Kevin Bardin ’15 Inside Politics
An olive branch has been offered and if accepted by the necessary majority, the American public may have some of its faith in the Senate restored. The hope is that this week a bipartisan bill will be proposed before the Senate and will receive the needed votes to pass which would mark the first sign of noticeable progress since November 2013 when Senate Democrats blocked Republicans’ attempts to filibuster President Obama’s judicial nominees.
The bill that represents bipartisan progress is the result of collaboration between Democratic Senator Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland and Republican Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina. The bill itself is hardly earthshaking – legislation on childcare assistance – but the fact that it will be presented to the Senate without time limits or restrictions on amendments is the real impetus for hope. If Senators are able to withstand the temptation to bring up party driven legislation during the process, the bill’s acceptance could build a basis for a more cooperative Senate.
Since November, both sides of the aisle have been guilty of politically motivated voting within Congress. Senate Democrats enraged Republicans when they moved to change the necessary margin to block filibusters from the two-thirds majority to a simple majority. In retaliation, last Thursday Senate Republicans voted down a Veterans Affairs bill that would have extended veterans’ benefits. Ironically, one of the most outspoken critics of the bill was Senator Burr of North Carolina, the same senator who co-authored the bipartisan childcare assistance bill.
The need of Burr and the majority of Senate to return to a productive pace is stimulated by next fall’s elections. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is also partially responsible for the plan to get the Senate back on track; he and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee met to discuss how to best relieve some of the pressure that has been building within the Senate. Their eventual plan to choose the childcare assistance bill appears to be a case of serious handholding in Congress, but it may prove to be the most effective method. Schumer and Alexander also scheduled multiple bills of at least equal bipartisanship agreement to follow the childcare assistance bill in hopes of further repairing the rift in Senate.
While these attempts to jump start the Senate are appreciated, those who complain about the inefficiency of the body must recognize that this is hardly a new battle. Partisan conflicts have been reported by the Journal of Commerce and New York Times as early as 1860, blaming one side of the aisle for an unwillingness to show bipartisan support. This constant grind is our government’s essential safeguard against impassioned and irrational lawmaking, protecting us against hastily prepared legislation: a measure that for the most part has proven effective.
Should the childcare assistance bill brought by Senators Mikulski and Burr prove successful this week, we are not relegated to believe that the American system has failed; nor should we fall into depression if the bill is voted down. What the American public must focus on is the fact that the apparent inefficiency of Congress is all according to plan.
Rands Keasler ’16 Women in Leadership
When the topic of women’s rights comes up, we immediately jump to the issues in the United States that women face. Wage gaps, abortion rights, and equality are extremely important, but we frequently forget that around the world few countries have achieved the rights for women that we have. Afghanistan has recently been in the spotlight for a bill that was passed by parliament and was submitted in February 2014 to President Hamis Karzai for signature and approval; the bill illustrates the variations of progress in women’s rights internationally.
The “anti-women gag law” is the name this new bill gained around the world, especially from human rights activists. The bill excludes parents, grandparents, or siblings from testifying in court cases of domestic violence. Proponents of the bill argue that the family cannot be objective. Many others see this bill as a restriction of women’s rights and a violation of human rights. Additionally, it is an enormous step back from the gains Afghan women have achieved. In 2009, a law was passed in Afghanistan called the Elimination of Violence again Women (EVAM), which criminalized acts of child marriage, rape, and other forms of violence against women. It was great progress for women’s rights.
The main issue with the anti-women gag law is it in essence lets perpetrators walk free, as most violent acts against women occur within family structures. This bill would give relatives or any family member the right to do whatever they want to women and fear no repercussion. National Geographic reports that many “Afghan women only see relatives and are only seen by relatives” every day of their lives. This bill would be silencing victims of domestic violence.
Groups around the world reached out showing their opposition to the bill. This not only included signed protests but human rights organizations taking stands. The bill was only waiting for President Karzai’s signature in order to be enacted. Human Rights Watch was one group that called upon the president, asking him to refrain from signing it into the Afghan penal code. One of the reasons this bill came to being proposed is the withdrawal of the International community from Afghanistan. International troops, including the Americans, have begun to pull out and have lost a great deal of their influence. This has been a great factor in the backslide of women’s rights, from their treatment in parliament to the increase in reports of attacks on women.
