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Category Archives: Current Events

The Art of Compromise

Compromises. There is so much in the world that we have to compromise on – such as the show we watch on T.V. and especially our opinion. While we all understand the importance of making compromises, we can empathize with others when they choose not to compromise for we have often felt the same urge. An example of our not wanting to compromise is found in our childhood. Do you remember those play- dates with a classmate in Kindergarten when you insisted that your Barbie drives the Mustang instead of the Miata although your friend insisted the same car?  I remember that in order to solve this conflict, one would have to compromise. Because I was the guest, my friend was made to compromise by her parents and allow my Barbie to drive the Mustang. If she protested about compromising with me, her parents would threaten her with the end of a play- date and a potential time-out in her room.  Although we did not appreciate learning the art of compromise at this age, it is a lesson we have come to value as we have matured and grown to realize the critical role it plays in our daily lives.

However, some Americans seemed to have forgotten this childhood lesson of compromise. For example, because of the controversial debate over “The Affordable Care Act”, which both the Democrats and Republicans have strong opinions, there has been no action taken to agree on legislation needed to keep our National Government open. Thus, Americans have been outraged because of Congress’ lack of ability to compromise, which has resulted in a shutdown of our Federal Government. In fact, one could even call their refusal to compromise with one another an act of “political grandstanding” as President Obama calls it – or a tantrum. Yes, ladies and gentlemen! Our Congressional Representatives are throwing a tantrum and they need a time-out: childhood style. Who is going to put Congress in time- out? “We, the People” will put our representatives in Congress in time- out by using our democratic- republic to achieve our goal: the grand re- opening of the Federal Government. In times of American disproval of the actions taken by our government, it is especially important that we take advantage of our civil liberties of freedom of speech and our government system and communicate with our Senators and Representatives. We must share with them our feelings of disappointment and defeat and tell them our views on “The Affordable Care Act” in order for them to best represent us. Due to our government structure, if our elected officials do not represent us in our democratic- republic, then we can elect someone that will actually represent our voices in this nation. We must emphasize the importance of our government re-opening because a closed government sends a message to the world: that we are too divided to reach our goals. We, as Americans, know that this message is not the truth at all for we are strong people united in making our democratic- republic the “city upon a hill” it was intended to be. Therefore it is crucial that we require Congress to compromise in order to re- open our federal government.

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Useless Nations & the Insecurity Council

At the end of World War II, the international community was tired of war – five powerful nations; France, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; were declared the victors, and decided to take steps towards encouraging peace so another brutal conflict would be less likely to take place. Thus was the birth of the United Nations – a new international body with the aim of keeping the peace. Our five victorious nations were, naturally, given the prime spots: to this day, each holds a “veto power”: when the Security Council of the UN passes resolutions, the five permanent members all must agree on it in order for it to pass. There are, of course, varying opinions on the United Nations and its effectiveness (a friend of mine calls it “Useless Nations”), but one thing is certain: the veto power makes it more difficult for the United Nations to get things done. In response, many sources, including Al Jazeera have suggested getting rid of the veto power of the security council. Would that really be such a good idea?

First of all, we need to see the issue with the five countries on the council. Three of the five are European; all are nuclear states. The fact that so many are European promotes a sort of cultural dominance which is unrepresentative of the population of the world. When 60% of the nations with veto power and permanent positions are primarily white, liberal democracies, this means the UN’s decisions will likely reflect this value set, rather than other value sets. The fact that all are nuclear powers is also significant: it sends the message that in order to be recognized as a powerful nation, you must have nuclear weapons. Though this assumption is based on other factors, its symbolic significance within the United Nations furthers this belief, which has been detrimental in the cases of Iran and North Korea. Furthermore, the countries that originally joined the security council are quite unlike those that exist today; China, for example, had not yet come under Communist rule. Some argue that India should also be given a permanent spot, as it is rising in global power, but due to the volatile nature of international politics and the sudden changes that can happen to markets and power dynamics, it is difficult to award these permanent spots, or even justify some current permanent members’ spots. One assumption that is made regarding the permanent members is that they have earned this spot by being powerful, major players in the international arena, but we must realize there are errors in that assumption in order to correctly gauge whether or not the veto power is proper.

