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The Upbeat: Ailing Countries, Tiny Islands, and Space Treaties

Good evening.


This weekend, things have been clouded by several tragic events, including the awful and despicable shootings that took place in New York and California. My heart goes out to all those who have been affected by these events. There is violence all around us. We must cleanse our mouths of hurtful, harmful, violent rhetoric if we are to fight this plague. If you wish to donate to the victims of these horrific events, a Buffalo-area news station has some tips here.


Positivity is not about ignoring the evil, but recognizing that there is also good in the world. Indeed, some good things happened this weekend as well. Let's take a look.


Nations seek to avoid a "space war." Satellites are essential for all sorts of things we do today, from basic communications to weather forecasting to environmental protection to even agriculture. Spacefaring countries aren't always peaceful though, going all the way back to the early Space Race. (Among other things, the United States considered nuking the moon and the Soviet Union actually launched a gun into space.) Nowadays, though, there's a big concern that a variety of nations have developed anti-satellite weapons that could take out essential space infrastructure in case of war: and there's a desire to solve the problem before it gets out of hand. Last month, the U.S. unilaterally banned anti-satellite missile tests as one step of good faith (it should be noted, though, that we've already successfully tested such weapons) and now the United Nations has successfully organized an international meeting to begin work on a major new space security agreement, something that would ensure that space remains a peaceful place for generations to come. We can only hope that this new agreement comes to fruition sooner rather than later. Read more: https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/05/1118202 (UN press release), https://spacenews.com/u-s-asat-ban-meant-to-support-u-n-discussions-on-space-threats/ (SpaceNews)


Tilos island, in Greece, where the residents seek to ensure their future through sustainability (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Athanasia Pastrikou)


One tiny island seeks to be a model to the rest of the world. This past week I had the opportunity to read an article from the Associated Press covering the efforts of a small Greek island to test out eco-friendly technologies. Instead of inspiring fear about climate change or the associated economic fallout (whether it be from environmental disaster or a green economic transition), the article mainly focuses on the efforts of the Greek island of Tilos to become a sustainable haven. Among other things, the island now recycles, uses electric vehicles, produces its own power, and has been able to close its landfill. These efforts certainly aren't on the same scale as proposals made for full-sized nations -- Tilos had just 780 inhabitants in 2011 -- but it's an interesting vision of what might be in the future. You can check out the article for yourself here: https://apnews.com/article/climate-travel-europe-fe5809dcc1070de93ae2a235896da150.


Failed states seek relief through the people's vote. Democracy is a fragile thing. (And yes, we live in a democracy, and a republic: those two are not mutually exclusive.) It is very easy for a government to run away and establish a system where the people are not involved in decision-making, and in a country where millions of people already feel that their vote doesn't matter, it's not hard to feel that we're on the brink. (As most Americans do, on both sides of the aisle: see here, here, and here for examples.) Despite all of the good in our lives, many feel that things are getting worse, and that our votes can't stop this slow slide into crisis. At a time like this, it's easy to feel like democracy is doomed to fail, but this weekend brought us two shining examples of countries where things are bad and people are putting their trust into the vote in order to make things better. While both of these countries are currently in the midst of great travail and suffering, it is the fact that their weak democracies nevertheless succeeded in electing new leaders that shines as a positive example to the rest of the world.


Lebanon: This weekend, the heavily divided and economically-troubled country of Lebanon turned to its people to try and resolve the many crises it's facing. Lebanon's government is controlled by a cadre of different religious factions and has highly sectional politics, with religious and ethnic divisions ruling the nation, and infrastructure and the economy failing in tandem. Angry Lebanese, who took to the streets in 2019 to demand change, hope to put an end to the corruption and the chaos through the power of their votes however, and if early results are any indication they may have succeeded. The election is primarily between three groups: the ruling government, dependent on different militias, including the Iran-backed hardline Hezbollah party; another group of parties and militias opposed to the present government and Hezbollah; and a third group of new anti-corruption reformists who seek structural change in Lebanon. Although this third group is unlikely to win overall, the incumbent government seems likely to lose power, opening the door to the change the people desire. Read more: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-61463884 (BBC News), https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-elections-lebanon-beirut-566d8be75d284d7e5212a5ac09515313 (Associated Press)


Somali police receive training on election security from international figures ahead of the vote; violent actors frequently seek to stop elections in the country by force (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/AMISOM Public Information)


Somalia: In 1991, the African nation of Somalia ousted its longtime communist dictator, beginning three decades of civil war and unabated violence: and the United States has been involved most of the time, including a major intervention in the 1990s and a continuing war against al-Qaeda and other Islamist militants who've set up shop in the country. Somalia remains a chaotic place, as a new democratic government backed by other African countries and the United Nations has struggled to assert itself over the territory. The country succeeded in electing a new legislature over the past few months, however, and yesterday prevailed in a much-delayed indirect presidential election, where the incumbent lost re-election to a former President. This marks a fantastic democratic transition of power, with the consent and support of multiple political factions, some of whom won and some of whom lost in the process. While an election won't stop violence overnight, its success is a promising sign and a good omen for the future of Somalia. Read more: https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/somalias-new-president-be-elected-by-parliament-behind-barricades-2022-05-15/ (Reuters), https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/05/1118292 (UN press release), https://www.dw.com/en/somalia-finally-holds-long-delayed-election/a-61779263 (Deutsche Welle)

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