President Karzai declined to sign the bill on February 17, 2014. He backed away from the bill claiming it needed to be amended, which takes the bill off the table for the time, but does not fully kill the bill. The fact that a proposal that hinders women’s rights to this extent was able to pass in the parliament shows the extremes of different countries. Around the world, the fight for women’s rights is not over. Comparing the United States to Afghanistan does not mean the United States is finished either. The United States still faces prejudices and inequalities. Afghanistan represents a country that is at the very beginning stages of gaining human rights, and the women have a long road ahead.
Daniel Cummings ’17 Inside Politics
In response to the domestic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan on October 7th of the same year. More than twelve years later, the United States continues to conduct combat operations against a broken enemy. As part of a general War on Terror, which includes a nine-year war in Iraq, the War in Afghanistan has crippled the American economy, strained our veterans and their benefits, and has broken the spirit of the American people. The war is expected to cost the United States over six trillion dollars before the conclusion, along with more than 6,700 military dead, and over 57,000 severely wounded. However, President Obama, along with Congress, has affirmed that the last combat operations in the country will be over by the end of the year, and our military personnel will be home. Such news is refreshing to a war-weary public, who have wished for the conclusion of the conflict and retraction of our forces for years.
Despite the news coming from both the White House and Congress, the United States is not scheduled to leave Afghanistan in the foreseeable future. In a proposed Bilateral Security Agreement between the governments of the United States and Afghanistan, the United States would retain 12,000 military personnel within the country until the year 2024. In context, these soldiers would be responsible for conducting counter-terrorism operations, while providing security and assistance to Afghan forces. Simply speaking, these would be 12,000 of America’s Special Forces elite to be left in the warzone for another ten years.
In the military, a combat operation is both small and large-scale operations conducted by any component of the military against the enemy. As part of the Bilateral Security Agreement, Special Forces components within the country are authorized to conduct counter-terrorism operations against private Afghan homes. These combat operations will continue to put the most elite American personnel directly in combat with the enemy.
The majority of American people want this war to end, with 53 percent of polled Americans stating that the 2014 withdrawal date is too far. Members of our all-volunteer military have commonly been exposed to over four combat deployments in support of both Iraq and Enduring Freedom. Once out of the warzone, our men and women are coming home missing limbs, suffering from traumatic brain injuries, and living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Presently, over 270,000 veterans of the War on Terror are being tested for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It has become apparent that the 13-year war has exerted costs far beyond monetary measurement. The discipline, training, and strength of our men and servicewomen is unmatched, but there is certainly a point that war-weariness will detract from combat effectiveness.
Presently, President Hamid Karzai has voiced significant reservations about the Bilateral Security Agreement. In an effort to reduce the number of future civilian casualties, President Karzai voiced that American security forces may not enter the private homes of Afghan citizens. To this point, the most constructive counter-terrorism initiative the United States has enacted consists of quick raids on high value targets. By removing this tool from our arsenal, Karzai limits the ability of our remaining soldiers to enact any form of progress. Because of Karzai’s stipulations, and refusal to enact the bi-lateral agreement, President Obama has threatened to remove all American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
Despite the reiterations from top government officials, the War in Afghanistan is not going to end if the Bilateral Security Agreement is signed. Instead, we would be engaged in a small, quite war involving high speed raids by our best warriors. While there is no American that wishes to see Afghanistan plunge into chaos, we also need to appreciate the fact that we are in our 13th year of war. We have seen almost 7,000 of our uniformed personnel dead. Hundreds of thousands of our troops will carry the horrors of this war with them for the rest of their lives; we have spent over 6 trillion dollars to fund this excursion. The point here is that, despite the external implications, it is time for this war to end. This Bilateral Security Agreement serves to extend the war by ten more years, but this agreement will only prove to be an extension to the war. This country will remain locked in this forsaken war until every single service member is home.
Andrea Buchanan ’15 Women in Leadership
For the last two weeks, the Winter Olympics have occupied a significant portion of the news cycle, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Buzzfeed, and everyday conversations. Stories and news ranged from debate over whether Sochi was even ready for the Olympics (#sochiproblems) to how well the United States was doing in the medal rankings. Talk also revolved around the political and economic implications of Russia hosting the Winter Olympics this year. While it was enjoyable to watch Olympians in all sports amaze us with their talent, the games have come to a close and our focus now shifts back to the rest of the international challenges that face us. Protests in Ukraine and Venezuela now stand at the top of the podium in the aftermath of the Winter Olympics. It is time we really start focusing on them, and more specifically who we see represented in pictures when we read news and see videos about what is happening.
