By Cathy Chen
Chris Christie has long been known as the politically unconventional governor of New Jersey. His style is described as extremely nontraditional – “brusque”, “brash-talking”, and “unrepentant” by Jena McGregor of the Washington Post – yet extremely effective and always willing to work across party lines.
Chris Christie emerged in the political world as a newcomer ready to challenge incumbent faces of politics. In his 1995 bid for the New Jersey General Assembly, Chris Christie ran against an incumbent ticket, losing decisively to established candidates. After this loss, he was appointed US Attorney for New Jersey by then-President George W Bush. This is where he made his name as a forceful and effective public servant working to reform the corruption and partisanship of the political world – in his seven years as US Attorney he obtained 130 convictions of Democratic and Republican public officials for bribery, tax evasion, corruption, and fraud. With this impressive record, he ran for New Jersey governor and won by a 3.6 point margin.
Since then, Chris Christie has become widely known as a politician skilled at reaching resolutions in the face of partisanship and other obstacles. He has earned widespread acclaim for his actions to help the people of New Jersey – working with Democratic legislative leadership to save the state billions of dollars, increase school funding, and going against other conservative congressmen in order to obtain federal relief funds in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Despite these past successes, recent allegations have brought controversy to Chris Christie’s “unrepentant” style of leadership. First came the fiasco known as “Bridgegate” in early September of 2013. After the mayor of Fort Lee failed to endorse Chris Christie for re-election, the George Washington Bridge received unscheduled closed lanes. As the busiest road bridge in the world (even without unscheduled lane closings), this created a traffic nightmare. Then came the damning evidence: an email from Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff Anne Kelly that read “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”. Governor Christie denied any involvement in this political orchestration.
Shortly afterwards, two more controversies involving his administration came to light.
Following Hurricane Sandy, a committee choosing an agency to create tourism ads decided on a proposal that costed twice as much as the next most expensive proposal. According to the president of the New Jersey advertisement agency Sigma Group, the Christie administration chose not to hire her firm after the group refused to commit to featuring Chris Christie in ads for New Jersey. The ads ran close to Christie’s re-election period and the committee consisted almost exclusively of people who worked for Chris Christie’s administration, prompting allegations of improper use of federal funds by Chris Christie towards his own purposes.
In another economic controversy related to Hurricane Sandy, Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer accused the Christie administration of threatening to withhold Hurricane relief funds unless Mayor Zimmer agreed to support a development project run by the Rockefeller Group, which had close ties to Chris Christie. A spokeswoman for Chris Christie responded strongly, stating that this was “partisan politics at play”, “illogical”, and blatantly “false”. However, Mayor Zimmer has continued to stand beside her statements and alleged that this threat came directly from Governor Chris Christie.
The people of New Jersey seem to doubt Christie’s ignorance of his administration’s illicit actions. A recent study by USA Today and the Pew Research Center found that, out of those who knew of “Bridgegate”, only 32% believed Governor Christie’s lack of knowledge about the actions of his Deputy Chief of Staff; 58% stated that they did not believe Governor Christie’s claims. Despite this, the same poll showed only a 2 point drop in Christie’s favorability rating.
Did Chris Christie’s favorable ratings stay the same because his political accomplishments outweigh the controversies of his administration? Or has the public simply come to expect this sort of controversy from modern politicians?
Is Christie falling into the same patterns of the politicians he so persistently prosecuted 5 years ago or are these allegations to be expected from a politician with such an unconventional and forceful style?
One thing is clear: through his actions, Chris Christie has become well-known – both the USATODAY and Pew study found that a year ago a quarter of respondents had never heard of Chris Christie but now, 84% of respondents had heard of Chris Christie. It remains to be seen if he leaves a legacy as a reformer or just a political bully.
Chris Christie is a member of the Republican Party. He accepts homosexuality but opposed to gay marriage. He is “pro-life with exceptions”. He favors lowering business taxes and lowering spending on entitlement programs. In education, he works towards more charter schools and alleges that the public education system is failing. He is against PPACA.
