences whatever the result is: if we vote to leave, then Britain will no longer be able to trade freely with the EU countries and going to an EU country for a year during your degree at uni will prove much more challenging, to name a few. If we vote to stay, a few slight differences will be made that David Cameron negotiated during his talks in Brussels last month, but it is highly likely that Scotland, so intent on staying in the EU, will hold another independence referendum.The people who want to leave the EU, mostly the far right voters and parties e.g. UKIP, more conservative members of the Conservatives, such as Boris Johnson and interestingly left wing activist Owen Jones, believe that the EU is holding Britain back. In May last year, leader of the UKIP party, Nigel Farage, falsely claimed that 70% of UK laws were made in Brussels, thus undermining Britain’s parliamentary sovereignty. However, in actual fact, 7% of UK laws are made in the EU and 64% are ‘influenced’ by Brussels. Eurosceptics are angered by the fact that the EU places rules on businesses and charges billions of pounds a year on membership; money that could be spent on welfare or education. Finally, the infamous borders: Many want to take back full control on the UK borders and reduce the number of people coming to work here.

The flip side to these arguments highlights the benefits of staying in the EU – this campaign is led by David Cameron. Some fear that leaving the EU will damage the UK’s status in the world. The EU makes intercontinental trade easier and they argue that the flow of hardworking immigrants fuels economic growth and helps pay for public services.

Considering that both sides have equal arguments to support their choices, it seems ridiculous and frankly childish that both sides are choosing to campaign so negatively. Seeing as it is the ordinary public who will get to vote on this decision, surely it would be more beneficial to educate everyone on the facts and information about the consequences of leaving/staying in the EU rather than provoking fear among the public?

Therefore, the importance of voting in this referendum cannot be stressed enough. If you are over 18, you must register to vote, either by post or by following this link https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote by the start of May to be eligible to vote. It is important to try not to be swayed by the competitive rivalry between the two sides and make a just vote, based on correct facts and statistics from reliable sources. At the end of the day, it is our decision. We get to decide Britain’s fate.

political

The Death of a Justice

After the shock death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia, people have been left wondering what Obama’s next move will be.

There are 9 justices on the US Supreme Court, who were all nominated by a president and then confirmed by the Senate. What is interesting about the job of a justice is that it is a job for life, meaning that once a president nominates a justice, that justice will remain on the court until s/he retires, dies or is impeached (a less common outcome). Therefore, a job on the Supreme Court can be seen as one of the most politically important positions (despite the conventions put in place to separate the branches and to stop the judiciary from becoming politicised), since a justice can remain on the court even after the president whom appointed him has come to the end of his term or has died. This can be seen most significantly through the appointment of justice Antonin Scalia by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and he remained on the court for 12 years after Reagan’s death in 2004. It could be said that Scalia was one of Reagan’s most important legacies, since Reagan’s views have ‘echoed down the decades’ and Scalia was able to interpret laws with the same conservative, neoliberal approach that Reagan adopted.

Nominating a Supreme Court justice is overwhelmingly important for a president, since the president has the opportunity to shape the court politically. This was clearly demonstrated when the Republican president George W. Bush appointed the extremely right wing justice Clarence Thomas, who described the nomination and confirmationprocess as ‘high-tech lynching’- a rather poignant description from the first African American justice. By nominating a far right conservative justice, Bush was able to alter the political balance of the court and make the court more conservative to coincide with the Republican administration. However, this tactic does not always work out so effectively, seen when everyone’s favourite president Richard Nixon appointed Burger as Chief Justice, but the Burger court then became the most liberal and active court in all time when it deemed the right for women to have abortions a constitutional right in the Roe v Wade case of 1973.

It would be in Obama’s best interest, in these last few months of his presidency, to appoint a liberal justice since, at the stage before Alito’s death, the court was divided 50/50  between liberal and conservative justices with justice Anthony Kennedy being a swing voter; in 92% of cases in 2014 he sided with the majority and could most simplistically be described as a moderate conservative. Therefore, it is currently very difficult for decisions made by the court to be swayed by the liberal justices without Kennedy’s vote. Thus, for Obama to continue on his Democratic legacy after his administration, it would be wise for him to nominate a liberal justice ASAP until his presidency makes as much an impact on America as Jimmy Carter’s did. The Supreme Court has the power to make rulings on topics in the heart of political debate e.g. abortion and gun control. Therefore, Obama now has the opportunity to give the Supreme Court a liberal majority and appoint a justice who is likely to overturn current lax gun laws and limit gun control.

political

Time is running out

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It’s that time again.

On Monday, we will have the results of the nominated presidential candidates in Iowa – the start of a very long race. The polls have been displaying something that has caused worldwide astonishment and, quite rightly, confusion.