Protests in Ukraine first started in November 2013, when the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, decided to reject an agreement with the European Union (EU) and instead strengthen ties with Russia. The people of Ukraine were hoping for more alignment with the EU in order to lessen dependence on Russia, especially for natural resources such as gas. As soon as the EU plan was rejected, Ukrainians began protesting in Independence Square, known as the Maidan. There has been a lot of violence between the government and the opposition. The government tried to put in rules to limit protesting, but to no avail. Yanukovych has been deserted by his officials and has, in effect, been forced from his office.
In Venezuela, the protests have stemmed from a dislike of President Nicolas Maduro. Stark shortages of basic needs, food, milk, toilet paper, inflation, and persistent inequality were some of the main causes that sent student protesters peacefully to the streets. What started out as a peaceful protest quickly turned violent on February 13 when President Maduro accused the opposition of being responsible for two deaths that occurred during the anti-government protest. President Maduro also accused Leopoldo Lopez, the most prominent opposition leader, of being responsible for more deaths that happened; Lopez turned himself in peacefully to authorities in protest of the charges. While many are still trying to protest, there has been no peace. About 13 deaths have occurred now and the protests are becoming more violent each day.
So what is so interesting about these protests? It is not necessarily their causes that stand out, but rather who is being portrayed amidst the violence. In many of the pictures posted daily, most contain images of women protesters. Women are the focus of most pictures that show “peaceful” demonstrations – holding signs and chanting – but it is still the men who are prevalent in the pictures that show direct conflict with the police or military forces. A Huffington Post article that provides a great recap of what is happening in Venezuela includes eight photos. Half of these photos feature women peacefully protesting, while the other half feature men being a part of the violence. In Ukraine, many of the photos feature the violence and the fighting that have taken over the Maidan, and the photos that do show women, show them holding signs and united with a large body of people. Additionally, there have been videos made about what the protests are about. The videos from Ukraine and from Venezuela both feature women as narrators.
While it is obvious that women would be part of the protests because the issues at hand certainly affect them, and while it is probably wiser on their part to not be in the direct line of fire and aggress the military and police forces directly, the portrayal of women in this way is interesting. In many ways it holds up the traditional values and views of women as less violent than men. This perception is not just found in visual representations, but also in comments and statements. In Venezuela, Lilian Tintori de Lopez, the wife of the detained opposition leader Lopez, addressed the protestors asking “women to march silently in peaceful protest, wearing white and carrying white flowers for each of their children, for the future of our children and grandchildren.” On their arms, she told them to wear black bands, “because we are in mourning for all those who have fallen in recent days.” Her statement suggests that women should put forth the peaceful front and force government change that way, drawing on traditional values of family to strengthen her point.
Making the association between peace, tranquility, and women is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem lies in the fact that this is the only way women are being portrayed. In Venezuela, the death of a famous beauty queen, Genesis Carmona, rocked the protest and garnered support for the opposition. Carmona was peacefully protesting without weapons. Had she been violently protesting, she probably would have amassed even more attention, yet some of it would have undoubtedly been negative and criticized her for trying to do something that was outside of her dedicated schema.
I feel that there is more of a focus on representing women as the doves of peace in these current protests, a trend that has continued since the Arab Spring protests and revolutions in 2011. Whether this is a true and dedicated effort to increase the coverage of media or it is just something I am noticing for the first time, it is putting the faces of women on the front lines of the protest, helping make their demands known, and showing their influence in today’s world.
Julia Scacchitti ’15 Inside Politics
The current situation in Ukraine has led to various controversies concerning the involvement of the European Union (EU) and the United States in these devastating human rights violations. Violent clashes between protesters and Interior Ministry troops on February 18 have led to further violence within the country and caused a strain on peace and cooperation. Peaceful demonstrations have developed into violent and unjust firings, where many have been victims of gross violations of human rights and police brutality. This unjust violence has left over 25 people dead, while security forces have been shooting at will with no sense of order or direction and perhaps without preempted cause or reason.
