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Snowden might be “Enemy of the State” but Surveillance State is “the Enemy of the People”

The ongoing NSA revelations and the debate on how to deal with those who inform the public about our rights being violated shows that the United States is at a pivotal point in our history. We need to decide whether we want to be governed by secret courts and institutions which don’t hesitate to testify falsely in front of congressional committees or if we want to live in a society where we are protected against those who feel they have the authority to do.

Today’s youth have grown up in the most connected world that has ever existed.  Our generation recognizes modern communications, social media, and especially the Internet as one of the greatest innovations in human history. We love sharing, liking, and collaborating via the web, keeping in touch with friends from overseas, and being able to work in virtual offices. We share information on the web willingly and voluntarily, knowing that it is available to others. We use free-of-charge services such as Gmail with the awareness that their business model is based on advertisement and marketing. We accept that trade-off: We share a limited amount of our information to gain the significant benefits that come from high-quality email services and online collaboration. But we do not consent to share everything with everyone.

When politicians such as President Obama and representatives of various intelligence services tell us that there is a trade-off between privacy and security, they are not actually offering a trade. Not only are we offered any meaningful mechanisms to defend privacy from these latest encroachments. There is little-to-no proof that programs such as PRISM add any value to counter-terrorism efforts. They are asking for a blank check to override our privacy and offering us nothing in return.

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The Obama Administration and hawkish politicians on both sides of the aisle have labeled Edward Snowden as an “enemy of the state.” As long as they define “the state” by the individuals who hold the power within the state and the systems that exist to exert their powers, without regard to the lawfulness of their activities, then they are right. However, if we recognize the state as more than that, as an embodiment of principles of justice, to achieve certain ends such as protecting human rights, whose authority is derived from the people, who must be able to check what those in power are doing, then they are wrong. To the extent that a person is an “enemy of the state” for holding that state accountable to the principles of justice it is meant to embody and protect, we should call that state an “enemy of the people.”

My generation is frightened by the fact that we have been ruled by two presidential administrations and multiple intelligence services that bear greater resemblance to a dystopian Hollywood movie than the model of liberal and constitutional values we are taught in history and government classes. Lavabit founder Ladar Levison cannot even talk about the reasons why he shut down his service, for to do so would bring about criminal charges. It is unbelievable that this is possible in the country that brought about modern Democracy.

Our government, and the court system in particular, needs to start protecting people’s privacy instead of snooping around and massively collecting data of innocent citizens. Real security can only come about when we are secure in our rights.

For this reason, my generation demands more oversight for US surveillance practices.

If you’d like to speak with or book Alexander or any of our other Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.

Greeks, 60%, Favor Privatization – Bureaucrats, Unions, and Political Interests In the Way

The case of “Privatization in Times of Crisis” opened three years ago as a resource that would contribute decisively in the battle to reduce debt and deficits.

In June 2010, after a cabinet meeting, then Prime Minister George Papandreou announced a wide variety of ministerial privatization programs involving banks, ports, airports, roads, railways, utilities, and public property.

Half a year later, at the end of 2011, absolutely nothing had happened. The agenda of privatization in 2011 included scenes of international tragicomedy, with the Troika announcing that it will realize around 50 billion Euros from privatization.

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In 2010 the 74 enterprises controlled by the state were worth about 44 billion Euros. Of course now, their value has fallen dramatically. However, If the state had decided to sell 10% of its enterprises in 2010, the taxpayers would be relieved from all the additional taxes they eventually paid compared to 2009. If the state had sold 25% it could also have paid 6 billion Euros owed ​​to individuals (contractors, doctors, pharmacists, etc.) in the private sector. If it had decided to sell the 50% of state-owned companies in the country, the public would be spared from the brutal cuts in wages and pensions.

In a nutshell: The worst part of the crisis would be over, with minimum casualties in the private sector.

In early 2012 a more realistic target was set: collect 5 billion Euros that year. The actual privatization gains amounted to 84 million Euros. For 2013, things changed. The government of Samaras set more conservative goals — to collect around 2 billion Euros — and changed the strategy. However due to their failure to sell the public gas corporation DEPA, the target was automatically reduced and nobody knows if this can be achieved.

The Greek legal entity responsible for the privatization process, the TAIPED, “froze” its activities between May and July 2012, when the board decided that no decisions were to be taken until the formation of a new government. The formation of the new government, however, was followed by the resignation of the chairman of the Board. Recently his successor also resigned.

Privatizations have also slowed down due to litigation. More than 13 appeals have been filed to the Council of State. Unions (electricity, water, DEPA, OLTH etc.) and citizens requested that the decisions be held unconstitutional.

Bureaucracy is another serious problem. Until recently, 72 administrative acts and regulations were pending. Serious privatizations could simply not be materialized without those acts (State Lottery, DEPA, Greek, IBC, Afandou, Cassiopeia).

