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Category Archives: Law and Policy

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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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

 

It Doesn’t Make Any Cents

First, I’d like to apologies for my poor pun, but it had to happen. I’d like to talk about something that relates to our current system that really bothers me– pennies. The U.S Government creates new pennies and put them into circulation each year. In 2011 alone, the mint created 4.9 billion. Creating the money obviously costs money, for pennies you have to pay for the metal, fabrication, human labor, and transportation. But in 2012, the cost of producing one penny is 2.41 cents. So it costs over twice as much to make a penny as the penny is worth and we are making 4.9 billion of them.

cost to make penny

This is not a new issue. The first U.S. pennies were 100% pure copper, but as the price of the copper the penny contained became more valuable then the penny people began melting the pennies down to make a profit of the difference in price between the metal and the pennies worth (people have begun doing this again today and can face up to five years in prison). To stop the melting down of pennies and so the government wouldn’t have to pay money to make pennies, the U.S. Mint began making pennies that were 97.5% zinc, which was a much cheaper metal, and 2.5% copper to make a the outer shell. The price to manufacture the pennies and the price of the metal of the pennies dropped below one cent and everything was fine.

But, in 2006 the price of the metal contained within pennies once again became worth more than one cent. Last year alone, manufacturing pennies cost almost 100 million. I’m not saying making the manufacturing cost of pennies go down will have a significant impact on the debt crisis, it will barely be a dent,but it is something. Obama has recently proposed making pennies out of a cheaper material, but dissenters are saying it would make the penny easier to counterfeit. I’m sure there will eventually be a solution after a long a drawn out debate, and eventually manufacturing pennies will stop costing the Government money. But is the penny even really necessary?

In 1872 when the penny was first minted in the United States it had a purpose. There were plenty of things that actually cost 1 cent. But has inflation made pennies obsolete? It seems to me that the pennies only purpose is to make things end in 99 cents instead of a dollar to make products appear cheaper or to sit at the bottom of fountains. Is that worth 100 million? The purpose of money is to help facilitate everyday trade. Money can be used instead of bartering, but it needs to be divided into small amounts so no one over or underpays. But the penny is too small of an amount. In 1857 the U.S. Mint stopped producing the half-cent because it had too little buying power and didn’t help facilitate trade. The half-cent had the worth of today’s dime. Yet we continue to have pennies, which are worth 1/10th of that and cost more to make than they are worth.

Half cent obv.jpgthe half cent

One might think that prices will go up if the penny is eliminated. But New Zealand, Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, and Canada have all recently gotten rid of their versions of the penny and rounded to the nearest nickel. None of those countries saw an increase in prices or had any problems. There is no reason to keep pennies other than a fear of breaking away from tradition.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Mint

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Half_cent_%28United_States_coin%29

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Law and Policy

 

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

 

Freedom of Speech (So long as…)

ImageThis week, as we’ve been learning about civil liberties and rights, I’ve done a lot of thinking about one of the most important rights of Americans: The freedom of speech. This right is the reason the revolutionaries of the eighteenth century were able to justify criticizing the king of England, an integral part in the establishment of the United States. To this day, all Americans are perfectly free to criticize our government. However, a commonly asked question is: how do these rights apply to minors? The Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence don’t mention how rights apply to legal minors.

During our research on different court cases, I learned the details of the case Tinker v Des Moines School District (1968). This case explored the rights of minors to free speech in public schools. Essentially, the students in the case wore black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, and were suspended from school until the protest ended. In the ruling, the Supreme Court classified the armbands as freedom of expression, and since they weren’t disruptive to the running of the school, it was within the rights of the students to wear them. This ruling set a precedence of freedom of speech for minors. Judging by later limitations set on the case ruling, it has been established that minors have the rights to free speech and expression so long as they are not indecent or disruptive during school functions.

So what about other rights? Are minors entitled to freedom of press? According to another case, not quite. Schools have the right over students to censor newspaper publications, screening for appropriate topics and the like. This case makes it clear that no, minors do not have the true freedom of press the way the Bill of Rights outlines it. And despite Tinker v Des Moines, minors don’t have the full freedom of speech. It appears that the rights of the American citizen do not apply to minors, and are instead limited by higher authority (such as school officials and guardians).

Image

My thought is that minors need to know their rights. There are various protective acts that outline things that can’t be done to minors, or what can be done in certain situations concerning minors. I propose that an amendment, law, or act be created with the purpose of outlining the individual rights of minors in regards to the rights of an American citizen. Not many average high school students will be able to reference Tinker v Des Moines when faced with their school principal. IF all that minors have to go by are court cases, then how are they supposed to know their rights? This law, amendment, or act would provide a comparison of full adult rights to those of minors, letting everyone know what minors can and can’t do. The benefits of such an outline would be great. It would provide schools and parents with a concept of laws as they apply to children, and it would give minors knowledge of the full extent of their power.

