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15 Nov

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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Yau Wai-ching and Baggio ‘Sixtus’ Leung banned from parliament after criticising China during swearing-in ceremony

Baggio Leung, left, and Yau Wai-ching lead a protest against Beijing’s changes to Hong Kong’s constitution on 6 November.

Baggio Leung, left, and Yau Wai-ching lead a protest against Beijing’s changes to Hong Kong’s constitution. Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA

Hong Kong’s high court has banned two young pro-independence activists from the city’s parliament, plunging the former British colony deeper into an intensifying political crisis.

One week after Beijing issued a highly unusual ruling designed to stop the newly elected politicians taking office, the court on Tuesday told Yau Wai-ching, 25, and Baggio “Sixtus” Leung, 30, that they had been disqualified from their positions.

The judge Thomas Au Hing-cheung ruled that the pair, who launched a dramatic anti-China protest during their swearing-in ceremony last month, could no longer take up their seats since they had “manifestly refused … to solemnly, sincerely and truly bind themselves” to Hong Kong’s laws.

During that ceremony, Yau and Leung, who have both called for a complete split with mainland China, altered the text of their oaths, declaring allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation”. They also unfurled banners that said “Hong Kong is not China” and used an expletive to refer to China.

The protest enraged officials in Beijing and led Hong Kong’s chief executive to launch an unprecedented legal challenge, seeking to remove the pair from office.

Legislators must swear allegiance to “the Hong Kong special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China”, according to the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

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Villager convicted of murdering official said he was driven to it by the man ordering the illegal demolition of his home on eve of his wedding

Jia Jinglong’s sister, Jia Jingyuan, said the wrongdoings he suffered had resonated with many citizens who felt justice was beyond their reach.

Jia Jinglong’s sister, Jia Jingyuan, said the wrongdoings he suffered had resonated with many citizens who felt justice was beyond their reach. Photograph: Nomaan Merchant/AP

Chinese authorities faced a bitter outcry after executing a villager who became a symbol of injustices endured by the country’s disenfranchised masses.

Jia Jinglong, a farmer from the northern province of Hebei, was put to death on Tuesday for the murder of a Communist party official he blamed for destroying his life.

Jia had been convicted in 2015 of using an adapted nail gun to kill He Jianhua, the 55-year-old chief of the village where he lived.

Jia, 29, claimed he carried out the killing in February 2015 in retribution after the official masterminded the illegal demolition of his home two years earlier on the eve of his wedding, which Jia’s fiancée subsequently called off.

Jia’s lawyers did not dispute that he was responsible for the killing but instead sought to portray him as the victim of an unjust and ineffective judicial system that frequently fails China’s poor.

The country’s legal community rallied behind the farmer as he waited on death row and, unusually, state-run newspapers also attempted to stave of the threat of execution.

“Jia would probably not have acted as he did if his loss had been properly taken care of,” the China Daily argued in a recent editorial which urged authorities to halt the execution and “avoid the double tragedy to which we are dangerously close”.

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Under Putin there has been an erosion of trust in the authorities to protect rights, but citizens have mobilised to plug the gaps

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin’s policies have consistently prioritised the interests of business elites over the needs of society. Photograph: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia’s opposition has been cowed, killed or forced into exile, parliament is servile and the media largely toothless.

But despite overwhelming apathy in parliamentary elections, at the grassroots level Russians from across the socioeconomic spectrum have been quietly challenging the authorities – and these challenges have become increasingly hard to suppress.

From environmental campaigners holding companies accountable for oil spills to campaigns against local taxes, activists preserving parks and residents taking control of their housing, local activism is gathering strength and momentum.

Such movements may be normal for most democracy, but in Russia they are unprecedented.

The development should be understood as a reaction to the policies of the president, Vladimir Putin, which have consistently prioritised the interests of business elites over the needs of society. And as those business elites are hit by the financial crash, they are increasingly trying to squeeze more money from Russian citizens.

One of most significant victories for community-based action was a countrywide strike organised by long-haul truck drivers against a proposed increase in road tolls. The truck tax system, known as Platon, is being operated by the son of oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, a close friend of Putin.

The 10-day action was unusual, and effective, because the people who took part came from Putin’s support base.

