Hong Kong’s unprecedented protests & police crackdown, explained
September 29, 2014

Protest marches and vigils are fairly common in Hong Kong, but what began on Friday and escalated dramatically on Sunday is unprecedented. Mass acts of civil disobedience were met by a shocking and swift police response, which has led to clashes in the streets and popular outrage so great that analysts can only guess at what will happen next.

What’s going on in Hong Kong right now is a very big deal, and for reasons that go way beyond just this weekend’s protests. Hong Kong’s citizens are protesting to keep their promised democratic rights, which they worry — with good reason — could be taken away by the central Chinese government in Beijing. This moment is a sort of standoff between Hong Kong and China over the city’s future, a confrontation that they have been building toward for almost 20 years.

On Wednesday, student groups led peaceful marches to protest China’s new plan for Hong Kong’s 2017 election, which looked like China reneging on its promise to grant the autonomous region full democracy (see the next section for what that plan was such a big deal). Protest marches are pretty common in Hong Kong so it didn’t seem so unusual at first.

Things started escalating on Friday. Members of a protest group called Occupy Central (Central is the name of Hong Kong’s downtown district) had planned to launch a “civil disobedience” campaign on October 1, a national holiday celebrating communist China’s founding. But as the already-ongoing protesters escalated they decided to go for it now. On Friday, protesters peacefully occupied the forecourt (a courtyard-style open area in front of an office building) of Hong Kong’s city government headquarters along with other downtown areas.

The really important thing is what happened next: Hong Kong’s police cracked down with surprising force, fighting in the streets with protesters and eventually emerging with guns that, while likely filled with rubber bullets, look awfully militaristic. In response, outraged Hong Kong residents flooded into the streets to join the protesters, and on Sunday police blanketed Central with tear gas, which has been seen as a shocking and outrageous escalation. The Chinese central government issued a statement endorsing the police actions, as did Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive, a tacit signal that Beijing wishes for the protests to be cleared.

You have to remember that this is Hong Kong: an affluent and orderly place that prides itself on its civility and its freedom. Hong Kongers have a bit of a superiority complex when it comes to China, and see themselves as beyond the mainland’s authoritarianism and disorder. But there is also deep, deep anxiety that this could change, that Hong Kong could lose its special status, and this week’s events have hit on those anxieties to their core.

This began in 1997, when the United Kingdom handed over Hong Kong, one of its last imperial possessions, to the Chinese government. Hong Kong had spent over 150 years under British rule; it had become a fabulously wealthy center of commerce and had enjoyed, while not full democracy, far more freedom and democracy than the rest of China. So, as part of the handover, the Chinese government in Beijing promised to let Hong Kong keep its special rights and its autonomy — a deal known as “one country, two systems.”

A big part of that deal was China’s promise that, in 2017, Hong Kong’s citizens would be allowed to democratically elect their top leader for the first time ever. That leader, known as the Hong Kong chief executive, is currently appointed by a pro-Beijing committee. In 2007, the Chinese government reaffirmed its promise to give Hong Kong this right in 2017, which in Hong Kong is referred to as universal suffrage — a sign of how much value people assign to it.

But there have been disturbing signs throughout this year that the central Chinese government might renege on its promise. In July, the Chinese government issued a “white paper” stating that it has “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong and that “the high degree of autonomy of [Hong Kong] is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central leadership.” It sounded to many like a warning from Beijing that it could dilute or outright revoke Hong Kong’s freedoms, and tens of thousands of Hong Kong’s citizens marched in protest.

Then, in August, Beijing announced its plan for Hong Kong’s 2017 elections. While citizens would be allowed to vote for the chief executive, the candidates for the election would have to be approved by a special committee just like the pro-Beijing committee that currently appoints the chief executive. This lets Beijing hand-pick candidates for the job, which is anti-democratic in itself, but also feels to many in Hong Kong like a first step toward eroding their promised democratic rights.

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The Supreme Court delivered a blow to universal birth control coverage on Monday, ruling that closely-held corporations can refuse to cover contraception in their health plans for religious reasons. But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sharply disagreed with the five conservatives on the court, delivering a scathing, 19-page dissent and defense of mandatory contraception coverage.

“In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Ginsburg wrote.

for more on justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent go here.

An editorial in the National Review — where no one apparently wanted to attach their name to the piece — mocked Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” reputation and called her “illiterate.”

“Her opinion is legally illiterate and logically indefensible,” the editorial read. “And the still-young career of this self-described ‘wise Latina’ on the Supreme Court already offers a case study in the moral and legal corrosion that inevitably results from elevating ethnic-identity politics over the law.”