Against Legalizing Marijuana
By Vivek Gurumoorthy
For many years, police forces around the U.S.A. and around the world have been cracking down on the use and distribution of drugs. In fact, in several areas, drugs have been the primary source of crime. Of the many illegal drugs that law enforcement has taken action against, marijuana has recently been a hot topic. Being a drug with both positive and negative effects, many opinions exist on both sides: whether marijuana should be legal or not. In the states of Colorado and Washington, this debate came to a head and culminated in the legalization of marijuana. This officially came into effect as of January 1st, 2014, and now, marijuana is readily available to consumers in these areas. However, the fact that marijuana is an addictive substance that can be hurtful and the recent increases in marijuana usage by teens are evidence that these legalizations have had a detrimental effect on these states.
Much of the debate about whether marijuana should be legal or not has stemmed from the positive medicinal properties that marijuana has. Through the developments of civilization, marijuana was often used as a staple healing drug, and recent studies have shown that it can be used in treatments for some of today’s diseases. For example, several studies designed to show the effects of marijuana in chemotherapy have been conducted, one specifically by the New York State Journal of Medicine. The study tested the effect of smoked marijuana when used as an antiemetic, or a drug to prevent nausea, when normal antiemetics couldn’t eliminate their symptoms. Seventy-eight percent of patients tested showed that they were positively influenced by this usage of marijuana. Therefore, from these studies, marijuana has shown a positive in certain medical cases. Although this may be true, marijuana has negative effects on the human body and has introduced many teenagers to drugs very early in their lives.
Every drug has some negative effects, and can be abused if used irresponsibly. Marijuana is no different. One well-known effect of many drugs is the “high” that comes from using them. Marijuana affects the endocannabinoid system of the brain that is associated with the senses and concentration, which is why high people do not have good awareness of their surroundings. Additionally, marijuana stimulates the heart to beat faster, increasing a user’s chance of cardiac arrest. Finally, marijuana is addictive, and if one gets addicted to it, they will constantly put themselves at risk of being affected by the above symptoms. Thus, marijuana is detrimental to the human body when used to get “high”.
In many schools, drug use often involves children peer-pressuring others into trying new things such as drugs and alcohol. With legalization of marijuana, this use of abusive substances in teenage years is growing steadily. Now businesses are opening doling out marijuana-infused brownies and cookies. Accessibility of the drug has skyrocketed. When harmful substances like marijuana are legalized, it gives many kids the false idea that drugs aren’t really bad for them, using to more use and subsequent abuse. Data was taken on marijuana usage of 12-17 year olds in Denver, and has already climbed from 9.62 to 12.2% in the span of 2006-2010, before marijuana was even legalized. This compares from the miniscule increase in the US average in the same time period, just 6-6.6%. Also, in many fatal car accidents, drivers are being found under the influence of drugs like marijuana. Lastly, marijuana is known as a gateway drug, as usage of marijuana could easily lead kids to use very harmful drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
In all, though marijuana may have a use in specific medical practices, it is harmful in the hands of ordinary people, and its legalization has given rise to more accessibility of drugs, increased drug usage, and a more likely possibility of kids progressing to more detrimental drugs. Hence, marijuana legalization has had negative effect on the states in which it was instilled, and the prospect of more legalization proposes risks to US citizens in other states.
New Face Of The Catholic Church
By Tim O'Shea
In the months following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the subsequent appointment of his successor, Jorge Bergoglio, or as he is now known, Pope Francis, Catholics have watched as he has taken dramatic turns on not just hot – button issues, but on the flagship beliefs of the Catholic Church. Within the first week of his new position, he made choices that starkly contrasted with his predecessor: He elected to stay in his small apartment rather than the lavish Papal Apartment, he rejected some of the more ornate papal dress such as the red shoes and the golden ring, left the Vatican alone to visit a sick friend, and told various high ranking priests to avoid his introduction ceremony and to donate the money they would’ve used for the trip to charity instead.
Even his car reflects the new Pontiff’s philosophy. Rather than continue to use the Mercedes and BMWs of Benedict, Francis requested a Ford Focus for his transportation. And in September, he chose an even more modest car, a 1984 Renault 4 with 190,000 miles. The car was a gift from a Northern Italian priest, and Francis used it as an opportunity to tell priests the world over to reject material wealth.
