North Korea Talks With America

North Korea has proposed to conduct talks with America just a few days after they cancelled a meeting with officials from South Korea. The National Defence Commission (which is North Korea’s “highest guiding organ of the military and the managing organ of military matters” according to their 1998 constitution) demanded “serious discussions” to “secure peace and stability”. The US also demanded “credible negotiations” as long as they complied with UN regulations.

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This is North Korea and America’s first high-level talks since 2009, with only smaller meeting since. The threat of nuclear war and attacks on South Korea and the US coupled with false promises to work  amicably with these countries led to a renewed desire to engage in high-level talks.

North Korea has constantly been pushing the boundaries, conducting three nuclear tests in the past few years, angering most of the world and their only ally, China. The high-level talks to be conducted are a break-through in almost non-existent compromise previously. Earlier sanctions imposed by China led to increased threats from north Korea and the cutting of hotlines used for emergency communication with the South.

Although earlier in the week North Korea agreed to talk with the South they later cancelled the meeting accusing them of “deliberate disturbance” by changing the head of its delegation. However, they have now said they will be willing to have “serious discussions on a wide range of issues, including the US goal to achieve the world free of nuclear arsenal”.

Do you think North Korea will go ahead with the talks? Will the talks have a positive or negative consequence?

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Prism – Are You Being Watched?

What is Prism?

It is a secret government organisation run by the National Security Agency (NSA). They had access to data held by major internet companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype.

What data can it obtain?

Detailed information about online activity, crucially including the contents of emails and live chat. The documents revealed Ed Snowden suggested they had access to chat logs, stored data, voice traffic, file transfers and social networking data of individuals. The government also confirmed they had asked for millions of phone records.

When was it set up?

It is believed to have been set up in 2007 under the US surveillance laws passed by George W. Bush and renewed by Obama in 2012.

How has it emerged?

Through a secret NSA presentation to staff which talks of “collection directly from the servers” of internet providers.

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 How have companies responded?

They deny knowledge of the programme despite the detail of the NSA presentation.

How does it other countries?

As the primary sites of all the world’s major internet companies are in the United States, it means every communication by another national can in theory be read by NSA agents.

The BBC said: “User data (such as emails and social media activity) is often not stored in the same country as the users themselves – Facebook for example has a clause in its privacy policy saying that all users must consent to their data being “transferred to and stored in” the US.”

Is it legal?

This is uncertain and many privacy campaigners are investigating whether there are grounds for a legal challenge. Experts say the legislation covering the issue  is sketchy. Many argue that protecting the country from terrorism is more important than individual privacy.

Are you concerned? Or do you agree that security is more important than individual privacy?

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Kenyan MPs Salaries Cut

Public outcry has led to the Kenyan government to cut MP salaries by $45,000 to $75,000 (approximately 40%). Protesters called the Kenyan MPs ‘MPigs’ forcing this decision despite a previous decision in May where MPs saw their salary rise to $120,000.

However, MPs will receive a $58,000 car allowance for agreeing with the cut, as well as a large pension, an armed guard, a diplomatic passport and access to airport VIP lounges. The MPs believe that they deserve the high salaries, often providing financial help to their constituents. Although many would agree the MPs are hard working the public outrage stemmed from the fact that they were receiving well over the national average income of $1,800 per year.

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Should Kenyan MPs have their salary cut? If so what should be done with the money?

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Turkey Protests 2013 – Your Questions Answered

In Turkey, protests have broken out in the biggest unrest in a decade. Read on to find out why…

Why are they protesting?

Late May trouble began in protest to the proposed demolition of one of  Istanbul’s green spaces (Gezi Park), which has a huge symbolic value to many of the locals. The government planned to use the space to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks and a mosque on the site

Why did so many end up protesting?

Although the protest started off small the police agitated the locals when they tried to clear the protesters away with tear gas and water cannons. As a result, in early June, thousands of people joined in. The government has admitted to overreacting, but so far there have still been approximate 2,800 protesters injured, 800 arrests and 2 deaths.

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Who are the protesters?