And while the payments weren’t abolished, the tolls were reduced significantly and the truckers have gone on to lend their name to other civil protests, including a protest convoy made up of famers from the Kuban region outraged that their land had been illegally confiscated.

Under Putin there has also been a gradual erosion of trust in the authorities to protect their rights, but one positive consequence is that citizens have mobilised to plug the gaps.

In 2010 the government was criticised for failing to put out forest fires that swept through the central and western regions of the country which left at least 50 people dead.

As residents were chocking on smog it emerged that authorities were actively felling the trees in a protected area of the Khimki forest near Moscow and were placing their efforts on dispersing protesters, not putting out the flames across the country.

And in some cases residents do not just perceive the authorities useless, they actively fear them. According to a poll by Russian newspaper Vedomosti 44% of Muscovites, 34% in Dagestan and 27% in the Leningrad region believed the police were an active threat.

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For decades the US condemned targeted killings, characterizing them as assassinations – but it was unclear what distinguished America’s drone campaign from the killings it historically rejected as unlawful

US drone

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (formerly named Predator B) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone US air force remotely piloted aircraft. Photograph: Cory Payne/USA/Rex/Shutterstock

The sun had yet to rise when missiles launched by CIA drones struck a clutch of buildings and vehicles in the lower Kurram tribal agency of Pakistan, killing four or five people and injuring another. It was February 22, 2016, and the American drone campaign had entered its second decade. Over the next weeks, officials in Washington and Rome announced that the US military would use the Sigonella air base in Sicily to launch strikes against targets in Libya. American strikes in Yemen killed four people driving on a road in the governorate of Shabwah and eight people in two small villages in the governorate of Abyan. A strike in Syria killed an Indian citizen believed to be a recruiter for the self-styled Islamic State, and another strike killed a suspected Islamic State fighter in northern Iraq. A particularly bloody series of drone strikes and airstrikes in Somalia incinerated some 150 suspected militants at what American officials described as a training camp for terrorists. In south-eastern Afghanistan, a series of drone strikes killed 12 men in a pickup truck, two men who attempted to retrieve the bodies, and another three men who approached the area when they became worried about the others.

Over just a short period in early 2016, in other words, the United States deployed remotely piloted aircraft to carry out deadly attacks in six countries across central and south Asia, north Africa, and the Middle East, and it announced that it had expanded its capacity to carry out attacks in a seventh. And yet with the possible exception of the strike in Somalia, which garnered news coverage because of the extraordinary death toll, the drone attacks did not seem to spark controversy or reflection. As the 2016 presidential primaries were getting under way, sporadic and sketchy reports of strikes in remote regions of the world provided a kind of background noise – a drone in a different sense of the word – to which Americans had become inured.

Senior officials in the administration of President Barack Obama variously described drone strikes as “precise,” “closely supervised,” “effective,” “indispensable,” and even the “only game in town” – but what they emphasized most of all is that the drone strikes they authorized were lawful.

In this context, though, “lawful” had a specialized meaning. Except at the highest level of abstraction, the law of the drone campaign had not been enacted by Congress or published in the US Code. No federal agency had issued regulations relating to drone strikes, and no federal court had adjudicated their legality. Obama administration officials insisted that drone strikes were lawful, but the “law” they invoked was their own. It was written by executive branch lawyers behind closed doors, withheld from the public and even from Congress, and shielded from judicial review.

The US was carrying out lethal strikes not only on actual battlefields, but in places far removed from them

Secret law is unsettling in any context, but it was especially so in this one. For decades the US government had condemned targeted killings, characterizing them as assassinations or extrajudicial executions. On its face, the drone campaign signified a dramatic departure from that position – a departure that demanded explanation, at the very least. It was far from obvious what distinguished American drone strikes from the targeted killings the United States had historically rejected as unlawful. Nor was it clear how these targeted killings could be reconciled with international human rights law, with a decades-old executive order that bans assassinations, with the constitutional guarantee of due process, or, for that matter, with domestic laws that criminalize murder.