But modesty isn’t the only new aspect of the head of the church. He’s been both praised and assailed for his more socially liberal statements, such as when he reached out to the atheists of the world in furthering world peace on Christmas, or when he published an article where he asked atheists to follow their consciences and God’s love would find them. This strikes a sharp contrast with Benedict, who assaulted secularism and atheism as causing a vast undermining of society, adding that the last group to seek to eradicate God was the Nazis. Moreover, where Benedict decried homosexuality as an “intrinsic moral evil”, Pope Francis stated that a person’s sexuality is insignificant compared to their love of God and compassion.
While it’s easy to write off each of these small statements as isolated incidents rather than earth – shattering revolutions, one can’t deny the new trend of love, compassion, and inclusion. Catholicism has found itself at a critical crossroads with the modern world, a crossroads encountered by many of the world’s major religions. Because of new social conditions such as acceptance of new social norms or time demands that detract from worship, religions are losing practitioners in frightening numbers. There are only two options to survive. First, update their views and practices to demand less attention or time from their followers, sacrificing tradition in the name of saving their relevance. Or second, stick to their guns and lose followers, while staying true to their original beliefs. The transition in Catholicism demonstrated a textbook – example shift from the latter to the former, but the mix of philosophies within the Cardinals means that the next Pope could easily shift the balance back, or perhaps even go further than Francis.
Whether seen as a shift in public opinion or a strategy to retain churchgoers, it’s important to remember the essence of Francis’ philosophy and what he is bringing with him to the Vatican. His namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, was a wealthy man who threw it all away in an attempt to become closer to God and his fellow man. Francis is trying to distance material possessions from happiness by setting an example, and every new social statement is made in an attempt to only expand the Church’s doctrine of unconditional love and acceptance. And in an age of conflict and hate – mongering, a message of love might be something we can all learn from.
The Egyptian “Revolution”
By Anvi Mahagaokar
In December 2010, many people around the world welcomed the conception of the Arab Spring with joy and hope that democracy might finally reign in the Middle East. However, after three years, unfortunately, the situation is no better than it was before the revolution. Being one of the first (and certainly the most dramatic) of the “Arab Springlets”, Egypt has since devolved into a state of chaos. Egypt had the portents of being the most successful country because it had the largest population of the affected countries and that it was hitherto stable, pro-western, and secular. The prognosis for the Egyptian’s democracy and its implementation across the Middle East does appear grim – the military has exerted excessive power, there is a systemic lack of national identity and many advocates for democracy are wary of joining the political spectrum – the old adage of politics being the last resort of scoundrels is keeping the real leadership from emerging. Additionally Eygpt is an agrarian economy which is highly subsidized – education is cheap and jobs are scarce and with burgeoning youth population it is naturally creating an unsteady state. It is therefore imperative to reevaluate whether or not democracy is a viable goal for the Egyptian people at this point in the ‘revolution’.
Let’s examine the genesis of this issue – Egypt was a dictatorship prior to the revolution, and it had given the military significant power; in fact, the military wasn’t controlled by any one branch, but operated as a sovereign branch, independent from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. However, even after Morsi was elected, in the aftermath of the revolution and the subsequent transition of power from the military to civilian government, no constitutional amendments were made to diminish that power. As a result, when the rebellions resurfaced, it was easy for the military to seize power once again and come full circle. Currently, the power of the military is supreme and will not be amended because the military will not allow it. In the absence of constitutional amendments to rectify the absurd amount of power that the military possesses, the vicious cycle of military coup d’états will continue and Egypt’s democratic dream may prove to be a pipe dream.
More pressingly, however, is the issue that Egypt sorely lacks a national identity. One of the most important parts of a revolution (surprisingly) is a clear goal and plan of action of what happens after the leadership is overthrown. Revolutionaries cannot, however, create a cohesive post-revolutionary plan without a clear vision of their political and economic ideals. When the Framers first sat down to write the Articles of Confederation and subsequently the Constitution, they all had similar values upon which they wished to build their country. The Egyptians, however lack this unity of thought. There are a multitude of different political ideologies and in fact, the aftermath of the revolution saw the creation of a plethora of parties – several of which clashed in most aspects. Additionally, the driving force behind the initial revolution was the Egyptian youth, and while they may have been extremely disillusioned with General and President Hosni Mubarak, they are still unsure about what to expect from their government. The fringe religious parties saw democracy and secularism as a threat and yet others saw change from Mubarak regime as detrimental to the future. If Egypt is to be a democratic state, democracy must be an ideal to the entire population, not just by a part of it.