Other critics — read: white men — called Sotomayor “overheated” and fueled by “emotion” — coded language that has been used in the past to discredit or marginalize women and minorities.

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The 8 Best Lines From Ginsburg’s Dissent on the Hobby Lobby Contraception Decision: 

1) “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage”

2) “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”

3) “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.”

4) “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”

5) “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”

6) “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very 'risk the [Constitution’s] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”

7) “My five male colleagues, in a decision of startling breadth, would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find "incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

8) “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Feminism concerns the equality of women. When I say equality, I mean that women should be able to move through the world with the same ease as men. Women should be able to live in a society where their bodies are not legislated. They should be able to live their lives free from the threat of sexual violence. And when we consider the needs of women, it is imperative to also consider the other identities a woman inhabits. Feminism cannot merely be about gender; it must also be about equality in the fields of race and ethnicity, ability, sexuality, spirituality, class, and the many other markers of who we are.
—  Leave it to Roxane Gay to come up with a novel format for an essay on the feminist novel. In the new issue of Dissent, she presents eleven theses on the topic, including references to Toni Morrison’s BelovedErica Jong’s Fear of Flying, and Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. You could also read our own Edan Lepucki on the problem with feminist anthems.

Aboriginal rights a threat to Canada’s natural resource agenda, documents reveal
March 3, 2014

The Canadian government is increasingly worried that the growing clout of aboriginal peoples’ rights could obstruct its aggressive resource development plans, documents reveal.

Since 2008, the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs has run a risk management program to evaluate and respond to “significant risks” to its agenda, including assertions of treaty rights, the rising expectations of aboriginal peoples, and new legal precedents at odds with the government’s policies.

Yearly government reports obtained by the Guardian predict that the failure to manage the risks could result in more “adversarial relations” with aboriginal peoples, “public outcry and negative international attention,” and “economic development projects [being] delayed.”

“There is a risk that the legal landscape can undermine the ability of the department to move forward in its policy agenda,” one Aboriginal Affairs’ report says. “There is a tension between the rights-based agenda of Aboriginal groups and the non-rights based policy approaches” of the federal government.

The Conservative government is planning in the next ten years to attract $650 billion of investment to mining, forestry, gas and oil projects, much of it on or near traditional aboriginal lands.

Critics say the government is determined to evade Supreme Court rulings that recognize aboriginal peoples’ rights to a decision-making role in, even in some cases jurisdiction over, resource development in large areas of the country.

“The Harper government is committed to a policy of extinguishing indigenous peoples’ land rights, instead of a policy of recognition and co-existence,” said Arthur Manuel, chair of the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade, which has lead an effort to have the economic implications of aboriginal rights identified as a financial risk.

“They are trying to contain the threat that our rights pose to business-as-usual and the expansion of dirty energy projects. But our legal challenges and direct actions are creating economic uncertainty and risk, raising the heat on the government to change its current policies.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs declined to answer the Guardian’s questions, but sent a response saying the risk reports are compiled from internal reviews and “targeted interviews with senior management in those areas experiencing significant change.”

“The [corporate risk profile] is designed as an analytical tool for planning and not a public document. A good deal of [its] content would only be understandable to those working for the department as it speaks to the details of the operations of specific programs.”

Last year Canada was swept by the aboriginal-led Idle No More protest movement, building on years of aboriginal struggles against resource projects, the most high-profile of which has targeted Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would carry Alberta tar sands to the western coast of British Columbia.

“Native land claims scare the hell out of investors,” an analyst with global risk consultancy firm Eurasia Group has noted, concluding that First Nations opposition and legal standing has dramatically decreased the chances the Enbridge pipeline will be built.

In British Columbia and across the country, aboriginal peoples’ new assertiveness has been backed by successive victories in the courts.

According to a report released in November by Virginia-based First Peoples Worldwide, the risk associated with not respecting aboriginal peoples’ rights over lands and resources is emerging as a new financial bubble for extractive industries.

The report anticipates that as aboriginal peoples become better connected through digital media, win broader public support, and mount campaigns that more effectively impact business profits, failures to uphold aboriginal rights will carry an even higher risk.

The Aboriginal Affairs’ documents describe how a special legal branch helps the Ministry monitor and “mitigate” the risks posed by aboriginal court cases.

The federal government has spent far more fighting aboriginal litigation than any other legal issue – including $106 million in 2013, a sum that has grown over the last several years.

A special envoy appointed in 2013 by the Harper government to address First Nations opposition to energy projects in western Canada recentlyrecommended that the federal government move rapidly to improve consultation and dialogue.

To boost support for its agenda, the government has considered offeringbonds to allow First Nations to take equity stakes in resource projects. This is part of a rising trend of provincial governments and companies signing “benefit-sharing” agreements with First Nations to gain access to their lands, while falling short of any kind of recognition of aboriginal rights or jurisdiction.