According to HuffingtonPost, Trump has 32% of the vote in Iowa, trumping Cruz by 8%, a seemingly small percentage, but overwhelmingly significant in this winner-takes-all system. This means that Donald Trump, judge on American Apprentice, the media’s ludibrium, has the largest chance of being the Republican party’s presidential nominee. Due to the nature of the primary and caucus contest in America, there is an over-importance placed upon the results of Iowa (the first state to vote) and New Hampshire (the second), as the candidates who win in these two states will gain worldwide media

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2016 Republican polls in Iowa. source: HuffingtonPost.com

 

attention and name recognition until we cannot breathe for seeing Trump and Clinton kissing babies. The winners of Iowa and/or New Hampshire will also gain much more funding and, therefore, will have a much higher chance at winning the contest overall, as, in the American presidential race, money is everything. With Trump polling highest in Iowa and New Hampshire, it seems we are going to have to get used to the idea that this man could be the president of one of the most powerful economies in the world, with nuclear weapons at his disposal. Quite something to get your head around.

However, I must address the elephant in the room: We saw in the Uk’s election in May 2015, that polls can in fact be catastrophically wrong, so we can only pray for a repeat of this error. But, as it stands, 32% of people in Iowa say that they would vote for Donald Trump. However, nearly 10% say that they will vote for Ben Carson, which is possibly the most shocking statistic of them all.

The prospect of Trump being the GOP presidential candidate is gradually becoming more and more conceivable, especially since statistics show that caucuses encourage a high turnout of well-educated activists. Who else would leave their home to stand forming lines in a school gymnasium for 3 hours? When thinking of Trump supporters, ‘well-educated’ is not the first adjective to come to mind, however they do seem to be more inclined to express their views and get politically active than say a Rubio supporter. Therefore, on February 1st, the Trump supporters should turnout in hoards and vote for him to win in both Iowa and New Hampshire and, at this rate, take over the world, which should just about satisfy his elementary, boyish attention craving.

Moving swiftly on from the disaster of the Republican party, the power of demagogue

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Democrat poll results in New Hampshire. Source: HuffingtonPost.com

figure Bernie Sanders must not be underestimated. Clinton leads the Iowa polls 45% with Bernie following closely behind at 42%. What is really interesting is the latest poll in New Hampshire, where Bernie is leading by 14% with 53% of the vote! Who would have thought that tree-hugging, peace-loving Sanders had the power (or the money) to succeed in this brutal, gruelling battle. With his devoted ideological supporters, it is not such an unbelievable prospect that Sanders does win in New Hampshire, creating waves in Clinton’s seemingly smooth campaign.

If these anomalous poll results teach us anything it’s that people are tired of the middle ground. People are tired of the same rich, well-educated generic politicians that have been in charge for so long. This unrest amongst the public was seen in the UK by the surging support for Farage and then again for Jeremy Corbyn. Similarly in Spain when left wing Podemos was voted in. People want to be able to look at a politician and see another mutual human, not someone unattainable. What these recent results are showing is that people are starting to crave populist leaders. Leaders who treat us like a nation of people, not statistics. Leaders who are just like us. I would say that Trump is failing at conveying this message particularly well, but clearly 32% of people would disagree with that.

The political current is changing. With the shock poll results in the US, we can only await the final results to see if we are on the verge of a new type of politics: Politics of the people.

social

Junior Doctors’ Strike

Doctor: a person with a medical degree whose job is to treat people who are ill or hurt.
Robot: a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man.

Note the difference.

Today marks the first ‘all out’ strike by medics in the history of the NHS. You can hardly escape the news of the Junior Doctors’ decision to strike today against longer working hours whilst being underpaid and understaffed. The NHS affects everyone in the UK, hence the uproar against the strikes consuming our media.

According to the British Medical Association, they have withdrawn from talks with the government over proposals which include ‘pay cuts up to 30%’, quite a change from the ‘11% pay rise’ that Jeremy Hunt promised during the Conservative election campaign. The doctors are striking about the lack of clarity and the fear that the proposals of the new contract will drive some doctors into the ground.

So why are so many people fuming over their decision?

You only have to look online to see the onslaught of anger and criticisms being thrown at the doctors for striking. One man, in a heated argument over the picket fence, accused them of ‘playing God with people’s lives’ – a rather inappropriate comment given the nature of their job in the first place. People have also accused them of putting patients’ lives at risk and punishing patients who really have no control over what the government chooses to do.

Although this may be partially true, this must not be blown out of proportion: the doctors will not be leaving any patients for dead and have already publicly stated that they will treat “emergency cases”. 40% of doctors did not even partake in the strike! The BMA are using their possession of powerful sanctions to force the government to listen to them. Some have even called for Jeremy Hunt’s resignation. The doctors are counting on the importance of the NHS and the national dependence upon their work to make the government take their point of view seriously and stop treating them like robots. However, Hunt does not seem to be listening and simply boasted, ‘they think they are having a go at the government but they aren’t – they are having a go at every man, woman and child whose appointment has been cancelled.’