Finally, the most prevalent hurdle that is keeping democracy at bay in Egypt is the lack of willing and able leadership. After Morsi was overthrown, his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all those involved, were and still are systematically hunted down by the government for treasonous crimes. The atmosphere of fear elsewhere in the world and in history created and in fact legitimized revolutionary leadership, however in Eygpt’s case the lack of uniform revolutionary party and its leadership is completely missing. Those who the general populace once thought would unreservedly enter the world of politics for the betterment of their country now shy away due to the lack of personal security and fear of harassment. After all, if the government can persecute an 80-year-old party that was integral to the functioning of the country, what would they do to a couple of revolutionaries? Due to the government’s harsh and persecutory actions, politicians who advocate for the implementation of democracy are becoming gun shy. Games, political or otherwise, cannot be played without players. The absence of willing politicians will actually serve to be a downfall in Egypt’s democratic progress. Perhaps the new Egypt does not need seasoned political campaigners, perhaps what is necessary is the idealism that only the youth can galvanize and aspire for. The youth that formed the movement in early 2011 around Tahrir Square needs to use the Square once again, only this time to raise from amongst its rank a fearless principled leader who will lead Egypt from its depths of despair towards the light that is democracy.
Egypt is a country that is perilously balanced on the blade of a political knife – it can either easily go deeper into another forty years of military rule, or it could take the tougher road towards democratization. Regardless, without the emergence of a principled leadership that creates a common purpose, which will bond the entire country towards betterment and self-reliant economic growth, there is no viable way to institutionalize democracy in Egypt that will live longer than the all the kingdoms of glorious ancient Egypt.
By Oliver Tang
A conflict that has cost more than 130,000 lives, as estimated by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian civil war is a tragedy whose devastation and magnitude we, in the relative safety of America, cannot even come close to grasping (1). Yet, Geneva II, a proposed and recently ratified, UN-backed convention may provide the world with the first real hope of the Syrian government seeing eye to eye with the opposition. What negotiations are emerging now, after nearly three years of instability? What should we expect from such talks? And moreover, what is Iran’s role in the picture?
The convention has been in the works since 2012, since former Secretary General Kofi Annan’s “Geneva I” back in 2012. The former Secretary General and then-UN peace envoy to Syria gathered an action committee which was (miraculously) approved and attended by all 5 permanent members of the Security Council in June (2). A month later, Annan’s successor, Algerian envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, proposed another action plan: an international conference with a focus on US-Russian and Syrian government-opposition cooperation. The end result of the plan is the Geneva II conference, scheduled to start on January 22nd, 2014. So far, the involvement of the Syrian opposition, along with the four international organizations and 40+ counties involved, has gone without any significant kinks. The United States and Syrian Ambassador Robert Ford have been preparing the Syrian opposition for the meeting, including developing a “shared political platform” so that the twenty-five members of varying rebel coalitions can avoid internal conflict when the time comes (3). The Syrian government’s involvement has also come surprisingly easily, with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem approving the country’s involvement in a letter that was leaked about a week before the convention’s start (4), With all the important parties ready, unless we see a huge change in the picture, we can expect talks to begin on January 22nd.
