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Climate Change: A Global Threat We Cannot Ignore

April 1, 2014

Rachel Haskins ’17  Inside Politics

Climate change is a term that has carried its fair share of controversy in recent years, and it is not going away. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released its latest report, and the findings are far from positive. The New York Times labeled this report the most sobering to date. According to Michael Jarraud, the secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, “Now we are at the point where there is so much information, much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance.” Clearly, with increased scientific evidence, this discussion can no longer be put on the back burner.

The report discusses the threats posed by the changing climate that include, but are not limited to, melting ice caps, collapsing Arctic sea ice, intense heat waves, and species extinction. Also of concern is the rising level and increasing acidification, due to carbon dioxide, of the world’s oceans. These increased levels of carbon dioxide lead to other problems as well. In the frozen soil of the Arctic lies organic material that has been trapped for millions of years. But now that the ice is melting, this material is starting to decay and contribute to the level of greenhouse gases that cause warming in the first place.

These physical threats to the surface of the earth create a chain reaction of security risks, including food and water security. In the past few decades, carbon dioxide levels have led to “global greening” a phenomenon that has contributed to increased crop yields. Those still unwilling to wholeheartedly embrace the concept of climate change argue that with agricultural technology and adaptation, food shortages will not be a threat in coming years. However, while plants do require carbon dioxide to thrive, the conditions created by higher levels of carbon dioxide – such as heat waves, floods, and droughts – are not conducive to successful growing seasons.

Water is another resource that climate change affects. Millions of people around the world rely on glaciers and seasonal snowmelts as a source of fresh water. As these disappear, so does access to a steady source of water for communities around the world. The IPCC report warns that this, along with food shortages, could lead to violent conflicts and civil wars over basic resources.  Imagine the impact on society with the worsening water shortages in California and other western states.

Not only does climate change pose a physical threat to the earth, but also it poses an economic threat. In 2013, Maplecroft, a risk analysis firm based in the UK, released The Climate Change Vulnerability Index. This index looked at the world’s countries and evaluated, “… their risk of exposure to extreme climate events, the sensitivity of their populations to that exposure and the adaptive capacity of governments to respond to the challenge.” The index then ranked countries by their risk level, identifying 67 “high” or “extreme” risk countries. For 2025, Maplecroft predicts that these countries will have a combined GDP of $44 trillion dollars. That means that the countries making up about a third of the global economy face significant risks within their own borders, risks that may threaten the security of the entire economic system.

While the situation seems dire, there are options available that could help mitigate the threat posed by climate change. The strategies are relatively simple in theory, but require total international commitment. Dealing with the threat of climate change involves a two-pronged system. We must not only limit the cause of the problem, but also implement strategies to handle the consequences. The most important, and most obvious, option is reducing emissions. According to the UN, “Without action, emissions of the six main greenhouse gases are projected to rise by 25-90 percent by 2030 compared to 2000.” Beyond that, we have technology available to help find sustainable and renewable energy, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and handle the hazards to human security. Efforts like those of the IPCC to spread information are the first steps in the process, but now we need to take step two to avoid what will become the global crisis of the century.

Supreme Court Deliberates over Contraception Mandate

March 27, 2014

Maureen Weidman ’15  Women In Leadership

This past Tuesday was a momentous day for the Supreme Court, which heard two cases regarding the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Paul D. Clement of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain, and Conestoga Wood, a cabinet making company, do not believe they should have to cover employee’s insurance for contraceptives because this violates their religious beliefs.

Under the Affordable Care Act, for-profit companies like the ones mentioned above have to fund their employee’s use of contraceptives. This leads to the question of whether or not these types of companies can protest this due to religious reasons.

“Corporations are not people. Corporations cannot have religious views,” argues Sandra Fluke, a social justice attorney who wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post on Monday. “Our laws protect individuals’ private religious beliefs, but when you cross over into the public sphere to become a corporation and make a profit off of the public, you must abide by the public’s laws.” Fluke brings up another interesting point: allowing companies to override this mandate could allow companies to refuse to provide insurance for other more basic medical conditions in the future on the grounds of religion.