Since 2007, the government has also turned to increased spying, creating a surveillance program aimed at aboriginal communities deemed “hot spots” because of their involvement in protest and civil disobedience against unwanted extraction on their lands.

Over the last year, the Harper government has cut funding to national, regional and tribal aboriginal organizations that provide legal services and advocate politically on behalf of First Nations, raising cries that it is trying to silence growing dissent.


The 7 Best Lines From Ginsburg's Dissent on the Hobby Lobby Contraception Decision

1) “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage”

2) “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”

3) “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.”

4) “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”

5) “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”

6) “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very 'risk the [Constitution’s] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”

7) “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Read the full dissent here

In its latest attempt to silence & threaten the safety protesters, Turkey has made it illegal to give emergency medical aid without the government’s say so:

Turkish government measures curbing the freedom of doctors in administering emergency treatment have been condemned by medical and human rights groups, with professionals accusing the government of intimidation and seeking to criminalise urgent assistance to street protesters.

President Abdullah Gül signed into law the contested bill drawn up by the government of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, compelling doctors and health professionals to apply for government permission before they may administer emergency first aid.

Medical personnel could face jail terms of three years and fines of up to 2.25m lira (£600,000) for breaking the law. The crackdown by the governing Justice and Development party (AKP) is seen as the latest in a long line of repressive measures enacted since Turkey was rocked by a wave of anti-government street protests last summer.

The legislation is part of an omnibus bill approved by parliament this month. Critics denounced it as an attempt to criminalise doctors and silence dissent.

Dr Vincent Iacopino, of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), said: “Passing a bill that criminalises emergency care and punishes those who care for injured protesters is part of the Turkish government’s relentless effort to silence any opposing voices. This kind of targeting of the medical community is not only repugnant, but puts everyone’s health at risk.”

Dr Hande Arpat, of the Ankara Chamber of Medical Doctors, who volunteered during last summer’s protests, said the government had written medical history by passing a law that runs counter to all principles of medical care.

“Not only does the law go against all of our professional and ethical duties, [and] international human rights agreements that Turkey is party to, but it also contradicts the Turkish criminal code that obliges all medical professionals to provide medical aid to those who need it,” he said.

Why I think differences of opinion are so important in marginalized communities.

I know I’ve talked about – a lot – why I think it’s important to respect dissent among marginalized and oppressed people.  And why it’s important to respect differences of opinion.

The assumption that you get taught around here, usually, is that if someone disagrees with the dominant view of whatever the oppressed community is, then they’re wrong.  And to bring up the fact that there are marginalized people who disagree with the dominant view is ‘a derail’ at best.  Certainly extremely annoying to people who do agree with the dominant view.

And why are such dissenters wrong?  Usually, the story goes, it’s because we haven’t learned enough about our own oppression yet, so we’re just going with what our society has told us is true.  Or we’re brainwashed.  Or we’re stupid.  Or incapable of understanding.  Or all four.  (They don’t usually say 'stupid’, but they mean it, and that’s all that matters.)

And the thing is, those things can absolutely be true.  Any of those may be the reason that someone will have a differing opinion.  But there are also plenty of other reasons a person could have a differing opinion from the majority.

Also, people don’t always notice this, but it’s important:  Sometimes an oppressed person will seem to hold the same opinion as an oppressor holds.  They will say roughly the same words.  But the actual reasons for their opinions will be as different as night and day.

Take person-first language, for instance.  

Nondisabled people often prefer person-first language, and push it on disabled people even when we don’t want it, because they think that the only way to recognize us as people is to distance our personhood from our disabilities, in their heads.  That makes them feel better about us.

When disabled people prefer person-first language, it’s often because disability-first language has been used against them to rob them of their personhood in a very specific and horrific manner.  Where the only times they’ve been called “an autistic” for instance, is in a clinical sense where nothing about them matters they’re just a walking talking pile of impairments.  And that walking talking pile of impairments, with no thoughts of their own, is all they’ve been, their entire lives, and that’s always been attached to being called “an autistic”.  And they say “No, I’m a person, with autism,” in order to emphasize that they are more than just the impairments that come with autism.

This doesn’t mean that every autistic person should call themselves a person with autism.  But it does mean that when a person with autism says they want to be called a person with autism, then it’s important to listen to them, because their reasons for wanting it are likely extremely different from the reasons a nondisabled person would have for using the exact same terminology.