The power of the state is rapidly declining in Ukraine; if violence is not properly controlled it could eventually turn into a bloody civil war. Months of protests have turned into a major conflict and caused political unrest between citizens and the police force; demonstrations have turned deadly. This political unrest has led to much devastation throughout the country, where various upheavals may lead to further political and economic troubles. Some feel that the United States and EU should create an emergency aid package to Ukraine to help them avoid default. In this case, they would be required to increase economic and political reform and reduce imported energy from Russia.
The United States has verbally expressed its opinion on the direction of this conflict and how it feels the country should move forward. President Obama has formally denounced the increased violence in Ukraine and has urged the country’s military to stay out of the conflict. He has also stated that the government should handle peaceful protesters in an appropriate way without the use of violence so that citizens are able to speak freely and without repression. This alarm for human rights abuses has been a wide spread concern within the situation. The corruption in the Ukrainian government has led to the need for further investigation. Various officials within the Ukrainian government have been suspected of corruption and participation in these human rights violations. The state department has banned U.S. visas to 20 Ukrainians because of their involvement in human rights abuses related to political repression.
This past week, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the necessity for an expedient agreement between Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the political opposition. Officials within the United States have been in contact with both Russian and Ukrainian elected officials in the past month, trying to come to some sort of agreement or a way to assist in the current situation. In addition to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with the three Ukrainian opposition leaders, Chuck Hagel has spoken to the Ukrainian Defense Minister, and Vice President Biden has spoken with Yanukovych in nine separate conversations since November. This demonstrates the increased and dedicated involvement of the United States in the current issues and conflicts within Ukraine.
Yanukovych has stepped down from his position and has fled to the Russian-dominated east part of the country. Ukrainian’s Interior Minister has also fled the country. He is said to be primarily involved in the majority of the violence and human rights violations.
Mediated through European influences, there has been plans to form a new government and hold early elections. Ukrainian parliament has worked on heavily decreasing the powers of the presidential position. The United States has widely promoted the attempts for a stronger and more unified government by forming a more technocratic and broad coalition government. They will continue to promote a nonviolent, democratic government that is oriented towards peaceful negotiations, where more democratic institutions and organizations are set in place.
Bethany Foxx ’16 Inside Politics
The education reform act, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was implemented during the George W. Bush administration, has reached the 2014 deadline that was set for states to have 100 percent of students proficient in math and reading. The bill stated that performance standards were scheduled for all students to reach proficient status in the 2013-14 academic year; however, that goal has been far from accomplished.
The NCLB legislation placed performance standards in almost every public school in the United States and included various measures that were aimed at elevating student achievement and subsequently holding both schools and states accountable. According to Education Week, these measures included providing annual testing, academic progress checkpoints, state report cards, teacher qualifications, a program called “Reading First,” and funding changes.
Annual testing involved yearly testing for those students in grades 3 through 8 in mathematics and reading comprehension, along with a science test that would occur once at each academic level: elementary, middle, and high school. As for academic progress, in the 2013-14 academic year, all students were supposed to have been brought up to a “proficient” level on state tests. Additionally, schools were required to demonstrate “adequate yearly progress” to display that they were keeping on track. Report cards required states and school districts to provide student achievement data.
The NCLB act, which has been deeply criticized for encouraging an academic culture that teaches to the test and values the “one size fits all” style education was signed into law in 2002.
In 2011, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, strived to get Congress to rewrite the legislation and issued “dire warning that 82 percent of schools would be labeled as ‘failing’ that year,” according to Education Week. While the actual percentage was in reality 50 percent, the number was still labeled significant, especially because high performing schools did not necessarily meet the designated criteria for rates of improvement, and failed to meet set benchmarks because their performance was already higher than average.
The testing movement has inspired documentaries such as “Race to Nowhere,” which gives an inside look into the lives of high school students and how the testing culture is shaping not only the academic outlook, but the social mindset of students as well. According to the documentary’s website, the documentary tells the “heartbreaking stories of students across the country who have been pushed to the brink by over-scheduling, over-testing, and the relentless pressure to achieve.” “Race to Nowhere” is an attempt to reach a large demographic about education reform from the grassroots level.