Second is effectiveness: in the debate about the security council veto, we see similar arguments to those about parliamentary and presidential systems. In America, as in the UN, when resolutions are voted on there can be quite a bit of gridlock and disagreement. There have been 199 vetoes in the UN between 1946 and 1989, and another 17 between 1990 and 2004. Recently, veto power has become an issue because China and Russia have opposed intervention in Syria (including ordering Bashar al-Assad to step down) and China especially has opposed sanctions on North Korea (though they eventually conceded). If other countries on the Security Council vote for something, and one country votes against it, it seems unfair that the resolution won’t pass due to the will of one member. Looking at this from a western perspective, given recent events with vetoes by China and Russia, it is easy to see this power as a flawed thing, but we must look at it with a more open mind. China and Russia do have entirely different beliefs and cultures, and their input could be valuable. A Security Council that ascribed completely to western ideals would fail as an international body as it would not reflect the will of the world. Having to persuade countries like China and Russia may encourage international cooperation and compromise, which is a good thing… but it can also serve to aggravate disputes. The argument about effectiveness of the UN, therefore, comes to what is essentially a draw.

One of the veto power’s more sinister capabilities is to further the interests of a permanent member, against the will of others. The United States, for example, has used a number of vetoes to protect Israel from UN admonishment; though the majority of the world is against the United States in this case, as it is a permanent member, it has veto power. Fifty-nine vetoes have been cast to block the admission of member states to the UN, an action that can be considered similar to not granting an individual the ability to vote. Many permanent members are already significantly more powerful than other states, and giving them more of a voice in the United Nations and allowing them to utilize its powers to their own benefit rather than to international benefit does seem unfair, especially when we consider the argument made in the second paragraph. This concept undermines the entire legitimacy of the UN as a place for international cooperation. Legitimacy is important, as the belief that a body is effective and legitimate by its constituents is key to its success. The UN has many affiliated groups, like the World Trade Organization and the International Crime Court that serve important functions; when people do not have faith in the UN itself, it hurts the efficacy of these groups as well. (It is also interesting to note that the permanent members, even if they commit a crime and another group wants to try them in international court, in many cases they can actually veto this decision and avoid the court.)

After weighing both sides, it does seem to show that the veto power of the Security Council is unfair and undermines the United Nations… but it does have some benefits to it as well, and it is impossible to know what would happen if the veto power was abolished (not to mention if there were no more permanent members). It does make sense to think that the United States and other powerful countries, like China, should be represented more heavily than some other countries, as not only do they have bigger populations but their actions affect more of the world. In order to satisfy both sides of this argument, there is a fairly simple solution that is implemented successfully in democracies around the world: the power to override a veto. If other Security Council members could still pass a resolution with 2/3 majority of the Security Council, for example, it would make the powers of the permanent members less tyrannical and allow for better decisionmaking that is more reflective of all members’ beliefs. It may be a long time before people stop seeing the United Nations as the “Useless Nations”, but evening out the playing field in this way would certainly be a good start.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in Current Events

 

Mind-Reading Helmets for Bomb-Sniffing Dogs

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, many blamed the country’s failure to detect these threats on a “lack of imagination.” In response, the government did the logical thing: hired a group of science fiction writers to brainstorm potential ways to protect the country from national security breaches.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the logical thing. The committee was called Sigma, and Christopher Kelly, a member of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology division, justified their hiring by saying that “Fifty years ago, science-fiction writers told us about flying cars and a wireless handheld communicator. Although flying cars haven’t evolved, cellphones today are a way of life…. science-fiction writers clearly inform the debate.” While Sigma hasn’t come up with anything ground-breaking yet (among their ideas were “material that becomes armor when struck with a bullet; an antibiotic that cures martyrdom; a satellite that beams solar energy to earth; and mind-reading helmets for bomb-sniffing dogs”), perhaps the government was on to something when they decided to look towards a more futuristic angle for defense. Fast forward to the present day, and we’ve seen that cyberwarfare, a decidedly 21st century method of attack, has come to the forefront of national security concerns.

