(Centennial Fellow) Heading up a Colorado-based nonprofit that seeks to make global justice concerns present and practical to ordinary Americans, I read the headlines with a different perspective than most people. International issues have been central in news stories throughout 2014 and have had an increasing impact on our communities, our country, and our world. While there are justice concerns in every region of the globe and many significant events from the past year, I highlight the following “Top 10” news stories for their impact during 2014 as well as their implications for 2015:
10) Implementation of Obamacare: The hotly debated Affordable Care Act came into effect in 2014 with a range of issues, both technical and programmatic. Retooling and reshuffling of personnel, most notably Secretary Sebelius’ resignation, was the focus of news throughout the first half of 2014. In the second part of the year, various challenges to implementation, including alternate approaches to medical coverage, political shifts, and legal action demonstrated the continuing challenge of adopting this program and the continuing potential for considerable change if not repeal under a new administration. The domestic implications are apparent, but globally the impact is also relevant for it provides a barometer on how and whether nationalized health care coverage can be effectively implemented.
9) Republican Landslide in Midterm Elections: During the November elections, Republicans gained decisive victories in many states, including virtually across the board in the “swing” state of Colorado. Not only did the Republicans wrestle control of the Senate and upped their seats in the House, but their wins demonstrated a political shift among the electorate that was increasingly dissatisfied with the Obama administration. The implications of a political shift for foreign policy are significant but likely not immediate. The Republicans in 2015 need to secure their position for the more significant races during the presidential elections of 2016.
8) Scotland’s Independence Referendum: Scotland’s national referendum to determine independence from the United Kingdom was both historic and politically noteworthy. The debate over Scotland’s potential separation from what was once the world’s greatest empire not only indicated the difficulties of independence but also the desires of its people. Especially those in countries still young enough to recognize the impact of subjugation to a colonial power watched the events unfold to learn and gauge what warrants a call to independence. While the Scottish people voted to remain with the UK, the results also gave England a wake-up call to the rights and freedoms necessary to maintain the kingdom.
7) Pope Francis: Having become the reigning pope of the Catholic Church in 2013 and the first non-European to do so since 742, Pope Francis spent much of 2014 addressing global concerns ranging from slavery to climate change. He was a particularly strong advocate for children and refugees. Most notably in December, he joined other religious leaders in signing the Declaration Against Modern Slavery. That document has both symbolic and functional implications in addressing a series of human rights concerns such as human trafficking and sexual slavery.
6) Ferguson and New York: The sad events in Ferguson and New York highlighted the underlying concerns of racial profiling and police use of force, and the related mix of misunderstandings and misperceptions within these communities. The domestic protests received mixed reviews among US citizens, but globally seemed to indicate that the US is not immune from civil unrest. In addition, the news coverage of these events raised international concerns about race relations in the US more generally.
5) Disappearances of Mexican students: 43 Mexican students in Guerrero went missing this fall when travelling to Iguala to protest discriminatory employment practices for teachers. Police opened fire on the students, who were in buses, killing three students and three more people in nearby vehicles. When the other students tried to flee, they were chased down by municipal officers. Iguala Mayor Abarca and his wife were arrested in November for reportedly ordering the officers actions. After several searches and protests, only one body to has been found to date. The shocking events highlight the ongoing brutality of police in Guerrero as well as government corruption in Mexico.
4) Hong Kong Protests: Protests erupted in Hong Kong in September in opposition to proposed political reforms that limited the voting of the general public in Hong Kong elections. An Umbrella Movement occupied the areas outside Hong Kong government headquarters and a student protest also continued throughout the fall. While the protests and occupy areas were dismantled by December, the protests brought international attention to the issue of suffrage in China. In October, the UN Human Rights Committee emphasized “the need to ensure universal suffrage, which means both the right to be elected as well as the right to vote.” China has not only stood by its right to enforce its proposed reforms but also implicated the west in these protests, indicating little regard for voting rights.
3) Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia Airline Disappearances: In March Malaysia Air Flight 370, carrying 239 passengers and crew, disappeared raising a range of concerns and theories on what happened to the airplane, crew, and passengers. In July, Malaysia Flight 17, carrying 298 people, was shot down over eastern Ukraine killing everyone on board. Now in December, Air Asia Airline Flight QZ 8501, carrying 128 people, also disappeared. The recent discovery of debris and bodies indicates the fate of that airplane and its passengers. In this era of mass airline transit, these unusual airline events and their related failings in determining cause raise concerns not only for international travel but for airline security and oversight, particularly within Southeast Asia.
2) Islamic State: The Islamic State was the central player in global concerns on terrorism in 2014. While their activities centered in the Mideast, particularly Iraq and Syria, their reach went far beyond in terms of media attention and international security. Their brutal methods, including beheadings, were shown online in photos and video throughout the globe. Two US journalists as well as a number of Europeans were killed. Despite US airstrikes, IS continues to advance in various cities in the region, resulting in numerous killings. While their brand of terror is particularly barbaric, they will likely face off in the new year with a wider alliance of opposition nations.
1) Ebola outbreak: Ebola reportedly started with a 2 year old boy who was playing in a hollow of a tree where he came into contact with a bat. A few cases in Guinea then spread across West Africa as the deadliest outbreak of this deadly disease. The WHO reports as of December there are 20,153 suspected cases and 7,883 deaths, and those figures are likely understated. The United States also had isolated cases of a Liberian in Texas and 2 American nurses who had contracted the disease. The spread of Ebola raised concerns both in the US and around the globe of how to effectively treat patients and protect health workers, as well as to what degree the international community should be engaged in fighting the outbreak with dollars and personnel. How effectively Ebola is managed into 2015 may indicate how effectively the globe can identify, treat, and contain other deadly disease outbreaks.