As of right now, I’m still not sure what rights I am entitled to as a minor. Am I granted the right to petition? Am I granted the right to assembly? I’m not even sure what the proceedings are for search warrants granting search and seizure rights to the police. It’s a little scary, knowing the freedoms that are granted to Americans but not knowing how many of them you hold. So my thought is that minors should be educated in their government classes not only about how government was established and how it works, but also about what that means for them before they are adult citizens of the United States.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 
 

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AP Government Ruling My Daily Thoughts

Since AP US Government has begun, the information that I have learned has spilled over into my daily life. From classes at school, to watching the news, to hearing my family’s conversations, AP US Government has begun to influence the way I view my everyday surroundings.

At St. Cecilia Academy, the school I attend, it is normal to discuss politics as it relates to our everyday lives. St. Cecilia is a Catholic school, so one can imagine that in the last year how the topic of politics has come up more often in theology classes with the new health care mandate. AP US Government has given me the knowledge to filter through what is told to me by my religion teachers and understand what is constitutional and what is not. St. Cecilia is located on what is known as the Dominican Campus in Nashville. On the Dominican Campus, Aquinas College, a catholic college, is also located along with Overbrook School, a Catholic grade school.  Recently, Aquinas College along with six other Middle Tennessee Catholic institutions filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the mandate within the Affordable Care Act requiring that businesses provide their employees with contraceptives and other sterilization processes. If one has any notion about the Catholic faith, he or she would understand how these medical treatments are not in agreement centuries of teachings within Catholicism. (If you want to read more about it, here is a good link: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120913/NEWS01/309130042/Nashville-Diocese-sues-over-health-law-s-insurance-mandate-contraceptives-morning-after-pills)  Knowing of this and the Catholic faith along with having the intelligence that I have gained from AP Government, I am able to make what I believe is a just decision in what to believe is right or wrong about this situation.

Today, the US government is in constant turmoil over national debt and the consistent threat of the government being shut down due to unpassed budgets or bills. When I hear this on the news (which I happened to a few days ago) I no longer have to turn to my dad and ask him why this could happen. AP Government has enlightened my mind on the workings of our government and how/why things occur. Also, during this election, I have become aware through AP Government of how the United States was not originally intended to only be a two-party system. As my AP US History teacher describes it, the founding fathers would be “rolling over in their graves” if they knew the United States had become a two-party system. By primary documents I have read in AP Government, I know that the electoral college was invented with the intention that no single person would win by majority because there would be multiple parties running. Today, this is obviously not the case.

My family is very wide on the political spectrum. I have family members whose political beliefs range from liberal to conservative. One can imagine that when the topic of politics comes up at family gatherings, tensions rise substantially because of this wide spectrum of beliefs. However, when this does occur now, I feel much more confident in my political beliefs and that my beliefs make sense with the constitution. AP Government has also made me feel as if I am “freer” of the typical stigma that children only follow their parents political beliefs. It is amazing what an understanding of the constitution and inner workings of the government can do for you.

 

Private Prisons, Perhaps Not So Efficient

In class this week, we learned about Bureaucracies. A bureaucracy is an organization with a clear hierarchy of authority, employees with specific job titles and descriptions, and formal procedures for hiring, promoting, and firing workers. Bureaucracies are often seen as inefficient and are,  therefore, frequently reformed. For example, the state run Department of Motor Vehicles is often considered unresponsive and inefficient for its long lines, compared to McDonalds with many shorter lines and a manual for structured operation. Is this proof that public bureaucracies should look and operate even more like private bureaucracies?

Well, let’s look at the example of prisons. It is a common belief that private prisons are more cost-efficient; however, privatized prisons can prove to have major problems, especially concerning the health of their prisoners. For example, in private prisons, prisoners are often in crowded facilities and their food rations are cut back to reduce costs. These inhumane conditions would certainly be less likely in a state-run correctional facility. The Arizona Department of Corrections revealed research that private prisons house only relatively healthy inmates, which helps them appear less expensive.

Contrary to popular belief, privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons. Russ Van Vleet, a former co-director of the University of Utah Criminal Justice Center stated, “There’s a perception that the private sector is always going to do it more efficiently and less costly, but there really isn’t much our there that says that’s correct.” Nationally, the number of state inmates in private prisons grew by a third over the past decade. While private prisons collect a “daily rate” per inmate, some expenses are disproportionately distributed. In conclusion to all my research, I have found what Steve Owen, spokesman for the largest operator, Corrections Corporation of America, states as “a mixed bag of research…it’s not as black and white and cut and dried as we would like.”

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Law and Policy