The way that until recently the Greek government has handled its property is totally anachronistic. They knew neither what that property was, nor it’s condition. Nobody bothered to document the problems.

The problem is a lethal combination of political apathy, which slowed down the processes, bureaucracy, and incompetence. Greece is a rich country, which could and should exploit its resources, by selling off assets through the market, securitizing its future income, and partnering with private investors. The aim should be twofold. First, earn some profit and use some of it to pay off debt. Second, open the economy to the international markets by deregulating the Greek economy.

The failed privatizations mean more taxes for average citizen, since the government revenue “gaps” are usually filled with taxpayers’ money and further debt. According to recent polls, more than 60% of Greek citizens are in favor of privatizations. Only bureaucrats, unions and ultra leftists together with political interests and rampant corruption inhibit the solution to the Greek crisis, which can only come from the private sector.

For this reason, my generation demands privatization to bolster the Greek economy.

If you’d like to speak with or book Harry or any of our other Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.

Intervention Into Syria Is As Well-Intended As It Is Ill-Advised

President Obama may soon authorize military intervention in Syria. The decision apparently rests on whether the Syrian government’s slaughter of possibly more than 1,000 of its own citizens was aided by chemical weaponry. Besides the fact that this is an odd and arbitrary basis upon which to violate another country’s sovereignty, intervention into Syria is as well-intended as it is ill-advised.

The Assad regime has denied responsibility for the attacks, and authorized a U.N. convoy to inspect the sites of the attacks to determine whether chemical weapons were used. Yesterday the convoy had to turn back after it was met with sniper fire, for which the Assad regime has also denied responsibility.

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There is good reason to believe the Assad regime is committing human rights violations and failing to fully cooperate with international law. However, this is true of many nations across the world at any given time, and the U.S. simply does not have the resources to intervene in every case. In addition, nothing in actuality makes the Syrian case more pressing than any other.

Most importantly, military strikes against the Assad regime would necessarily assist the rebel forces. There is no indication that a takeover by these forces would create a better situation for the Syrian people or the international community. There is, however, strong evidence that parts of the rebellion are strongly tied with Al-Qaeda.

Military intervention into Syria would mean that the U.S. is declaring war on a terrible, but democratically elected, regime, only to have it replaced by a resistance which is made up of an organization with whom the United States is already at war.

In Iran, the U.S. deposed Mossadeq. In Iraq the U.S. supported what a U.N. Security Council statement called chemical warfare by Saddam Hussein against Iran. The U.S. armed the rebels in Afghanistan who would later begin Al-Qaeda. There is no way to know the consequences of a military engagement in Syria. But if history and an ongoing war in Afghanistan is any guide, there will be no winning. Perhaps that’s why only 9% of Americans support military intervention.

We don’t want to see further decades of unrest and human rights violations perpetrated by governments we helped put in place. This is why my generation demands no military intervention in Syria.

If you’d like to speak with or book Cathy or any of our Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.

Germany’s Recognition of Bitcoin Gives Young People a True Monetary Alternative

If everyday consumers and young people are craving positive economic indicators, they can no doubt turn to the de-facto legislation of an alternative digital currency in Europe’s most powerful country for inspiration.

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In an unprecedented move, the German Federal Ministry of Finance declared in a statement earlier this month that Bitcoin is not only an acceptable “unit of account,” but also can be classified as “private money,” granting the digital currency its first official positive recognition by a state.

The statement came as a response to a parliamentary inquiry by MP Frank Schäffler, a member of the Free Democratic Party with a seat on the German Parliament’s Finance Committee.

“We should have competition in the production of money,” comments Schäffler on his website. “I have long been a proponent of Friedrich August von Hayek’s scheme to denationalize money. Bitcoins are a first step in this direction.”

For the struggling youth in Germany and across the world, this is a welcome and necessary change.

Bitcoin, the decentralized digital currency encrypted with the latest in cryptographic protections, has been used as an alternative to the current monetary system by thousands of tech entrepreneurs and curious digital natives since it was conceived in 2009.

In the last month alone, the price of a Bitcoin has shot up nearly 30 percent to its current price of 90 euros. It previously reached its all-time high of 200 euros at the peak of the banking crisis in Cyprus, given that the digital currency became an immediate alternative to worried consumers around the world.

What makes Bitcoin so attractive to young people is its autonomy from centralized, government control. Instead of being printed at the whim of a central bank, the currency is “mined” by thousands of computers solving a complex algorithm. It relies on crowdsourcing of bandwidth and source coding to keep transactions active and safe from hacking.

The more Bitcoins are mined, the more difficult it becomes to create one, ensuring that the currency will not fall into the trap of inflation because of its set finite amount of 21 million Bitcoins.