The problem remains, and I believe the problem will continue to remain even after their strike is over. How can you solve the problem of the NHS? The UK is lucky enough to have free health care, yet our doctors are relied upon to be there for our every need, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. An aspiring doctor said, ‘I believe the NHS should focus on training more doctors and nurses, which would reduce the number of agency staff needed, which itself costs the NHS £3 billion a year.’ Others have suggested pumping more money into the NHS.

On the first day of this historic strike, we watch the fallout unfold before our eyes, as these unsung heroes begin to speak up.

political

Help before Hate

image.jpegThis issue has been discussed scrupulously over the past 7 days, but I am going to say it louder for the people at the back.

Just over a week has passed since the Paris attacks, which has been the topic on the lips of everyone, all keen to share their opinion on it. Everyone seems to have their own view on how to deal with IS and other terrorist organisations, but I put my hands up and say that I have no idea how to stop attacks like this from happening- Theresa May and the rest of our government have a tough job on their hands, whatever your political views may be. However, I know what NOT to do: blame Islam.

In the midst of the barbaric actions of IS, it is easy for outsiders to point the finger at an entire religion and focus their energy on hating Muslims rather than uniting to help those who have been affected by terrorist attacks. It would be wrong of me to pretend to be an expert on Islam, but I do know that it is a religion of peace. Muhammad Ali stated that ‘the word “Islam” means “peace”. The word “Muslim” means “one who surrenders to God”. But the press makes us seem like haters.’ Thus highlighting the fact that the way one extremist group interprets their religion is not necessarily the same way that all followers of that religion choose to interpret it. Not only is placing the blame upon all Muslims blatantly wrong, it is quite frankly offensive to brand 23% of the world’s population as potential threats to our security and have everyone who looks remotely Asian to be thoroughly searched at airport security. As someone who is quite often subject to the “random check”, I know just how irritating it can be.

The phrase that has been banded around social media as another flippant hashtag is in actual fact incredibly important to remember, especially in light of recent events: Religion is not violent, people are.

As is often the case with global events, people online seem to have an entirely different view to those in the “real world”. After the Paris attacks, it was pleasing to see people unite against hatred rather than a religion. However, after emerging foggy-eyed from the Twittersphere, I realised that the media and many people still chose to generalise the entire Muslim community as violent and blame the majority of terrorist attacks upon Islam, deeming it ‘a religion that incites violence and hatred.’ Historian Reza Aslan dismissed these comments on CNN by saying ‘Islam is just a religion and like every religion in the world, it depends on Wharton bring to it. If you are a violent person, your [religion] is going to be violent.’ I cannot stress the importance of this point enough. Our world is riddled with conflict and placing the blame upon one entire religion is not only ignorant and wrong, but neither does it help the situation whatsoever. As I said previously, I do not know how to solve these issues, but surely turning upon each other can only do more harm than good when we should be uniting as one humanity to fight against hatred.

political

Making a difference

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We are always taught to believe that we can make a difference. That no matter who you are or where you come from, you can change someone’s life; you can put a stop to the wrongs in the world. This was demonstrated clearly last night on Children in Need where we would hear devastatingly sad stories, but somehow those who gave money would be made out to be the heroes of the night rather than the strong families dealing with their situations. People who donated £1 were persuaded that even this small donation would make a great difference to someone’s life.

I am including myself in this, but it has become the norm that when disaster strikes, people want to feel as though they are doing something and so will sign a petition or create a hashtag about it when really this makes no difference. It’s not as though signing a petition to give women in Saudi Arabia the vote is actually going to help the cause. Is all of this “help” we try to give really to make a difference to those in need or just to make ourselves feel like heroes?

I have lost count of the number of change.org petitions that I have signed in the last 2 years, covering topics ranging from changing the UK’s voting system to ending tampon tax, yet still, no change has been made. In light of yesterday’s horrific Paris shooting, all I could do was tweet about it- a completely passive response to such a disastrous incident. You hear stories about people who fly over to countries in need to provide medical aid when necessary, yet the most I will do is donate £1 to wear mufti at my school or maybe write a blog post.

In a recent episode of “Please Like Me” (a great show that everyone should watch), this issue was brought up; the fact that we will post on Facebook and Instagram about a current issue e.g. #prayforparis, knowing deep down that this will make no difference to the situation whatsoever, but to make sure that our friends know that we are “good” people who care about international conflicts and problems. I must mention that most people don’t do this intentionally, at the time, it is easy to think that by signing a petition you really are going to stop poverty or end all wars.

The conclusion that was come to in the show was that “in a democracy, if you want change, you have to change people’s minds and people look at the internet.” I thought that this was a very interesting point to raise because the power and the influence of the Internet is always underestimated. It is true that sitting behind a computer screen will not get justice for those who lost their lives in the Paris shooting last night, but hundreds of millions of people talking about it will certainly get noticed.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this post, it was just something I felt like I had to write. But if there was to be a conclusion, it would be this: tweeting about a terrorist attack will not do anything but maybe boost your ego. However, somehow it does unite people and their way of thinking. Making a fuss online will not change the world, but perhaps it will change the way that people think.