The protesters are far-ranging from young to old, rich to poor.

What do the protesters want?

Originally it was the stopping of building on Istanbul’s green spaces. Now, a committee of experts known as the Taksim Solidarity Platform has been established to negotiate with government. Their demands are to scrap the redevelopment of the green space, the sacking of many police officers, the prevention of excessive force and to release the arrested protesters.

What other factors could have led to protest?

Days before the protests a bill was passed in parliament to ban the late-night sale of alcohol in shops, which led to protesters holding up beer to Recep Tayyip Erdogan (their Prime Minister) as a gesture of defiance. There are also plans to place a constitutional ban on headscarfs, adultery and kissing in public.

What are your thoughts? Do you think they should be protesting? Is their police showing too much force?

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Iran Election 2013 – Your Questions Answered

On Friday, Iran is holding an election for a new president. In total 7 contenders are hoping to gain the presidency after 1 contender dropped out earlier this month. Although Iran has no true political parties the candidates are ideological distinct (4 are conservatives and 3 are cautious reformers)

Is the current President standing?

The current president – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – is unable to serve another term after already serving a maximum of two consecutive terms.

Who are the candidates for the presidency?

Pro-Khamenei candidates:

– Saeed Jalili who is Iran’s security of the National Security Council and a chief negotiator in foreign affairs

– Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, mayor of Tehran

– Ali Akbar Velayati, an aide of Khamenei

– Mohsen Rezai

The reform candidates:

– Mohammad Reza Aref, the former vice-president

– Hassan Rowhani, former nuclear negotiator

– Mohammad Gharazi, an ex-minister

Who did not make it through vetting?

In total 678 people desired to stand for the presidency, with only 8 candidates (now 7) remaining after the vetting process. This process is meant to “prevent corruption and deviation”, according to one jurist. It includes background checks on police records, court records, and registry records for loyalty to Islam. After, the Guardian Council (12 Muslim clergymen) help the vetting process, but this has led critics to believe that many candidates are ‘hand-picked’ because of their loyalty to Islam.

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Are the they concerned about a low turnout?

This does appear to be the case. Authorities have made changes to hold local council elections for the same day as well as by-elections for the Assembly of Experts (a group of clerics that appoint the supreme leader). By combining all the elections into one day is a hopeful attempt to boost voter turnout.

What are the election issues?

The economy is in a very poor state, mostly as a result of the country’s nuclear programme.  All the candidates have declared their intention of improving the economy. The pro-Khamenei candidates have also talked about privatisation and fighting corruption whilst the reformers talked about improving world relation. However, NO candidate has mentioned the nuclear programme, which is the cause of their messy economy.

How does the election work?

One candidate needs to have over 50% of the vote to win. If no candidate gets that in the first round and run-off will be held between the top 2 candidates to ensure one candidate gets the majority of votes required to win. On 3rd August the president is to be sworn in.

Who will winner?

Although opinion polls and media coverage of the election is often unreliable the informal polls in Iran show that the moderate reformer Hassan Rowhani has a strong lead. But, it is hard to say and all we can do is wait and see…

Keep reading my blog to find out the result of this election in 2 months time!

What are your thoughts on the election in Iran? How should the candidates tackle the crippling economy?

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Iceland Elections – Your Questions Answered

Today Iceland held a vote in their elections where a defeat is expected for the current coalition government, who first made it into power after economic difficulties in the country. The two parties who were partly blamed for the economic difficulties are expected to form a coalition to replace the retiring prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir. The two centre-right parties are eurosceptic; this could prevent the government’s efforts to secure EU membership.

Who Is Competing? 

The Progressive Party, normally thought of as Iceland’s third party, has grown in popularity as a result of its opposition to the government’s to use the people’s money to repay British people/banks for money lost in their banking collapse. Their leader, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, hopes to get approximately 20% of their debt waived by foreign company’s whom they own money too.

The Independence Party, their conservative party, fell from power in 2009 after being the key party since after World War 2. The main reason for this was because much of the blame of the economic crises was put on the party and their leader, Geir Haarde, was put on trial – but he was only found guilty of minor offence. Currently, their leader, Bjarni Benediktsson, hopes for increased economic growth in the country by encouraging investment and reducing taxes.