So what is cyberwarfare? The definition given by Wikipedia is “politically motivated hacking to conduct sabotage and espionage.” Now how is that applicable or dangerous to our lives?
At this point, almost everything is run on a computer grid; government functions, defense operations, companies, etc. Cyberwarfare has the potential to destroy several vital functions; while it hasn’t happened yet, many worry that cyberattacks could be use to crash the stock market and stop it from operating, take down major water lines, even seize control of air or railroad traffic or cause a nuclear meltdown. In an article by the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Flynn from Northeastern University described this potential disastrous situation: “When transformers fail, so too will water distribution, waste management, transportation, communications and many emergency and government services. Giving the average of twelve month lead that is required to replace a damaged transformer… if we had a mass damage of that scale… the economic and society disruption would be enormous.” In 2009, the Air Traffic Control system was hacked and personal information was stolen; while the attackers did not gain control of the planes themselves, penetrating the servers is still something to be worried about. Hackers in 2012 attacked a company that deals with over 60% of the oil and gas pipelines in North America. The hackers managed to steal several program files.
Outside of America, the problem is just as serious; a firm in South Korea called SK Communications was targeted, and the private information of almost 35 million people may have been stolen. An al Qaeda operative ominously proclaimed that America and its allies should be subjected to “electronic jihad” and compared the weaknesses in America’s technological infrastructure as similar to those in America’s security before the 9/11 attacks.
Certainly, America is not blameless for these attacks; we have used cyberwarfare and cyberattacks before, for example, in the case of Iran’s Stuxnet virus. Stuxnet was a virus created by the United States and Israel that infiltrated Iran’s nuclear program in 2010 and targeted Siemens equipment, which was what uranium was being enriched with in Iran. The virus, depending on the estimate, delayed Iran’s nuclear program by a few weeks to a few years.

So the question is: What can we do about it?
This is a rather complex question, especially as I have no background in creating code or hacking. But there are a few steps America should attempt to take to strengthen its defenses.
1. Hire hackers.
This may seem counterintuitive; why hire hackers if that’s exactly what you want to avoid? In order to protect us from cyberattacks, the government and businesses need to find out where their weaknesses are, and there is no better way to do this than to get hackers to find them. Google has used this approach to make its Google Chrome browser more secure, and it was relatively cheap; all they had to do was offer a moderate cash prize for anyone who could detect a major flaw or get through Chrome’s defenses.
2. Expand the STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) fields.
The best way to make sure we are secure in the cyber realm is by making sure there are enough people educated in the fields that would primarily contribute to this security. Many schemes have been proposed, including incentives for people to get STEM education in college rather than humanities, or even granting visas to any immigrants who agree to get an education in the STEM field and then either start a business or get a job in it.
3. Improve our relationship with China.
This is definitely easier said than done! It is estimated in a report by Mandiant, a US cybersecurity firm, published in February 2013, that China is the source of almost 90% of cyberattacks against America. A group based in China called Ghostnet has been conducting attacks against many countries, including the United States. It’s difficult to say how we can really improve relationships with the country, but we should certainly focus on it. The Obama administration has decided to do this through the “Asia pivot”, which may actually be a bad idea as it could potentially aggravate China even further. The Asia pivot and its components could definitely use at least a thorough re analyzation before being carried out, just to ensure they don’t aggravate the possibility of even more cyberwarfare.
A number of other steps must be taken, including stricter measures taken by companies and more money directed to building up cybersecurity measures, but they would all take too long to discuss; we do need to be careful though, as the protection from cyberwarfare could potentially lead to internet censorship (Senator Joe Lieberman has proposed a bill called “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010,” also known as “kill switch bill” which would give the president emergency power over parts of the internet). We may not need any mind-reading helmets for bomb-sniffing dogs anytime soon – but we do need to make sure the internet, and ultimately the entire country, is safe and secure.

Countries Preparing for Cyberwarfare

Countries Preparing for Cyberwarfare

 

What’s Race got to do with it?

Disclaimer: Below is a very controversial topic. I mean no offense whatsoever to anyone; I only wish to talk about a subject that deserves some discussion! Please do not take offense to anything I say. If I am wrong, please do correct me!

We’ve all seen it. That one question on the survey, SAT information, school registration, or political ballot:

“What is your ethnicity/Race? Check all that apply”

Is this really necessary? Do defining questions and the demographics based on these questions help or hinder us as we try to be less discriminatory?