But most importantly, what can we expect from Geneva II? The council is proceeding under a set of guidelines called the “Geneva Communique” intended to ensure Syria’s “sovereignty, independence, and national unity” with a 6-step program. This program is targeting, among many things, a cessation to the instability in the country and the transition/establishment of an operating, transnational government (5). This framework is lovely, but there have been fundamentally different goals within the delegates already. While the majority of the world obviously aims to end the conflict between government and the opposition, the Syrian government has stated that its main goal and “the priority for the Syrian people” is to “continue to fight terrorism” (4). Even on the negotiating table, the Syrian government still turns to terrorism as its scapegoat for the violence that has plagued the country for 3 years; this belief will have to be addressed before we can expect tangible progress. Additionally, not all the Syrian opposition is on board with the idea. An Islamist alliance called the Syrian National Council, which comprises a large portion of the rebel groups, has refused to involve itself in negotiations, making a breakthrough even less likely (6). The rebels willing to cooperate have additionally insisted that they are only willing to see “security and military leaders…whose hands are not stained with the blood of the Syrian people”, a condition that may be extremely hard to fulfill (7). The most ominous sign of things to come can be seen in the centerpiece of the whole affair, Bashar al-Assad. The man perpetuating the beliefs that terrorism is the root of Syria’s problem has also stated that he has “no intention of quitting”. He has full plans to run for election in mid-2014 (8). The fallen-from-grace leader has additionally attempted to secure and consolidate his power, with refusals to make opposition figures leaders within his government (9). Additionally, soon we will have to address the nearly irreparable damage done to the country, something that talks at the table (and potentially even the appointment of a new government) will not solve. A stable government requires the foundations of a stable country, and that has yet to be secured. Yet, there still lies a glimmer of hope in the situation. We should first and foremost bear in mind that this is the closest we have ever come to both domestic and international cooperation to address the Syrian civil war. This can be clearly demonstrated when we look to Washington and Moscow. Starting with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s letter to America back in September, the cooperation between America and Russia has set the stage for talks to happen in the first place, something we never thought we’d be saying (10).
Another factor of the negotiation process is Iran, another player in the negotiation game. The recovering nuclear pariah has been hit with accusations of providing “fighters, intelligence, and communications to support al-Assad”; alleged involvement of the Iranian-backed Shiite organization Hezbollah in the conflict does not do wonders for Iran’s innocence (11). The United States and particularly Secretary of State John Kerry, who played a heavy role in P5+1 Iranian nuclear negotiations, aren’t exactly comfortable with the country getting involved in negotiations yet, with Kerry personally lobbying UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and threatening to pull Washington out if Iran takes a seat the conference table (12). The Syrian opposition coalition has been just as welcoming, with one member resolutely proclaiming, “We cannot attend if Iran is there. The coalition is united on this one point” (12). Despite Iran’s allegations that it had no interest in getting involved in the meeting should it get tied down in “unnecessary preconditions”, the UN saved the meeting the trouble and eventually revoked Iran’s invitation. However, Ban Ki-Moon still stands behind Iran’s involvement in negotiations, saying, “I believe strongly that Iran needs to be part of the solution” and that the country would bring “positive and constructive” talk to the table (13). On one side, maybe it is for the best that Iran, a country whose decision to cooperate still remains ambiguous, to stay out of the meeting, at least for now. However, with Iran also being a major party in perpetuating the violence, we shouldn’t have too high expectations while the country remains denied from the table. Washington isn’t blameless either: threats to completely rescind Washington aren’t a good sign of progress either.
Geneva II has its merits. It has its flaws. It bears hope. And it bears apprehension. At this point, the only thing we can agree upon (and arguably be proud of) is that this is a record level of international cooperation to address a conflict that has been allowed to fester for far too long. Will the world cooperate in face of negotiations? Will both sides of Syria turn against each other at the table? Will al-Assad submit to pressures from the West or invariably derail negotiations? What does Syria have in store from Geneva II? What does the world have in Store from Geneva II? What groundbreaking peace deal will we be covering next month? Only the future can tell.
This article was written before the Geneva Talks began. The Geneva talks were largely inconclusive, but perhaps some progress will result when the talk resume on February 10th.
By Alison Shim
America has always been known as the land of opportunity, ensuring citizens a chance at a new start and a new way of life. However, more and more prisoners are reverting back to a life of crime even upon their release, primarily because employers across America are unwilling to give them a second chance. It’s time for the government and those in Congress to turn to prison education as the solution. By educating prisoners, they will be more likely to be able to assimilate back into society and are more qualified to enter the workforce. Rather than closing off former prisoners from society, our nation should begin taking strides towards giving every citizen an equal opportunity at a second chance.