The current coalition, between the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement, are low on opinion polls and unlikely to gain re-election. Bright Future, a pro-European party, and the Pirate Party, a pro-digital rights party, are also both low on opinion polls.

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Why Is The Current Government Not Popular?

The simple answer is because they are blamed for the economic collapse 2008-2009. Since then the country has experienced some economic growth and unemployment has dipped below 5%. Unfortunately, Iceland still has high debts and owes a lot of money to other countries and companies. The governing coalition made matters worse by declaring that they would pay of these debts using the citizen’s money.

The EU

The residents of Iceland wanted to join the EU after the economic crises because it is seen as a protection for the country from future economic difficulties. Although the government did start some negotiations they have been slow and nothing much has come from it.

Their Electoral System

They have a 63 member parliament (Althingi). The members are elected proportionally, which means seat are elected proportionally to the number of votes received. A key aspect of a proportional electoral system is that it prevents any one party gaining too much power (a tyranny of the majority), but can lead to smaller, more extremist, parties gaining representation.

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Iraq Election

In Iraq provincial (regional) elections have been held for the first time since American soldiers left the country in 2011. In the lead up to the election there was violence throughout the country, which has led to the Shia-led government postponing a couple of other provincial elections.

At present, Iraqi troops are ensuring there is stability in the country. Dozens of people have been killed by bombings in the last week alone, as well as two polling stations have been attacked. So far 14 people who have decided to stand for election have been murdered, but the Prime Minister (Nouri al-Maliki) told citizens to continue voting in defiance of “enemies of the political process”.

Iraq_Top

Approximately 14 million Iraqi citizens are able to vote for the 8000+ candidates competing for the 378 council seats. In the capital, voters were searched twice before they could cast their vote and elsewhere security forces patrolled. One student, Abdulsahib Ali Abdulsahib, said that “security is the most important problem that all of them should be working for; without this, life would be so difficult,”

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Same-Sex Marriage Legalised In New Zealand

The New Zealand parliament has passed a bill with a fairly large majority (77:44) in favour of same-sex marriage, the first country in the continent of Oceania to do so. The bill amends the 1955 marriage act and led to celebrations across the country, particularly in the capital, Wellington. One way they expressed their happiness was by singing a New Zealand love song called “Pokarekare Ana”. The Labour MP who introduced the bill (Louisa Wall) said that the bill enabled “declaration of love and commitment to a special person”.

However, according to polls, approximately  one-third of citizens opposed the bill – most notably, christian lobby groups. Bob McCoskrie, the founder of one christian lobby group, Family First, said the amendment to the marriage act undermined the traditional concept of marriage. Whilst Colin Craig, the conservative party leader, stated that New Zealand is “seeing the politicians make a decision… that the people of this country wouldn’t make”.

Worldwide, same-sex marriage has been on the agenda. We recently made a post on the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Uruguay and another post on the ‘ban’ of same-sex marriage in Hungary. In Australia, their neighbouring country, they voted overwhelmingly against a similar bill. The UK continue to not allow same-sex marriage, although civil partnerships are allowed, and in the United States nine states have legalised it (but it seems more states will soon follow). In total there are now 13 countries who have legalised same-sex marriage:

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Hungary’s Constitutional Controversy

What has happened?

Hungary has approved a series of amendments to their constitution that had been deemed unconstitutional in past rulings. As a result, this could mean increased power for the state, increased power for the conservative Fidesz party and remove/weaken a number of checks and balances. The Prime Minister of the country,  Viktor Orban has declared that the amendments are necessary if the country is to continue moving away from Hungary’s legacy of communism.

What are the amendments?

One amendment is to weaken the Constitutional Court meaning they will not have the power to remove laws already contained in the constitution. Another amendment, which other critics say weakens the Constitutional Court, is to lower the retirement age of judges in the country. Election campaigning has been restricted to the state-owned media, which has been argued to reduce freedom of expression in Hungary. A number of civil liberties (citizen freedoms) have been restricted and an anti-gay law has been created.

orban

How was the government allowed to implement these amendments?