However, there are women who would disagree. Kathleen Parker writes in another opinion piece for The Washington Post that “these cases are more than a debate about birth control. They have far-reaching implications and, as Obama pointed out, there is a strong correlation between religious freedom and a nation’s stability.” Parker points to what she believes to be hypocrisy in Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast where he favors religious liberty world-wide and yet he included the contraceptive mandate in his Affordable Care Act.

Many of the people who have stepped up to write opinion pieces about the Supreme Court cases have been women and yet there is no consensus. The debates over the availability and legality of contraception and abortion have long been thought to be “women’s issues” and there is little doubt that of any group, these topics affect women the most. Many women like Fluke believe the right to use oral contraceptives is directly correlated to the right to control one’s reproductive health. According to Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli, there are proven health-benefits to using birth control. However, there are conservative women who either believe that the use of birth control is immoral or, like Parker, believe that the government should not play a role in this issue of personal faith.

Looking at the actual hearings on Tuesday, March 25, it is not surprising that the Supreme Court is also divided over this issue. However, unlike in the general public, the female Justices in the Supreme Court seem to all sympathize with the government. According to an article in The Wire, Justices Kagan, Sotomayer and Ginsburg “dominated the questioning.” On the other hand, it appears that some of the male Justices were more sympathetic to the companies, including Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas. All three of these male Justices are very conservative Roman Catholics. The three female Justices do not all share religious beliefs, but they are united by their gender.

It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court rules in this case not only because it is another battle in the war over the Affordable Care Act and the ongoing debate about small government versus big government, but the ruling will also affect women from a variety of backgrounds who rely on oral contraceptives for medical purposes and require insurance to pay for them. Denying women this coverage may support the faiths of employers, but it will be devastating news for those who are in need of financial assistance for these medications.

All Talk, No Action? Immigration Reform at a Stalemate in the House

March 26, 2014

Audrey Bowler ’16  Inside Politics

Immigration reform has loomed large on the American public policy stage in recent months; however, progress has been stalled in the House of Representatives as the Republican Party struggles to incorporate the concept of immigration policy into their party platform without compromising key ideals. Sixteen months after losing the White House, the Republican Party has strong motivation to court Latino voters by moving forward on immigration reform as midterm elections draw closer. The Republican Party has approved spending $10 million to ramp up Hispanic field operations in key states; however, internal opposition to immigration legislation has damaged the party’s chances with the nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc. A split within the House Republican majority has only served to make the issue seemingly more complex. While Speaker Boehner has endorsed comprehensive immigration reform as a key issue that could result in a growth in public support for the GOP, other members of Congress are not as enthusiastic.

Despite his acknowledgement that immigration reform could be a turning point for the Republican Party, Boehner has pulled back each time he has been presented with a chance to move forward. Last summer, after 68 senators approved a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants a chance to earn permanent legal residency in ten years and citizenship three years later, Boehner declared he could not hold a vote on that plan.

Currently, committees in the House have approved five immigration bills, but none have been brought to the floor. Introducing reform bills could be a risky move for the Speaker.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said this week that an immigration deal remains unlikely in a sharply divided Congress. Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-ID) suggested that Boehner could lose his speakership if he pursues a bill in a midterm election year. While Boehner insists that immigration reform is simply on hold, he recently stated that his immigration caucus would not move forward until President Obama works to earn the trust of House Republicans: “There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,” Boehner said during a news conference in late February, “And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

Despite these claims, Republicans continue to make progress on legislative objectives in committee.  Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) have drafted legislative language on bills dealing with young illegal immigrants and visas for low-skilled foreign workers, and House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) are working on legislation focused on border security and the legalization of undocumented immigrants.

House Democrats have problems with the immigration bill passed by the Senate as well. Their version appears virtually identical to the Senate’s, albeit with scaled-down border security provisions. In response to the lack of action on the part of House Republicans, Democrats plan to make use of a tactic known as a discharge position on Wednesday March 26th. A discharge position would require a majority of lawmakers’ signatures to force immigration legislation onto the House floor for a vote. A total of 199 Democratic House members – the full amount – and an additional 19 Republicans would need to sign the potential petition; a seemingly impossible task given the current partisan atmosphere of the House. A discharge petition could affect the internal politics of the GOP as well; Republicans willing to sign the petition would be publicly rebuking Boehner and other party leaders. Whether or not a discharge petition is successful, Democrats hope to prompt some sort of action. As Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said, “Ultimately, a discharge petition may not be the tool that causes the Republican leadership to let the majority vote, but it increases the pressure, which is what we need.”