So even when an oppressor and an oppressed person seem to hold the same opinion, their reasons can differ a lot.  So when you hear an oppressed person say something that sounds just like what an oppressor would say?  Don’t assume they’re just parroting what an oppressor taught them.  Find out their reasons.  Have some respect.  Even if it sounds similar on the surface (especially if they themselves have communication problems), they may have extremely important reasons for their opinions that you’re missing because you’ve assumed that they’re brainwashed or something.

The reason that I think differing opinions are so important?

Nobody is always right.  That goes for individuals.  That also goes for communities.

That means that the only possible way to really figure out what is right, is to know as many of the possibilities for what might be right, as you can.  Which means you have to entertain the possibility that dissent from the majority opinion is the right one.  Because sometimes, it’s going to be.

Additionally, opinions are not all or nothing.  It’s not like there’s the majority opinion in anti-oppression communities, and then there’s the opinion of the oppressors, and that’s all there is.  People will make it sound like there’s the social justice opinion, and all other opinions are “anti-SJ” and therefore bad.  (And anti-SJ folks will say the same, but in reverse.)  But that’s not really how it works.

Like my opinions are often considered dissenting opinions.  And yet many of my opinions are barely different from the dominant opinions at all.  Or some of my opinions include the dominant opinion as one possibility in one situation, but have other opinions for other slightly different situations.  This is because I think the situation determines what’s right more than a rigid ethical code determines what’s right.  The opinions I tend to dissent from, tend to be built around rigid ethical codes rather than things that depend on the situation.  So we might agree in some areas but differ in others, just based on how we come to ethical decisions in the first place.

But anyway, my point is, that differences of opinion are really important.  They can be annoying, especially when you’re certain you’ve got something right and that dealing with differences of opinion will just get in your way.  And it’s totally valid to form communities where you agree on a basic opinion and then work out how to carry out that opinion, without entertaining dissent within that closed community.  But at the same time, that’s… not what these communities are doing, they want dissent not to happen even outside of their bounds, and they want to suppress dissent, and that scares me a good deal.

Because sometimes these communities are right.

But sometimes they’re wrong.  Sometimes they’re horribly wrong.

And even when they’re right, their rigidity about rightness often means the right ideas are applied in the wrong ways.

And usually, what’s right is going to depend on the situation.  And the world has infinitely many situations.  So that means that there are going to be many, many different right answers, depending on what the situation is.

But even when opinions are wrong, it’s important to listen to them.  Because you can learn from being wrong.  And because you don’t always know whether something is wrong before you really think about it.  You need to hear twenty different opinions because then you have a better idea of what the possibilities are.  And possibilities matter.

Plus, I don’t think the most important thing is to come to the right answer.  And that’s again where I disagree with the way many anti-oppression communities do things.  What they want is to come up with the right ideas, the right answer, and then get everyone thinking the right ideas, having the right motivations, saying the right things, and then ending oppression will spring from there.

I think that ending oppression is a long-term process, and it doesn’t depend so much on finding The Right Answer, as it does in learning to evaluate situations, each situation different from the next, and figuring out what to do in those situations.  And figuring out what to do in each situation means, among other things, learning to evaluate lots of opinions.  And what you do to solve a situation is more important than what you think or what you say.

So dealing with dissenting opinions is important for a lot of reasons.  But the main ones are that people can’t be right all the time, communities can’t be right all the time, so you have to have all the opinions out there so you can evaluate each one.  And that given that the right thing to do varies by situation, understanding a lot of opinions can be valuable for knowing which ones to act on in different situations.  Both of those are extremely valuable reasons to not instantly squash dissent just because it’s annoying and makes life difficult.

Sometimes an 'unpopular opinion’ is just another word for someone with a very popular, oppressive opinion, wanting to be an oppressive jerk.  But sometimes it’s an opinion that’s unpopular in particular communities (regardless of popularity elsewhere) but well worth listening to and figuring out.

So I will continue to leave my little packages (see this post on echo chambers for a full explanation) out there, and I hope other people will as well.  Because diversity of opinion is one of the most important things we have going for us, for so many important reasons.

An Atheist is a person who questions every kind of authority, and this is the thing that is important. Because if we can, without blinking an eye, question the ultimate authority, god - who must be obeyed - then we can question the authority of the state, we can question the authority of a university structure, we can question the authority of our employer, we can question anything.

So I think the primary thing that an Atheist is, is a person who looks at an authoritarian idea, or an authority structure, and says to that authority structure: from whence do you derive your authority and why should I be obedient to you? It appears to me that if I have human intelligence, that this is enough for me to try to challenge whatever you’re doing.

—  Madalyn Murray O’Hair, best known for the Murray v. Curlett  lawsuit, which led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling ending official Bible-reading in American public schools in 1963; she was referred to as ‘The most hated woman in America’ by Life magazine in 1964