The wining conservative coalition (Orban’s Fidesz party and the Christian Democratic People’s Party) gave the government a two-third majority in their parliament, giving them substantial power to pass these changes with little opposition.

Who has opposed the amendments?

The United States government and a number of European Institutions have shown their concern over the amendments stating that it will undermine the democracy of the country. Furthermore, human rights organisations (e.g. Amnesty International) have also shown opposition

In the country, the Socialist Party refused to vote and thousands of protesters turned out in the capital, Budapest.

How has the government reacted to opposition of the amendments?

Orban stated that he was “fully committed” to European standards, but he has no intention to not go ahead with the changes. His deputy prime minister, Gergely Gulyas, said that “It’s natural for the governing majority to make use of the authority it received in democratic elections”.

What are your views on the amendments? Has Hungary’s government overstepped it’s power? What if this was your government?

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The American Constitution

For our American readers, a lot of this, if not all of this, will probably be something you have known since your childhood. But, I feel that it is necessary that we write a blog on the fascinating constitution: how it was formed, what it involved and how different people view it!

How and why was the Constitution formed?

In 1776, thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain by signing the Declaration of Independence, making them ‘free and independent’ states. Consequently, this lead to the War of Independence between the former colonies and Britain from 1776-1783. The colonies had to pay tax to Britain, even though they had no representation in the British Parliament, so wanted to form their own system of government. In 1781, the newly independent colonies established a confederacy through the Articles of Confederation – a confederal government has a lot of power given to the states but little to the national government. However, this confederacy almost turned their victory in gaining independence into a defeat because it proved to be a disaster as their was little power for the national government, thus they failed to make a nation. In 1787, a group of people (now collectively known as the Founding Fathers) agreed to meet up at the Philadelphia convention to amend the Articles of Confederation. In the end, they scrapped the Articles of Confederation and created a new constitution with a number of compromises as to the allocation of powers.

Washington_Constitutional_Convention_1787

What were the compromises?

Three key compromises were the formation of government, state representation and choosing the president. Under British rule there had been a central government (unitary) with a lot of power for the national government, but the Articles of Confederation created a confederal government which gave a lot of power to the states (not the national government). The compromise was a federal government where the states and the national government had equally important powers. Representation for the states varied depending on their size. Large states wanted proportional representation where they would have more representatives compared to small states, but small states wanted equal representation regardless of state size. The compromise was to have a bicameral system (two houses): the House of Representatives would be proportional and the Senate would have equal representation. Finally, some people wanted a directly elected president and others wanted him/her to be appointed. The compromise was to have an indirectly elected Electoral College who would be elected by the people (in the Primaries) who then go on to choose the president (at the national party convention).

How liberals view the constitution

Liberals (such as the Democrats) would argue that the constitution creates a lot of gridlock (difficult to pass laws) and little accountability. Liberals also believe the Bill of Rights (defines citizen’s rights) is very important, but the system allows for the erosion of civil liberties during times of emergency. Finally, to a liberal, the courts have shown themselves slow and unwilling to intervene on a number of issues – especially social issues such as guns, abortion and gay rights.

How conservatives view the constitution

Conservatives (such as the Republicans) believe that the federal government exploits the vagueness of the constitution at the expense of states right and powers. The vagueness of the constitution can be seen through the ‘elastic’ clauses, such as the ‘necessary and proper’ clause, which allows the government to make laws which are ‘necessary and proper’ – conservatives wonder what laws are necessary and proper. They also question the growth of the courts through their power of judicial review, which allows the court to interpret the meaning of the constitution

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From a non-partisan view

The American constitution is the longest serving constitution in the world and the fact that compromises were made from the left and right meant that that there should be a good balance between the federal government and the state governments. Also, the difficulty of amending the constitution means that it requires broad based support for changes to be made to it.

Questions

  • Does the constitution fulfil its main functions?
  • Does the constitution need changing?
  • What are the pros and cons of the constitution?

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