How Many Rocks From The Sun?
June 2, 2021
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“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” — William Faulkner
“There are two means of refuge from the misery of life — music, and cats.” — Albert Schweitzer
Democracy’s Fragility On Display
Democracy is a fragile thing. It is difficult to acquire, but easily lost. There are always autocrats waiting in the wings, wanting to crush it.
In the mid-19th century, the United Kingdom (UK) acquired Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula, and another swath of land, comprising territory collectively called Hong Kong. The U.K. would remain in control until 1997, when the colony of Hong Kong was to be returned to China. While under British rule, Hong Kong experienced an economic boom in the last half of the 20th century, becoming a financial hub and capitalist home to a wealthy, multicultural, international community.
Anticipating Hong Kong’s return, the U.K. and China signed a Joint Declaration in 1984 that provided for the governance of the city under Chinese sovereignty. Although directly under Beijing’s Communist Party authority, Hong Kong would keep a high degree of autonomy in all matters, including executive, legislative, and independent judicial power, even final adjudication — everything except foreign relations and defense. It was called the “one country, two systems” principle.
After the handoff in 1997, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China, with its own “mini” constitution, legal system, and some democratic rights like free speech and the freedom of assembly. Under its Basic Law, Hong Kong’s existing capitalist system and way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years, until 2047. There was a caveat: Hong Kong residents could not elect their own leaders; rather, a chief executive would be chosen by a 1,200-member election committee.
Once Xi Jinping became China’s president in 2013, things changed. The next year Hong Kong elections were conducted using a list of candidates vetted by Beijing. More intrusive policies followed. In 2018, Xi’s government tried changing the law to allow extradition to mainland China for criminal adjudication. London called for Beijing to honor agreements made when the city was handed over in 1997; a diplomatic row between the countries ensued, and mass pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong. In 2020, China enacted a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong that criminalizes dissent. The law crushed the pro-democracy movement and effectively eradicated opposition. The city’s slide into authoritarianism was like watching a cancer patient die a slow death.
That zero-tolerance policy for dissent was exemplified with Sunday’s arrest of Alexandra Wong, known affectionately as Grandma Wong. The 65-year-old democracy activist was apprehended as she staged a lone demonstration in remembrance of China’s deadly crackdown in Tiananmen Square, when the military and security police are estimated to have massacred 10,000 protesters and bystanders on June 4, 1989.
To commemorate the massacre’s 32nd anniversary, activists sought permission for a vigil on Friday; it was denied for the second year in a row. They also requested permission for a small Tiananmen-themed march on Sunday, and that was also denied. But Wong showed up anyway, alone, carrying a sign that read “32, June 4 Tiananmen’s lament” and a yellow umbrella symbolizing Hong Kong’s democracy movement. She was taken into custody and charged with participating in an unlawful assembly. (National Geographic, History, Guardian, Independent)
The Belarus Tolls
- In the 10 months since Belarusians bravely contested fraudulent elections, their autocratic president Alexander Lukashenko has launched the most widespread crackdown on dissent since the Soviet Union. Hundreds of political prisoners have been arrested, with journalists and activists specifically targeted.
- A 50-year-old protest leader sentenced to five years in prison mysteriously died after a year in custody. His body was returned to his family with his entire head covered in bandages. On Tuesday, another opposition activist stabbed himself in the throat with a pen during a court hearing in Minsk, after claiming investigators forced him to plead guilty or his family and friends would be arrested.
- It seems functioning democracies are becoming harder and harder to come by. Political economist and Guardian contributor Will Hutton writes: “From Minsk to Hong Kong, people power just isn’t working anymore. The West’s ineffectiveness in the face of the arrant use of torture, unlawful arrest, savage imprisonment without trial, and flagrant abuse of international law, even close to home in Europe, is among the bleakest symptoms of our times.” (Guardian)
- On Sunday the official coronavirus death toll in Peru was listed as 69,342. But following a government review, Peru’s prime minister announced Monday that the total death toll since March 1, 2020, had been revised to 180,764, 2.6 times the original number. The revised total means that Peru now leads with the highest coronavirus-related death rate per capita in the world — more than 500 deaths per 100,000 people.
- Monday’s announcement comes just days before Peruvians head to the polls on Sunday for the second round of presidential elections. Peruvians cast their ballots in the first round in April, when they were asked to choose the country’s fifth president in just four years following a spate of corruption scandals.