But more than just a currency safe from government hands, the fact that it exists only in the form of a chain of characters ensures that it remains purely digital, allowing instant trades at the fraction of the cost of credit cards. This is easily accomplished by the use of a smartphone wallet app or by exchanging Bitcoin addresses between people. This facilitates trade and removes the middlemen of credit card companies or even banks.

Already in the streets of Berlin, with the highest concentration of Bitcoin transactions in the world, the currency has become popular among bars, restaurants, printing shops and even a high-class boutique, according to the Guardian newspaper.

The existence of this crypto-currency has given young people a true monetary alternative to the national currencies which are only propelled by debt and arbitrary interest rates.

This is a welcome sign in Germany, which less than 90 years ago was marred by a failing currency and destructive hyperinflation which created an economic environment conducive to radical and dangerous worldviews.

Moreover, low interest rates maintained by central banks provide little to no incentive for young workers to begin saving their money, so they are encouraged to spend as much as possible in order to help sustain the current monetary status quo.

Since young people are already so keen at conducting business and the majority of their communication online, the transaction costs to using a purely digital, online currency are extremely low.

What better for the next generation than to have a system which encourages choice, rewards innovation, and fosters a deep respect for the value of work?

On a European continent currently contemplating another billion Euro bailout for a struggling member state, the recognition of Bitcoin by the German Finance Ministry is a pivotal moment for young people to begin to control their own destiny.

As the taxpayers of tomorrow, they are ultimately the ones who will be stuck with the bill with today’s excessive spending and government devaluation of national currencies.

For the sake of our future, let’s give young people a chance with an alternative currency.

If you’d like to speak with or book Yael or any of our other Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.

The Disaster That Was Waiting to Happen in Egypt

A few weeks ago, one of the worst episodes of mob violence I have heard of in Egypt’s recent history occurred. Not too far from Cairo’s bustling in center, a man and two of his friends were brutally murdered by a mob. Their crime? They were Shia, followers of a certain religious ideology that wasn’t to the liking of their executioners. Days earlier, president Morsi had been present at a big open-air meeting with his followers and supporters to talk about Syria. In his presence, people came to the stage, inciting hatred and sectarianism. He did nothing.

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Now, many bearded men (beards being trait marks of Muslim Brotherhood members in particular and Islamists in general in the public perception) have reported being harassed on the streets. The tide has turned and the Muslim Brotherhood is now in the shoes of the despised minority, the one vulnerable to mob violence. In fact, just a few days ago, they had to be escorted out of a mosque they were staying in since angry crowds had gathered outside threatening their safety. The very conspiracy theories they helped spread while in power are now being used against them, the rhetoric of inciting and condoning violence has continued, except now they are the object, not the subject of the hate speech.

Mohammed Morsi was the first elected president after the revolution, his victory came in a very polarized time where the votes were split 50/50. Instead of realizing the magnitude of the country’s problems, whether social or economic, Morsi completely ignored former promises for reconciliation and comprise and instead pursued a course that could eventually only lead to collision. After having alienated the judiciary and the media, the former president ultimately alienated the very democracy that brought him to power by issuing a Constitutional Declaration placing himself above judicial scrutiny and appointing a so-called ‘Private’ Prosecutor. He tried justifying this extreme disrespect for the very foundations of the state by claiming revolutionary legitimacy to do so.

And so, months later, the Army, in a turn of irony worthy of Egypt, proclaimed to be deposing the president with so-called revolutionary legitimacy as well. The legitimacy they felt was granted to them by the millions who took to the streets demanding the departure of the regime, in scenes reminiscent to those of January 25th, 2011.

As tragic as this rise of populism is, coupled with a rhetoric riddled with conspiracy theories and completely void of reason and realism, there is an important lesson to be learned. When liberals demanded a limit to state power, a fair Constitution that doesn’t discriminate and true protections for human rights, they were ignored. Those who were in power, the Muslim Brotherhood, likely never imagined they would fall from grace so soon. They never imagined that they’d be indiscriminately called terrorists and people would justify their indiscriminate killing. They probably didn’t imagine some would be asking for their political exclusion by law, such as the law they used in order to exclude old regime members when they came to power.

The golden rule goes like this: “Do to others what you would have done unto you.” The lesson out of all of this for Egypt is that the system is more important than the actors on the stage. With a system of checks and balances, decentralization, rule of law and respect for individual liberty, minorities have as little to fear as majorities. Their rights are considered as holy and they know that a safe, stable and prosperous future is dependent upon the reciprocity of those fundamental principles. Instead of falling into the pit of hateful vengeance, Egyptians need to step back, see what got us here and make sure they don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. For those who light fires are too often eventually engulfed by the flames themselves once the winds turn.

As an advocate for my generation, I see an obligation to protect the democratic process, with appropriate checks, regardless of who is in power.

If you’d like to speak with or book Sara or any of our other Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.