The status quo reveals some alarming truths. According to a recent article published in Forbes Magazine, “In New York, forty percent of all inmates who are released will wind up back in prison within three years”. This cycle of recidivism is only made when accounting for the impact of the prisoner’s time of absence on their families. James Austin of the George Washington University Institute on Crime explains that when families across America lose parents to the prison system, their income for the period of the sentence drastically declines. Even more despairingly, after they leave prison, their ability to gain employment is drastically impaired. Thus, already lost income is barely able to recovered at all. Reduced income and instability in the family results in an unstable future for not only the former prisoners but for their children and families as a whole as well. Overall, prisoners are rarely given the opportunity to turn around their lives for themselves and for their children. Currently, a majority of prisoners fall under the poverty line and struggle to support themselves with a sustainable livelihood. Without means of affording higher-level education, employers simply deem them unqualified and inept for employment. The Rand Corporation reported that enhanced income correlates with enhanced education and opportunity within lower socioeconomic families. Essentially, the children of prison families often do not have access to either education or opportunity due to either their family situation, or lack of income from their parents. This burden is constantly relegated from the parents to the children, depriving former felons as well as their children from economic opportunity. Until significant change is catalyzed in society by either legislation in Congress or a shift in the social stigma against prisoners, the future for these individuals can never be anything but hopeless.
Many studies are now concluding that education for prisoners is the most effective solution currently on the horizon. Gerald Gaes of the Urban Institute concluded that there are significant social benefits to felon education. He explains that college education offsets the prisoner stigma, introduces a prerequisite to moral thinking, and provides the basis for integration in social communities. In doing so, felons are less likely to revert back to crime and are more likely to obtain employment in the workforce. Reducing crime mitigates violence in neighborhoods across America, benefitting every individual in the nation. A study of Missouri’s prisoners conducted by Forbes showed that reincarceration rates “were nearly cut in half for former inmates with a full-time job compared to similar inmates who are unemployed.” Ultimately, they concluded, “…every inmate who leaves the system saves that state an average of $25,000 per year. Nationwide, more than 650,000 people were released from state prisons in 2010. By cutting the reincarceration rate in half, $2.7 billion per year could be saved.” Overall, former inmates who are employed also are less dependent on public assistance and contribute more significantly to society in the form of taxes and consumption.
Educating prisoners is going to be holistically beneficial to our nation’s productivity, innovation, and efficiency. The economic and social benefits are far too significant to be overlooked. It’s time for America to be restored to the land of opportunity it once was and forgive these prisoners for crimes they have already repented for. By opening the door to prisoners, we can ultimately open the door to a brighter future for their families and for America.
Withdrawal From Afghanistan
By Alicia Jen
Thirteen years after 9/11 and the deployment of the first troops to Afghanistan, and three years after President Obama’s promise to withdraw the troops, 2014 looks like the year that US involvement with the War in Afghanistan will begin trickling down to a close. Americans will no doubt be relieved to end of one of the most unpopular wars in their country’s history, but is the unstable Afghanistan, still ridden with Taliban insurgents, ready to fend for itself"
Though the war initially began in order to bring the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to justice, polls repeatedly show that American citizens have long been ready for it to be over. A CNN poll in December found that a striking 82% of those surveyed opposed the Afghanistan war, up from the still-high 46% in 2008. Compare this to the Iraq War and the Vietnam War, both which never had above 70% disapproving. With about 2,300 US troops dead from the war and the constantly rising disapproval rates, it should’ve only been a matter of time before the president set some limits on the duration of the conflict.
President Obama’s early advocacy, however, ran contrary to this; while he resolutely supported pulling out of Iraq, this was only in order to “tak[e] the fight to al Qaeda in Afghanistan.” Indeed, in 2009, Obama formed a plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. More recently, though, Obama has promised to gradually bring troops home as the mission in Afghanistan “change[s] from combat to support.” To this end, in 2011, he assured Americans that “by 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.” In order for this to happen, Obama clarified that a settlement led by the Afghan government would have to be made, which seemed acceptable due to the two countries’ supposedly common goals. Unfortunately, as the withdrawal draws closer, the talks have been somewhat less efficient than expected.