- The previous record-holder for the most deaths per capita from the virus was Hungary, with 305 deaths per 100,000 people as of May 22. Covid-19 vaccines all over Latin America are in perilously short supply. Peru’s state of emergency and nationwide lockdown has been extended until the end of June. (CNN)
Additional World News
- Gun attack on Ugandan ex-army chief kills daughter, driver -military (Reuters)
- Hamas leader urges prisoner swap with Israel following Gaza war (The Hill)
- Sri Lanka, Facing ‘Worst’ Marine Disaster, Investigates Cargo Ship Fire (NYT, $)
- AP Interview: Kremlin cracking down on dissent before vote (AP)
- Morocco, Spain trade accusations of violating good ‘neighbourliness’ (Reuters)
- ‘Time has come’ for pandemic treaty, WHO chief says (ABC)
- Sicilian mafia ‘people-slayer’ released after 25 years in jail (Yahoo)
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A Massacre Remembered
- President Biden addressed a crowd in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Tuesday, marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, when hundreds of Black Americans were killed by a White mob and their entire neighborhood was burned to the ground. “One hundred years ago, at this hour, on this first day of June smoke darkened the Tulsa sky, rising from 35 blocks of Greenwood that were left in ash and ember, raised in rubble,” Biden said. “In less than 24 hours, 1,100 Black homes and businesses were lost. Insurance companies … rejected claims of damage. Ten thousand people were left destitute and homeless, placed in internment camps.”
- There was no investigation, no accurate count of the dead, and no arrests were made. Biden called what happened in Greenwood a massacre, not a riot, and “an act of hate and domestic terrorism with a through-line that exists today, still.” Tulsa did its best to wipe the Greenwood Massacre from the history books, which led the president to the ongoing debate over which historical narratives around race and slavery should be taught in U.S. schools. “We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, the everything. That’s what great nations do,” he said. He then outlined his administration’s new efforts to combat the country’s racial and income inequality, which will include more small business opportunities and heightened efforts to combat housing discrimination.
- Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the administration’s efforts on voting rights, as part of the ongoing work to counter efforts in Republican-led state legislatures to pass restrictive voting laws. While in Tulsa, Biden also met with surviving members of the community and toured the Greenwood Cultural Center. (CNN)
- Retired Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn was among keynote speakers at the For God and Country Patriot Roundup, a weekend-long conference in Dallas linked to the QAnon conspiracy that helped drive failed efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The former national security adviser and Trump ally, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his role in the Russia scandal but was later pardoned by Trump, continues to falsely maintain that the election was stolen from the former president, thanks to (imaginary) egregious “voter fraud.”
- During a Q & A session Sunday, Flynn told an audience member there was no reason that America’s military shouldn’t conduct a Myanmar-style overthrow of this country’s government, something QAnon conspiracists have been advocating. On Monday, despite video evidence to the contrary, Flynn wrote on a social networking service favored by conservatives that he has never called for an overthrow of the American government. (Dallas News)
Additional USA News
- VP Harris’ team tries to distance her from fraught situation at the border (CNN)
- A New Mexico Special Election Is Posing An Early Test Of Democrats’ 2022 Messaging (NPR)
- Texas Gov. Abbott says he’ll target legislators’ pay after Democrats block restrictive voting bill (Yahoo)
- Plane makes emergency landing on 101 Freeway in Westlake Village (LAT, $)
- Republicans fear Trump will lead to a ‘lost generation’ of talent (Politico)
- Democrats set for filibuster brawl amid escalating tensions (The Hill)
How Many Rocks From The Sun?
- It’s one of those Close Encounters of the Asteroid Kind. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory warned that a massive asteroid the size of Seattle’s Space Needle was expected to whiz by Earth on Tuesday. The 600-foot asteroid, known as 2021 KT1, is described as a “potentially hazardous object” because it is larger than 492 feet and coming within 4.6 million miles of Earth. It should fly by us at 40,000 mph.
- Four smaller asteroids as big as an airplane or house are expected to pass the Earth from Monday to Wednesday; none of them is considered potentially hazardous. NASA defines an asteroid as “rocky fragments left over from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.” This space matter is supposed to orbit the sun but occasionally strays from its orbital path because of the gravitational tug of planets.
- While 2021 KT1 will be some 4.5 million miles away when it streaks by, another asteroid known as 2021 GW4 was just 12,000 miles away from the Earth’s surface when it flew by at 18,700 mph in April. Astronomer Gianluca Masi, founder of the Virtual Telescope project, called that “an exceptionally close encounter.” (USA Today)
- Who’s to Die and Who’s to Live: Mechanical Cue Is at the Origin of Cell Death Decision (SciTech)
- New Zealand latest nation to sign space agreement with NASA (Yahoo)
- Stargazing In June: How You Can See ‘Devil’s Horns’ At Sunrise, A ‘Ring Of Fire’ Eclipse And A ‘Super Strawberry Moon’ (Forbes)
- Star Wars Death Star lookalike appears in NASA Mars helicopter photo (CNET)
- Peanut the Waiter Robot Is Proof That Your Job Is Safe (Wired)
- Bacteria get a fresh gig as art restorers in Italy (The Verge)
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