Me and You, Just Us Two

March 25, 2014

Margaret Czepiel ’17  Women in Leadership

As Sheryl Sandberg brought a new wave of feminism upon us, it is now going to be vital for women to utilize a resource that, in the past, some have viewed as a hindrance to our equality: men. We, as women, have definitive goals for ourselves when it comes to this movement: close the wage gap, introduce more female CEOs, “have it all.” But how can we do that with just half the world’s population?

Bringing men into the discussion of gender equality is just as important as having the discussion at all. The younger generation of males in the workplace is more accepting and open to women in the same environment. Powerful, working mothers and families who preached the ideas of respect towards women and of gender equality raised this new generation of men. These are the types of men who promote women to higher positions and bring up the startling statistics of women in leadership positions. Currently, women only hold 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEO seats. We need that other 95.4% to help change that.

A key part of the solution is about being bipartisan. We, as two genders, cannot act like two quarreling political parties referring back to our party platform for an agenda instead of collaborating. It is true that goals for women as a gender right now are different from that of men. But that does not mean that they are completely disjointed or that males are a complete hindrance to the ultimate goal of gender equality. Many women view the feminist movement as a “females-only” club, possibly because for once women wanted to have something that men could not participate in, as opposed to the usual exclusion of females. But how do we expect to make any strides in the workplace acting exclusionist towards those who dominate it and who could help? This is not to say that women should ask for help from males at every turn. I strongly believe that women should be independent in their individual decisions, but for us as a gender and as a whole, in order to make the movement towards equality, I also believe that cooperation on behalf of both parties is necessary.

There is a famous phrase, “behind every successful man is his wife.”  But this phrase can and should be reversed. Powerful women need to be able to find supportive and loving husbands who can help them “have it all.”  Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch has some very insightful opinions on this, as an incredible husband has supported her as she navigates her successful career. She credits her ability to travel with her job and feels as though she was making a difference to the flexibility of her husband and the strength of the respect they have for each other. This is where males and females can really come together. By supporting each other’s careers, generating feelings of respect for one another and spreading those sentiments to their children, a new generation will emerge that does not view women as inferior in the workplace.

Debora L. Spar, President of Barnard College, also brings this idea that men and women should support each other to light in an article entitled, Shedding the Superwoman Myth. The article counteracts Sandberg’s Lean In, in which women are encouraged to be more aggressive in work environments in order to prove their equality with men. Ms. Spar, on the other hand, advocates for women to not set unrealistically high standards for themselves based upon Ms. Sandberg’s ideal for female participation in the workplace and success in their personal lives. Ms. Spar tells women to lean on the support of a husband, a friend or a family member in order to “have it all.” She writes, “Women, in other words, are not perfect…they are physical and social beings marked by flaws, programmed to reproduce, destined to age, and generally inclined to love.”  Ms. Spar advocates for women to not lose sight of themselves as a gender and to embrace their natural tendencies. Women should embrace these, and use them to our advantage to gain the respect that we deserve.

The bottom line is this: mutual respect, and partnership, will level the playing field that women have spent a very long time trying to conquer. Women do not need to try and become men in order to be equal to them; but we do need to work with them as we cannot do everything alone.

An Inside Look at Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

March 21, 2014

Conor Barry ’16  Inside Politics

Since the new millennium has started, the United States and countless other nations have witnessed and fallen victim to heinous acts committed by transnational terrorist organizations. In the United States alone, citizens have seen the Twin Towers and the Pentagon attacked by commercial aircrafts, a bombing of an embassy in Benghazi, and the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Citizens are asking, when does it stop? The government is asking, when will citizens give us the opportunity to try to stop it? The United States government has been utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for over a decade. Currently, certain UAVs are operationally capable of firing various types of munitions to strike a target. These are the operating systems that are used in America’s targeted killing of high value targets and other suspected terrorists.