We are now in an age of equality. There is no more slavery in America, women can vote, and skin color is not an acceptable reason for denial. But to every improvement there are exceptions. As we strive to provide equal opportunities for all, are we limiting the opportunities of others?

I have grown up as a minority. As a white girl in America, that is pretty rare! My school has called itself “97% people of Asian descent” for six years now. I’ve learned to appreciate other cultures, and don’t bat an eye when my Asian friends and white friends talk. It’s normal, since for us, race just doesn’t matter! So when I am asked “what is your ethnicity/race?” and my only option is “white,” I get a little confused.

Race is often used to categorize problems. Areas with economic problems often have a correlation with race, so that is what people focus on. They assume that there is a direct correlation between race and the problem, and to solve the problem, you need to eliminate the racial barriers. That is great. Really, it is! There is no reason why someone should face poverty just because they have a different skin color.

But here’s where it gets complicated. Say, to solve the economic problem, we plan to eliminate racial barriers. To do this, we need to have more minority students in a particular college. Because of this, a quota system is set up. A certain number of students of each color are needed to fill these quotas….and we are back to where we started: race is the determining factor in acceptances and denials.

The problem has gone beyond simply skin color. Now, the lack of diversity in a certain location is not just because of discrimination, but also because of family history, different cultures between towns, and personal finances, to name a few. These are not issues directly related to minority races, but issues that everyone faces. Instead of seeing the problem differently for different people, why don’t we look at the entire issue? Everyone has a different opinion on the issue. A California school actual made a short documentary on how race factors into our lives, and how opinions can vary (the trailer is above). As one speaker explained,

“[the problem is above and beyond [race]”.

I agree with this speaker. Things have changed. It is time to change our ways of thinking as well!

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Culture, Current Events, Rights and Liberties

 

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Mad Man Mitt: Stuck in Sixties’ Style Sexism

This presidential election has focused a lot of attention on women and winning the female vote, and last night’s debate returned to the topic again when a young woman asked the candidates what they would do to address the problem of unequal pay for equal work. In response, Governor Romney recounted how as governor of Massachusetts, he hired numerous women to work in his administration. He also said that he had to make work hours “more flexible” in order to accommodate his female chief of staff, citing her desire to get home earlier to make dinner for her family and be with her children. On the surface, this response might seem like a good one; Mitt Romney is flexible and doesn’t discriminate against women. In fact, he went out of his way to hire them. But this attitude comes with deeply sexist implications.

Maybe it was true in the fifties and sixties that women were the primary homemakers for their families, and needed to be home to make dinner. But times have changed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2011 that 70.6% of all mothers with children under the age of 18 are in the labor force. You can find more specifics in this study: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.nr0.htm. In addition, more and more men are becoming the primary caretakers for their children (although the number is still relatively low). Mitt Romney’s assumptions on what issues are relevant to women in the workforce aren’t necessarily true anymore as gender roles in our society become less defined.

And frankly, those assumptions are offensive. Women don’t need special accommodation so that they can be home in time to make dinner. They need a partner who is willing to share childcare and homemaking responsibilities equally, and America needs employers who understand that men and women deserve equally flexible hours, to give both parents the opportunity to care for and spend time with their family, as well as equal pay for equal work. (Both candidates somewhat avoided the question regarding equal pay, but if you’re interested, here is a description of the Lilly Ledbetter Act: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2008/09/15/080915ta_talk_surowiecki.)

This isn’t a problem exclusive to Mitt Romney; politicians and journalists alike often talk about “women’s issues” and the “women’s vote”, as if all women have the same problems and vote the same way. Some issues, of course, are more specific to women, such as access to contraception and gender discrimination. But not all women care about those issues on the same level. And in the twenty-first century, childcare and flexible work hours are no more exclusive to women than unemployment is to men.

The comments Mitt Romney made in the debate Tuesday night, and those other politicians have made before him, are just another kind of sexism. It might be easier for politicians to keep gender roles strict, so they can fit the electorate inside little boxes (or binders) and pander to those issues. But it’s time for us to realize that the structure of our society is changing, and we need to change with it.