In an article by Lisa Guisbond of the Huffington Post, she evaluates the downfall of NCLB and how the National Center for Fair and Open Testing has released data that shows children are still getting left behind. Additionally, she states that the Race to the Top program and the NCLB waivers are “increasing the amount of testing, not cutting back.” President Obama and his administration have offered waivers from NCLB that give states flexibility from the confines of NCLB if other education ideas are adopted.
Furthermore, the Obama White House released a blueprint in 2010 for reform to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was the original act that was reauthorized into NCLB in 2001. Additionally, the Obama administration has outlined flexibility and waivers from NCLB for states that “close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability, ensure that all students are on track to graduate college and career ready standards… and reforms to support effective classroom instruction,” stated in a press release from the White House Press Secretary in September of 2011.
Since the NCLB legislation, additional forms of education reform have taken place. One such example is the Race to the Top grant competition, which was created to spark innovation in education reform across the country and awarded funding to states that did well. As part of Race to the Top, Al Baker of the New York Times stated that the Obama administration, “encouraged states to adopt the Common Core.” The Common Core was a result of the concerns that NCLB legislation hindered what students could learn because “the law required improvement in test scores but left it up to states to write their own tests,” stated Baker. According to the mission statement of the Common Core, the state standards “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn… the standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world.”
The struggle with education reform involves the complexity of trying to implement an education system that will give all Americans the same standard of education, while finding a productive and meaningful way to assess the level of learning that is reached by each student. This is in addition to the difficulty of trying to cater each child’s individual education because students across the country have diverse needs and skill sets. Only time will tell how education reform will be shaped as the testing generation grows up and has the ability to influence the way in which education is designed.
Melanie Meisenheimer ’14 Women in Leadership
Last week, at the same time that female Olympians were putting a new crack in the glass ceiling, a study found that the few women who pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) careers are not sticking around. The Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) released their findings that show women are 45 percent more likely than men to quit their STEM jobs in the first few years of starting.
Women have yet to reach parity with men in obtaining STEM degrees, and among those who do obtain STEM degrees, it seem the obstacles may have just begun. Upon entering the workforce, something is preventing women from continuing to climb the ladder in STEM fields. According to the CTI’s research, only a quarter of American STEM workers are women, and nearly 20 percent of women who have STEM degrees have left the labor force completely. The reasons behind this are indicative of the barriers that women have yet to overcome. Annie-Rose Strasser theorizes that STEM careers are not accommodating to primary caretakers of children and that those at the top of the pyramid in STEM fields continue to hold biases against women.
These biases are not just coming from head honchos in corner offices, however. This week we also saw attention being drawn to the increasing gender divisions seen in children’s toys, especially LEGOs. The Huffington Post did a then-and-now comparison of how LEGO has marketed its toys to young girls and the results make it easy to understand why women continue to lag in STEM, engineering in particular.
Rachel Giordano starred in a 1981 LEGOs print ad as a four-year old. She is shown proudly showing off her LEGO creation built using classic, multi-colored LEGOs. Giordano was tracked down to replicate the ad, this time using a LEGO product marketed specifically to girls. The new toy is a pink and aqua colored news van that features a makeup table for its newscaster’s use, and is marketed with the phrase “Break the big story of the world’s best cake with the Heartlake News Van!” No actual building or engineering is involved and the focus is placed on make-up, baking, and aesthetics rather than creativity.
It seems more than a little paradoxical that we want more girls to succeed in math and science in school, and we want more women to go on to successful careers in STEM fields, yet even in early childhood we dissuade them from the very skills and activities that these subjects require. It is no wonder women face gender bias in the workplace if we are taught from an early age that girls should not want to build things, or even that they cannot build things. This does not just diminish girls’ beliefs in their own capacity, it also shapes the way the rest of society will treat them. It does not take a stretch of the imagination to see how a little boy who is told by the media that he is good at building things, while girls are not, can turn into a CEO who does not believe women have what it takes to be successful in his company.
Women are starting to break the STEM stereotypes. Women are now 41 percent of science and engineering graduates – a statistic that shows they are not yet equal, but have made remarkable strides. Nevertheless, biases against women entering STEM fields remain ingrained in American culture. From the moment children begin playing and developing skills that will translate into their future careers we make the distinction between what girls can and should do, and what boys can and should do. Changing the workplace environment is one way to help ensure women play a meaningful field in rapidly developing STEM fields, but it will probably take a much broader cultural shift for the change to be meaningful and durable.