Since 2003, the United States has been involved in the War on Terror. Now, ten years after the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has removed nearly all troops from both countries, and American citizens no longer welcome the idea of putting “boots on the ground” to conduct national security operations when troops can be substituted with something equally as effective for the task at hand. This notion of replacing troops with UAVs does not apply to all situations. Fortunately for the United States, the task of removing high value targets and other suspected terrorists can be completed accurately and with precision, via a delivery mechanism like an unmanned aerial vehicle.

UAVs are aircrafts that are piloted without the operator present in the aircraft during flight. UAVs can operate autonomously via computer programming, or by a pilot using a remote control. These systems have commercial and military capabilities. As far as the military is concerned, the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force have made UAVs a mainstay in their day-to-day operations, especially because some have been transformed into platforms to launch munitions such as the Hellfire missile. With this new offensive capability found in the Hellfire, UAVs can lower the cost of delivering lethal force to selected targets more effectively than manned aircrafts.

The U.S. government currently operates two different UAV operations. The U.S. military branch of these operations is recognized publically and operates in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are stationed and fighting. This would be considered a form of conventional warfare.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operates a covert UAV program, serviced and maintained by employees of Xe Services that is, “aimed at terror suspects all over the world, including in countries where U.S. troops are not based”. The CIA is suspected of operating UAVs outside of combat zones in the sovereign airspace of countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, to name a few. After the United States realized the potential of these weapons systems, Presidents Bush and Obama both made a determined effort to implement them into battle plans and national security policy as often as they could.

Most recently, Obama has sought to further the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and use them to take out not just high value targets, but also, targets of opportunity. In Pakistan alone, there have been 317 UAV strikes since 2008. Following suit, in Yemen, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), “reports 40-50 confirmed US UAV strikes during this eight year period [2004-2012]”.  Similarly, Somalia has seen, “between three and nine drone strikes” in this same timeframe. In total, there have been an estimated 360-376 UAV strikes in non-combat areas in the last eight years, and this does not take into consideration the strikes in Afghanistan or Iraq.

This is the point in time where finding a solution to this problem is turned over to the public. This is an issue that needs to be addressed in some type of public forum. The people of the United States need to thoroughly research this topic and address it. Is the United States government using illegal practices to advance its foreign policy agenda? Is the United States unjustly killing its citizens like in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki? I have my own personal opinions on this issue and I could discuss at length the pros and cons of the use of drones in national security measures, but are they the best solutions to our counterterrorism needs and are they legal?

Angela Merkel – a Powerful Actress on the World Stage – and the UK

March 19, 2014

Lynn Hatcher ’17  Women in Leadership

As Chancellor of Germany, one of the most powerful countries in the world, Angela Merkel is a role model for women leaders across the globe.  Merkel knows that in order for the European Union to remain strong, especially with the current turmoil in the Ukraine, the United Kingdom must have a stronger voice.  Merkel, as a female leader appealing to the UK, a dominant state, is crossing a social boundary that would have been completely unimaginable just a few decades ago.  According to one of Germany’s international broadcasters, Deutsche Welle, “[Merkel] said London is needed to help bring reform to the bloc”.  Merkel addressed both the upper and lower houses of British Parliament at Westminster late February.  This high honor was monumental.  It made her the first German leader to do so since 1986 and the first chancellor to do so from a reunited Germany.

Chancellor Merkel leads her key nation in the European Union, and she represents her nation well.  As a woman, she is both respected and well liked, and her address to the British Parliament is proof. Charles Grant, director of the London-based Center for European Reform, expressing the strength of Merkel as a leader, stated:  “They [the UK] think Merkel is the savior, the great white hope”.

As a leader, Merkel objectively looks at many different viewpoints when she takes into account political, economic, and social issues.  According to The New York Times, many German policymakers see Britain’s strong attachment to free markets as a vital counterbalance to the more statist approach of countries like France.  The Chancellor’s new coalition partners, the Social Democrats, favor greater European integration. Yet, she also is perceptive enough to know that closer integration among eighteen European nations could strain relations with the union’s other ten members who share the same single market (though not currency).  Although she stresses her policies, as a leader must, she is ready to listen to other ideas and take all into account.