 

Bully Awareness

A very important issue that is affecting everyone globally is bullying in general. It is an issue that needs to be stopped. According to www.stopbullying.gov, bullying is defined as aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power and is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. I believe it is National Bullying Prevention month and I think its appropriate to address the matter. Bullying consists of three types of abuse: verbal, physical, and emotional where they all involve coercion or intimidation. There is both direct bullying, which is interaction with an individual, and indirect bullying, through social media or gossip. Since it has only started to pique researchers, parents and authority figures recently, they had separated this offence. The Anti-bullying movement had gained popularity and many projects has been formed to prevent bullying. The It Gets Better Project inspires hope for gay teens who face harassment, and the aforementioned website wants people to help by speaking out.

Suicide is a big issue and it usually results because of bullying. A study in Britain shows that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying. Phoebe Prince committed suicide in 2010 for being bullied by two groups of teenagers who attended her school in Massachusetts, Megan Meier killed herself in 2006 because of consistent cyber bullying, and Eden Wormer committed suicide after enduring years of bullying at school. The teens ages range from 12-17 which is very sad to see that this is happening at a very early age. Most kids are targeted because of their race, appearance, religion, gender, sexual orientation etc.

The whole issue of bullying has motivated many states and countries to raise awareness and encourages others to do the same to prevent the life of a person from being destroyed by hatred, anger and jealousy. They encourage us to speak up because it will make a difference. Yes, I was bullied in elementary for being too smart and quiet but I learned to speak up which showed the bully that I was no longer afraid of their threats. In my opinion, the ability to speak up and stand up for yourself helps a lot because it shows that you have control over your own life and you won’t fall under their command. However, every situation is different because they might push you to not do it again but it just means you have to work harder.

Bullying impacts the world globally where people strive to make a difference by trying to prevent it. It brings you to the lowest point in your life and allows you to accept the criticism people hit you with. There are people out there who have committed their lives to preventing this cause because they are motivated to stop it and I admire them for it. Bullying can destroy everything we love unless we stop it from happening. United, we can make a difference.

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2012 in Current Events, Law and Policy

 

There’s Still a Point

yep, those are my big feet in that voting booth.

As the presidential election looms closer and closer, there are ads everywhere urging us to pick the “right” candidate for whom to vote.  However, I think the more pressing issue than deciding whom to vote for is lurking beneath the surface: young people have begun to stop voting.

All across the country, politicians, business-owners, and everyday people are insisting that young people are becoming increasingly apathetic towards the idea of voting.   A poll published in Gallup recently said, “Young people are losing interest in voting.  Just 58 percent of voters 18 to 29 years old said they are “definitely likely to vote” this November, down from 78 percent in a poll taken in October ahead of the 2008 election, and 81 percent in 2004. “

This seriously alarms me in multiple ways: first, I have a hard time understanding why young people- or for that matter, any group of people- would voluntarily choose not to vote.  Voting is how we express our beliefs as citizens, and is more effective than protesting ninety-nine percent of the time.  If we don’t believe our representatives are serving our needs as a people, we are able to nominate someone else who will represent us better.  We’re able to select who we want in our government, pushing for our needs, caring for our safety, and bettering our lives.  If people don’t vote, they can’t complain about not being appropriately politically represented.

Second, I think that to not vote is a disgraceful waste of our abilities as citizens in a democratic society.  Our Founding Fathers gave us the right to vote and the right to express our political beliefs, however directly or indirectly we choose to do so.   Reading the papers of Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton in APGOV has shown me how much they believed in a republican society, and how much they desired that their citizens be able to vote and express their beliefs.

I’ll be eighteen this October, about a week before the presidential election.  I’ve been registered to vote since this March, and it’s all I’ve been talking about for the past six months.  I firmly believe that there’s still a point in voting, despite the apathy of some members of my generation.  No matter whom I end up voting for, I won’t be part of the youth demographic who remained silent during one of the most important elections of this century.  I’ll have chosen whom I want to represent me and serve my needs, and whom I genuinely believe will do a good job leading our country for the next four years.  For me, that’s all the motivation I need to get to the voting booth.

they want you to vote as much as i do!

 

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