During negotiations, US officials advocated for keeping several thousand troops to support Afghanistan in their continuing fight against the Taliban. However, Afghanistan has stalled in their signing of the agreement, forcing their December 31 deadline to be pushed back for another month. Afghan President Hamid Karzai insisted that US forces immediately end counterterrorist raids and that they broker peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but US negotiators refused to concede any more. They stress that if an agreement isn’t reached, they will have to resort to the “zero option,” withdrawing every single troop from the region.
Although it seems like Americans would be happier with this option, it leaves Afghanistan wide-open to future insurgencies without any foreign troops to back it up. A National Intelligence Estimate, compiling information from all 16 US intelligence agencies, predicts that the Taliban and other insurgent groups will begin to seize power again as soon as US forces begin to pull out. The lack of security would also hamper aid workers. Since the overthrow of Taliban rule, Afghans now live 20 years longer on average, 7 million more children attend school, and women are 80% less likely to die during childbirth. These contributions are largely due to the aid that the US was able to secure under military supervision. As James Dobbins, the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan states, “My judgment is no troops, no aid… The political support for the aid comes from the military presence.” In short, an anonymous US official stated that, “In the absence of a continuing presence and continuing financial support… the situation would deteriorate very rapidly,” reversing any progress that Afghanistan may have seen under the foreign military presence.
It’s true that Americans are sick of foreign interventions, and it’s true that the war in Afghanistan has used up a lot of American resources. Our country will be happy to welcome thousands of troops this year, but since this is neither only an American or Afghan issue, people of both countries should accept that some foreign military presence must remain in order to maintain both stability in Afghanistan and security in America. The war should not just come to an end, but, as President Obama said, “a responsible end.”
Kim Jong-un’s Insensitivity
By Christine Wang
On December 28th, 2011, the people of North Korea officially declared Kim Jong-un as the supreme leader of North Korea. Since his affirmation of power, Kim Jong-un has made dramatic changes in the country, magnifying the austere rule of his predecessors over the people of North Korea and replacing political confidants that were once close to his father. Julian Ryall, a Japanese correspondent for The Telegraph, explains that under Kim Jong-un, there has been expansion in all dimensions of the country and elaborates that of the “significant changes” that “Kim Jong-un has wrought…on his nation…Few of those changes have benefited his 24.76 million subjects”.
The tyrannical and despotic leader has implemented policies ranging from new and unique ways to violate human rights, to barbarous and ruthless methods to dispose of the people he abhors. For starters, a major violation of human rights is evident through the extensive labor camps that have increased in number since Kim Jong-un came to power; a report by The Committee for Human Rights writes that “detainees are relentlessly subjected to malnutrition, forced labor, and to other cruel and unusual punishment”. Aside from a compilation of 278 defector testimonies that prove the atrocities committed by the North Korean officials, North Korea refuses to acknowledge the fact that there may be around 200,000 prisoners suffering in labor camps with dehumanizing and bleak conditions. More and more labor camps are popping up on satellite images that continue to impose ruthless and demoniac labor unto its members.
In addition, North Korea inflicts its domineering rule by restricting its people from leaving the country, left to be forever caught in an endless cycle of undernourishment, poverty and desperation. Those defectors who try to escape from North Korea only find themselves either sent back or forced to publicly propagate North Korea for its luxurious qualities and thank the leader for bringing them home. Since Kim Jong-un came into power, the Christian Science Monitor comments that “far fewer North Korean defectors have made it to South Korea since Kim Jong-un took power in 2012”, dropping from 2,706 defectors in 2011 to 1,509 in 2012, expounding the fact that the constraints placed on North Korean citizens have reached a new zenith. One defector testifies that he would rather “live in China as [beggars because] even beggars in China do not go hungry”. Frustrated by helplessness and inability to do anything, a North Korean defector who managed to escape rebuked sorrowfully, “Hitler gassed people, [but Kim Jong-un has] sucked the life out of people through starvation and forced labor”. Bolstered enforcement of the border and propaganda falsified by the North Korean government coerce an impression unto the rest of the world that North Korea is “more desirable than the South”. The irony in this statement arises from the fact that North Korea has to prove its desirability in the first place; aside from the suppression, malnutrition, and human rights violations, North Korea embodies a paragon of a healthy, thriving society.