There are various policy differences between Germany and Great Britain, and between Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister David Cameron.  According to The New York Times, the gap between what Mr. Cameron’s Conservative party hopes for from Angela Merkel and what she is prepared to deliver may be growing.  On the other hand, looking at BBC news discussing the same event, there seems to be a desire for cooperation: “He [Cameron] regards Mrs. Merkel as a key figure in achieving his aim and has organized several events to welcome the German leader during her one-day visit to London, including tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace”.  Merkel was treated with the utmost respect during her visit to Parliament in hopes of a stronger EU force in Europe.  Although this was not an official state visit (because Merkel is not head of state), the trip had been planned for months.  Both governments — and the rest of the world — were aware of its political significance at a time of looming change in Europe.

Merkel praised the “unparalleled success” of the EU free market and the freedoms that came from European integration.  Still, she stressed that “we need to change the political shape of the EU in keeping with the times”.  Germany is willing to go to many lengths to ensure that the UK remains a strong voice within the EU.

“United and determined we can serve as a model for other regions of the world.  This and nothing less than this, should be our common goal, I regard it as the task of our generation… Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Merkel said.  This statement is true testament to Merkel’s determination for strength and cooperation as a model for the world.

The Future of the Republican Party: Sink or Swim

March 18, 2014

Eric Miller ’16  Inside Politics

On November 7, 2012, Republicans across the United States went to bed disappointed as they watched their candidate, Mitt Romney, fall to the incumbent president and Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, in the 2012 presidential election. While pre-election poles had indicated a nail-bighting race, the president’s victory in virtually every single swing state resulted in a 126 electoral vote margin in a landslide victory for the Democratic party.  Romney, in tones of melancholy during his concession speech, spoke of the tremendous efforts of a “united Republican party” in supporting his presidential campaign. However, the result of the 2012 presidential election sent a much different message to the GOP.  Ironically, this message, adopted as the slogan for Barack Obama’s winning 2008 presidential campaign, relayed the need for a “change” within the GOP.  Following the basic Darwinian principles of natural selection, the Republican Party must adapt or it will not survive.

While Republicans across the nation sulked at Romney’s defeat, the Republican National Committee was at work analyzing the election results and formulating a plan for the 2016 presidential election. While the GOP is stacked with tremendous amounts of young talent, they face several issues that need to be resolved if they want to win the 2016 presidential election.

First and foremost, in order to have a shot at winning the presidential election you must first survive the Republican primary. As seen in the past, this is much easier said than done. This will especially be an issue in the 2016 presidential primary with a stacked Republican bench, but no clear Republican favorite to win the primary.  In order to fix this issue, the Growth and Opportunity committee, led by the RNC, has requested to shorten the primary process and limit the number of debates. This would help shield candidates from wounds suffered in the primary process that may end up hurting the nominee for the presidential election.

Another issue that the GOP faces in the upcoming election is how to convince minority groups within the U.S. to vote Republican.  In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney captured less that 30% of all major minority groups’ votes.  This is especially startling when you consider the predictions that the majority population, a group that Republicans rely heavily on to win elections, will be the minority by 2050.   However, despite these traditionally low numbers, several young prominent Republicans, such as Marco Rubio, hope to change Republicans’ dismal records with minority voters.

Finally, the GOP must band together behind a common message.  Currently, the Republican Party faces a large divide between the more traditionally conservative members and the more extreme right wing groups such as the Tea Party.  While much of the media attention is aimed at the fringe-politics of the Tea Party, it is important that the GOP voices a common, identifiable message.  This will help to quell the voices of the far right and attract voters that are centered in the middle.

With the GOP addressing the issues that the Romney campaign suffered from during the 2012 election, it should be interesting to see if the Republicans are able to make the changes needed to win the 2016 presidential election.  As a young Republican growing up with stories of Reagan and Eisenhower, it is my hope that the Republican Party can be restored to greatness.