Would you risk your life for the right to vote?

It’s not until you speak to people who have risked their lives for the right to vote that you realize how lucky you are just to have that right.

A coupNaing ko kole of weeks ago, I listened to a man who had spent seven years in jail in Burma (Myanmar) for participating in the student demonstrations for democracy  in  1988.  Hundreds, or maybe thousands where shot by the army. Nobody really knows the true death toll. During Naing Ko Ko’s time in prison, he was put into the ‘dog cells’, where prisoners were beaten every night around 3 a.m. After being released and leaving the country, he got a scholarship to study in New Zealand, where he currently lives.

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi

The leader of the pro-democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, ended up under house arrest for 20 years.

In Burma, GDP person is about fifty percent higher than in Cambodia (the poorest country I’ve ever been to) but the current government spends about thirty percent of the country’s GDP on the military, even though the country has no external enemies.  Just based on the arithmetic, the standard of living must therefore be about the same as in Cambodia. Children aged ten are being forced into the army.  It’s not a happy situation.

New elections are scheduled for November 8.  Already the regime is putting obstacles in the way of voting. A couple of local Burmese students in Australia who want to vote told me must do so in person at the Burmese Embassy in Canberra. For a student in Perth, this would be like travelling from San Diego  to Washington DC. The Army will still have a guaranteed minimum of 25 percent of the seats in the parliament. The generals call this “disciplined democracy.” The expression makes me shudder. Voting rolls have been published, and there are lots of dead people on them.

I hope their election doesn’t turn into a shooting match. If it does, I’ll post something about any aid organisations that might be worth donating to. In the meantime, when people I know complain it’s not worth voting, I can only say that the right to vote is a valuable thing. No matter how much you may dislike your own county’s parties or politicians, most of the people reading don’t have to risk their lives to go to a polling booth.  We are lucky. Let’s remember that.

Read about Aung San Suu Kyi here , GDP per person (living standards) here some articles by Naing here, and the 1988 elections here and finally, a BBC background article here.


Did Australia really ban all guns?

John Howard at Port ArthurSome of my American friends are arguing again on Facebook  about what Australia did about gun laws in 1996. Did we ban all guns? No.

Here’s what happened. In Australia we banned semi-automatic weapons (for almost everyone – see below) after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 (35 dead) and we haven’t had a mass shooting since. Farmers can have rifles to destroy livestock. Target shooting clubs that practice for the types of competitions that lead to the Olympic or commonwealth games competitions can have the type of guns that are used in those competitions. (You have to use the club’s guns for the first six months.) Duck hunters can still go duck hunting, but not with self-reloading shotguns. Some security guards (mostly those who accompany cash deliveries to banks) carry guns, for obvious reasons.

You need a licence to buy a gun, and you need a reason. ‘I just feel like it’ isn’t a reason. Individual owners are licensed and individual guns are registered. You can’t just go down the street and buy a gun. Semi-automatic weapons are banned, except for professional hunters (e.g., people who do feral culling) and farmers for destroying livestock, and then with limits (10 shot) on the magazine size. The state governments bought back a bit over 600,000  guns at market prices.

Banning semi automatic weapons was the important point, because that is what do you need to conduct a successful mass shooting. The whole country was behind this change. There have been some individual shootings since (1 or 2 or 3 dead, mostly domestic murder- suicides.) but no public mass shootings of the sort that happen in america. Our (conservative, very pro-American) Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, actually used the expression “we are not going to go down the American path.” We collectively came together in away that was stunning in 1996. We acted like a society, fixed a problem, and we have no reason to go back.

And no, other crime rates haven’t risen because innocent people can’t defend themselves.  Our long-run trends for most crimes  like burglary and house invasions are down.  (Remember to always look at crime rates – that means crime per 100,000 head of population, not raw numbers which can be expected to rise anyway because of population increase. And look at long run rates, not year to year fluctuation. Those wishing to get some data can go the the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Institute Of Criminology websites for serious data. Some crimes are rising, such as ‘newer’ issues like ice addiction.

Description  of Port Arthur Massacre  here.  Description of Australia’s gun laws here. Article on process of the buy-back and law here.