On the bright side, Kim Jong-un’s loathing doesn’t appear to be limited to just the people of North Korea; after coming into power in 2011, Kim Jong-un went through a “purging” process where he replaced former members of office that were close to his father. He dismantled the team of support that his father and grandfather structured and reinstituted new members, most likely as a result of age gaps between Kim Jong-un and the previous heads. Evidently, the most eminent and recent display of Kim Jong-un’s immediacy and agility to dispose of those closest to him is the execution of his uncle, Jang Sung Taek. While there has been controversy regarding the actual facts of the execution of Jang Sung-Taek, it can be inferred that Kim Jong-un was more than happy to throw him to the dogs, perhaps too literally. Allegedly, Jang Sung Taek and five of his close associates were thrown into a cage, stripped and naked, and “fed to 120 dogs that had not eaten for 3 days”. While the motivations behind Kim Jong-Un’s actions remain in question, conjectures suggest that Jang was a threat to Kim Jong-Un’s power and thus was eliminated. The controversy continues as evidence shows that Kim Jong-Un made “allegations heaped on claims that [Jang] tried “to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of [North Korea’s] party and state”, while other proof indicates that Kim Jong-un was “outraged by his uncle’s promiscuousness while in charge of the country’s ‘pleasure brigade’” – a personal hatred that Kim Jong-un harbors.
Francois Hollande's Affair
By Brinda Gurumoorthy
A January 2014 media revelation disclosed that Socialist French president Francois Hollande has been, well, socializing! Reports about Hollande’s two-year-long affair with actress Julie Gayet created quite a stir in the French political community. The French First Lady, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, hospitalized herself for extreme fatigue after finding out the news. As Hollande’s image was already going south (his approval rating in November 2013 was 15%), any small thing could easily put his international reputation in jeopardy.
The scandal may look embarrassing to other nations, but as far as the French are concerned, it has little impact on people’s opinion of Hollande’s presidency. In past years, French people have tended to look the other way when their presidents pranced around with secret lovers. Still, although it may seem like what a politician does in the conference room has no correlation with what he does in the bedroom, an affair is not something to be overlooked. If someone is representing his or her nation to the world (i.e. Presidents, prime ministers, etc.), he or she should display fundamentally good character. The standards for average people differ greatly from those set for political figures, who must behave 24/7 since their every move is under public scrutiny. When the sordid details of Hollande’s affair made their way to Closer magazine, Hollande responded by saying that the reporter who wrote the article was attacking his right to privacy. He even considered suing the magazine! However, it is quite naïve for him to think he can get away with deflecting the attention to an invasion of privacy issue. To some extent, privacy no longer exists as a concern for people like Hollande who are in the limelight and must respond to any gaffes with tact. Hollande needs a bit of a reality check.
Even more interesting is the media’s interpretation of events. Many critics and analysts have said they simply do not care about Hollande’s infidelity, and in fact they turned to criticize the First Lady for not handling the situation in a classy manner. Fainting and heading to the hospital for a weeklong recovery does seem rather melodramatic, but then again it was an emotionally taxing shock. Perhaps Ms. Trierweiler should have dusted off her skirt, wiped her ever-present scowl off her face, and said something like “Vive la France”? One thing many reporters pointed out was the First Lady’s colossal lack of appeal to the public thanks to her far from amiable demeanor. Consequently, she received next to no sympathy. Some members of the press went so far as to say that Ms. Gayet, Hollande’s extracurricular friend, would look better for the press anyway.
Hollande’s response as a whole, in fact, was rather unremarkable; he simply said that he needed more time to evaluate the state of his relationships with Ms. Trierweiler and Ms. Gayet. Maybe the media has already dismissed Hollande as a person who was not the sharpest of leaders to begin with, and so infidelity is only confirmation of his silliness.
Is this groundbreaking ignominy? No. However, it does illustrate a case in which a political figure does not take responsibility for his wrongdoings. I’m not sure what is more absurd, the fact that Hollande expected people to accept his silence on the matter or the fact that people criticized the victim of the situation more than they did the evil mastermind behind the whole thing. Maybe “evil” is an exaggeration, but here’s proof that politicians do foolish things just as much, if not more, than the rest of us.