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US politics >>

John Oliver on Donald Trump: ‘A Klan-backed misogynist internet troll’ – video

Comedian John Oliver urges viewers not to normalise a Trump presidency. In his first post-election edition of The Last Week Tonight the host expresses his dismay: ‘Instead of showing our daughters that they could someday be president, America proved that no grandpa is too racist to become leader of the free world’

  • WARNING: Strong language

Michelle Obama laughs after audience member shouts ‘Madam President!’ – video

Clinton and Obama urge Democrats to rebuild party after election defeat>>

Alt-right Movement thrives in opposition. What happens now it’s the establishment?>>

Trump to receive full drone strike ‘playbook’ from Obama>>

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Opinion

The marches will remain ineffective as long as we aren’t capable of moving from the streets to governing locally and nationally

Anti-Trump Protesters

‘The end of protest is not the absence of protest.’ Photograph: Yana Paskova/Getty Images

The astonishing triumph of Donald Trump can be traced to the bitter defeat of Occupy Wall Street, a pro-democracy movement that transcended left and right, sparking unrest in hundreds of cities and rural towns in 2011. Occupy’s consensus-based encampments demanded that President Obama get money out of politics. Instead, we got mercilessly smashed by his progressive administration. Now the dark irony of history is bashing back.

Trump – an uber-wealthy, partially self-financed candidate who promises to “drain the swamp” – was elected president just one week before the fifth anniversary of Mayor Bloomberg’s eviction of the Zuccotti Park encampment. President-elect Trump, a charismatic strongman with an autocratic temperament, is not what millions of Occupiers were dreaming of when we took to the streets against the monied corruption of our democracy.

Now, as the nation experiences a disturbing rise of hate crimes against the groups singled out by Trump during his campaign, protests descending into riots are rocking our cities. These visceral protests will undoubtedly continue into 2017. Celebrated progressive Kshama Sawant, a socialist councilwoman in Seattle, has already called on people to disrupt Trump’s inauguration in January.

At the same time, despite the excitement of seeing militants marching in the cities, leftist activist networks are buzzing with the painful realization that contemporary protest is broken. The dominant tactic of getting people into the streets, rallying behind a single demand and raising awareness about an injustice simply does not result in the desired social change.

Nominally democratic governments tolerate protest because elected representatives no longer feel compelled to heed protest. The end of protest is not the absence of protest. The end of protest is the proliferation of ineffective protests that are more like a ritualized performance of children than a mature, revolutionary challenge to the status quo

Activists who rush into the streets tomorrow and repeat yesterday’s tired tactics will not bring an end to Trump nor will they transfer sovereign power to the people. There are only two ways to achieve sovereignty in this world. Activists can win elections or win wars. There is no third option.

Protest can play an important role in winning elections or winning wars but protest alone is insufficient. Just think of the three years many activists spent on Black Lives Matter versus the 18 months it took Trump to sweep into power. It is magical thinking, and a dangerously misguided strategy, for activists to continue to act as if the masses in the streets can attain a sovereignty over their governments through a collective manifestation of the people’s general will. This may have been true in the past, but is not true today.

What is to be done now? American activists must move from detached indignation to revolutionary engagement. They must use the techniques that create social movements to dominate elections.

The path forward is revealed in the rallying cry of the people in the streets: “Not My President!” This protest slogan is eerily similar to the one used by Spain’s 15-M Movement of indignados who set up anti-establishment general assemblies in May of 2011 and chanted “No Nos Representan!” (“You Don’t Represent Us!”) during their election. Their assemblies inspired the birth of Occupy. But when the refusal of the indignados to participate in the election resulted in a shocking victory for Spain’s right wing, the movement’s activists and supporters quickly internalized an important lesson that Americans must now embrace.

Realizing that new forms of social protest are better equipped to win elections than disrupt elections, many of the indignados transformed themselves into Podemos, a hybrid movement-party that is now winning elections and taking power. A similar story can be told of the Pirate party in Iceland, or the 5 Star Movement in Italy or the pan-European Diem25. Focus on the form, not the content, of these hybrid movement-parties: their organizing style is the future of global protest.

Concretely speaking, activists must reorient all efforts around capturing sovereignty. That means looking for places where sovereignty is lightly held and rarely contested, like rural communities. Or targeting sovereign positions of power that are not typically seen as powerful, such as soil and water district boards or port commissions. Protests will remain ineffective as long as there is no movement-party capable of governing locally and nationally.

This is a struggle for sovereignty. The endgame is a populist movement-party that wins elections in multiple countries in order to carry out a unified agenda worldwide. The spark for this electoral movement is bound to emerge from an unexpected place.

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